Post-Fire “Salvage” Logging Across Oregon

by Lizzy Gazeley | February 23, 2022

Fueled by climate change, Oregon has witnessed unprecedented fire seasons over the last several years. In the aftermath of the 2020 fire season, the Forest Service authorized post-fire commercial “salvage” logging in several forests, including the Willamette National Forest, and Klamath National Forest. Although climate change continues to exacerbate the magnitude of forest fires in the west, it is important to acknowledge that fires are a natural process in the forest ecosystems. Post-fire logging removes both burned and living trees from forests. Oftentimes, these trees are sold as commercial timber. The removal of these trees and logs, especially on a large-scale, can destabilize these fragile post-fire ecosystems. 

 

The Forest Service has unlawfully moved forward with several large-scale commercial logging projects in fragile post-fire forests. By misusing forest management statutes and ignoring critical environmental protections, these actions highlight the Forest Service’s status quo of prioritizing logging industry profit over Oregon communities and environmental protection. 

 

In the wake of the 2020 fires, the Forest Service authorized post-fire logging on thousands of acres of public land under the guise of “routine road repair and maintenance.” These large-scale logging projects were approved without the usual level of environmental review or public comment. One of these “routine maintenance” projects authorized the logging of 4,000 acres and the removal of at least 30 million board feet of timber for commercial use; another allowed commercial logging along hundreds of miles of remote and little-used forest roads. As multiple federal courts have since recognized, all of these projects went well beyond the type of work allowed without careful environmental review.

 

This fall, Crag filed a lawsuit which stopped commercial logging in fragile post-fire areas in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. In November, a federal judge halted the Forest Service’s plans to log along 400 miles of road in the Willamette National Forest. In December, post-fire logging near Breitenbush was also stopped by a federal judge after Crag and our clients demonstrated that the Forest Service had improperly avoided the required environmental review. 

 

Our post-fire legal work has not only stopped several unlawful logging projects, but has reaffirmed our values of integrity, environmental protection, and community advocacy. Crag and our clients intend to continue holding federal agencies accountable and stopping unlawful post-fire logging. 

What's at Stake

Logging in recently burned areas does significant environmental harm: introducing invasive species, disturbing sensitive soils, increasing the likelihood of landslides, causing increased erosion and sedimentation into nearby streams, and disturbing wildlife and plant species that coevolved with and depend on wildfires. It can also increase future fire risks and hazards. 

 

Wildlife

In the Willamette National Forest, the Forest Service authorized post-fire logging projects in areas that are home to multiple threatened and endangered species. Roadside logging would impact water quality in the Willamette River and watersheds that act as critical habitats for Bull Trout and Upper Willamette River Chinook. Salvage logging also would remove critical post-fire habitat of the Northern Spotted Owl, which depends on unlogged old-growth forests. The large snags and logs left after a wildfire provide important habitat for the owl and its prey species. 

 

The Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before undertaking actions that may affect a threatened or endangered species or its habitat. The Forest Service’s failure to consult or consider the impact of post-fire logging upon the endangered species and their habitats demonstrates its disregard for wildlife protections and environmental impact.

 

In addition to animal wildlife, post-fire logging significantly impacts the natural regeneration of plant life. Logging operations can introduce invasive plant species that spread aggressively in the fragile post-fire ecosystems, often outcompeting native plants and disrupting the cycle of forest regeneration. The removal of seed trees and new seedlings during logging operations also prevents the post-fire forest from naturally reestablishing forest growth. 

 

Landslides and Erosion

When wildfires remove trees and vegetation it can increase the likelihood of landslides and destabilize soil. By cutting and hauling away many of the remaining trees, inhibiting natural plant regeneration, and introducing heavy logging equipment to the fragile environment, “salvage” logging can further heighten landslide risks. The destabilization of the post-fire area can lead to sedimentation and have detrimental effects upon the water quality in nearby streams and watersheds. 

 

Public Participation

In the cases we challenged last year, the Forest Service misused regulatory statutes to authorize logging projects without public comment or environmental review. For logging projects of such magnitude, public participation is not only a crucial step in forest management but required by law. Crag and our clients value public involvement and the inclusion of community voices. We will continue to hold the Forest Service accountable for how it manages our public lands.

Clients

Cascadia Wildlands is a grassroots conservation organization that defends and restores Cascadia’s wild ecosystems in the forests, in the courts, and in the streets. 

 

Oregon Wild works to protect and restore Oregon’s wildlands, wildlife, and waters as an enduring legacy for future generations.

 

Willamette Riverkeeper’s sole mission is to protect and restore the Willamette River ecosystem. We believe that a river with good water quality and abundant natural habitat, safe for fishing and swimming is a basic public right. The Willamette River belongs to all of us and should be protected for all Oregonians.

 

Klamath Forest Alliance is a grassroots community organization based in Orleans, California. We are centered in the heart of the Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion, located in Northern California and Southern Oregon. Our mission is to promote sustainable ecosystems and sustainable communities and our goal is to defend and protect the biodiversity, wildlife, waters and old growth forests of these wild and rugged watersheds.

 

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