Anatomy of a Timber Sale Appeal Redux

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Assiduous readers will recall the Bighorn National Forest’s Crater Ridge timber sale. Located high in Wyoming’s Rockies, Crater Ridge is a 400-year-old Engelmann spruce/subalpine forest that the Forest Service poked some holes into 25 years ago. Those holes remain today, complete with untreated slash piles and bare ground (click “satellite” in upper-right corner for pretty view).

When the Forest Service proposed last year to reprise its Crater Ridge silvicultural misadventures, FSEEE appealed and the Forest Service withdrew the sale.

The Forest Service, however, is not so easily dissuaded. It has re-proposed “similar” Crater Ridge logging. The only difference between the 2013 and 2014 versions are the addition of “reforestation actions such as fill-in planting.”

You can read FSEEE’s thoughts on this latest iteration. In a nutshell, the Bighorn forest plan doesn’t allow for “in-fill planting,” except to meet non-timber objectives. Worth noting also that the Bighorn promised it would plant the 1985 Crater Ridge units if nature failed to do so. Nature failed and so did the FS — it never planted a single seedling.

So what’s the Bighorn up to? Did it not get the memo that we don’t do things this way anymore?

9 Comments

  1. So, Andy, you would rather the USFS didn’t cut some wood, sell it and use some of the proceeds to maybe burn a bit of slash and plant a few seedlings here and there, so those icky holes go away?

  2. I can’t speak for Andy, but it seems to me that planning to use the “proceeds” from a new timber sale to finally clean up the mess from a sale that happened 25 years ago, would not be a particularly good example of sound forest management. At least, not very confidence-inspiring.

  3. Interesting comments Andy. It seems like you saying nothing should be done because the trees won’t grow back, by natural regeneration or unnaturally by planting. I have no knowledge of this area, so maybe I shouldn’t say anything. Of course I wonder how the trees got there in the first place. There has to be some regeneration?

    • Bob,

      Yes, nothing should be done. These forests are hundreds of years old and happy as clams.

      The dominant trees “got there in the first place” after a major fire hundreds of years ago. Natural regeneration following fire in this forest type occurs over decades with about equal numbers of spruce and fir.

      Congress, however, hasn’t allowed for decades to reestablish a forest following logging. Unless the Forest Service can assure reforestation within five years, the forest is off-limits to timber management.

  4. I’m glad Dave asked whether it might be best to cut Crater Ridge to pay for cleaning up past messes, as it gives us a chance to dive into the arcane world of K-V. For those not familiar with Forest Service timber practices, “K-V” stands for the Knutson-Vandenberg Act. This 1930 law authorizes the Forest Service to spend timber sale receipts on reforestation and other sale-area activities (the authority was expanded recently to include future sale planning costs, too). K-V is the major source of Forest Service reforestation funding and the authority by which Dave suggests the Bighorn “cut some wood, sell it and use some of the proceeds” to fix past problems.

    In response to Dave’s suggestion, Guy questions whether it’s a good idea to log anew to clean up old problems. A corollary question is whether it is even financially feasible to do so.

    For example, here is a 2013 Bighorn National Forest K-V plan for a sale called “Canyon Creek.” This sale is just shy of 1,000 acres, the same size as Crater Ridge. From Canyon Creek sale receipts, the Forest Service would like to pay for two years of stocking surveys (about $15/acre each), some pesticide spraying for invasive weeds and, down the road, precommercial thinning ($315/acre)(how’s that for reforestation optimism!), for a total price tag of $311,239.

    However, this wish list is a dead letter. Turns out that only $35,000 are available from timber sale receipts (“Stumpage available for K-V financing”) to pay for the work. So the only activities that will be funded are the stocking surveys and 60 acres of pesticide treatment. At that, Canyon Creek is actually a relatively high-value sale for the Bighorn. In the most recent quarter, Bighorn timber was selling for $2.53 per thousand board feet. That ain’t going to pay for much slash burning or tree planting on the current sales, much less any treatment backlog.

