A Hoot and a Half

After all this confusion on various approaches to viability, it seems like a breath of fresh air to go back to ESA..

See this AP story on the spotted owl here,

“Plan to save spotted owl could be double-barreled”

Here are my two favorite quotes:

Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist for the conservation group GEOS Institute, said it was about much more than the owl.

“We are talking about an ecosystem that is unraveling from too much logging in the past,” said DellaSala. “We may not have saved enough of the ecosystem.”

How would you know when enough is “saved”? And how do you figure the “ecosystem” is “unraveling” from a change from one species to another? Seems like a hoot-o-centric posture. Based on the same logic, I guess that since Eastern Seaboard has lost the chestnut species and it has been replaced by others, those ecosystems must have already “unraveled.”


Forsman said it would be incredibly difficult and expensive to try to kill all the barred owls, and raises a host of ethical questions because no one is sure whether their migration was natural or the result of human actions.

It seems to me it’s a problem if the ethics of killing them depends on how their ancestors got there, because it is likely that it is partially due to natural and human factors, and we will never know the percentage for sure. With climate change a lot more creatures are likely to be in new places (or places they have been in the past, but not recently). Some of them will outcompete endangered species. I think we have to consider the investments to do these things, such as kill species that are successful, and ask whether there might be other investments that would be better for the good of the environment (biomimicry beaver dams? Everyone probably has a favorite..)

23 thoughts on “A Hoot and a Half”

  1. Great analogy Sharon about the Eastern seaboard and ecosystems unraveling. There is no butterfly effect. There is no canary in the coal mine. There is no Keystone species. The ecosystem is not a delicte web of life-other species fill the void,it adapts and moves on.

    Contrary to Mr. DellaSala’s contention about needing more old growth, the public will be saying “you mean we preserved all this old growth and it didn’t do a damn thing for the spotted owl. You scientists assured us it would. you dropped the ball. Wasn’t this “Barred owl” around in 95? Why didn’t you address it then? You didn’t cover it up did you?It’s starting to look like it was the barred owl all along and it had nothing to do with old growth”. Oh it stinks to be the “new” establishment now. Being held responsible comes with being in charge.

    Ya know, whenever I read all the EIS’s and EA’s that I read, I go right to the “vegatation” section first. I look for the “present” VSS (vegatative structural stage) as it’s compared to the HRV (historic range of variability). I’m fascinated by “pre-settlement” forest conditions. In Montana, Losensky did great work identifying pre-settlement forest structure and density. His work is frequently used by the USFS in comparing current to pre-settlement.

    Barring Ponderosa habitats, in almost every case in Montana there’s much more “mature” forest than existed 100 years ago. You’ve got this huge “bulge” of 100 year old trees(think pig inside python)moving through the age class table. Mature trees that are now merchantable, which negates any need to log old growth.

    I’m also not going to argue old growth amounts here. I am going to argue that the biggest missing “ecosystem component” in these forests isn’t old growth, its the “seedling sapling(VSS2) and grass forb”(VSS1) stage. It’s pretty routine to see “current” VSS1 & VSS2 stages at 5% while Pre-settlement HRV stages were at 10-20%. There is very little “early seral” habitat on Montana’s forests. Furthermore, in every case the actual “early seral” habitat is far below USFS “early seral” habitat “Desired objectives” as outlined in the forest plans. Every case.

    Now, I do believe that there has been many lawsuits arguing that the USFS has failed to meet “old growth” habitat goals outlined in their forest plans. How come nobody has sued the USFS for not meeting “early seral” habitat goals? Furthermore, doesn’t anyone care about the species that depend on that early seral habitat?? If their habitat is the most reduced, or at least as reduced as old growth, then doesn’t it stand to reason that there are early seral species that are on the brink of extinction? Perhaps most alarming is that scientists haven’t even bothered to look for such species? Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe early seral is a “biological desert”. Remember, we’re not talking about species variability here-all I have to do is find only ONE dependent species.

    We all know that some of the best “snowshoe hare” habitat is the “young regeneration” in clearcuts. So good that the USFS has banned pre-commercial thinning in Lynx habitat. I always thought it would be fun to sue the USFS, and get judge Molloy to order the USFS to clearcut vast acreages for Lynx habitat.

    • Derek,
      Thanks for sharing your opinion. Truly thought provoking, and obviously, you’re heavily studied in the intricacies of the forest ecology and the leading edge of peer reviewed science on these matters.

      It shows that with all the EIS’s and EA’s that you’ve read, you,”go right to the “vegatation” section first.

