Cougar Fit Sorts (state lands) – SEPA completed; harvest in progress
Cougar Creek Salvage (USFS lands) – CE released
In summer 2015, nearly 54,000 acres of forest burned just south of Mount Adams. The wildfire was mixed-severity and spanned multiple land ownerships, including Yakama Reservation (41,500 acres), Gifford Pinchot National Forest (5,600 acres), and state lands managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (4,200 acres). Shortly after the fire was contained, land managers planned salvage logging to extract timber for economic purposes.
Post-fire salvage logging is the removal of trees—sometimes both live and dead depending on the prescription—from a forested area after a wildfire disturbance. Due to overwhelming evidence that salvage logging is detrimental to wildlife, aquatic systems, and the regrowth of trees and shrubs, the Cascade Forest Conservancy opposes this practice. Even partial salvage logging has been shown to have a substantial degree of negative impact on the ecosystem due to the sensitive components of a post-fire landscape and the fact that the drivers of salvage logging are largely economical. Salvage logging negatively affects important post-fire habitat for cavity nesting species, such as the black-backed woodpecker. Salvage logging can also increase sedimentation to streams, which negatively affects fish species and aquatic systems. Further, regrowth of trees and understory vegetation can be hampered by salvage logging due to impacts from heavy equipment and disturbances to soil and seeds.
In November 2015, Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) proposed salvage harvest of 921 acres that burned in the 2015 Cougar Creek Fire. The CFC submitted comments on the proposal, requesting that DNR withdraw the mitigated determination of nonsignificance, and conduct a more thorough analysis of this proposed action in full environmental impact statement, including an analysis of cumulative effects. Our biggest concerns were surrounding the impacts of the salvage logging on northern spotted owl (NSO) critical habitat, cavity-nesting species that depend on post-fire habitat, and water quality due to soil instability, erosion, and sedimentation.
As a result of our comments and those of our partners, DNR made some minor changes to the proposal to prevent erosion and sedimentation. The CFC is monitoring implementation of the project and will conduct monitoring post-harvest to document on the ground conditions.
Similar to DNR, the U.S. Forest Service released a proposal to conduct salvage logging on 250 acres of lands that burned in the 2015 Cougar Creek Fire. The project area is within the White Salmon River watershed of the Mount Adams Ranger District within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Much of the project area is older forest within Late Successional Reserves, which serves as prime habitat for northern spotted owls and other old growth-dependent species. A substantial portion of the forest stands in units 2, 3, 4, and 5 average 176 years and older. Similarly, the average diameter at breast height of many of the stands in the sale area is above 31 inches.
The CFC submitted comments to the Forest Service in December 2015, highlighting our concerns with the process by which this project is being undertaken (via a categorical exclusion without an environmental analysis). We do not believe that salvage logging is the best approach to achieve desired future conditions for this area. Further, while we appreciate that no aquatic features or Riparian Reserves were included in the project area, we are very concerned about the impacts of this project on northern spotted owl populations and their habitat, especially considering that similar salvage projects are being implemented on neighboring Yakama Nation and state lands. There have been an increasing number of studies showing spotted owl use of burned areas post-fire, provided that territories are not salvage logged following a burn.
The CFC also expressed our concerns about the impacts of mechanized salvage logging and associated road building on soil and vegetative health in a project area has already been negatively impacted by livestock grazing and recent firefighting. Note that the project area overlaps with the Mount Adams grazing allotment. We also recommended hand planting and seeding of native species as the primary focus of post-fire management in this project area.