Rim Fire Billion Board Feet Salvage Bill

This is also from the current American Forest Resource Council newsletter and brings into play Larry’s earlier objections to the “billion board feet” statement (which most people can’t visualize anyway):
Yosemite Rim Fire Salvage Bill
On October 3, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation held a hearing on H.R. 3188, the “Yosemite Rim Fire Emergency Salvage Act” which was introduced on September 28 by Representative Tom McClintock (R-CA).
The bill states that the Forest Service, BLM and the National Park Service shall promptly plan and implement salvage sales of dead, damaged, or downed timber resulting from the Yosemite Rim wildfire. Additionally, the bill would require expedited implementation of projects by requiring that salvage sales conducted under this Act proceed immediately and to completion notwithstanding any other provision of law including NEPA, NFMA, FLMPA, the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Act Planning Act, and other laws related to the management of timber within Yosemite National Park. Further, salvage sales conducted under this Act would not be subject to Administrative or Judicial Review in any court of the United States.
Tom Partin, AFRC President, testified on the need for expedited salvage authorities, noting that, “Extreme Events call for Extreme Actions. The fire which destroyed over 250,000 acres of forestland and burned over a billion board feet of timber needs to be quickly salvaged to capture the value of the timber and allow reforestation activities to take place. The revenue could be used to replant young trees and rehabilitate and restore thousands of denuded acres including key watersheds that provide drinking water to many California communities and cities including San Francisco.”
AFRC wants to thank Representative McClintock for bringing this bill forward in an effort to quickly salvage dead timber; restore forests that were destroyed as the result of this catastrophic wildfire; and establish new forests and healthy watersheds from the revenues that will be generated from the salvage.
/Tom Partin

15 Comments

  1. A billion board feet of logs would be 330,000 truck loads at 3400 bf per load. About. Fewer loads if they scaled more, and more loads is they scaled less. Oregon employs one logger for one year for every 450,000 bf logged. 1 Billion board feet would employ maybe 2200 loggers for a year. And I don’t know if that includes log truck drivers. If it does, there would be fewer than 2000 employed loggers for a year. I would think that there would be few jobs “created” in sawmilling, processing of logs into products. The time to construct a mill would have it opening about the time all the “white” woods (logs NOT cedar, redwood, or doug fir) or pines, true firs, hardwoods and hemlock would be compromised by decay. Or the small logs splitting to their core in the first summer. The compelling interest is to reduce fuels for future fires, and “stockpile”, as it were, green timber for use several years down the road. A fire of the Rim’s size will impact the ability of the USFS to sell timber for decades, as they have lost a part of the future for decades. Salvage logging will result in increased snow retention, more water in the watershed beyond that once used by now gone vegetation, and habitats now missing due to over stocking prior to the fire. Forests need meadows, fern flats, brakes, prairies, wet meadows created by no longer having mature vegetation using great volumes of water all year long. We can never forget that the “old growth”, “natural”, “virgin” forests found by European occupiers were the cumulative result of millennia of landscape set fires by the indigenous peoples, who hunted, gathered and tended the wild. The “found” forests were, in fact, managed forests minus by then the managers, suddenly gone, taken by introduced pandemics. And now that we have 200 years of different management schemes, we need to take a deep breath and sort this deal out a little bit. Not all of the dead Rim trees can be used, nor accessed, and the concentrated efforts should be triaged by accessibility, value in markets, value to watersheds, and values to fire succession species. And the idea, unlike our Congress, that we have to compromise and have give and take, to have managed forests that serve us as intended by the formers of the idea of vast public lands as a resource bank for future times needs to drive the process. All my life I have said that I would rather have a part of something than all of nothing. We are now seeing that one sided vision of no management results all too often in conflagration and stand removal fire. All of nothing. Or boundary to boundary clear cuts every 40 years because taxes, market forces, ownership demands, all give the landowners no choices but to log to interrupt the capitalization schedule to manage risk and capital to its best end. Don’t forget, all the conservatively managed timberlands in the West were lost in the 1980s to corporate raids that exposed the values of the uncut growing timber against the company earnings, and in the world of finance, the uncut timber became unprotected piles of cash that had no reflection on quarterly earnings or stock prices. Think Maxxim and Pacific Lumber. Amalgamated Sugar and the Medford Corporation. Willamette Industries and Weyerhaeuser. There are unintended consequences to the most carefully considered decisions. On private land held by stockholders, timber inventory is a liability. Now that land is owned by REITs. To do nothing is a decision that has consequences not intended, but revealed over time.

