On the afternoon of Sept. 2, a wildfire erupted in the Eagle Creek area within the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The fire subsequently jumped to the Washington side and started the smaller Archer Fire. The Eagle Creek fire has affected over 48,000 acres in Oregon with the majority of the forests effected occurring within the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness Area. The fire burned unevenly, with large tracks of forest left untouched, other areas are partially burned and some areas have been completely burned.Just six days into this weeks-long inferno, and with no prior consultation with Columbia Gorge communities or elected officials, Oregon Representative Greg Walden filed H.R. 3715, the "Scenic Columbia Gorge Restoration Act of 2017." This bill expedites salvage logging within the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area in the wake of the Eagle Creek Fire. Salvage logging is the practice of clear-cutting trees in forest areas that have been damaged by wildfire or other natural disturbance. Read the specifics of the bill here.
Salvage logging is completely inappropriate for the Columbia Gorge. If passed, the Walden clear-cut bill would mandate commercial logging in areas impacted by the Eagle Creek fire and require the Forest Service to develop plans to log the Gorge without environmental review, short-circuiting public involvement and limiting legal challenges. This is unacceptable.
Why Salvage Logging Won't Help the Gorge Ecosystem RecoverThere is no strong, scientific evidence of an ecological benefit from salvage logging in a post-fire environment. In fact, available research shows that salvage logging has many negative impacts on surviving organisms and structures in disturbed areas and on vegetation that re-establishes naturally following the disturbance. Salvage logging can further soil erosion, introduce invasive species and disrupt wildlife for many years.
To the contrary, experts have determined that recently burned landscapes that are not logged are some of the richest and rarest in the Pacific Northwest.
Dead trees help the ecosystem recover. Standing dead and dying trees, called snags, are important for wildlife in both natural and landscaped settings, providing a valuable habitat for an array of wildlife. Birds, small mammals and other wildlife use snags for nests, nurseries, storage areas and foraging.
Other Approaches Will Help the Gorge Recover From the Fire
As devastating as it seems, fires like the Eagle Creek fire are a regular occurrence in the Cascade Mountain range and play a critical role in forest health and biodiversity. The Eagle Creek fire burned in a mosaic. There are still large areas with intact forests and green trees that the fire has skipped over.
The Gorge is a very resilient place. It's no stranger to cataclysmic events. From the Missoula Floods 10,000 years ago, to the Yacolt Burn 115 years ago, to the Eagle Creek fire, the Gorge will recover and endure.
Instead of pushing salvage logging on the Gorge, Congress should instead focus on giving the Forest Service and state and local partners the resources need to keep invasive plant species out of the areas that burned, helping Gorge communities and businesses recover from the impacts of the fire and funding trail repair where it is appropriate.
Rep. Walden's Bill Could Undo Over a Century of Forest Protection
The Columbia River Gorge is a natural scenic treasure and an icon of the Northwest. The majority of the forests affected by the Eagle Creek fire are also within the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness area. Much of this area has been off-limits to logging and road building since 1915.
Walden's bill could undo over 100 years of protection, resulting in road building and logging in areas that are extremely sensitive, and set a dangerous national precedent for undermining wilderness protections. The National Scenic Area Management Plan already has rules for emergency and disaster response and recovery. We should let existing laws work and not add confusion with new laws and regulations.
ContactQuestions about this bill or forest recovery issues: Contact Conservation Director Michael Lang, 971-634-2030, firstname.lastname@example.org
Media inquiries: Contact Communications Director Burt Edwards, 971-634-0595, email@example.com
- Podcast: "The Ecosystem Of Forests And Fires" | Jerry Franklin, professor of Forest Ecosystems at the University of Washington, gives insight about the Eagle Creek fire and forest management practices in the Gorge. Stream or download from Oregon Public Broadcating's "Think Out Loud" (program date: Sept. 13, 2017)
- "Salvage Logging - A Terrible Idea" | By Jurgen Hess, Envirogorge (Sept. 25, 2017)
- "Myth Busting About Wildlife and Fire: Are Animals Are Being Burned?" | By Karen Miranda Gleason and Shawn Gillette, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service