Restoration or Incineration

By Chris Horgan, Executive Director Stewards of the Sequoia
To log or not to log...

I have spent a great deal of time in the California Sequoia National Forest, McNally burn area 150,000 acres, Piute burn area 40,000 acres and Cedar burn area 24,000 acres From extensive research into forest health, I find that most of the claims against forest management are incorrect, or worse yet, harmful.

In a Bakersfield Californian article, "Saws or woodpeckers," the author, Mr. Weiser states that two types of restoration can be heard in the Sequoia McNally burn area, that of chain saws buzzing and woodpeckers drilling into burned bark. The idea of woodpeckers actively restoring the forest sounds quaint. It is not realistic. I encourage people to go to any burn area, I doubt they will hear woodpeckers. I have not. There is little life left in burn areas.

Mountainside after mountainside of forest are totally burned, and I cannot find any seedlings. Apparently Ara Marderosian, of the Sequoia Forest Keepers, has been monitoring an acre patch of burned forest, where he claims 57 seedlings are growing in the shade of burned trees. It is most regrettable that those seedlings are destined to be incinerated when lightning inevitably strikes, sometime within the next hundred years. In the Southern Sierras that is how long it will take for the standing matchstick forest to rot enough to no longer be an extreme fire hazard, capable of incinerating the area again. Both Flat and Bonita fires proved this. After both fires, there was no tree regrowth in 30 years. Both areas were reburned in the McNally fire, at heat so intense it sterilized the soil and melted metal sign posts and culverts.

The forest will eventually restore itself from the unnatural wildfire, but it will take an inordinate amount of time, from 200-500 years. Compare this to actively managed forests where burned trees are harvested, new trees are planted, and the forest returns in 30-50 years, providing much needed habitat for wildlife and endangered species.

An extremely stark example of the benefits of active management is the Mount St. Helens eruption. Government did no restoration work, and the landscape is littered with dead trees, and almost no wildlife. As one drives through the dead zone, there is suddenly a wall of forest. This is the Weyerhauser property. They planted trees soon after the eruption, and a healthy forest has returned in only a few years, teeming with wildlife. Benefits of actively managing forests can also be seen at Edison's Shaver Lake Forest, as well as in those few places where management has not been stopped by anti-management groups.

The Director of the John Muir project stated that "post fire logging is the worst thing you can do, in terms of forest recovery. It will set back the recovery dramatically." He offers no clue as to why he thinks this is so. Real world examples prove that his viewpoint is incorrect.

John Muir commented in his writings, that when fires would overtake him, he would climb a tree and wait for the fire to pass. The unnatural wildfires of the past seveal decades would incinerate John Muir, as well as the tree he climbed and the forest, and the wildlife that surrounded him. These fires cannot be heralded as natural, and will not heal themselves as natural fires of the past have done.

I contacted Kent Duysen of Sierra Forest Products, the company that is contracted for the McNally burn logging. One of the claims by anti-logging advocates is that this company is only removing large trees, and that the smaller ones are what will create a higher fire risk. Mr. Duysen explained that if the contract had been awarded sooner, they would have removed the small trees, and the taxpayers would have gotten more money from the sale.

Over the years, anti-logging groups have lobbied for more regulations, and filed numerous lawsuits. To comply, it now takes two years before the forest service can allow timber companies to start work on only one percent of the burn area, and that means that the trees below 20 inches in diameter are now useless. According to the Government Agency, Northern California Scaling Bureau, 30 percent of gross volume of the wood from the McNally fire was non-usable. We waited too long.

Still, the more dead wood that can be removed from the forest, the better. Even if trees below 20 inches are left, they will rot far faster than the large ones, and therefore pose a fire threat for hundreds of years less time. Besides, we need the wood for paper and lumber. It is a renewable resource.

All logging is subject to California logging regulations that minimize erosion, and other impacts to the forest area. These stringent protections are in place to make sure that logging is done in the most responsible manner possible. It is insanity to object to responsible logging, in favor of massive destruction of our forests, for hundreds of years.

Over 350,000 acres, or 30 percent of Sequoia forest, has burned in three fires over the past 25 years. Nationwide, over the past decade, there have been record-breaking larger unnatural wildfires. We are incinerating forest and wildlife at a far faster pace than the forest can regenerate. These fires are on a scale never before seen in human history.

John Muir must be turning in his grave knowing that through non-management, we are allowing the destruction of our sacred forests.

This devastation has been caused by anti-logging hands-off management practices. Logging, even in its worst form, has never destroyed an entire forest, as well as the wildlife. We have examples of what can be done with proper management. Common sense must prevail to allow management, or we will not have much forest or wildlife for our children, their children, or their children's children. Is that to be our legacy?