Black Ram Vegetation Management - Another example of chainsaw medicine

Black Ram Vegetation Management – Another example of chainsaw medicine

Clearcuts below Grizzly Creek in the Upper Yaak watershed. Photo George Würthner

The Kootenai National Forest is proposing a massive logging project in northwest Montana known as the Black Ram “vegetation” treatment.

The Black Ram Project area includes northwest Yaak, from the Canadian border west to the Idaho border, south to the ridge line between Pete Creek and east to ‘at the Yaak River. The Yaak Drainage is one of the most remote areas in Montana.

The Yaak Drainage is one of the most remote and wildest regions in Montana. Photo George Würthner

The 95,000-acre Black Ram project would commercially harvest 2,494 acres, including 579 acres of mature old-growth forest.

Note the use of understatement processing. The agency still considers the forest sick and in need of a good dose of chainsaw medicine.

They claim to want to improve resilience and resistance to insects, disease and fire. However, notwithstanding the insects, diseases, and fires that maintain healthy forest ecosystems, the Forest Service’s industrial forestry paradigm views these natural agents as something to be eliminated or reduced.

Chainsaw medicine on the Yaak. Thinning exposes the forest to increased warming, drying of vegetation and increased wind penetration, all of which increase fire spread. Photo George Würthner

Chainsaw medicine is like the magic elixir that the old-fashioned snake oil salesman used to promote. Chainsaw medicine cures everything and a lot of things that don’t need to be fixed.

So let me clear things up. The agency says that if they don’t harvest the forest, the trees “may” die from insects, disease or fire. So the way to prevent this death is to kill the trees with chainsaws. Does anyone other than me see a disconnect in logic here?

The Yaak’s grizzly bear population is one of the most endangered in the United States with no more than 20-30 bears by some estimates. Photo George Würthner

Other justifications for Black Ram are equally ludicrous. The FS claims that selling the Black Ram wood will help, among other justifications, the recovery of the grizzly bear. The survival of the Cabinet Yaak grizzly bear population is one of the most precarious in the country.

So the FS wants to apply chainsaw medicine to the grizzly bear habitat to increase blueberries, he says.

Logging roads increase access, reducing grizzly bear habitat security. Photo George Würthner

No doubt there may be more blueberries, but blueberries are not limiting the recovery of grizzly bears in the area. The main problem for bears is road access and the high human morality associated with them.

The Black Ram project will create nearly one hundred miles of open roads (90 miles of rebuilt roads and 5.5 of new roads). This road is what will harm grizzly bears as well as other wildlife like elk. What they all need more than anything is a security blanket. Chainsaw Medicine provides none.

South Fork of the Yaak from Flatiron Mountain. Photo George Würthner

The Yaak Valley is already fragmented by past logging. Logging of the Black Ram area will further fragment the landscape and destroy the few remaining natural corridors.

The SF says the Black Ram logging project will mitigate global warming. Yet, logging and the production of wood products release an enormous amount of carbon. In Oregon, for example, logging is the largest source of statewide greenhouse gas emissions, more than all emissions from cars, planes and trucks.

Cutting off any old growth will reduce the area’s carbon storage. Research by Bev Law of Oregon State University has shown that large trees continue to store carbon throughout their lives. Thus, logging does not contribute to global warming, it aggravates it.

Dense forests characterize the Yaak drainage. Photo George Würthner

The Yaak watershed is an example of an inland rainforest, characterized by spruce, western red cedar, and western larch. Photo George Würthner

Even if the trees die from beetles or fire, they stay put, storing carbon. Carbon is stored in soil, snags and wood.

The idea that logging will somehow protect homes from wildfires is another myth perpetuated by the Forest Service and logging companies. What drives all great wildfires is climate and weather, not fuels. It is not necessary to remove fuels more than one hundred feet from the house. And home hardening is much more effective at protecting homes than logging.

Many researchers, including retired forest service researcher Jack Cohen, suggest that any fuel removal more than 100 feet from a structure offers no additional protection.

The Yaak watershed is an example of an inland rainforest, characterized by spruce, western red cedar, and western larch. Photo George Würthner

The Yaak Valley forests are a rare inland rainforest that tends to be represented by Pacific Northwest species that rarely burn. Some of the largest tree species at the site include Western Red Cedar, Western Hemlock, Subalpine Fir, Engelmann Spruce and Western Larch, characterized by long rotations fire between fires. Some larches are estimated to be 600 years old. The proposed logging will remove old fire resistant trees and replace them with invasive weeds and small trees. It is these fine fuels that cause forest fires to spread rapidly.

This is a patch of classic old growth forest with large diameter trees, an abundance of downwood and decaying trees.

Dr. Dominick DellaSala, an authority on ancient forests, conducted a field visit to the Black Ram logging project area. He says: “I can say unequivocally that this site is an old-growth forest, that it is of critical importance to its environment, that it has key climatic and refugia properties, including the potential for large amounts of carbon above and below ground continue to accumulate over centuries. Additionally, the U.S. Forest Service “says [Black Ram] is for climate resilience, whereas my observations show that it would have the opposite effect.

If you had to see a doctor who prescribed the same treatment for everything from a broken leg to a heart attack, and nothing worked, would you trust him to treat you over and over again? This is precisely what the Forest Service asks the public to accept.

The Yaak River watershed is characterized by heavily forested rolling mountains. Photo George Würthner

To add insult to injury, the Forest Service estimates that taxpayers will lose $3.2 million by subsidizing this deforestation.

A lawsuit filed by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies put the project on hold in February 2020. After receiving a biological advisory from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that found the Forest Service plan “not likely to jeopardize the ‘continued existence of the grizzly bear’, officials reopened the project for comment in September 2020.

The Kootenai Tribe, Yellowstone in the Yukon, Wild Montana, Montana Wildlife Federation and The Wilderness Society support the Black Ram logging project.

The Black Ram project exemplifies the agency’s commitment to deforestation and ecosystem degradation. We should expect better policies from the agency and we need them.

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