Catastrophic logging threatens national forests

National Forests across the West are facing dire threats from politicians, the timber industry and the Forest Service. The public is currently being misled into thinking that our forests are “unhealthy”, and that they need to be “restored” due to “beetle infestations” and “insect and disease.” All of this is euphemism to drastically ramp up logging on the forests.

America’s National Forests are not unhealthy. Some people may want forests to look a certain way, but that desire or perception ignores scientific research, which suggests that fungi, bacteria, insects, disease and wildfire are key components of forest function and resiliency. If you want a healthy forest, these natural processes must be allowed to play out.

Efforts to “thin the threat” and use thinning for “fire hazard reduction” across Western landscapes is largely unsubstantiated in scientific literature. Recent studies suggest forests with stands of “dead trees” are at no more risk of burning – and possibly less – than thinned forests. Dead trees generally burn slower because they do not have oil-rich needles or resins. To the contrary, thinning “live trees” places fine fuels like needles and cones on the ground, and opens the forest canopy to greater solar penetration and wind, resulting in overall drier forest conditions and flammability.

The Forest Service is currently identifying “priority areas” on the National Forests that need to be treated (read logged). A provision of the 2014 Farm Bill gives the agency the ability to expedite logging projects, including in roadless areas, designed to reduce fuels and prevent the chance of “uncontrollable wildfires.” Public involvement is simultaneously being minimized, and robust environmental analysis is unfortunately being short-changed.

Fire frequency and intensity in the West are predominantly climate and weather driven. An overwhelming amount of scientific evidence shows that drought, warm temperatures, low humidity and windy conditions drive wildfire intensity. Tree-density and beetle infestation does not drive fire intensity and behavior.

The predominantly mixed-conifer forests of the West have evolved with fire. Wildfires are not “catastrophic”, but rather necessary for nutrient cycling, soil productivity and providing habitat for insects, birds and mammals. Wildfire is a natural disturbance event critical to forest function and resiliency. A more accurate term for Western landscapes is “fire-scapes.”

Building roads and logging in post-fire landscapes is also unnecessary and harmful. “Salvage logging” impedes forest succession, can increase soil erosion, and impair streams, fish habitat and water quality. Scientists are discovering that “snag forests” are one of the most biologically rich and diverse habitat types, rivaled only by old growth.

Politicians and the timber industry are assaulting America’s National Forests. Managed forests are neither healthier, nor more resilient to wildfire. Beetle infestation and fire intensity are mainly climate and weather driven. Fungi, bacteria, insects, disease and wildfire are natural processes important for forest function and resiliency. The real catastrophe is the Forest Service continues to lead its century-old war on wildfire by supporting commercial logging and fire suppression to the detriment of American taxpayers and forest ecosystems.

Brett Haverstick is the education and outreach director of Friends of the Clearwater, a public lands advocacy group in north-central Idaho. This was originally printed in the Idaho Statesman on Saturday March 25.










  1. Joanne Favazza Avatar
    Joanne Favazza

    Excellent essay, Brett. Forest Service officials, who are supposed to be educated in these matters, should be ashamed of themselves. They are doing a great DIS-service to our forests and wildlife.

    1. Kirk Robinson Avatar
      Kirk Robinson

      Exactly right. And I take it personally because they are paid with my tax dollars to care for my forests and my watersheds and my wildlife. They should do exactly that.

  2. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    I mentioned about what’s happening out here on public land too. I can’t understand why putting wind farms in a national forest is supposed to be a good idea. The good news is that Vermonters are fighting them tooth and nail.

    With the few that are there, they’ve been plagued with structural failures. The winds are so strong on the ridgelines that one buckled and toppled over, releasing 20 gallons of oil. Another caught fire, the fire department couldn’t do anything but watch it burn. Wouldn’t that create a danger of forest fires with strong winds? It’s amazing to me that we forge on ahead with these things despite poor siting and problems, because they are supposed to be green.

