When the smoke clears from this year's Idaho wildfires, tree-starved sawmills may get the chance to bid on more than 100 million board feet of salvage timber next year.
But environmental groups may take the U.S. Forest Service to court in an effort to block the sales.Forest Service Chief Jack Ward Thomas said recently that an accelerated timber thinning and salvage program is inevitable in the wake of this year's wildfires.
With available, and healthy, federal timber supplies shrinking, Idaho timber companies are more dependent on natural disasters such as fire to keep their mills running at capacity.
The salvageable timber on the Boise National Forest alone may be worth about $30 million. Fires have scorched about 124,000 acres on the forest so far this year.
Fire usually does not completely consume trees. The ones left standing, although damaged by intense heat, can still be used for wood products if they are harvested within a year or two.
But the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, a group based in Missoula, Mont., said Monday it may try to block salvage sales from Idaho forests.
"Are we saving the forest? Or are we saving the trees for the timber industry?" alliance spokesman Michael Bader said.
The Idaho Conservation League will not say whether it would join in.