    • Another impressive post, John! Being local to the Rim fire, and having worked on the Groveland RD, I can say with confidence that there won’t be “a billion board feet” available to cut, economically and ecologically. I even wonder if there is, physically, that much in conifer species, including inside the park. Between rock, brush, hardwoods and plantations, a great many acres have little to no volume per acre. I contend that the success of a salvage sale should be measured by how much of those small trees can be utilized, instead of being the first to decay and degrade, turning into a flammable liability. Large trees can retain their value over several years but, if we can get in there quicker, all the better. I’ve had the pleasure of working on salvage projects that started up just months after the fire was suppressed, including litigation attempts.

      I’m hoping that the “timber beasts” aren’t going to push to maximize volume, while ignoring probable damages. The Forest Service knows what not to do on salvage projects, and a lack of litigation shouldn’t be “green-lighting” such practices. Regardless of a lack of litigation, there WILL be plenty of blackbacked woodpecker habitat, within the Park. I’d say that 50,000 acres of prime contiguous habitat should cover any need for snags, for the birds. Adding to that, the scattered and uneconomical snag patches would also supplement that big chunk in the Park. I would welcome the opportunity for the Forest Service to use its discretion in designing the right project parameters, despite the legal “immunity”. However, I don’t want to see them taking more than 6 months to complete its plans, then start implementing them.

    • John

      Very good post with one clarification needed.

      Great Comments:
      – The benefits of salvage logging
      – “I would rather have a part of something than all of nothing”

      Needed Clarification: “all the conservatively managed timberlands in the West were lost in the 1980s to corporate raids that exposed the values of the uncut growing timber against the company earnings, and in the world of finance, the uncut timber became unprotected piles of cash that had no reflection on quarterly earnings or stock prices. Think Maxxim and Pacific Lumber. Amalgamated Sugar and the Medford Corporation. Willamette Industries and Weyerhaeuser. There are unintended consequences to the most carefully considered decisions. On private land held by stockholders, timber inventory is a liability. Now that land is owned by REITs”
      –> Those REITs are the same companies as before with the exact same drivers as before.
      –> Willamette is now part of WY – From being employed by WY and PC, I can assure you that, except for some accounting and legal paperwork, everything is virtually the same as before.
      –> Nothing is lost. Those inventories still weigh on the balance sheets of the successive owners whether they are REITs or TIMOs. However those inventories still provide a profit and determine the long term success of the surviving enterprises. Those enterprises have simply been restructured for the sole purpose of only having their profits taxed once instead of twice. The success of those enterprises still depends on the same sustainability requirements as before.

    • Generally, log trucks hauling salvage logs hold at least 5000 board feet. Salvage logs are often substantially lighter than green logs. The last project I worked on, SPI had trouble hauling logs, due to a “gyppo” revolt. Fuel prices were very high, and those independents wanted more money. This led to problems in helicopter landings, where space limits caused loggers to make bigger messes, causing higher clean-up costs. This was especially acute, when landings were plugged with logging slash, flown out of the cutting units. Columbia Helicopters was faced with these issues, and SPI didn’t want to deal with it. I’m guessing they worked something out, behind the scenes. SPI would rather have their own fleets of trucks but, they had trouble finding drug-free drivers. I expect they will have similar troubles, although hauling distances for the Rim Fire will be much shorter. The longest haul is about 2 hours, one way. at most. Mill capacity shouldn’t be an issue, with both small and big log mills close by.

