The Thunder Salvage sale is located just south of the Pasayten Wilderness Area, in land affected by the Thunder Mountain Fire in the summer of 1994. The sale would involve construction of new roads and would log 3.5 million board feet of timber from inside one of largest remaining undeveloped areas in Washington state. Forest Service studies show that the area provides valuable wildlife habitat and that logging could jeopardize imperiled salmon runs downstream. Conservationists could not challenge the sale on environmental grounds because of the "logging without laws" rider, passed by Congress in August.
The Thunder Salvage sale, like many others now being offered by the national forests in eastern Washington, cost the government far more just to prepare than it would generate in revenues. Planning of this sale cost the Forest Service well over $200,000, whereas the minimum bid ($4.24/mmbf) would gross the government only $15,000 -- less than a tenth of its costs. The price reflects about 30 cents per tree, or $21.00 a truckload.
"The Forest Service is managing our forest like a soup kitchen for timber companies, so we took our place in line," said Mitch Friedman, NWEA Executive Director. "The $15,000 we offered was a great deal for the public since we would not have cut the trees or asked for additional federal hand-outs for road construction and replanting."
According to Evan Frost, NWEA's staff ecologist, "Those trees are worth far more standing -- to protect wildlife, soils, water quality, and fisheries -- than what the Forest Service was asking to cut them down. We're delighted that no logging companies were even interested."
Bruce Morrison, a member of Methow Forest Watch, said: "With the depressed timber prices and poor wood quality up there, the Forest Service should have given up on this project a long time ago." The Forest Service will likely drop the sale, since it received no other purchase bids. Okanogan National Forest Supervisor Sam Gehr had refused to drop the sale much earlier even after receiving letters from local and regional mills stating no interest in the timber.
Friedman added, "Congress is in such a rush to liquidate our public forests, it has forced the Forest Service into the position offering no-win timber sales that trash our natural heritage while bankrupting the Treasury."