Ecologists Warn Against Salvage Logging

Salvage logging — harvesting burnt trees from the site of a fire — is not, contrary to public perception and federal practice, an environmentally benign method of gathering timber, write a group of forest ecologists in an article in the journal Science. Dead wood, they say, plays an important ecological role, providing shade for seedlings, niches for nesting birds, and organic material that helps soil hold water. “To many ecologists, natural disturbances are key ecosystem processes rather than ecological disasters that require human repair,” says the article, which is sure to add fuel to the raging debate over a proposed U.S. Forest Service salvage-logging operation on the site of 2002’s Biscuit wildfire in Oregon. The problem, says lead author David Lindenmayer, is that large wildfires tend to yield an atmosphere of strong emotion, and decisions about salvage logging are “often made in a crisis mode, yet the effects can last for several hundred years.”