California: Salvage Logging does more harm, cost more than letting the forest naturally recover

The Environmental Protection Information Center on the north coast is among those that often files such actions opposing salvage timber sales on public land in the north state. “There are no ecological benefits to salvage logging,” said Scott Greacen, the group’s executive director.

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The U.S. Forest Service announced plans last November for a 155-acre salvage logging sale, saying the dead trees left on land torched by wildfires near Junction City and Big Bar could fuel future fire storms. But the Forest Service dumped those plans last month after an economic analysis of the sale and discussions with Trinity River Lumber Company in Weaverville, said Lance Koch, district ranger in Weaverville. He said steep terrain in the area would have meant logging the area with helicopters. “Basically (harvesting the trees) was going to cost more than we would make on the sale of them,” he said. “It would have been an upside-down timber sale, as they say.”

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While salvage logging has its supporters – who say it is a way to make money to pay for thinning and other projects to reduce fire danger – projects often are stalled either by economic obstacles or legal challenges. Declines in the housing market translate into decreased demands for lumber. That means that sawmills are paying about half of what they did 10 years ago for logs, said Herb Baldwin, Redding district manager for Sierra Pacific Industries. Salvage logging is often on remote land and the harvest is usually brought in by helicopter or cables, he said. Both methods are more expensive than traditional tractor logging, and there is a time crunch to collect the timber before it is eaten and stained by insects or softened by rot.

The company next month will complete salvage logging on 9,000 acres of its private land in Shasta County after last year’s wildfires. “It’s been a struggle to make those salvage operations economical,” Baldwin said. Costs jump even higher when appeals and lawsuits slow salvage logging on federal land.

Snags and logs that remain after a fire provide crucial habitat, Greacen said, and the suits are aimed at keeping the downed trees where they fall. He said his group and several others had been prepared to appeal the Forest Service’s planned salvage logging near Junction City and Big Bar, called the Down River Salvage Project. Koch said he’d already received opposition letters from two conservation groups – the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center in southern Oregon and the Conservation Congress in Lewiston, Mont.

The district is also planning to thin about 5,000 acres of woods near Junction City, Big Flat, Big Bar, Del Loma, Burnt Ranch and Denny as part of the Down River Community Protection Project, Koch said. Although forest officials had yet to calculate the cost of the thinning, Koch said it would be covered in the district’s annual budget for fuels reduction. He said the district is now looking at a possible 250-acre salvage of timber stands on Ironside Mountain north of Big Bar that burned last year. That lumber could be cut as early as this fall. But economics could again stop the project just as they did the Down River project. “We didn’t want to take on a project if it couldn’t at least pay for itself,” Koch said.

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