Northwest Forest Plan successes (Geos)

Under the 2012 Planning Rule, the best available scientific information must be used to inform the assessment, which is then to be used to determine the need to change a forest plan.  The Geos Institute has gotten out ahead of the pack with its ‘assessment.’  I’m most interested in this:

“Scientists involved in the Northwest Forest Plan recognized that even with the Plan’s protective standards it would take at least a century to restore the late-successional (mature and old growth) forest ecosystem reduced by logging to a fraction (<20%) of its historical extent. While it is premature to judge the efficacy of a 100-year plan in just two decades, scientific assessments have shown that it has achieved many of its ecosystem management targets.”

The Planning Rule specifically requires that forest plans “include plan components, including standards or guidelines, to maintain or restore the ecological integrity of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and watersheds in the plan area …”  Ecological integrity requires that ecological characteristics like composition and structure “occur within the natural range of variation.”  With regard to wide-ranging at-risk species (such as spotted owls), the Planning Rule requires “plan components, including standards or guidelines, to maintain or restore ecological conditions within the plan area to contribute to maintaining a viable population of the species within its range.”

Assuming that “<20% of its historical extent” is at least in the ballpark, what is the rationale (and the supporting best available scientific information) for changing forest plans to allow increased levels of logging of late-successional forest ecosystems?  (Has the ‘bare minimum’ changed, or has the science behind how to achieve it?)


  1. Jon, accepting this at face value, if other scientists say that climate change will vastly change things in 100 years, how can they estimate a likelihood of “returning” to conditions that used to exist, no matter what kind of activities are allowed or not allowed? Does this mean we are on an endless do loop of being required by law to do things we know won’t work to achieve the stated outcome?

    As I’ve said before I think scientists need to pick a lane. Either things aren’t changing very much and we can simply manage our way back to the way things were before, or they are changing quite a bit and we don’t know exactly what will happen regardless of managing or not managing.

    If people just want to leave things alone because they think that’s best, well, that’s OK but I don’t think it’s “science.”

    • Some people subscribe to a “Do No Harm (by man)” approach. For some, if the Forest Service is perceived as “doing harm”, even in a short term situation, they will sue, according to their own best scientific “beliefs”. For example, spotted owls versus selective salvage logging, the plaintiffs “believe” that an owls mere presence in a stand of large dead trees means that it “prefers” them (for what?), doesn’t tell us much, scientifically. (I mean, did they take a poll of spotted owls, asking them random questions? *smirk*) Jumping to the conclusion that they NEED snags to even survive would impress the legendary Bob Beamon, a long time record holder in the Long Jump.

      • Larry, these studies compare how much time owls spend in various habitats relative to the availability of each habitat. This is how we know that owls favor old forest (both live and dead) and select against clearcuts and plantations.

        • And everyone knows that there is very little prey in those nesting habitats. We’ve been over this before but you refuse to admit they need both nesting AND foraging habitats. Remember, too, that owls are territorial, and need a system of nests to reproduce year after year. It sounds like you need to brush up on your knowledge about spotted owls. If you sample for spotted owls in foraging habitat which has no nearby nesting habitat, you won’t get any “hits”. Also, wildlife biologists agree that snags do not add much to existing nesting habitats. What owls need from their nesting habitat is cover from the predators flying above. And, of course, they will nest in second growth, which has been documented, too, when the young pair up and have to find brand new nesting habitat. (Remember, they do not share their nesting habitat with other owls!)

    • Sharon, if we reject HRV as a guide, then what shall we replace it with and by what criteria shall we choose a new standard? Assuming we are starting with a fragmented 20% of mature forest maybe we don’t even need a concrete target and we can just agree moving in the direction of more than 20% mature and less fragmented is probably a good idea.

  2. 2nd, that’s a good question.

    1. I don’t think a meaningless or impossible target is worse than no target. Because then we would have to start from scratch and use current information and figure out what we as a society really want. Our environmental laws were born of a day before we know as much as we do about what the world will be like today or may be tomorrow.

    2. You sound as if you think “fragmentation” is one thing. In reality, it’s an abstraction. Habitat for creatures can be fragmented by a community, a road, different veg conditions resulting from a fire. All of these have very different effects.

    To a) different species, probably plus for some minus for others
    b) with different intensity
    c) over different time periods
    d) over different scales

    Abstractions, in my experience, are the ideal mental habitat of ideologues and academics. Academics because then you can study something that doesn’t exist and so have an unparalleled opportunity for discussion, more conferences and more journal articles. Ideologues, because they can decry some abstraction without ever getting into the complex detail of the observable environment, plants, animals, soil water air and so on.

    Now, in some cases folks (I think Steve Wilent spoke of them) think that there’s not enough early successional habitat in some places for some species. As some folks pursue getting more late successional habitat (on the west side, because otherwise it might burn up if left alone), I think we need to do the environmental policy equivalent of the traditional policy question “who wins and who loses”? Which organisms count more than others and how do we balance their needs (and with humans) now and into the unknown climate future? And let’s be open and honest about what are values, and what is the opinion of scientists, and how scientific and other facts found lead to conclusions drawn.

    To me asking these questions makes more sense than saying “if spotted owls are in trouble, we need to stop doing timber harvesting and continue to shoot barred owls.” It’s one species-o-centric. And people can claim all they want that one specific species of owl is critical to the “ecosystem” but I don’t see any evidence to support that claim.

    And I know what current law says, but smarter people than I have suggested that there are tensions and difficulties between the concepts of ESA and what we know about climate change. And as we know in Colorado, when laws don’t work they can be changed.. think I’ll go have a celebratory puff…

  3. Or could we at least agree that moving in the direction of less than 20% of its historical extent is a bad idea? (Note that is 20% of historical, which would be less than 20% of the forest.)

    I agree that climate change could be a part of the question, but only if the projected climate would be one leading to very little late-successional forest. Is that what scientists are saying about the Cascades?

    I think science could convince a decision-maker that the effects of doing nothing are better (that’s not a science judgment) than doing something.

  4. The greatest lost of old growth forests in the last 20 years have been to fires. This threat continues to be the greatest danger to our old growth forests. As long as over half the Forest Service budget is dedicated to fire and fire is seen as important part of the ecosystem restoration will we continue to destroy our old growth forests and turn cool, lush, critical forest habitat into hot, dry, brush fields full of dead snags .
    I think an increase logging is seem as a way to manage and improve on the health and resiliency of our forests. And also importantly, to provide resource for needs of people. We can continue to spend our resources to “manage” by wildfire or try to do our best by the science we have available. This seems like the choice nature has given us.

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