The column about logging and how to recover from the Rim fire (“The Rim fire: Recovery and raging debate”; Forum, Jan. 12) discussed the Center for Biological Diversity’s new report but presented it as “extreme.” In fact, the report’s recommendation to protect post-fire wildlife habitat is based on years of well-established science.
Just over a week ago, more than 150 scientists sent a letter to the U.S. Forest Service opposing the logging of the Rim fire area. Here’s why: Study after study has demonstrated the importance of burned forest to Sierra wildlife species including owls, bats, woodpeckers and deer. In addition to the dead trees, which support beetles that in turn are fed upon by woodpeckers, the shrubs and other vegetation that are profuse in a post-fire landscape provide essential habitat. Deer find food, hummingbirds enjoy the wildflowers, and spotted owls seek out their prey in severely burned areas. “Post-fire habitats are not blank slates or catastrophic wastelands,” explains one study of the Sierra, “but rather an important part of the ecosystem.”
Once logged, however, these post-fire areas cannot provide those ecological benefits. Logging and herbicide use eliminate wildlife habitat by removing dead trees, harming the soil, and preventing the growth of wildflowers and other post-fire vegetation. They can also facilitate the spread of non-native cheatgrass, which acts as a highly combustible fine fuel, thus increasing fire risk. And the extensive road network and runoff from logging operations can increase chronic sedimentation in streams.
If we want to maintain biological diversity and ecological integrity in the Sierra, then we can no longer ignore what the wildlife is telling us – they need the burned forest just as it is. There are still actions to take that would actually help the post-fire area and provide jobs. For example, there’s a great need for watershed restoration, including decommissioning the numerous old roads in the Stanislaus Forest that are no longer needed and are causing environmental degradation. Rather than embracing massive logging operations, we should be looking at reducing the harm caused by these roads – work that would be environmentally beneficial and provide jobs. And, there is also work from the felling of some trees for public safety.
The Sierra has evolved with fire for thousands of years, and scientists have a clear understanding of the benefits provided to wildlife. Though it may not always be obvious, these burned areas teem with life and beauty. We ought to do what we can to keep it that way.
Justin Augustine is a senior attorney who works on endangered species and forest issues for the Center for Biological Diversity.