The end of “Norm & Jerry” forestry?

The excerpt from the American Forest Resource Council’s May newsletter, below, is about a pilot project implementing Norm Johnson and Jerry Franklin’s principles of ecological forestry on BLM land in Western Oregon, which is blocked by litigation, and this court order may be the end of it. There are objections to the principles from all sides, but I think the aim of addressing a deficit of early-seral habitat via variable-retention timber harvesting has a lot of merit and would be useful on federal lands in the PNW as well as elsewhere, such as New Jersey, where there is controversy over harvesting timber to create young-forest habitat. Opponents are essentially saying that cutting trees, even to provide habitat for threatened and endangered species, ought to be prohibited.

Ninth Circuit Denies White Castle Appeal

With a three-page unpublished order, the Ninth Circuit ended for now the seven-year effort to implement Drs. Norm Johnson and Jerry Franklin’s principles of ecological forestry in Western Oregon, dismissing AFRC’s appeal of an adverse ruling on the White Castle Timber Sale. The BLM had not appealed and the Court found that Scott Timber, the purchaser, could not appeal a remand order on its own.

White Castle is a 187-acre variable-retention harvest on the BLM Roseburg District. In late 2010, then-Secretary Ken Salazar directed BLM to develop Secretarial Demonstration Pilot Projects showing the potential use of Johnson and Franklin ecological principles (“Norm & Jerry” forestry) to provide sustainable timber harvest compatible with ecologically-sound land management. Drs. Johnson and Franklin held a two-day introduction in Canyonville in February  4 2011, followed by several public meetings in Roseburg and multiple field trips. The White Castle Project was initiated in March 2011, with a decision signed in August 2012.

The project has been in litigation for nearly five years and no work has been attempted or completed. Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands protested, appealed to IBLA, and then brought suit in federal court. Extremist “direct action” groups put tree sitters in the woods. Although the plaintiffs brought NEPA claims, their real objection was to harvest at the stand age of 108 years. Media reports stated the project was in line with Senator Wyden’s proposals for the O&C lands.

In 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken found the project required an Environmental Impact Statement due to effects on spotted owls, despite the project not taking any owls, as well as the “controversy” of the Johnson/Franklin principles. AFRC filed an appeal on behalf of Scott Timber and defeated preliminary attempts to dismiss the appeal. Ultimately, those effects were not successful.

Although AFRC may petition the Ninth Circuit for a rehearing, it is unclear whether White Castle will ever be harvested. The cautionary note about these “Demonstration Projects” from AFRC’s December 2012 newsletter rings true: “To date, the only thing that has been demonstrated is how opponents of timber harvesting can successfully delay a project through extensive protests and appeals.” /Lawson Fite

18 Comments

  1. I believe that at least one of the demonstration projects was harvested, and I’ll have to read the court decision to see if this really means the end of “Norm and Jerry” forestry. As Steve notes, it does seem to have a place in achieving some objectives. And the BLMs new RMP definitely includes the use of variable retention harvesting to achieve their O&C mandate.

  2. Actually the problem was that an EA was used instead of an EIS. The writing was on the wall several years ago, that the agencies better take the extra time to complete an EIS or the projects wouldn’t withstand protest in the court.
    The judge won’t even hear the merits without an EIS, other jurisdictions may have a different outcome.

      • Agreed. An EIS is overkill (although at this point in NEPA practice, they are about the same – a bit more process with an EIS).
        Judge Aiken’s decision that “controversy” is a trigger for an EIS is troubling. The trigger should be scientific controversy – not controversy whipped up by enviros. I don’t think VRH brings in true scientific controversy.

    • Greg- this is the difference between following the NEPA regulations and “bullet-proofing” depending on who is likely to litigate and what circuit you are in. If you are a line officer making the decision, your lawyers will tell you to always do an EIS to be safe, and your NEPA folks will tend to say follow the NEPA regs. Having participated in EISing EA’s due to litigation, the litigation hasn’t gone away with additional analysis, more analysis pages provide more fodder for possible claims, and so it goes.

      Now, to my way of thinking, if the justice system were “just,” different circuits should rule the same way, which they don’t.

  3. Really, the Norm and Jerry projects are Northwest Forest Plan style regen projects – with more reserve trees that are grouped instead of scattered. That’s it.
    To say they are “experiments” is absurd.
    The BLM shot themselves in the foot by presenting these projects as something new in forestry.

