Stopping Post-Fire Clear-cuts in the Columbia Gorge
Post-fire logging legislation could undo over a century of forest protection for this natural scenic treasure
The 2017 Eagle Creek fire affected over 48,000 acres in Oregon with the majority of the forests effected occurring within the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness Area. The fire burned unevenly, with large tracks of forest left untouched, other areas are partially burned and some areas have been completely burned.
On Sept. 7, 2017, just six days into this weeks-long inferno, and with no prior consultation with Columbia Gorge communities or elected officials, Oregon Representative Greg Walden filed H.R. 3715, the "Scenic Columbia Gorge Restoration Act of 2017." This bill expedited logging within the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area in the wake of the Eagle Creek Fire. Salvage, or post-fire, logging is the practice of clear-cutting trees in forests after a wildfire or other natural disturbance. Read the specifics of the bill here.
Post-fire logging is completely inappropriate for our public lands in the Columbia Gorge. If passed, the Walden clear-cut bill would have mandated commercial logging in areas impacted by the Eagle Creek fire and required the Forest Service to develop plans to log the Gorge without environmental review, short-circuiting public involvement and limiting legal challenges.
In response to the clear-cut legislation, Friends of the Columbia Gorge and allies began a public education campaign about the bill, arguing against post-fire logging and for natural fire recovery, and providing ways for the public to contact their elected representatives to express opposition to Rep. Walden’s legislation. The public pressure helped keep the bill from receiving a vote in Congressional subcommittees.
While this was a win for the Gorge, the Walden bill is a reminder that future fires may lead to more attempts to expand clearcut logging in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
Why Post-Fire Logging Won't Help the Gorge Ecosystem Recover
There is no credible scientific evidence of an ecological benefit from post-fire logging. In fact, available research shows that post-fire logging has many negative impacts on surviving organisms and structures in disturbed areas and on vegetation that re-establishes naturally following the disturbance. Salvage logging can further soil erosion, introduce invasive species and disrupt wildlife for many years.
To the contrary, experts have determined that forests that experienced fires and are not logged are some of the richest and rarest in the Pacific Northwest.
Dead trees are important habitat. Standing dead and dying trees, called snags, are important for wildlife in both natural and landscaped settings, providing a valuable habitat for an array of wildlife. Birds, small mammals and other wildlife use snags for nests, nurseries, storage areas and foraging.
Other Approaches Will Help the Gorge Recover From the Fire
As devastating as it seems, fires like the Eagle Creek fire play a critical role in forest health and biodiversity. The Eagle Creek fire burned in a mosaic. There are still large areas with intact forests and green trees that the fire has skipped over.
The Gorge is a very resilient place. It's no stranger to cataclysmic events. From the Missoula Floods 10,000 years ago, to the Yacolt Burn 115 years ago, to the Eagle Creek fire, the Gorge will recover and endure.
Instead of pushing for clear-cut logging in the Gorge, Congress should instead focus on giving the Forest Service and state and local partners the resources need to keep invasive plant species out of the areas that burned, helping Gorge communities and businesses recover from the impacts of the fire and funding trail repair where it is appropriate.
Post-Fire Logging Legislation Could Undo Over a Century of Forest Protection
The Columbia River Gorge is a natural scenic treasure and an icon of the Northwest. The majority of the forests affected by the Eagle Creek fire are also within the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness area. Much of this area has been off-limits to logging and road building since 1915.
Bills like the failed Walden legislation could undo over 100 years of protection, resulting in road building and clear-cutting in areas that are extremely sensitive, and set a dangerous national precedent for undermining wilderness protections. The National Scenic Area Management Plan already has rules for emergency and disaster response and recovery. We should let existing laws work and not undermine decades of protection efforts.
Questions about this bill or forest recovery issues: Contact Conservation Director Michael Lang, 971-634-2030, firstname.lastname@example.org
Media inquiries: Contact Communications Director Burt Edwards, 971-634-0595, email@example.com
- Podcast: "The Ecosystem Of Forests And Fires" | Jerry Franklin, professor of Forest Ecosystems at the University of Washington, gives insight about the Eagle Creek fire and forest management practices in the Gorge. Stream or download from Oregon Public Broadcating's "Think Out Loud" (program date: Sept. 13, 2017)
- "Salvage Logging - A Terrible Idea" | By Jurgen Hess, Envirogorge (Sept. 25, 2017)
- "Myth Busting About Wildlife and Fire: Are Animals Are Being Burned?" | By Karen Miranda Gleason and Shawn Gillette, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service