Editorial: Chetco Bar salvage plan strikes a balance

Another big wildfire, another battle over salvage logging.

The Chetco Bar fire that ravaged more than 190,000 acres of rugged forest last August left plenty of destruction in its wake, and the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest is proposing to log some of the dead and dying trees. The Forest Service surveyed about 8 percent of the lands burned in the fire, focusing on those stands already designated for logging, and has proposed salvage logging on 2.5 percent.

As usual, nobody likes the plan.

Timber interests say the proposal is far too limited, and misses the chance to log more timber that would have been logged in the future, leaving it to be destroyed by insects.

Environmental groups say the proposal cuts too many larger, lightly-burned pine trees and not enough smaller, more heavily burned timber. Cutting bigger trees is, in their words, an “old-growth grab,” and logging, combined with salvage logging on privately owned timberlands, threatens the Chetco River Basin, they say.

Forest Service officials, as usual, are caught in the middle, damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

In a guest opinion on page 6B today, Interim Forest Supervisor Dave Warnack explains that 85 percent of the land burned in the Chetco Bar fire is wilderness, where salvage logging is prohibited by law. Of the remaining lands, the Forest Service focused on stands where logging is technically feasible: The same rugged terrain that made the fire so difficult to fight means it can’t feasibly be logged, either.

The survey also took into consideration the economic viability of logging burned timber, and forest officials worked closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to assess the effects salvage logging would have on the spotted owl, the marbled murrelet and coho salmon.

The result is not a wholesale attack on the ecosystem for the sake of commercial logging, nor is it too focused on environmental protections to allow for reasonable timber harvest. In fact, the proposal now on the table would yield as much as 70 million board feet of timber. That’s more than double the amount cut on the entire national forest last year.

The draft environmental assessment is now open for public comments. The deadline is May 16. Send comments to Chetco Fire Salvage Coordinator Jessie Berner, Gold Beach Ranger District, 29279 Ellensburg Ave., Gold Beach, OR 97444, or email comments-pacificnorthwest-siskiyou-goldbeach@fs.fed.us.

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