2015: Another Summer of Industry’s Discontent

The following article is written by Keith Hammer, Chair of the Swan View Coalition in Montana. Hammer has shared his views on this blog before – including raising red flags about some types of ‘collaboration’ in Montana. – mk

When there is wildfire smoke in the air, the timber industry and its cronies in Congress blame it on a lack of logging. As though logging prevents wildfires, which it does not. Moreover, they blame the alleged lack of logging on lawsuits brought by conservation groups simply wanting to insure the Forest Service follows the law as it logs public fish and wildlife habitat.

In February, Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), emphatically and falsely told Montana Public Radio “Unfortunately, every logging sale in Montana right now is under litigation. Every one of them.”

Listeners, including Swan View Coalition, challenged Tester’s statement. The Washington Post investigated and found there to be 97 timber sales under contract in Montana’s national forests with only 14 of those being litigated and only 4 of those stopped by a court order! The Post awarded Tester “Four Pinocchios” and noted the Forest Service responded “Things should be litigated that need to be litigated. If there is something the Forest Service has missed, it is very healthy. We absolutely should be tested on that.”

Then politicians and the Forest Service went back to lying as though this never happened. Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT) visited Essex on the border between Glacier National Park and the Flathead National Forest and claimed the summer’s wildfire smoke “is completely avoidable.” He went on to promote his Resilient Federal Forests Act, that would speed up federal logging and require citizens to post unaffordable bonds before suing the Forest Service to make it follow environmental laws. He then proposed that future Wilderness designations allow logging to reduce fires.

Such proposals fly in the face of federal studies like the Interior Columbia River Basin Ecosystem Management Project, which found roads and logging render ecosystems less resilient to natural disturbances like fire. Countless other studies find large trees, including fire-killed trees, are essential for fish and wildlife habitat.

Forest Service research shows that forest thinning within the last couple hundred feet of our homes and structures helps save them, not distant logging where fire helps renew natural ecosystems. This summer’s fire that burned the remote and abandoned Bunker Creek bridge shown here was started by lightening in an area burned in 2000.

We’ve supported thinning around the village of Swan Lake, the Spotted Bear Ranger Station, guest ranches, and trail-heads, but such thinning needs to be repeated often to remain effective. Neither the American taxpayer nor our natural ecosystems can afford to apply such front-country logging to the distant backcountry.

As I write this article, Montana’s entire Congressional delegation has done an about-face and is urging the Forest Service to slow down and give loggers more time to log federal timber sale contracts in the face of a glutted timber market.

It’s also time to consider how backcountry logging, most often done at a taxpayer loss, is taking money and market demand away from the thinning that should instead be done adjacent to human homes and other structures.

13 Comments

  1. Salvaging some snags outside of stream buffers harms fish?!?! Where is the science behind this statement?

    Also, even vaccines need to be repeated to be effective, with the same uncertainties that wildfires have. We know that drought, bark beetles and wildfires have their impacts, and we can plan for them…. or not.

    “Whatever Happens” is not a viable plan for restoration of our overstocked and unhealthy forests.

  2. Personally, I think Matt Koelher is right on target. Larry Harrell doesn’t explain where his comments regarding logging outside of barriers or “whatever happens” is located. My prior experience is that everyone walks lightly when the industry is walking the halls. It is up to the specialists and the public to contribute to the overall process of determining where the cut will occur during the NEPA process. By the time the ID team meets, the industry has already had its say.

    • The last I saw, snags outside of the stream buffers have very, very little to do with fish. Harvesting some of those snags (outside of stream buffers) should have very little impact on fish (despite what Keith Hammer is saying). (Yep, but preservationists continue to fight against snag-thinning projects in post-fire landscapes. Using fish to fight against salvage logging is a new one on me.) We’re generally talking about logging on Federal lands, so we’ll say that preservationists prefer “Whatever Happens” on Forest Service and BLM lands. I think that is a safe assumption, here, Anita.

  3. No-one is saying that cutting snags outside of the riparian zones will damage fish habitat. The paragraph states “…fish and wildlife…” need snags. Wildlife as in birds, I assume. So Larry, your comments seem a bit confusing.
    But I might add that in some situations snags outside of the riparian boundaries still might be needed as windfall and organic debris in the stream channel, so there are no hard-bound rules here that I can see.

