South Plateau Lumber Sale – Another Hack Job by Chainsaw Medicine


Typical size of tree poles in the South Plateau “treatment” area. Photo George Würthner

Another example of the Forest Service’s chainsaw medicine policies is the Custer Gallatin National Forest (CGNF) proposal to log the South Rim area bordering Yellowstone National Park near West Yellowstone.

The CGNF affirms that the objective of logging is to 1- reduce the infestation of insects and diseases; 2- to do commercial harvesting, and 3- to reduce fuels in the WUI or fuel priority area.

I don’t like to criticize the Forest Service or question their professionalism, but when they repeatedly ignore science, I can’t help but think they have no internal ethics.

The Forest Service sells “snake oil”.

The CGNF is like the old snake oil vendor selling a magic elixir – chainsaw medicine – that will cure the forest of perceived future ailments.

Logs and snags are essential to the health of the forest ecosystems seen here in Yellowstone NP, but mortality from anything other than chainsaws is an anthem for the Forest Service. Dead trees are essential habitat for many plants and animals, in addition to providing long-term carbon storage. Photo George Würthner

The fact that the agency considers insects and disease a reason for “treatment” demonstrates its own ignorance of the forest ecosystem. Dead trees and snags are essential to the health of forest ecosystems. Some studies show that more species depend on dead trees than live trees. So how does killing and cutting down trees “improve” forest health?

The Forest Service uses euphemisms to distract from what it offers. They call the sale of timber “vegetation management and the “processing” of up to 5,551 acres with “tools” like clearcutting – read logging. Another 9,107 acres would be “treated” by thinning (read logging).

Treatment means killing the trees. The use of the word “treatment” is no accident. The FS suggests that the forest is “sick” and needs chainsaw medicine, or God forbid it could die from insects (bark beetles), disease (mistletoe) or forest fires.

Allowing natural evolutionary mortality to occur is not acceptable to an agency that sees itself as the servant of the timber industry.

The Forest Service will add 56 miles of new roads to the already dense road network seen above. Roads not only fragment habitat, they actually promote the spread of fire with fine fuels growing along the edges, not to mention that these open areas dry out sooner and act as wind tunnels. Photo George Würthner

The entire “processing area” is nearly 40,000 acres which will be fragmented by numerous clearcuts and over 56 miles of roads in an area which is a major corridor connecting Yellowstone to the roadless lands further afield. ‘west.

The extra roads and open forests will likely harm grizzly bears as well as other wildlife. Photo George Würthner

Overall, 16,400 acres will be harvested. To put that into perspective, a football field equals approximately one acre.

The logic of the agency goes something like this. The lodgepole pines that dominate the area are reaching an age where they “could” be susceptible to say bark beetles, so they intend to “increase” the health of the forest by randomly killing the trees with chainsaws.

The southern plateau forest which, according to the agency, “must be treated” to be healthy. Photo George Würthner

Worse for our forest ecosystems, the Forest Service has no idea which trees have genetic resistance to beetles, mistletoe, drought, and even wildfires. Its massive felling of the forest does not leave much room for such considerations.

Using FS logic, we should line up everyone over 50 and shoot them down, so we can “improve” the health of the local population who “may” die of cancer or heart attack.

Additionally, numerous studies have shown that under extreme fire conditions (which are the only conditions where you get wildfires out of control), thinning and logging increase the likelihood of fire spreading.

We have many examples in Montana including the Bitterroot Complex, Jocko Lakes Fire, Rice Ridge and many others that have charred hundreds of thousands of acres that have been “medicated” by chainsaws and burned. anyway when the climatic / weather conditions favored large fires.

Area that Darby Lumber had mined prior to the Bitterroot Complex fires. Logging did nothing to stop the spread of the fire and, in fact, may have made it stronger. Photo George Würthner

In contrast, between 1972 and 1987, Yellowstone National Park allowed 235 backcountry fires to burn unsuppressed. Of these fires, 222 burned less than a few acres and all of the fires were self-extinguishing. Then in 1988, half the park burned down in a single season.

Wind-blown flames from the 1988 Yellowstone fires. Climate/weather, not fuels, caused the 1988 fires. Photo George Würthner

So what was different? Was there more fuel in 1988 than in 1987 or 1986? No. The only difference was the weather. In 1988, the park suffered the worst drought in its history, combined with windy days with low humidity and high temperatures, which allowed the fire to spread quickly across the landscape.

Previously thinned and white-cut area charred by the Dixie Fire which was California’s largest fire of 2021. Much of the charred landscape had already been logged or thinned. Note the blackened stumps in the foreground which indicate that they had been felled before the fire. Photo George Würthner

It’s weather, not fuels, that cause large fires, an inconvenient truth the agency continues to ignore because it won’t support its forest treatment policies.

Other incongruous ideas adopted by the agency include the agencies’ definition of the “Wildlands Urban Interface,” which includes pretty much all of Gallatin County. Defining an area as WUI means the agency can avoid many environmental regulations and scans.

Where a wildfire near Lake Tahoe burned homes to the ground while green trees survived. The area adjacent to these burned structures had been “cleared up” just six months previously. What needs to be “treated” is the ignition zone of the house, not the forest ecosystem. Photo George Würthner

Of course, many scientists, including some Forest Service researchers, have concluded that logging more than 100 feet from the house provides no additional fire protection. However, the agency ignores these studies to justify logging.

All the agency demonstrates is that it is not interested in science or what is best for our forests, but rather what is best for the timber industry. Chainsaw medicine is a quack medical procedure, like bleeding a person to get rid of bad blood. FS can and should do better.

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