Franklin & Johnson Paper – Northwest Forest Plan

New paper by Jerry F. Franklin & K. Norman Johnson in Biodiversity and Conservation:”Lessons in policy implementation from experiences with the Northwest Forest Plan.”

Abstract: Approximately 20 years ago, the preeminent goal for management of the federal forests of the Pacific Northwest shifted suddenly and permanently from sustained timber harvest to conservation of biodiversity and ecological processes, following a series of court cases over protection of species in decline that were associated with old forests. While old growth harvest has largely ceased, some key species are still in decline and forest management has been restricted more than intended. Creation of openings, even those based on disturbance processes, has been especially difficult. Some lessons from this experience include the difficulty of adaptive management, the importance of ecological foundations for management, and the need for stakeholder collaboration. In addition, it is essential to provide society with a vision of ecologically-based forestry, including field demonstrations, and to communicate this approach and its scientific foundation in the popular media.


  1. That was well put Steve. The thing is, what society sees is a massive deforestation just about everywhere you look. (take a small aircraft for a flight around Oregon) Of course this is private land being clearcut and we pretend that we can’t do anything about that. We can however do something about non-private land deforestation and we have been for the past 20 years. Possibly the “logjam” could be cleared with some brutal laws effecting what the timber companies can do on private land and possibly a revenue stream can established from the export of raw logs (I know, you can’t do that…or can you?), rather than cuts on public land that have nothing to do with restoration but are proposed for county revenue and job creation.

    • Jerry, I don’t see “massive deforestation” on private lands — but areas that have been harvested and replanted, as required by Oregon law. It is “massive REforestation” on private lands.

      • One thing NW forests do not lack is “openings.” Which early-successional associate species are endangered? Clearcutting followed by herbicide application to manage unwanted competition with conifers is still the dominant forestry practice on private land in western Oregon. Created openings with structural legacies is a relatively new experiment that may or may not achieve desired results. Cumulative effects to late-successional associates are significant every time their habitat is destroyed.

        • JL — You wrote that “One thing NW forests do not lack is “openings.””

          Franklin and Johnson say that there are openings, but little “high quality” early seral habitat. Here’s how Franklin put it in a 2011 interview in The Forestry Source:

          “Franklin: One of the important justifications for the regeneration harvesting is to begin again to develop some early-successional ecosystems, because we’re simply not creating those any longer. That condition is disappearing on federal lands. On private lands, the reforestation is so aggressive that it essentially does not allow the development of those early-successional ecosystems, either — ecosystems that are highly diverse, both in terms of plants and animals, and have a lot of habitat specialists.

          “Another reason for these regeneration harvests is to produce some wood, but it’s all done in the context of adopting a new silvicultural system that involves the management of mixed-age, mixed-species stands on longer rotations. The development of early-successional ecosystems is a key part of that larger silvicultural system, and we’ve justified it ecologically on the basis that we have a developmental stage that is no longer being created, that is below the historical range of variability.”

      • Reforestation driven by draconian administrative law and the power of the Oregon Forest Practices Act. West of the Cascade summit, 36 months post harvest (clear cut) to have 185 “free to grow” seedlings planted and without competition from grass and brush. In order to comply, “Oust” or some other herbicide is used to “brown” up the residual vegetation, and then the planting occurs. In some areas, you also have to saturation trap “mountain beavers” to ensure they don’t sever the seedlings and consume them in the first week they are planted. Then there is a second overspray for “release” in the second or third year, to ensure those seedlings are “free to grow.” So as a value to the environment, and species diversity, the opening, the clear cut, the “edge”, is factually there in physical form but in truth, a biological dead zone by design. Not much for rodents, rabbits, deer, elk, ground nesting birds, and the host of disturbance needing critters. Nor is there any diversity of vegetation. The monoculture is there. Great reforestation for the sake of reforestation, but it ain’t gonna feed OR-7 and his pack. Or any others that wander into the Western third of Oregon. One the other hand, the people in the city have the warm fuzzies knowing that they made the big bad timber beast replant asap. Unintended consequences have driven the elk and deer into town, and the cougars are right there with them. The industrial forest ain’t quite what Dumas, Galli, and the other Weyerhaeuser calendar artists would have led us to believe it would be.

      • Ecologically speaking, a tree farm is not a forest. So, technically, “natural forests” have been replaced with agriculture. That is a very significant change in land use, especially if you are a salmon, a spotted owl, a Pacific fisher, pileated woodpecker, goshawk, etc. or if you care about the climate and want to see forests meet their potential in terms of carbon storage.

        • The myth of “natural forests” really should be a non-issue. We have what we have and we need to make decisions using site-specific science to “balance the harms” in an economical fashion. However, some people prefer a one-size-fits-all practice of hope, instead. One could say that the California Indians “farmed” their forests to favor fire-resilient species. Today’s forests are far away from that pre-European Indian-managed Sierra pine forests. The widespread dominance of both pines and bearclover is testament to how widespread their “farming influence” went. I live right in that zone and these forests now feature vast thickets of cedar and white fir understory. Parts of Oregon are the same story, as Bob Z. can explain.

          I can only assume that “natural” means what grows there, uninfluenced by man, (which is impossible, in this country, and maybe even the world).

    • Jerry, I have taken a few plane rides and yes, I saw clearcuts — and farms, roads, shopping centers, subdivisions, etc., on a far larger scale. I invite you to walk with me in several of the clearcuts near my home in rural Oregon — each at a different age after replanting. You might be surprised at how diverse those harvested areas are — both flora and fauna.

  2. The agro-forestry model (harvest it all and replant) remains very popular, and acceptance of it is part of the SAF party line. It’s an easy framework in which to ignore externalities, or at least to rank them below short-term profits. Biodiversity does indeed change following clearcutting, and by some measures clearcuts are “more diverse”, especially if you count invasive weed species and r-selected species in general. Negative effects of clearcutting on in-stream sediment and adverse effects on aquatic wildlife are quite extensively documented, e.g.; The fact that farms, subdivisions etc. also occupy a large portion of the Oregon landscape is hardly relevant, except that it does lend impetus to the need to protect and steward remaining wildlands more effectively. Much of the Cascades looked like the aftermath of World War III when I lived in Oregon a quarter century ago, it’s sad that the forest industry hasn’t done a better job of changing that dynamic.

  3. I don’t get it, Guy. What do you think the position statement should say? All the other reasons are OK except “efficient utilization of commercial timber?” Is that the equivalent of “harvest it all and replant”.. the “agro-forestry model”?
    For the rest of you all who don’t want to read the whole thing, here’s the issue statement (note, I reviewed this as it was going forward but was not among the authors).

    The Society of American Foresters supports the use of well proven silvicultural methods, including clearcutting, to meet diverse forest management objectives, such as efficient utilization of commercial timber and assurance of prompt and successful regeneration following timber harvest or natural disturbances. While not appropriate for every situation, clearcutting is an effective tool to regenerate shade-intolerant tree species, control forest insects and pathogens, improve the productivity of managed forests, and provide early-seral forest habitat that is important for a variety of wildlife species. Oversight by professional foresters and other natural resource specialists and adherence to contemporary sustainable forest management standards can ensure that clearcutting is applied in a manner that addresses environmental, economic, and social concerns

    • hi Sharon, probably it’s too much to expect, but it would be great to see SAF…

      a)… put protection of the resource base (including non-timber resources, including watersheds and wildlife habitat) higher on the list of “forest management objectives” (actually, anywhere on the list would be an improvement). This is basically little more than another “just trust us” fluff piece. “Negative perceptions” about clearcutting are simply dismissed as the “misconceptions” (also “confused” and “outdated”) of an uninformed public, without any effort made to actually address any of those concerns in a factual manner.

      b) …avoid using agriculture as a poster child for responsible environmental management. I know that Dick Powell (below) may not speak for SAF, but it’s important to realize that monoculture agriculture is not necessarily a great role model or one that’s “perfectly acceptable”. Modern intensive monoculture agriculture is unfortunately one of the larger sources of environmental degradation in the world, and a great deal of agricultural research goes into modifying practices to mitigate those harms. That latter effort is one that SAF would do well to embrace, getting away from the just-trust-us-we’re-professionals attitude.

      c) …either make better use of actual science in its position paper, or refrain from falsely representing it. The three citations for “control of diseases” (Clatterbuck, Shepperd, Tainter) are only very peripherally related to the subject. It looks like SAF didn’t really bother to read the literature, and hopes no one will follow up on it (ironically, there’s a pretty good review paper by Hansen and Goheen that might lend a little support to clearcutting for laminated root rot anyway, how about a little more effort SAF folks?) As for “control of insects” by clearcutting, the cited authority doesn’t even address the subject (read it yourself). Where’s the quality control on these position statements?

