The first logging projects under a new federal “emergency action” loophole that allows cutting of national forests without customary legal challenges by claiming “threats” from natural wildfires are quickly moving forward in California, Idaho and Montana.
The Central and West Slope Project involves logging and $30 million of herbicide spraying over 217,721 acres of the Plumas National Forest in the Beckwourth, Feather River and Mt. Hough ranger districts in Plumas, Yuba and Butte and Sierra counties. The Forest Service admits costs will be offset by selling timber and biomass, while estimating nearly 6 million tons of carbon dioxide released from the logging over a 10 year period.
The Twentymile project encompasses 8,318 acres, including 2,209 acres of commercial logging (1,822 acres of clearcuts) and 10 miles of new roads, in the Red River Ranger District of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests in Idaho County, Idaho. It’s adjacent to the 205,000 acre Gospel Hump Wilderness, part of the largest Wilderness complex in the lower 48 states (4 million acres), which includes the Frank Church and Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness areas.
The Basin Creek-Butte Watershed Project is 2,350 acres of logging in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest south of Butte in Silver Bow County, Montana.
In January, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack invoked a controversial “emergency action” authorization, as laid out under Section 40807 of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, targeting up to 45 million acres of National Forests across the western U.S. This so-called emergency logging “shall not be subject to objection under the predecisional administrative review process,” a legal challenge used by environmental advocates to pause or stop destructive projects.
This unprecedented scale of logging not only ignores President Biden’s executive order to protect old growth forests, it would release an estimated 4 gigatons of carbon dioxide (90 tons of CO2 released per acre), the equivalent of 635 coal plants and greater than the entire U.S. emissions goal of 3.3 gigatons for 2030.
Despite one-sided and often inaccurate media coverage, industry/agency claims of “overgrown” forests, “unusual” high-severity wildfire and the efficacy of “wildfire risk reduction” logging have been debunked by countless studies in peer-reviewed journals from independent scientists.
Indeed, these studies (not funded by agencies with conflicts of interest proven to intentionally exclude scientific data) conclude that western forests prior to fire suppression did grow densely, did experience high-severity wildfire and that not only won’t logging stop large wildfires, it can make them burn hotter and spread faster by opening forests to sunlight and wind.
Yet, flying in the face of this science, fraudulent “wildfire risk reduction” logging — which includes clearcutting mature and old-growth trees — is being justified as an “emergency” to supposedly address “threats to natural resources” and “hazards threatening human health and safety.”
The scientific consensus, including from the Forest Service’s own Rocky Mountain Research Station Fire Sciences Laboratory, is that hardening homes — measures such as installing metal roofs and maintaining defensible space 15-60 feet around structures — can save up to 95 percent from the most severe wildfires.
“The central cause of recent extreme wildfires is the worsening climate crisis, caused in part by deforestation, which the Forest Service now wants to ramp up,” said Josh Hart with Portola-based Feather River Action. “Their plan would devastate biodiversity, increase carbon emissions, damage crucial carbon sinks and turn forests into dried out tree plantations, making extreme wildfires like the Dixie more — not less likely.”