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Fiddler timber sale, Biscuit project on the Rogue River/Siskiyou National Forest, cut 2005.

Scientists at Oregon State University published a study in the journal Science this week citing evidence that undermines much of the post-fire logging rhetoric that fueled the controversial Biscuit logging project on the Siskiyou National Forest. 

The study found prolific natural regeneration in the post-fire forests at Biscuit, with 300 seedlings per acre in some places. The study found that 71% of those naturally regenerated seedlings were killed by post-fire logging operations. Additionally, the study shows that post-fire logging actually increases fire danger.

Jerry Franklin, a forestry professor at the University of Washington and an authority on Northwest forests, said, "This is very consistent with my testimony (on the salvage logging bill last year), which is that salvage almost never makes a positive contribution to ecological recovery."

This study is released as Representative Walden and Senator Smith attempt to pass bills in Congress that would require logging after natural events such as fire and windstorms and then convert those native forests into fiber plantations. Click here for more information on proposed legislation that would require post-fire logging on public lands.

Below are Associated Press and Oregonian articles on the new OSU study.

For a copy of the report, visit: http://www.sciencemag.org/sciencexpress/recent.dtl


Please write a Letter to the Editor of your local paper advocating for wild forests and natural recovery after natural events. Don't let the Forest Service turn nature into a catastrophe! Click here for newspaper contact info and talking points.

Study: Logging after fire kills seedlings, increases fire danger


By JEFF BARNARD
AP Environmental Writer
Thursday, January 05, 2006

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) -- A study of the aftermath of the 2002 Biscuit fire, which has become the focus of debate over national forest management, concludes that logging burned trees killed large numbers of seedlings that sprouted on their own and increased the short-term danger of wildfire.

The study, to be published Friday in the journal Sciencexpress and later in Science, comes as conservationists and the timber industry battle over a bill in Congress to speed up the process of harvesting burned trees and planting new seedlings on the millions of acres of national forests that burn every year.

"These results surprised us," said Dan Donato, a graduate student in forest science at Oregon State University who was lead author of the study. "Even after a huge high-severity fire in a place that is really tough to grow trees we are finding abundant natural tree regeneration."

Based on test plots in areas that were logged and not logged, the study also found that cutting down dead trees left much more wood on the ground to fuel future fires, even after the logs were hauled away, than leaving the trees standing, unless crews burn the debris.

"Why that is important is because on some fires those additional treatments aren't carried out due to lack funds," Donato said.

Only a third of the area logged on Biscuit had debris burned afterward to reduce wildfire danger, primarily due to weather constraints, said Jim Golden, deputy Northwest regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service.

Ignited by a series of lighting strikes, the Biscuit fire burned 500,000 acres of the Siskiyou National Forest in southwestern Oregon, making it the biggest fire in the country in 2002. Environmental groups battled the Bush administration in federal court to limit the amount of salvage logging in the name of protecting fish and wildlife habitat, but lost.

Logging began last spring, but turned out far less timber than planned at prices far below predictions. Much of the wood was worthless as timber after three years of rotting.

Last fall, U.S. Reps. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Brian Baird, D-Wash., introduced a bill demanding areas hit by fires, storms and insect infestations greater than 1,000 acres be cut and replanted quickly with standardized approaches, taking into account different ecosystems, to restore wildlife habitat and timber.

Jerry Franklin, professor of forestry at the University of Washington and one of the authors of the Northwest Forest Plan, which cut logging to protect wildlife habitat, called the new study "good science."

"This is very consistent with my testimony (on the salvage logging bill last year), which is that salvage almost never makes a positive contribution to ecological recovery," he said.

John Sessions, professor of forest engineering at OSU who proposed greatly increasing salvage logging on Biscuit to speed restoration, said the ultimate test of leaving a forest alone would be how many seedlings survive to maturity while competing with brush.

"Sometimes we are lucky with what nature delivers and sometimes not," he said. "Planting using modern scientifically demonstrated methods and vegetation control is close to 100 percent successful and can reduce the time to large conifers by decades."

He added dead trees left standing would fall over the 20 years, amounting to a tradeoff between long-term and short-term fire risk.

Golden of the Forest Service said salvage logging presents an opportunity to generate the money to pay for the growing backlog of restoration work on burned forests.

The study sampled five of the eight largest logging units, all of which underwent severe burning, Donato said. Natural seeding produced 767 seedlings per hectare, which amounts to 2.5 acres, exceeding Forest Service standards. Cutting down dead trees and hauling away logs killed 71 percent of the seedlings, leaving 224 per hectare.

The amount of small branches on the ground, which spread a fire quickly, was about four times higher after logging than with no logging. The amount of logs and large branches, which burn hot and sustain a fire, was about three times higher. Burning the debris reduces fire risk, but kills more natural seedlings.

