Wilderness: To Manage or Not to Manage

In the “New Topics or Questions from Readers” thread, Bill Keye posted a link to a New York Times op-ed, “Rethinking the Wild” — which might as well have been entitled “Rethinking the Wilderness Act.” The author, Christopher Solomon, suggests that we may need to manage wilderness areas to some degree, to mitigate the effects of climate change. For example:

“A great example is Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California, most of which lies within the 595,000-acre Joshua Tree Wilderness. Up to 90 percent of the park’s namesake trees could disappear by century’s end, according to models that factor in expected warming. Should we let that happen as nature’s atonement for our mistake? Or should park managers instead intervene in some way — relocating trees to higher elevations to promote their survival, for instance, or finding or creating a hybrid species that can withstand the hotter temperatures and combating exotic grasses that increase the threat of fires?”

Or cutting lodgepole to prevent their invasion of alpine meadows, or watering giant sequoia to help them survive a drier climate.

However, over in the “Bob Berwyn: Forest health crisis ends with a whimper” thread, Matthew K. posted a link to and an excerpt of an article in which USFS biologist Diana Six says, of cutting “survivor” trees during salvage logging:

“It’s natural selection. The bugs wiped out the trees that are not adapted to current conditions … Underlying genetics will determine future forests,” she said, challenging the conventional wisdom that logging is needed to restore forest health.

Many of alpine meadows previously were alpine lakes and wetlands. Over time, some have already filled in and now support trees rather than water plants and critters. How much of this process was the result of human activity, and how much was “natural”? The same goes for bark beetle infestations and fires that have affected wilderness. At what point, and under what circumstances, is active management of wilderness areas acceptable? Or is it, ever?


  1. These are not biological or ecological questions; they are philosophical. Whether we decide to intervene completely or go completely “hands off,” we are managing that land and the plants and critters that live on it. Imagine you are the Park Superintendent of “Wooly Mammoth National Park” at the end of the last ice age. Keeping the park as it was might have proved, well, daunting.

    Peter Kareiva, the chief scientist of the Nature Conservancy, along with his two co-authors, in Conservation in the Anthropocene: Beyond Solitude and Fragility, argues that the great lengths we go to “removing unwanted species while supporting more desirable species,” such as drilling wells to provide wildlife with water and manipulating the land through “fire management that mixes control with prescribed burns,” we “create parks that are no less human constructions than Disneyland.”

    In fact, the more natural appearing we humans want something to be, the more work it takes on our part.

    I wrote about this some more in “How to manage that wild and natural look” (http://www.science20.com/timberati/blog/how_to_manage_that_wild_and_natural_look-139966).

  2. FWIW, a quick search author Christopher Solomon reveals that he has done a lot of writing for adventure outdoor publications, particularly climbing publications. Many of these folks/publications are upset that pitons cannot be driven into cliff faces in Wilderness.

    What background does Mr. Solomon have regarding the management of complex ecosystems, whether in Wilderness areas or not? The Joshua Tree National Park/Wilderness example is interesting because Joshua Tree NP/Wilderness is essentially the coming together of two different desert ecosystems, the higher Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert. Joshua trees don’t really exist in the lower Colorado Desert, but do in the higher Mojave Desert. Also, the fact is that Joshua trees, on their own, are in fact migrating to higher elevations in the Mojave Desert.

    The local newspaper did a very good multi-media series on the Joshua trees of Joshua Tree NP recently. Here’s a snip:

    Along the eastern slopes of the San Bernardino Mountains, Barrows said, Joshua trees are slowly moving up in elevation and may eventually occupy areas that were once the sole domain of pines and fir trees….

    As Joshua trees disappear from some areas in the future, it’s possible that people could help the trees establish elsewhere by planting them in new locations. But botanists and ecologists are wary of such “assisted migration,” saying it would raise questions such as how the trees might interact with other established species.

    “Moving species around, I think we just need to be very careful,” Hoines said. Another option, he said, would be to ensure there are corridors through which Joshua trees could gradually move into new areas naturally, if they are able.

    • Matthew, What background do YOU have regarding the management of complex ecosystems, whether in Wilderness areas or not? Your bio on the Wild West Institute web site says you are a certified high school English and history teacher.

