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Scientists protest logging bill

Alex Miller
Jeff Barnard/AP file photoLogging after wildfires, which occured in this southwestern Oregon forest after a 2002 fire, delays natural regeneration, a group of more than 500 scientists says.
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WASHINGTON, D.C. ” Does logging a forest affected by fire or other natural disturbances help it or harm it?

According to a letter sent to U.S. senators Monday by more than 500 scientists, logging a disturbed forest is a bad idea. Sent in response to the “Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act” by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), the letter backs research by Oregon State University graduate student Daniel Donato and others claiming post-fire logging is detrimental to forest health.

Walden’s bill, which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, goes before the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Forestry Subcommittee this week.

“Post-disturbance logging prevents or slows natural recovery by slowing the establishment of plant and animal populations and degrading streams, damages terrestrial and aquatic systems, plant and animal communities, sensitive areas, and crucial regional resources such as soils,” said Dr. James Karr, an aquatic and avian ecologist at University of Washington and author of several studies on post-fire logging.

The logging act is designed to fast-track commercial logging projects in National Forests impacted by natural disturbances such as fires, droughts, or windstorms.

“No substantive evidence supports the idea that fire-adapted forests might be improved by logging after a fire,” said Dr. Reed Noss, professor of conservation biology at the University of Central Florida. “Most plants and animals in these forests are adapted to periodic fires and other natural disturbances. They have a remarkable way of recovering ” literally rising from the ashes ” because they have evolved with and even depend upon fire.”

The bill’s proponents have cited the damage to forests along the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as a need for expedited logging.

In testimony last year before the House Agriculture Committee, Sean Cosgrove, the Sierra Club’s Forest Policy Specialist, criticized the proposal as well.

“There is no ecological need for fast tracking logging projects after storms or fires nor is there scientific data that supports salvage logging as beneficial to burnt forests,” Cosgrove said. “This bill is an attempt to manufacture a crisis where none exists and create more opportunities for wasteful and damaging logging projects.”

Meanwhile, Donato’s study has generated controversy within the academic community, with several scientists questioning the findings.

In papers to be published in Friday’s edition of Science, researchers from Oregon State and the U.S. Forest Service criticized the original study on areas burned in the 2002 Biscuit fire in southwestern Oregon as lacking context and supporting information.

“I hope the record is clearer now on why we did what we did,” Mike Newton, professor emeritus of forest ecology at Oregon State, said from Corvallis. “We were following our professional code of ethics and attempting to instill rigor,” in the findings of the original study.

The authors of the original study published last January ” Donato, Forest Service researcher Boone Kauffman, and others ” defended their work with an expanded explanation.

Their study found that two and three years after the fire, naturally sprouting seedlings were plentiful, and logging the dead trees killed as many as 71 percent of the seedlings. Logging also left more fuel on the ground for future fires unless it was burned off.

The conclusions were supported by independent statistical evaluations, and the rebuttals, “provide no compelling evidence to refute our findings,” they wrote.

Meanwhile, a Government Accountability Office report released Monday found that it could not find out how much logging and replanting after wildfires is done on national forests around the country, because the Forest Service does not keep track.

The report said the Forest Service and other agencies complain that the controversy over logging after wildfires “can be exacerbated by the limited scientific research available to guide such decisions.”

The millions of acres of national forests that burn every year, particularly the site of the Biscuit fire where the Donato study was conducted, have been a political and scientific battleground.

Conservationists and some prominent forest scientists have said that salvage logging can be justified only on economic grounds, and does not help forests ecologically. The timber industry and other scientists argue that logging the dead trees pays for controlling brush and hardwoods that would otherwise choke out commercially valuable pine and fir seedlings.

The Associate Press contributed to this story.

Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado


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