      Then again, we might only see hazard trees cut, if the Forest Service mismanages this situation. Chad Hanson might have an easy payday, and he will win on appeal, while everyone else loses. What good does it do to replant lands that will re-burn? Some eco-groups don’t like replanting, too. The Rim Fire could become a massive monument to embracing wildfires, and all impacts, “beneficial” *smirk*, or not.

  2. I say mow every square inch that can be done profitably with temporary and existing road structure as well as heli-logging. Get the stuff out of there, use the sales proceeds to get the regen, in desired future species, up and free to grow for the next go around. Mom Nature might be thinking of a different kind of outcome that we might not like at all.
    Even under that regime, there will be a lot of volume left on the ground. There will also be places that need some kind of follow up, hazard or planting, that salvage sale revenue would pay for.
    Aggressive but rational — please.

  3. Dave: I don’t think the land management agencies of the US Govt now have the institutional memory nor the personnel to lay out and manage large or numerous timber sales unless they bring people in on a temp basis from afar. And that would have to pass muster with the Region 5 diversity plan, impact other Regions and their ability to manage. I presume it means the temporary assignees would still have to be apportioned to meet the existing demographic for race, gender and sexual preference model for the population of California, by the Consent Decree Region 5 signed 30 years ago. I just think that all of the problems, the practical applications, will be about the inability of Region 5 to actually assemble the knowledge base needed to do a large scale project, even with inbound help from other regions. And if you have to put them to work on litigation replies, all is lost, and I do think that has been the objective in house and by the green lobby for the last two decades. If they can find the personnel, lead them, dodge critical litigation attempts, they still have to come up with a plan faster than nature breaks down wood fiber and compromises the lumber potential. As for the wood as fiber, all the air quality rules prevent burning except in EPA approved co-gen plants, and those are way to the north if they still exist and are licensed. A big time chipping operation, which cannot tolerate charred wood, with an export dock in some place like Stockton, might get rid of some fiber. When you lose 85% of the mills and ancillary chipping, you also lose pulp mills. When you import goods as the world’s best consumer market, you end up with a lot of dunnage, and that is what now runs pulp mills that are still operating.

    I guess what I am saying is that the potential to produce wood fiber from salvage of a very large fire (VLF?), no longer can be matched by the installed ability to convert the fiber to market products in a timely manner. So, in my opinion, there will be a need to physically put a lot of marginal, or non merchantable fuel on the ground and do some large scale effort controlled burning to break the fuels that will be left into controlled areas where fighting fires down the road has a chance to control their size and scope. Some sort of papal dispensation to have controlled fire would have to be obtained, or the Feds can determine that the public interest is better met by controlled fire as a means to improve the potential for better air quality in the future. Some real landscape management, as it were. Start at areas of occupation by homes and cabins, and work back towards wilderness or whatever. And all of this needs to be thought out, now, and then presented to the public very early, and go from there. That would present a need for a diverse Agency personnel effort from people up to the job, and temp assignments from other Regions in the West. After floods, FEMA has been an active participant in coordinating agencies to meet landowner needs. As a farm manager, I got a porous revetment built to replace a dike, with FEMA money, designed and supervised by a USFS bridge engineer from the Frances Marion NF in South Carolina who was in Oregon on a temp assignment to do just type of work. The flood plain works naturally now, and the fields flood, but slowly and that reduced erosion to insignificant. That story, in and of itself, is for another time. Revealing.

    Since this type of landscape fire seems to be a growing concern, and large fires more numerous and damaging, maybe the land managers, Federal, State, and local, need to come up with the same sort of wide ranging team approach not unlike the fire overhead team concept. Across the country, you could have two or three post fire management and recovery teams made up of very experienced people from a diverse management background. A Type 1 Post Fire Planning Team. They show up and work for six months, and leave a blueprint behind for the locals, a plan to map the way. I would go as far as to have the parallel NGOs have people sitting on the teams. After all, they are de facto land managers by Congressional approval right now, if only because Congress has neither the will nor the inclination to sort out myriad confusing and conflicting landscape management laws and administrative rules exploiting poorly written law, and change it. Use the lemons to make lemonade. Whatever, we don’t seem to be able to do what is truly needed presently. So why not invent and improvise? Meet the growing demand with a new approach.