    • Agreed that these are NWFP-style regen projects. FS has shied away from doing these in stands outside of the “Pechman Exemption” for Survey and Manage species due to the cost of surveys, especially for the red tree vole. It’s ironic that the “Monogohela Controversy” was part of the reason for the NFMA requirement that even-aged (or, in this case, two-aged) regeneration generally should not occur unless the stand had reached culmination of mean annual increment. Now some folks who what to create “complex early seral habitat” by doing variable density regeneration harvest are proposing to cut stands that have not reached that culmination yet because it is less controversial than cutting trees that have culminated.

  4. First, Logging did proceed on a couple of VRH projects. Demonstration accomplished. White Castle was 108 years old with individual old growth trees. It is understandable that it got more scrutiny.

    Second, Steve says “Opponents are essentially saying that cutting trees, even to provide habitat for threatened and endangered species, ought to be prohibited.” This is not true. There are no endangered early seral species benefiting from logging at White Castle. Although, I understand that White Castle was remove/degrade (not enhance) suitable spotted owl habitat.

    Third, early seral habitat is NOT is short supply. There is an overabundance on non-federal land, plus more on public and private lands from fires.

    Fourth, we do not need to trade-off one rare forest type (complex old) for another (complex young). Instead of sacrificing old forest in order to enhance early seral, the agencies can heavily thin younger stands that are vastly over-represented on the landscape.

    • 2ndLaw, you are correct about the objection to cutting trees: Some “enviro” groups do support some harvesting in plantations. But not in plantation-like natural stands, and they never support cutting of “trees over a century old.”

      Here’s what Cascadia Wildlands had to say – link to the full text is below….

      Steve

      ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
      Robbing Peter to Pay Paul: The Abuse of “Ecological Forestry” on our Public Lands in Western Oregon
      By Nick Cady, Legal Director

      The conservation community in the Northwest was incredibly excited by Cascadia’s legal victory over the White Castle timber sale. Not just because of the couple hundred acres of old growth forest that were saved from clearcutting, but because of the potentially important precedent the case set concerning logging old forest to create so-called early seral habitat.

      A little background. Early seral habitat is the agency name for habitat that is mostly brush and shrubs, ideal habitat for deer, elk and some bird species, and ideally is created after fires have burn through forested areas. True early-seral habitat is somewhat lacking on the landscape because the feds for decades have suppressed fires, and even when there is a fire, the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will “salvage log” the areas and replant conifer trees, quickly taking away any early-seral habitat value.

      Given this pattern of post-fire salvage logging, folks at Cascadia were initially surprised and suspicious to hear about Forest Service and BLM plans to create early-seral habitat through commercial logging. The agency plan was to create this early-seral habitat by logging middle-aged plantations.

      These conifer plantations are 40 to 80 year old forests created from previous clearcutting, pesticide spraying, and dense replanting. The logging would essentially create large meadow-like openings between clumps of reserved forests. These reserves would contain the biggest trees in the stand, and areas with unique composition, for example a pocket of western red cedar or large hardwoods. 30% of the project area would be reserved from harvest in these clumps, and there would also be large, green trees, 12 to 18 per acre, distributed across the openings to provide connectivity for wildlife. The logging concept was called ecological forestry or variable retention harvest (VRH).

      Folks at Cascadia were skeptical, but not overly concerned because this prescription seemed genuinely aimed at restoring diversity back into these plantations. Left alone, these middle aged plantations currently provide little to no habitat value for the Northwest’s struggling older forest species, and posed a severe fire risk given the density of these young conifer trees.

      However, when the timber industry and Bureau of Land Management got a hold of this idea to create early-seral habitat it quickly morphed into an “ecological” excuse to clearcut older forest. We began seeing dozens of proposed timber sales aimed at converting older mature forest, not young plantations, into early-seral habitat. The proposed reserves quickly were replaced by already existing buffers in place for imperiled species and around waterways, and the dispersed green tree retention across the logged areas was eliminated. It was readily apparent that this novel approach had been high-jacked; it had become an ecological justification for clearcutting. This was a very dangerous idea, because it could arguably be used in existing protected areas and owl habitat.

      The White Castle timber sale, located in the South Umpqua watershed on the Roseburg BLM district, was the worst of the worst of these early-seral creation projects we had seen. The sale targeted a one hundred year old-plus forests that had never before been logged. It was also designated critical habitat for the northern spotted owl and hosted a healthy population of the red tree vole, a food source of the northern spotted owl. Forest activists with Cascadia Forest Defenders had occupied the stand to prevent the clearcutting, and Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild readied a legal challenge. We were cautiously optimistic that the judge would recognize how abused this concept to create early-seral forest from plantations had become.

