Interdisciplinary Minor in Global Sustainability
Senior Seminar
University of California, Irvine June 1997 

Salvage Logging

by M. Ajao

Global Sustainability Senior Seminar 2-5-97

Proponents: Legislators and the timber industry

Opponents: Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE)

Legislators have defined "salvage logging" as the act of logging unhealthy forest stands, considered to have a probability of experiencing extreme insect and disease infestation of catastrophic fire. However, no scientific consensus exists for describing an unhealthy forest, predicting or classifying catastrophic fire event, or classifying the resultant damage of an insect and disease. Salvage logging was an alternative way of meeting timber demands and generating revenues by timber industries and legislators without much opposition from the public. This is because the laws permitting such logging practices are so vague and confusing. Legislators espouse that the sales from such practice brings in money to the Treasury while rendering the forests more "health." Proponents claimed that harvesting timber would reduce fuel-loading to reduce the intensity of fires and thin-out forests stands to relieve inter-tree competition. Though this sounds plausible, the criteria for determining what sort of trees would be removed, and who would make the decision still remains unanswered.

Salvage logging is an attempt to compromise excessive logging and controlled logging. Excessive logging obviously leads to deforestation as is evident in most areas of the world today. The savannas of Africa, the steppes of eastern Europe and Russia, the pampas of Argentina, and at least some of the prairies of North America used to be forested before human disturbance.

The Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE) are strongly opposed to this kind of vague laws employed by legislators in salvage logging. In certain instances, the practice has been referred to as "logging without laws" because it exempts timber companies involved in salvage sales from most environmental laws including the Endangered Species Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the National Forest Management Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act. It also allows for clearcutting of huge forest areas. It prevents citizens from exercising their right to challenge illegal logging plans. FSEEE also suggest such vague laws will allow for massive clearcutting of healthy trees and that it also directs the federal government to dramatically increase timber harvests.

Allowing for deforestation by the federal government by such vague laws gradually contributes to global deforestation and a corresponding increase in species extinction. Reforestation, by replanting, is only done on a fraction of the deforested area, and it usually creates a monoculture plantation, with much less biological diversity and less disease resistance than in virgin, or old-growth forest. Moreover, there are no laws preventing large scale logging in areas - whether healthy or unhealthy - acquired through long term contracts by timber industries. FSEEE is particularly opposed to such old contracts because it guarantees access to low-cost timber to timber industries. A particular example is the acquisition of one-half million acres of prime Tongass timber in Tongass National Forest by Ketchikan Pulp Company (KPC). This allows for clearcutting of one-half million acres of 400-year-old trees at an instance. Moreover, such large scale logging also results in soil depletion and makes grazing difficult.

The FSEEE have suggested a science based management of the Tongass National Forest, for example to combat these problems resulting from excessive logging through vague legislatures described above. The FSEEE have also blamed damage of ecosystems in the Tongass National Forest on poor scientific management resulting from the following: logging of marginal lands, where tree regeneration is poor; planting of single-species, even-aged plantation, in which pests and diseases can spread rapidly; logging on short rotations, which may reduce soil fertility; building of excessive road networks, which contributes to stream siltation and fragments habitat for wide-ranging wildlife species; livestock grazing in sensitive riparian areas and wetlands, which destroys stream-side vegetation and degrades water quality; and livestock grazing in upland forests, which has converted open, park-like stands into dense, fire-prone thickets.

FSEEE also suggest that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service need to shift their focus from timber harvesting, livestock grazing, road building, and development of mines and oil and gas reserves and begin addressing the need to restore the integrity of the land and water systems placed in their trust in order to reverse the legacy of mismanagement. They also suggest that the threats facing our forests will not be corrected until the agencies stop focusing on treating the symptoms of decline - insects, disease, fire and other disturbances - and begin focusing on the restoration of natural ecological processes and functions, including fire. FSEEE suggest that aggressive fire suppression has weakened forest stands throughout the Columbia River Basin. The following are suggested reasons, by the FSEEE, for the agencies' obsession with fighting fires: increased development at the edge of wildlands; internal agency incentives that reward fire suppression; short-term political pressure to put out fires; and public perceptions that fires, especially large, high intensity fires, are bad.

To further address this deforestation in national forests as a result of vague laws governing logging, FSEEE went on to define, explicitly, the terms required for salvage logging. They suggest that it should be done to restore and maintain the integrity of forested ecosystems. Promoting tree growth and generating revenue for the forest industry will be secondary. That thinning will be used only in stands where an interdisciplinary team has identified sound ecological reasons for such projects. In general, thinning should focus on lower elevation, dry-site forests where overstocking is likely to create fire risks. Fire tolerant species, such as western larch and ponderosa pine, shall be retained. That salvage logging will only be applicable in stands at least ten acres where over half the trees by volume are dead; where such logging is expected to speed regeneration of the stand; and where it will not adversely affect soil productivity or fish and wildlife habitat. All live trees must be retained; only trees that are completely dead or are expected to die within one to three years may be removed. All living pine and larch trees, all trees greater than twenty inches in diameter, and all trees older than 150 years will be retained. At least half of all standing dead trees in each diameter class greater than four inches also will be retained. That during logging, ecologically sensitive areas, including severely burned areas, fragile or erosive soils, steep slopes, and watersheds with severe sedimentation problems must be avoided. And on all sites, a sufficient number of snags, logs, and infected trees, shall be left to maintain soil productivity, stabilize slopes, provide shade, and support species that depend on snags and logs for habitat.

With the restriction of logging by such tough laws proposed by the FSEEE, timber companies would be forced to look elsewhere for logging. Particularly developing countries, where the poor standard of living has already driven many plant and animal species to extinction. When these timber companies operate in developing countries, they always exploit the cheap labor of the residents. Moreover, recent studies have shown that the value of non-timber forest products can greatly exceed that of the potential timber harvest in these regions.

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