  3. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Plus, they have to blast into solid rock in order to install them, create roads. This is the first wind farm the Forest Services has been involved in, and for them to call it a ‘learning process’ is too big of a price to pay in a National Forest.

    Vermont tried to pass a state law to ban turbines completely!

  4. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    This article will give you some idea about the blasting and destruction involved. (We’re all about granite out here.) Plus the erosion and flooding risks.

  5. Gary Humbard Avatar
    Gary Humbard

    To put it into context, if you checked the records, federal land management agencies (BLM and Forest Service) on average during the past 20+ years, harvest trees on approximately 1 to 2% of their total land base each year, thereby leaving ~98% virtually unimpacted. If you took the time to read a typical timber sale environmental assessment, you will notice very stringent environmental protection measures and frankly, I’m amazed timber companies even purchase some of these sales with their numerous requirements.

    Many of the timber sales involve “managed stands” which were previously logged and oveplanted ~40 to 50 years ago, and thus can be enhanced through thinning (yes enhanced). Thinning promotes large trees faster, provides light to the understory, thereby encouraging multi-layer stands and vascular plant growth than if left unthinned. This habitat can provide the very habitat that older forest species depend upon. During my entire 37+ career with the BLM, there was only one timber sale that involved thinning in an “unmanaged stand” (fire generated) and that sale required helicopter logging which resulted in no road construction and minimal impacts to the remaining trees. In addition, all federal timber sales are consulted upon by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service and must meet their standards as to not cause future listed for T&E species.

    Are there ways for the federal land management agencies to improve their timber sales, absolutely. However, if you want to give the politicians who want states to take over management of federal lands more reasons to further their cause, just reduce federal timber sales and you may just get your wish.

    In the past, I have provided a link to all BLM timber sales with their respective environmental assessments and I have done it here, but of course, it’s easy to read Bretts and Georges articles and respond without doing any fact finding.

  6. Louise Kane Avatar
    Louise Kane

    How about the Tongass Gary? 75,000 acres traded/sold off last year. It was done under the guise of conservation on an old growth temperate forest whose root masses provide dens for the rare Alexander Archipelago wolves,and support many other species. Why must timber harvest, especially in old growth forests, be managed in a way that humans think make sense. I don’t like to see burning and thinning. Why do humans think they can manage forests better than leaving them to evolve as they have done for thousands of years?

    “Are there ways for the federal land management agencies to improve their timber sales, absolutely. However, if you want to give the politicians who want states to take over management of federal lands more reasons to further their cause, just reduce federal timber sales and you may just get your wish.”

    Must the threat of reprisals from dissatisfied politicians waiting to pillage public lands always drive decision making. These same politicians will be vying for these resources whether or not we fight for them.

    1. Gary Humbard Avatar
      Gary Humbard

      How about where do you think wood products (which is the only resource that is renewable) to build our homes, print our paper and other uses come from Louise? Of course there are cases where poor decisions are made such as the Tongass you mentioned, however, take a walk into a recently harvested federal thinning timber sale and you will undoubtedly see a diversity of tree species, groups of retained snags, variable tree spacing, islands of no harvest, decommissioned roads and a fresh input of down wood.

      Conversely, walk into a commercially thinned stand on private land and you will notice few retained snags, evenly spaced trees with little species diversity and open roads left for OHV use. Curtail more federal timber sales and even more wood products will be needed from private and state lands and I will let you figure out the overall impacts of that scenario.

      I’m proud that I was involved in the design and sale of federal timber sales in that minimal and short term impacts to the environment occurred while timber stands were enhanced (yes believe it or not, humans can enhance the environment in certain situations). The wood products that were sold provided jobs for Americans and revenue was generated for the Government and ultimately the American public.

      1. Nancy Avatar

        “The wood products that were sold provided jobs for Americans and revenue was generated for the Government and ultimately the American public”

        You are forgetting the huge landfills that now litter (no pun intended) this country Gary. If a fraction of what ends up in them, got recycled, homes, furniture and a ton of other products could be manufactured to satisfy human needs.