      • Hello Steve: You’re right. I have no background regarding the management of public lands issues at all and haven’t worked on public lands issues pretty much daily over the past 20 years. I’m not a former wildland firefighter, I didn’t pay my way through college working a summer at a Wisconsin lumber company and I haven’t done bona-fide fuel reduction work on both private and public lands. And even if I did do all those things, and learn a thing or two from those experiences, it really wouldn’t matter, now would it? I heard that the two times I was invited to give expert testimony in front of the U.S. Senate’s ENR Committee I was selected randomly out of a hat. Lucky me, eh?

        • Matthew, It was you who wrote, “What background does Mr. Solomon have regarding the management of complex ecosystems, whether in Wilderness areas or not?” You seem to assert that, because Solomon has written for climbing magazines, he is disqualified from commenting on wilderness issues. However, the part you wrote about Joshua trees was relevant and interesting — I learned something from it and may want to investigate further. But you have a habit of disparaging the backgrounds or integrity of people you disagree with, and that distracts from the discussion of the issues — wilderness management, in this case. I value this forum because its contributors bring a variety of viewpoints, yours included. I wish you’d stick to the issues.

          • Thanks for the advise Steve. I think I “stick to the issues” just fine, and have 3 years worth of posts and comments that show that. Sure, we can all do better. I’m glad you found some of that Joshua tree stuff interesting.

            The “issue” I was getting it, perhaps poorly, was that perhaps Mr. Solomon’s background as more of an adventure outdoors/recreation writer (while totally interesting, valid, etc), is perhaps not the best perspective to come from when talking about complex ecological issues facing public lands management to a national audience. I do see that as an “issue.” Sure, not the main one, but I’m certainly not the only person who took note of Mr. Solomon’s background after reading the article.

        • MatthewK

          Many of us have many of the same experiences and can relate to the eye opening joy that those experiences brought. What I have to say regarding your credentials is not meant to take anything away from you but, instead, is meant to point out that none of us can be everything. In my humble opinion you have stepped outside of your area of expertise just as surely as I would be outside my area of expertise if I were to proclaim that I was a better writer and knew more about diagramming sentences than you.

          What seems to be missing from your credentials as a “certified high school English and history teacher” is an education focusing on the long established and validated fundamental scientific principles of soil science, entomology, ecology, plant physiology, geology, fire science, genetics, growth and yield, wildlife management, silviculture / stand dynamics, forest management, hydrology, forest road engineering and etc. You consider yourself to be highly qualified in the area of forest policy in spite of not having significant education in the principles behind the relevant biological and physical sciences. Without such knowledge you are in no position to understand the long term consequences of forest policy. In light of that limitation you assume that what you see now is what you get in the future. As a result, you fail to understand the tradeoffs that happen all of the time in a forest ecosystem. So you fail to recognize that what you see now is quite often not what you get in the future. In addition, your lack of educational focus on mathematics, statistical analysis and the scientific method shows in your comments as you fail to discern the difference between unproven scientific theory and scientific fact derived through proper experimental design and validated by extensive operational implementation.

          I have written this frank statement since you have used the NCFO blog to repeatedly demean the credentials of countless “experts” with whom you disagree when, in fact, you are unqualified to make such statements. As an English major you surely must realize that there is a very uncomplimentary word for that?

          • Hello Gil, Thanks for really digging deep on this one, as I’ve learned a lot about my educational, and personal, shortcomings. You clearly know what I think, and even how I think, much better than I even know myself. That’s a really neat skill you have Gil, and maybe you could really put it to some wonderful uses. I’d hate to have your skills wasted teaching me lessons, when there are so many more important lessons to give.

            I do think I know a fair amount about public lands forest policy. If you disagree, I’m cool with that dude.

            I also have to disagree that I’ve “repeatedly demean(ed) the credentials of countless ‘experts'” on this blog and would encourage you to actually find this supposed “repeated demeaning” of “countless ‘experts'” and post them here for everyone to evaluate for themselves.

            While you’re at it, might as well find all the other comments from regular blog contributors that also might be interpreted as “”repeatedly demeaning the credentials of countless ‘experts'”…because it seems as if I recall more than a few examples directed at people like Dr. Hanson, Dr. Law, Dr. Baker, Dr. Six, Dr. Monica Turner, Dr. DellaSala, et al.

            And I certainly don’t see any “demeaning of the credentials of experts” in my mentioning that Mr. Solomon’s background is more of an adventure outdoors/recreation writer.