      That’s all, otherwise it’s fine I guess.

      • Guy, it’s a little confusing for me … is point 1 about a list in the position statement? If so could you quote where it is?

        b. are you talking about Dick’s remarks or the SAF position statement?

        c. In any large volunteer organization, individual things can fall through the cracks due to the process. Checkers may not check for a variety of reasons. I am not going to target any blame, but do appreciate your helpful review. I think there are insects whose populations can be reduced, but if you have a cite it should have the relevant info. I forgot what the plural of “mea culpa” is.. any Latin scholars out there?

        • I think that probably in general, professional society position papers tend to be less nuanced than they might be, maybe because they’re often written “by committee”. Maybe that’s the case here. I’ve seen several (from other societies) that are either more conclusory and/or more vague than the same society would condone in their respective journal.

          Clearcuts, in all their pros and cons, would be a great subject for a review article in Journal of Forestry (has there been one? I’m not aware if so). Maybe limit it to clearcuts in western U.S. forests… or not, but southeastern forests are a whole ‘nother consideration, and tropical forests still another subject.

          It would be good to see a comprehensive article written not just from the silvicultural standpoint, which is important, but also including the many terrestrial and wildlife considerations (both good and bad), watershed quality, pests & pathogens, and social/economic considerations. That would be quite an undertaking, I wonder if JF would consider publishing such a paper?

  4. For those who do not like forestry or any of its scientifically-proven practices, there is only one thing you have to do — quit using wood products! The simple fact is that if there is no demand for wood products, I’d have no reason to harvest a tree – ever. For that matter, I’d have no reason to plant a tree.

    Of course, that means each of us would have to either quit using or find alternatives for toothpaste and toothbrushes, grated Parmesan cheese, cell phones, newspapers/books/magazines, ice cream and milk shakes, medicines, utility poles (electrical & phone), toilet paper, houses, furniture, and a few thousand other common products. As it is, we harvest so little of our forests but demand so much from our forests that we’ve put on the blinders and exported the costs of our consumption. Or, to put it another way, about 40% of our softwood consumption is IMPORTED – primarily from the northern, old-growth forests of Canada. Seems to me, as a matter of federal policy, somewhere in all this is an ethical problem that we’ve chosen to ignore.

    I find it puzzling that agriculture can have monoculture crops, clearcut (oops, I mean harvest) it every year, be virtually devoid of any wildlife and society seems to feel that is perfectly acceptable and makes for beautiful, bucolic landscapes. But, grow a crop with a mix of tree species and other flora and with a variety of wildlife and harvest it every 60-70 years? Horrors, call out the lawyers!

    • Great point, Dick. As a consumer of toilet paper, housing and “ice cream,” I follow your train of thought. And I am concerned about importation of wood productions from countries with lesser environmental standards than we have in the US.

      Globalization of the market is a major barrier to sustainable forestry. Why emphasize watershed and biodiversity values on private timberland in western Oregon when China is buying, and a similar product is available from Russia?

      Oregon has the most relaxed forestry rules in the US, and if a land owner can’t compete in the market, he’s just not competitive. Weakening federal rules, on O&C for example, won’t change that fact.

      Starfire in Cottage Grove, Ore., has a specialty product that’s globally competitive. Can’t beat the tightness of rings on old-growth Doug fir beams.

  5. “In addition, it is essential to provide society with a vision of ecologically-based forestry, including field demonstrations, and to communicate this approach and its scientific foundation in the popular media.”
    I think it is important that Franklin and Johnson are trying to get the idea out that forest management is a good thing.
    Our federal forest laws have resulted in a huge waste of our national forest resources and the impoverishment of the rural communities surrounding our national forests. The Forest Service itself and the BLM has had shed thousands of jobs and from what I read here it is very hard to get a job as a forester.
    Every year enough old growth wood dies and is left to rot in any given ranger district to supply a small sawmill for several years, and after a fire, hundred of years worth of wood is destroyed.

  6. I wonder what private forestry would look like if there were no reforestation requirements. None. And no restrictions on how to manage your land. A couple hundred thousand individual timberland owners, or ten times that number, all doing it their way. That would really produce some diversity of responses as to man’s interventions. As it stands now, the “one size fits all” of standard forestry rules promulgated and administered by the State with the force of law, financial and other penalties, has produced the monoculture look some don’t like. Or is that really the plan, anyway?

