National Forest Management Summary Chart

This is the national version from Mac McConnell of one previously published here for Utah. From Mac:

Once again Congress is debating how to manage our national forests, hopefully it will accomplish more than in the past. The chart that shows the problem that they are being asked to solve.

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51 Comments

  1. This chart looks exclusively at forests with a resource extraction/anthropocentric view and the author makes biased conclusions based on that view. Specifically, forests must be managed to be protected and that such unmanaged forests are more vulnerable to fire. The first is a value judgement, the other is not supported by the scientific evidence.

    The basic message is that scientific studies have consistently found that trees killed by drought and or beetles (drought is what weakens the trees to allow for beetle attack) do NOT increase risk or severity of wildfire.

    The most comprehensive study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded, “the annual area burned in the western United States has not increased in direct response to bark beetle activity.” A 2014 study from the University of Montana stated “weakening or eliminating environmental laws to allow more beetle timber harvest treatments is the wrong choice for advancing forest health in the United States.”

    Here’s some more:

    “Our results suggest that mountain pine beetle outbreaks in Greater Yellowstone may reduce the probability of active crown fire in the short term by thinning lodgepole pine canopies” (Simard et al. 2011).

    “We found no evidence that pre-fire tree mortality influenced fire severity. These results indicate that widespread removal of dead trees may not effectively reduce higher-severity fire in southern California’s conifer forests” (Bond et al. 2009).

    “While research is ongoing and important questions remain unresolved, to date most available evidence indicates that bark beetle outbreaks do not substantially
    increase the risk of active crown fire in lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) and spruce (Picea engelmannii)-
    fir (Abies spp.) forests under most conditions. Instead, active crown fires in these forest types are primarily contingent on dry conditions rather than variations in stand structure, such as those brought about by outbreaks. Preemptive thinning may reduce susceptibility to small outbreaks but is unlikely to reduce susceptibility to large, landscape-scale epidemics (Black et a. 2013).

    You can download these and other papers on the subject from our website here:
    http://www.californiachaparral.org/cforestfires.html

        • And, by zooming in, one can easily see dead tree trunks, devoid of leaves or even side branches. Making my point? Suppress all fires, or let fires all burn? Either way, the result is usually the same – a major conflagration that will take centuries to correct. But, nature is resilient, and many of us will not live to see the same thing happen again. Just wait for the volcanism to start again – that will, no doubt, be blamed on some human endeavors…

          • Jim, the natural fire return interval for the lodgepole pine forests in Yellowstone is on the order of 135-185 years for low elevation forests and 280-310 years for high elevation forests. What happened in Yellowstone in 1988 had nothing to do with the lack of logging. It was a perfectly natural event.

            • Halsey wrote: Jim, the natural fire return interval for the lodgepole pine forests in Yellowstone is on the order of 135-185 years for low elevation forests and 280-310 years for high elevation forests. What happened in Yellowstone in 1988 had nothing to do with the lack of logging. It was a perfectly natural event.

              Then why was it considered “a tragedy”, “a catastrophe”, “unprecedented”? If fire is natural, why do humans not just let their own homes burn to the ground when a fire sweeps through? What will they then use to re-build them? Mud? We – I – did not construct the paradigm to which you refer. I was not around thousands of years ago when people pulled themselves out of the muck and constructed cities of wood and stone. Are we to just let them be destroyed when “nature” does its thing? How is it our problem then when another species “blinks out” because of natural forces – most scientists are unable to “say with certainty” that the extinctions are caused by humans – unless you are willing to accept that every major tribe in North America had to have, for their shamans, a magical condor egg, and robes made from the skins and feathers of same. But, who gets the blame for a species going to extinction for millennia? Europeans their guns. If nature is to take its course, as you seem to be in favor of promoting, then why should we waste lives and resources helping “flood victims”? Or, if you are honest, and admit that humans are PART of the natural order, and we are evolving, that we have a “natural right” to do and use the things we do and use for our survival and futures.

              • Jim, you implied that the lack of logging was responsible for the 1988 fires in Yellowstone. It was not. You claimed that whatever you were implying was a fact. What you implied was an incorrect opinion. That is the issue I was addressing. Let’s stay on topic and not use a wild array of logical fallacies by bringing up what newspaper articles claimed about the fire being a catastrophe (no fire ecologist versed in lodgepole pine forests accepts that by the way), flood victims, Europeans and their guns, and extinctions to derail the discussion.

                So you still think the Yellowstone fires were a result of lack of logging? Evidence for your position would be helpful here.

                • Suppression of fires during the 1950-1990 era should suffice. Do you REALLY think they would have allowed a small fire to grow larger in Yellowstone? I do NOT know if they did or did not fight fires therein. I DO know that they did everything in their power to suppress fires anywhere near the Coastal and Sierra redwoods, until the doug fir and other plants invaded the lower limbs of the redwoods, and the danger of a conflagration increased to a ridiculous level that even a moron could see coming. THAT is what I was addressing. Can YOU prove that fire suppression in Yellowstone did NOT contribute (I do not say “cause”) the massive destruction there? Please – if you can – cite YOUR sources.

                  • Jim, we are not talking about the Sierra Nevada where fire suppression has indeed caused unnatural amount of vegetation accumulation in SOME places. Yellowstone is a whole different matter. Again, what happened in Yellowstone in 1988 had nothing to due with past fire suppression as you insist.

