Idaho Collaboration: “Lawsuits and appeals are no longer what hold up timber projects. The problem instead is money”

A) A few excerpts from an 12/27/17 article describing a situation where local collaboration has, to date, prevailed over legal suits to stop the Pioneer Fire Salvage Plan. The battle isn’t over but the prospects look good.

1) “Loggers are racing wood-boring insects and decay to salvage as much timber as they can from the 190,000 acres that burned across the Boise National Forest in last year’s Pioneer Fire, before the wood loses its worth.

The U.S. Forest Service planned to harvest 70 million board feet of timber from about 7 percent of the area burned in the massive wildfire. But insects, fungi and rot have deteriorated the standing trees so much that it will be lucky if it can get 50 million to 60 million board feet”

2) “Under the banner of the Boise Forest Coalition, these groups helped the Forest Service write a restoration plan that will use the proceeds from the salvage logging to pay for a variety of projects. On the list are efforts to protect and restore water quality in the South Fork Payette River and area streams; limit erosion; and reopen trails, roads and campgrounds.

This approach put loggers and conservation groups like the Idaho Conservation League on the same side as they helped the cash-strapped agency write up a plan that would meet environmental laws. So when other environmental groups like Wildlands Defense, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the Native Ecosystems Council sued to halt the project, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill allowed the logging to continue, noting in November the coalition’s approval of the project.

“We all want to see a healthy forest and clean water and appreciate that the court agreed that the project should move forward,” said Alan Ward, chairman of the Boise County Commission and a member of the coalition.”

3) “Statewide, four timber projects endorsed by collaborative groups over the past two years have later been challenged in court, and all four held up. Fuels treatment in Idaho rose from 53,000 acres in 2016 to 79,000 acres in 2017.

Part of the reason for success has been the use of “Good Neighbor” authority by the state of Idaho. Using a state fund, state foresters prepare timber sales after the Forest Service completes environmental reviews. This has increased how many projects can be offered even as federal staffs become smaller.”

B) A few excerpts from the background story from May 6, 2017

1) “Even before fall snow put the fire out last year, Peterson and John Kidd, his counterpart in the Lowman District, were overseeing rehabilitation projects to prevent landslides, mud flows and severe erosion. Such events can take out the roads that are major recreation arteries into the places Treasure Valley residents go to camp, collect mushrooms, hike, hunt, fish or ride off-road vehicles.”

2) ““It also gives us the ability to have some funding for the reforestation and other things, like culvert replacement,” said Kidd. “If we didn’t do this salvage right away, we would probably be dealing with this for the next 20 years. (Restoration) takes manpower and that takes funding, which we might not have down the road.””

3) “Many of the trees to be harvested are near roads and trails and are considered a hazard to the traveling and recreating public. If not cut now, those hazards might last 10 years.

Morris Huffman, a forest consultant who served on the Boise Forest Coalition, said uncut burned trees could fall and close corridors like Clear Creek Road for years. Clear Creek provides access to Bear Valley Creek, one of the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River popular with campers, hunters and anglers.”

4) “In addition to logging and tree planting, the projects include decommissioning and removing unneeded roads; thinning overgrown forests; trail work; spraying to control noxious weeds; road maintenance; and water quality-improvement projects such as culverts and water bars.

5) “Not everyone is eager to see such aggressive action following the fire. There is ecological value in leaving the forest alone after a burn. The Northwest forest ecosystem evolved in fire, and bird species like black-backed woodpeckers, for example, rely heavily on snag trees left standing after a burn.

Jeff Juel, an environmental consultant from Missoula, Mont., who works for environmental groups that oppose salvage sales, argues that the less done after a fire, the more resilient the area is to future disturbances. He opposes the agency’s emergency declarations justified by the need to sell timber to help the local mill and workers. He wants a full environmental review instead of the shortened one the Forest Service is doing.

Jonathan Oppenheimer, government relations director for the Idaho Conservation League, agrees with Juel on the overall benefits of allowing natural renewal following a fire. But he’s a member of the Boise Forest Coalition and worked closely with partners like Roberts and the Forest Service to “make sure that those high-quality and sensitive resources are protected.””

6 Comments

  1. Unassisted recovery of burned areas is an interesting idea. But many folks forget that we have a Land Management Plan with land management objectives, and while unassisted recovery may be appropriate in meeting those objectives in some areas, they may not be appropriate in others. I just looked at part of the Chetco Bar Fire this weekend – thousands of acres of older Douglas-fir plantations on private and public land were burned in large continuous swaths. Unassisted recovery here will result in large tanoak fields – right in the middle of the Sudden Oak Death quarantine area. Is that appropriate here to regrow a large spore-producing population of tanoak? Unassisted recovery ignores the fact that we have, in some cases, massively altered species composition (and available seed source) of forests, we have invasive plants, invasive insects and invasive diseases, climate change is occurring, and national forests do not have the same objectives as national parks. While we shouldn’t be doing the same thing everywhere after fire – unassisted recovery is also not appropriate everywhere.

    • Thanks for this.. well stated and a good example.
      Some have the idea here in Colorado, that if trees aren’t growing back it must be due to climate change and so lack of trees growing back is something we have to live with. Without trying to plant them. As a person who got hired to learn to plant trees to make sure they came back, it is interesting that some people today think we should give up without trying.

    • I finally had an opportunity to visit part of the Chetco Bar fire. Again, it depressing to see such, unnecessary destruction of our forests. Old growth, young growth, all dead.
      Where the fire burned in the Biscuit fire scar, trees that survived that fire didn’t survive this fire. Most of the young conifers and hardwoods along with the remaining old growth were killed. I wonder what is going to grow back now.
      The area burned is so vast and the amount of dead trees is staggering. We could start logging and restoration projects now and only touch a small percentage of what burned before it is rotten and falling over.
      The FS should be ashamed of how they managed this fire. I can only hope that this kind of forest destruction will end. Now that Rouge Siskiyou forest supervisor has retired this year we will get a real one.
      There are so many issues surrounding this fire that should be addressed I don’t know where to start. I guess the one we should be dealing with is what to do next, to protect, and enhance our forests and their resources. I know this fire was not good for the forest, or our world.

  2. Yes, there are land management plan objectives. But on most national forests they are 30 years old and don’t consider climate change or invasive species (or new science about burned areas). Adequately planning for what to do with burned areas (especially salvage logging) is one area where plans could be greatly improved when they are revised – but I’m not seeing much of this yet with the ongoing plan revisions.

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