New Analysis Restates size of Biscuit Fire Salvage
Forest Service report reveals information used to plan Biscuit Salvage alternatives was flawed.
February 6, 2004
New analysis restates size of Biscuit Fire salvage
By Jeff Barnard
The Associated Press
GRANTS PASS - A preliminary report by U.S. Forest Service scientists shows that there is 30 percent less timber within the area burned by 2002's massive Biscuit Fire than the amount used in planning an upcoming helicopter salvage logging operation.
The analysis by the Pacific Northwest Research Station found that areas that burned hot, killing all the trees, tended to be in younger stands with less valuable timber.
The bigger, more lucrative trees tended to be on the west side of the fire, which gets more rain. Those areas burned at lower intensity, increasing the likelihood the big trees survived.
The research station is waiting for the Siskiyou National Forest to release the complete results of on-the-ground surveys of test plots done last summer and fall, which the research station paid for, to solidify estimates currently based on satellite photos, said David Azuma, lead author on the report.
``It's certainly important to the policy debate,'' to get the results, said Azuma. ``If we can't give them an exact number, which may be the same number they have now, at least the estimate will be done on real data, and not a modeled version.''
The Biscuit fire burned 500,000 acres in southwestern Oregon, making it the nation's biggest fire for 2002. It has become the focus of an intense debate over whether it is better to salvage timber killed in wildfires to speed up restoration of fish and wildlife habitat, as the Forest Service and timber industry want to do, or leave forests to recover naturally, as environmentalists and some ecologists advocate.
The report raises questions about how much timber the Siskiyou can offer from Biscuit, whether living trees may be needed to make timber sales attractive to buyers, and the economic feasibility of using helicopters to remove logs to minimize environmental damage, said Andy Stahl of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, an environmental group.
``The preliminary data that Azuma analyzed suggests that the commercially valuable trees in the main did not burn, did not die, and that what the Biscuit fire killed was noncommercial timber,'' Stahl said. ``If that's true, then it calls into question the whole notion of salvage logging.''
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has urged the Forest Service to release the survey results so they can be included in the final environmental impact statement, due in early April, on plans to log 518 million board feet of dead timber from 25,000 acres burned by the fire.
``There may well be good reasons why this data hasn't been transmitted to the decision-makers at this point, but everyone ought to be able to agree that any and all relevant data should be considered so that we can get this one right,'' Wyden chief of staff Josh Kardon said.
Forest Service regional spokesman Rex Holloway said the agency was preparing a response to Wyden's request, but he could not say whether the data would be released.
Azuma said if he got the data by today, he would be able to finish his analysis by late March, in time for the environmental impact statement.
Azuma said they wanted to compare the before-and-after condition of test plots within the fire area to fine-tune computer models and get a more accurate estimate of how much timber was killed in the blaze.
Their estimates concluded only 7 billion board feet of timber were within the fire area, compared to 10 billion board feet estimated in a report by Oregon State University forest engineering professor John Sessions and others. The Sessions report was used by the Siskiyou for its estimate that salvage logging could produce 518 million board feet of fire-killed timber.
The research station found timber volumes of 10.6 thousand board feet per acre where fire intensity was high, and 17.6 thousand board feet per acre where fire intensity was low. The Siskiyou based its action on estimates of 17.3 thousand board feet per acre for stands proposed for logging.
Tom Link, project manager for the Biscuit salvage, said he was not sure a different estimate for the timber volume would change anything, because it would include large areas, such as the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, where there will be no logging.
The Forest Service will not log living trees, Link said.
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