            • MatthewK

              1) So you still don’t offer any evidence to refute my statements about your lack of academic credentials in regard to your being able to determine the validity of the credentials of others or their policy proposals in terms of forest ecosystems. You quoted Dr. Six’s statement “We may be cutting down the very trees we need to save the forest,” to open your post here. Rule #1: Statements containing vague words like “May”, “Might”, “Could”, “Possible” and etc. indicate that the statement is supposition rather than established science. In this case, all else being equal, such supposition by a geneticist would be more appropriate than if it were made by an entomologist BUT, in both cases, it is still supposition. Such supposition by a geneticist studying that particular problem might eventually be elevated to an unproven theory but it is still supposition until it becomes established science through: investigation using the scientific method, and validation by other scientists under different circumstances and finally is further validated by operational experience in a wide variety of conditions.

              2) I agree that you know a great deal about the laws involved in public lands forest policy. I agree that you know a great deal about using that knowledge to properly fill out the paper work and tick off all of the necessary boxes to use that knowledge to oppose any aspect of sound forest management that you disagree with (almost all, based on discussions on this blog). Unfortunately, that detailed knowledge about the laws and the paper work necessary to comply with those laws and their spawned policy is void of the underlying scientific principles that would allow you to differentiate between good and bad policy. Without understanding the science, it is only natural that you would say “I do think I know a fair amount about public lands forest policy”. Unfortunately, policy is not the end all and be all. Sustainable healthy Forest ecosystems over the long term are the end all and be all. Without the scientific background, you can’t see that the policies that you agree with that focus on preserving the present are going to insure that we won’t have replacements in line when the present dies of old age or dies prematurely because your policy increased the risk of catastrophic wildfire and beetle outbreaks.

              3) As to your repeated demeaning of others, it has been enumerated for you before, if you don’t remember it then it would seem rather silly for me to waste my time doing it again.

              4) Yes, there has been lots of demeaning in this blog. Some of us have even provided links to show you and others where people like Hanson, Law, Six, DellaSala, et al are opposed by equally or more qualified scientists whose views agree with the scientific principles and our experience. It didn’t mean anything to you then so a rehash now would only be a waste of time. You refused to discuss those differences of opinion between scientists point by point multiple times. Since you don’t have the scientific background you resort to obfuscation, straw men and intimidation. You choose which scientists to believe based on who tells you what you want to hear. Some of us choose which scientist to believe based on which ones don’t contravene long established science and operational experience.

              Remember, I told you before: ‘I’m on you like a cat on a june bug’ until you are ready to discuss things on a point by point basis.

          • Gil, I must admit, I have read your comment… Have saved your comment.. Will read your comment again. I have not read better “natural resources” poetry in my life! Thank you, Nicholas

    • Forests need to be managed, more in areas where resources are harvested and in WUI areas, less, sometimes very little, in reserves and wilderness. But the “let nature take its course” is abdication of responsibility.

  3. When you have, until 1492 AD, millennia of indigenous people occupying and using the entirety of the landscape to some degree, and modifying it by fire across the vast landscape, what is the “natural” state of things absent any human activity at all? And Wilderness, by the Congressional definition, is to be untrammeled by the hand of man. Was there any land that met that qualification? Or at least any below the levels technical climbing skills can now take people?

    I hunted elk on a series of high Cascades meadows for years, and watched as trees infiltrate from the outside margins inward. Each new tree draws on the available water of a wet meadow, and in time, the accumulated new growth, new trees, dry up the formerly wet meadow and it becomes forest missing the Indian burners and with fire fighters able to control most fires before they become stand replacement conflagrations. WE are up to our collective tushes in forests of trees but lose open lands, meadows, fens, brakes, prairies at a constant rate. Those are the endangered habitats in the Federal Forests, and on private timberland driven to grow a tree on every available square foot of dirt because the regulations they live under demand that and their bottoms lines demand that. The biggest joke in the Forests is the word “diversity.” The only increase in “diversity” is the ethnic backgrounds of the people who work, visit or manage forests. Introduced exotic humans from the breadth of the world, by law, by consent decrees. Monocultural forests managed by the diverse human workforce. Laughable, really. A “forest for the trees” deal. Millennia of native burners replaced by managers who are chosen on how they fit into the crazy quilt of human genetics demanded by law.

