Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Is Logging Forest Restoration?

WildEarth Guardians helped to plan extensive forest restoration in the Jemez Mountains but now contests the plan. Despite the veil of “collaboration” and $40 million in federal funding, the U.S. Forest Service decided on precisely what it expected from the start: a logging project.

There is general agreement that business as usual will not suffice if our forests are to survive in a climate changed and drought stricken world. Southwestern forests evolved with fire and beneficial fire is indispensable to their persistence. Fire shaped these forests and logging cannot emulate that process. But the Forest Service is trying to log its way out of the predicament.

Photo by Brant Hyenga
The Forest Service is pressing this logging agenda across Arizona and New Mexico under the ruse of restoration, asserting we can make forests fireproof. But we can’t fireproof forests, nor should we.

The hitch - according to scientific consensus - is that small trees are the problem not big ones. The Forest Service claims it needs some big trees as well as small ones to create openings and offset the cost of restoration.  But exactly how many big trees? Travel over to the Zuni Mountains west of Albuquerque and you will see many large trees on the ground or stacked for removal.

Following the lead of national forests in Arizona, the Santa Fe National Forest considered a multi year “restoration” project on close to 170 square miles of public lands. The result of the “collaborative” process is that nearly 40 square miles of forest will be thinned and logged, which in turn requires 120 miles of road construction or reconstruction.

Roads in forests are bad for soils and water quality, likely worse even than extreme fires. So, why build roads and take large, fire resistant trees when hand thinning and prescribed burning is cost effective and far less risky for soil and water? The answer: to prop up a logging industry.

After more than 5 years of “collaboration,” the Forest Service selected a predetermined outcome including large tree logging.  This result delegitimizes “collaboration” and alienates the public.
Photo by Brant Hyenga

The final selected plan is akin to the “bull in the china shop” approach to restoration. More logging and road building is not what our fragile watersheds need. Together with a full fire suppression policy, that is precisely what landed us in our current quandary.

A pattern is emerging across the Southwest. The U.S. Forest Service has an agenda driven from headquarters that overrules local stakeholder consensus. Until forest management is truly driven by “collaboration” these projects will be challenged. Everyone that cherishes our national forests and all that they provide must stand up to the Forest Service and resist the logging of large, old trees under the guise of forest restoration.


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