Nearly a year after the Bitterroot National Forest (BNF) attempted to fast track a controversial post-fire logging plan only a sixth of the timber has been actually logged. In fact, one pending timber sale received no bidders at all and the remaining harvest contracts haven’t even been advertised for sale.
Nevertheless, the BNF deputy forest supervisor says the post-2000 fire logging plan is proceeding on schedule. Last winter environmentalists, BNF and Forest Service officials and a Darby logger were ordered by a federal judge to reach an agreement on a post-fire salvage logging plan written after the 2000 fire season in which 307,000 acres of forest burned.
The resulting settlement called for logging on 14,700 acres from more than a dozen separate areas. Foresters estimated the yield at 60 million board feet of timber, or roughly six times the amount that had been offered annually over the past few years. So far, however, only four of those areas have been logged. The Blodgett sale, which burned above Hamilton in August 2000, received no bidders at all. Two other areas received bids earlier this month; the bidders are awaiting notice of whether they were accepted, and the remaining seven areas will be advertised this month, with contracts awarded by Oct. 1.
Although fires raged across the BNF two years ago and a court-ordered settlement was reached seven months ago, some locals are asking: Why has it taken so long to advertise the sales? “Actually, it really hasn’t,” says Spike Thompson, deputy forest supervisor for the BNF. “We’re pretty much right on schedule.”
Thompson says that most of the land that foresters prioritized for emergency logging has already been harvested. But of the 60 million board feet that the parties agreed would be cut, only 10 million board feet have been logged. Thompson says that the original estimate will be revised downward to about 40 to 50 million board feet.
Though the actual logging contracts appear to be dragging along, the BNF has been busy with other post-fire, non-logging work. Workers have been busy removing 150 miles of logging roads and upgrading another 500 miles. Three thousand acres of trees—mostly ponderosa pine—have been planted and another 1,000 acres will be planted this fall.
“That’s all very expensive work,” Thompson says. But the “good part of the settlement agreement is that we were authorized to do all the road work we planned.”
The other good news, from the BNF’s point of view, is that soil damage from the logging was less than anticipated. The BNF estimated a 10 percent soil damage rate. “My belief right now is that it’s going to be under 5 percent.”