Center for Biological Diversity v. Rim Fire Salvage

The CBD’s expected lawsuit against the USFS over salvage on the Rim Fire near Yosemite.

The introduction offers some points to ponder:

“Snag forest habitat, also known as “complex early seral forest”, is one of the rarest and least protected of all forest habitat types in the Sierra Nevada.”

Rare? Says who? Chad Hanson:

“Due to fire suppression policies, there is now about one-fourth as much high-intensity fire—the type of fire that creates complex early seral forest—as there was prior to the early 20th century (Hanson and Odion 2014, Odion et al. 2014).”

“This habitat—if not subjected to post-fire logging—supports levels of native biodiversity and wildlife abundance comparable to, and sometimes higher than, that of unburned mature/old forest (Raphael et al. 1987, Burnett et al. 2010, Swanson et al. 2011).”

Yes, and clearcuts can also support higher levels of native biodiversity and wildlife abundance than old-growth.

“The Rim fire logging project would log most of the snag forest habitat within the Rim fire on the Stanislaus National Forest.”

The EIS says: “Salvage of dead trees and fuel reduction (28,326 acres) including ground based mechanized equipment such as harvesters and rubber tired skidders (24,127 acres), ground based/skyline swing (16 acres) and aerial based helicopter (2,930 acres) or cable systems (1,253 acres).”

The Rim Fire burned 257,314 acres, including 154,530 acres of National Forest System (NFS) lands.

So the USFS proposes salvage on about 18% of the burned area (but won’t be taking all dead trees). The CBD’s complaint says 60% of the burned area was conifer forest. I do’t know how much of the USFS lands were conifer forests, but I don’t think 28,326 acres is “most” of the “snag forest.”



16 thoughts on “Center for Biological Diversity v. Rim Fire Salvage”

  1. I’ve seen a lot of rhetoric coming from Hanson about this project, including “death sentence” for owls. The CBD seems to be standing back, leaving its press release to weather the storm of controversy and truth. Here is where a FULL analysis of the Rim Fire is needed, to include the Park Service acres into the plan, and into the courts. We cannot let those acres not be “admissible” in court, as a mitigation measure for owls and woodpeckers. It’s pretty clear what the strategy is, knowing that the CBD and Hanson knows the real battle is in Appeals Court. Their inclusion of the idea that owls are using the burn as foraging habitat is designed to plant that thought that “more analysis is needed”. I hope the Forest Service is up to the task of educating the Court about the real biology of those owls and goshawks. Once again, occupation doesn’t mean more population. They aren’t breeding in burned territories.

    Regarding acreages and old forests, much of those 250,000 acres is not suitable for salvage, especially after setting aside the required snags. Hanson’s claims of “clearcutting the Rim Fire” should be spot-lighted in court, so the Judges can see the lengths Hanson will go to get his way. The cutting units near the big trees along the Clavey River certainly don’t come close to cutting much of that cherished “snag habitat”. There are numerous PACs that won’t be entered.

    We should also be looking at just how intensely these “protected” areas along the Clavey River burned. This is going to be the best example of a need to manage some fuels within ALL old growth stands, protected, or not. Or, we can continue with the “whatever happens” policy for “protecting” essential and irreplaceable nesting habitats.

  2. Looks like they will some more snags to go with what is already there with the new fire in the park. Which I read they let burn for a month because it was natural and has now exploded. I think the same thing is happening up on the Willamette. You know the dry East winds are going to come sooner or later.

    • Yep, and my confidence in their policies and decision-making has dropped, yet another notch. “Playing with fire” has never been more dangerous, here in the West. To be truthful, those upper elevation forests have a considerable lodgepole content, as well as the true firs, to torch off really good. I hear they have put together a team to fight it but, they had better think twice about doing much. The last two days have been very breezy and rather gusty, up to 30 mph. Luckily, the ample fuels are well-contained, by vast expanses of granite. It makes for excellent media coverage, which absolutely loves night-time wildfires. I’ll bet there is a dozen live trucks up there at Glacier Point, covering the “devastation of a massive wildfire”, reveling in their sensational horror, from afar. How many reporters will be wearing the Nomex they got from 3 fires ago? *smirk*

      What is important is that we learn from these fires, in the laboratory known as Yosemite National Park.

  3. Here is a view of the forests that are being “crispifried”. Shot from the flanks of Half Dome, looking southeast. I guess if it is “natural” for humans to let fires burn during an epic drought, then it is just fine and dandy for us to have some more of that “rare” snag habitat. From the pics I have seen, it looks like there will be very high fire intensity, as well as the gusty winds the last two days.


  4. Here is a little different source of news about the Rim Fire.

    Rim Fire recovery plan calls for little salvage logging

    Dan Tomascheski, vice president of Sierra Pacific Industries, said the company has been studying the return of riparian vegetation after fires and assessing which species are successful during various periods of time.