                    1. Here’s the research that describes the historical fire regime in Yellowstone:
                    Schoennagel, T., M.G. Turner, and W.H. Romme. 2003. The influence of fire interval and serotiny on postfire lodgepole pine density in Yellowstone National Park. Ecology 84 (11): 2967-2978.

                    2. And (with summary):
                    Millspaugh, S.H., C. Whitlock, and P.J. Bartlein. 2003. Variations in fire frequency and climate over the past 17,000 years in central Yellowstone National Park. Geology 28(3): 211-114.

                    Summary: The record indicates that fire frequency was moderate (4 fires/1000 yr) during the late glacial period, reached highest values in the early Holocene (>10 fires/1000 yr), and decreased after 7000 calendar yr B.P. The present fire regime (2–3 fires/1000 yr) was established in the past 2000 yr.

                    3. And lastly, about the minimal impact of past fire suppression (plus a summary below):
                    Turner, M.G., W.H. Romme, and D.B. Tinker. Surprises and lessons from the 1988 Yellowstone fires. Frontiers in Ecological Environment 1(7): 351-358

                    • Many northern conifer forests such as those in Yellowstone National Park are characterized by natural stand-replacing fires that are infrequent but severe
                    • Climate is the primary driver of stand-replacing fire regimes, while variation in fuels is less important
                    • Disturbances of this type and magnitude may influence plant population structure, genetics, and evolution
                    • Spatial heterogeneity resulting from this type of fire is the rule, not the exception
                    • Fires and fire regimes are not all the same, and a “one size fits all” approach to wildfire management is likely to be misguided

                    If you do not have access to these papers, I will be glad to provide them.

                • You have turned my general supposition about suppression of fires leading to some major conflagrations, first into an “implication” of what happened in Yellowstone in 1988 (above), and then (below) into a “false opinion”. An opinion is neither true nor false – facts are what we base our opinions. I NEVER outright SAID (and could barely be suggested to have “implied”) that what happened in Yellowstone WAS due to fires being suppressed therein. You twisted what I said, and then attacked what you say I said. The point I DID mean to imply was that managers of Yellowstone would not have let a fire grow if they could help it. The “let burn” policy had nothing to do with the natural cycle to which you refer – but, you can no more “prove” that that fire was part of that cycle than I can “prove” that unnecessarily strict fire suppression INSIDE national parks was to “blame”.

    • Richard…I agree with Monte since I too use the national forests for recreational use. Including hunting grouse and other species. However, what has concerned me the most with the issue of usage, which Monte made mention of, is why do the preservationist have more rights to our national forests, and how they are managed, than all other groups? Such as hunters, recreational users, loggers (jobs!!!), and more.

      Without early successional habitat (regardless if burned or harvested), many species, including song birds such as the Golden-Winged Warbler, are coming close to extinction. From the USFS Web site – ” We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announce a 90-day finding on a petition to list the goldenwinged warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). Based on our review, we find that the petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that listing the golden-winged warbler may be warranted.

    • Yes, the RE is a value judgement: utilizing natural resources for human benefit is good. That is a realistic outlook and a valid value to maintain.

      Your statements and the quotes you offer to counter the ideas that forests need to be “managed to be protected and that such unmanaged forests are more vulnerable to fire” are just poppycock. Anyone with eyes in their head can walk around a forest where the mortality is high and see the increased fuel loads. And anyone with eyes in their head can walk around a recent forest fire and see where it burned most intensely.

      For you to claim the chart is biased, but then to quote such “scientific studies” as unbiased is laughable. Those of us who actually understand forestry from you he ground-level and have managed timber land see right through these idiotic academic lies. Your agenda is a boring scam to lock up resources that will inevitably lead to most of our forests being burned over.

      • Nick, I would counter that a lot of eyes in heads see poppycock due to the jaded mental constructs behind them. This is one reason I prefer to work with kids.

        The tendency for a significant number of the commenters here to engage in deflecting, ad hominem attacks is quite amazing. Why people think such things contribute to logical arguments is a testament to the absence of philosophical education in our schools.

  2. What a terrific chart; one that pretty much says it all.

    I’ve said it before and will say it again — no piece of land is capable of adding that much annual growth year after year without eventually exceeding its carrying capacity. The resources necessary to support life are finite and the amount of life those resources can support is also finite. It follows, therefore, that, once its carrying capacity has been reached and exceeded, the forest will decline. It will become susceptible to drought, disease, insects, and fire. I suspect that, in very large part, explains the state of federal forests (and wildfire) all across the American West.

    This should come as no surprise to anyone because the biology is pretty basic. It also explains why the rancher does not graze a 1000 steers on 1000 acres of sagebrush; why the wildlife biologist does not try to sustain a deer herd in excess of available forage; why the farmer does not plant corn two inches apart and does not let weeds take over the field; or why the backyard gardener does not plant tomatoes two inches apart and under the shade of the apple tree. The biology is simple though many seem to feel this biology does not apply to a forest.

    The picture is essentially identical here in Oregon. Our federal forests are harvesting something on the order of 7% of its annual growth while 29% is lost to mortality and 64% is added as live, green growing stock. If all that added growing stock was harvested, that could add over 20,000 jobs in Oregon!!!

    And, again, I’ll say what I’ve said many times. I get that people like big, old trees, wildlife, clean water, recreation, beautiful vistas, etc. I also get that people are great consumers of wood. To “save” our forests without a comparable reduction in our consumption of wood means we merely put on the blinders as we import, for example, from the old-growth, boreal forests of Canada. These Canadian forests may take 30 or 50 acres to replace a single acre of our highly productive Doug-fir forests. All this begs the question: isn’t there an ethical question in all this that we’re ignoring when we stick our heads in the sand?

