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KALISPELL—By misrepresenting the historic condition of ponderosa pine forests in its educational posters, the US Forest Service is also misrepresenting to the public the effects of logging and ecosystem management treatments intended to remedy decades of fire suppression. So charges environmental consultant and activist Keith Hammer in his newly released report “Ponderosa Poster Child.”

Hammer’s report includes Forest Service photos demonstrating that, rather than show as the historic condition an available 1909 photo of the heavily stocked Lick Creek ponderosa forests on the Bitterroot National Forest, the posters present instead a photo showing the more open canopy of the forest after it was logged in 1909. This, he writes, “has caused widespread misunderstanding of the historic conditions of these ponderosa pine forests, leading people to believe they were more open in the canopy as well as the understory — what has become commonly referred to as ‘open, park-like stands'”. And, he writes, this caused the General Accounting Office to mistakenly caption the post-logging 1909 photo a “typical,” historic open ponderosa pine stand in its report last year on the risks of wildfire in the West.

Hammer cites numerous Forest Service reports finding that it was the dense overstory of trees that historically limited the growth of understory vegetation, not just frequent underburns by wildfire. These same studies, he writes, show that, not only did some of these stands historically contain advanced Douglas-fir regeneration in the understory, but that opening the canopy of these forests through logging caused a further increase in these “ladder fuels.”

“The Forest Service is painting a false picture to try and convince the public that we should log to thin both the canopy and the understory of the West’s ponderosa pine forests,” Hammer said. “This is being done to put big trees on log trucks, not to return these forests to either healthy or historic conditions.”

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