SPI Rainbow Ridge Logging Will Not Solve Fire Problem
Mt. Shasta Herald, Letter to the Editor
January 7, 2004
Your article on Sierra Pacific's proposed logging plan for Rainbow Ridge in the December 29th edition quoted several statements by county supervisors and others claiming that the logging is needed to prevent a catastrophic fire. The timber industry has instructed our supervisors well and they faithfully parrot what they have been told. But the fact is that the proposed logging will increase rather than decrease the fire risk to Mt. Shasta Area homes, campgrounds and forests. Why is this so? There are several reasons:
1. Commercial logging is driven by market forces. In order to make money on logging it is necessary to remove the larger trees. Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated that the larger the tree the greater likelihood that it will withstand a wildfire.
2. Economics also dictates that canopy cover must be reduced to under 40%. Canopy cover equals shade and shade on the forest floor is important for two reasons. First, because it prevents sun and wind from drying out the forest. Fuel moisture is one of the key factors influencing forest fire intensity. Second, letting in sunlight stimulates the sprouting and growth of brush and trees. When forest canopy is reduced below 60%, understory vegetation increases fire risk dramatically within 5 to 8 years. The resulting dangerous condition persists for at least 20 years.
3. California Forest Practice rules do not require (and timber economics do not allow) reduction of the hazardous fuels that result from logging. Limbs and branches that were once spread out vertically throughout the forest are concentrated on the forest floor. The rules only require lopping and scattering this brush near roads. Elsewhere in the logging area there will be no reduction of the hazardous ground fuel created by the logging. If helicopters are used, the result is worse. Because trees are felled toward each other for easier removal, helicopter logging creates "jackpots" of fuel which often "blow up" in future fires. Jackpots lead directly to devastating crown fires.
The truth of my assertions is backed up by the history of wildfires in Siskiyou County. Our most devastating wildfires - including the Hog Fire of 1977, the Glasgow and Yellow Fires of 1987, the Specimen Fire of 1994 - "blew up" into catastrophic firestorms when they hit logging slash. In contrast, fires in unmanaged forests - for example the Grider Fire of 1987 and the Dillon Fire of 1994 - generally burn at low intensity.
The logging of Rainbow Ridge may be justifiable on any number of grounds but fire risk reduction is not one of them. Logging is a poor tool when the objective is reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire. At best careful commercial logging with adequate reduction of logging slash can reduce fire intensity for up to 8 years after the logging. But even the most careful commercial logging, under current and foreseeable market conditions, will result in significantly increased fire risk from 8 to 30 years after the logging is completed. What's more every forester worth his salt knows that this is true. Residents of the Mt. Shasta area might want to put this question directly to their neighbor, Jim DePree, who is a university trained forester worth his salt.
There are ways to manage our forests to minimize the risk of catastrophic fires but commercial logging is not one of them.
I'll end with a prediction: within 5 years Sierra Pacific Industries will subdivide its holdings in the Rainbow Ridge Area and sell off the parcels for housing development. The Planning Commission and Siskiyou County Supervisors will unanimously approve the subdivision.Felice Pace
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