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Lawsuit Asks: Drought, Beetles, & Forest Mortality Justifies Chainsaws in Wilderness?

Lawsuit Asks: Drought, Beetles, & Forest Mortality Justifies Chainsaws in Wilderness?

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 17 June 2019

Updated June 17: Forest Service Reverses Decision

Updated May 31: Behind the Decision Allowing Chainsaws


The Situation
Sierra Nevada & Rockies
Massive Western Forest Mortality
Dying Sierra Trees, from UC Merced, can they survive another drought?
Dying Sierra Trees, from UC Merced, can they survive another drought?


Drought, Beetles, & Mortality Justifies Chainsaws?

Forest Service Sued over Decision to use Chain Saws in Wilderness Areas,
The Journal, May 22, 2019.


"A coalition of conservation groups has sued the U.S. Forest Service for its recent decision to allow chain saws for trail work in two wilderness areas in Southwest Colorado."

"...for the decision to be overturned and for the courts to force the Forest Service to include public participation and come up with alternate plans for trail work."

Previous Use
"...Forest Service deputy director for recreation, lands and minerals, said chain saws have been allowed in wilderness areas in the past, usually after major storms knock down vast numbers of trees."

“The situation we’re facing with the beetle kill is unique, and it is extreme,” he said. “We’re in a hard place, but we’re trying to be responsible and do the right thing.”

Impact Zones
"The trees were killed over the past decade during the massive beetle outbreak that started on Wolf Creek Pass. Now, about 222,000 acres have been affected in the Weminuche Wilderness, which is Colorado’s largest wilderness area at about 500,000 acres. In the 158,790 acre South San Juan Wilderness, about 60,600 acres have been impacted."

Creeping Use
"...conservation groups also fear the Forest Service’s decision will set a precedent for using chain saws and potentially other motorized equipment in other wilderness areas across the U.S., and potentially chip away at the Wilderness Act."

"The Wilderness Act was passed in 1964, and it stands as the strictest form of protection for wild areas, not allowing any forms of mechanized use. Today, an estimated 111 million acres and 803 wilderness units are designated in the United States."



Forest Service Rescinds Chain Saw use in Colorado Wilderness,
Denver Post, June 12, 2019.


Review of Forest Service Documents allowing Chain Saws in Wilderness

Behind the Decision to Allow Chain Saws in Southwest Colorado Wilderness Areas,
The Durango Herald, May 29, 2019.

Main Points

FS Argument
"... arguing the workload to clear downed trees was too much for the agency using hand saws."

Vast Forest Mortality
"...the Forest Service says the project is needed to provide trail access to the public, as well as for permitted outfitters and guide camps. Because of the sheer number of downed trees, and the short window for work over the summer, agency officials said it needed to bypass the Wilderness Act for the use of chain saws."

Opening Trails
“The magnitude of obstructed trails across these two wilderness areas, and the potential resource damage that will occur if we do not open these trails to wilderness visitors, warrants the rare and limited exception to allow chain saw use.”

Chainsaw Wilderness Use Conditions
"...restrictions on the project, such as limiting work to no more than six weeks between June 1 and Aug. 17 and requiring a Forest Service staffer to supervise work."

Lawsuit Arguments Against Chainsaw Use
"The Forest Service put hikers and outfitters ahead of wilderness in its decision."

Fears Precedent for Further Chainsaw Use
"...the risk that allowing motorized use for trail work could chip away at the Wilderness Act and could be applied to other areas of the U.S. where bark beetles have ravaged forests."

Forest Service After-Report Guidance
“Your reports will help determine if any future chain saw allowances are justified and needed to administer wilderness in the Rocky Mountain Region.”



Bottom Line

It is not true hand crews cannot address the issue, but that hand crews are much more expensive than mechanized crews. It is true that the cost of hand crews necessary to properly address the fire dangers, in a timely manner, may indicate the use of mechanized means (chainsaws) to clear the hazard, to reduce the chances of all this dead forest catching fire.

I want to know the balance between costs, hazards, and timing before I decide to allow chainsaws into the wilderness...but I swear that these vast swaths of dead and dying forests up and down the Sierra present a real clear and present danger of feeding the rising number of, "megafires," that have grown over the past decade, and this threat needs to be minimized as quickly as reasonably possible...


Hiker Safety

Snags: Camp, Trail, Cross Country and River Crossing


Current Situation

An Ongoing Disaster of Widespread West Coast Forest Mortality

Feb 2019
2019 Tree Mortality Report: Forest Succession Underway, Continuing Through 2018

June 2018

ECO-CRASH NEWS: Tree Mortality, High Sierra Carnage

Jan 2018
Tree News 2018, Tree Mortality Continues: The Drought "Gone but not Over?"





Tree Mortality Research


Forest Service Tree Mortality

Pacific Southwest Research Station
Tree Mortality

Fed Tree Mortality Report

Yosemite Tree Mortality




All Tree News & Research

May 2019 News of Man & Nature








Nature News


Climate Destruction News



Bee News

Bear News

Spider Forum

Bird News

Small Mammals

Frogs and Reptiles

Butterfly News


Health and Fitness

Mountain Safety

Mosquito News

Female Trail

High Sierra History


Astro-Phys, Space, & Science News

High Sierra Geology News

Fish, Oceans, & Water News






forest, tree news, forest mortality, recovery, wilderness, chainsaw, lawsuit



Originally Published
2019-05-28 16:57:58

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