      I especially appreciated your allusion of regrowing forests as a “huge “bulge” of 100 year old trees(think pig inside python)moving through the age class table”

      Beautifully metaphorical and thought provoking.

      • Hoot and a half Sharon?
        Dear me. Your derision as a scientist, against another scientist provokes a bona fide involuntary shudder in me.

        As a non-scientist, I am embarrassed for you, (I believe you said you were a scientist) in your following quips:

        1) “How would you know when enough is “saved”?
        My guess is that DellaSala was referring to the conservation strategy known as Old Growth Reserves (OGR) in which suitable habitat is set aside to maintain NFMA’s requirement for viable and well distributed populations. He was saying it was clear that not enough was saved.

        Sharon, that is EXACTLY the point. We will not know when enough habitat has been saved until after the fact, when the USFS shrugs and says “Oops! Too bad!”
        That’s the whole point of the long-since abandoned precautionary principle.

        2) “And how do you figure the “ecosystem” is “unraveling” from a change from one species to another?”
        Sharon, the Spotted Owl is but one of the MANY management indicator species not doing well, and if you’ll take a quick glance at the ESA listings, you’ll notice many have gone extinct while being considered for threatened and endangered status.

        So I re-re-read the article, and this is what jumped out at me:
        “More than 20 years of logging cutbacks on national forests across the Northwest have yet to show much benefit for the northern spotted owl,…”

        For me, this should come as no surprise. Might it be old growth canopy, understory, and the rest of the myriad denizens and structure of the forest community take a bit longer than 20 years to recover and repopulate?

        Might elimination of the habitat that species are dependent upon and adapted to over eons require more than an infantile expectation of (relatively) instant prescriptions of restoration?

        Might those neat little disclaimers now matter in the EIS penned by the USFS on most timber sales which state actions taken may have “irreversible and irretrievable consequences?”

        Like, “Oops! Too bad!”?

        Makes one wonder if snide quips and double barreled entendre holds more weight in the AP’s reportage than laboring over the disclaimer in an FEIS?

        If it takes a century or more to restore oldgrowth structure and function, who among us will ever know if these recoveries ever occurred? Sorta like if a tree falls in the forest and nobody…” ?

        This makes “renewable and sustainable” seem like somebody else’s problem/benefit.

        So then what? Extinctions come and extinctions go?

        As a scientist, does this slippery slope of accelerating entropy not matter to you? What of the present mass extinction event unprecedented in the last 650,000 years we are in the midst of? What of our responsibility to future generations?

        What of the fact that our national forests provide less than 4% of America’s annual wood supply? Is the acceleration of extinctions and acceleration of climate change really worth the toilet paper, paper towels and crappy 2x4s?

        I’ll quit asking questions and point out one last AP quote that jumped out at me. While you rightly reflect on the logic and ethics of managing disequilibrium with a shotgun, you might reflect on where, how, and why that strategy came to pass:

        “When the Bush administration took over in 2000, it tried to dismantle the Northwest Forest Plan, and created its own spotted owl recovery plan that depended more on killing barred owls than protecting habitat. Found to be tainted by political influence, the plan was tossed out in federal court.”

      • Derek- If your observations are correct, it (predictably) makes me think that there may be more beetles in Montana’s future. I don’t think we could help that even with management because the scale of the problem is too immense, and the public support and markets for any kind of massive intervention are simply not there.

        David- I was not criticizing the scientists, I was questioning their views. Back in the ancient days when I got my Ph.D., questioning was thought to be an important part of improving science.

        Also, remember Forsman was talking about ethics and not science. If scientists form a band and won’t question each others’ thoughts we aren’t “scientists”- we are behaving like a fundamentalist sect, or possibly a street gang.

        As to the “hoot and a half”, my point was (other than to come up with a provoking title) that some owls count more than others. A hoot (spotted) and a half (barred). Some would argue that’s because it’s not about the owl, it’s about their habitat- but if that is the case, then let’s talk directly about habitat and not use the ESA. But then we would confront the fact that there is no “correct” number of acres. The framing seems a bit flip-floppy, it’s about owls when it’s convenient and it’s about habitat when it’s not.

  2. I am going to resist spending an hour of my time countering Derek’s views about how much old growth is enough, barred owl conspiracy theories, and the idea that scientists haven’t bothered to look for early seral species that are on the brink of extinction.

    Instead I’ll focus on a couple of the interesting forest plan issues raised by his and Sharon’s posts.

