USFS timber harvest draws fire in Georgia

To broaden our focus to areas and issues outside of the Western US….

Forest plan draws fire in north Georgia mountains

The usual cast of characters and the usual issues: “…a commercial timber harvest, in the Blue Ridge Ranger District of the Gainesville-based Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest have come under fire from some environmental groups.” Including Georgia ForestWatch, Southern Environmental Law Center, and the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club.

A variety of treatments would cover about 2,300 acres, or about 10 percent of the Blue Ridge District’s total 300,000 acres. Removing the majority of trees from a particular stand to regenerate an area would take place on 253 acres.

Here’s what the scoping letter says about the 253 acres:

Early Successional Forest Habitat (Goal 2):

Stands proposed for regeneration range from true cove stands consisting primarily of yellow poplar to more xeric stands dominated by oak species. The primary purpose of regenerating these stands is to improve habitat conditions for species such as ruffed grouse, golden-winged warbler and other early successional species. Secondary objectives include restoration of oak on sites where white pine is dominating but not ecologically appropriate and oak maintenance in existing oak stands.

White pine stands will likely require complete overstory removal, after harvest site preparation treatments, planting of native oak species, and subsequent release treatments. Site preparation treatments may include chemical and/or non-chemical methods such as prescribed burning. Stands will be harvested with a two-aged with reserves method, retaining an approximately 20ft2 BA of overstory trees per acre. Stands may require post-harvest chemical release treatments to reduce competition from undesirable species.

This seems quite reasonable, though I have not visited the area. If this didn’t involve commercial harvesting, would it still draw fire?

18 Comments

  1. That’s ONE percent of the forest, and 253 acres is a tenth of that.
    Let’s say about 60 percent at worst is suitable for harvest at some point, I suspect that’s higher as Georgia is a lot rounder, wetter and warmer. So the overall treatment rotation at this rate is what, in the 60 year range, and harvest in the 600 year range? You know, pretending this is a sustained yield?
    Foolishness knows no math, clearly.

    • Dave, The district will regenerate 253 acres within the 2300 acre sale. That’s about 11% of the area treated indicating a rotation of about 90 years, provided the re-entry period is 10 years, and is a pretty short rotation for quality hardwood production. Problem is that we don’t know the forest’s, or district’s acres “suitable” for timber management (not reserved or dedicated to other uses). Nor do we know the actual (not planned) re-entry date (with present funding probably not in this century). Nor do we know how many such sales will be made during this plan period.

      This sale, in itself, seems to be a well-designed piece of work. Maybe someone from the NFs in Georgia can fill us in on the bigger picture: at the present rate of regeneration cuts, what is the expected rotation length for timber growing on suitable land in the mountain units of the National Forests in Georgia?

  2. The usual suspects indeed, or at least their eastern counterparts. Their opposition, while expected, is inexplicable considering the huge body of research that supports the proposed management. This current action by the Forest Service in Georgia closely parallels the management process proposed by the Ruffed Grouse Society and the Appalachian Multiple Use Council some 10 years ago for the National Forests in North Carolina, (http://www.wvmcconnell.net/?page_id=162). I like to think that our past efforts have borne fruit.

  3. One thing Georgia ForestWatch and the other groups have done is to go on offensive: The agency has only just concluded its scoping comment period and an EA is 6 to 12 months away. The newspaper article reads like a press release from the groups. Except for the obligatory comment on the process from the USFS, the article includes no comments from anyone other than the three groups. If this really is a Associated Press article, as indicated, it’s a poor example of journalism.

    FWIW, the Projects page of the Chattahoochee-Oconee website, which listed many projects earlier today when I downloaded the scoping letter, now lists nothing but “No data is available for this Forest.” Strange.

    • Steve.. some of my journalism friends say that since the business changed, all some folks can do is publish press releases. Which my friends say is not really “journalism” or is “against journalism ethics” But people won’t pay any more for real journalism that costs money. Another conundrum.

  4. Steve says, “This seems quite reasonable.” It’s reasonable if you like ruffed grouse or you like your oak stands made into boards (of if you are a forester and like to ‘manage’ things). But not all of the landowners feel that way (from the article):

    Mary A. Topa, executive director of Georgia ForestWatch, said her group agrees with the need “to match objectives identified in the watershed assessment to the most ecologically appropriate portions of the project area.” However, “it seems that in many cases, treatments have unfortunately been proposed for the most ecologically inappropriate stands,” she said. Targeting some of the oldest oak forests — including one stand that is 164 years old — for a treatment that provides a habitat for certain wildlife by cutting the majority of trees “is a good example, particularly when there are more appropriate younger stands that would work,” Topa said. “In addition, despite the fact that Cooper Creek has been identified as a priority watershed … the proposed project focuses on extensive logging, which is likely to degrade, not improve, water quality and aquatic habitat here.”

