Keeping Our Forests Wild Takes All of Us
Large, old trees like these in Sequoia National Park sequester significant amounts of carbon and are fire resilient. Photo credit Mark Stonick.
Crag’s Wild Program works with a broad coalition of partners across the Pacific Northwest to advocate for sustainable, ecologically sound land management and to protect public forestlands. Our forest defense work is also climate defense work. As we face the intensifying climate crisis, we need intact, healthy forests more than ever—for wildlife, carbon sequestration, clean water, breathable air, and a place of refuge and solace.
Our forest defense work is also climate defense work.
Wildflowers thrive in the Slater Fire’s footprint. Photo credit Luke Ruediger, Klamath Forest Alliance.
But too often, land management agencies choose to ignore the science and insist that the only viable response to climate change and climate-driven wildfire is to “log the forest in order to save it,” justifying vast commercial timber operations as necessary to reduce wildfire hazard. The reality is that many of the logging proposals will increase wildfire hazard by replacing fire-resistant large trees with dense, young tree plantations. This comes at a time of scientific consensus about the importance of mature and old-growth forests in the climate battle, making our work on these issues more important than ever.
In addition to supporting biodiversity, providing clean, cold water, and sheltering countless threatened wildlife species, forests—particularly old-growth and mature forests—are one of the greatest carbon sinks on the planet. For example, on national forest lands east of the cascades in Oregon and Washington the largest trees make up 3% of trees but store 42% of the carbon.
Conversely, logging releases stored carbon, and deforested areas can become carbon sources. A recent study concluded that large-scale tree thinning projects carried out to supposedly “reduce wildfire hazards” actually release more carbon into the atmosphere than do the fires they seek to prevent. On the other hand, post-fire forests, if left to recover naturally, continue to store carbon and provide essential wildlife habitat.
Several Northern spotted owl adults and hatchlings are successfully nesting in post-fire areas on the Mendocino National Forest. Photo credit Maya Khosla, Conservation Congress.
The Science of Wildfire
Wildfire is an important and natural ecological process. Fire is necessary to provide diverse wildlife habitat, reduce the amount of fuel that could be burned by fires later, and create the complex arrangement of species, ages, and heights that characterize “old-growth” forests.
But post-fire forests are inherently fragile, and logging forests after fire can wreak havoc on the natural process of post-burn recovery. With reduced vegetative groundcover, soils are more prone to both compaction and erosion into nearby streams. Recently disturbed areas are vulnerable to colonization by invasive plant species, often introduced by vehicles or heavy equipment, which can disrupt the reestablishment of native plant communities. And by removing the remaining trees, logging removes crucial wildlife habitat.
Northern spotted owl hatchling in Mendocino National Forest after fire. The Forest Service has approved a salvage logging project within 300 yards of this nest. Photo credit Maya Khosla, Conservation Congress.
And yet, the Forest Service continues to assert that “salvage” logging post-fire forests is necessary for public safety. Furthermore, the Forest Service has repeatedly attempted to evade its legal obligations and conduct large-scale salvage operations without proper environmental analysis. In the past year, Crag has successfully challenged several of these unlawful post-fire logging projects. After the 2020 fires on the Willamette, Umpqua, and Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forests, the Forest Service authorized thousands of acres of commercial salvage—including through wild and scenic river corridors, old-growth stands, and spotted owl habitat—in the name of public safety. On behalf of our clients, we successfully challenged this deceptive tactic, compelling the Forest Service to withdraw its most harmful proposals. These lawsuits protected vulnerable post-fire ecosystems while allowing the agency to mitigate true safety hazards and reopen the forests to the public.
Crag is still fighting
And our work continues. Crag is currently fighting Forest Service programs which would allow commercial logging on tens of thousands of acres of forestlands. These proposals follow a disturbing trend of federal agencies attempting to rush through massive logging projects with as little environmental review or public input as possible.
Old-growth trees cut for “roadside maintenance” in the Rogue-River Siskiyou National Forest. Photo credit Luke Ruediger, Klamath Forest Alliance.
Crater Lake, Oregon. Photo credit Erin Hogan-Freemole.
In southern Oregon, Crag is challenging vast commercial logging operations which the Forest Service, in an effort to avoid analyzing and publicly disclosing their environmental impacts, has styled as fuels reduction and forest health projects. In the Cascade foothills, we’re addressing plans for thousands of acres of “regeneration” logging, better known as “clearcutting,” which will simultaneously increase fire hazards and degrade mature forest ecosystems. And in eastern Oregon, Crag is fighting a Trump-era rule change to reinstate critical protections for large, old trees, which provide essential wildlife habitat, increase fire resilience, and sequester significant amounts of carbon.
We’re joined in these vital efforts by a broad coalition of organizations and concerned individuals. Protecting our forests and climate is a monumental task, one that will take all of us.
Protecting our forests and climate is a monumental task, one that will take all of us.