| Burned ponderosa pines, like
these overlooking the Animas Valley, would be logged under
a salvage logging plan being proposed by the Forest Service.
However, the plan is being criticized by local enivironmental
groups Colorado Wild and the San Juan Citizens’ Alliance
for being a thinly veiled effort by the
Bush administration to cater to the timber industry.//Photo
by Todd Newcomer.
As Jeff Berman, Colorado Wild’s executive
director, flips through the phone book-sized document, his comments
are anything but positive.
“There are dozens of typos,” he said pointing to
A handful of pages later, he commented, “There are whole
sections of text that should be elsewhere.”
Looking at another table, Berman said, “Either their
math is wrong or they’re leaving things out.”
In general, Berman has a blunt opinion of the recently released
environmental impact statement on salvage logging in the Missionary
Ridge burn area.
“They should take this back,” he said. “This
is one of the sloppiest environmental impact statements I’ve
ever seen. There are whole issues missing. There are a bunch
of scientific issues that are not even addressed.”
The San Juan National Forest released the EIS last week as
a precursor to harvesting a large number of trees burned in
last summer’s Miss-ionary Ridge fire. The document is
available for public review, and based on that review, the Forest
Service will determine how to proceed with the proposed timber
Dave Dallison, timber program leader for the San Juan National
Forest, said that the Forest Service’s preferred alternative
would entail logging on roughly 4,200 acres of the approximately
70,000 acres burned in the giant wildfire. The harvest would
be accomplished by standard ground-based logging, cable logging
and helicopter logging.
“The primary purpose of the program is to salvage dead
and dying timber that would otherwise be lost,” Dallison
said. “We’d like to do that without causing significant
resource damage. Two of the side benefits would be fuels reduction
for future wildfire situations and the destruction of some beetle
In the fast lane
Dallison agreed with Berman that the review of the sale is
rushed. However, he remarked that speed is a necessity.
“It’s on an extremely fast track, probably half
the time it normally takes,” Dallison said. “This
is the time frame because of the deterioration of the timber.”
Dallison notes that as soon as trees die, they begin rotting.
Consequently, marketable lumber, particularly ponderosa pine,
must be harvested as soon as possible. “The first to go
is the ponderosa pine,” Dallison said. “We only
have 18 months to salvage those trees.”
Aspen, Douglas fir and Englemann spruce have slightly more
forgiving time frames, according to Dallison, but they still
lose their value after a couple years.
However, Colorado Wild is not buying Dallison’s argument,
and the conservation organization views the timber sale as too
massive, rushed, reckless and potentially damaging to the environmental
and social fabric of La Plata County. While the logging has
been proposed as a clean-up and use of already dead trees, Berman
said that operation would amount to a total clear-cut and would
be on a scale never witnessed in this part of the state.
|Missionary Ridge Road, seen here, could
become the site of increased truck traffic this summer if
a plan to harvest burned timber in the Missionary Ridge
area gains approval. According to Jeff Berman, of Colorado
Wild, the harvest could mean up to 4,000 trucks on local
roads./Photo by Todd Newcomer.
“They’re proposing to harvest 20 million board
feet of lumber,” Berman said. “That’s about
4,000 logging trucks’ worth. If you had a green timber
sale this size, it would be accomplished over three to 10 years.
They want to do this over three to six months.”
Feeding the industry
Dallison noted that in spite of the project’s size, the
demand for the trees exists, and the timber industry has expressed
interest. “Before we embarked on this, we talked with
industry extensively, and the sense was that they were very
interested,” he said. “It just depends on what’s
going on with the market at the time. It has been up, but I
just heard today that housing starts are down.”
Berman countered that regardless of the timber industry’s
interest, capacity would be an altogether different issue. Lumber
mills in Mancos, Montrose and Espanola, N.M., have apparently
expressed interest in processing the load and adding shifts
to do so.
However, Berman raised the question of what happens to the
workers when the sale is over. “They either increase the
amount of timber coming off our public lands or they lay off
all those people,” he said. “The Forest Service
will either be encouraging levels of industry they can’t
sustain, or they’ll be creating a boom-bust cycle.”
Berman said that in his mind, the big push for this operation
is coming not from the Forest Service but higher up the chain
of command. He said that the Missionary Ridge salvage operation
and five others proposed for the state are the result of President
George Bush’s Healthy Forests Initiative and amount to
timber grabs in the name of fire suppression.
“This is driven at the whim of the timber industry and
at the behest of the Bush administration,” Berman said.
The cost to community
While the industry has expressed interest in the sale, Berman
stressed that Durango should be aware of the direct impacts.
“Can this community afford another destroyed or even
harmed tourist season?” he asked. “There’s
going to be heavy logging truck traffic around Bayfield High
School when school’s letting out. I’m not going
to even consider riding my bike on East Animas Road during this.
They’re also going to have to close whole areas of forest
to do this. That’s going to hurt out tourism and more
businesses are going to be stretched to the limit.”
Berman went on to name a laundry list of impacts on the area’s
natural environment, including total clear-cuts, erosion and
weed proliferation, among other issues. Citing the 1995 Beschta
study, Berman said that salvage logging actually does not enhance
fire suppression, and burned areas are extremely vulnerable
to impacts. According to the study, salvage logging actually
creates a warmer, drier microclimate that increases fire danger.
The study also found that logging damages soils through increased
erosion and compaction.
“An area that’s been burned is much more sensitive
to impacts,” Berman said.
Road to nowhere?
One of the chief impacts of the harvest would be related to
roads. Berman noted that while the EIS said that very few roads
would be built, it does name 90 miles of “roads”
that will have to be improved or reconstructed. He added that
the EIS does not map or describe where these roads are.
“Most of this project is going to be ground-based logging,”
Berman said. “They’re proposing to use what they
call existing roads, but the road analysis is not available.
There’s no opportunity for anyone to go see what the condition
of these roads are, or if they’re even roads or trails
Because of the sum of potential impacts, Berman said his group
will strongly oppose the proposed salvage operation. “There
may be a few areas that they could go up there and log,”
he said. “But they’re not acknowledging the scientific
research, and theydoing nothing to assess the impacts.”
Another group likely to challenge the EIS is the San Juan Citizens’
Alliance. Mark Pearson, executive director, said that his group
has yet to pick apart the document but already has issues.
“I think we’ll have some of the same concerns as
Colorado Wild,” Pearson said.
Offhand, he listed logging on steep slopes, helicopter logging
within roadless areas and road reconstruction as potential problems.
“There’s an awful lot of miles of roads to be reconstructed
up there,” he said. “Ninety miles is a great deal
of new permanent road.”
From consensus to discord
Like Berman, Pearson referenced the Beschta study. In particular,
he noted that San Juan Citizens’ Alliance had presented
the study’s findings to the San Juan National Forest during
the creation of the EIS. He said he was disappointed to see
no mention of it in the EIS.
“It looks like they totally blew us off and didn’t
even mention it,” Pearson said. “That’s disconcerting,
considering it was compiled by 20 Forest Service scientists.”
On a broader level, Berman said the EIS is disconcerting as
it represents a break in the long history of consensus building
by the San Juan National Forest. Given good past relations with
the public agency, he said he is surprised by this shift.
“They are turning that on its head with this,”
he concluded. “I’m actually surprised. I thought
they would be a little more fair.”