    Thus, why couldn’t the Douglas-fir region of western Oregon and Washington plan to grow Doug-fir on long rotations, one that provides big, old trees, wildlife, clean water, recreation, beautiful vistas, etc.

    I think it entirely reasonable, for an example, we plan to grow our federal Douglas-fir dominated forests of western Oregon and western Washington to 200 years. For the first 100 years, manage the daylights out of it (plant, spray, pre-commercial thin, commercial thin) so that, at age 100, it will quickly acquire old-growth characteristics. For the second 100 years, just leave it alone and let it be old-growth. Then, at age 200, harvest it.

    Just think, at some point when the plan is fully implemented, half the federally forested landscape would be old-growth! That is certainly far more than currently exists and probably more than has ever existed. [Even though we are “saving” our old forests, I suspect we are burning these forests faster than we are growing them.]

    For the first century, it is providing jobs, taxes, a dependable flow of raw materials to the mills, and habitat for those species of flora and fauna requiring early seral stages. During the second century, it is providing mature forest habitats for those species of flora and fauna requiring older forests. Further, during both centuries, it is providing beautiful vistas, clean water, recreation, etc. Then, at age 200, it is providing a dependable flow of high quality raw materials to the mills as well as jobs, taxes, etc.

    While this seems entirely reasonable from economic, environmental, and social standpoints, I can pretty much guarantee that it will fail. At age 200 when it is time to harvest, there will such an outcry by those opposed to harvesting timber that no politician will let the plan go forward. That also means our elected officials have neither the wisdom nor the political courage to make and stick with the plan.

    • Dick, you wrote, “It follows, therefore, that, once its carrying capacity has been reached and exceeded, the forest will decline.”

      What specifically is in decline? This was the same rationale used to log the old-growth wall of wood that once existed in the Olympic National Forest.

      • Also might mention the “smoky the bear” syndrome, in which younger trees were allowed, through active, purposeful suppression of natural fires, to grow their crowns into the lower layers of the “old growth” redwoods, thus subjecting the growing parts of the redwoods (above ground) to fires that had not inundated the upper parts of those trees for possibly (?) hundreds of years. Conflagrations result from such “best management practices”. Then, when they were discovering that suppression was NOT the best practice, government forest managers switched over to “let burn” management as the “best practice”. The results of decades of fire suppression in many places were out of control fires – some even euphemistically called “controlled burns”, which is still practiced today in areas where timbering is “not allowed” for various – mostly political, and NOT scientific – reasons, or what we could call “rationales”.

        • Jim, as I wrote to Dick, fire suppression, the continual whipping boy for various interests, should be seen instead as a reasonable government action in response to decades of selfish exploitation by private interests – over-grazing and over-logging, plus plantation development – that created the environment in which today’s forests have grown.

          We don’t hear this perspective much because of the current trend to blame the government for everything. But I think it is time to stop blaming firefighters for doing what we ask them to do – protect lives and property, in addition the economic interests of lumber companies.

          • Mac – my comments were and are not meant to denigrate those we ask to step into harm’s way, but rather to focus on what I know – from MY perspective of 40+ years, related to private forest owners who DO “manage plantations” that benefit both the “timber industries” (plural) and “other organisms” while (and if) those forest thrive. We cannot suggest people re-train just to satisfy some NGO or other who are NOT “REAL” stake-holders – especially who do not pay taxes on private plantation forests, for example. But the graph is important. Once “net growth” crosses “mortality”, with harvest remaining the same, then there is and will be problems for the “other organisms” that rely on those forests. Here in MT, some “birders” like the dead trees – it encourages black-backed and 3-toed woodpeckers. But, if there is not re-generation of the forests due to the myriad of factors mentioned by the graph, at what point does the forest cease to exist at all? Remember also, that many deciduous forests have followed reservoir constructions, which benefit “other organisms” while ostensibly being “destructive”. No one has answered what the “destructive” factor(s) is/are, other than fisheries, many of which are augmented by FWP hatcheries. Bottom line, natural processes run from grassland to pine woods to deciduous woods, then fires bring it back. What is “wrong” with being part of that process for the good of humans?

          • How, exactly, does “over-grazing and over-logging” lead to conflagrations such as the one at Yellowstone in 1988? The conditions [natural cycles, human-induced cycles] seem to be mutually exclusive, and not necessarily of equal importance nor even of comparability as to their outcomes. You are using humans and grazing and logging as the justification for YOUR paradigm that we humans have screwed up (impliedly) “everything”, therefore, we need to back off. But, then you go on (below comments) to justify “government actions” YOU deem to be appropriate, simultaneously “implying” or “inferring” that those who may disagree with you are “wrongly opinionated”. Also, thanks for the links and citations on fire management. They should come in handy. But, scientific studies, often of short term geologically, may or may not be useful to explain the myriad of OTHER things that could cause problems in the environments.

        • Jim, the Olympic National Forest/National Park provides the classic example of this “log-decadant-old-growth” perspective. Up until at least 2000, the USFS had displays and interpretive material (at the joint NPS/USFS visitor center) that informed visitors that,

          “A mature stand of timber is largely stagnant. Some liken it to a desert. Decay and death of individual trees diminish what’s there. Nothing much happens until management begins.”

          During the late 1980’s, corruption of Olympic National Forest officials was front page news as they looked the other way (and worse) while logging companies illegally cut old-growth trees in both the national forest and the national park.

          When it’s about money, people settle to their lowest forms.

