STANISLAUS NATIONAL FOREST (AP) — The U.S. Forest Service has submitted a plan to harvest salvage timber from nearly 47 square miles of Stanislaus National Forest that was scorched by the Rim Fire, a proposal opposed by some environmental groups.
The timber — about a billion board feet — could be used for construction and other purposes if it's removed before fungus and wood-boring beetles infect it.
But environmentalists say removing the dead trees will ruin the post-fire ecosystem that is essential to overall forest health and hurt numerous species that thrive in the unique environment.
The Rim Fire started Aug. 17 and charred more than 400 square miles, including parts of Yosemite National Park, destroyed 11 homes and caused about $70 million in damage.
Revenues from sale of the timber could be used for replanting and fire recovery efforts in Tuolumne and Mariposa Counties, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
"Do you want Californians to use wood that is already dead and will rot if you don't use it, or do you want to go out into the forest and cut living trees for wood?" John Buckley, director of the Central Sierra Environmental Resources Center, told the newspaper.
Chad Hansen, a forest and fire ecologist of the John Muir Project, said the burned out logs attract wood-boring beetle larvae, which in turn attract black-backed woodpeckers.
The woodpeckers live in cavities of burned-out trees in the so-called "snag forests," as do myriad other species like martens and birds.
Timber companies are already logging large swaths of the burned wood, so the new plan would further remove habitat.
"At least 200 to 300 acres are needed for just one pair of black-backed woodpeckers, and it needs to be an area where most, if not all, of the trees were killed, because that's what the beetles select and where the highest concentrations of beetles are," Hansen said.
Because of the opposition to salvage logging, Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of Elk Grove has introduced a bill that would suspend the need for environmental review for salvage logging in the national forest and Yosemite.
A final decision on the forest service's plan is expected in August.