      Read more at:

      https://www.cascwild.org/tag/eco-forestry/

      • It is not necessarily old trees that eco-groups want to save. It is the large trees that they don’t want cut, regardless of age. Most people don’t stress out when a 130 year old 13″ tree, growing underneath a better tree, is cut. Again, it seems pretty dumb to be protecting flammable ladder fuels.

  5. Here’s what Cascadia Forest Defenders (CFD) thinks of the White Castle project (forestdefensenow.wordpress.com). This week, CFD is protesting (at leat one person is “tree sitting”) the Goose timber sale on the Willamette National Forest:

    http://klcc.org/post/near-mckenzie-bridge-eco-activists-stand-their-very-high-ground

    “WHAT DOES CFD THINK SHOULD BE DONE?
    Cascadia Forest Defenders believe that because of the state of Cascadia forests and how little old habitat remains, that there should be no logging in any ecosystem that has not been logged. The O&C lands should be placed permanently protected from logging, for the health of the ecosystems, the survival of species, for carbon reserves and for their own intrinsic value. As far jobs go, more jobs are lost by private companies exporting logs and by the automation of the timber industry by far then through environmental legislation. None of the mill jobs nor raw logs should be exported and thinning on younger, denser second growth stands would provide far more jobs then clearcuts. We also think the Johnson / Franklin Variable Retention Harvests are complete idiocy and should never be implemented.”

  6. Howdy Steve. Thanks for posting this. So, it is your opinion that ecosystems and native forests that haven’t already been logged (which is actually a very small percentage of forests in the lower 48 states), should be logged? If so, why?

    Do you agree with this statement: “As far jobs go, more jobs are lost by private companies exporting logs and by the automation of the timber industry by far then through environmental legislation.” If not, why?

    Also, for whatever it’s worth…The Goose timber sale has been discussed and debated on this blog numerous times. In fact, here’s an oped about the timber sale written by forester Roy Keene.

    A McKenzie Bridge logging plan takes neighbors by surprise

    Goosed: Community Outraged by Surprise Logging Launch

    Federal judge puts McKenzie Bridge timber sale on hold

    null

    Hanging out in the Goose timber sale on the Willamette National Forest, Oregon. Photo by forester Roy Keene.

    • Matthew

      Think about what you said above: “Do you agree with this statement: “As far jobs go, more jobs are lost by private companies exporting logs and by the automation of the timber industry by far then through environmental legislation.” If not, why?”

      When did the federal harvest get cut by 85 to 90%? Wasn’t that sudden reduction after 1990 the mother of all environmental legislation? I don’t see how you can support your statement to the contrary.

  7. I attended a few of the Norm and Jerry planning meetings on the BLM, Coos Bay district. I found them to be interesting and to propose timber sales that would result in a diverse landscape and provide timber for those awful, greedy, destroyers of the earth, the timber industry. The sale had a few older trees, most if not all would of been left, to my disappointment. One of the people on the field trip mentioned he father use to run sheep there. Trees grow fast in this area. The was sale was protested and never sold.
    The photo of the of people standing in the proposes goose timber sale show a nice younger forest with a few residue older trees. . I know the FS has studied the area profoundly and doubt if many if any old growth trees are slated for harvest.
    I am pretty sure the sale is also a grouping of units to be thinned. Kind of like the Loafer sale on the Umpqua, which is also protested.
    At least tree sitting gives the kids something to do this summer. I hope they have forest passes in place.

    • The essay of Jerry Franklin states that the Northwest Forest Plan “essentially halted logging in federally owned old-growth forests—generally defined as having trees older than 180 years—on federal lands.”

      It wasn’t designed to halt all logging. If carried out as written, the plan would have reduced the harvest in the western PNW to about 1 billion board feet from about 4+ bbf. Protests, lawsuits, and a risk- and controversy-averse agency dropped the annual harvest to less than half of that in most years.

      “It also protected 4 million hectares of mixed old-growth and previously logged lands.”

      The Northwest Forest Plan applies to 24.5 million acres, or about 9.9 million hectares.

      For more information:

      “Jerry Franklin: Forest is His Middle Name” — The Forestry Source, May 2014, http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/saf/forestrysource_201405/index.php

      “Does Federal Forestry have a Future in Spotted Owl Country?” The Forestry Source, November 2011, http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/saf/forestrysource_201111/index.php

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