The Lolo National Forest is proposing to “salvage” log a portion of the 28,000-acre Liberty Burn near Seeley Lake.

The Forest Service (FS) approved the logging using a categorical exclusion (CE) process. CEs were initially designed to permit the FS to do minor actions like replace an outhouse in a campground or replace signs or other activities that had a minimal environmental impact. Today the FS is increasingly using CE to circumvent and limit public participation, and ecological review.

The Blackfoot Challenge and Southwestern Crown Collaborative timber advocacy groups, and membership organizations like the Montana Timber Association and Pyramid Lumber. also support the Liberty salvage project and use of CE.

There is almost universal agreement among ecologists that logging burned trees is ecologically destructive to forest ecosystems.

Indeed, anyone using Google can find numerous papers outlining the problems with removing burned trees from forest systems. There is an entire book by well-known forest ecologist Jerry Franklin ("Salvage Logging and Its Ecological Consequences") outlining the harm done by salvage logging.

Among the papers articulating the problems with salvage logging is one by University of Montana ecologist Richard Hutto

In letters to Congress, a number of scientists opined: "We know of no scientific reason to engage in salvage logging or roadbuilding in burned areas and we know of many sound reasons not to." 

Is it possible that the Lolo National Forest and its lackey groups like the SWCC are unable to use Google? Perhaps someone should give them a 10-minute lesson?

I acknowledge many public employees are under enormous pressure to “get the cut out.” Nevertheless, I find it intolerable when agencies and sycophants like the SWCC, which includes companies like Pyramid Lumber that will directly benefit from public subsidized timber, fail to acknowledge the real economic and ecological cost. Instead, they attempt to hide the real justification for logging behind presumed ecological “benefits.”

Nearly all timber sales on public lands lose money. The FS tries to hide this fact with dubious accounting methods which the General Accounting Office labeled as “unreliable overall” and had “significant reporting errors in its financial statements” and “lacked financial systems that could accurately track revenues and costs.”

Ultimately the ecological impacts of logging are more costly to society than the tax dollars we give to the welfare timber industry.

Among the negative ecological impacts of salvage logging are removal of biomass and dead wood that are critical to a healthy forest ecosystems, the creation of logging roads which are vectors for the spread of weeds, and sedimentation in our aquatic ecosystems, the disruption of natural sub-surface water flow when slopes are cut by logging roads, the disturbance of sensitive wildlife associated with logging activity, the compaction of soils from logging equipment and increased access for ORVs, and other motorized recreation.

Even more important in this day of climate change, logging and wood product production releases far more carbon than is emitted in forest fires. Most carbon remains on-site stored in roots, snags and the like.

In fact, the soil charcoal resulting from wildfires is one of the best long-term storage mechanisms for storing carbon

This is another example where the Forest Service (and associated organizations) demonstrate that they are willing to compromise the integrity of our public lands to bankroll the local timber industry with taxpayer-subsidized timber sales based on ecologically suspect rationalizations that degrade public forest ecosystems.

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George Wuerthner is an ecologist who has published "Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy."

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