A year after a California wildfire known as the “Rim Fire” burnt through over 250,000 acres of Sierra Nevada forests, environmentalists and loggers are debating what to do with the blackened woodland it left behind.
The timber industry believes that chopping down and selling the trees that remain will not only restore Sierra Nevada forestland, but also create jobs.
Some loggers including Steve Brink of the California Forestry Association, say that without tree removal, the forests won’t be opened to the public again for as long as a century, the Associated Press reports.
If the lumber industry doesn’t get the opportunity to start removal in the next year, they may never, as charred trees quickly disintegrate. Brink said that environmentalists aren’t making it easy for industry representatives to seize their chance.
“They know if they can stall the process, the brush wins, deterioration will take over — and they win,” Brink told the AP.
Environmentalists are opposed to logging burnt forests because deteriorating trees create a unique ecological opportunity. Environmental groups argue that standing dead and dying trees — also called “snags” — provide habitats for dozens of species and are three times as rare as living trees.
“For us, post-fire logging is the last and worst thing you should ever do in a forest,” said Chad Hanson, a forest ecologist told the AP. “The scientific community is so strongly against this.”
Hanson said that dying forests can be home to small, flying insects and wood boring beetles, which are food sources for birds and bats.
Since last year’s fire, birds including woodpeckers have made a comeback in the burnt woodlands and new trees are starting to poke through the soil.
Environmentalists are concerned that logging efforts might destroy these emerging seedlings.
Logging has already begun in an area of about 50 square miles close to public roads, to prevent dead trees from falling on drivers.
The U.S. Forestry Service will make a decision in the next few weeks that determines how much of the remaining burnt forestland will be logged.
Today, over a dozen wildfires are raging in California, where Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency.