What Our Forests Need: A Forum

This is reposted from Dan Botkin’s blog of June 23. here We’re discussing the more philosophical aspects in Virtual Book Club here. But he raises other topics that we can discuss here..

Foresters and Ecologists thinking about forest practices on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington State, as part of a project about effects of forestry on salmon. (Photo by D. B. Botkin)

Foresters and Ecologists thinking about forest practices on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington State, as part of a project about effects of forestry on salmon. (Photo by D. B. Botkin)

This is a forum open to anyone who has thoughts to share about forests and forestry. I will start by expressing how I see current problems about America’s forests and forestry.

I have spent almost half a century trying to understand how forests work, and to use that understanding to solve forest related environmental problems, and to come to know what our place within forests should be, both for the best for us and best for forest ecosystems. My recent visit with Certified Forester Bob Williams in the New Jersey pine barrens reinforced by concern that today we face serious problems about our nation’s forests, and it is time to open a discussion of what needs to be done (See my post Woodsmanship and Naturecraftsmanship).

To understand— to even have a rudimentary notion— about forests as environment, and how we are and should manage and conserve them, we have to deal with three questions: Who owns and controls our forests; how do management, conservation, and the concepts on which these depend have to change, and what has happened to public attitudes, interests, and appreciation of forests.

As I see it, here are the major issues:

We have to accept that nothing in the environment is constant; everything is always changing. Our management and conservation of forests must take this into account in ways not yet dominant.
Forest ownership has changed greatly in the past 40 years, but few people know about this. Who owns forests and what their emphasis is on research and actions has changed.
Forestry research has declined.
Public interest in forests has declined. While it used to be one of the major environmental issues, today, except for wildfires and deforestation of tropical rainforests, we hear relatively little about forests and forest management.

Implications of these major Issues

Since the environment has always changed and is always changin, all life has evolved with and adapted to environmental change. Many, perhaps most, species require environmental change to persist. Another consequence of the ever-changing character of nature is that there is no single best state of nature. As long as people believed in a balance of nature, then there could only be one best state of nature, its (supposedly) constant state. In an every-changing nature, it is possible in the abstract that there might be one best state. But in reality this is not the case.

Our approach to conservation and management of forests must also accept a humility: We can affect, but only partially control, Earth’s environment. As Buckminster Fuller put it, our problem is that we live on a planet that didn’t come with an instruction manual. Globally, our environment is a set of very complex systems, none in a steady-state, each affecting the others, and which we are only beginning to understand.

People have altered the environment for at least 10,000 years, probably much longer. What people used to consider virgin nature never-touched by people is turning out in surprisingly many cases to have been greatly affected by people.

Consequences of changes in forest land ownership: Until the 1980s, most large-scale private forests were owned by 15 major timber corporations, and forest research was expanding. Today, none of the major timber corporations owns any significant forest land. They sold their forests. The major large private owners are REITs and TIMOs. One cannot overestimate the importance of this change. But oddly, almost nobody knows about it. Almost nobody talks about it.

Lack of basic data and monitoring. In this information age, this time of data-mining, massive ability to gather data, forest research is declining and some of the most basic and information data are not being gathered.

Consequences of changes in public and media attention to forests and forestry. Today, much less media and public attention is on forests than in 1980s. During much of the twentieth century, most aspects of forest use were the subjects of lively discussions, including the importance of old-growth, the role of forests in affecting salmon habitat, the certification of forest practices as sustainable, whether timber corporations and the U.S. Forest Service were managing forests properly, what were the ecological and biodiversity roles of stages in forests succession other than old growth.

Today we hear about forests as possible carbon sinks and players in climate change, and we get alarmed about forests when there are major wild fires. Much of public and media attention about forests is reduced to very simple statements, such as “stop tropical rainforest deforestation.” Agreeing with this statement may make us feel good as environmentally-concerned people. This is a convenient sympathy, because tropical rainforest deforestation is a problem far from our shores, about which we can do little and actually do less. In short, when we even bother to think about forests today, it is in a feel good but do little sense.

Where do we go from here? That’s the question. There are many professional foresters and forest scientists, and I’m sure many have thoughts about what we need to do. This is a forum to allow that discussion.

Check out the comments as well…you’ll see people we hear from often, like Derek, and some we seldom hear from (e.g. Jim Coufal). What ideas do you think are important, and worthy of bringing to this blog for discussion?

7 Comments

  1. “Where do we go from here” is certainly an interesting and important question.

    “Today, none of the major timber corporations owns any significant forest land.”

    Doesn’t Weyerhaeuser own more timberland (340,000 acres) in Lane County, regularly the largest sawlog producing county in the largest sawlog producing state in the US, than the BLM manages (300,000)?

    It’s a bit quizzical to me to see these “key issues” laid out independent of any discussion of forest management goals.

    Feels like there’s an awful lot being left unstated, as assumptions or whatever. More effort may be called for in disclosing the real goals of the discussion frame.

  2. Re: “Today, none of the major timber corporations owns any significant forest land. They sold their forests” – Not so fast.

