The Rim Fire: Who Could See This Coming?

California environmentalists, logging industry lock horns over burned trees

The Wall Street Journal
  • DeerFire.jpg

    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)

Well, this was predictable. Unfortunately. Trust DeFazio to be involved and appeal for votes by misrepresenting the issue. Here is where we hashed this out:
Here is where the Wall Street Journal article starts:
A new gold rush may be on in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, but this time the treasure is burned trees to salvage for lumber. The Rim Fire that charred a quarter-million acres of the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park over the summer left an estimated one billion board feet of salvageable dead trees—enough to build 63,000 homes. The logging industry and its supporters are racing to get it, saying such work would provide jobs in the economically downtrodden region.Sierra Pacific Industries Inc. has started felling trees on about 10,000 acres of its land that got caught up in the inferno. Now, Republican Rep. Tom McClintock, whose district covers the area, has introduced legislation in Congress that would waive environmental regulations so salvage logging can begin quickly on the national forest as well.”If any good can come of this tragedy, it would be the timely salvage of fire-killed timber that could provide employment to local mills and desperately needed economic activity to mountain communities,” said McClintock, a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources.But Rep. Peter DeFazio, ranking Democrat on the committee, said McClintock’s bill—which was heard in a committee hearing Oct. 3—”would be a license to clear-cut the entire burn area.”DeFazio said he supports more limited salvage logging, while some environmental groups back almost none at all, saying it hurts forests by removing trees that provide nutrients for soil and habitat for wildlife.

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.

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21 thoughts on “The Rim Fire: Who Could See This Coming?”

  1. SERIOUSLY, I would guess there might be about 10% of “a billion board feet” that MIGHT be available to cut. I’m not sure where that figure came from but, I first heard it from the local Representative McClintock, during the committee meeting. I’m guessing they are taking some kind of volume per acre, and applying it to the entire wildfire, including the 80,000 acres that burned inside the Park, as well as the rugged and brushy Tuolumne River Canyon. If you tack on the limited volume in the many thousands of acres of young plantations, you have a bigger picture of the reality, here. Finally, the patches of larger timber are mostly in, what are now, “protected” snag patches. The highest intensities occurred within those protected California Spotted Owl areas, which have never been logged. Those patches of old growth were very small, due to the big wildfires of the last 50 years.

    I would be in favor of exempting young tree plantations from Judicial reviews, as well as the harvest of roadside hazard trees but, you can be sure that Chad Hanson will litigate any and all projects, including the removal of hazard trees. I hear that crews are already felling those hazard trees, on the main roads, but, is there ANY reason why we shouldn’t send those logs to the mill?!?! I wouldn’t be surprised if Hanson sought an injunction against felling those hazard trees on secondary roads. He considers dead trees along roads as “habitat” for blackbacked woodpeckers, and not “hazards” to the public. I’ll bet someone will insist on an EIS for any hazard tree operations.


    “September 26, 2013 – Sonora, Calif…The Stanislaus NF announces the sale of 2.15 million board feet of salvage timber from the Rim Fire burn area authorized under the Raker Act which will help expedite emergency hazard tree salvage sales. The sale area contains hazard trees cut in road and utility rights of way to provide for safety of the personnel working on rehabilitation efforts, including the Burned Area Emergency Response team and the employees of the County and City of San Francisco working with the Hetch Hetchy water and power system.”

  3. Would it be practical for hazard trees to be felled using that using a service contract or force account, and then they could sell the logs lying along the road? This might get the anti “commercial” logging folks out of the fray. Actually I think hazard trees should be covered by a regional/national EIS. it’s kind of silly (and a waste of taxpayer $) IMHO for every district to do roadside and campground hazard trees.

    • “Would it be practical for hazard trees to be felled using that using a service contract or force account, and then they could sell the logs lying along the road?” I would guess that is the current strategy.

      Once they are felled, some of the BBW issues should go away. In the past, when Hanson won on my old project, he allowed us to harvest only the dead hazard trees smaller than 40″ dbh. Larger trees were to be felled and left in place, as fuels for the next roadside wildfire ignition. And that was only on roads designed for passenger cars.

          • But as stated, the settlement led to a policy about falling and leaving 40 inch hazard trees, it isn’t clear how that relates to the laws the plaintiffs claimed to have broken. this seems to argue that it wasn’t about making the FS follow “the law”.. can you send me the settlement document or can the lawyers on the blog help us get it?

            • They also “held hostage” the trees, that were already felled, throughout the summer, in an effort to make sure we did all the cleanup work. They also insisted that Hanson would “approve” of roadside hazard tree marking, which included only cutting trees which had no green needles on them. We were to give Hanson an inspection notice, when marking in areas were completed. I was amused that Hanson had trouble getting his Prius into some of the areas. *smirk* Our strategy with the hazard trees was to get areas approved, then to return with the fallers, to mark additional trees which lost their last green needles, later. That worked out better than leaving dead trees along roads. Hanson did not fail to approve any of the areas, as I, personally, made sure that no green-needled trees would be cut. I wasn’t about to endanger completing the work, as directed.

