19 Comments

  1. The change in the lines in about 2005 makes me wonder if this is showing the change in FIA methods around that time. It has caused some issues with carbon reporting because it looks like there was a big change in carbon in some cases around that time, but it is mostly because there was a change in methods…..

    • The chart shows timber volumes grown, died, and removed from USFS non-reserved timberlands. Carbon volumes are, of course, involved but are not an issue in this graphic. I’m not aware of any significant changes in FIA methods around 2005 nor does the FIA 2017 report have any showing of carbon changes for national forest land (Table 48 shows carbon sequestration for urban forests). Perhaps you could clarify your comments and provide sources?

      However, thanks for the comment as it gives me an opportunity to express my thoughts on the reason for the dramatic change. Virtual non-management of our public lands (we’re now cutting 8% of the annual growth while 68% dies) has resulted in aging, overdense and unhealthy timber stands , vulnerable to drought and increasing temperature, that are being decimated by fire, insects, and disease. The millions of dead and dying trees (shown on the chart as “Mortality”) that now characterize our western landscape, and the sharp decline in net growth are unambiguous evidence of our failure to husband the timber resource on the public’s land.

      • I must correct myself – I was a decade off – the corrections to the FIA methods were made in the mid-1990s and they are fairly obvious in the baseline carbon assessments that were done for each National Forest.

  2. @monoftuba: It may be, but it also correlates with the start of the extreme drought in California and the beetle outbreaks in Wyoming, South Dakota, and Montana. In continues now with the current widespread pine beetle outbreaks in the south. I know that when I was in California in 2013 and 2014, more than half of the pine timber in any stand was dead or dying. Mostly big, old growth trees that could not overcome the competition from more vigorous trees. These are the ones putting on more annual volume each year so it would stand to reason that it would reflect negatively in the total volume added and lost by growth and mortality respectively.

  3. This reports shows that regardless of thoughts on management, current actions are not creating or maintaining a healthy forest. In a decade +/-, mortality will exceed growth. Regardless of the reason for the increased mortality, proper management would have increased harvest. Increased harvest would minimize carbon release and in many cases reduce the spread of mortality from insects and reduce the amount of biomass competition in drought stressed areas. The past 3 decades have shown us the results of “feel good management” and political based science, yet we as professionals have ignored, or allowed the facts on the ground to be, for personal or political agenda.
    We own the future and we are the reason for the current state of our forests.

    • Well, I’m not sure one chart actually constitutes a ‘report.” And I’m also fairly certainly that many bona-fide scientists and researchers would disagree that this chart proves that “current actions are not creating or maintaining a healthy forest.”

      • I agree that this chart does not necessarily prove that “current actions are not creating or maintaining a healthy forest.” The time period shown is fairly short given some of the ups and downs our forests have seen in the last 100 years +.
        For me, that raises the question as to what a similar graph would look like if it showed we are maintaining a healthy forest? That could be an interesting discussion (and I don’t know if there is “one right answer”!). If we look at the time period on the graph with the highest level of timber harvest, does that reflect a “healthy” forest?
        One thing this graph does remind me of is some of the modeling done with Climate FVS at the recent FVS e-conference – large drops growth/large increase in mortality followed by increases as the forest regrows with different tree species.

        • A graph of a healthy forest would depend (overly simplifying) on how balanced the age classes were for each forest type and what forest types were being replaced and by what.

          In a totally balanced and healthy situation, which will never happen no matter how much forest management is used (due to unplanned events), growth (net & gross and therefore mortality) and harvest would all be level lines over time similar to the net growth line from 1985 to 2006.

          Regardless of some of the comments above, Mac’s comments above are dead on and his chart clearly shows that for the time period involved:
          1) Old Growth and/or Overly Dense stands are a disproportionately large portion of the federal forests:
          — Where it is Old Growth, the growth rate starting around 2006 is lower because the Old Growth trees are in the process of dying which is to say that the negative growth rate for the Old Growth is offsetting some of the positive growth rates of younger/healthier trees.
          — Where it is Overly Dense Stands, the positive growth rate of healthy stands is being partially offset by competition for limited resources (especially in times of drought) which weakens the the ability of the trees to minimize the impact of insects and disease. In addition, excessive stand density causes some growth to be offset by excessive fire mortality resulting from increased fire ignition success and fire spread rates due to fuel loads including proximity of trees and insufficient moisture to keep the competing trees healthy.
          2) Increased mortality is the result of #1
          3) Low harvest levels increase “natural” mortality by aggravating the situation in #1 because not harvesting removes balance by accentuating the retention of dying trees and of premature death in trees in unhealthy high mortality risk stands. Yes, previous fire control seems to have been too extreme in hindsight but, in the past, that was significantly offset by harvesting which reduced fuel loads. Now, because of high human population levels requiring fire control and because of a sudden massive reduction in fuels removal by harvesting, we have a mess that is only going to get worse.
          4) Amazingly the ~2006 downturn in gross and net growth occurs 16 years after active forest management was suddenly reduced by 85-90% – It’s not very funny that a great many foresters predicted exactly what Mac’s graph shows. The graph shows exactly what happens when you suddenly quit managing a forest and allow the fuel load to build for 16 years instead of removing fuels by harvesting in order to maintain healthier forests.

          Plant physiology meant absolutely nothing to the controlling parties when the radical decrease in harvest was dictated. It still means nothing to those who can’t see the mess that they have made of our national forests. Simplistic Solutions in a complex environment = Significant Unintended Consequences.