        Think of the jobs that could be created, just sorting through them for materials that could be recycled. Why is it that no one wants to go there?

  7. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Here’s some more info about windfarms in national forests. High up on ridgelines, prone to lightning strikes, and increased turbulence causing gearbox overload – yep, just what we need in a forest, a fire hazard:

  8. Mak Avatar

    Brett, thanks for the article.
    Living in the largest Jeffrey Pine forest, largely controlled by USDA Forest Service and BLM, over two decades, I noticed that the logging always took the huge, extremely fire-resistant ancient ones, precisely opposite to natural processes.
    Doing some ground-truthing of post-fire Klamath NF areas a couple years back, I encountered pre-lease cutting of the biggest similarly clad ancients smack in a PCT trailhead campground, even though there the fire had only taken grassy annuals in a small portion. Further up trails and offtrail, I found evidence of recent passage in the scats of bears in the highest level burn areas. Even though spring had not really arrived, evidence of primary succession was beginning to take.
    Also, over the years I’ve trekked in boreal forest and tree farms from the US SE to SW. The difference between “managed” growth and natural is so profound I can’t describe the paucity of the artificially grown woods.
    Oregon still encourages herbicide spraying from Siskiyou to the green coastal range. It’s just not PC to seek a grant to study it, or the still ravaged Viet Nam/Laos forests suffering from the same chemicals 50 years beyond.

    It seems that Forest Supervisors of FS have too often been the cut&run people appointed and moved around by forest-unfriendly administrations.
    Keeping an eye on the trade efforts made by the past administrations before this outspokenly inimical one (which reflects the Reagan rapacity of the early 80s), that same promotion of excessive consumption ran essentially unchecked. The false pretense of the EU in promoting wood pellets, caused administration eyes to glaze over and institute the outrageous roadbuilding that also gives far too much access to the motorized poachers, bear-baiters and antiwolf gunners that now threatens ecosystems and wildlife communities.

    Southern and east central British Columbia overexploitation of forested lands through creating excess access and cutting, in this way have critically endangered the last woodland/mountain caribou. Their and ALberta’s culling of wolf populations after permitting too much mechanized – including snowmobile – intrusion in high-stress winter as well as the summer seasons.

    Observing wolves versus large ungulates in complex understoried natural forests, one sees how caribou and moose were once relatively very safe and could increase.

    So, in reality, there can never be “multiple use” as every invasive human use, from the drill pads that the threatened mule deer of Wyoming south avoid long past the noise when humans are present, to the snow machines terrifying all species (if not outright overtaking and killing them on the run. There’s considerable video of that practice), the open and closed FS roads (with bashed gates, and chainsawed entry around many of the unbashed Over time, Ive seen what seems to be vast numbers of this destructive entry, as well as the poached ungulates shot between the eyes after being blinded by the thrill-killers).

    Since 2/3 of the human US population lives from the Mississippi east, there does not appear to be a way to reintroduce humans to amicable interaction with nature sufficiently to demand preservation of public lands, the last fragmented home of the living beings native to this continent.

    Most western communities are the three or at most four generations that came only to take from it, and eradicate all that inhibits the taking.
    Having grown from birth at the edge of the untracked wild, I’ve traveled for a lifetime feeling to be the only one prizing their lives equally to the self-love and pavements craved by nearly every exploiter, from rural to lavishly wealthy urban billionaire.
    I early came to the realization that the late-arising conservation biologists and ecologists teaming with wilderness advocate Dave Foreman, are doing the only effective thing:
    The rewilding movement has quietly worked to create collaboration for connected wildlands from the Arctic into Mexico, across North America from Pacific to North Atlantic.

    Several agencies in states have given lip service to wildland connectivity, and critical connections have been identified. Fortunately, except by crazed half-literate bloggers, this large-scale collaboration has not been vociferously attacked as overtly as have wolves.


Brett Haverstick is the Education & Outreach Director for Friends of the Clearwater, a public lands advocacy group in Moscow, Idaho. He has a Masters of Natural Resources from the University of Idaho.

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