    However plans provide for plant and animal diversity under a new rule, they will need to do so within appropriate boundaries. Often, “the planning area” doesn’t make sense ecologically. If species need both early and late seral habitat, we will need to analyze how much is available and likely to remain available within a polygon that makes sense for that species, not just inside the red line. That can be challenging, when the Forest Service has no control of what goes on outside of national forests.In places where the only olgrowth in the analysis area is within a national forest and there is plenty of early seral nearby, than perhaps it is inappropriate to provide more early seral at the expense of oldgrowth on that national forest (or portion thereof). This example could flip-flop as in the case of the golden-winged warbler, a species studied quite a bit by scientists these days, that needs early-successional stage habitat for nesting. Of course we’ll have to balance their needs with that of the ovenbird, another species in trouble that needs large, unfragmented tracts to nest in.

    When establishing goals for ecosystem resilience, we’ll have to recognize, as Sharon points out, that today’s systems are very different in the absence of American chestnut, but we’ll need to avoid using ill-defined terms like “unraveled”. To what extent can they be “restored” and to what condition? Some dedicated folks are working on bringing back the chestnut, but it won’t be ecologically significant in our lifetime. How do we decide what conditions to manage for until then?

    I guess it will be the Fish and Wildlife Service that makes the call regarding whether or not to start blowing-away barred owls. So much simpler that that complicated viability stuff! Do you think there might be some lawsuits over such a decision? The FWS isn’t used to getting sued, after all, they and the Park Service are white hat guys, aren’t they?

  3. Hey, why not leave these issues to the appropriate “Ologists”? I’ve worked very closely with them, in the past, and they stand their ground, when they have to. I really think that they are a lot more open-minded and pragmatic than their academic “colleagues”. It is much easier to accomplish work with their help, rather than fighting incremental bloody battles. It is totally worth it to take the time to understand why an Ologist makes their decision. They are the experts at what they do, and it always helped me to learn their rules.

    The “local Forest bureaucrat” depends on his/her staff shape his/her decisions. If he/she hasn’t learned the rules that the Ologists MUST live by, then he/she is doomed to lose in a lawsuit. I would even go as far as putting a scientific conformity performance element into his/her annual appraisal.

    As far as owls go, they already had it tough, trying to find nest trees in a dwindling amount of nesting habitat. Not only do they have to compete with goshawks (who EAT them), now they have to compete with barred owls. And, don’t forget about those catastrophic wildfires. The land has a “carrying capacity” for owls and goshawks. Since those birds are territorial, there can be only so many on so many acres of suitable nesting habitat. Both birds re-use old nests, and rotate around (owlets are pretty messy critters).

    Lose the habitat, and you lose birds. I say that it is time for the local Ologists to step up and use that best available site-specific science in coming up with projects that enhance and protect wildlife habitats. With the apparent “threat” of suppressed scientists apparently far behind us, why not entrust our field scientists to have the biggest say in what is damaging, and what is benign?

  4. Foto- I agree with you but I also believe that ID teams don’t always come up with the “best science.” One of my colleagues said (in one of our usual “are forest plans worth doing)” discussions that “forest plans are helpful because you don’t have to fight about the same issues for every ID team and every project- you’ve got standards.”

    Yet recently when we looked at some projects, it turned out that the forest plan standard formed a baseline for higher that differed for the same species across ranger districts and projects. One has to wonder if sometime interpersonal dynamics affect the outcome perhaps more than “science.” Of course, science is supposed to inform but not guide- but that’s a whole other discussion. All of us -ologists, ID team leaders, and line officers- are hopelessly (and hopefully) human in our behavior.

    • Well, that appears to be the big challenge, eh? Since “best sciences” often conflict, it will be up to the Forest Supervisor to balance out the “best sciences”, as well as “balancing-out” his staffers. I once worked on a Ranger District where the Timber Management Officer wasn’t allowed to talk with the Wildlife Biologist without a moderator. That was 30 years ago. Just a few years ago, I worked on another Ranger District, where I was marking trees alongside the District Archeologist and the Wildlife Biologist. They were, clearly, enjoying the power of wielding the paintgun, and shaping the future of that small piece of forest.

      It appears that the big eco-groups have already decided that the Forest Service personnel cannot be trusted, from top to bottom. What would it take for those “serial litigators” to trust the Forest Service? Isn’t that what the new rules are all about?

  5. Also to be considered, should a Forest, which is close to saturation of goshawks and spotted owls, have to follow the same rules as a Forest with low populations and marginal nesting habitat? What if a Forest has ample mortality in their protected habitats? How long does dead habitat retain their protections?

    It seems to me that there needs to be some flexibility but, that is not what the eco-groups want. It is difficult to fight against site-specific science, when your headquarters is 600 miles away.

