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Law would allow quicker logging of trees burned in western forest fires

Nov 4, 2013 - The Associated Press

RENO, Nev. -- More than 200 biologists, ecologists and other scientists are urging Congress to defeat legislation they say would destroy critical wildlife habitat by setting aside U.S. environmental laws to speed logging of burned trees at Yosemite National Park and other national forests and wilderness areas across the West.

The experts say two measures pushed by pro-logging interests ignore a growing scientific consensus that the burned landscape plays a critical role in forest regeneration and is home to many birds, bats and other species found nowhere else.

"We urge you to consider what the science is telling us: that post-fire habitat created by fire, including patches of severe fire, are ecological treasures rather than ecological catastrophes, and that post-fire logging does far more harm than good to the nation's public lands," they wrote in a letter mailed to members of Congress Friday.

One bill, authored by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., would make logging a requirement on some public forestland, speed timber sales and discourage legal challenges.

The House approved the legislation 244-173 in September and sent it to the Senate, where it awaits consideration by the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The White House has threatened a veto, saying it would jeopardize endangered species, increase lawsuits and block creation of national monuments.

Hastings, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said wildfires burned 9.3 million acres in the U.S. last year, while the Forest Service only harvested timber from about 200,000 acres.

Hastings' bill includes an amendment by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., which he also introduced as separate legislation specific to lands burned by this year's Rim Fire at Yosemite National Park, neighboring wilderness and national forests in the Sierra Nevada.

"We have no time to waste in the aftermath of the Yosemite Rim Fire," McClintock said at a subcommittee hearing in October. "By the time the formal environmental review of salvage operations has been completed in a year, what was once forestland will have already begun converting to brushland, and by the following year, reforestation will become infinitely more difficult and expensive."

The Rim Fire started in August and grew to become one of the largest wildfires in California history. It burned 400 square miles and destroyed 11 residences, three commercial properties and 98 outbuildings. It cost $127 million to fight.

Members of the House Natural Resources Committee remain optimistic the Senate will take up Hastings' bill before the end of the year, said Mallory Micetich, the committee's deputy press secretary.

"We have a lot of hazardous fuel buildup, and it will help alleviate some of the threat of catastrophic wildfires," she said.

The scientists see it differently.

"Just about the worst thing you can do to these forests after a fire is salvage-log them," said Dominick DellaSala, the lead author of the letter.

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