The Truth About Rim Fire Salvage Logging
Last year’s massive Rim Fire made international headlines as it burned 257,000 acres along the Tuolumne River on the western border of Yosemite National Park. It was the third largest fire in California history, and the largest ever recorded in the Sierra Nevada. So, by any measure, it was a fire of unprecedented scope and scale.
Fires, both large and small, are a natural and essential component of California ecosystems. In this case though, decades of public misinformation and misunderstanding, along with the sheer size of the Rim Fire, have left many people confused about what to do next.
At this moment, the U.S. Forest Service is moving forward with two plans to massively log the burn area. One plan (already approved!) calls for logging 99,000 trees along 194 miles of roads leading into Yosemite National Park, while the other plan calls for salvage logging 44,000 acres, and building or reconstructing, over 500 miles of roads in the National Forest. These plans raise very troubling and urgent questions about the fate of the Rim Fire region, Yosemite National Park, and the Tuolumne River canyon.
What Rim Fire Salvage Logging Will Really Look Like
Folks have offered conflicting arguments about jobs, economic benefits, wildlife, and future fire risks, but everyone is missing a profoundly significant reality: 45 percent of the soils in the Rim Fire zone were moderately to severely damaged. This means that organic matter was burned out of the soil. Why does this matter? Well, most people don’t realize that the new organic matter (lignin) that rebuilds soil can only come from decomposing trees.
If 44,000 acres in the burned area are logged, as the Forest Service proposes, this means that those soils may never recover, or may take hundreds of years to recover. New trees (and forests) cannot grow on highly damaged, impoverished soils. We all need to start asking ourselves what the Tuolumne River canyon and the forests along the western border of Yosemite National Park will look like after the Forest Service logs the Rim Fire region.
Imagine this: 44,000 acres of logging; 540 miles of road development and reconstruction; 5 years of mastication, slash-piling, and burning—and all of this intensive work being done with heavy equipment that pushes dirt around and tears up hillsides. On top of that, the Forest Service is planning to remove twice as many trees from the Rim Fire area as were logged in the entire state of California last year (and it has to be done at lightning speed because trees begin to decompose and lose their market value after one season). With foresters, loggers, and equipment operators moving as fast as they can, you can bet that any regard for ecological health will go out the window.
Is all this necessary?
The Forest Service claims that millions of dollars in trees will go to waste if the trees aren’t immediately logged, but they have not considered the extreme damage that logging will do to the ecology of the area or to the scenic values that attract visitors to Yosemite National Park. Who wants to raft a river, hike a trail, or drive roads through a landscape destroyed by logging? And what about the benefits of leaving the burn area intact? How about creating a “Rim Fire National Monument” so that countless generations of visitors can come see the incredible beauty of this area?
This is a pivotal moment: Once the Rim Fire is logged there is no turning back.
Whatever choices we make as a society we have to do it fast because the public comment period closes on June 16. You can submit comments directly to the Forest Service at firstname.lastname@example.org (put “Rim Recovery” in the subject line); or through the Center for Biological Diversity action alert.
Photos: Mike McMillan – USFS (top), Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (middle), Jade Wolff (bottom)