Erosion threats prompt appeal of state timber sale in burned area

Erosion threats prompt appeal of state timber sale in burned area

Conservation Northwest / Feb 12, 2016 / Forest Field Program, National Forests, Protecting Wildlands, Wildfire

Proposed “salvage” sale undermines forest recovery and restoration

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is proposing to log over 1,200 acres of state forest lands burned during the 2015 Okanogan Complex Fire. The West Fork Fire Salvage timber sale would clear forests with ground-based machinery on exposed, erosive soils.

Research has shown this type of logging dramatically boosts soil erosion, crushes forest regrowth, and undermines forest recovery. The timber operation would take place in the Loup Loup Creek watershed which feeds into the Okanogan River at Malott. Loup Loup Creek provides essential spawning habitat for endangered steelhead trout.

We’ve filed an appeal of this large timber sale, citing concerns that the sale offers minimal financial gains in return for substantial risks to the environment and public infrastructure.

“With the dangerous floods and erosion that occurred after salvage logging last year in nearby Texas Creek, we’ve learned that logging burned forests makes a bad situation much worse,” said Dave Werntz, Science and Conservation Director at Conservation Northwest. “During a spring rain storm, DNR’s meager buffers along waterways did nothing to stem the flow of logging debris and soil into Texas Creek and downstream through roads and private property.”

To address erosion concerns, DNR proposed small buffers along streams and other measures. Yet, the stream buffers applied are designed for unburned forests and assume live vegetation will filter out sediment generated upslope. Many stream-side forests in the burned area lack capacity to filter sediment and control erosion.

Scientists studying the fire effects determined that the Loup Loup watershed experienced high soil damage, creating a “very high” risk of serious erosion and major damage to infrastructure and water quality. In particular, the Burned Area Emergency Response Team reported that Loup Loup Creek has “the highest potential for dangerous flooding and debris flow effects resulting from the fire.”

Additionally, imperiled steelhead trout have rebounded in lower Loup Loup Creek in recent years after a coordinated effort by Okanogan County, the Colville Confederated Tribes, and others to restore habitat quality. Over 3,000 acres of logging is planned or active in the watershed, potentially putting this comeback at risk.

“Logging burned forests sets back ecological recovery and destabilizes exposed soils,” Werntz said, “Sediment and debris from the West Fork timber sale has the potential to reach all the way down to the Okanogan River, and jeopardize everything in between.”

An appeal of the West Fork Fire Salvage timber sale was filed with the Superior Court in Okanogan County on Thursday, February 11, 2016. Conservation Northwest will be represented in the appeal by Wyatt Golding and Peter Goldman of the Washington Forest Law Center.