for National Geographic News
As U.S. wildfires rage, so does debate over how to help burned timberlands bounce back.
Some experts tout "salvage logging"cutting down remaining trees and selling the woodto help forests regenerate. But a new study suggests that sometimes Mother Nature does a better job on her own.
Along with colleagues, Daniel Donato, a graduate student in Oregon State University's Department of Forest Science, examined the effects of salvage logging in evergreen forests torched by Oregon's notorious 2002 Biscuit Fire.
Advocates say salvage logging is necessary to clean out burned forests and stimulate new growth. Opponents, however, charge that the practice opens protected lands to logging and alters the natural balance.
Donato's data show that some sections of the Biscuit fire's decimated Douglas fir forest are actually bouncing back much more rapidly where nature was left to take its own course.
"Are these burns regenerating on their own, or do they need replanting?" Donato said. "There is a wide assumption that they need help."
"There is a very hot debate over this, but there has been no real field data. The study is about going to a high-profile fire that everyone is talking about and finding out what's really going on there," he added.
Logging Reduced Regeneration by 70 Percent
The Biscuit fire was a half-million-acre (200,000-hectare) blaze in Oregon's Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. Though controversial, logging was allowed in many parts of the landscape after the wildfire.
Donato's data, to be published in tomorrow's issue of the journal Science, revealed some surprising results.
After the 2002 blaze the researcher's team documented early conifer regeneration in both logged and nonlogged areas. They found that salvage logging had reduced natural regeneration by more than 70 percent.
"That's kind of a shocker right there," Donato said.
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