Science Article on Jerry Franklin, Early Seral and the PNW Plan

Jerry Franklin became known for his role in protecting old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest, such as this one he visited in 1982.

I’m still on vacation, but saw this and thought it worth posting.. thanks to Forest Business Network.
This article is about the need for early seral in the PNW, but not clear on how much and exactly why. That seems to be why people disagree about how and where. This reminds me of what FS folks used to say about HRV.. it’s a reference, not a prescription. Which leaves lots of room for disagreement about how to use the reference :)!

Good on Jerry for still being there, still thinking and using his wisdom and experience to learn more about forests. He was a teacher and willing to come to the Ochoco to help us out when I was a young sprout and he’s still going strong, and still making a difference. Pretty much a role model for all of us older folks.

Now, Franklin is pressing his case in another major arena: a review of the mammoth Northwest Forest Plan. Nearly a quarter-century after he helped give birth to the plan, federal scientists are re-evaluating the supporting research in a first step toward revising the plan.

DellaSala sees no need for major changes to a plan that he, like many, regards as a landmark. “It’s not that the Northwest Forest Plan is broken,” he says. But Franklin, who served as a reviewer for a draft of the scientific report, is urging a rethink. If he has his way, federal agencies will create more early seral habitat by logging some of the hundreds of thousands of hectares of dense forest replanted after clearcutting, and then letting it regrow on its own.

Here’s the link.

13 Comments

  1. With 25 years of data, I would think think everyone involved would be interested in an in depth review.
    What are the trends, changes, outcomes? There is even enough non-managed federal and heavily managed private to use as buffers for iissues like climate change and fire severity.
    There are some like DellaSala that might not really want true scientific results to be published.

    • A closer read will support skepticism of the application, if not the theory. First, there are no “true scientific results” yet–no rigorous studies showing post logging habitat is a good replacement for natural disturbance. (Or, for that matter, quantifying which disturbances and at what scales and patterns are missing and need to be replaced). What we have here is an experimental treatment, and applying it at scale without clear monitoring questions and control areas is not responsible. And land managers are already taking advantage of the hypothesis, stretching the limits of it in order to prioritize commercial needs like shorter rotation periods. Plenty of reasons to be skeptical. I fully embrace the need for more early seral habitat, but I’m personally very skeptical that we will improve conditions for biodiversity simply by stating new reasons for doing the same old thing.

      • There is a wealth of information in draft form, for now. See the “Science Synthesis to Inform Plan Revisions Within the Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) Area” web page.

        “The peer review process concluded in April 2017. The science synthesis authors are revising their chapters in response to the peer review comments. Authors will also complete a reconciliation for each chapter showing how they considered the peer review comments. Through the summer of 2017, the PNW and PSW Stations will complete final review of all the chapters. It is anticipated that the manuscript will be submitted the fall of 2017 to begin the editing and publication process. Once the synthesis is submitted for publication, plans will be developed for sharing the key findings of the NWFP science synthesis with the agencies, public and interested parties.”

        https://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/research/science-synthesis/

      • The new approach is mostly theoretical, but the NWFP was theoretical and was strongly supported by most of those that are or will be in opposition to this proposed concept.
        What I’m in support of personally, is a review of the first theory, also known as the Northwest Forest Plan. We have ample data and clear results after 25 years of implementation. Let’s see how what we have, compares to what the planners said during creation. Let’s compare habitat and specie populations, projected to actual numbers, and acres now. All the information is available, we just need non-political scientists to dissect the results. We have a control to work with on both sides of the equation, private and Wilderness. We have data before implementation on growth and inventory, I’m assuming in most NF. We have populations identified during implementation of the NWFP. Why wouldn’t anyone truly interested in science not want a review?

        • I also think that the plan could use an update. I’ve never opposed the plan but, there are flaws in both the science and the social aspects that are codified within it. Sadly, there are people out there who want ‘to go back to how they used to do it’. I’m pretty sure that the courts would reject such plans. Tree farms are fine on private lands but, not suitable as the default management regime in National Forests.

          I would also be interested in the numbers of known owl/goshawk nests that have been destroyed by wildfires since the NWFP has been in place.

          Another idea that might be tried is thinning in Doug-fir plantations, with the goal of growing huge trees ( 50″ dbh ) over 150 years old. There seems to be a resistance to thinning in Doug-fir. Yes, I know that species is shade-intolerant, and regeneration has its own problems.

          • One of the biggest flaws of the NWFP was the lack of flexibility throughout the landscape. The generalization of forest classes across diverse sites has led to a loss of much of the diversity in many areas.
            The best solution would be to have competent managers do site specific treatments, but that would be a non starter with political science leading the charge.

  2. There has been a lot of thinning in Douglas-fir plantations since the NWFP was signed. Much of it has occurred in Late Successional Reserves to grow larger trees and to open up space for regeneration of other species (western red cedar, western hemlock). The NWFP however restricted harvest of trees in LSR to stands <80 years old (with some exceptions). That should definitely be reconsidered.
    The Habitat Development Study on the Olympic National Forest (led by Connie Harrington) has done 17 years or so of post-thinning monitoring on the development of habitat characteristics using Variable Density Thinning in productive plantations in Late Successional Reserves.
    There are several NWFP monitoring reports that have been published by the PNW Research Station that identify the amount of owl habitat that has been "degraded" by wildfire. And now the largest reason for habitat loss is fire, not logging. However, the NWFP considered that this would occur (habitat loss due to fire) and I believe that the amount of habitat loss is still within the assumptions that they had.