    Hot here, so I imagine any fine fuels are now dried up waiting for lightening, a careless representative of human diversity, an act of poor judgement or abject stupidity. And in the whole of it, I as a single human being, cannot do a thing to change the course of this Titanic collision of fuels and ignition sources in the insane world of our present governance. My “caring” quotient is the lowest of my lifetime. Fire is the forest industry of today. I finally accept that. Please burn more this year than last. And do burn some of the meadows and prairies annually. Some? Nah. ALL of them.

  4. Admittedly; even from professors whom teach at the most liberal college I had the pleasure and enjoyment to attend for 2.5 years– which I would not trade for any paycheck– admitted that Henry David Thoreau lived only part time at Walden and often ate in town! I have read many different nature writers and would happily take recommendations. Matt, as an amateur writer, more of a naturalist with 199 undergrad credits in mostly all things natural and liberal arts for the rest. I have to agree with Gil. A person that studies English for a lifetime is better at English then natural resources and in the same manner a person that studies natural resources is likely better at truly understanding them then English or English grammar. As Gil mentioned, we appreciate your opinion on the topic’s; However, I wouldn’t correct you on your grammar out of respect and “We” would appreciate the same. Please ask questions as most here that know about how a piece of an ecosystem works would happily explain their portion of their knowledge to you or me. I went into the natural resource field, at 22 years old, because of my love of learning and knowing I would never, and could never, know everything. I love computers and technology for the same reasons and have been using computer parts as Lego’s since 1995. That being said… my third grade English teacher would often keep me in from recess, or the outdoors I loved, to work on spelling that I truly had and still have little use for– thanks to spell check which can also be wrong as most know and lament.. Thanks again for everyone’s input as it truly helps and Gil I still think that sue the USFS for improper forestry management and the nation forest decline is an option. If not in your lifetime or mine, maybe my children… Honest science through critical thinking and proof and absorbing/passing on every ounce of edible plant, ground flora, animal track or behavior, tree growth pattern, forest stand response, tree disease like Rhizosphaera needle cast, city consumer planting of exotic species and introduction of invasive insects/diseases, improper pruning or planting of trees, lack of power line and voltage understanding but “loving” the trees that are infected with any number of things that the homeowner brought from their house in the city– due to their planting of a non-native species because it looked pretty… My English and grammar may be the worst you have seen and fairly due an F- but please Matt.. If you truly care. Ask questions and listen to the answers. After”” please pass it on. We would like our children to have forests as well and have spent the time to learn as much as we can, specifically about natural systems, in order to help your children have forests. Thank you again for your time and input… We are on it and please let us work. Nicholas

    • Hello Nicholas, Thanks for all the advise. Yes, it’s true, 24 years ago I went to college and obtained a BA in history and a secondary education certification to teach history and English. If you all want to define me by this, that’s fine with me.

      Fact is, for the past twenty years I’ve been working on public forest policy. During this time I have, in fact, studied public “natural resource” issues. I have read hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies, and spent hundreds of days on the ground in the woods observing and comparing. I have done some fuel reduction work and helped scientists put in research plots. I have been in the woods with dozens of scientific experts, including many of the PhD scientists that catch some ire on this blog. I have asked hundreds of questions of these various experts, and I have listened carefully to their responses, changing and adapting my own views along the way.

      Sure, this wasn’t part of a formal education. Sure, I didn’t get a degree because of it. Sure, maybe even if would’ve taken a few science courses when I was 19 years old I’d know a lot more about “natural resource” issues, but then again…maybe not. I don’t recall being that into school when I was 19 years old. Besides, what good has all the extensive, top-level scientific training and accolades done for Dr. Diana Six? Or Dr. Chad Hanson? Or Dr. Beverly Law? Or Dr. Monica Turner? Or Dr. Dick Hutto?

      Fact is, there is a pretty significant disagreement within the PhD scientific community on many aspects of natural resource management. If you and Gil want to make that about me and the college courses I took almost 25 years ago, go right ahead. I have no idea how I wound up as a proxy for all these folks, but I could care less, and might even find it a little amusing. Fact is, some of these scientists have looked at this blog, read the comments, and quickly determined that participating in this forum is a waste of their time.

