When to Let Nature Take its Course

A guest post from Foto.

I keep hoping that your blog stays focused on “using the best science”. I use an alias because I hope to work for the Forest Service again. I could be “blacklisted” if I am too visible with my real name. The Forest Service doesn’t like having its dirty laundry displayed for all to see!

One of the biggest and most confusing issues is that groups send out blanket appeals/litigation against the cutting of old growth when, at the same time, they claim that there is so very little old growth left. The non-Healthy Forests projects are all targeted. If there is sooooo little old growth left, how come it is, apparently, being cut on every thinning project being litigated?!? The enviros have their own definitions of “old growth”, usually based on diameter. For example, I measured a tree in the Coast Range of Oregon and it was 32″ dbh. Of course, the enviros are going to claim that tree is “old growth”, despite it being only 61 years old! Here in California, enviros consider any tree above 20″ dbh to be “old growth”.

Another big litigation issue is salvage logging. People like Chad Hanson have tunnelvision is his quest to save the snags. He even litigates to stop roadside hazard tree projects. Clearly, salvage logging can accelerate the re-establishment of forests where bark beetles and catastrophic wildfires have decimated them. Currently, academia is also on a quest to eliminate ALL salvage logging. The A-Rock Fire example I provided is a perfect illustration of how a lack of salvage has resulted in a devastating re-burn. It will now take decades for pine to get seeded into the interior of last year’s re-burn.

In this new Planning Rule process, I’m hoping that the efforts are not to “re-invent” forests into “re-wilded” landscapes that utilize “unstewardship”. Some people want to lock up dead and dying forests to “let nature take its course”. “Natural ignitions” in “unnatural” forests always results in “unnatural” wildfires. Also, the spread of pure lodgepole forests in the Rockies has resulted in the loss of the ponderosa pine component that was fire resistant and resilient. The suppression of wildfires has encouraged lodgepoles to be more dominant and unstewardship will lock in their domination. The legal gridlock will ensure that future forests will be pure lodgepoles. The eco-community will not allow humans to intervene and restore the ponderosa pine forests where lodgepoles now are dead.

8 thoughts on “When to Let Nature Take its Course”

  1. Foto- I finally read this testimony from Andy Kerr on the Wyden Bill that Martin recommended.. it sounds (surprisingly?) similar to what you are saying. Here’s Martin’s original quote:

    As mentioned in the tables, the Tester and Wyden bills make use of this language. Regarding the latter, I highly recommend Andy Kerr’s Congressional testimony. Maybe the most entertaining testimony I’ve ever read. In it, he talks a bit about Wyden’s bill from the perspective of the precautionary principle, which is related to this issue.

    Here is the link: http://energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Hearings.Testimony&Hearing_ID=fd1191f5-d219-ec57-07a4-c46ba1e2e059&Witness_ID=421eead2-170a-45f6-8f9c-cb5aea0fb69b

  2. Foto:

    How do you go about squaring your regularly-scheduled complains about all the litigation of timber sales, fuel reduction and post-fire salvage logging projects with the facts contained in this new General Accounting Office report from March 2010?

    GAO: USFS Fuel Reduction Projects 98% Litigation-Free

    The General Accounting Office (GAO) – the non-partisan investigative arm of Congress – has issued a brand new report titled, “Information on Appeals, Objections, and Litigation Involving Fuel Reduction Activities, Fiscal Years 2006 through 2008.”

    According to the report, 98% of Forest Service fuel reduction projects (and more than 99% of the acreage) were implemented without any litigation.

    New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman, the Chairman of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who along with House Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall commissioned the GAO report, had this to say about the GAO’s findings:

    “Nationwide, 98 percent of Forest Service decisions approving hazardous fuels reduction projects – covering more than 10 million acres – were implemented without litigation. Just 2 percent – involving 124,000 acres – were taken to court. Administrative appeal rates dropped by 69 percent compared to 2002-2003.”

  3. Sharon, Thanks for pointing me that previous blog post. I’m new to your site, so didn’t know about it.

    I’m happy to discuss any of this information anytime.

    Fact is, nationally the GAO found that 98% of all USFS Fuel Reduction projects were litigation free. Even in USFS’s Region One, “the most litigated region in the country,” 92% of all USFS Fuel Reduction projects were litigation free. Furthermore, administrative appeals rates nationally were down nearly 70% during 2006 through 2008, compared with 2002-2003.