    • You are mostly correct, John. Regarding temporary hiring, there are tons of issues, and not many people are interested in working in a steep, rocky and brushy area. The RD I worked on last year had only 6 people apply to work on a marking crew. In this situation, they would need dozens of timbermarkers to cover just a portion of the burned acres. They would also need a bunch of “ologists” to cover the ground and do required surveys. I could see them pursuing a “designation by description”, for sure. They would still need people to inspect the performance in following the description, and you can’t really put inexperienced people into an active logging show. You need to be out there with the fallers and bunchers, to inspect the work, on-the-fly. Another issue is where do you house all these new employees? Many RD’s no longer have “barracks”. Back in 1990, I was in a similar situation, laying out cutting units for the A-Rock Fire Salvage. We stayed at the Yosemite Lakes Resort, in small trailers. The Groveland RD, as well as the entire Stanislaus NF, has a skeleton crew in timber, as it is. I’m sure they will try to bring in detailers to do some of the work but, with the recent shutdown, and the continuing personnel inefficiencies, I’m sure that nothing is in the pipeline, yet. That means that even the Planning parts of any project are creeping along, right now. It could take 6 months to get a package of detailers going, especially with the holidays approaching. One time, I got a rejection letter a year later after the closing date on a job I applied for.

      There are some other options to provide “warm bodies” to projects. I used to work for TEAMS Enterprise, a group formed for “internal outsourcing”, supplying turn-key solutions for project needs, including NEPA. They are VERY expensive but, self-contained. They do a LOT of fire salvage projects. My services in timber cost clients about $66 per hour but, that included all costs, including organization overhead. They have a cadre of temporaries but, most temps are running out of appointment hours, right now, as per OPM constraints. Another option is a group of firefighters, from Region 1, doing timber work.

      If temps are used, next spring, there will be training needed, taking at least a few weeks. There just isn’t many experienced temps left in the West, as most have moved on to other kinds of jobs. There will also be plenty of “washouts”, with people discovering that they don’t like the work. It’s rugged, rocky, brushy, dirty and dangerous. I also expect that plots will need to be accomplished, to gather appraisal data, too. If designation by description is used, there will need to be solid, painted boundaries, including stream buffers. That will take lots of labor, as well. Who will train and supervise such an inexperienced labor force?

      I’m not sure if I am going to apply, even though I am out of a job and live about 90 minutes away. I think I am too old and rickety to be of any use, due to 25 years of solid fieldwork and all sorts of old injuries. I’m also quite jaded with the Forest Service’s hiring practices and treatment of temporaries. They are treated like third class employees. The USFS made their “temporary bed”, and they are being forced, by OPM, to sleep in it.

      McClintock wrote a bill to exempt the Rim Fire from all sorts of rules, laws and policies but, he hasn’t addressed the labor issues needed to accomplish his overreaching fantasy. Good luck with that!

      • Um, I’m going to have to say that marking trees isn’t always necessary. Good loggers with a decent prescription can do a pretty good leave given condition, spacing and species instruction. Put some brains in a Robinson 44 with GPS and GIS and they can cover a lot of ground in a hurry while still getting a good eye (Go Pro anyone?). Make prescription units large enough to not get into the silly microtreatment stuff and make the treatment boundaries simple to understand, like ridgelines or roads plus SMZs. Then the only marking you need is the unit boundaries.
        Again, this is not “pristine” stuff in a preservation state any more. It’s damaged and there is the knowledge on how to repair damage or not exacerbate it.
        Whether or not all the wood comes off — whatever treatment is possible in terms of paying for itself either cash now or results later, should happen — mills or not, and Hanson or not.
        Should, however, is a long way from will, or did.

