The Lolo National Forest is proposing to “salvage” log a portion of the 28,000-acre Liberty Burn near Seeley Lake, Montana.

The Forest Service (FS) approved the logging using a categorical exclusion (CE) process. CEs were initially designed to permit the FS to do minor actions like replace an outhouse in a campground or replace signs or other activities that had minimal environmental impact. Today the FS is increasingly using CE to circumvent and limit public participation, and ecological review.

The Blackfoot Challenge and Southwest Crown of the Continent Collaborative timber advocacy groups, and membership organizations like the Montana Timber Association and Pyramid Lumber also support the project and use of CE.

In the case of the Liberty Timber Sale, hundreds of acres of forest will be logged under a CE primarily to extract their commercial timber value, but it is “dressed up” as providing some ecological benefits.

For instance, the district ranger is quoted in saying they need to get the timber sale done quickly before the economic value of the wood is lost. At the same time, the agency tries to legitimize and hide the fact that it is nothing more than a handmaiden to the timber industry by suggesting it needs to “replant” trees in the burnt area—as if the forest is incapable of natural regeneration.

There is almost universal agreement among ecologists that logging burnt trees is ecologically destructive to forest ecosystems.

Indeed, anyone using Google can find numerous papers outlining the problems with removing burnt trees from forest systems. Indeed, there is an entire book by well-known forest ecologist Jerry Franklin (Salvage Logging and Its Ecological Consequences) outlining the harm done by salvage logging. Among the papers articulating the problems with salvage logging is one by University of Montana ecologist Richard Hutto. https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2006.00494.x  

In letters to Congress a number of scientists opined: “We know of no scientific reason to engage in salvage logging or roadbuilding in burned areas and we know of many sound reasons not to.” http://www.saveamericasforests.org/congress/Fire/Scientists-Anti-Salvage%20Logging-1992.htm. 

In a letter to the U.S. Senate, 262 professional scientists, from University of Montana biologists to Texas botanists, protested expediting salvage logging:

“Not only do these legislative proposals misrepresent scientific evidence on the importance of post-fire wildlife habitat and mature forests to the nation, they also ignore the current state of scientific knowledge about how such practices would degrade the ecological integrity of forest ecosystems on federal lands.”  https://wildfiretoday.com/2013/11/09/250-experts-oppose-salvage-logging-in-hastings-bill

/ https://wildfiretoday.com/2013/11/09/250-experts-oppose-salvage-logging-in-hastings-bill/ 

Here are links to a few other articles. https://www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/2013/11/scientists_oppose_two_logging.html

Is it possible that the Lolo National Forest and its lackey groups like the SWCCC are unable to use Google? Perhaps someone should give them a ten-minute lesson?

I hate to be harsh, but I run into this kind of deception continuously. I acknowledge many public employees are under enormous pressure to “get the cut out.” Nevertheless, I find it intolerable when agencies and sycophants like the SWCOC and supporting groups fail to acknowledge the real economic and ecological cost. Instead, they attempt to hide the real justification for logging behind presumed ecological “benefits.”

Nearly all timber sales on public lands lose money. The FS tries to hide this fact with dubious accounting methods which the General Accounting Office labeled as “unreliable overall” and had “significant reporting errors in its financial statements” and “lacked financial systems that could accurately track revenues and costs.”

Worse than the economic subsidies is the failure of the FS to truly acknowledge and account for the ecological impacts of its timber program. Ultimately the ecological impacts of logging are more costly to society than the tax dollars we give to the welfare timber industry.

Among the negative ecological impacts of salvage logging are removal of biomass and dead wood which are critical to healthy forest ecosystems, the creation of logging roads which are vectors for the spread of weeds, and sedimentation in our aquatic ecosystems, the disruption of natural sub-surface water flow when slopes are cut by logging roads, the disturbance of sensitive wildlife associated with logging activity, the compaction of soils from logging equipment and increased access for ORVs, and other motorized recreation.

There is even a study that showed that salvage logging equipment kills much of the natural forest regeneration—which the timber industry and the Oregon State Forestry School sought to keep from being published and which the Lolo National Forest ignores too. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2006-jun-11-na-salvage11-story.html and https://www.peer.org/assets/docs/whitepapers/1996_savage_salvage.pdf

Even more important in this day of climate change, logging and wood product production releases far more carbon than is emitted in forest fires.  Most carbon remains on-site stored in roots, snags, and the like.

In fact, the soil charcoal resulting from wildfires is one of the best long-term storage mechanisms for storing carbon. Here is a summary by Tom Deluca, now dean of the U of Montana Forestry School. https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1890/070070

This is another example where the Forest Service (and associated organizations) demonstrate that they are willing to compromise the integrity of our public lands to bankroll the local timber industry with taxpayer-subsidized timber sales and ecologically destructive logging practices that degrade public forest ecosystems.

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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 Liberty Salvage Sale More Timber Industry Welfare

  1. avatar Bruce Bowen says:

    “No Trees Left Behind”

    If any of the readers here have time and generous supply of coffee (and maybe something stronger) there is a document available at the Pacific Northwest research station called the “Synthesis of Science to Inform Land Management within the Northwest Forest Plan Area”. It comes in three volumes and is over 1000 pages. It’s abbreviated name is PNW-GTR-966.

    It is written in a vague fog of bureaucratic jargon plus plenty of acronyms which really only serve to confuse the issue. There is enough science in it to entice the unwary reader. Kind of like the old Roman-Christian hierarchy arguing about how many angels might fit on a pin head in Latin and claiming this sort of thing will save souls.

    I pulled a quote from page 949- “Active management will continue to be used to reduce fuels and vegetation that make forests susceptible to uncharacteristically large and severe wildfires”. They might as well have made the report one page long.

    Reports like this one seem to be written to get us to believe that scientists have impressive knowledge but are supposed to put on a disguise and blend in with the social milieu so that science is not too hard on the economy. But like much of the old religious mythology, good forest management has no real substance these days.

    So I applaud George for keeping us informed about the rape and pillage of our national heritage. It is not easy being a sort of ecological Jeremiah.

    “The Roman (American) government appeared every day less formidable to its enemies , more odious and oppressive to its subjects. The taxes were multiplied with the public distress; economy was neglected in proportion as it became necessary; and the injustice of the rich shifted the unequal burden from themselves to the people, whom they defrauded of the indulgences that might have alleviated their misery. The severe inquisition, which confiscated their goods and tortured their persons, compelled the subjects of Valentinian (Trump) to prefer the more simple tyranny of the barbarians, to fly to the woods and mountains, or to embrace the vile and abject condition of mercenary servants”. from Gibbon, the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

    History repeats itself after all……..

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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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