  3. Forest health. — Any organism that does not get sufficient nutrients, water, air, or energy to meet its needs is simply not going to be able to maintain the vigor it needs to withstand stress from drought, insects, or disease. We see that with malnourished people all over the globe. We see that, whenever a deer herd is too large for the available forage on its range, it is prone to starvation and disease. We see that when people (tragically) have horses locked in a pasture with mud up to their bellies and too little feed. A tree is no different.

    When I was in school during the 60’s, I recall that the best scientists, economists, etc. pushed to log the old-growth as fast as possible. The thinking was that this forest was in decline and it would be better to convert that forest into a thrifty, fast-growing, young forest. Keep in mind, that was national policy. In hindsight, of course, that may/may not have been the best policy but it was deemed the best policy of that time.

    It might also be that the population of the US was growing rapidly (think of the baby boom and the rise of suburbia all across the US) and there was a huge demand for wood. Up to then, wood came mostly from private lands but they had not yet regrown to a marketable size/age and the nation had to turn to its national forests to meet its demand for wood.

    • Agreed, Dick, that populations of individual organisms can indeed exceed the environment’s carrying capacity to support them. However, this is not exactly applicable to entire ecosystems. The carrying capacity concept generally applies to organisms within a system, not the system itself.

      You can certainly have ecosystems that have been compromised by human activity that reduce carrying capacities of certain organisms (e.g. when shrublands are type-converted to non-native grasslands or forests converted to plantations), but there is no evidence I am aware of that has shown logging old-growth forests, salvage logging, or thinning projects in general increase the overall biodiversity and/or carrying capacity of the normal host of forest organisms in national forest lands.

      Now if you are applying “carry capacity” from an economic stand point, yes, we can definitely increase the number of trees (to cut) by forestry practices, and we did that in the past as you mention, but we are paying for those poor, short-term economically-driven decisions today.

      Fire suppression, while certainly having an impact on forest structure, is better seen as a reasonable government action in response to decades of selfish exploitation by private interests – over-grazing and over-logging, plus plantation development – that created the environment in which today’s forests have grown. Of course we don’t hear this much because of the current trend to blame the government for everything.

  4. Richard, Thank you for your comment, but I must point out the text of the chart does not claim that bark beetle mortality increases fire severity. Read again the 2nd sentence and take a good look at the mortality trend lines.. The fact is that mortality has tripled and the causes are drought, fire, insects, and disease. it is also a fact that the forests are unmanaged, aging and overdense (exceeding the land’s carrying capacity as Dick has pointed out).

    I confess that I call myself an antroprocentrist with ecocentric leanings. why do I have my biased view that forests should be managed? Because I believe that people are important. Read the last sentence of the chart’s text. Now read it again and tell us what you think,

    • Mac, agreed, the chart doesn’t specifically mention beetles. I should have provided a more focused response. I think my comment was sparked by the general message of the chart and my continual efforts to counter all the hand waving here in California that dead trees are creating a disaster waiting to happen. Phrases like over-dense, aging timberlands push a number of buttons in my mind.

      Your rationale for why forests should be managed is really the main point and one I think we’ve discussed here before – human need vs. the need of other organisms to have a sustainable, healthy environment. These differences in opinion are the foundation for most debates regarding nature. I believe, however, that we are moving away from a solely human-based perspective, and that those who traditionally promote natural resource use will honestly consider the value of other life forms as part of the decision making process. I acknowledge the need for wood. The need for seeing forests as living ecosystems rather than solely as places for resource extraction needs to be acknowledged as well, by all… without the popular ad hominem attacks, labeling, and pseudo-science that seems to permeate much of the dialogue.

      Your rationale and informed comments are very helpful. And I understand the issue you are addressing in the last sentence. For me though, the “jobs” issue is really a non-starter because it places human desires over all others. Jobs are continually used to justify a wide array of environmentally destructive projects by companies who care little for their workers. Jobs are important, but they need to be on the list of considerations, not the primary rationale for action. I am sorry the resident populations in lumber towns are depressed. But we are a dynamic species and moving to find work, or learning to skills for the same, are part of a healthy (and pragmatic) people. To protect industries that damage the environment or no longer serve our long-term goals is just not a reasonable way forward if we want to persist on this planet.

  5. As Mac suggests and looking further at that last sentence:

    Oregon does have an income tax with a portion going to local school districts. The counties and other local entities rely almost entirely on property taxes. Last year, my property taxes on my little 2 ac. homesite were $3930 with the monies going to:
    51% school district
    5% community college
    2% education service district
    24% county government
    3% library
    16% rural fire district

    If federal lands, besides managing the forest to keep it within its carrying capacity, were to produce property taxes, imagine what an effect it would have. The Siuslaw National Forest has 4% of Benton County with the BLM (O&C lands) having another 12%. That leaves 16% of the county producing essentially nothing to support local governments/services while the managing agency and its employees certainly use public roads and other services.

    [Benton County, besides being one of the smallest counties in Oregon, is roughly half the size of Rhode Island! Further, it has a smaller proportion of federal lands than does other Oregon counties.]

    Private forests, on the other hand, do produce property taxes. In addition to property taxes, a severance tax is paid (something on the order of 6-7%) on harvested timber. This supports forestry research among other things.

    Yes, forests must be managed and they must take into account human reliance on the forests for the many goods and services it is capable of providing AS WELL AS social and environmental factors.

  6. The obsession with comparing growth and mortality is misplaced.

    These charts tend to look at the forest in terms of board feet instead of ecosystems. I wonder what it would look like when these sustainability curves are presented in terms of primary productivity, or late successional habitat, or trout populations.

