The primary motivation of salvage logging is economic. It has also been suggested that forests containing burnt trees are unhealthy, and are considered to have a probability of experiencing high risk of catastrophic wildfires and large scale insect and disease outbreaks. However, there is little evidence to support such claims. The legitimacy of salvage logging operations in forests have often been put under question, especially for trees burnt in a long-standing fire regime.
As with other logging operations, the harvesting may be selective, thinning or clearfell, and a regeneration plan may be put in place after the logging.
The second cause for controversy is that, while proponents of salvage logging argue that it reduces the harmful effects of future fires in the logged area, opponents maintain that the costs and benefits of salvage logging have not been scientifically studied, and that there is evidence the practice actually increases damage from future fires.
Supporters claim that by removing dead timber, the risk of fire is minimized. However, opponents point out that by removing larger, less-flammable trees and leaving behind small, dead limbs and branches actually increases the risk of forest fire in those areas, and also harms the ability of a forest to regenerate.
Poor salvage logging practices may do more damage than the initial fire, or the combined effect of the initial natural disturbance (such as wildfire) closely followed by salvage logging can have greater negative ecological impacts than the sum of the two disturbances individually.
Other areas of debate in this topic involve salvage logging's impacts on soil, water, and wildlife. Also, the cost of salvage logging often exceeds the profits from sold timber . This is due to the timber's decreased value due to damage and the high cost of accessing the remote forests in which the logging often occurs.
Also green salvage is commonly reported — the felling of trees which are still alive in salvage logging operation. Trees which have been burnt may appear to be killed, but are still alive and able to regenerate, but are still cut down in illegitimate salvage logging.