        • What if “someone” goes to court, insisting that trees be marked, or that “leave snags” be marked, like on the Biscuit? Remember, this is adjacent to Yosemite, and any project is going to be held to a higher level, in all phases (if it even goes anywhere, at all). And, there will still need to have archaeological surveys done, as the State controls all that. They will probably recommend flagging and avoiding those arch sites. There will also be some insistence that blackbacked woodpeckers be accommodated, in one form, or another. Remember, there is a lot of helicopter ground in the Rim Fire, too. They will need utilization inspections promptly. How long do you think it will take to train a bunch of Harvest Inspectors, knowing that there are just a handful of them, throughout the west? The Forest Service feels that they just aren’t needed, in this day and age. Most Sale Administrators are very close to retirement age, and not willing to take on burned helicopter sales. Using Sale Administration trainees is a recipe for serious trouble.

          Yes, there are many serious obstacles to getting anything done on the Rim Fire, especially when the Forest doesn’t have much expertise, both in timber and in the “ologies”. It is an unfortunate reality that the Forest Service will “rumble, stumble and fumble”, especially when there is a small window of opportunity (and getting smaller, everyday).

          • Well, yeah, someone will go aynul and insist every stick be marked. Which is utter hooey.
            Still, Larry, you need to give the surviving, not-yet-bayoneted loggers some respect. If they understand there’s something to prove here, and there sure is, just like in the St Helens aftermath, they will.
            As for salvage in the Park — I’m okay with parks and wildernesses being what they are just as long as what happens in Vegas stays there. That said, after the Teakettle fire in the late 20s, Glacier Park had some pretty serious salvage going on and the long term result worked out just fine. Most observers today would have no idea.

  4. Maybe you could get the ologists to mark trees, seems like there is always a few or more sitting around the office, get them from out for behind their computers and some exercise.
    Or better yet maybe some administrators from the regions headquarters?
    When we did the biscuit they just marked the unit boundaries. We had to work together to mark the riparian area. (what a painful experience that was watching units disappear because of over lapping riparian areas, of course logger John West took care of that later and came in after us and just clear cut everything.)
    We are doing another burn salvage timber sale where they marked every tree in a roadside hazard removal. Seems a like a complete waste of time and delayed the sale by a year or two. Now they have to come out and mark more dead trees each time we move units. Better to have a good sales administrator, and a good understanding of what you are trying to accomplished.

    • I worked for 22 days on the Biscuit, marking “leave snags”. The Forest spent big money to try and use helicopters to “mark” boundaries. The results were unacceptable, with the “leave snag” mark. It would be too easy to stray outside of the boundary, cutting trees as they go. You need boundaries that even the dumbest person couldn’t ignore or miss.

      Some ologists feel empowered to mark trees, enjoying the power of the paintgun. However, they usually aren’t as aggressive as they should be, according to the marking prescription. If the project(s) do happen, we can count on a designation by description, with wildlife trees marked with paint. At least, that would be my preference. We used that in 1995 on the big Rabbit Creek Fire, near Idaho City, ID.

      Another item that could be contested in court is if trees with green needles should be cut. Yes, we’ve visited that before, and in my experience, that means a lot more work, as more and more trees lose those few green branches. Many trees that still have green needles are “brain dead”, with irreversible cambium damage. Those trees can take many months to finally turn brown. On my last project, many trees that didn’t meet the marking guidelines in June, did meet them in July.

      Loggers always liked me to come out and mark additional timber, because I was more aggressive, and I was right there, with the fallers. Some Sale Administrators don’t like to use paint *smirk*.

      • I agree, I like well marked boundaries. But hopefully both the purchaser and the sale administrator can identify trees that might of been missed in the original layout.
        I know that was one of the most disheartening things I witnessed on the Biscuit was the huge die off “green” timber after the fire.
        Yes, you might be right about ologist not being aggressive enough especially I have always had this feeling they are sitting at their computers trying to figure out ways to stop the sale or at least make it as difficult and costly(non economical) as possible.

  5. What a truly impressive, and rare, array of knowledgeable comments from seasoned veterans of the salvage scene. Folks who have “been there and done that” many times over. Thanks guys! And on the other hand we’ll have the ologists and activists calling the shots… folks who don’t give a damn about people, families or jobs and whose knowledge of the nuts and bolts of timber sale prep and administration and logging is nil. Great job of managing, feds!

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