June 24, 2020
Cutting Corners to Rush Logging Will Harm Northwoods
The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (CNNF) encompasses some of the highest quality ecological systems and habitats in northern Wisconsin. This treasured piece of our natural heritage is home to endangered species and a vibrant recreation economy, but today it is facing a grave threat.
The Fourmile logging project would log 12,000 acres east of Eagle River, including clearcutting 1,000 acres. It is one of the largest local logging efforts ever proposed for the CNNF. Wisconsin scientists warn that it will disturb maturing forest habitats, degrade recreation, and disrupt struggling species with roads and logging over large areas of forest. The law requires a complete Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before such a project can be approved, but the U.S. Forest Service is ignoring the law to rush approval without a close look at the consequences.
So, we are stepping up to protect the Northwoods and the communities who rely on them. On May 13, 2020, the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) filed a notice with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service in objection to their draft decision and “finding of no significant impact” (FONSI). Here are a few concerns highlighted in our notice of objection. The Fourmile logging project would likely:
Harm forest health
The Forest Service asserts that the Fourmile project will have “no significant impacts.” In reality, this much logging in or near so many high-quality forest fragments will release greenhouse gases and likely add to declines in rare species. ELPC staff worked with conservation biologists and resource experts to review logging plans, biological evaluations, and monitoring data on how habitats and wildlife species will likely be affected. They concluded that the Fourmile project would have serious environmental impacts on forest health and the ability of major forest tree species to regenerate.
Threaten rare & endangered species
Such significant logging will likely contribute to the decline of forest interior songbirds and many other species. Conservationists are particularly concerned about the plight of the endangered American pine marten and the threatened wood turtle. Martens were driven out of the region by logging and trapping, and they continue to struggle, despite being repeatedly reintroduced. The Forest Service admits that the Fourmile project would enter and harvest trees in over 41% of suitable marten habitat in the area and reduce available habitat for years to come.
Exacerbate existing threats
Fourmile project plans also ignore or downplay increasingly serious impacts from the area’s growing deer population. Logging as proposed will likely boost the deer population beyond its long-term biological carrying capacity, threatening many wildlife species and human health. Deer browsing (eating woody plants) has hindered the ability of many trees to regenerate, changing and simplifying the composition of the forest by increasing aspen, while reducing trees like white pine, northern red oak, eastern hemlock, yellow birch, and northern white cedar. Higher deer populations also increase the rate of spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, that sickens and kills deer. Deer overpopulation threatens human health by boosting the number of deer ticks, increasing the risk of Lyme disease in the local community.
Undermine the recreation economy
Outdoor recreation is a critical component of the Northwoods economy, drawing anglers, hunters, skiers, campers, hikers, and snowmobilers from near and far. Visitation reached 112 million in 2018, pouring $13.3 billion into local businesses, and generating $1.6 billion in state and local taxes. These visitors come to be immersed in the woods, not 1,000 acres of clearcutting. They come to see unique fish and wildlife in a thriving ecosystem, not just overpopulated deer and aspen. The health of the environment and the health of the economy are inseparable.
The Forest Service ignored research by many experts, including their own scientists, that documents these issues with forest health, endangered species, and deer browsing. Their rushed approval has not adequately addressed the potential harm to the CNNF, at the heart of Wisconsin’s Northwoods. Because these impacts were inadequately analyzed and discussed in planning documents for the Fourmile project, ELPC calls on the Forest Service to complete a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Without this “hard look” at environmental consequences, the real risks and impacts of the Fourmile Project will remain unknown.