Forest health logging debate rages on
September 25, 2009
U.S. Forest Service researchers in Southern California recently published a report suggesting beetle-killed trees don’t increase the fire intensity.
The study was conducted in the San Bernardino Mountains, where a severe drought and pine beetle outbreak in 2002-2003 killed large numbers of conifer trees.
In October 2003, two fires burned a total of 143,000 acres in the study area, including 14,500 acres of conifer forest. After the fires, the U.S. Forest Service used satellite images to create maps of the area, finding no correlation between number of beetle- and drought-killed trees and fire severity.
A conservation group issued a press release about the study, claiming the results undercut the argument for widespread removal of dead trees in wild lands far from towns, power lines and other infrastructure.
Locally, rangers with the White River National Forest questioned whether the study is relevant to local conditions.
The research area in California had a much lower density of dead trees per acre than many of the beetle-killed lodgepole stands in Colorado, said Cal Wettstein, deputy supervisor for the White River.
In some cases, the California study area had only zero to 10 dead trees per acre. In many beetle-killed areas in Colorado, the number is more like 100 to 200 dead trees per acre, Wettstein said. He said the biggest danger in Colorado could come in 10 to 30 years, when many of the dead trees have fallen to the ground. Under those conditions, a widespread fire could scorch the soil to near sterility.
At the same time, a fisheries conservation group is stepping up its campaign to change the logging rules for roadless areas on Colorado’s national forest lands.
Trout Unlimited said a state rule that allows logging up to 1.5 miles from communities and other developed facilities is too far-reaching and could lead to water quality impacts. The group wants the agency to limit forest health logging to just .5 miles from neighborhoods, reservoirs and campgrounds.
The California study was published in the Open Forest Science Journal, a peer-reviewed online journal. The manuscript can be downloaded at http://bit.ly/1kAq3S.