U.S. Forest Supervisor Rob MacWhorter is seeking comment on a proposal to harvest trees killed in the Chetco Bar Fire last summer, before they succumb to insects and rot.

“The intent of the project is to recover marketable value in fire-killed trees … before they become unsuitable for processing by local mills,” MacWhorter said in a press release. “Comments will help us identify issues to be considered during the review of the proposal.”

The Chetco Bar Fire burned 191,125 acres of land in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and Kalmiopsis Wilderness last summer. About 14,000 of those acres are privately owned. Lumber companies have been working steadily to remove salvageable trees. They have about a year to get as many trees out of the forest before they are no longer marketable.

MacWhorter said 85 percent of the trees burned on federal lands are in Congressionally-reserved areas, late-successional or riparian reserves and cannot be harvested or are required to “show ecological benefits of treatments in post-fire ecosystem recovery.”

“The Northwest Forest Plan recognizes the role natural disturbances play in creating tree defects favorable to wildlife,” MacWhorter said. “For example, late-successional reserve … trees serve as key habitat for wildlife.”

Immediately following the containment of the Chetco Bar Fire, the Burned Area Evaluation Team conducted research and submitted a report analyzing effects of the fire on everything from the soil to watersheds.

In addition to proposed salvage operations, the BAER team recommends the forest service address even more hazardous trees along roads and near recreation areas and start replanting efforts.

Cutting and ...

Salvage operations will be limited to trees that lost at least half of their canopy. And, only trees in so-called “matrix lands” can be harvested — and they represent only 25,386 acres of the total acreage burned.

Within the matrix area, about 13,626 acres, or 53 percent, experienced intense burning resulting in severe canopy loss, the proposal reads.

“Large areas of high-severity fire effects exist, with no overstory trees alive,” MacWhorter said. “A large portion of the 13,626 acres were considered stand replacement, (slated to be harvested in the next five to 20 years). There are large amounts of standing dead trees, with little to no live trees left to contribute to forest cover.”

Trees that were less severely affected will remain, as they are important to forest recovery, he added.

“In areas where canopy loss ranges from zero to 50 percent, the fire effects to the forest ecosystem are often beneficial,” MacWhorter said. Other factors that further reduce the number of trees to be cut include roadless areas, non-saleable trees, the necessity of avoiding riparian areas, access and wildlife habitat considerations.

He also pointed out harvesting such trees under the Siskiyou National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan requires they maintain a “sustainable supply of timber … to help maintain the stability of local economies on a predictable and long-term basis.”

It is also important, he said, to get to these trees quickly to capture the value of the timber and re-establish the forest.

… rebuilding the forest

A challenge in restoring the forest is that there are no Douglas fir seed sources available, MacWhorter said. Hardwoods, including tanoak, madrone, alder and big leaf maple are already sprouting, and without planting Douglas fir, large areas could convert from mixed hardwood and conifer stands to tanoak.

Additionally, the pathogen that kills tanoak is rampant in the area.

“This is a serious concern for future forests in this area,” MacWhorter said. “Planting conifers would be an important strategy to promote tree diversity.”

It is also important for the local timber economy to get the process started, he added.

“Getting the next cohort of forest growing quickly is important to future timber production, developing wildlife habitats and creating resilient forest conditions,” MacWhorter said.

“We recognize,” MacWhorter said, “that a short operating window, unknown weather variables and further wood deterioration would reduce the likelihood of successfully selling and removing wood needed to avoid a loss of (its) value.”

MacWhorter said he plans to submit a request an emergency situation determination (ESD) from the chief of the forest service to expedite the process.

“If the ESD is determined warranted, the (work) will be exempt from the objection process,” he said. “Rapid implementation would allow us to capture enough value from the trees and in turn, re-establish the forest. If stands are not salvaged … some of them might not be suitable for future production or owl habitat, nor be resilient to pathogens such as Sudden Oak Death.”

He added that even if the ESD is granted, there will be plenty of time for public input.

Comments and suggestions on the proposal can be submitted to Jessie Berner, Chetco fire salvage coordinator, Gold Beach Ranger District, 29279 Ellensburg Ave., Gold Beach, OR 97444, or through email at comments-pacificnorthwest-siskiyou-goldbeach@fs.fed.us. The subject line must have the project name — Chetco Fire Salvage project.

For more information, call Lori Bailey at labailey@fs.fed.us.

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