    The State, or government, also really determines what forests will look like by tax policy. Now that all the “Bigs” are REITs, and under those IRS rules, we see timberlands more and more going into the hands of insurance companies and pension funds. Or being considered as “development” land. And that makes sense. Western conifer forests on the wet side can produce a crop about every 40 years, and pretty much matches the need of capital growth for either an insurance company or a public employee retirement fund. Growing a forest and a career take about the same number of years. And certainly amenity land near water features has a lot more value than it does as low site timberland. For a one time sale. Then it is a tax paying entity, annually, forever.

    The US has the highest corporate tax rates in the WORLD. We are #1. And our forestry is entirely driven by that fact. Mills are constructed to meet a time demand of efficiency and technological maturity. So a tract of timberland is logged over the time a mill has as an efficient converter before obsolescence and decay take their toll. And then both the timber and the mill are gone. In another third of a century, another crop will near maturation for the earliest interruption in the capitalization schedule, and a mill will be built to use the investment tax credits and depreciation schedules and perhaps the largesse of elected officials to give out tax forgiveness and grants for new construction. “New” jobs, you know. The profits from cutting the timber are capital gains and taxed accordingly. The mills don’t make a profit. All the profit is from the trees which is taxed at the lower capital gains rates. Planting the next crop is a capital expense and the every day research is about how to advance the next cut to take the gain at an earlier date. It’s all about taxes and the next income from the venture. And that mill and that timber supply have a finite life and will be gone sooner than you would want. It is how it works.

    The aesthetics, the biological truths, the watershed values, all are less important than the tax structure and the civil service voters that the mill and timberlands will support over their lives. It is how it works.

    I live in a county that just 20 years ago had 4 sawmills and veneer operations and how has none. We have the big clearcut that was once Willamette Industries’ tree farm, now slicked off like a velvet pool table since Weyerhaeuser bought them to get access to their corporate “culture.” (or was it the conservative, 60 year rotation tree farms, now growing new trees?) REITs can’t have more mills, so of course, Weyco sold the paper operations to IP and closed the mills, all except one they rebuilt and one that still pokes along on small logs and of course, sold a lot of logs to Asia. Boise Cascade became Office Max and now John Hancock has their land. Another pool table now cutting third growth planted in the 1960s and ’70s. Industrial forestry is about tax law, stockholder returns and not any sort of inherent land ethic. Our government won’t allow that. It needs money to finance poverty in order to maintain a voting majority either handing out the dole or from those on the receiving end of it. So the industrial timberlands are cut asap, to serve the tax master and the stock holders of record, who pay the REIT taxes. You can hire calendar art to gloss over the reality. No SAF policy will deter the Congress from squeezing the most taxes out of the most people (corporations are people, too, we know), and the tax laws will determine the path of industrial forestry. Do determine the path of industrial forestry and to a large extent, the fortunes of those who own small timberland acreages. Trees are cut to pay property taxes. Trees are cut to pay college tuitions and medical bills and of course, the tax man as well. “Wilderness” and biology are not what drives private timberland ownership decisions. Those are made by external demands for the means to survive in our economy and to live, no matter how big or small your interests are.

    I remember when Oregon had an ad valorem tax on timber. Property tax. You paid an annual tax on about 30% of the fair market value of the timber 12″ dbh and larger. The State Revenue Dept has a large force of foresters cruising timber every day. So you had to cut trees to pay the tax. Oregon had a lot of self loading log trucks in those days. When the State went to a severance tax on the trees, and a property tax on the land as zoned timberland, there was a lot less demand for self loading log trucks. One man I knew, Wilson Bump, would annually cut any tree that reached the 12″ dbh on his thousand or so acres of land. Reverse thinning. But a rather open forest and lots of deer and other wildlife. When the State went to the severance tax, he quit logging his land altogether. No need.

    So it would appear to me that if you wanted to influence how forests are managed, do it through change in the tax laws. After all, it isn’t how much you get for the timber, but how much of what you get for the timber that you get to keep. The “greedy ones” are governments who want you to cut more and more often. And from that income, (or the Treasury printing presses), comes the money to “manage” the vast expanse of public land in the US that now can’t fund from selling resources for a day, let alone a year.