      • Yes, it was Hanson who sampled for live cambium at dbh on fire-damaged trees, instead of the standard spot just above the ground. Either that was an “honest mistake”, showing his ineptitude or, he was trying to purposely skew things in order to find more live cambium to “protect”. It’s “unfortunate” that he didn’t present his “study” to be reviewed by his peers, eh? That single incident makes all of Hanson’s “views” suspect. Apparently all those years in school didn’t lend him any “common sense”. Of course, it STILL is his life’s work to eliminate Federal timber sales, and he outright admits it.

        I’d bet there are similar situations with those other “doctoring” folks listed. I think that some of those folks are simply afraid of the light of scientific transparency. Some Doctorates come with unnecessary posturing and pride, overruling scientific integrity.

        QUESTION “Authority”!!

      • MatthewK

        Re: “Fact is, there is a pretty significant disagreement within the PhD scientific community on many aspects of natural resource management.”
        —> Matthew, this is the first time that you have given any inkling that you recognize that “there is a pretty significant disagreement within the PhD scientific community on many aspects of natural resource management”.

        Re: “I have no idea how I wound up as a proxy for all these folks”
        —> You chose to be their proxy by posting their comments and then getting upset with anyone who dared to oppose their comments with scientific fact. Which is a far cry from showing that you accept that “there is a pretty significant disagreement within the PhD scientific community on many aspects of natural resource management”. So which is it, are you going to accept that honest people can disagree? Are you going to respect those who disagree with you and your sources? Are you going to accept that those who oppose your positions have sound reasons for doing so? No one is expecting you to agree when you don’t, we just would be very appreciative if you limited your responses to a point by point discussion of the facts.

        Until then, tell me what makes your 20 years of experience more reliable than those of us who have 40+ years of similar and broader experience plus the scientific training? What makes the peer reviewed articles that you have studied over the last 20 years more trustworthy than the peered reviewed articles that some of us have studied with the scientific training required to evaluate the veracity of those articles over the last 40+ years? Please show me where Dr. Six’s comment, that you defended, to the effect that ‘we might be killing the very trees that we need to save our forests’ was peer reviewed? Even if it were aren’t you aware that authors submit their articles for peer review to those peers and publications who are more likely to agree with them with the implicit understanding between peers that if you give me a thumbs up, I’ll do the same for you? Are you and those with whom you agree just the last of the decent and unbiased individuals in the world and the people who disagree with you aren’t? Are your powers of observation and mental prowess just that much better than anyone who disagrees with you no matter what their experience, knowledge and mental powers are?

        I have repeatedly asked you to discuss issues on a point by point basis in order to work through these differences of opinion. Most of us are willing to admit we are wrong when someone points out our misunderstanding of the established science. That is what the scientific method is all about. That’s why I want a point by point discussion so that I can discern if there is any validity to your points. Don’t you want to find out if you are wrong? I want to use the scientific method to determine what is fact and what is fiction so that I can discard any unsound thinking and make better decisions in all matters in the future. To do that I need to discuss my points of view and the established scientific facts that they are based on and get feedback from others based on the established scientific facts that they are aware of. That requires an open and honest discussion of each point of view. Who knows we might discover that on one topic both sides are wrong and come to a whole new conclusion based on our collaboration or maybe we’ll discover that there just isn’t enough knowledge to make a ruling. Other times one side might have the facts on their side and another time the other side. Some times we’ll just have to amicably agree to disagree. These differences aren’t about the shortcomings of anyone. I doubt that any of us are bad people. It’s just that we have to be willing to say, ‘I was wrong’ or ‘I can’t prove that you are wrong’. People can’t bully and intimidate logical people into agreeing with them, they have to convince them with sound logic based on sound facts. Just because someone is wrong on one thought doesn’t mean that they are: wrong on all thoughts, lacking intelligence or have any other deficiency.

        • Folks, I don’t much care about the background of any of us on this blog. I’m interested in new ideas and information. If someone posts information that’s wrong or incomplete, then others ought to correct or add to it. If someone posts an opinion on a forest planning and management issue that you disagree with, then by all means tell us why you disagree. Since this is a blog and not a scientific review committee, our backgrounds don’t much matter. In fact, a diversity of backgrounds and experience is a good thing. Let’s all focus on substantive issues, not backgrounds or personalities.

