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Blackbuck vegetation management – ​​another example of chainsaw medicine

Clear cuttings below Grizzly Creek in the Upper Yaak Drainage. Photo Georg Würthner

Kootenai National Forest is proposing a massive logging project in northwest Montana known as Black Ram “Vegetation” treatment.

The Black Ram project area encompasses Northwest Yaak from the Canadian border west to the Idaho border, south to the ridge line between Pete Creek and east to the Yaak River. The Yaak Drainage is one of Montana’s most remote regions.

The Yaak Drainage is one of Montana’s most remote and wild places. Photo Georg Würthner

The 95,000-acre Black Ram project would commercially log 2,494 acres, including 579 acres of mature woodland.

Note the use of euphemism handling. The agency always sees the forest as sick and in need of a healthy dose of chainsaw medicine.

They claim that they want to improve resilience and resistance to insects, disease, and fire. Notwithstanding that insects, diseases, and fires maintain healthy forest ecosystems, the forest management paradigm for industrial forestry sees these natural resources as something that must be eliminated or reduced.

Chainsaw Medicine on the Yaak. Thinning opens the forest to greater warming, drying out of vegetation, and increased wind penetration—all factors that increase fire spread. Photo Georg Würthner

Chainsaw medicine is like that magic elixir advertised by the snake oil salesman of old. Chainsaw medicine heals everything and many things that don’t need fixing.

let me get this straight The agency claims that if they don’t cut down the forest, trees “may” die from insects, disease, or fire. So the way to prevent this death is to kill the trees with chainsaws. Does anyone but me see a break in logic here?

The Yaak grizzly bear population is one of the most endangered in the United States at no more than 20-30 bears by some estimates. Photo Georg Würthner

Other justifications for Black Ram are just as ridiculous. The FS claims that Black Ram’s timber sale, among other justifications, will help grizzly bear recovery. The survival of the cabinet yak grizzly population is one of the poorest in the country.

So the FS wants to use chainsaw medicine on the grizzly habitat to what they claim to propagate blueberries.

Logging roads increase access and decrease habitat security for grizzly bears. Photo Georg Würthner

There are undoubtedly more blueberries, but blueberries do not limit grizzly bear recreation in the area. The main problem for bears is access to roads and the high human morale that comes with it.

The Black Ram project will create nearly one hundred miles of open roads (90 miles of reconstructed roads and 5.5 miles of new roads). This road traffic harms grizzlies and other wildlife such as moose. What they all need more than anything is a security cover. Chainsaw medicine offers none.

South Fork of the Yaak from Flatiron Mountain. Photo Georg Würthner

The Yaak Valley is already fragmented by past deforestation. Deforestation of the Black Ram area will further fragment the landscape and destroy the few remaining natural corridors.

The FS claims that the Black Ram logging project will mitigate global warming. However, logging and the production of wood products release an enormous amount of carbon. In Oregon, for example, logging is the most significant source of greenhouse gas emissions in the entire state – more than all car, airplane and truck emissions.

Cutting off old growth will reduce the carbon storage of the area. Research by Oregon State University’s Bev Law has shown that large trees store carbon throughout their lives. So deforestation isn’t contributing to global warming—it’s making it worse.

Dense forests characterize the Yaak Drainage. Photo Georg Würthner

The Yaak Drainage is an example of an inland rainforest characterized by spruce, western red cedar, and western larch. Photo Georg Würthner

Even when trees die from beetles or fire, they stay put and store carbon. Carbon is stored in soil, tree stumps and wood.

The idea that cutting down the forest will somehow protect homes from wildfire is another myth perpetuated by the Forest Service and logging companies. What drives all major wildfires is climate and weather, not fuel. There is no need to remove fuel more than 30 meters from the house. And house hardening protects houses much more effectively than cutting down the forest.

Many researchers, including retired Forest Service researcher Jack Cohen, suggest that removing fuel more than 100 feet from a structure does not provide additional protection.

The Yaak Drainage is an example of an inland rainforest characterized by spruce, western red cedar, and western larch. Photo Georg Würthner

The forests of the Yaak Valley are a rare inland rainforest typically represented by Pacific Northwest species that rarely burn. Some of the larger tree species on the property are western red cedar, western hemlock, subalpine fir, Engelmann spruce, and western larch, which are characterized by long fire rotations between flames. Some of the larches are estimated to be 600 years old. The proposed logging will remove older trees that are resistant to wildfire and replace them with invasive weeds and small trees. It is these fine fuels that cause wildfires to spread quickly.

They are a slice of classic old growth forests with large diameter trees, an abundance of downwood and decaying trees.

dr Dominick DellaSala, a leading authority on old growth forests, conducted a field visit in the Black Ram logging project area. He says: “I can say unequivocally that this site is old growth, is critical to its environment, has important climatic and refugia characteristics, including the potential for large amounts of surface and subsurface carbon accumulate over centuries.” Furthermore, the US Forest Service claims “ [Black Ram] is for climate resilience, while my observations show that it would have the opposite effect.”

If you went to a doctor who prescribed you the same treatment, from a broken leg to a heart attack, and nothing worked, would you trust them to keep treating you? But that is exactly what the forest service demands from the public.

The Yaak River drainage is characterized by heavily forested hilly landscapes. Photo Georg Würthner

To add insult to injury, The Forest Service estimates that taxpayers will lose $3.2 million by subsidizing this deforestation.

A lawsuit brought by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies put the project on hold in February 2020. After receiving a biological opinion from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which believed the Forest Service plan “would not threaten the continued existence of the grizzly bear,” officials reopened the project for comment in September 2020.

The Kootenai Tribe, Yellowstone to Yukon, Wild Montana, the Montana Wildlife Federation and The Wilderness Society support the Black Ram logging project.

The Black Ram project is an example of the agency’s commitment to deforestation and ecosystem degradation. We should expect and need better guidelines from the agency.

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