    I think we still have yet to see the motorized recreation issue come up. The media is too busy framing the new rules as “giveaways to the timber industry” and “MUCH better than what the Bush Administration offered”. Better get some popcorn and Jujubes, it looks like a double feature!!

  6. “David- I was not criticizing the scientists, I was questioning their views. Back in the ancient days when I got my Ph.D., questioning was thought to be an important part of improving science.”

    Sharon, I’m familiar with peer review, the role of questioning and dialogue. It doesn’t take a PhD to identify when a “Hoot and a Half”(“to express loud scornful disapproval of something”) is at odds with your stated intent of “improving science” by at a minimum rationalizing, and more to the point ignoring, the present mass extinction event we are in the midst of.

    “Also, remember Forsman was talking about ethics and not science.”
    Sharon, at the center of our accelerating descent into social, economic, ecological and climatological planetary chaos is this blithe disconnection of ethics and science. My responses to your pillory of DellaSala addressed both ethics and science. They were summarily ignored.

    Aldo Leopold invoked the practical necessity of maintaining, rather than discarding species as expendable with his famous quote, “The first sign of intelligent tinkering is to keep all of the pieces intact.”

    “If scientists form a band and won’t question each others’ thoughts we aren’t “scientists”- we are behaving like a fundamentalist sect, or possibly a street gang.”
    Sharon, if you’re implying I’ve stated or inferred this, please reference it.

    “then let’s talk directly about habitat and not use the ESA.”

    Sharon, as a scientist, you have dissected science from ethics.
    As a scientist, you have dissected cause: (politically driven habitat loss)
    from effect: (species extinction).

    Your proposed solution is to eliminate ESA, the last stopgap legislation to prevent extinction and ignored cause by suggesting we hand the problem back to the same politically manipulated managers.

    You have cheekily asked,”how do you figure the “ecosystem” is “unraveling” from a change from one species to another?” while ignoring a panoply of species in undeniable decline.

    In all honesty, as a scientist, are you suggesting the largescale conversion of our national forest ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest is not a factor in an undeniable unraveling you’re clearly questioning is occurring?

    • David- I don’t think we’re in the middle of a “mass extinction”; at least not due to NFS policies. When I climb mountains in the summer in Colorado, I look over an engineered landscape. There are dams and mines- due to preexisting claims on the land. I see highways and towns. The puny efforts of the Forest Service to do or not do things is a small piece of the species puzzle.

      With regard to the separation of “ethics and science” I have to point out that if you claim a special legitimacy for science, it is based on the importance of empirical observation. If you claim legitimacy for a certain variety of “ethics” I will have to point out that there are different worldviews about ethics. In fact, some people in the name of “ethics” have burned others at the stake, which some would regard as totally unethical. So ethics is (are?) fungible, at the least. Since I have been extensively
      trained in ethics- including Spiritual Entity Based (SEB) ethics- since grammar school- I am sure we could have a rich and thoughtful dialogue on the subject.

      I have not argued in any way to eliminate ESA; I have simply argued that if some agencies need additional protective requirements above ESA- is it fair or just (or rational policy) to ask that from some and not others?

      Gaining and losing species is not the end of the ecosystem- hence my consideration of American Chestnut (Castanea dentata)- check out the TACF website here for further information. They are a remarkable group. Also listen to the palynologists who have watched different combos of species arise and change through time since before glaciation.

      I don’t think the “national forest ecosystems” in the PNW are “unquestionably” unraveling. The idea of an “ecosystem” is a human concept imposed on the natural world as is the concept of “unraveling.” We may have species a-k before climate change and species l-z afterward. But a-k and l-z may be equally “ravelled.” Any change from the past is not necessarily bad; we bring specific human values to those considerations. It is unethical, in my view, to pretend that some human values are “scientific” and therefore are somehow more legitimate than others- and not let the dialogue of “what is good and what is bad” to whom take place as a values discussion among citizens of all views and classes.

      • “I don’t think we’re in the middle of a “mass extinction”; at least not due to NFS policies.”

        1)Unfortunately, we are in an internationally recognized anthropogenic mass extinction event with an extinction rate of from 1000 to 10,000 TIMES the background level that prevailed over the past 60 million years.

        “The greatest threat to the world’s living creatures is the degradation and destruction of habitat, affecting 9 out of 10 threatened species.”


        Leopold’s view that “intelligent tinkering” matters because he understood the profound human dependence upon intact ecosystems. Surely you grasp the consequences of “unraveling” induced by multiple species in decline?

