The Wrong Way to Save a Forest

The Wrong Way to Save a Forest

08 November 2013

published by

USA — In July 1995, President Bill Clinton, in a moment of weakness he later regretted, signed a budget bill containing a rider allowing timber companies to conduct so-called salvage logging in areas burned by forest fires. The measure, advertised as necessary to forest health, would in fact have allowed indiscriminate logging and caused widespread environmental damage. It took a year of protests, court battles and legislative wrangling to undo it.

But in Congress, bad ideas never die. In late September, the House sent to the Senatea bill introduced by Representative Doc Hastings, Republican of Washington, that would not only authorize salvage logging but require it in some areas, and would deter legal challenges.

In response, a group of 250 forestry experts and scientistshave written a letter attacking the bill and the very concept of salvage logging. They point out that fire is a natural part of the ecosystem and that no matter how catastrophic fires may look, they bring about the regeneration of many species and the rejuvenation of the forest as a whole. This was a lesson learned in detail after the 1988 Yellowstone fires, and it will be learned again in the wake of California’s Yosemite Rim Fire, which burned some 400 square miles of forest this year. To send heavy logging equipment into terrain that has been damaged by fire, and made all the more delicate because of it, would be the real catastrophe.

Embedded in the Hastings bill, which is pending in a Senate committee, is an antiquated notion of the role of wildfires in nature. A burned forest will recover fastest by being left undisturbed and letting nature do its work. The White House has promised that the same mistake will not be made a second time. President Obama should rightly veto any salvage logging bill that reaches his desk.

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