Extreme post-fire logging continues today despite pending legal claims with the implementation of the Westside Project, which includes 5800 acres of clear cuts above salmon-bearing streams in the Klamath National Forest. Most of the current logging activity is centered in the Walker Creek Closure Area just south of Seiad Valley, California.
Yesterday, a three-judge panel at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied a motion that would have paused Westside logging until the case could be fully heard in court. This news does not come as a surprise, but has proven disappointing to the Karuk Tribe, Klamath Riverkeeper and others who filed a joint lawsuit to stop the worst of the logging. The group would like the claims to be fully considered by a court before more irreversible damage from logging and road construction continues.
One of the largest and most controversial timber sales up for bid, called Caroline Creek, would cost a timber company $5,419.50. That amounts to approximately $2.50 per full log truck load. At that rate the Forest Service has instituted a ‘timber welfare program’ that places 100 percent of the burden for clean up and watershed restoration on taxpayers.
A growing grassroots coalition is expected to amp up pressure in the next days and weeks. A single protest organized by the group on May 2 delayed logging operations and garnered the attention of thousands of native and non-native activists in California and Oregon that seek to protect the area from future exploitation.
The Westside Project has become a boondoggle – ecologically, culturally and economically – because the Forest Service failed to analyze an alternative set forward by the Karuk Tribe early in the project planning phase. This caused local controversy, economic risk and resulted in a troublesome project. The reasoned and justifiable Karuk Alternative included 2,000 acres of logging to create local jobs, but also protected water quality and improved fire safety for communities.
Ecological impacts from Westside clear cut logging on steep, unstable slopes includes the dumping of sediment (soil) into some of the most important salmon streams that feed the Klamath River. The increased sedimentation interrupts the natural drainage of forests and muddies the river — and indicates rapid erosion – which may cause even more dangerous conditions in the future.
Perhaps even more disturbing than the logging itself is the plan to artificially regenerate thousands of acres of forests – a process many refer to as “plantation conversion.” This replanting process can increase fire danger in local communities and eliminate the option to use controlled burns to restore forest health in the future. The Karuk plan called for natural regeneration and increased prescribed fires, not aggressive replanting of conifers.
What may be surprising is the length the Forest Service is willing to go to help out their allies in the logging industry. After a lukewarm response to initial advertisements of several of the timber sales that comprise Westside, Klamath National Forest slashed the prices and are now offering them at a loss for the agency. The current minimum bid for the lumber has dropped to $.50 per thousand board feet, shocking even the most seasoned forest advocates.
May 31 marks the date for the court to begin considering substantive claims that may deem the project illegal, but meanwhile logging continues. Stay tuned as Klamath Riverkeeper steps up our involvement in the grassroots effort. Sign up here to receive email updates and action alerts!