        2) NFS policies on the 193 million acres play a huge role, (to say nothing of BLM’s 700 million acres) and certainly USFS land management plans must take into account what is happening to species and habitat (cumulative impacts) outside the federal lands.

        Given public lands are most times governed by the highest standards of environmental protection through legislation, because the public values those lands, their intact ecosystems and the services they provide, you are fundamentally mistaken that USFS policies have not undermined the viability and or precipitated the imminent demise of a number of species. After all, this discussion began with the spotted owl and the PNW forest plan attempting to rectify mismanagement.

        3) Climbing mountains in Colorado surveying a landscape of Superfund sites balanced out with mountain meadows– and even your personal value system and morals have nothing to do with species of the PNW, public demands, federal laws in apparent conflict with your values, and appropriate NFS management policies of which this article is about.

        Given your apparent disregard for the ecosystem crises explained further by your stunning conflation of burning people alive in the name of ethics with willfully exterminating an entire species also in the name of ethics —

        (being fungible, say with multinational corporate fast food production and the razing of the Amazon?)

        — frankly, sends a chill down my spine that you’d attempt to support your “What, me worry? All this is relative” position with such candid and unabashed, amoral sophistry.

        Given such fungibility of your ethics (certainly not mine, and countless millions of others, to say nothing of future generations) this likely, will not matter a wit to you, I realize, but for the record you said:

        “I don’t think the “national forest ecosystems” in the PNW are “unquestionably” unraveling.”
        Here’s a quick count of what you seem to have missed noticing from the mountain tops of Colorado as pertains to species of concern, listed, threatened, endangered, or already extinct in (PNW) WA, OR, and ID.


        There are 188 species of plants in PNW which are either candidates, listed, threatened, endangered, or extinct. As far as animals–

        33 species of mammals
        43 species of birds
        35 species of fish
        26 species of invertebrates

        34 species of mammals
        40 species of fish
        66 species of birds
        36 species of reptiles and amphibians

        22 species of mammals
        26 species of birds
        18 species of fish
        9 species of reptiles and amphibians

        This isn’t a clear enough example of unraveling?

        What do you think Aldo would have to say?

  7. I usually have to read postings at least twice before I can think about an appropriate response. Some of the writings are pretty meaty, and it takes time to digest what was posted. It is always a challenge to filter out what one believes is merely rhetoric, what is believable, what is probable and what is supported by either side’s scientists and studies.

    I saw Sharon’s “if-then” scenario as illustrating a point about habitat protection versus species protection. I would think that habitat protection is a subset of species protection. An example of species protection would be a “Limited Operating Period”, usually corresponding to nesting season. In some places, the LOP expires mid to late August, leaving a small window to get whatever needs doing to get done.

    Is it not enough that these new rules advance us almost 30 years forward? Do these rules HAVE to be perfectly corrupt-proof? Do we HAVE to use a broad brush to label government scientists as “untrustworthy”??? I sure trust them more than the ivory tower academians, and their lavish lifestyles.

  8. Sharon,

    You make many good points but are off the mark about “mass extinction.” Of course the impacts of past or current Forest practices play only a small role, but the reality of what is happening must inform future management decisions.

    From the Post:

    Mass Extinction Underway, Majority of Biologists Say
    Washington Post
    Tuesday, April 21, 1998

    By Joby Warrick
    Staff Writer

    “A majority of the nation’s biologists are convinced that a “mass extinction” of plants and animals is underway that poses a major threat to humans in the next century, yet most Americans are only dimly aware of the problem, a poll says. ”

    [See http://www.well.com/~davidu/extinction.html for hundreds of links to updates about the current mass extinction. Most recent update: February 3, 2011.]

  9. This looks like a mega-strawman, to me. How many of those species continue to be at risk, SOLELY due to current Forest Service policies? (I guess if you include their Let-Burn “bromance”, many of them are, indeed, still at-risk) AND, remember, that Region 5 has banned clearcutting and highgrading since 1993!! (Our unlisted owl gets more protection than its northern cousin!)

  10. Larry H/Fotoware: Not sure why I even bother anymore, but if the undeniable fact is that there is much less fire on the American landscape today than there was 80, 100, 150 and 250 years ago…how is it, exactly, that this supposed “Let-Burn ‘bromance'” is killing off all our wildlife? Could you please provide evidence of any species that has been put on the ESA list or become extinct due to Forest Service evolving wildfire policy over the past twenty years? Thanks.

  11. The following are T/E species with designated critical habitat on national forests that are threatened by Forest Service wildfire policy and practices, e.g., fire suppression actions.