  5. There is more to a forest than trees of any age or size or distribution. The litigation industry is all about microscopic focus on one perhaps tiny segment of a forest and use that as a surrogate for not logging at all. Or siting a ski area or campground, or an irrigation canal or whatever.

    I am of the mind that forests need to be managed by artists as much as scientists. Science is the building block, the canvas, frame, easel, brushes and paints. But implementation is the realm of an artist. I believe that once there were public land managers, Rangers, who were more artist than forester. They had a grasp on the “big picture.” Today the direction of any district or forest is dictated by the strongest personalities at the table. And maybe that is not a bad idea. Over the 190 + National Forests, that would be in and of itself an action of diversity in outcomes. “Paint by the numbers” is a good way to confine issues for the legal eagles and the litigants, but is the outcome art or propaganda illustrations? There is a host of issues to be addressed in the multiple uses of the ingredients of a forest. But is addressing each one in a litigated settlement really the path to righteousness and glory? Or should we have the random result of a multitude of like minded but different by degrees persons enacting their vision for the big picture? I have to believe that the forests found by those who had the technology to record and archive their thoughts, their discoveries, found a far different outcome and product of thousands of years of climate change, human impacts, and the adaptations of mega fauna and microbes to what was there at the time. I am sure that there is an ebb and flow of life, without man, and perhaps our forests cannot really survive without man’s disturbances. That, in and of itself, should be the purpose of Wilderness as the petri dish of discovery, as well as the place for fit and curious folks to go have their wilderness experience. As for the non wilderness, is there really harm in having logging, development, water diverted, climates changing? Or is the forest so diverse that it will always have an equal and opposite reaction to any action man might take? We haven’t been at it, this science stuff, long enough to actually predict or know how it all ends, except that it will change, as change is the constant in the equation.

    Are we here to manage forests, land, or is this merely all an attempt to corral and manage the unwashed masses, the growing body of humanity that needs resources to live?

    Science if factual. Linear thinking in a way. A binary process of bioelectronics. But managing a landscape is more than science. Art and philosophy have a place as long as man is about and meddling. So, yes, Matt has a place. I have a place. And the most rigorous of science has a place. Many places. The very laws we use to direct us are more about art and philosophy than they are science. Those laws are the result of a Judeo-Christian morality defining fairness, equality, justice, and putting those values to the results and rules of science. And there will always be areas of doubt, of envy, of greed and that is who we are. What we are. Human. We have to recognize our humanity or all is lost. Forest users and protectionists become some microcosm of the Middle East if we don’t integrate our humanity into the process, the equations, the outcomes. Science is a tool along with divinity studies, philosophy, art, social awareness and desires, history, and legal studies. Those are some of the ingredients that make us who we are and forests what they are. Ma Nature is tweaking every generation, a bit, and we evolve and the plants and animals evolve. A never ending process. An acceptable never ending process.

    • I have often called myself a “forest sculptor”, snipping a little hare and there, with an eye on aesthetics, as well as following the marking prescription. There is a lot to be said about an artist’s perception. As a photographer, I spend a lot of time and effort in composing the best shots I can. There are similarities in perceiving how a stand will look with “those trees” gone. However, in my case, there are diameter limits that mandate the cutting of some trees, regardless of the quality of the tree. When you have to keep large rotting mistletoed white firs while cutting fire-adapted smaller pines, future forest resilience and crown structure are impacted. IMHO, the temporary timbermarkers of today are poorly qualified to determine the future of our forests.

      • LarryH (edited for accuracy)

        Re: “When you have to keep large rotting mistletoed white firs while cutting fire-adapted smaller pines, future forest resilience and crown structure are impacted.”
        —> Just another case of one size fits all when the policy makers don’t understand what they have put in place and don’t trust anyone’s judgement but their own or when they are forced by fear of lawsuit to implement one sized fits all so that the uninformed people looking over their shoulders can tell when they didn’t dot all of their “i’s” and cross all of their “t’s”. However, unfortunate, this is not a case of violating hard science so acquiescence is acceptable in such situations as implied by JTjr.

    • JTjr

      I agree with a lot of what you say but I think that you give science a bit of short shrift. Science sets some absolute boundaries within which the artist must stay or the art will be destroyed and there will be collateral damage arising from negligence / malfeasance. Just as surely as putting new wine into an old wineskin or jumping out of a plane from 5,000′ with nothing on but one’s birthday suit, there are some things that we will pay dearly for if we ignore them.

