I wish to respond to the self-serving opinion piece in the March 16 Missoulian by Gordy Sanders and Loren Rose of Pyramid Lumber Company in Seeley Lake titled “Work together to pass Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project.”

The Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Project is a good example of “PPSC” socialism: privatize the profits, socialize the costs.

Nearly every timber sale on U.S. Forest Service lands around Seeley Lake loses money. Americans are padding the coffers of Pyramid Lumber by selling our public timber to them at a loss. But this is only the beginning of the socialism of costs promoted by Sanders and Rose.

The proposal also calls for taxpayers to give $4.5 million dollars to Pyramid Lumber for a new boiler and co-generation facility.

But there are costs to all of us beyond the direct subsidies to Sanders and Rose’s company. Logging degrades our forests by removing biomass, spreading weeds, fragmenting wildlife habitat, removing of carbon storage, causing the loss of rare genetic alleles that provide resiliency to forest ecosystems, as well as increasing sedimentation from logging roads that clogs our streams, destroying aquatic ecosystems.

We are supposed to accept all these costs based on flawed assertions of benefits. Among the questionable claims, they assert that logging in the Seeley Lake area will “reduce fire risk,” a common myth promoted by the timber industry.

The majority of forest types being logged in the region are higher-elevation spruce/fir/lodgepole pine and other tree species that burn infrequently in large blazes that occur hundreds of years apart. The probability that any logged site would burn any time in the near future is very low, thus logging does not confer any additional benefits because vegetation quickly grows back.

But even more importantly, there is ample evidence that logging cannot preclude large blazes. Nearly all of the larger blazes in western Montana have burned through heavily logged forests. The fires in Gold Creek, near Lolo Creek, in the Sapphires near Rye Creek and many other large blazes all occurred in previously logged drainages, including the Jocko Lakes Fire, which burned through heavily logged Plum Creek lands just west of Seeley Lake in Sanders’ and Rose’s backyard.

Large fires are weather-driven events, not fuels-driven. When the conditions exist for a major fire – which includes drought, high temperatures, low humidity and high winds – nothing, including past logging, halts blazes. Such fires typically self-extinguish or are stopped only when less favorable conditions occur for fire spread.

In fact, some studies suggest that logging can exacerbate fire spread by increasing wind penetration and drying of the forest floor. In short, it is not at all clear that logging will “reduce fire risk,” as Sanders and Rose claim.

The second problem with their commentary is the implied message that logging will “restore” and make forests “healthy.”

In truth, large wildfires are critical to a healthy forest ecosystem. Many species live in mortal fear of green forests. Wildfire creates habitat perfect for many species. Biologist Dick Hutto has documented more than 100 bird species that prefer the habitat resulting from stand-replacement high-severity fires.

Large fires are also an episodic input of dead wood that provides habitat for rodents and amphibians, and are shelter/travel corridors for larger mammals like weasel and lynx. Dead trees that fall into streams are critical to a healthy ecosystem, providing habitat for aquatic insects, fish and other life. Dead trees store carbon and nutrients.

Rather than try to stop large wildfires, reducing the flammability of structures is the only “management” that actually protects communities. But of course, this doesn’t put ta payer money in the bank account of Pyramid Lumber.

The only part of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project that has clear long-term public benefits is wilderness designation in places like Monture Creek, and along the Swan Face. These lands should be given wilderness protection, and Americans should not be blackmailed into accepting economically and ecologically dubious logging proposals as a cost of protection.

The lands Pyramid Lumber wants to log are American public lands that belong to all of us, and a heritage that should be protected for the benefit of all Americans, not just the narrow financial well-being of any individuals, companies and communities.

Bio:  George Wuerthner has authored 38 books, including several on wildfire ecology. He is a board member of Western Watersheds Project

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About The Author

George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology

2 Responses to Don’t let logging be the cost of wilderness

  1. avatar Gary Humbard says:

    First, unless the author lives in a cave or mud hut, I would presume the house he lives in is made of wood products. Trees are the ONLY renewable resource for building structures and since mills need a certain number of loads of logs/day, they can either come from overcutting on private lands (minimal environmental protection) and/or from federal lands (most stringent environmental protection standards in the US).

    “Nearly every timber sale on U.S. Forest Service lands around Seeley Lake loses money”. When you filled out your federal tax form 1040, did you notice how many “subsidies” are available for the average American. I presume the federal government should not subsidize first time home buyers, alternative energy development, energy savings costs and many others. These timber sales provide jobs to Montanans in a state which is economically limited.

    “Logging degrades our forests by removing biomass, spreading weeds, fragmenting wildlife habitat, removing of carbon storage, causing the loss of rare genetic alleles that provide resiliency to forest ecosystems, as well as increasing sedimentation from logging roads that clogs our streams, destroying aquatic ecosystems.”

    I would bet the majority of these timber sales involve thinnings and not clearcuts. Of course, they remove biomass, but by removing a portion of the smaller trees, the remaining larger trees are going to grow faster and thus add biomass over the long term.

