- Associated Press - Thursday, January 7, 2016

LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) - The U.S. Forest Service is planning salvage timber sales for trees damaged by fire in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest.

Agency officials are streamlining the process to approve the removal of dead and dying trees scorched by the summer’s wildfires, The Lewiston Tribune reports (https://bit.ly/1PgSTJV). The first trees could be sold starting in February or early March, with more logging and sales to follow.

The Forest Service is planning the salvage logging as categorical exclusions, which allows the agency to skip the normally lengthy analysis of proposed timber sales that is required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The mechanism is used for projects that are deemed to have insignificant environmental impacts.

The timber sales will be in two varieties: hazard trees that are dead and dying along 140 miles of roads or on recreation and administrative sites, or dead trees and trees the agency believes will die in the next five years. It is unclear how much timber the sales could yield, but the plan is to include seven sales over more than 1,100 acres.

“Right now volume is pretty variable,” said planner Sara Daugherty. “The (logging) units need to be laid out, which depends on burned severity and mortality of the trees.”

Environmental groups have been critical of the use of the categorical exclusion over such a large area of land.

“It’s supposed to be used on things that don’t have an impact, not a 40 million-board-feet sale or even one that is 1,100 acres in the same place as a 40 million-board-feet sale,” said Gary Macfarlane, ecosystem defense director of the Moscow-based group Friends of the Clearwater. “I think they need to look at those together and do right by the American people and take a closer look at what they do out there.”

The agency is seeking public comment on the sales, which is not normally required with categorical exclusions. The comment period ends Jan. 15.

Salvage timber has been abundant this year as private landowners moved to capture value from burned trees shortly after the flames were extinguished. The Idaho Department of Lands soon followed suit, approving 83.5 million of board feet of timber sales throughout the state.

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Information from: Lewiston Tribune, https://www.lmtribune.com

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