By Bryan Navarro
Tree stumps mark the battleground where environmentalists and loggers clashed over what to do with the timber that was caught in the firefight.
After the smoke cleared, a new fight began: what would be done with the scarred and scorched trees left behind? The U.S. Forest Service wanted to salvage some logs in the burned areas, while environmentalists wanted the land untouched.
“Due to lawsuits and protests, it really didn’t start until 2.5-3 years after the fire it started, by that time, much of the wood was already useless. All the pines were rotting and blue stained,” explains Dave Schott, with S.O. Timber Industries.
Timber officials say, in the end, 65 million board feet were harvested, about 1% of that which was killed. Conservationists claim some of those areas were never meant to be logged in the first place.
“Because it was a political season, the Forest Service got backed into a corner, that said, ‘No, we got to log it all. We don’t care if it’s a botanical, we don’t care if it’s a trailhead, or a late sectional reserve, and we’re going to log everything,” says KS Wild Conservation Director, George Sexton.
Ecologists studied re-growth in the Biscuit area, comparing logged areas with untouched areas. They found the salvage-logged areas had much less plant life years later.
“It’s hot; the sun is beating down on you,” Sexton describes. “There are invasive weeds, it’s a nightmare, and then you get into the stand that wasn’t logged, and there’s conifer regeneration happening. Actual plant regeneration and succession occurring, and it’s much more pleasant.”
Today, environmentalists say the clear-cut area is a scab that will never heal. Timber officials say the areas left un-logged is a disastrous waste of resources. But both agree it will be probably centuries before the Biscuit area returns how it was, before the fight, and before the flames.