21″ Wildlife Screens and ongoing Forest Service logging

The Forest Service’s proposal to eliminate protections for large trees puts wildlife and old growth forests at risk. The Forest Service’s proposal would dramatically increase logging of large trees across approximately 9.5 million acres on six National Forests.

The Eastside Screens, which prohibited logging of large trees ≥ 21″ diameter at breast height (dbh) on eastside National Forests, were put into place in the mid-90’s because of the well-documented deficit in large trees across the landscape. Large trees, snags (standing dead trees), and logs provide crucial wildlife habitat for many species. The Eastside Screens were meant to be a temporary measure until the agency developed a comprehensive large scale plan to address these and related issues. No comprehensive plan has been put into place, yet the Forest Service wants to eliminate the Screens and gut protections for wildlife, large trees, and old forests. 

Despite the prohibition of logging large trees, the Forest Service has continued to log large trees in numerous timber sales across the region. The Forest Service has been improperly using “site-specific Forest Plan amendments” as a loophole in order to continue logging large trees. In the Snow Basin case in 2014, the courts sided with Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project and Greater Hells Canyon Council in deciding that the Forest Service’d use of these site-specific amendments was improper and illegal. However, some National Forest Districts have continued to use these site-specific amendments to log large trees, despite the court’s decision. 

Now, in the wake of the 2014 Snow Basin decision, the Forest Service is looking to change the rules. In order to get the cut out and ramp up logging, the Forest Service is ignoring the ongoing deficit of large trees and the wildlife species that depend on them for habitat. The Forest Service is also ignoring issues such as climate change, carbon sequestration, scientific controversy, and the harmful ecological impacts of logging. 

Removing trees that provide key wildlife habitat will put imperiled species at further risk, impair their ability to survive and adapt to climate change, and decrease biodiversity and ecosystem integrity.

Unmanaged forests and large trees store the most carbon– logging them will increase carbon emission at a time when we should be prioritizing sequestering carbon and protecting ecosystems against the effects of climate change.

Ramping up logging of large trees will negatively impact water quality through increased soil compaction, road use, and the loss of large trees and logs needed to ensure high-quality stream habitats and clean water.

Removing the largest, most fire resistant trees may make forests more flammable. Logging large trees will not restore forests, and will not make communities safer. Helping to fire-proof homes or ‘home hardening’  protects homes from wildfires more effectively than logging in the backcountry. Every dollar spent in the back country is a dollar that does not go to homes to make them safer. 

Large, severe wildfires are driven primarily by heat, drought, and wind. Wildfires can include grasslands and shrublands, as is often the case in eastern Oregon. In California, we’ve increasingly seen wildfires being carried by buildings through neighborhoods, despite leaving green tree canopies unburned. 

Recent and ongoing timber sales that include logging of large trees provide case studies to highlight what is at stake when the Forest Service proposes logging of large trees and old forests. A few examples of recent and ongoing timber sales on National Forests in eastern Oregon include the Upper Touchet timber sale in the Umatilla National Forest, the Crow timber sale in the Malheur National Forest, and several back-to-back sales in the Middle Fork of the John Day watershed on the Malheur National Forest.