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Salvage logging is key issue for forest ecologists

by Webmaster |

PORTLAND - A group of forest ecologists wants the world to stop rushing to turn trees killed by wildfire into lumber, arguing that salvage logging undermines many of the ecological benefits of fire.

In an opinion piece in the journal Science on Thursday, seven forest ecologists from universities in the United States, Canada and Australia suggested a better course would be for forest managers to develop policies that exempt areas such as natural parks, nature reserves and drinking water sources from salvage logging.

"To many ecologists, natural disturbances are key ecosystem processes rather than ecological disasters that require human repair," the scientists wrote. "Salvage harvesting activities undermine many of the ecosystem benefits of major disturbances."

Salvage logging has become a contentious political issue in the United states in recent years, as millions of acres of national forests have burned annually in wildfires. One of the biggest of those wildfires, the 2002 Biscuit fire in southwestern Oregon, has become the focus of an intense debate over how much salvage logging is best for the forest, fish and wildlife.

"The issue is that decisions are often made in a crisis mode, yet the effects can last for several hundred years," said David Lindenmayer, lead author of the article and a professor of forest ecology at Australian National University in Canberra.

Jerry Franklin, a professor of forest ecology at the University of Washington who contributed to the article, said the scientists were inspired to push for a change in the general public perception that dead trees are best turned into lumber by fires that burned across Australia in recent years.

"We never sat down as a community and had a dialogue to come up with a consensus of what should be done," Franklin said from Seattle. "We have a lot of the pieces now.

"The bottom line is, salvage is done for economic objectives and it does not contribute to ecological recovery, as a generality."

Ecologists have become increasingly aware of the importance of dead wood in the forest, serving as shade for seedlings after a fire, providing nesting cavities for birds, and decaying into organic material that helps soils hold water, said Dave Perry, professor emeritus of forest ecology from Oregon State University and a co-author of the article.