Charred forest science

Charred forest science

13 February 2006

published by

Oregon, USA — Rep. Jay Inslee did a good deed in the pursuit of good science. His pointed request for an investigation was apparently enough to restore funding for an important — and controversial — study of forest regeneration after wildfires.

The Washington congressman asked why the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s latest budget suspended funding for the final year of a study, led by an Oregon State University graduate student, into a massive forest fire in Southern Oregon in 2002.

The study, published last month in Science magazine, concluded that salvage logging after a wildfire can be counterproductive to forest recovery and fuel reduction.

The Bush administration apparently did not like the conclusions of the work to date and in effect was pulling the plug on further research. If this were the first brush with the administration politicizing science, it might have gone unnoticed. Sadly, it has happened before.

Most recently, a NASA scientist got in trouble for his views on global warming. Last spring, the Environmental Protection Agency was caught slanting views on mercury analysis.

In the aftermath of the 2002 Biscuit Fire in Oregon, the broader idea of salvage operations after big fires, storms and insect infestations had an appeal. Fuel reduction to prevent future fires and quick reforestation seemed important, and they offered significant employment potential.

So, the Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act introduced by Reps. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Brian Baird, D-Wash., appeared to have great potential at the time. Fire areas of 1,000 acres or more would be quickly replanted and salvaged to help wildlife habitat and timber restoration.

The proposed law has safeguards against the sham salvage logging operations of a decade ago, which were bald attempts to expand logging on federal land.

But our initial enthusiasm for the proposed legislation is on hold until the science behind logging after fires is sorted out. Let science speak.

Without political intimidation and academic bullying, let the ecological recovery from major forest fires be fully explored.


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