    Maybe timber sales are a lot like real estate: “location, location, location.” Maybe the NEPA process should consider alternative locations.

    • Foresters like to “manage things” to avoid what is happening in the west. It’s true that just about all of us like to hear ruffed grouse drumming on a spring morning. It’s also highly likely that Sierra Club folks, same as us foresters, have wooden furniture in their houses made of wood. Hey, it’s OK to harvest old trees – they’re a renewable resource. Cut them with reverence “for the good of the order” and make sure that they’re replaced. Foresters and time will grow new ones.

    • JonH

      Until you can show the shortcomings of Georgia’s Best Management practices, I think it would be wise to avoid making unsubstantiated suppositions about water quality. In addition, please identify the tradeoffs between the short term slight increase in turbidity versus long term improvement in water quality and habitat after “Goal 4: Maintain and restore natural communities in amounts, arrangements, and conditions capable of supporting viable populations of existing native and desired nonnative plants, fish, and wildlife species within the planning area” has been met.

  5. I hear you, Jon. I haven’t visited the site and know little about the area other than what I’ve read in the USFS documentation. That said, the older stands proposed for treatment represent a tiny fraction of the sale area, Out of a total of 3,754 acres to be treated with various types of harvesting or thinning, 253 acres proposed for creating early successional forest habitat, where stand ages range from 32 years to 164 years, with an average of 99 years. These stands, says the scoping letter, “will be harvested with a two-aged with reserves method, retaining an approximately 20ft2 BA of overstory trees per acre.”

    By the way, is 164 years old an “old growth” stand on that national forest? Are stands of that age exceedingly rare? Doesn’t sound like it to me. The agency says, “Many of the stands in the project area are dense and overcrowded, with limited understory or ground cover diversity. Due to limited use of prescribed fire over the last few decades, advanced oak regeneration is limited and white pine has encroached into many of the hardwood stands and now comprises a substantial portion of the understory and midstory. The purpose of the Cooper Creek Watershed project is to restore native plant communities, enhance wildlife habitat conditions, and improve forest health.”

    Again, that sounds like a win-win-win: ecological, economic, and social.

  6. WOW! Consider all of the work that went into the scoping letter for just 253 acres. If that is just what is required to just start talking about the management of 253 acres, it is a perfect example of why our National Forests are in a horrible state. Instead of following an integrated forest plan at the landscape level; we have a piece meal, every acre stands on it’s own reactive, uncoordinated mess. Analysis Paralysis wins once again. Nobody trusts the professional with the required expertise and the knowledge to call in the specialists when needed yet the people with no pertinent knowledge or experience get to call the shots by using their legal veto power. Ignorance rules once again.

      • SteveW

        I don’t know if it is a typo or not but your opening post specifically states “Here’s what the scoping letter says about the 253 acres:” so I assumed that that particular scoping letter was just for the 253 acres. Sorry if I misunderstood. But even if the scoping letter was for the entire project instead of just one of many scoping letters for each component of the project, it is one heck of a lot of work just to start talking about doing something. If one is that afraid to commit to the full project and develop the full plan up front, why bother? You’re just going to add more work and still not going to get to do anything because of fear driven suppositions by uninformed individuals no matter how much work you do – How wonderful it must be to be a trained professional and sweat bullets only to have all of your work undone by some nincompoop who doesn’t even understand green end up.

        If my first experiences with the USFS while in college from 64-67 had exposed me to this kind demeaning disrespect, I’d have changed majors real quick.

    • Gil, Precisely! The district has 300,000 acres to manage and the Forest Service has hired a cadre of experts to do the job. Having sat in on ID team meetings, I can tell you that these professionals have agonized over these issues in far greater depth, with far more information and with vastly more understanding of the complexities and interactions than those challenging their conclusions. Why not let the Forest Service get on with the impossible job of managing for “the greatest good, for the greatest number in the long run”? Does anyone believe for one moment that Georgia Forest Watch and its fellow litigators could do a better job?

      • MacMcC

        Re: “Does anyone believe for one moment that Georgia Forest Watch and its fellow litigators could do a better job?”
        –> No, but does anyone really believe that Georgia Forest Watch wants the job done in the first place? So much for the notion that such individuals are “environmentalists”. Just let it get thick as the hair on a dog’s back and then let the beetles and or wildfire get it and cause all kinds of erosion from the beetle exposed soils or the fragile, fire fried soils on steep slopes running into the formerly pristine streams. Even if we have switched back over to global cooling by then, like everyone thought 30 years ago, they’d still refuse to accept responsibility and blame it on the prior short term global warming trend. Forgive me, I’m just more disgusted than normal with the whole situation.

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