A Hamilton man has been circulating petitions around the Bitterroot Valley asking the Forest Service to begin salvage logging in wake of the summer fires that charred 359,000 acres of the Bitterroot.
Bitterroot National Forest public affairs officer Cass Cairns said the petitions have been received. The man behind them, John Tietz, will receive a written response from Forest Supervisor Rodd Richardson.
But will his petition be heeded? Yes, said Stu Lovejoy, the fire response planning coordinator for the Bitterroot National Forest, but the barriers to salvage logging are formidable.
Two “ID teams” made up of silviculturists, wildlife and fisheries biologists, hydrologists, fire management officers, soil scientists and landscape architects are already on the ground, studying burned areas in preparation for an Environmental Impact Statement on salvage logging.
The project is enormous, however, and probably beyond the capabilities of two ID teams, especially since both have to share certain specialists, like soil scientists and landscape architects. Lovejoy says local forest officials hope to hire a third ID team, and convince a divided Congress to come up with the funds for a fourth.
Still, with an untold number of trees ripe for harvest across thousands of miles of forest, three or four ID teams may not be enough to do the job.
“We don’t have a lot of resources to do an incredible amount of planning,” Lovejoy says, “but it’s a start.”
Environmental Impact Statements typically take a year to prepare, giving some of the smaller-diameter ponderosa pines time to deteriorate and become worthless to the market. “Those are the first to lose their value,” he says.
The market poses another challenge to a financially successful timber harvest: Canadian timber is flooding the American market, and there are few mills within a financially feasible hauling distance from the Bitterroot National Forest.
Lovejoy agrees that market forces beyond local control could affect timber harvest on the Bitterroot. But he says harvest will be done, whether by for-profit logging outfits or by local people hired with tax dollars to clear the interface of charred trees.
“We can’t leave a legacy of jackstrawed trees over thousands of acres in people’s back yards. That’s not good stewardship,” he says.
Though environmentalists aren’t even mentioned as another potential barrier to timber harvesting, concessions are being made to them. Only burned trees in the roaded areas near homes will be considered for harvest, and then only to return the forest to the “desired condition” of light ground fuels in dry, ponderosa pine forests. Only a portion of the burned trees will be logged, the rest being left for wildlife habitat and to enhance soil productivity.