              I never saw the settlement but, it seemed like the Forest Service had to live with whatever Hanson wanted, in return for the ability to harvest the already-felled trees, and the ability to cut hazard trees on main roads. There would be zero non-hazard trees allowed to be cut. I supervised most of the extensive clean-up work, done by Columbia Helicopters. They did a great job at cleaning up the significant messes they made, due to a lack of gyppo log trucks (landing were plugged). The logging slash, flown out of the cutting units (still attached to logs) was a significant issue, and those Columbia folks had a lot of heartburn over having to deal with it. I didn’t have much sympathy for them, as they “reaped what they had sown”. Sierra Pacific Industries wasn’t too happy with me but, I remained firm.

              Yes, I would be interested at seeing the settlement I didn’t get to see when I worked there. The local Forest Service Representative (my “client”) didn’t like the settlement, in no uncertain terms. I didn’t think he had any input into the settlement. I doubt the Contracting Officer liked the settlement, either, as I had worked for her, in the past, as well.

    • Sharon

      We discussed roadside removal along 19 miles in another thread – Matt was strongly against it as were some other environmental groups.

      Re: “I think hazard trees should be covered by a regional/national EIS” – I think that environmental groups would fight that tooth and nail. They have things exactly the way that they want. Keeping things piecemeal maximizes their ability to veto by litigation, they aren’t going to let that power be infringed on without WWIII

      • I’d like to make a correction. I don’t recall being “strongly against” roadside logging along 19 miles in another thread. I do recall, however, being strongly for sharing with the group some of the specific information about that project, which was missing from the original post. Thanks.

        • Personally, I think we need a hazard tree Categorical Exclusion, as part of the road maintenance process. for the whole of the Forest Service road systems and public areas. Since trees routinely die and fall, shouldn’t road maintenance, including hazard tree mitigation, be categorically-excluded from lawsuits? It DOES meet the concept of “routine” work, and the CE would be tweaked to cover as many situations as possible. In some situations, felled trees would be left in place but, harvest should be allowed, once the trees are on the ground. If the project includes skid trails, or is more complex, it might not meet the CE. Then again, the CE might include specific instructions for roads bordering “protected areas”.

          Again, ALL roads have “buffers”, and no land designation should affect those necessary issues. We need common sense in protecting the public, and protecting the roads.

          • I tried to look up if there already was one, say with the BLM or Park Service, but could not access any sites. I guess this will have to wait until everyone’s back at work. I’m sure people have thought about it, and I will try to find out what they concluded.

  4. A recent study noted that post fire, vast areas of trees missing needles and fine limbs allow a significant amount of snow to reach the forest floor, snow once suspended to mostly sublimate and never contribute a drop of water to the watershed. Now that more snow will accumulate on the forest floor, becoming a more one dimensional accumulation than that suspended in needles and limbs, it will reflect heat into space, thus cooling the burned area and accumulating significantly more snow pack. But the new research says that the burned standing trees will absorb heat and increase the “tree well effect”, and eroding detritus from the dead and rotting trees will accumulate in the surface of the snow pack, absorb solar heat, and cause the snowpack to melt significantly earlier in the spring and contribute to a longer summer drought. All of which goes away with the trees when they finally hit the ground, having rotted out and are horizontal and not contributing detritus to cause early snow melt. Add to that those trees missing due to logging are gone and never more contributing to losing the gain in snow pack produced by landscape fires. I wonder what kind of math exercise could show that logging salvage is a valuable atmospheric cooling action and water conservation process, in that the spring runoff occurs later and longer without the heat sinks of standing dead trees and their shedding of tiny solar heaters for a long time.

  5. And I guess if I didn’t copy correctly, Oregon State U. School of Forestry has it and published it. As usual, OSU is pointedly NOT mentioning salvage logging as a way that takes away the source of the detritus that brings about the early snowmelt in spring. Does not talk about aspect, salvage logging, or the loss of the albedo gains at which point in the process of revegetation. At the elevations that are relevant to the discussion, which is the mean annual elevation of seasonal snow accretion, and above, and how long it takes in the short growing seasons of ever higher elevation to accomplish any sort of canopy cover that will start to lessen the total annual water availability from snow fall and rains preserved in snow pack, all of which is the available spring freshet and summer melt water. The study is common sense and has mucho validity. But research is just that, and on the ground land management for societal benefit is another beast in need of recognition. The California Rim Fire deal will look at black backed woodpecker habitat. You can find a total habitat map for the species on the net. It will show that the entirety of the Canadian boreal forest is noted, and then you have these sacs of habitat like the west side Sierra Nevada, hanging like an oriole nest, and the Black Hills in SoDak, an extrusion from the Rockies to the east, and island like transitional forest and lodgepole habitats on the center and eastside of the Cascades. Habitats of opportunity. Expansion habitats. But the whole of the Canadian boreal forest, from coast to coast, from the prairies to the tundra, is the core habitat and extinction is not at all probable or endangered or threatened. Add to that the bird does well in old growth, now certainly protected, and from fires of lesser extent. It does have, after all, wings, which would indicate some ability to move and pioneer newly burned areas no matter the size or location. And salvage logging will improve snow melt timing and amounts.

  6. Good old DeFazio….
    Anyone here taken the drive to Mt St Helens? That was the ultimate clearcut and burn. But the striking thing is the forests replanted versus the areas “left to nature.” It leaves me of the mind that almost no method of salvage could ever do enough damage to truly kill the ability of re-planted vegetation to sprout and grow.
    They should agree to half and half, just checkerboard the SOB, let the Greens point at their nirvana, and the foresters point to theirs in about 20 years. Sheesh. Larry, is there already checkerboard up there?


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