    There is no need to demonize mortality. It merely represents ecosystem change – from one kind of habitat to another.

    If you take the chart back far enough, you will find that the FS removed more biomass from the forest than it grew. In a natural forest mortality will tend to be in balance with growth (over long timescales). It is therefore completely unsurprising that a period of excessive mortality (via chainsaws) is followed by a period of regrowth. We are now in a period of regrowth and recovery. We are rebuilding late successional habitat, rebuilding carbon stores, rebuilding snag populations, rebuilding watershed integrity, etc.

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  8. May I clarify one point? The F.S. has never removed more biomass from the national forests than it grew. Overcutting was done prior to the establishment of the N.F.s. The record (http://www.fs.fed.us/forestmanagement/products/sold-harvest/index.shtml) shows that FS harvest started with zero cut in 1905 and increased steadily to 1950 . As the chart shows, the high point of timber extraction by the F.S. was in the 1980s when that agency harvested about 50% of the growth. It is a fact that the F.S., perhaps unwisely, cut large areas of old growth. It is a myth that the national forests are (were) over-harvested by the Forest Service.

    2ndLaw is correct in saying that over time, in a natural (unmanaged) forest ecosystem, growth equals mortality. The same is true In a well-managed forest. The difference is that, in a managed forest, some portion of the anticipated mortality is used to satisfy material human needs. In the best of all worlds, unharvested areas and uncut volume (mortality) would meet intangible or non-human needs while the harvested areas and cut volume would meet human needs. The concept is called multiple use with sustained yield.

    It would appear that the real-life issue is “What percentage of the gross annual growth on unreserved timberlands on our national forests should be used to meet the material needs of the nation’s citizens?” The view of some seems to be that none of 6,444 million cubic feet of timber grown annually on unreserved timberlands should be used to meet material human needs.

    As it is not possible to objectively compare tangibles with intangibles, may I suggest that an equitable solution to this dilemma would be to allocate 50% of the growth on available lands to meet tangible needs (e.g. renewable energy, timber products) while protecting water resources. The other 50% would satisfy non-tangible human wants (spiritual renewal , self- actualization, esthetics ) and non-human requirements (late succession forests, riparian zones, refugia) .

    Currently, the actual percentage of timber growth used to satisfy material human needs is about 7% nationwide, with 6% in the west and 10% in the east.

    In considering the allocation of growth, recall that 100% of the timber growth on 36.2 million acres of wilderness plus ~ 7 million acres of primitive areas, monuments, volcanic monuments, wild and scenic rivers, and historic, botanical and scenic areas , all totaling ~23% of the National Forest System, is already dedicated to non-material uses. (www.fs.fed.us/land/…/LAR2011_Book_A5.p..)

    Any thoughts as to what the proper distribution percentage might be?

    • Regarding your last question, I was hired to help “monitor spring bird arrivals” (in March) of an area that the Los Padres NF wished to “prescribe burn”. Their “ideal” would have been to burn 60 or so percent, but due to the damp, wet spring, they were only able – with many torchings from the air – to attain 40 percent, in patches large enough to act as refugia. In this particular area, however, timber was not the issue, but the 40-year cycle of explosive NATURAL wildfires was (and still is), so they were able to lessen that by a bit. Wildlife adapt. Just as some think humans ought to for the same reason(s). Well, humans are capable of “planning” a bit more rigorously than a Sage sparrow or flycatcher. The point is, however, that where timber products are concerned, and left to rot on the stump until they become tinder for a single lightning strike and an explosion – like some we’ve seen in the NW in the past several summers – well, are we supposed to just let that potential carbon storage go to waste as smoke and smog, or should it not be “wisely used” for the benefits of both humans and other organisms, including the health of our waterways – instead of letting them silt up with soot and other poisonous-to-fish material, IF we can do things (plural) to alleviate it? The chart, again, is instructive in what has been “policy”, and it is left to us to interpret what the future may mean, if the trends continue.

      • Jim, we are again confronting two opposing paradigms. You believe anything dead and laying on the ground is worthless, rotting stuff that only serves to fuel wildfires. The other paradigm is that this material provides valuable habitat and contributes to the natural fire cycle processes which the first paradigm sees only as destructive (i.e. loss of timber for lumber), or as you refer to several times as “explosive.”

        The burning on the LP that you mentioned during the wet session is extremely destructive of the chaparral ecosystem.

        Natural environments are more than just fuel.

        • No, Richard, you mistake what I say. I am not an ignoramus when it comes to what decaying wood provides for the “environment”. I am appalled at the lack of concern for what humans have come to require in order to survive, however. What are we supposed to do? Go back to nakedness, caves, and if we can, a small fire to keep us warm? No other purpose to our lives but hand to mouth the grubs we can find in the duff that rots under a forest or in a field? The “explosive” fires to which I referred once burned into Goleta and Santa Barbara, not due to nature, but an arsonist. I was there and could not get home with my children, as we coughed our night away at their grand-parents’ home. Though later than March, it was the EFFECT of not managing things, as you seem (am I wrong?) to oppose, using, in treed forests, what have/had become “normal” means of making a living for thousands upon thousands, but, here in Montana, has dwindled to a few hundreds, meanwhile the explosion of coffee-swilling, cell-phone twitterers who produce NOTHING, but suck energies from the grids WE pay for…. You seem, still, to be advocating that we not use anything “of nature” that is available, instead relying on what?