    1) August 25th 1982 “Timber Survey” by Thomas P. Clephane (one of the longest and best known stock market financial analysts focusing on the forestry and wood products sector) and Jeanne Carroll, Published by Morgan Stanley:
    → As of Year End 1981, 22 major timber companies owned 42.9 million acres in the US
    → As of Year End 1981, 23 minor timber companies owned 3.6 million acres in the US
    → As of Year End 1981, 45 TIMBERLAND COMPANIES OWNED 46.5 million acres in the US

    2) By comparison,
    → as of ~ 12/31/12, 20 TIMBERLAND ENTERPRISES OWNED 46.0 million acres in the US
    So the total timberland acreage managed by the 45 companies in 1981 are still being managed with the same profit objective by 20 entities restructured for tax purposes – So, to the non accountant, nothing has really changed in terms of managing and selling timber except that significantly fewer entities control that very same timberland acreage. That consolidation is likely to continue.

    A) As of 12/31/12 the following major timber companies (REITS) own 19.8 million acres in the US based on their web sites – So the big boys are still out there, they just consolidated and then restructured as REITS
    a) Weyerhaeuser – 6.6 million acres of timberlands in the US (mid 2013)
    b) Plum Creek – 6.3 million acres of timberlands in the US
    c) Rayonier – 2.4 million acres of timberlands in the US
    d) Potlatch – 1.4 million acres of timberlands in the US
    from https://fp.auburn.edu/sfws/zhang/RefereedPub/JOF2012.pdf:
    e) Sierra Pacific Industries 1.9 million acres of timberlands in the US
    f) J.D. Irving Private REIT 1.2 million acres of timberlands in the US

    B) Using this slightly out of date reference https://fp.auburn.edu/sfws/zhang/RefereedPub/JOF2012.pdf
    we find that TIMOS own approximately 25.5 million acres in the US. These are pure play timber companies structured for favorable tax treatment and have the same profit motive as their predecessors:
    a) Forestland Group TIMO 3,400,000
    b) Campbell Group TIMO 3,040,000
    c) Hancock Timber Resource Group TIMO 2,948,000
    d) Resource Management Service TIMO 2,600,000
    e) Forest Capital Partners TIMO 2,500,000
    f) GMO Renewable Resources TIMO 2,100,000
    g) Forest Investment Associates TIMO 2,000,000
    h) Molpus Woodlands Group TIMO 1,800,000
    i) Wagner Forest Management TIMO 1,400,000
    j) Region Morgan Keegan (RMK) Timberland Group TIMO 1,100,000
    k) Seven Islands Land Management TIMO 1,000,000
    l) Timbervest LLC TIMO 825,000
    m) Prentiss & Carlisle TIMO 800,000

    C) https://fp.auburn.edu/sfws/zhang/RefereedPub/JOF2012.pdf
    MeadWestvaco Industrial 0.73 million acres in the US

  3. @Sharon

    Do you realize that the foresters working for most of these enterprises receive no encouragement from their employers to participate in the SAF? That is because their employers see the SAF as a spineless turncoat that has not supported them in the fight against environmental nonsense. I can’t tell you how many times I was told or it was implied that ‘you can go to a regional or national SAF convention but you will go at your own expense and none of your deadlines will change and when you get back, we’ll see what we can do to make sure that you are too busy to go next time’. One employer’s policy was to support only those who had ‘wrangled a major SAF position that would keep the SAF from going further out in left field.’ When you average 10 hour work days to make up for down sizing or to provide analysis in a timely manner, you get the point real quick.

    Some employees may be SAF members but just think about what would happen if these companies and their employees could look up to the SAF and say: ‘I want to be part of that. They are fair, factual and no nonsense when it comes to dealing with false science and environmental propaganda.’

    How many in the SAF are and what proportion of the SAF leadership are:
    1) Forest Service Employees?
    —- a) how many are trained foresters?
    —- b) how many are scientific specialists?
    2) How many are academicians?
    3) How many are retired foresters who are up to date on the current state of forest science, understand the unchanging fundamental scientific principles that underlie sound forestry, and know that throwing out a program of sound forest management that included logging based on area/volume regulation in 1990 has had a very big hand in creating the mess that our national forests are in now?
    4) Practicing foresters from the 46 million acres owned by the forest enterprises that I cited above?

    How many forestry technicians have been hired by these enterprises instead of graduating foresters because the techs can hit the ground running more quickly in terms of cruising and other beginning skills than the college graduates. In addition, some of the college graduates come with a good bit of out of balance environmental baggage picked up from their professor’s?

    Companies are squeezed to cut costs, improve profits, and compensate for customers squeezing to get product prices down while increasing product quality. There has to be a real concrete benefit to them before these enterprises will support the SAF.

    Considering your ambitions within the SAF, I hope that you take this and my other post on the SAF Linked-in site as actionable insight to be used to make the SAF an effective voice for forestry against those who despise forest management and especially so if it involves logging.

    I wish you the best in you endeavors and particularly in the SAF VP election.

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