    While I understand that numbers and facts can be used in different ways by different people, I just have a hard time understanding how anyone (not saying this to anyone in particular) can look at the new GAO report and conclude that 29 lawsuits filed out of 1,000 + USFS projects nationally during a 3 year period is proof of “gridlock.”

    Also, as someone who pays pretty close attention to forest policy issues, especially as they relate to the day-to-day operations, strategies, etc of non-profit conservation groups, I can say 100% that appeals and litigation have been on a huge downward trend for quite some time. I just find it interesting, and at times amusing, how some people crying ‘gridlock’ refuse to celebrate this fact, much less even acknowledge it. Thanks.

  4. The fact is, those figures ONLY apply to projects under the “Healthy Forests Initiative” (which Democrats CONYINUE to blame “a giveaway to the timber industry by Republicans”, although 19 Democrats in the Senate voted FOR it. Hmmmm, “funny” that HFI seems to be a big success, nowadays, eh?!? HFI is only a part of the USFS timber sale program. Insect and Fire salvage have been MAJOR parts of work being performed in the west. In fact, most of my career has being salvaging timber. Is THAT any way to run a multiple use forest?!?!?

    Region 5 and Region 6 have several additional layers to get through, that often hang things up in court. Litigants wait until their favorite judges are all together, as well. I’m surprised more eco-groups aren’t getting on the “Lawsuits For Fun And Profit Groups”. Look at the Plumas, who has had a string of catastrophic wildfires. They have collaboration. They have “best science” (debatable, there!) They lost in litigation on ALL their QLG projects, on the Feather River Ranger District. And the thick, flammable brush gets yet another reprieve. You ever work in tanoak?? NASTY stuff!!

  5. A quick note about the picture. Twenty years after the A-Rock Fire, a prescribed fire got away from the Yosemite Park Fire folks. As the fire burned through the brush and the now-hidden logs left over from the previous fire, you can see how intensely it burned. Pines may take MANY decades to naturally seed back into this “nuked” formerly old growth stand. So many today are saying that fires don’t burn more intensely in snag patches. Yes, the snags fall over!!! THEN they burn more intensely!

    (Dang, I’m a bad typer)

  6. Fotoware: You claimed above that “The fact is, those figures ONLY apply to projects under the “’Healthy Forests Initiative.'”

    Really? That’s a fact? Funny, but I must have missed that part of the GAO report. In fact, I just searched the entire GAO report and the words “healthy forest initiative” are in the report exactly zero times.

    However, here’s what the GAO said they actually look at…taken right from the report:

    “In fiscal years 2006 through 2008, the Forest Service issued 1,415
    decisions involving fuel reduction activities, covering 10.5 million acres.

    Of this total, 1,191 decisions, covering about 9 million acres, were subject
    to appeal and 217—about 18 percent—were appealed. Another 121
    decisions, covering about 1.2 million acres, were subject to objection and
    49—about 40 percent—were objected to. The remaining 103 decisions
    were exempt from both objection and appeal. Finally, 29 decisions—about
    2 percent of all decisions—were litigated, involving about 124,000 acres.”


  7. The GAO filter is “fuels reduction activities”, apparently, and ALL HFI projects fall into that category. Other timber sale projects ALSO reduce fuels but, somehow don’t qualify as “Fuels Reduction Activities”. This is despite being thinning projects that reduce tree densitites, as well as reducing sub-merchantable fuels. Those projects are litigated ata MUCH higher ratio, for the mere fact that they sell mechantable timber above the rate that the HFI-eleigible project does. Trees of ALL the lower merchantable age classes need thinning, and many litigants feel that the Clinton-Era Sierra Nevada Framework diameter limits (all the way down to 12″ and 20″) in some areas is what they prefer for timber sales.

    Of course projects that don’t thin trees above 16″-20″ aren’t going to be litigated! The real queestion is; Is this kind of project going to be what the forest NEEDS?!?! I’m sure that such projects are good stopgap measures but, we will surely need to go back and re-treat such areas in less than 20 years. I’ve only seen the extreme western portions of Montana, so I’m sure that other parts are vastly different from my experiences.


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