  5. So what kind of trees are they logging for 2.53/mbft? Surely not big old growth? (must of been a large sale with no competition) That’s very low, though I imagine the slash disposal fees, KV, are higher than the stumpage. As with any FS sale there are always these additional costs, maybe there is a couple of hundred thousands of dollars of culvert upgrades or something like that are part of the sale.

  6. I would like it if we lived in the kind of world in which the Bighorn folks could give answers to these questions, without any of us having to read or interpret environmental documents. I, for one, would like to hear both sides.

  7. Andy: there are two kinds of historical fire: lightning started and human started. Humans were here for over 10,000 years, and maybe as long as 35,000 years, firing the landscape to mold it to their liking, to the states that would ensure their survival. Not forest survival, but the diversity of vegetative types that put the sun’s energy in plants and animals at ground level where it was easily sought, obtained, and used. That those people were here, doing well, when Europeans arrived with genocide and religious fervor in their hearts, has been well documented. But 4 centuries of directed genocide did reduce their numbers to less than ten percent of the pre European population estimates, and that also reduced the numbers and organization it took to be landscape burners with knowledge and history of how to do it, when to do it, and where to do it. Empirical knowledge, if you will.

    And the lightning fires that were beneficial are the product of serendipity. Random good fortune. Many fires were tragic and destroyed existing habitats and most likely species. Just like they do today. As climates change, so does the vegetation and associated critters. The “cloud forests” of “old growth” trees, here only because they are alive and can stay alive for a long period, also cannot reproduce themselves no matter how the trees are removed. They germinated and grew in a climate that is no longer there. Perhaps that is the issue with high elevation Bighorn land. And, maybe, the “good” of those areas not having regen trees is that they are open, one dimensional space above the mean snow level that are able to not have much of their snowfall hang on needles and limbs above ground to only sublimate and never contribute to the watersheds. Perhaps the open ground is raising the water budgets downslope by capturing more snow for spring melt. Can we truly believe that those areas are now a vacuum? Lifeless? Without purpose?

    The USFS says that lynx prey on snowshoes hares and depend on them for food. Across all elevations and habitats from the top of the Rockies to the Maritime provinces of Eastern Canada dow to 300 feet elevation. And then they say that optimal snowshoe hare habitat is 30-50 year old conifer or hardwood regeneration on relatively flat land above the mean annual snow level elevation. So if you protect all timber from logging, fight fire, exactly how to have a continuing flow of 30-50 year old regen to be that habitat if no trees are killed or removed from the snapshot preservationist forests? Serendipity? Or was Native American burning regimes important in that process, along with the luck of having a “good” fire? Too many people and too many demands now to not have a plan, a logical and vetted plan, to have the varied landscapes that were once here when both fire ignition sources were in play: lighning’s serendipity and man’s purposeful planned burns. And yes, no EPA Clean Air Act restrictions that now preclude landscape management by fire, so the backdoor to that is to let lightning fires burn and do so with crossed fingers and hope for a good outcome, which all to often is not the result. Or plan and accomplish some logging, in which the value of the process is the habitat disturbance that benefits diversity, not the treasury. Don’t pull the “diversity” card on one sale, and then the “treasury” card on another. Intellectually dishonest and the planning and operations process gets Stahlled. ooh. bad pun. Stalled process does not move good results forward.

    • “…exactly how to have a continuing flow of 30-50 year old regen to be that habitat…” That’s fine, but doesn’t really address the concerns Andy described. Here, there has been no “continuing flow of regen”, and little evidence to inspire confidence that it would occur. Based on history to date, the most likely outcome seems to be more and bigger holes, which are not lynx habitat. “Crater Ridge” is perhaps aptly named. I think it largely boils down to whether “just trust us” resonates well with the listener, or not. Also, “diversity” and “treasury” aren’t cards, they’re issues. It’s hardly intellectually dishonest to address either or both where appropriate. Otherwise, we could as easily say that multiple-use forestry in general is intellectually dishonest, since there are so many “cards” at play. You are correct that the pun was lame, though.

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