    Braunton’s Milk-Vetch (Astragalus brauntonii) on the San Bernardino NF. Seeding stimulated by fire and critical habitat can be harmed by firefighting activities.

    Thread-Leaved Brodiaea (Brodiaea filifolia) on the Angeles and Cleveland national forests. Depends upon natural fire cycles and fireline construction has damaged critical habitat.

    Huachuca Water Umbel (Lilaeopsis schaffneriana var. recurva) on the Coronado where interruptions of natural fire regime adversely affects critical habitat.

    Slender Orcutt Grass (Orcuttia tenuis) on the Shasta-Trinity and Lassen. Maintaining timing and frequency of fire is important to this vernal pool obligate.

    Wenatchee Mountains Checkermallow (Sidalcea oregano var. calva) on the Wenatchee. Here’s what firefighting did to this plant:

    Some fire suppression activities may also result in direct mortality to substantial numbers of S. oregana var. calva. In the course of constructing a fire safety zone in Camas Meadows during the Rat Creek and Hatchery Creek fires in fall of 1994, a bulldozer inadvertently destroyed several hundred S. oregana var. calva plants (Harrod 1995; T. Thomas, pers. obs. 1995). The plants were bladed and uprooted, the topsoil removed, and the site scraped to mineral soil. During a visit to the disturbed site in May of 1995, researchers observed no sprouts or seedlings of S. oregana var. calva (T. Thomas, pers. obs. 1995)

    There are many more examples . . .

  12. Just the fact that actual nest trees are burning up, is enough for me to say there are “significant” impacts to both goshawks and spotted owls. Sometimes they find a new nest site, and sometimes they don’t. Their survival is linked to the health (and existence!) of their nesting habitat. If we let it burn, with all the overstocking and fuels buildups of the last 80 years, then survival of those nests trees is pretty low.

    I worked on a project in the San Bernardino NF, where a fire had burned and we were salvaging timber. The RD’s botanist identified several areas of protected plants, and decided they were off-limits to any salvage. The small patch of it was easy to work around. The large patch was along a road, which now was closed due to abundant snags. The District Ranger and Forest Supervisor were afraid to stand up to the Botanist so, that was the result of the planning. Nevermind that the trees were going to fall upon the road and the rare plants, anyway. If we were allowed to cut some of the trees, using directional felling to keep them from landing INSIDE the plant area, the “greater good” could have been accomplished.

    Matt, you are confusing Indian acreage with “natural ignitions”. With more acres at less intensity, and little human improvements, fire suppression was impossible and unnecessary. Today, however, that is not the case. “Re-wilding” by fire is a lot like peeing in the punch. We are supposed to be protecting ESA habitat, not letting it burn. Indeed, many critters are on the list, because of habitat loss. The Let-Burn policies seem to want to keep them listed by burning up their habitat.

    Within “MMA’s”, how much ESA protected habitat lies within?? And WHY?!?!?

  13. This discussion illustrates why the next generation of forest plans must consider past and current conditions, especially disturbance history both “natural” and anthropogenic (including by American Indians) when establishing desired future ecosystem conditions. For some of the short return interval types, past fire suppression and resulting high midstory and overstory densities combined with invasive plants in the understory have often been devastating. In the South, lack of fire has been responsible for the decline of the vast majority of now rare species. The same conclusions would not apply to say the Olympic Peninsula where fire plays a much different role.

    Regardless of the system, management actions, including the use of prescribed fire or unplanned ignitions must take current and past conditions into account. For example, where fuel build up is high, it may be necessary to precede a growing season burn with a winter burn. Or it may be necessary to thin a stand before burning or wildfire can safely accomplish objectives.

    Disturbance plays a role in the evolution of plants and animals in all ecosystems. In North America, fire has a disturbance role in all types except maybe alpine. Whether we like it or not, wildfire is the only significant disturbance at the landscape scale that we currently seem to have some control over. (We apparently have chosen as a society not to exercise much control over how we affect climate change.) Most of the other things we do to manage national forests have only localized impacts. For example, in a given year when I worked on the Mendocino National Forest, we thinned a few hundred acres, and burned a couple thousand out of almost 1 million!

