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Will man get burned in bid to protect wood boring beetles?
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Wood boring beetle larvae could trump human beings.

That’s the possible end game of a controversy raging over what to do with a portion of the 400 plus square miles of forest burned by last year’s Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park.

The U.S. Forest Service wants to harvest burned trees from 29,648 acres or roughly 30 square miles within the Stanislaus National Forest. That’s about 11 percent of the 300,000 plus acres that were charred in the third largest fire in California history.

If harvested in a timely manner before the wood deteriorates further, the charred trees would yield an estimated one billion board feet of useable lumber.

That is enough lumber to frame 625,000 new homes averaging 2,400 square feet in size.

The Forest Service would use part of the proceeds to fund a massive replanting effort.

The move is being opposed by some environmentalists.

Chad Hanson —  a forest and fire ecologist with the John Muir Project — believes logging and replanting are the absolute worst things that could be done on forestland scarred by the fire.

The main reason is that it disrupts the natural post fire ecological system that helps wood boring beetle larvae thrive in greater numbers. Those beetle larvae in turn help support the black backed woodpeckers.  It takes 200 to 300 acres of burned out forest to support a pair of black backed woodpeckers. That means the area in question could ultimately provide meals for 600 woodpeckers. The entire 47 square miles would provide a buffet for 6,000 woodpeckers.

The basic question is what is more important: Homes for 1,562,500 people (based on 2.5 people per home) or 600 woodpeckers?

Remember there would still be enough post fire habitat to support upwards of 5,400 black backed woodpeckers.

Foes of the Forest Service’s harvesting plan intend to use the federal environmental review process to slow down the effort. In doing so, they would effectively make harvesting the burned wood a mute point as any significant delay would deteriorate the salvage quality of potential lumber.

That’s why Congress Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, has introduced legislation to suspend the environmental review for the Forest Service plan.

The Forest Service plan would allow salvage operations for lumber on just 11 percent of the burned forest. That leaves 89 percent in its natural state of decay.

By doing so, it eliminates the need to cut timber in healthy forests to provide lumber needed to frame the equivalent of 625,000 homes.

The plan also does one other thing: It concedes that man is part of the environment.

Beavers don’t need to secure environmental clearance to dam a stream. Man does. Woodpeckers aren’t required to secure permits before taking out trees in a forest. Man does. Birds don’t need to go through an extensive environmental review before building a house. Man does. Animals need homes and the use of forests to survive. The same is true of man.

Man is part of the environment.

Man left unchecked would probably cause extensive environmental damage that would result in widespread deaths including those among his own ranks.

The environmental movement and subsequent state and federal laws are aimed at striking a balance between man, his fellow species and the various ecological systems we inhabit.

But if they are applied in a vacuum without weighing the consequences to others including man things get out of whack.

Do the woodpeckers really need 400 square miles to survive and thrive?

Make no mistake about it. We need individual like Chad Hanson and organizations such as the John Muir Project and its parent group the Earth Island Institute to protect us from ourselves.

But at the same time we need to make sure that  the pendulum doesn’t swing too far against man.

In the scheme of things is salvaging burned timber and replanting unnatural?

We are part of the ecological system. We have the ability to cut burned trees for our homes and to replant forests for our future needs. In that sense, we are no different than other animals that manipulate the environment for their survival.

The issue is whether we do too much of it for our own good as well as that of other species.

Our environmental policies should not center exclusively on one species except in rare cases where extinction or other severe concerns exist.

Man operating without environmental constraints would likely harvest all 400 square miles and replant the burned forestland if allowed to do so.

Allowing man to use just 11 percent of that burned ecological system seems like an extremely high level of restraint.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.