    Most do “OK,” he said, “but alder isn’t coming back,” and that’s a concern because alder benefits microscopic organisms that live in streambeds.

    “This argues for more active management of riparian zones, post-fire, for instance planting alder and spacing out other species, rather than leaving zones to recover on their own,” Tomascheski said.

    • “that’s a concern because alder benefits microscopic organisms that live in streambeds.”

      More than that, even. Alder roots have nodules with mutualistic nitrogen-fixing bacteria in them (similar to legume roots, though different bacteria). On field trips, I always have my students dig up some young alder roots; when you cut open the little nodules they’re pink inside. That’s because of a hemoglobin-like molecule, much like hemoglobin in your blood carries oxygen around your body, the molecule in alder (similar to legume) nodules carries oxygen away from the microsite of N-fixation, because that process is inhibited by oxygen. I think the general consensus is that N-fixation by the alder association generates more soil nitrogen than the tree uses, so overall soil fertility is enhanced by the presence of alder. Sorry for the mini lecture, it’s just a very cool contribution by what was once considered somewhat of a “junk species”.

      • Guy: On the Oregon Coast Range alder doesn’t seem to fix nitrogen because there is already so much present in the soil — and for much of the past 150 years alder has had a similar, or greater, value than Douglas-fir of the same diameter because of its value as furniture and cabinetry wood (takes a great stain), veneer (plywood cores, because knots don’t “pop out”), chips (no pitch), and firewood (favored by the Indians for most food-smoking operations). Also, the red dyes used by many northwest tribes? Another alder product.

        Last month I sold a remaining piece of land I had in the Eddyville, Oregon area because it was land-locked by the state highway department. The bulk of the acreage was a 30+-year old alder progeny test site that I had planted with select parent seed on exact 12-foot centers. Alder seems to experience severe transplant shock and within a few years the naturally seeded alder from adjacent stands we directly competing with, and suppressing, the 3-year old select plants. Indications from that trial seem to indicate that it would be a lot cheaper and a lot more effective to simply seed in an area with alder and precommercially thin to desired densities after it has become established in 4 or 5 years.

        • Bob, Nitrogen Export from Forested Watersheds in the Oregon Coast Range: The Role of N2-fixing Red Alder suggests that Oregon Coast Range alder does fix nitrogen. Quoting from the abstract: “Nitrate and dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) concentrations were positively related to broadleaf cover (dominated by red alder: 94% of basal area) . . . Nitrate and DON concentrations were more strongly related to broadleaf cover within entire watersheds than broadleaf cover within the riparian area alone, which indicates that leaching from upland alder stands plays an important role in watershed nitrogen (N) export . . . Our findings provide evidence for strong control of ecosystem function by a single plant species, where leaching from N saturated red alder stands is a major control on N export from these coastal watersheds.”

          • plenty more where that came from, e.g.
            Linking Landscape Characteristics and High Stream Nitrogen in the Oregon Coast Range: Red Alder Complicates Use of Nutrient Criteria.
            “Abstract. Red alder (Alnus rubra), a nitrogen(N)-fixing deciduous broadleaf tree, can strongly influence N concentrations in western Oregon and Washington. We compiled a database of stream N and GIS-derived landscape characteristics in order to examine geographic variation in N across the Oregon Coast Range. Basal area of alder, expressed as a percent of watershed area, accounted for 37% and 38% of the variation in summer nitrate and total N (TN) concentrations, respectively. Relationships between alder and nitrate were strongest in winter when streamflow and landscape connections are highest. Distance to the coast and latitude, potential surrogates for sea salt inputs, and watershed area were also related to nitrate concentrations in an all-subsets regression analysis, which accounted for 46% of the variation in summer nitrate concentrations. The model with the lowest Akaike’s Information Criterion did not include developed or agricultural land cover, probably because few watersheds in our database had substantial levels of these land cover classes. Our results provide evidence, at a regional scale, that background sources and processes cause many Coast Range streams to exceed proposed nutrient criteria, and that the prevalence of a single tree species (N-fixing red alder) exerts a dominant control over stream N concentrations across this region.”

            I don’t personally consider alder to be a junk tree, but if you google “alder trash tree” you’ll find it’s a fairly widespread perception, though as Bob says an incorrect one.

          • Andy and Guy:

            Thanks much for the updated and corrected information. Mine was from the last century and current about the time I was fiddling around with alder plantations, in the early 1980s. Interestingly, most of the once-vast stands of Coast Range alder from the 1970s were a product of widespread wildfire and clearcut logging that had focused almost entirely on the mostly pure stands of Douglas-fir that preceded them. My reforestation crews specialized in the conversion of such alder stands back to Douglas-fir, as they had previously been. In Lincoln county alone (and mostly) we successfully converted more than 30,000 acres of such land in a 10-15 year period beginning in the early 1970s. That was when I was being told that alder was not fixing nitrogen in coastal soils because they had so much already present that it neutered that capability in high site stands (“most of the west slope of the Coast Range”). Glad they are looking at the Rim Fire for possible uses of these trees.

  5. The Center for Biological Diversity, along with Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild, have filoed suit against salvage harvesting in the 2013 Douglas Complex Fire area, according to an article in Capital Press. An excerpt:

    Earlier this year, the Fish and Wildlife Service approved a plan to salvage harvest about 8 percent of 25,000 acres owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management that burned during the Douglas Complex Fire in 2013.

    Roughly 23,000 acres of private land were also affected by the blaze.

    In devising the salvage project, federal managers excluded from harvest areas that experienced low-severity fire. Logging is to occur on 1,600 acres where the trees are dead or dying, the government said.

    • With salvage projects being scaled down, it reduces the Agency’s flexibility in dealing with the associated bark beetle blooms, which often occur months to years after the fire has gone cold. I’m seeing more and more bug patches around here, about 35 miles from the Rim Fire’s edge, as the crow flies. My last salvage project had almost half of the volume coming in, dying after the logging had started. With this recent trend of jumping on salvage and getting work started as quickly as possible, this is becoming an issue. Excluding moderate, to even low intensity burns from being salvaged can result in significant losses of additional trees/timber. I do wonder whether this was considered, or even thought of, by Forest officials.

      Bark beetles do not stay within the lines on a government map.

    • I am sure that the sawmills that bought those sales can use the wood. I was a little disappointed that the sales weren’t broken up into smaller sales but still there is no rational reason not to harvest what the BLM has sold.
      Once again it is just small amount of what was burned. These groups just want nothing harvested on public lands, whatever the reason. I hope they lose in court, and lets hope that there is no injunction.
      Delaying harvest, and thus reducing the value of the timber and what you can make out it seems to be one of their tactics.
      I see we have 99,000 acres on fire around Happy Camp.
      I don’t think this generation is going to get very high ratings for our stewardship of our public forests.
      You know even when we were “harvesting too much” on our public lands at least are communities were healthy and we were creating something. Now our communities are almost defunct and we spend billions of government dollars every year watching our forests burn up. I don’t think it was a very good trade off. I don’t even know what we traded off our forest for? (So groups like Oregon Wild and Cascadian Wildlands can exist?) Our forests sure are not being preserve or conserved or even surviving.
      Our public land managers have spend billions of dollars trying to appease their concerns when funds could of been better spent elsewhere. It seem what they really want is total halt to all management on our public forest lands.
      Sorry for getting carried away here, its frustrating to see this human caused waste and destruction of our forests.

  6. Steve, the Rim Fire created approximately 26,000 acres of complex early seral forest (CESF) habitat on the Stanislaus National Forest. They are logging approximately 32,000 acres of severely/moderately burned forest according to their plan, of which approximately 17,000 are along roadsides (which isn’t necessarily CESF).

    So yes, they are logging most of the rare, CESF habitat as Chad indicated.

    The reason given by the Forest Service for not logging more is because there is not enough lumber mill capacity to handle additional timber, not because of an in-depth understanding of ecology.

    • “The reason given by the Forest Service for not logging more is because there is not enough lumber mill capacity to handle additional timber, not because of an in-depth understanding of ecology.”

      Ummmm, yes, there are TWO mills within an hour’s drive of the Rim Fire. One of them is an “old school” big log mill, designed to handle the 70’s and 80’s style of logging. There is also a modern small log mill, which can process as many logs as can be supplied. The only issue about mill capacity might be the ability to set up new log decks with enough water supply to keep them wet, until milled. The Forest Supervisor decided that they would pursue the areas with the most timber volume, leaving less dense areas untouched, within the Clavey River corridor..

      Regarding old forests, the Park has PLENTY of them, burned to a crisp, as I have shown in Google Maps views. Regarding the Clavey River area, which burned at higher intensities in unmanaged old growth, if you look at the EIS maps, you’ll see that much of the Clavey will remain untouched.

      Again, you don’t factor in that almost half of the project is in 40 year old plantations, installed after the last catastrophic wildfire.

    • Richard: The so-called “rare habitat” is very common and far more widespread today than 30 years ago. The black-backed woodpecker is a common bird found throughout much of North America. It is not rare, exists in great numbers, is obviously very adaptable, and can fly. Hanson’s claims are political theater, and legitimate scientific methodology is being degraded in the process. We now have lawyers in Oregon arguing similar “science” issues regarding the spotted owl, as they have been doing for more than 30 years. Yet, as Bill Hagenstein points out, it is illegal for foresters to practice law. Go figure. Weyerhaeuser loves this stuff.


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