  4. Could it be possible that any full and honest scientific look at what constituents a ‘healthy forest’ ecosystem might just include much more than just a look at trees? What about the health of native fish, bird and wildlife populations? Health of watersheds? Health of soils? Do some of these other critical components of an ecosystem have a place in defining what’s a ‘healthy forest?’

    • Matthew

      Re: “Do some of these other critical components of an ecosystem have a place in defining what’s a ‘healthy forest?’”

      They certainly do and are supposed to be included in the landscape level forest plan. Objectives determine how the forest health is maintained so that the habitat for “these other critical components of an ecosystem” is there. Without the habitat/forest niche there are no other “critical components” suitable for the desired habitats dictated by the forest plan, goals and objectives. After all this isn’t a chicken versus the egg situation. We know that soils, hydrology, aspect, elevation and etc. come first. then comes the forest and that provides the habitat for the native fish, bird and wildlife populations.
      Just like building a house you have to start from the ground up (soils and etc) and build the structure (forest habitat) before the inhabitants can move in. And if you do a sloppy job of building the structure by not adhering to the engineering rules based on physics (scientific laws of plant physiology) then you are destined to have lots more catastrophic losses of inhabitants than necessary.

  5. First, looking only at timber volume provides an incomplete and often misleading picture of what is going on in our forests.

    Second, forest growth and mortality should display dynamic equilibrium, especially over long periods and across large landscapes. If growth exceeds mortality over long periods, one can expect periods of “correction” when mortality exceeds growth.

    Third, foresters like to think that harvest removals are morally superior to natural mortality. Bullshit. (i) Both are sources of mortality. (ii) Ecologically, natural mortality is superior, and provides greater abundance and range of ecosystem services.

    • 2nd Law: “Bullshit”
      =============

      I’m curious, when did vularity become the acceptable termonology in scientific discussion ???

      2nd Law: “Ecologically, natural mortality is superior, and provides greater abundance and range of ecosystem services.”
      =============

      In view of the messy climate change debate, would you consider the 100 million+ tree die off by bark beetles in California alone a natural event or human caused ??? Just curious.

      • “In view of the messy climate change debate, would you consider the 100 million+ tree die off by bark beetles in California alone a natural event or human caused ??? Just curious.”

        Yes, this is a ‘fundamental’ disconnect in the eco-folks’ thinking. Maybe this mortality event is just “Gaia’s Will”? Does ‘She’ have a greater plan for this planet, that we must all welcome and adore? Must we adhere to a faith-based program of Gaia worship, trusting that all will be healed if we just do nothing?

        I doubt you will get a response from 2nd Law. Hit and run tactics.

        • “Yes, this is a ‘fundamental’ disconnect in the eco-folks’ thinking. Maybe this mortality event is just “Gaia’s Will”? Does ‘She’ have a greater plan for this planet, that we must all welcome and adore? Must we adhere to a faith-based program of Gaia worship, trusting that all will be healed if we just do nothing?”
          ================

          Actually I write about climate Change all the time, I’m obsessed with natural mechanisms on how ecosystems work and function and how break down of these components contribute to climate shift or a disruption, either locally, regionally or globally. But I’m definitely NOT part of the activist gang whose sole purpose goes well beyond climate change and into shoving down everyone’s throat a certain specific political ideology and idiotic worldview which disconnects itself from reality. For example, these people shoot themselves in the foot like they did at that Climate Summit in Cancun where at the opening of the summit they prayed to that Mayan Moon & Rain goddess, “Ixchel”, to bless their efforts to help the planet. What the heck does that have to do with Science ? I would be equally appalled if they opened with a prayer to Jesus Christ for guidance. This imaginary caring concern for the poor indigenous cultures around the planet is a publicity stunt for scoring Brownie Points for an ideology which has zero to do with Science. You can’t even get people who belong to the “IFL Science Cult” to even remotely admit that it has been the misuse and abuse of science (bad science) which has brought us to this point in the first place.

    • 2ndOutLaw

      Re your second item: “If growth exceeds mortality over long periods, one can expect periods of “correction” when mortality exceeds growth.”
      Yes, and what happens to the dependent species when a series of large calamities wipes out a significant portion of the necessary habitat and causes a habitat gap resulting in the extinction of the beloved threatened or endangered species? Survival (sustainability) of any species requires the continuous availability, over time, of gap free habitat?

      Please provide sources based on actual research rather than opinion for your following absolutist statements”
      Re your first item: “looking only at timber volume provides an incomplete and often misleading picture of what is going on in our forests”
      In addition, please explain why looking at an elusive single species indicator like the NSO owl provides a superior picture to looking at the abundance and health of the habitat that you have to walk through to find the elusive NSO? Seems that looking at the NSO has provided a “misleading picture of what is going on in our forests” How come it is ok to use the NSO as an indicator but not the forest that provides its habitat? How come you can accept that “Ecologically, natural mortality is superior” as an appropriate statement for our federal forests but not for the NSO that depends on a specific age niche in those forests and is being replaced as a result of the natural process known as evolution? Can you explain your way out of your self contradicting statements?
      Re your third item: “Ecologically, natural mortality is superior, and provides greater abundance and range of ecosystem services”
      In addition, please explain how wild swings in niche habitat provide greater continuity of minimum habitat acreage necessary to maintain a healthy gene pool for the dependent species to avoid extinction? Also see #1.

      Also please provide a source that proves that foresters are more evil, power hungry, greedy and uninformed than an enviro who hasn’t had any training in plant physiology, forest silviculture, soils, hydrology and etc. and wants to make decisions based on short-sighted wishful thinking without addressing all of the long-range implications?

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