California environmentalists, logging industry lock horns over burned trees
FILE 2013: A doe deer returns to its home range along the Cherry Lake Road in the Rim Fire area near Yosemite National Park. (AP Photo/U.S. Forest Service)
The industry has about a two-year window to remove the trees before they succumb to rot and insect damage and become commercially worthless, timber officials say. “The first tragedy to the forest has already happened,” said Mike Albrecht, president of Sierra Resource Management Inc., a logging company in Jamestown, Calif., now doing salvage work on private lands. “The second tragedy would be not to salvage it.”
If approved, the logging would be the biggest salvage-removal job in the Sierra in decades, which the industry says would boost local counties and the state’s timber industry. Mr. Albrecht said he would likely have to increase his 10-person logging crew to 15, while the total number of salvage loads hauled out of the forest would rise to 250 a day from 160 a day now.
Those jobs would go to people like Don Fulton, an 80-year-old who runs a family-owned crew in Tuolumne County. He has had little business in recent years because of environmental rules on logging and other factors, and last year the company worked for just six months, said his daughter, Tammy Power. If salvage logging were approved, “he will go 24-7 until that salvage is out,” Power said.
For bigger companies like Sierra Pacific, logging healthy trees versus dead ones is more of a wash, said Mark Luster, spokesman for the Anderson, Calif., timber giant. “We are mainly shifting from green [logging] to salvage,” Luster said. Another limitation of the economic benefit, other industry officials say, is that there are only enough mills to process about half the available timber, or 500 million board feet of lumber.
But officials in the rural counties affected by the fire, which started Aug. 17 from an undetermined cause and was 95% contained as of Friday, said the logging would give them a boost. “We will have to import trucks and labor, so certainly it will help our county,” said Karl Rodefer, a supervisor in Tuolumne County, where the Rim Fire was concentrated. He added that removal of the dead trees would also keep them from acting as more fuel in a future fire.