The popular Catamount Trail area in Silver Falls State Park boasts healthy, mature trees that are still mostly green  - image shows trees slated for logging as they appear AFTER 2020's Beachie Creek fire (photo by Ralph Bloemers).

Opinion: Silver Falls State Park faces post-fire chainsaws. Don’t allow it

by Rebecca White, CW Wildlands Director
Originally published in The Register-Guard, October 23, 2021.

A post-fire timber grab is sweeping the western Cascades, and it appears even our beloved state parks are not immune. Disappointingly, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department has begun logging in the backcountry of Silver Falls State Park.

While wildfire can be a destructive force in human lives, it’s a normal and beneficial part of our fire-adapted forests’ life cycle. Even after a severe burn, the charred forest is transformed within weeks to a biologically rich “snag forest,” drawing wildlife — some rare and found only in newly burned forests — that can arrive while the embers are still cooling. 

Across the landscape, wildfires leave a mosaic of unburned and lightly burned patches intermingled with more severely burned stands, creating a patchwork of healthy habitat diversity. After a fire, the newly fertile soil and the increased sunlight to the forest floor soon results in bigleaf maple sprouts and a riotous bloom of wildflowers.

Post-fire logging, or so-called “salvage” logging, interrupts this natural cycle. Despite industry rhetoric that attempts to paint post-fire logging and replanting as restoration, it is the most environmentally destructive form of logging: It cuts new roads, runs heavy machinery across fragile soils and typically clear-cuts all the trees while the forest is in a vulnerable transition stage. Then densely planted tree seedlings increase future fire risk for the area. Researchers from the John Muir Project, Pennsylvania State University and Wild Nature Institute say that imperiled species like the spotted owl are far more impacted by post-fire logging than by the fire itself.

That’s why OPRD’s logging in Silver Falls State Park is particularly disturbing. Only 100 or so acres of the park burned in 2020’s Beachie Creek Fire, but OPRD plans to log all 100 of those acres. Inexcusably, 20 acres are slated to be clear-cut, much of it mature forest in the vicinity of the popular Catamount Trail.

OPRD has tried to justify this logging as ecologically beneficial, stating in an email: “Our goal is to create conditions that will help these overstocked forest areas mature into a healthy old-growth forest with minimal human intervention.”

That is a laudable goal, but the complex stand conditions the department says it would create have already been provided by the fire. There’s no potential ecological justification for clear-cutting 20 acres of public park land. 

Worse yet, aerial photos taken earlier this year show many of the areas OPRD plans to log are unburned or only lightly burned. Using prescribed fire, land managers try hard to achieve just these conditions. At Silver Falls, they were provided free of charge by Mother Nature. 

Rebecca White is the Wildlands Director for Cascadia Wildlands. She directs Cascadia Wildlands’ forest defense work across Oregon and the Cascadia bioregion. She writes a monthly column for The Register-Guard.