Last week we started a 30-day comment period for the draft environmental assessment (EA) for the Chetco Bar fire salvage project. This project proposes to salvage burned trees on 4,090 acres where area salvage is both technically feasible and economically viable as well as allowable under land management regulations.
While this acreage represents just 2.5 percent of the Chetco Bar Fire’s overall footprint, the resulting salvage sales could generate as much as 70 million board feet of timber. For context, the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest sold a total of 32.7 million board feet of timber last year.
The Chetco Bar fire was the largest fire on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in 2017, burning 191,197 acres of which 170,321 acres are national forest system lands. Approximately 85 percent of the fire’s footprint within the forest’s boundaries occurred inside wilderness where post-fire salvage is prohibited or in areas like late successional reserves which require additional analysis to show how treatments would help the ecosystem to recover in a way that meets the specific goals of the land management allocation.
The draft EA analyzed 13,000 acres of lands that met two criteria: (1) designated as “matrix” where the majority of timber harvests should occur according to the 1989 Siskiyou and 1990 Rogue River National Forest Land and Resource Management Plans and (2) areas with concentrated tree mortality in areas that experienced moderate- to high-severity burns. Further consideration of riparian reserves, northern spotted owl habitat, inventoried roadless area, and feasibility of logging systems winnowed the acreage to the 4,090 acres being proposed.
The Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Project team worked closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine what effect the project would have on northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet. The team also worked closely with the National Marine Fisheries Service to examine potential effects on coho salmon. This thorough multi-agency analysis allowed us to design a timber salvage strategy that accounts for the sensitive ecology of newly-burned forests and unique biomes and geography of Southwest Oregon, while also providing post-fire economic opportunities.
I realize the Chetco Bar fire had a significant and lasting impact on southwestern Oregon communities and ecosystems. Before the fire was out, forest employees, along with local contractors and partners, worked on making burned areas safe from hazards such as falling trees, rolling debris, smoldering root wads and failing roads. While working to mitigate these dangers, we have made every effort to provide public access by reducing or rescinding road and area closures as soon as practicable.
We believe that with timely salvage, the value of the fire-killed trees can pay for their removal from the forest and potentially pay for other future restoration projects such as planting trees, improving roads, and improving stream habitat.
For example, the Packer Danger RS fire salvage contract on the Gold Beach Ranger District will be offered in the coming weeks. These trees were removed from alongside forest roads to prepare them for reopening. We anticipate that this roadside salvage sale will generate an estimated 9.1 million board feet of timber.
Salvaging these fire-killed trees will help local businesses and communities recover economically while funding post-fire recovery efforts like tree planting that can foster resilient forest conditions and contribute to future timber production.
I encourage you to review the Chetco Bar Fire Salvage EA and take time to submit thoughtful comments. We look forward to continuing to communicate openly and work closely with communities to build social, economic, and ecological resilience in Southwest Oregon.
Dave Warnack is the interim forest supervisor for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. He experienced the 2017 fire season as the deputy forest supervisor on the Umpqua National Forest, just north of Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.