          • “… coffee-swilling, cell-phone twitterers who produce NOTHING, but suck energies from the grids WE pay for… ”

            Really? I think I know a few of those folks, having done a stint in Hollywood. They’ve produced some pretty good movies. Probably some you have enjoyed.

        • Absolutely to your last point – Natural environments are more than just fuel. How, then, do you propose lessening the destructive conflagrations that UNCONTROLLED wildfires wreak, with all the CO2 and CarbonMonoxide that they spew into our air? Just let it burn? So, if a wildfire comes at your home, you will stand aside and let it burn? The burning during the END of the wet season, mandated by the Migratory Bird Treaty of sometime a century ago, was to PREVENT the killing of nests and nestlings during the breeding season, the killing of mule deer and other mammals during their nursery periods, and the lessening of the likelihood that the Paint Fire would occur again in Santa Barbara or its environs. EVEN with that kind of management, which you seem to decry – but which is extolled by and promoted by environmentalists and conservatives alike – there have been two major fires that destroyed both human and wild habitats since that time (about 1990). So, tell me what I am supposed to say to satisfy YOU that I know of what I talk? Remember, I lived there! And I watched helplessly as over 300 homes were incinerated.

          • Jim, I am having a difficult time following the logic of some of your points, but to address a few in this comment:

            1. We’ve never been able to control wildfires. Not sure why you think we can. We can do a pretty good job helping get people out of the way, but for the most part, wildfires go out when they want to go out.

            2. Again, burning in the cool season usually only leads to an ecological disaster in native shrublands. I’m not sure what environmentalists you know who support doing such things, but I don’t know any. They may have in the past, but all the ones I work with have caught up with the current research that indicates such burns do not reflect ecologically sound land management practice. You can read some of the research here:
            http://www.californiachaparral.org/threatstochaparral/dprescribedfire.html
            Once you have read some of the papers there, let’s revisit this topic.

            3. Regarding the fires in the Santa Barbara area, each has its own story. Yes, they burned a lot of homes, but the homes burned because they were flammable and positioned in high risk areas. We’ve learned not to build on earthquake faults and we are not foolish enough to think we can stop the earth from shaking. We are beginning to understand we need to view wildfires the same way. By the way, did you know about half of the acreage burned in the Zaca Fire was the result of backfires?

            4. Not that it matters Jim, but my family has lived in SB since the early 1950’s. We’ve experienced all these fires you mention. However, having lived there in itself does not give me any special knowledge about how we should deal with wildfire risk.

        • I refer ONLY to “explosive” fires as those that “could” (not necessarily would) “not” have occurred if the piles of dead material – such as is all over the ground in NW Montana from Libby to Kalispell – were cut over – even lightly, with sales of dead for firewood and other uses. But, no. The leftists want it all to sit there, and then they “pray” like atheists that it will not burn THEIR homes should it ignite in a thunderstorm, crying mightily that some air drops of CHEMICALS and parachutists will come in and SAVE their personal HOMES. Only caring when it affects them personally. Explosive is a word that fits what happens to a dried out, decadent forest, when it is hit by lightning, or some stupid forest managers who ignite same during a dry, windy spell (the latter, thankfully, not too often). But I did see the effects of the latter, when in 1985, the USFS did a prescribed burn next to a state-listed endangered bird (prior to Federal listing) in April, and the wind shifted 90 degrees and the fire blew through the bird’s habitat, destroying a quarter of the territories I’d demarked in the previous half decade.

  9. Mac, this is an excellent start of an important conversation. I do not have the expertise to make a judgement on what the % should be, but I really wish the USFS would get this kind of conversation started rather than dealing with forest issues one project at at time.

    Multiple Species Conservation Plans have tried to do this kind of thing with various levels of success. A national effort to examine what we have and where we (including those of us who speak for the intrinsic value of other life forms) want to go makes so much sense.

  10. The only question I have in regard to Mac’s comments, facts, and figures is in regard to his suggestion that as a potential solution to the issue of preservation vs. management of the Forest would be to allocate 50% of the acreage to each. I saw no mention in any of this rhetoric, of the fact that the Nation already has roughly equivalent acreage in established National Parks that we have in the National Forest system. When you add the total acres of Wilderness already established on the National Forests to the existing area of National Parks, I feel that a 50/50 breakdown on National Forests is unfairly favoring preservation orientation. I’m in total agreement with the rest of Mac’s assessment.
    Why shouldn’t we harvest timber on the majority of the acreage on National Forests? It’s a winning situation for everyone except the small minority of the public who only value the experience of exploring “untrammeled wilderness”. These people have a right to such use. That’s what Multiple Use is all about, however that doesn’t mean they have a right to control the majority of public land!
    The fact that counties receive 25% of all funds generated by timber sales on National Forests can be a real boon to the economy of rural areas, while areas such as Wilderness, Scenic, and other non-managed areas generate no funds for the locals. In years past, when harvesting was a significant activity, the money generated also covered as much as half the overall management activities by the Forest Service. There was a period in which the vast majority of wildlife and fishery habitat projects on Appalachian National Forests were implemented utilizing these funds.
    I saw no mention of the value of timber harvesting for wildlife. Currently the lack of early successional wildlife habitat created through regeneration type harvesting is the primary limiting factor for both game and non-game wildlife on some Forests , such as in the Appalachians. Biologists commonly state that at least 5-10% of Forest acreage should be maintained in an early successional forest stage (0-10 year age class as defined by the Forest Service). Currently, some Appalachian Forests contain only a tiny fraction of one percent of their acreage in such a stage. I doubt that any exceed one per cent.
    Research has shown that timber harvesting can be implemented with no significant effect on lowering water quality or adversely affecting fish and other aquatic communities. This was demonstrated during the 70’s and 80’s at the peak of harvesting on the National Forests.
    The Midwestern States of Minnesota, Wisconsin , and Michigan are excellent examples of what intensive management can accomplish. Aspen management on the National Forests in those States has basically created a recreational industry of hunting for deer and ruffed grouse. The astronomically higher populations of those two species on those Forests is a direct result of aspen management, resulting in a mass migration of hunters from other States during the fall period. As a frustrated Appalachian grouse hunter, like the majority of southern grouse hunters, I drive 1000 plus miles one way (sometime two separate trips) to experience quality hunting in these States. This was not necessary during high timber harvesting years on Appalachian Forests. Wildlife populations on Appalachian Forests during those years were excellent, providing satisfactory hunting locally, which is not the case currently due to the lack of timber harvesting.