    There will be a short term minor increase in weeds (mainly within disturbed areas of soils) but within 5 to 10 years native vegetation will return to pre-disturbance levels.

    Again, carbon storage will decrease during the short term (10 to 20 years), but will increase over the long term as the remaining trees would grow faster than if left untreated, thus absorbing more carbon dioxide while producing more oxygen. The remaining logging slash will absorb carbon as well.

    Thinnings rarely fragment habitat and in fact can enhance wildlife habitat by the immediate creation of snags and down wood, providing larger trees faster than if left untreated, and closing existing roads after harvest operations.

    I don’t know where the author is seeing aquatic systems being destroyed by sedimentation from logging on federal lands, but with the implementation of stream side protection areas on all live streams, seasonal logging restrictions, and all of the federal laws regarding water quality, I seriously question this assertion. It happened years ago and the assertion sounds good for his argument, but times have changed, rarely occurs and when it does, it’s mainly due to enhancing fish passage and is short term in it’s effects.

    “Among the questionable claims, they assert that logging in the Seeley Lake area will “reduce fire risk,” a common myth promoted by the timber industry.”

    The author rightfully asserts biomass will be reduced, yet does not connect it to the reduction of fire risk. A reduction of fuels will reduce fire risk and thus could have a influence regarding low to moderate severity of wildfire. Everyone knows large fires such as the 88 Yellowstone fires are driven by weather and particularly wind, but it’s the moderate to low intensity fires that thinning can influence.

    “In truth, large wildfires are critical to a healthy forest ecosystem. Many species live in mortal fear of green forests. Wildfire creates habitat perfect for many species.”

    Totally agree, and considering the current drought in the west, relatively large amounts of beetle kill and extremely limited amount of harvest acres on federal land; from a landscape basis, there are very few areas where a shortage of dead trees exist on federal forest lands in the western US.

    Trees will be harvested as wood products are needed by American consumers. When they come from private lands there may not be a “cost to the taxpayer”, but certainly a much higher environmental cost than if they come from federal timber sales. This author has repeatedly argued against federal timber sales, I argue, to reduce the environmental costs from logging on private land, there should be MORE environmentally sensitive federal timber sales. You decide.

    • avatar Rich says:

      Gary,

      Your comment that “Trees … can either come from overcutting on private lands (minimal environmental protection) and/or from federal lands (most stringent environmental protection standards in the US)”, is inaccurate. Private farm foresters are usually much better stewards and managers of the land than the government. If a farm forester destroys their own land through poor management, they forfeit potential future use of the land and pay the price to rehabilitate it. You can be a farmer or a miner. In the latter case you have to keep moving on to new claims. A farm forester cannot afford to continue buying new forest land and learns to protect and enhance the viability of their land. Attend a meeting of private foresters and you will find intelligent, thoughtful individuals dedicated to preserving and enhancing the value of their land. Many are also very aware of the importance of their forests to the surrounding communities in providing clean water and air and even recreational values.

      The second point that needs to be made is that only 3 to 4% of timber harvested in the US comes from public lands. Private forest lands have provided the bulk of lumber used in the US for many years and the owners manage their lands to be able to do that into the future. This is one industry where the US Government is in completion with private landowners. Public lands must be dedicated to protecting the environment, wildlife habitat and watersheds and fisheries not in “getting out the cut”. Unfortunately the Forest Service is controlled by the political process and “getting out the cut” has historically been the driving force in management decisions.

      When a private landowner plans to harvest their trees, they have to build and maintain the roads, manage the cutting process, and ensure that they get the best market for their timber. Then the real work begins in restoring and replanting the area cut. This is not just a simple task of putting trees in the ground and walking away. The next 20 years are devoted to protecting the young trees with bud caps or mesh, removing competing vegetation, responding to storms and wind throw, frost kill, drought and all the rest.

      US Forest Service and BLM lands are managed quite differently with the taxpayer paying for everything from building roads, to restoring and replanting the forest after the trees are removed. When Americans decided to protect roadless areas on public lands from development, there was a huge road maintenance backlog on these lands. At the same time the Forest Service was hell-bent on construction of new roads even as the old roads were failing and trashing watersheds. There was also a backlog in properly restoring and replanting previously cut areas. At the same time politicians were demanding more opportunities for loggers to cut trees without any thought to protecting the environment or even market conditions for the lumber. The taxpayers were taking it in the shorts. You rarely find that type of decision making and management on private lands.

      In this case Gordy Sanders and Loren Rose of the Pyramid Lumber Company are attempting to use political pressure to force the Forest Service to do their bidding and the taxpayers to pick up the costs. If Sanders and Rose want more trees to cut, let them use their capital to acquire and manage their own forest lands. I think one of the points being made here is that the motives behind the opinion piece written by Sanders and Rose are not as altruistic as they would have you believe.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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