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Government Should Do its Own Logging
By Felice Pace
August 01, 2008

The federal logging bill proposed by Oregon's Ron Wyden ("Fed logging bill debated," June 27 edition) will not reduce the risk from wildfire. That's because the bill would rely on the traditional timber sale contract to "thin" federal forest.

The U.S. Forest Service timber sale contract is a great tool if the task is getting logs to the mills. But it is a very poor tool if the task is to reduce the risk to people, communities and wildlife from catastrophic wildfire. Here's why:

In order for a federal timber sale to attract buyers, the timber companies must be able to make money on the sale. But most federal forests are remote and steep. This means high logging and log-hauling costs. As a result, in order to create a timber sale that will actually attract bidders, Forest Service planners must either log the larger trees or they must reduce the forest canopy radically by having loggers removing most of the trees. But when you remove that much canopy, small shade trees and brush sprout and grow prolifically. Within five years or so the risk of catastrophic wildfire has dramatically increased.

Immediately after logging the open canopy results in forest fuels drying sooner - the result of increased sunlight and wind. And economic considerations often cause Forest Service planners to forgo requiring the purchaser to remove or burn the slash - that is, the limbs and small trees left on the forest floor after logging. The increased wildfire risk will persist for 30 or more years until slash decomposes and trees grow enough to form a closed canopy and once again shade out the highly flammable brush.

Ron Wyden's logging bill would deliver federal logs to the mills and end old growth logging on federal forests in Oregon. But it would increase rather than decrease wildfire threat to people and communities near federal forests. If Ron Wyden or anyone else really wants to reduce the risk to people and communities from wildfires, they will appropriate the funds necessary to hire forest workers directly, have them do what is needed on the ground and then sell any resulting commercial logs separately.

These would be great jobs for young people!

Felice Pace
Klamath, Calif.

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