    • Monte, as our country has grown and the culture has changed, there has been a move away from many of the activities that used to common. Hunting is one, logging is another. As urban centers grow, so do the demographics, and as a consequence, the politics. Support is fading for trapping, hunting, and resource extraction that damages the landscapes urban people love. It is not being driven by a minority of the population as you suggest, but by a growing majority. Hence, we see new laws passed at state and local levels that defer to the intrinsic rights of other species. This is certainly the case in California, which is usually a barometer for the rest of the country.

      We need more national parks and wilderness areas for a growing public, not less.

      I understand the distress you are expressing, but the notion that we need to manage nature to improve the ecology, other than repairing damage we have done, is just not supported by the evidence. The North American continent did quite well without us. Preserving what slivers of wilderness exist and allowing nature to grow the forests back to the magnificence we destroyed is not a selfish endeavor. It is the right thing to do.

      The need to create hunting parks by managing aspen is a value call and one that is not consistent with the growing awareness that all life forms have a right to exist in a natural habitat, unconstrained by guns, logging trucks, and resorts. It doesn’t matter that there’s a policy called “multiple use.” Many of us see that policy as wrong headed and in need of change in favor of preservation. I know this is not a change you agree with, but if trends continue, I think it is reasonable to assume that it will eventually sweep the country. It aligns with other changes in society, such as inclusiveness and equal rights, issues that are distressing to those who don’t like to share their world with people different from them.

      At the moment, we need timber for construction and we need to hunt prey species because we’ve screwed up the predator/prey equation. But my hope is eventually we will do away with the killing of wild animals for sport and see national forests for what they are – rich habitats that need to be protected and preserved for all of us, including non-human animals, not merely sources of economic gain for the few.

      • Richard, Good to have have a “Deep Ecologist” among the readers. While considered impractical extremists by some, deep greens serve the useful purpose of reminding us that we humans have indeed done a terrible job of managing (can I use that word?) our world. As I read your comment, your view that “the best management is no management” but you do see the need, at the moment, to cut timber for construction. That being the case, what’s your opinion as to percentage of the growth of national forest timber should be harvested, at the moment, to meet material human needs?.

  11. Richard Halsey, you wrote: “burning in the cool season usually only leads to an ecological disaster in native shrublands. I’m not sure what environmentalists you know who support doing such things, but I don’t know any.” I don’t “know” any “environmentalists” such as you describe. I do know what makes sense – burning during dry seasons can lead to disasters. I guess you never contacted any USFS office to learn their logic – you might try the Los Padres National Forest Service (USDA) in Goleta California. That is where I learned that they could NOT do controlled burns in the “hot” or “dry” seasons. YOU should do some research. See what the MBTA “mandates” that NOT be done during the HOT DRY seasons in southern California chaparral and other ecosystems. Here’s their phone number: 1 (805) 968-6640 – they might be able to help you learn something about the USFS and LPNF specific policies on burning. I know I learned a lot in my 30+ years working association with them.

    • Jim, once you have read the research I posted, we can continue this discussion.

      Of course the USFS doesn’t want to do prescribed burns during the hot, dry season for the reasons you cite. But this has nothing to do with the chaparral’s natural fire regime and how the system reacts to unnatural, prescribed burns.

  12. I especially like the term “deep green” as a descriptor of those who think the rest of us, who live in the real world, are somehow evil. Where do you grow YOUR food? What foods do you eat? How do you heat your homes? – all these are directed at WV (Mac) McConnell who – with we can but assume are his vegan friends – seems to think those of us who actually live IN the world are somehow “invaders” because we use our evolutionarily developed carnassial and canine teeth for ripping apart meat, and learned to use fire to burn wood for heat, and plow the land to grow roots and herbs for veggies – that somehow WE are the destroyers of life. Sad how this site portrays itself, and then denigrates those who just want to be part of LIFE, instead of sucking starbuck coffee and surviving on arugula…

    • Jim, again, let’s cut the ad hominems. They do not serve your arguments. They only detract from the issue being discussed.

      And please, cite ONE quote that came from me that “denigrates” those who just want to be part of life, whatever that means.

      For fear of engaging in exactly what I am accusing you of doing, the kind of “us vs. them” attitude you are exhibiting with your ridicule of people you have never met is symptomatic of exactly the kind of uncompromising poison that is infecting our political discourse today. Clean it up, or this discussion (as the one with Larry) will end here.