    Even if budgets for other types of management for the foreseeable future weren’t about to take a nosedive, the use of fire, particularly wildfire, will be the most important tool we have for restoring ecosystems. Some fire managers are starting to realize that not all fires can be suppressed no matter how many resources are applied. Take a look at the Quadrennial Fire Review (QFR) http://www.nifc.gov/QFR/QFR2009Final.pdf for conclusions such as:
    “An example of the use of the fuels management portfolio has already been introduced as part of Achieving Fire-Adapted Communities – creating community defensible space and fuels reduction zones. As a component of the portfolio, future “investment priority” would be for those communities prepared and committed for joint planning, coordinating treatments, and ensuring maintenance. This process of community protection from fire would be part of a larger program to more broadly use fire to achieve a variety of land management objectives, such as the maintenance of fire-dependent ecosystems.”

    How does this reality fit into the Proposed Rule? Will the Rule provide a framework for forest planning to effectively mesh with fire planning and policy? The current generation of forests plans don’t do a very good job at this. The QFR’s recommendation to evolve from “Appropriate Management Response” to “Strategic Management Response” will require forest plans that set goals and objectives for fire. In their absence, firefighters will default to putting out fires as quickly as is safely possible even when they know that it might make more sense to not immediately suppress a fire.

  14. The reason Grizzly Bear populations have tripled in Yellowstone had nothing to do with the ESA. It had to do with a wildfire burning off a million acres of old growth. Grizzlies are early seral species. I’ve seen the USFWS object to the USFS obliterating old roads because the old clearcuts were such good Griz habitat.I would think you “pro wildfire” folks would jump at the lack of early seral habitat. Early seral could be the next old growth.

    Can any of you define what a collapsing ecosytem is? What is the criteria. Can any of you name any place where the ecosystem HAS collapsed? If the species are so interdependent then should it be characterized by dead zones? Alabama has been logged over what, four times in the last couple hundred years? Would you state Jim that Alabama’s ecosystem has collapsed(or unravelled)?

    The prarie ecosystem has what, half of 1% of it’s original habitat left. It’s the most “modified” ecosystem I can think of. And yet the bumble bees are still pollinating. The flowers are still flowering. The birds are still singing in the spring. The worms are still burrowing. The ducks still migrate. I have no doubt many species are gone-but if an ecosystem could truly collapse-then this should be it. It’s changed, but not collapsed.

    So the definition of an unraveling ecosystem must be “that where some of the species that were present before the white man came are missing now”. An intact ecosystem must be where all the species are still present? Well I’m sorry fella’s. You can’t have an “intact” ecosystem and still enjoy a lifestyle that has twice the carbon footprint as your fathers generation. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Have you considered how much YOU will have to sacrifice to restore this “intact” ecosystem? How much you would do without today if your idealism would have been implemented by past generations. To not think about it smacks of take it for granted. Is recycling cans the extent of your sacrifice for the environment? That doesn’t cut it. If you want to live your idealism, then you may have to shut off your coal fired computer. The reality is society isn’t gonna shut it off and neither will you. I don’t have a problem with managing species for their survival. I have a problem with a society who won’t sacrifice themselves using endangered species to sacrifice rural westerners in order to impose some deep ecoloy ideology. Mendacity.

    The fact that there has been only one wolf reintroduction in the last 20 years is proof that wolf introduction is a failure. Where is the political will in Colorado to reintroduce the wolf? I hear none. I see no ground swell. Certainly California would empbrace it. Isn’t the Grizzly on their flag? Maybe David could cut and paste some of his knowledge and tell us how many species are either candidates, listed, endangered, or extict in Alabama(not pickin on ya Jim). Or how about Vermont, or Tennesee for that matter? The fact is there is no real political will to restore species in their back yard. What are easterners sacrificeing for the environment? When was the last ESA lawsuit east of Missouri? I wish the CBD success in their lawsuit to reintroduce the wolf to the rest of the country. It would mean the reform of the ESA.

    Why it is up to rural westerners to bear the brunt of the Endangered Species? It’s nothing more than environmental collonialism by the capitalist pig establishment.

    It has nothing to do with science. It has to do with conventional wisdom and that has to do with going along to get along. CW changes because it meets our human need change the way things are done to feel relevant. 30 years ago the science was forestry, now its ecology, in 10 years it’ll be forestry again. If you think it was tough to sell the public on clearcutting, good luck selling them on wildfire.

    I’m glad your planning rule is done. It’s obvious that many careers have been spent on it and many more will be spent interpreting it for the next decade. What do you people produce? But it means nothing. The USFS cuts what, 1.5% of it’s forested acreage a decade? At the current rate of harvest the Willamette will log 20% in a century. There is no cummulative impact when you log so little. 80% of the forests will be managed as wildfire and snag habitat.

    The irony Sharon is there will soon be no shortage of early seral habitat. In five years the ecosystem has logged many time more old growth than man did in 50 years. Ecosystem good. Man bad.

