What Is a Healthy Forest?

From the Environmental Review Newsletter Volume Two Number Two, February 1995



     The Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains divide the United States West Coast into a wet, westside forest system with an annual rainfall of about seventy-five inches; and a drier eastside forest system with an annual average of twenty-five inches of rain. In 1992, most logging on public forests on the westside was stopped by court order to protect the remaining 8,000 northern spotted owls. Logging activity outside the owls' range, in the slower growing, less productive east side and inland forests subsequently increased. The timber industry, denied westside timber, is attempting to increase the rate and amount of timber harvest by proposing massive salvage operations in the "unhealthy" east side forests.

     Parts of the eastside forests are considered unhealthy because of outbreaks of tree killing insects such as spruce bud worm and bark beetles. Historically, low intensity fires would periodically sweep through the eastside forests, reducing fuel build up and populations of pest insects; and encouraging reproduction of dominant tree species like Ponderosa pine. If these forests are now unhealthy, it is because of historic logging and grazing practices coupled with forest fire suppression. As a result of fire suppression, unnatural levels of fuel build up have increased the potential for catastrophic wild fires. The 1994 fire season in eastern Washington was the worst on record for this reason.

     Environmental watch dog groups suspect that many in industry are using the forest "health crisis" as an excuse to continue unhealthy salvage logging practices, including the continued removal of healthy, high value trees. We spoke with Roy Keene, executive director of the Public Forestry Foundation, about forest health, salvage logging and restoration forestry. Roy Keene founded the Public Forestry Foundation to improve logging and forestry practices in the Pacific Northwest. PFF is a not for profit organization and can be reached at PO Box 371, Eugene, Oregon 97440 Phone: 503-687-1993

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