      Statements that defend the concept of “hands off” in regard to our forests by denying the unchanging hard science of physiology in terms of the cause and effect relationship between population density and population health are doomed to fail in their efforts to preserve our forests and the lives of those who live in and around our forests. Likewise, we have those who deny the irrefutable, unchanging science of combustion that directly links fuel loading to fire severity, all other factors being equal. When we downplay these absolutes and avoid refuting them because we don’t want to squabble with “the strongest personalities at the table”, we are guilty of malpractice and that is definitely not good. The public has little respect for foresters who stick to the unchanging hard science precisely because our timidity in the arena of debate has given the public the perception that “environmentalist” know what they are talking about in all things.

      • Gil: I, in no way, wish to demean science. Certainly science is the driver. But it is also an ingredient, albeit the largest one, in the management or non-management decision. My point is that science is a large assemblage of parts, and it takes a supple mind to put those parts in order to have a comprehensive result. An artist, if you will. Big Picture person. Visionary. Those people exist and I have seen their work all my life in many aspects of our natural resource economy. The point being you can’t have artists when each brush stroke has to be analyzed and decided on by litigation or committee. And that is where we find ourselves today: so afraid of mistakes or someone’s vision that we do nothing, allow nothing, filing forests into a void of benign neglect.

        As far as I have seen to this point, science is used to stop management, not promote it. We talk, discuss, bandy about, how to break out of this legal stranglehold, but I really haven’t seen much progress or improvement. We don’t allow artists, nurture artists or visionaries, people able to put sciences into the equation with humanity and sculpt a forest for all. The law, at this point, disallows our humanity. Man is NOT a part of the forest as I see the results of litigation.

        My outlook is that man has been a part of forests and the drivers of determination as to what forests are or were here, ever since the ice and snow retreated and trees began to occupy the newly exposed soils exposed by global climate change. That was a period that began before and has lasted far longer than written history. Man has been a determinate, there are 7 billion of us, and in a country that can’t keep kids from illegally crossing the border, drug cartels from using wilderness as a grow site, I have serious doubts that over time any landscape can be protected by laws alone. We have to find ways to reduce fuels or have nothing for the preservation effort. That takes an artist, not a lawyer.

        That man has been here for 12,000 years, or more, and survived as a species, a species that modified habitat to provide for their survival, is documented. I really do think we need to embrace our humanity and rid ourselves of the idea that we are inherently evil and incapable of doing “the right thing.” Aesthetics are always mentioned in litigation, in efforts to preserve untouched and unused landscapes. The art is recognized, but it is the art of pre-European man. Their set fires to manage their habitat are the basis species diversity, adaptations, and what we value today. That was their contribution. What will ours be?

  6. JTjr

    Thanks for your detailed and level toned reply – We definitely see a very different picture – Maybe we both can draw closer through a point by point discussion. The following is my attempt to show you the other side to two points that I think we disagree on.

    1) “… An artist, if you will. Big Picture person. Visionary…”
    —> An artist is a trained generalist/specialist with a vision. So I believe that you have made a false dichotomy. A Forester is a generalist and an artist with the long term landscape level vision who has been taught the science necessary to know what basic colors are needed to create each different hue in their painting. That artist/scientific generalist knows enough science to recognize when to call in a color specialist when a different paint base is needed because the ones that they are familiar with aren’t able to create quite the effect that they are looking for and the realization strikes that they are going to have to switch to a mixed medium approach in order to accomplish the vision.
    —> A forester is the only generalist who can look at a forest at the landscape level and ‘see the Big Picture’ and as LarryH said ‘see what it is going to look like in the future under various types of management or no management’. All of this is predicated on the assumption that forestry schools are still turning out foresters trained in the art and broad underlying sciences relevant to forest ecosystems as they were in the two schools that I graduated from in the sixties. The public can and must tell a forester what it wants for its public forests but, in order to get what it wants, the public has to listen to the forester when he says: {if you want all of that, with all of the conflicting desires that you have placed on me, I can only give you that for 10 to 20 years and then it will continually look less like that as each year passes (i.e. the state of our current National Forests). We share the same vision but your lack of knowledge doesn’t realize that there are internal conflicts raised by your restrictions. All things can not be optimized at the same time so your wishes are self defeating in many aspects. Our joint vision requires that you let me manage so that over the long run we come as close as possible to our joint desire for aesthetic and environmental perfection. My priorities will be as follows: Since all species in the forest are dependent on the trees, our first priority will be to insure that over the entirety of the forest landscape we will maintain a relatively consistent acreage in each age class within each forest type appropriate to this environment. This is required so as not to endanger niche species dependent on specific age class by forest type groups. To do that we will have to harvest trees by methods appropriate for successful regeneration. This will require that you accept less than perfect in your desire for perfect uninterrupted viewsheds or you will eventually have your viewsheds interrupted by more barren acreage than necessary as a result of large fires and insect outbreaks resulting from unhealthy forests. Our second priority will be to protect the soils without which forests and the species that depend on them can not exist. The third priority will be to protect the long term health of our watersheds …. and …} That is as good as it gets. As you (JTjr) imply, pretending that there are no tradeoffs and no serious negative consequences to managing a long lived resource with a short term vision will only result in a destroyed vision in the future.

