Recently I drove up the Lostine River corridor and hiked the trail in the Eaglecap Wilderness giving me a good opportunity to review a Forest Service proposal to log the river corridor.

The agency is using a stealth method of approving the proposed logging called a “Categorical Exclusion”.  The CE allows the FS to proceed with logging without the usual public review and environmental analysis.

Why would the Wallowa-Whitman NF be using the CE for this proposal?

The reason is abundantly clear. The proposal is based on flawed assumptions about wildfire and ignores the best and most recent fire science that questions the efficiency and effectiveness of fuel reductions.

Most of the forest species along the Lostine River corridor consists of moist, higher elevation conifer species like subalpine fir, lodgepole pine, and spruce.

A rudimentary review of the fire regime of these forest types reveals that they tend to burn infrequently, often with centuries between major wildfires.

Indeed, the only time you get a major fire is when there are extreme weather conditions that include drought, low humidity, high temperatures and high winds. Under these conditions, you simply cannot halt a fire.

For instance, one study published by scientists at the Missoula FS Fire Lab concluded that: “Extreme environmental conditions. .overwhelmed most fuel treatment effects. . . This included almost all treatment methods including prescribed burning and thinning. . .. Suppression efforts had little benefit from fuel modifications.”

This is particularly true in the narrow Lostine Canyon where any fire burning under extreme conditions with high winds will cast firebrands a mile or more that will jump over, around, and perhaps even through any thinned forest stands.

Add to this factor that even when thinned/logged, trees grow back quickly negating any benefit of fuel reductions—assuming it even worked—which increasingly researchers are questioning.

As another study of fuel reduction effectiveness concludes: “When the probability of fire occurring in a particular area is relatively low (as with the Lostine corridor due to the long fire intervals) the odds of a fuel treatment influencing the behaviour of a wildfire there, within the time frame that treatments are effective, is also low.”

In fact, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests logging increases high severity fires.  The reason is clear—logging/thinning opens the forest canopy up. This results in greater drying of the fuels and allows for greater wind penetration—exactly the factors that sustain high severity fires.

For instance, the Congressional Research Service found: “From a quantitative perspective, the CRS study indicates a very weak relationship between acres logged and the extent and severity of forest fires. … the data indicate that fewer acres burned in areas where logging activity was limited.”

Another study published this winter that reviewed 1500 wildfires and the influence of logging/thinning on fire severity summarized findings this way: “We investigated the relationship between protected status and fire severity applied to 1500 fires affecting 9.5 million hectares between 1984 and 2014 in pine (Pinus ponderosa, Pinus jeffreyi) and mixed-conifer forests of western United States… We found forests with higher levels of protection had lower severity values even though they are generally identified as having the highest overall levels of biomass and fuel.”

As FS researcher Jack Cohen has stated:  “Wildland fuel reduction may be inefficient and ineffective for reducing home losses, for extensive wildland fuel reduction on public lands does not effectively reduce home ignitability on private lands.”

Adding insult to injury logging the corridor will result in logging roads that add sediment to the river negatively impacting fisheries, disturbance and displacement to sensitive wildlife like elk, the spread weeds, compaction of soils, loss of carbon storage, and creation of an industrial zone with logging trucks running up and down the road in an important recreation area.

So, we the public, get all these negatives, while the timber companies get the benefit. It’s another example of the PPSC—privatize profits, and socialize costs. No wonder the FS doesn’t want the public to understand what is going on by using the Categorical Exclusion to hide the reality.

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and author of 38 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy. 541-255-6039

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About The Author

George Wuerthner

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

4 Responses to Lostine Logging Proposal Bogus

  1. Thanks for this clear explanation of how logging increases the threat of forest fires.

  2. avatar Nancy says:

    Its not hard to miss what human greed, combined with the effects of climate change, can do to what was once a rich, healthy, functioning ecosystem – Lungs of the World”

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/fires-could-turn-amazon-rainforest-into-a-desert-as-human-activity-and-climate-change-threaten-lungs-9259741.html

  3. avatar Gary Humbard says:

    “The agency is using a stealth method of approving the proposed logging called a “Categorical Exclusion”. “The CE allows the FS to proceed with logging without the usual public review and environmental analysis.”

    Wow, talk about an alternative fact regarding public review! BTW, the author was contacted at the very beginning of the public review process too.

    http://a123.g.akamai.net/7/123/11558/abc123/forestservic.download.akamai.com/11558/www/nepa/103397_FSPLT3_3986347.pdf

    http://a123.g.akamai.net/7/123/11558/abc123/forestservic.download.akamai.com/11558/www/nepa/103397_FSPLT3_3986346.pdf

    Yes, because actions allowed under Categorical Reviews have gone through extensive past reviews by scientists, attorneys and judges, and because this project meets one of those actions, it is not required to go through the usual environmental analysis. It’s called government efficiency!

    The agencies do not claim that thinnings and fuels treatments decrease fire behavior when conditions are right for high intensity fires, so maybe the author needs to quit that argument. However, thinnings followed by fuel treatments can have an effect on low to moderate intensity fires and since 50% of the FS budget is spent on fire suppression, maybe an ounce of prevention can prevent a pound of cure (along with implementing a let burn policy in certain situations).

    The impacts the author typically argues against thinnings (i.e. spread of weeds, impacts to streams, compaction of soils, loss of carbon, opening of canopies) are typically short term and negligible.

    Unless you live in a house of straw, brick or steel, celebrate that you live in a structure constructed of renewable materials and rest assure if it came off public land, it was done with strict environmental protections.

    Here is a link to the project if interested.

    http://a123.g.akamai.net/7/123/11558/abc123/forestservic.download.akamai.com/11558/www/nepa/103397_FSPLT3_3986344.pdf

  4. avatar Kathleen Wecks says:

    There is currently a lightning strike fire burning in the Lostine canyon. Yhe ODFW and Forest service have held multiple public meetings. They have explained the review process and the mitigating methods to avoid all the concerns expressed in the statements. As a resident of the corridor I am confident in the planning and execution of the thinning.

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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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