North Bridger Range Forest Health Project Subterfuge

The proposed North Bridger “forest health” project on the Gallatin National Forest north of Bozeman, Montana near the already heavily logged area by Bridger Bowl is based on numerous false assumptions. The proposal displays the Forest Service’s Industrial Forestry bias and its subterfuge of science.

The public no longer gives the agency a “social license” to simply give away public logs to private timber companies at a loss to taxpayers, so it must now disguise the purpose of logging by suggesting the cutting of trees will “improve” forest health.

A complete ecological accounting would demonstrate that logging always impoverishes the forest ecosystem. It’s just the agency ignores most of the real ecological costs and exaggerates the public benefits.

The FS asserts that the forest is “unhealthy” and at risk of death from wildfires and bark beetles. That is like saying that an elk herd is unhealthy because wolves kill some of the animals. Bark beetles are “keystone” species that research demonstrates increases biodiversity in the forest. Similarly, wildfires are among the most important natural processes creating and enhancing wildlife habitat in our forests.

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 are what burns in a blaze.  That is why you have snags after a fire-the main tree bole typically does not burn well.

This is not hidden science.

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.”

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.

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 also store carbon longer than fast-growing trees. Thus slow-growing trees are more valuable to “healthy” forest ecosystem.

Many plants and animals live in mortal fear of green forests. Dead trees are essential habitat for many species of wildlife. Some 45% of birds use down wood or snags at some point in their lives. When snags fall into streams, they create important aquatic habitat for insects and fish. Down wood hides small mammals and amphibians, is home to insects like native bees that are important pollinators and sustain nutrient and carbon storage. Removal of trees also can reduce hiding and thermal cover for elk. Logging disturbance contributes to the spread of weeds and loss of genetic diversity in forest stands.

Logging destroys all of these important attributes and much more, hence impoverishes the forest.

Instead of hiding behind the false assertion that they are improving forest health, the agency would be far more honest if it merely said it was going to cut trees to appease uninformed politician demands, as well as subsidize local timber mill owner bank accounts.


  1. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Thirty years ago this week:

    I remember visiting Yellowstone sometime after, and it seemed things were coming back quickly? I have photos.

  2. Bruce Bowen Avatar
    Bruce Bowen

    In the year 2000 I drove the back roads in the Deschutes National Forest near LaPine Oregon. There were only 10 dead snags suitable for cavity nesting birds along the 26 mile route. These snags were very old ponderosa pines that were rejected by loggers years before because they had broken tops or major injuries making them unsuitable for lumber. Several had a breast height diameter of a little over 4 feet. Just try to find a tree that big today.

    Cavity nesting birds are the insect “police” in a forest. It is no wonder that bad outbreaks of insect pests occur because the “forest circus” will not maintain a sufficient density of nesting snags. It used to be a joke among biologist to drive miles through the forest and come upon a scrawny tree maybe 50 years old with a little tag stapled to it reading “Wildlife Tree”.

    The federal bureaucracy cares mainly about its own function and appearance. Bureaucrats deal not with living things but with “cases” in some file. They tend to use their own special almost secret language and they become “headless and soulless”. Those in power have the capacity to redefine “right and wrong” for the bureaucracies that they control. They make what we would consider immoral behavior quite acceptable within the confines of their organization. This is a danger not only to our forests but to our whole nation and the world.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      Great post. You can really see the balance of nature, such as birds being the insect police, when you look.


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.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

George Wuerthner