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Salvage Logging Editorial Built on Foundation of Myths
Felice Pace, K-Falls Herald & News Opinion
January 17, 2005

Felice Pace
The author Felice Pace is former conservation director for the Klamath Forest Alliance. He describes himself as a trained economist who has walked and studied most of the big post-fire salvage timber sales from fires that have burned in the Klamath Mountains since 1987. He has also led several post-fire salvage sale appeals, lawsuits and mediated agreements. He lives in Klamath, Calif.

The Herald and News editorial Dec. 26 celebrating "fast action" to salvage log the Davis Fire contains misstatement of an important fact.

It decries "delays caused by the almost automatic appeals of Forest Service (post-fire salvage logging) decisions."

In fact, the Region 6 (Oregon and Washington) office of the Forest Service told the Capital Press that "of 18 significant wildfire salvage sales" offered in recent years in the region, "nine were litigated and one of the suits was withdrawn" (Capital Press, Dec. 24).

In addition to misstating the facts, the editorial repeats many of the myths about salvage logging promoted by timber interests. Let me debunk these: Burned timber value is "usually lost to bugs and disease in three years." This statement is true for Ponderosa pine, white fir and most other pine species.

The situation with Douglas fir, red fir, redwood and all the cedars, however, is quite different. in fact, fire-killed Douglas fir can retain its value for 50 years or more as was discovered, for example, in studies of the Tillamook Forest which burned in the early 1900s.

We can "recover some of the fire-fighting costs by harvesting and selling burned trees."

The assumption here is that salvage sales produce more revenue than they cost to offer. I have not studied the economics of the Davis Sale, but I note that Croman Corp. - a helicopter logging outfit from Medford - is doing the logging.

Logging is too costly

Conventional post-fire salvage rarely produces revenue sufficient to pay the costs to taxpayers of offering the timber sale.

Helicopter logging is substantially more expensive. I've never seen a helicopter salvage sale that came near to paying the costs of sale preparation and administration.

Fire salvage sales "create jobs." Like other salvage sales, the Davis Sale has not created local jobs. At best, the sale has helped Croman Corporation (from Medford) keep its people working. But salvage jobs are only sustainable if we continue to have large salvage sales sold at taxpayer expense. The Croman Corporation has specialized in post-fire salvage (Hog Fire of 1977, Klamath Complex Fires of 1987 and others). If taxpayer subsidies of these sales were removed, Croman would have gone out of business decades ago. Salvage sales inflate logging rates to unsustainable levels. Any jobs created are therefore short term. History shows even these short-term jobs are usually taken by outsiders.

Not mentioned, but underlying your editorial's argument, are two assumptions:

Only dead trees are logged in salvage sales.

Dead trees left in place have no value.

Both of these assumptions are questionable. My own experience on the ground on dozens of fire salvage sales is that - unless prevented by forest advocates - the Forest Service always marks green trees which will not die from a fire and sells them at bargain fire salvage prices as low as 50 cents per thousand board feet. One of many examples is the Hog Fire logged by Croman in the late 1970s.

Green trees logged

Even the Forest Service has admitted that about 50 percent of the trees removed were live, green and in no danger of dying. The economics of helicopter salvage logging (as, for example, in the Davis Sale) dictates that large, green trees be marked and sold at bargain salvage prices.

The second assumption - trees not logged are "wasted" - is contradicted by reams of peer-reviewed science.

You can access this research on the Web site of the Pacific Northwest Experiment Station, a Forest Service research station. Fire-killed trees not only provide habitat for the insect-eating birds that prevent most post-fire insect outbreaks from becoming catastrophic, but also provide soil stabilization and prevent erosion when they fall to the ground. In the long term, leaving dead trees to decompose rebuilds the forest soils critical to future forest productivity.

Not mentioned at all in the editorial is the greatest myth of all - that salvage logging will reduce the risk of future catastrophic fire. The facts on the ground are just the opposite.

Economics dictates that fire salvage sales do not include adequate provisions requiring reduction of the hazardous fuels that result from logging. Limbs and branches that were once spread out vertically throughout the forest are concentrated by logging on the forest floor.

If this slash is not piled and burned, the risk of catastrophic fire is substantially increased for at least 15 years after logging. Helicopter logging creates the greatest future fire risk.

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 future devastating crown fires. From an economic perspective, post-fire salvage logging too often leads to outrageous future firefighting costs and loss of private homes.

They overreached

The editorial decries the delays in salvage logging in the Biscuit Fire Area. The delays would not have occurred had not the Bush administration and the timber industry overreached.

Banking on a legislative rider prohibiting appeals from Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon, the industry and administration pushed to log reserves, streamsides and roadless areas.

It is the nature of the greedy to overreach and thus to become "hoist with his own petar" (you can look that one up in Bartlett's). This is sometimes known as poetic justice, or in common parlance: What goes around comes around.

The public debate over how to manage post-fire forests is a healthy one. But that debate should be based on facts and science, not myth.

If the editors of the Herald and News want to participate responsibly in the debate, they need to do their homework - not blindly accept the myths promoted by timber interests.

I highly recommend a hike into the helicopter-logged areas of the Davis Fire once the timber sale is closed. I'd be happy to come along. There is no substitute for seeing the facts on the ground.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, and as defined under the provisions of "fair use", any copyrighted material herein is distributed without profit or payment for non-profit research and for educational use by our membership.