For Immediate Release, May 14, 2009
Appeal Filed to Stop Irreversible Logging Damage to
Fragile Burned Forest North of Grand Canyon
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, and WildEarth Guardians today filed an administrative appeal challenging the U.S. Forest Service for its failure to protect burned soils and wildlife habitat in a logging project slated for forests burned by the Warm Fire north of the Grand Canyon in 2006. The Kaibab National Forest approved the timber sale, called the “Warm Fire Recovery Project,” in April.
The appeal cites violations of the National Forest Management Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Endangered Species Act over logging plans that would damage sensitive soils and critical wildlife habitat, impede natural forest regeneration, spread nonnative plants, and increase long-term fire hazard. The plans call for ground-based tractor logging across 9,114 acres where the Forest Service says that soil erosion hazard is severe; opening 248 roads for logging operations where the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency expressed concern for watershed impacts; and removing large trees from 3,460 acres designated as critical habitat for threatened Mexican spotted owl.
“Burned forests are naturally recovering now, and logging will irreversibly harm that recovery,” said Jay Lininger, an ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity in Flagstaff. “Fire-killed trees are biological legacies that link the old forest with the new one. Logging them robs soil of vital nutrients, spreads weeds, and erodes soil and wildlife habitat that take centuries to replace.”
This is the second federal logging project challenged by conservation groups on the Kaibab Plateau this year. The Jacob Ryan timber sale drew opposition from the Center and the Sierra Club based on a dispute over protection of the northern goshawk, a sensitive raptor that the Forest Service says was harmed by the Warm Fire. The appeal cites the Forest Service’s failure to adequately analyze the cumulative impacts of the fire, its proposed logging, and logging in the adjacent Jacob Ryan timber sale that together span approximately 30,000 acres of the northern Kaibab Plateau.
“The area slated for logging is part of the greater Grand Canyon ecosystem,” said Stacey Hamburg of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “It is imperative that the forest in the Warm Fire area be treated in a manner that respects the integrity of this larger ecological system. The Warm Fire provides a great opportunity to study natural recovery in a southwestern forest. Logging it will impede restoration and will increase risk of future fires as small trees and slash are left behind.”
Logging after fire is scientifically controversial; some research ecologists assert that post-fire logging offers no ecological benefit, increases fuels that are most likely to burn, and harms forest recovery by disturbing burned soils where productivity is already compromised. The appeal notes Forest Service admissions that logging will increase fuels far above what would occur naturally for two decades, and that logging will spread cheatgrass, a nonnative species known to increase fire frequencies. It also cites research from Northern Arizona University indicating that burned forests contain fuel loads within the “optimum” range identified by the Forest Service without logging.
“The proposed logging just adds insult to injury,” said Bryan Bird, ecologist with WildEarth Guardians in Santa Fe. “If the government logs this forest it is choosing two-by-fours over priceless soil and wildlife, the real values offered by the Kaibab National Forest.”
The Warm Fire consumed large amounts of organic matter, and if dead trees are allowed to fall and remain in place, they will rebuild soil at no cost to taxpayers. Logging, in contrast, will cost taxpayers more than $2.4 million after timber sale receipts are collected, according to Forest Service analysis. Natural aspen re-growth is already underway in the burned area and will help reduce fire danger in coming decades.
“The project makes no sense from an economic or ecological standpoint,” Lininger said. “If planting trees is beneficial, we are better off paying for it and keeping the legacy trees for soil and habitat.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated portions of the Warm Fire project area as critical habitat for threatened Mexican spotted owl in 1995. Ordinarily, logging on the scale now contemplated would not be allowed. However, the Forest Service claims the Warm Fire rendered the habitat nonfunctional and created a need for restoration.
“Mexican spotted owls have been shown to use burned forest,” said Lininger. “Logging most of the dead trees will foreclose habitat values in the future.”
The Forest Service has 45 days to respond to today’s appeal.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 220,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.