"The lowest fire risk strategy may be to leave dead trees standing as long as possible (where they are less available to surface flames), allowing for aerial decay and slow, episodic input to surface fuel loads over decades," the study said.
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Scorched forests best left alone, study finds


Biscuit salvage - Logging after the fire killed seedlings and added tinder, research by an OSU-led team says

Friday, January 06, 2006

MICHAEL MILSTEIN
OREGONIAN

Logging in the wake of southwest Oregon's giant 2002 Biscuit Fire destroyed more than two-thirds of seedlings sprouting from scorched ground and littered the soil with tinder that could fuel another blaze, scientists found.

A research team led by Oregon State University concluded that in the first few years after a fire forests can recover as well or better on their own than if they are logged and replanted.

The findings, published Thursday in online editions of the journal Science, undermine arguments behind a U.S. Forest Service program to salvage burned trees and plant seedlings across thousands of acres blackened by the Biscuit blaze. Among the goals of the work, backed by the timber industry and the Bush administration, was accelerating forest regrowth and clearing dead trees so they do not feed another inferno.

But the research showed that, so far, the cutting did the opposite.

"There's no overall gain by going through that effort," said Daniel Donato, a graduate student at Oregon State's College of Forestry who is the lead author of the peer-reviewed report. "The take-home (message) is that forests can often be more resilient than we give them credit for."

Although logging targeted less than 5 percent of the some 500,000 acres encompassed by the Biscuit burn, it was among the largest federal timber sales planned in recent years. So far, though, only 18 percent of the wood has been cut.

The Biscuit remains at the center of a national debate over salvage of trees burned by severe wildfires sweeping the West. Reps. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Brian Baird, D-Wash., have sponsored federal legislation to speed logging and replanting of burned forests.

Environmental groups, arguing that charred slopes are especially fragile and that blackened trees are vital to wildlife, tried but failed to stop the cutting in the Biscuit's older forest reserves, arguing charred slopes are especially fragile and blackened trees vital to wildlife.

Economic reasons

The OSU scientists said logging makes sense after a fire if the point is to salvage the dollar value of burned trees for sawmills. But it can set back natural regrowth and leave forests prone to repeat fires that might incinerate seedlings and further cook the soil.

"If we're going to log for economic goals, we should be honest with ourselves and say it's for economic reasons," Donato said.

Logging is typically supposed to be followed by controlled burning to clear away leftover tinder. But a lack of funding sometimes means the burning does not get done, the scientists said.

Oregon State, a center of the salvage logging debate, has researchers on all sides. Professor Emeritus Michael Newton, who also studied forest recovery in southwest Oregon, called Donato's report superficial.

He said the real test of a forest's recovery is not how many seedlings survive the first years after a fire but how many last the first few decades to grow into trees.

The past few years in the typically warm, dry Siskiyou Mountains where the Biscuit burned have been unusually wet, which would have helped more seedlings take root. A drought year could kill them off.

"Out on a limb"

"I think they're way out on a limb," Newton said. "You need to prove this over time."

Donato and other scientists studied five sections of forest that burned severely. They found that about 300 seedlings -- mainly Douglas fir -- grew back on each acre by themselves, a prolific rate that meets standards for restoring forests.

But logging destroyed 71 percent of the seedlings by churning up soil and burying them under debris, the team found.

Many had figured logging would not leave much debris behind because the first blaze would have burned away branches and other small material.

The researchers found, however, that less than 10 percent of the wood actually burned. By falling trees and discarding their tops and branches, logging moved leftover fuel from the treetops to the ground, where it is in easier reach of future flames.

Controlled burning

About a third of the acres logged will be burned under controlled conditions to clear off such debris, said Rob Shull, forest staff officer for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. The other two-thirds do not hold enough debris to warrant burning.

But the scientists said the burning may add insult to injury because as the excess debris smolders it may kill more seedlings and further damage the soil. There would be less risk by leaving dead trees standing where they gradually would decay while keeping their tinder above the reach of flames, they said.

Forest managers emphasized that more than 95 percent of the Biscuit acreage will be left on its own and said logging hinged on public goals for the land.

"No doubt there are areas where nature will beat us to the punch; it will do better than we can," Shull said. "But there are some places where it won't."

A poll last year found that about three-quarters of Oregonians want federal forests restored through logging and replanting. Jim Golden, deputy regional forester for the Forest Service, said cutting brings in revenue to pay for important recovery work, such as stabilizing hillsides that otherwise might erode.

"It's a revenue source that we shouldn't be passing up," he said.

But Jerry Franklin, a forestry professor at the University of Washington and an authority on Northwest forests, said charred trees are especially important because they are the only source of wood to nourish forest recovery and lend shelter to wildlife.

From that standpoint, "it's usually far better ecologically to take a green tree from a live forest than a dead tree from a burned forest." "Salvage almost never achieves any ecological goal," he said. "It almost always is a tax on the ecological process."

Michael Milstein: 503-294-7689; michaelmilstein@news.oregonian.com