  7. The US has the highest corporate tax rates in the WORLD. We are #1. And our forestry is entirely driven by that fact.

    John, another very long post based in large part on a major oversimplification. You can look it up most anywhere, and the anti-tax-in-general crowd will spout the same opinion, but looked at closely your statement is inaccurate from an economic perspective. Here’s just one pretty good explanation:

    “Tax deductions — on health insurance, pensions, and investment returns, for example — allow corporations to reduce the pool of taxable profits. So economists often look at what they call the effective tax rate, which experts have told us is just as valid a measurement of corporate tax rates as the statutory rate.

    But whereas the statutory rate is relatively straightforward and uncontroversial, different, reputable organizations have published very different estimates of the effective tax rate that corporations pay.
    The most recent estimate comes from the World Bank and International Finance Commision, which put the United States’ effective rate for 2014 at 27.9 percent. That’s second-highest behind New Zealand among OECD countries and 15th-highest among the 189 countries measured.

    In 2011, the Tax Foundation published a survey of 13 prior estimates of the United States’ effective tax rate from 2005 to 2011. All 13 studies pegged the U.S.’s rate as above average, but none had the U.S. rate first overall. Another 2011 study by the Congressional Research Service put the U.S. effective rate at 27.1 percent, slightly lower than the OECD average of 27.7 percent.”

  8. Guy: my apology for verboseness. If that’s a word. Verbosity? Windy. I am sitting here reading the Sept 20th edition of the Economist. Page 71. Finance and Economics. There is a highlighted story about “tax inversions”, like Burger King’s merger with Tim Horton and moving the corporate offices to Canada, where the statutory tax rate is less than the U.S. statutory tax rate. The Economist reports in this article about corporate tax avoidance: “America taxes profits no matter where they are earned, at a rate of 39%-higher than in any other rich country.” Nothing is said about the “real” tax rate after loopholes and other dodges.

    However, that is about “earned” incomes. Timber is about capital gains tax, which is essentially half the rate of earned income taxes. That is a very different animal and the rate begins at what? After holding the asset a year and selling to capture the gain? six months? So it is a very advantageous tax for securities and less so for real estate and perhaps punishing for timber as you grow it. Time and dollars, with few allowed deductions before you take the gain, drives the actuarial decision process for timberland owners. So the interruption, at the earliest possible date, of the holding period to take the capital gain profit and maximize it by paying the least tax on the accretion of value by both growth of trees and growth in dollars due to inflation is the reality of how business and accountants manage timberlands. Time and inflation reduce the net gain. Our present tax policy will have half the industrial timberlands in yet to be merchantable, sapling forests in perpetuity.

    Those timberlands that are privately owned ( no stock out there being bought and sold) by entities with a desire to capture the rigor and vigor of the growth in the two or more decades after the culmination of increased annual growth, will grow more timber of larger size and have more years of older stand ecologies present and fewer acres in the non merch status as a percent of the whole. Maybe even a thinning entry to gain more growth and per acre production over the harvest rotation. They pay the same taxes, by statute, just less often. Their tax problem is inheritance taxes, due to their carrying significant merchantable timber inventory. If you are cutting earlier, your merch inventory is far less. And so are the inheritance taxes, albeit I guess you can cut the merch and pay the taxes if there are enough trees. And again, the tax man influences the landscape and how many and what age the trees are. In this rich country, at this time.

    The short rotation forestry is well suited to timberland ownership by pension funds and life insurance companies: the harvest rotations match the lifespan of the pensions, the maturity of life insurance policies, both with a regular income stream to manage the timberlands.

    • Imagine how much money could be “made” if the government offered generous tax incentives for establishing and maintaining Endangered Species habitats on their lands. They would jump a the chance to set aside difficult terrain as a tax shelter. Or, if their lands had documented “occupancy”, they could get tax incentives. *half smirk* The quicker way to get more critical habitat for birds is to expand it on private lands. All the suitable nesting habitat on Forest Service lands, in the Sierra Nevada, are already “occupied”.

  9. yep, no argument there John. The main take-home message I remember from Forest Economics class about 37 years ago, is that it’s damned hard to make money on trees, and hard to justify spending much money on TSI (do we still use that term?) when the present net value of the future payoff from those improvements at the end of the rotation is just about zilch.

    Larry, seriously, not a bad idea. It may also tie in with the idea of off-site mitigation (“conservation banking”) which has some problems but may be one of the more viable options in an imperfect world.

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