    • I rather doubt that such snags could “migrate” from outside of 200 foot stream buffers, into the channel. Yes, it IS confusing how such snags can benefit fish populations, despite what Hammer is saying. Yes, it appears that such a statement is stretching scientific facts to say that snag thinning affects fish populations. Why not call Hammer out for proposing such a “confusing” statement? Of course, none of the snags in the stream buffers are actually harvested but, Hammer maybe wants people to think that is the case. Or. maybe he’s talking about what happens on private timberlands, instead, and applying it to public lands? It’s all so “confusing”! *smirk*

    • Thanks for pointing out what Hammer’s actual sentence said (“Countless other studies find large trees, including fire-killed trees, are essential for fish and wildlife habitat.”)

      Seems to me that Larry is guilty of putting words in Hammer’s mouth and then building a case around something Hammer never said. Sounds like a typical Straw Man argument to me.

      • Soooo, you are also claiming that snag harvest affects fish? This ridiculous statement puts everything they say in question. If they are calling that science, then where is the study? Of course, the one thing I am not talking about, until now, is that he mentions large dead trees as “essential” for fish, implying that Forest Service salvage projects make snags rare. He also lets readers assume that all snags are being cut. If such salvage projects have no significant impacts on fish, then why does he imply that there is a problem with snag retention. I suspect that the only snags people like Hammer will allow to be cut are those along busy roads.

        Sure, if you apply either the 80’s style of salvage logging, or apply the current private “industrial” style of salvage logging, then I might buy into his statement. However, new roadbuilding is kept to a minimum and PLENTY of snags are left in place, inside and outside of cutting units, as well as outside of Forest Service sale area boundaries.

        When less than 50% of burned areas being harvested on modern projects, why all the concern over dead trees, and their effects on fish? While he didn’t come right out and say it, he implies a problem with current salvage practices on Forest Service lands.

        • Um, nope, I’m not saying that. I simply re-pasted Hammer’s sentence, which read: “Countless other studies find large trees, including fire-killed trees, are essential for fish and wildlife habitat.”

          Please stop putting words in people’s mouths (making up?) and then building a case around that.

          • And I still find his statement to be patently false, regarding fish, as well as his claims of impacts on birds. Yep, I’ll put my trust in Forest Service “Ologists”, rather than the leader of a litigious group. His opinion is flawed and false, regarding snags and impacts on fish.

            Of course, there aren’t any studies on the impacts of current Forest Service salvage practices. I don’t foresee any studies being considered, either. It doesn’t fit the “fire is good” narrative.

            • Stop it with the Straw Man stuff Harrell. Hammer never said what you are claiming. He wrote: “Countless other studies find large trees, including fire-killed trees, are essential for fish and wildlife habitat.”

              That’s not just his opinion, and that sentence is not ‘flawed and false.’

              Regardless, Hammer’s history includes being a seasonal Forest Service employee and then spending a full 8 years of his life hauling a chainsaw as a full-time logger. But, hey, if you want to just box him into being “leader of a litigious group” so be it.

              Moving on….

  4. When a statement like that is made it infers that snags should be retained. He doesn’t say how many, but the general opinion is, more the better, which is often interpreted as removal of dead trees is detrimental to the new forest. Which, form my observation on the ground, is not true. Also I have never seen a federal fire salvage sale that removed over 10% of the dead timber. There are usually whole mountainsides of snags left on federal ground after any salvage sale.
    There are a couple of other statements that I take objection to. First statement is that roads and logging make forest less resilient to fires. I guess you can prove anything. And the second is backcountry logging should not be done so that thinning could be closer to home and development. So thinning works? And backcountry logging cost the taxpayers money? Sure we all know the government is extremely inefficient when it come to costs. But in case you don’t know it yet, logging does create economy and this economy pays taxes.
    I just can’t understand why anyone wants to promote burning up our forests.

    • Currently, in the Sierra Nevada, some areas close to homes have more severe diameter limits. Within those areas, the Forest Service can only cut trees under 12.0″ dbh. I wonder if having areas where economical projects are impossible was an intended, or unintended consequence of those unreasonable limits. The real-world result is that projects near homes will have to be Service Contracts, costing millions of dollars, each, for minimal effects.

  5. Right, and Keith has to drag all the way back to the ICBEMP fiasco for “roads are evil” bona-fides.
    I’m not even sure now if ICBEMP was ever implemented. Don’t think it was, because it was so radical.
    As for management and resilience, a smoked forest isn’t real resilient. And re-entries every 20-30 years are not a bad way to go, releasing the next harvest while moderating the fuels ladder.
    Keep in mind, Keith is the guy who proposed blowing Hungry Horse Dam, selling chunks of concrete to supposedly pay for the dynamite. Oh, and he wanted to turn the Sun Road into a trail and close US 2, using the railroad to shuttle vehicles.

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