Shoshone NF will log Chief Joseph Highway

It is with dismay that I find the Shoshone National Forest is continuing with its plans to log about 2000 acres along nine miles of the scenic Chief Joseph Highway between Cody, Wyoming and Cooke City, Montana, including part of a roadless area. Mind you an acre is about the size of a football field, so imagine 2000 football fields logged over!.

Because the highway is a scenic corridor logging is currently not legal. So rather than follow the law, the Forest Service wants to amend its forest plan to make this logging lawful.

Many of their assumptions about wildfire, dead trees, and forest health in their Environmental Assessment are inaccurate and flawed.

For instance, one of the justifications for logging is insects are killing trees in the corridor which the Forest Service sees as “destructive.” The solution is to log the forest to reduce the tree density.  Such an assertion is almost laughable. The beetles are currently reducing the density by killing some of the trees. And beetles are far better at determining which trees are vulnerable and genetically equipped to resist insects than a forester with a spray gun.

The agency also suggests that it needs to remove conifers to favor aspen. Ironically the beetles are removing conifers, but apparently that is not permitted. It must be removed by loggers.

The proposal is in grizzly bear habitat, but never fear, the logging will only displace the bears for four years because they will be creating “temporary” roads. As if hunters, poachers, etc. won’t be on those roads.

The Shoshone NF would do well to read Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Alamance. Leopold worked for the Forest Service in the Southwest and later noted: “The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, “What good is it?” If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

The Forest Service also asserts that logging will reduce wildfires. Yet study after study, many by Forest Service scientists, concludes you can’t stop large wildfires under extreme fire weather conditions. So, the idea that logging will stop such fires is again scientifically inaccurate.

Furthermore, the probability of a large wildfire burning the area is extremely low. The forests in this area have fire rotations of hundreds of years. Many studies have shown that there is less than a 1% chance that any fuel reduction will actually encounter a fire during the time when they might work.

The main justification for the logging is protected some second homes in the area. Again the FS ignores the research by its own scientists that conclude that removal of fuels more than a few hundred feet is all that is necessary to safeguard homes,

As FS Fire Ecologist Jack Cohen has stated: “Current strategies for 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.”

The Shoshone NF asserts that logging will reduce future firefighting costs. Again, this is questioned by its own agency scientists. In yet another study the authors say “Suppression expenditures rarely depend directly on fuel conditions, but rather on fire location and on what resources are allocated to suppression. The only certain way to reduce suppression expenditures is to make a decision to spend less money on suppression.”

A further problem with the proposed logging is that the FS assumes dead trees will increase fire probability. Again, there are numerous studies, including some in the GYE, that suggest dead trees are less flammable than live green trees, especially under extreme fire weather when the large wildfires occur.

The Forest Service goes on to suggest logging will increase “resistant to future insect and disease occurrence.:” Apparently, the agency is unaware that insects and disease along with drought and wildfire are what maintains healthy forest ecosystems by episodic inputs of dead trees.

Upwards to 2/3 of all wildlife species depend on dead trees at some point in their lives. Dead trees are also important structural components in a forest. When they fall on to the forest floor, they provide habitat for everything from insects to mammals. When they fall into streams, they provide important fish habitat.

In this day of global warming, dead trees are important for the storage of carbon. Studies have shown that thinning the forest always reduces carbon storage, even compared to burnt forests.

John Muir wrote: God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.

If you wish to make comments please send them by December 14th to

Olga Troxel, Team Leader
Wapiti Ranger District
203A Yellowstone Ave
Cody, Wyoming 82414
Phone: 307-527-6921






  1. Mary Ann High Avatar
    Mary Ann High

    What a tragedy. And so it continues. It would be interesting to review the number of times the Forest Plan has been amended to violate the W&S corridor standard- and how many times the old growth standards and others have been violated with an amendment. In my experience, the standards were just there for show. Anytime they got in the way, poof- like magic, they’re amended away. I was shocked when I reviewed the number of amendments that had been made over the years to a Forest Plan, primarily for old growth retention standards. It would be interesting to see what that looks like across the national forest system. I would bet it isn’t pretty.

  2. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    “Because the highway is a scenic corridor logging is currently not legal. So rather than follow the law, the Forest Service wants to amend its forest plan to make this logging lawful.”

    Pretty sad when even a law can’t protect this forest. Can anything be done to enforce the law? If part of it is in roadless wilderness, can the Wilderness Act stop it?


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George Wuerthner