    • FWIW: I don’t “suck Starbuck coffee”…because, well, it sucks. But I do like arugula, in a salad or on a pizza. I also have a freezer full of elk and deer that I hunt in the backcountry, carry out on my back and butcher in my backyard. So there’s that Jim, but I have to say it was way cool to think of Mac chilling out with all his vegan friends.

  13. Jim,

    Whoa! Me a “deep green”?? I’m a forester and land management planner who has for 73 years been cutting timber as a U.S. Forest Service officer (my career) or (after retirement) begging the FS to cut more timber. Look again at the chart (my creation) that heads this post. I do think that we humans have treated our planet poorly, but believe that the remedy lies not in hands-off “let nature take its course” but in prudent husbandry: wise use and a balance of material and non-material outputs from our public lands. I also respect the viewpoint of those who disagree with this philosophy but, by sharing information (the chart again), hope to reach a common ground and a productive resolution to a shared problem.

    May I say that I’m surprised to discover than I have somehow become a vegan—- but I am delighted by the diversity of the comments that the chart has generated.

    Jim, Have you any opinion on the percentage of timber growth on national forests that should be allocated to meet material human needs?

    .

  14. Maybe we need to be reminded that after the Northwest Forest plan over 80% of the Forest Service and BLM lands in the west became off limits to timber harvest and still are. And not much is happening on the remaining 20%. Those huge declines in timber harvest are a direct result of these land allocations. So in most ways the conservationist and environmental corporations have won the war.
    And, IMHO, the increase in wildfire acreage since the Northwest Forest plan is a direct result of the Forest Services, (who burn up more forest land than anyone, each and ever year) deciding that fire is beneficial to the resource. If you have ever watch when Forest Service “teams” take over fighting a fire the acreages of the containment lines will grow by “10 times”, (just a guess) the actual fire. And secondly when over half your budget is fire, you can bet you are going to have some. (didn’t the California department of Forestry become know as Cal Fire?)
    Yes, we need some new management ideas, and new fire fighting ideas, or we can spend money we don’t have burning it up.

  15. Very interesting debate and perspectives, we all have a steak in this. It seems to me there are two arguments being placed on top of one another, which tends to muddy the discussion.

    1) Is it better for the health of forests to be managed through: timber harvesting (reducing fuel loads), managed fire-suppression, or preservation without human interventions of any kind?

    2) How do we maintain our own survival and standard of living, including recreation, in relation to how we use the forests?

    Let’s talk about the big picture. The one that is bigger than our own self-interests. I think we have to concede that before Europeans came to the continent, the fact is there was vastly more forest, vastly more “fuel”, vastly more timber product. Can anyone refute this? If not, then the obvious conclusion is a “hands-off” approach is best for the health of forests. Therefore, all of this talk of reducing fuel loads is a straw-man argument in regards to being a good steward to the forests. Old-growth forests were pervasive before the 19th century, European settlers were far more devastating than any wild fires. Now, trees more than 100 years old can scarcely be found.

    With that said, yes, we are here now, I use timber products, they have to come from somewhere, I get that. But isn’t it possible we can all put our heads together to strike a balance? We can find responsible balance to obtain the necessary resources for our survival. Humans need the forests for many things, they don’t need us, period. If we continue to mismanage them, they will be gone. The animals you want to hunt will not have a home, they will be gone. There will be landslides and floods, the carbon they capture will be accumulating in the atmosphere, the earth will get even hotter, the solar radiation absorbed by their leaves will be instead reflected back into the atmosphere intensifying the greenhouse effect. This is all obvious. Eventually we are looking at game over. The problem is we tend to think from very limited and immediate perspectives. Its not that they are invalid. The logger needs a job just like the rest of us. But if there are responsible limits of how much timber can be harvested, and true thinning is the normal practice rather then the exception, the game can go on much longer. And some of those loggers can be resourceful, retrain, and figure out ways to make our “forests products” last longer.

    Its in our own best interests to keep the forests healthy and alive. Lets figure it out together instead of hating on each other, its gets us nowhere. Thanks

  16. To say there were vastly more forests in N. America before the European is a bit suspicious.

    My study of our forest’s history is that the forested acreage in N. America was probably more or less stable prior to Columbus. However, I’ve also read that the native population had been increasing and the the forested acreage had been decreasing. I’ve also read that there were places where the land had been so deforested that local tribes actually floated logs to their villages and that Hernando deSoto described fields of 4 square miles in size in the South.

    Then, with the arrival of Old World diseases, as much as 95% of the native population disappeared and with that, so did their land management practices. As a result, there was a tremendous amount of afforestation. This continued for the next 2-300 years until the Europeans really started their big push westward. This was enough time for these new forests to become “old-growth” and had entered our texts and became the “wilderness” in early American lore.

    This “wilderness” was an impediment to the settlers as they wanted farms, roads, homes, fences, fuel, etc. and the forested acreage began to decrease.

    This decrease continued until the late 1800’s and the advent of coal, petroleum, improved crop varieties, fertilizers, pesticides, etc. This meant the railroads no longer needed 15-20 million acres a year for ties (think wood preservatives) and fuel. Taken together, all this meant that a lot of farm land was no longer necessary for farming (and to feed the family’s plow horse or ox) and was abandoned. Trees, being rather invasive, took over these abandoned farm lands and became forests.

    [As a closely related aside: I read of a paper presented at a NOAA conference a few years ago. This paper felt the huge decrease in the Indian population (and their land management practices) had caused so much afforestation in N. and S. America and atmospheric carbon sequestration which led to the recent Little Ice Age. My question then is: Is our current global warming actually mean that we still coming out of the Little Ice Age?]

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