Little Belts “Vegetation Treatment” displays FS bias

The proposed Horsefly Vegetation Project (Vegetation Project in the Little Belt Mountains north of White Sulphur Springs on the Helena/Lewis and Clark National Forest is based on numerous false assumptions. The proposal displays both the Forest Service’s lack of professionalism and an Industrial Forestry bias.

First, the FS starts out with the assumption that the forest is “unhealthy” because of bark beetles. That is like saying that an elk herd is unhealthy because predators kill some of the animals. Bark beetles are “keystone” species that research demonstrates increases biodiversity in the forest.

Then they go on to assert that if they don’t “treat” the area to remove dead trees, it will increase forest fire hazard.

This is claimed even though many scientists have found that trees killed by bark beetle are typically less likely to burn than live trees.

For instance, when I Google bark beetles and wildfire, the very first article that comes up says: “ We review the literature on the efficacy of silvicultural practices to control outbreaks and on fire risk following bark beetle outbreaks in several forest types… to date, most available evidence indicates that bark beetle outbreaks do not substantially increase wildfires ..”

The second Google article listed says: “Another new study published by the Ecological Society of America titled “Does wildfire likelihood increase following insect outbreaks in conifer forests?” by Garrett Meigs and co-authors conclude that bark beetle outbreaks do not lead to greater likelihood of fires.”

Indeed, live trees, particularly in a drought when fires occur, are more incendiary than dead trees because they have the fine fuels of flammable. resin-packed needles and branches, which is what burns in a blaze.  That is why you have snags after a fire-the main tree bole typically does not burn well.

In addition, even more, research shows that high-severity blazes typically occur under extreme fire weather, where research again suggests, logging and other “vegetation treatments” like prescribed burning are ineffective at halting wind-driven fires.

Even if logging did prevent high-severity blazes, lodgepole pine forests tend to burn at long intervals of hundreds of years. As numerous research studies have shown the probability that a fire will encounter any “treated” (read logged) area during the time when it might be effective is nearly zero.

The Forest Service displays its Industrial Forestry bias when it asserts that some trees are “slow” growing and that logging will increase “vigor.”  Ecologically speaking, slow-growing trees have denser wood, which means they rot slower, and last long after they die. They are critical to “healthy” forest ecosystem.

The FS also asserts another goal is “Aspen” release. Again, many studies show that the best way to regenerate aspen is through high-severity blazes or bark beetle kill—the very natural processes the FS vilifies, demonstrating its lack of ecological understanding and Industrial Forestry worldview.

In addition to the flawed justification for logging, the agency wants to amend its forest plan to allow construction of 45 miles of new logging roads that will reduce elk security/hiding cover. There is abundant research that shows how logging roads also contribute to the spread of weeds, disrupt soil subsurface water flow, socially displaces elk and other sensitive wildlife, and can add sedimentation to streams impacting trout.

To make it even more outrageous, this project, like all logging on the Helena—Lewis and Clark NF will lose money for the taxpayers, and that does not even include the environmental costs that come with logging like loss of carbon storage, loss of biological legacy, loss of genetic diversity in trees that are removed, the introduction of weeds, loss of elk hiding cover, and so forth.

If the FS wants to be professional, I suggest it learn to use Google, it might learn a lot about forest ecosystems that apparently its “professional” staff is unaware exists.


  1. Nancy Avatar

    No Dave, I beg to differ, not all American people, like things made of wood once they become aware of the huge cost to what’s left of the environment. (think ivory, elephants, Dave) They’ve just been suckered into believing there are no alternatives, even though there are and haven been for awhile.

    A small sampling:

    New industries, in this country alone, could be created (and jobs) by recycling the mountains of trash, humans fill landfills with…. every single day.

    Give it some thought, Dave, before you think another stand of trees, needs to sacrificed, for the “human” good, in what’s left of wilderness areas 🙂

  2. Hiker Avatar

    Do you think it is worth human lives to save timber? How many firefighters endanger themselves so we can save timber? How much of that timber is shipped out of the country? I’m afraid logic doesn’t always apply here. It’s about greed and power. Do you enjoy having your tax dollars subsidize this process? Many people believe that our public lands should be managed differently. Does that mean their opinion is wrong? You say

    “Public owned lands should be managed to benefit the public.” Who decides what benefits apply? Extraction is the old school way the FS has been doing things. Maybe they should change and preservation should apply. Our public lands need protection, as much as possible. Extraction is a short term view. We don’t know the future. We should hedge our bets and plan for the worst.

  3. Isabel Cohen Avatar
    Isabel Cohen

    Has the Forest Service ever been professional? Not in my lifetime and not to my knowledge and I have been actively involved in trying to save our natural world for over 50 years!

  4. Isabel Cohen Avatar
    Isabel Cohen

    Which means to leave them be so that future generations can enjoy them!

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

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George Wuerthner