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Scientists Warn Congress About Logging after Fire

169 sign letter saying logging can set back forest recovery

In a letter sent to members of Congress today, 169 scientists called for the defeat of legislative efforts to expedite logging in areas recovering from fires and other natural disturbances.

Mar 14, 2006

In a letter sent to members of Congress today, 169 scientists called for the defeat of legislative efforts to expedite logging in areas recovering from fires and other natural disturbances.  The letter was released a day before the scheduled mark up in Chairman Richard Pombo’s Resources Committee of the Walden logging bill, H.R. 4200, that would fast-track logging by suspending environmental safeguards and reducing the American public's ability to give input on how their forests are managed.

"Proposed post-disturbance legislation (specifically the Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act [HR 4200], crafted as a response to recent fires and other disturbances, is misguided because it distorts or ignores recent scientific advances," said Dr. James Karr, Professor of Aquatics Sciences and Biology, University of Washington.

 “No substantive evidence supports the idea that fire-adapted forests might be improved by logging after a fire.  In fact, many carefully conducted studies have concluded just the opposite. 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,” said Dr. Reed Noss, professor of Conservation Biology for the University of Central Florida.

 Dr. Tania Schoennagel, Fire Scientist from the University of Colorado warned the logging legislation could lead to increased fire risks: “Post-disturbance logging can increase the reburn potential of the site by concentrating flammable slash (small branches) at or near the ground, which can easily ignite and spread fire.  The large, less ignitable fuels (tree trunks), which provide important perching, nesting, and feeding sites for wildlife, are removed by logging.”

 “Science provides the best insight into the real consequences of our policies and actions. Ironically, this legislation is crafted to ignore the science by waiving environmental reviews, reviews that would make use of the scientific knowledge often available only because of expenditures of public funds. Failure to conduct full environmental reviews informed by that science will inevitably lead to ecological and economic harm from post-disturbance logging,” said Dr. Jonathan Evans, Director of the University of the South’s Landscape Analysis Laboratory.

 On Capitol Hill last Friday, six prominent scientists spoke at a Science Forum hosted by New Mexico Representative Tom Udall, on their findings about the negative impacts of logging in forests following natural disturbance events such as fire, and the important role these events play in maintaining wildlife populations and healthy forests.  The scientists made clear they didn’t oppose all logging, just logging in ecologically sensitive areas.
 “We need to change our thinking on salvage logging. There are other values in the forest,” said Dr. Richard Hutto Professor and Director of Avian Science Center at the University of Montana.  “In fact, a burned area is probably the most ecologically sensitive place one could choose for logging. We talk about forest restoration after a fire, but it just got restored by fire itself. That's what fire does.”

 The recent Oregon State University study by Donato et al. is not the first scientific research that shows logging in forests recovering from fires causes environmental harm or increases fire risks.  There is abundant scientific evidence that salvage logging can have diverse and significant negative impacts on ecological recovery (e.g., McIvar and Starr 2000, Karr et al. 2004, Beschta et al. 2004, Lindenmayer et al. 2004 and several government reports including the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project and the recommendations of scientists representing the Forest Ecosystem Management Team that assembled the Northwest Forest Plan).

 Dr. James Karr, an aquatic and avian ecologist at University of Washington and author of several studies on post-fire logging, had this to say about logging in forests recovering from fires:

By adding another stressor to burned watersheds, post-fire salvage logging worsens degraded aquatic conditions accumulated from a century of human activity. This additional damage impedes the recovery and restoration of aquatic systems, lowers water quality, shrinks the distribution and abundance of native aquatic species, and compromises the flow of economic benefits to human communities that depend on aquatic resources.”

“Proponents of expedited logging can’t provide a significant body of evidence that a nationwide program of logging in forests recovering from disturbance is scientifically justified,” said Dominick DellaSala, Ph.D., a forest ecologist for the World Wildlife Fund.   “Of the more than 30 scientific papers on post-fire logging published to date, not a single one indicates that logging provides benefits to ecosystems regenerating after disturbance.”

Read the full text of the scientists letter

Download a PDF version of the scientists letter


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