    2) “As far as I have seen to this point, science is used to stop management, not promote it”
    —> We are way off here. What stops management is the tyranny that comes from supposition and the resulting fears that drive us to do something now because the sky is falling and there is no time to make a sound decision. False science is supposition/conjecture/theory by specialists in a narrow scope of the forest ecosystem. Their suppositions such as the failed NSO recovery plan are the results of a politician telling scientists that they have 90 days to come up with a plan (i.e. ?Bill Clinton? = dominant personality at the table). So the scientists sat around and discussed their individual observations and conjured up a consensus theory and built models based on that supposition and then ran scenarios to evaluate and came to a decision. Such SUPPOSITION BY SCIENTISTS IS NOT SCIENCE. It may be partially informed and superior to the supposition of dragging someone in off of the street but it is not science until properly designed experiments confirm the theory and are reproduced by other independent scientists and then they must be validated again operationally over an appropriate time period.
    —> So in the case of the NSO we have ?Eric Forsman? (daddy of the NSO) admitting that out of all of the complexity they finally just decided to focus on habitat tailored to meet the needs of the NSO in the present time. They totally ignored the Forester/scientific generalists who told them that plenty of owls were doing quite well on intensively managed commercial forest lands with lots of edge effect in 40-80 year old stands. They totally ignored the Forester/scientific generalists who told them that even if they staunched the bleeding in the short term they were dooming the NSO to extinction in the long term because by not cutting any old growth they were creating a gap in the age class succession of the forests so that eventually when there was nothing to replace the old growth, the NSO would be wiped out. The biologists/ornitholgists specialists totally ignored the Forester/scientific generalists who had the long term vision. They didn’t use science, they used supposition. How do we know that for sure? Because 25 years latter: a) the NSO population is down by ~40-?50?% and is falling at the rate of ~2.9%?/year, 2) the only segment of the NSO population that has maintained at a stable level are the pairs in and around the intensively managed commercial forest lands with lots of edge effect in 40-80 year old stands, and 3) the PNW has less young growth than ever. To me that is pretty conclusive proof of the fact that their suppositions were and still are not science. As if that isn’t bad enough now the second 30 year $127million recovery plan is ‘I dunno, let’s try this’ which includes shooting a cousin of the NSO which is much more suited to survive over the long term no matter whether global change burns us up or freezes us out.
    —> Branching out from the NSO the ESA guarantees that we will continue to focus on the sub-components of the forest ecosystem regardless of what the detrimental effects are on the key stone species without which the sub-component could not survive. Whats more the litigation’s are based on pure supposition as they use words like “may”, “might”, “could” and etc. The NSO recovery plan failed miserably but the tyranny of the suppositions upon which it was based has accomplished nothing except ruining countless human lives, drastically increasing the acreage lost to catastrophic wildfires and beetle attacks thereby excessive destruction of the forest ecosystems for countless other species. The concrete results disprove the theories which still ignore the contravening facts. The concrete results show that there was no science there in the first place. What we had was ego driven supposition that ignored facts. All of the “sky is falling” fears driving a “no time for science” decision have been proven false as they almost always are. What we got is THE TYRANNY OF SUPPOSITION.

    I find nothing else in your points that is significant enough to warrant further discussion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *