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The Oregonian Guest Columnist, by Karen Coulter
The notion that escalated logging equals forest restoration is analogous to the Orwellian slogan "War is Peace." Usually the cause of a problem is not the solution.
There is science supporting the thinning of small trees in dry, Ponderosa pine-dominant, already logged and fire-suppressed forest. However the U.S. Forest Service, the timber industry and some larger environmental organizations are now using the public's fear of fire to justify another indiscriminate binge of mismanagement. The Forest Service is now applying the dry-forest-thinning rationale inappropriately to moister, mixed conifer forests such as higher elevation forests in eastern Oregon and Washington, and western Oregon forests.
The smaller (generally 3 to 8 inches in diameter) trees that cause most of any existing "overcrowding" in dry forests are not what would save the mills. Fuel-reduction logging is dependent on logging mature and larger trees to provide revenue.
Unfortunately, because of nearly a century of unsustainable logging, trees over 20 inches and even 15 inches in diameter are now in short supply in eastern Oregon. So increased logging would further deplete large live, snag and down wood structure needed for wildlife, recreation, soil-nutrient recycling and carbon storage to slow the effects of climate change.
There is now a growing body of science questioning the assumptions on which the fuel/fire risk-reduction rationale for dry forests is based. Yet, the Forest Service and its allies have not been acknowledging this scientific controversy. Recent science indicates that even dry Ponderosa pine forests may have been historically subject to infrequent fires of mixed to high severity, so that fuel reduction would not necessarily mimic natural conditions.
A precautionary approach needs to be taken regarding logging. Wildfires and insect defoliation are natural disturbances in forest ecosystems that are needed to perpetuate biodiversity and ecological integrity. Wildfires should be allowed to burn in the backcountry, with measures for fire-risk reduction focused on areas immediately around homes, where they will be most effective.
Despite the much-touted "consensus" for more logging, some grass-roots ecological groups are still trying to stop the most ecologically destructive timber sales -- including misguided fuel-reduction projects -- using the legal process. These groups -- including Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, The Lands Council, Hells Canyon Preservation Council and Bark -- are noteworthy for spending a lot of time hiking and surveying proposed timber sales and being familiar with the issues on the ground.
I am sympathetic to the plight of rural communities that have been long dependent on timber revenue. They have been taken for a boom-bust ride by the big timber corporations. These corporations have by now mostly left the region for easier pickings, exploiting workers and ecosystems in Mexico, Chile, Siberia and other parts of the world.
The time has come to diversify the Northwest's rural economies toward higher value, more sustainable work that can still preserve the rural way of life and nature that we cherish before we exhaust the soils, water, wildlife, fish and climate -- our life support system.
Karen Coulter is the director of Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, based in Fossil.