FLAGSTAFF (CN) – A 73 million board-foot post-fire logging project near the remote north rim of the Grand Canyon will cause “irreversible” harm to some of the oldest pine forests in the Southwest, three environmental groups claim in a federal lawsuit.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and WildEarth Guardians are trying to stop the Warm Fire Recovery Project, a logging project and sale of trees killed by the 2006 Warm Fire on the Kaibab Plateau north of Grand Canyon National Park.
Many fire ecologists believe that post-fire logging harms forests by disturbing already damaged soils and increasing the spread of nonnative grasses that are more likely to burn than dead and fallen trees, which feed the soil and provide habitat for endangered species such as the Mexican spotted owl, the complaint states.
“Burned forests are naturally recovering now, and logging will irreversibly harm that recovery,” said Jay Lininger, a fire ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement.
“Fire-killed trees are biological legacies that link the old forest with the new one. Logging them erodes soil and robs it of organic matter, spreads weeds, increases fire hazard, and destroys wildlife habitat that will take centuries to replace.”
The project would allow tractor logging on 9,114 acres of the remote plateau in the far north of the state near the Arizona Strip, a vast, lonely region bordering Utah. In May the groups successfully halted a proposed 30,000-acre logging project on the plateau; the current action came about after the U.S. Forest Service in late June rejected their appeal to stop the remaining post-fire logging plans.
“Logging slash poses a much greater threat of erratic and uncontrollable fire behavior than fallen trees,” Lininger said. “Just like a campfire, small fuels ignite easily and big fuels don’t burn well. When the forest service focuses the fire discussion on large logs, it is a smokescreen to justify logging.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – a defendant in the lawsuit, along with the U.S. Forest Service – designated portions of the Warm Fire project area as critical habitat for the threatened Mexican spotted owl in 2004. Normally, logging on the scale proposed would not be allowed in such habitat.
But the agencies claim that the Warm Fire “rendered the habitat nonfunctional,” creating a need for large-scale restoration – a contention the groups dispute.
“Mexican spotted owls use burned forest,” Lininger said. “Logging in critical habitat will foreclose the bird’s recovery there.”
The Warm Fire was started by lightning on June 8, 2006 and burned more than 58,000 acres.
The groups seek declaratory and injunctive relief stopping the federal agencies from going ahead with the logging project. They are represented by Mark Fink with the Center for Biological Diversity.