AFRC RESPONDS TO FOREST SERVICE PLANS FOR CHETCO FIRE
Portland, Ore. – The American Forest Resource Council (AFRC) submitted comments this week regarding the Chetco Bar Fire Salvage Environmental Assessment (EA), a document describing the Forest Service’s plans for responding to last year’s Chetco Bar Fire.
The Chetco Bar fire, which ranked as the nation’s top firefighting priority at one point, started in July 2017 in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and burned more than 190,000 acres, including 170,000 acres of Forest Service land. Suppressing the fire required 2,500 fire personnel and four months of dangerous work, at a cost of $70 million to the taxpayers. The Chetco Fire also burned 30 structures and led to multiple public evacuations. In addition, smoke from the Chetco Fire combined with other nearby fires on public lands in Southern Oregon led to the cancellation of multiple public events, including Cycle Oregon and reduced performances at the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, which is estimated to add $130 million per year to the local economy. Total public health costs – including increased visits to the hospital due to asthma attacks – from the smoke have not been calculated.
In response, the Forest Service is proposing to treat approximately 2.5% of its 170,000 acres burned through post-fire salvage activities. The purpose of the project, as described in the EA, is to capture timber value on the landscape through harvesting of the burnt and dying trees. Funds generated from the sale of damaged timber resources will be reinvested into the land. The funding will allow the Forest Service to restore part of the forest by planting new trees as well as to facilitate other rehabilitation needs in the area impacted by the fire. AFRC is pleased the Forest Service prioritized the completion of this project by recognizing the need to act quickly to treat this landscape effectively. Timely action is imperative if any value is to be recovered from the dead and dying trees within the Chetco Bar Fire perimeter that often pose an immediate public safety risk along roads and trails.
Proposed salvage treatments were deliberately focused on lands specifically designated for providing a sustainable supply of wood for local mills as authorized by the Forest’s Land and Resource Management Plan. In addition to the Forest Plan, the project must comply with all other federal environmental laws. As an association that values healthy and productive forests, AFRC would have supported a broader approach by the Forest Service that expanded the scope of their salvage efforts to additional lands to further reduce excessive fuel loading, facilitate safe fire suppression efforts in the future, and effectively reestablish a new forest with a desirable species composition.
Amanda Astor, AFRC’s Southwest Oregon Field Forester, has been intensively reviewing the Chetco project area. She commented, “As a forester, I believe this is the bare minimum that should be implemented by the Forest Service. In the future, more work will be needed across the landscape to restore our at-risk public forests and to protect local communities from the devastating public health impacts of these massive, dangerous, and costly fires.”
AFRC’s comments can be found here.