    • Of course, it is the nests which are most important, as the owls are notoriously lazy in building new nests. Remember, owls cannot re-use a nest for about 5 years, as the young birds make quite a mess. Foraging habitat is a non-issue, and the birds are territorial. Did the plan account for ‘climate change’, in their calculations of habitat loss?

  3. First, we just had a very active fire season that created more high quality early seral than the FS can shake a stick at. Climate change will likely bring us much more. Why do we need logging to add to the early seral habitat already being created through fire?

    Second, logging to create early seral does not create high quality early seral, it creates early seral that is “less bad” compared to industrial clearcuts. Unsalvaged natural disturbance is the gold standard for creating complex early seral habitat. Why do we need logging to add to the early seral habitat already being created through fire?

    BLM’s analysis for the 2015 Western Oregon RMP Revisions DEIS (Vol 1, pp 182-183) indicates that the “current condition” shows no shortage of “early seral forest” across 1.3 million acres of dry Douglas fir forests. (“Currently, the Douglas-fir/dry vegetation type has a slight overabundance of early seral and a substantial overabundance of mid-seral closed forest”) The biggest shortage is late seral forest types. The agencies’ main focus should remain transitioning over-abundant mid-seral stands to help mitigate the persistent deficit of late-seral stands. http://www.blm.gov/or/plans/rmpswesternoregon/files/draft/RMP_EIS_Volume1_pg_173-235.pdf

    There are many ways of enhancing early-seral habitat without sacrificing mature forests, for instance, we could:
    • Modify the way we fight fire and how we react after fire, e.g., leave areas to recover naturally after fire instead of salvage logging and replanting which more closely resembled industrial clearcutting;
    • Modify practices on non-federal lands to encourage greater retention of live and dead trees during harvest, tolerate slower conifer re-establishment and greater diverse of native vegetation, e.g., discourage herbicide spraying to control competing native vegetation;
    • Embed structure-rich “gaps” (e.g. patches of very heavy thinning) in our young stand thinning projects. See Miller, Randall. 2014. Practitioners Approach to Early Seral Habitats on Lands Managed Primarily for Older Forest, or There is More to Healthy Forests than Conifer Trees. Siuslaw NF. http://www.slideshare.net/ecoshare/09-practitionersapproachtoearlyseralhabitatsonlandsmanagedprimarilyforolderforestorthereismoretohealthyforeststhanconifertreesmiller; Cheryl Friesen and Norm Michaels 2010. Effects of Incorporating Gaps into Commercial Thinning Prescriptions: Best Available Science, 3-30-2010, Central Cascades Adaptive Management Partnership (CCAMP). http://ecoshare.info/projects/central-cascade-adaptive-management-partnership/synthesis-papers-tools/
    • Extend the early seral character of existing very young stands that are starting to become dominated by conifers.

    • I definitely agree with your last bullet – extend the early seral character by thinning out young stands and I usually advocate for that. In some places we don’t have very many opportunities to do that anymore, but where we do, it’s a relatively easy way to provide at least the shrub/herb resources. They were doing a fair amount of that type of work in conjunction with Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation on the LaGrande RD awhile back in high quality elk summer range.

      There are usually plenty of areas left to recover naturally after fire – generally only a very small percentage of a large fire is salvaged. With all of the wilderness fires this year, there will be lots of areas left to recover naturally.

      One thing that is often overlooked in these discussions is that the National Forests have Land Management Plans with land management objectives. In some places salvage and tree planting is consistent with meeting those land management objectives (and the requirements of the NFMA and other laws) and in other cases it is not. At the same time, there are a lot of ways to meet those land management objectives and many managers rely heavily on only a few of them.

  4. I agree that more data is good, but I think people are seeing what they want to see in this article.

    “A 2002 study estimated that complex early seral habitat once occupied nearly 20% of forests near the Oregon coast. But just 2% remained by the end of the 20th century, a more recent study concluded. (So-called “simple” early seral habitat—logged areas devoid of trees or carpeted by small replanted conifers—is more common.)” That’s kind of an important parenthetical. The early seral that is lacking is not the kind produced by logging, but more logging is the answer?

    “Franklin now touts a formula for creating seral habitat that calls for logging about two-thirds of the trees on a tract, and doing no replanting.” In BLM’s attempt, “The loggers left just 15% of the existing trees behind, fewer than Franklin wanted. BLM insisted on replanting Douglas fir on the hillside, rather than leaving it untouched, out of concern the trees would grow back too slowly to meet future logging goals. But in a nod to Franklin, the agency planted half the usual density.” As long as there are “future logging goals,” you’re going to get something that looks more like what there is too much of – “simple” early seral.

    “For their part, Franklin and Johnson have concluded that logging in federal forests could be a valuable tool for creating new patches, particularly in coastal Pacific Northwest tracts now densely packed with replanted Douglas firs… Although DellaSala is willing to accept logging in dense stands where trees are less than 80 years old, he sees little benefit from cutting down trees older than that.” I don’t see Franklin disagreeing that logging old trees makes little ecological sense.

    • The Forest Service generally considers 150 year old trees to be “Old Growth”, as reflected by their timber cruising rules. 80 years old is pretty young for long-lived trees. That being said, a 75 year old tree could be pretty dang LARGE. Anyway, selecting trees based on age is not really very ‘scientific’, same as using diameters. Similarly, it just isn’t very pragmatic to use age as a selection criteria. Sadly, the USFS doesn’t have the expertise to select trees to cut based on vigor and quality.

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