  15. Also, basically, an “MMA” is yet another area where logging is to be excluded, in favor of partially-controlled wildfires. Such lands have been deemed as “single use”, to set aside for firefighter “habitat”. When will the masquerade of “Let-Burn” be forced to formally follow NEPA? I know that Mike D. has been involved in the Rogue River-Siskiyou NF’s attempt to bring all these “new age” wildfire schemes under NEPA. Ironically, the Biscuit Fire is a poster child for all that is wrong with “Let-Burn”.

  16. A lot of people seem to be stuck in a dichotomy about the spotted owl’s decline. That is, it was either habitat loss, or it was the barred owl. However, there is a clear relationship between habitat availability and resilience to competition. A well-known axiom of the species-area relationship from island biogeography holds that as habitat area increases, the number of cohabiting species also increases. See especially, Part III – Competition in a Spatial World in Tilman, D. and P. Karieva, Eds. 1997. Spatial Ecology: The Role of Space in Population Dynamics and Interspecific Interactions. Monographs in Population Biology, Princeton University Press. 368 pp.

    The final 2008 Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl has partially addressed the barred owl issue by adopting “Recovery Action 32” which urges the USFS and BLM to “Maintain substantially all of the older and more structurally complex multi-layered conifer forests on Federal lands outside of MOCAs…” based on the idea that “protecting these forests will not further exacerbate competitive interactions between spotted owls and barred owls as would occur if the amount of shared resources were decreased.” (FRP p 34).

    However, the 2008 recovery plan likely did not go far enough. By protecting only a subset of high quality habitat, there is still a lot of suitable (but not high quality) habitat that could be lost to logging. The latest spotted owl demography report agrees. “Our results and those of others referenced above consistently identify loss of habitat and Barred Owls as important stressors on populations of Northern spotted Owls. In view of the continued decline of Spotted Owls in most study areas, it would be wise to preserve as much high quality habitat in late-successional forests for Spotted Owls as possible, distributed over as large an area as possible. This recommendation is comparable to one of the recovery goals in the final recovery plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (USDI Fish and Wildlife Service 2008), but we believe that a more inclusive definition of high quality habitat is needed than the rather vague definition provided in the 2008 recovery plan. Much of the habitat occupied by Northern Spotted Owls and their prey does not fit the classical definition of “old-growth” as defined by Franklin and Spies (1991), and a narrow definition of habitat based on the Franklin and Spies criteria would exclude many areas currently occupied by Northern Spotted Owls.” Eric D. Forsman, Robert G. Anthony, Katie M. Dugger, Elizabeth M. Glenn, Alan B. Franklin, Gary C. White, Carl J. Schwarz, Kenneth P. Burnham, David R. Anderson, James D. Nichols, James E. Hines, Joseph B. Lint, Raymond J. Davis, Steven H. Ackers, Lawrence S. Andrews, Brian L. Biswell, Peter C. Carlson, Lowell V. Diller, Scott A.Gremel, Dale R. Herter, J. Mark Higley, Robert B. Horn, Janice A. Reid, Jeremy Rockweit, Jim Schaberl, Thomas J. Snetsinger, and Stan G. Sovern. “Population Demography of Northern Spotted Owls.” DRAFT COPY 17 December 2010. This draft manuscript is in press at the University of California Press with a projected publication date of July 2011. It will be No. 40 in Studies In Avian Biology, which is published by the Cooper Ornithological Society.

    Here’s the scientific background:

    “The major causes of population and species extinction worldwide are habitat loss and interactions among species. … The most robust generalization that we can make about population extinction is that small populations face a particularly high risk of extinction. … [E]mpirical support for the extinction-proneness of small populations has been found practically wherever this issue has been examined. … The loss of habitat reduced population size …. Larger habitat patches have larger expected population sizes than smaller patches. Therefore, other things being equal, we could expect large habitat patches to have populations with a lower risk of extinction than populations in small patches. … More generally, the relationship between patch size and extinction risk provides a key rule of thumb for conservation: other things being equal it is better to conserve a large than a small patch of habitat or to preserve as much of a particular patch as possible. … [T]here are likely to be many complementary reasons why large patches have populations with low risk of extinction. ” Oscar E. Gaggiotti and Ilkka Hanski. 2004. Chapter 14 – Mechanisms of Population Extinction. In Ecology, Genetics, and Evolution of Metapopulations. Elsevier. 2004. http://www.eeb.cornell.edu/sdv2/Readings/Gaggiotti&Hanski.pdf

    From these ecological foundations, one can see that the barred owl, by invading, occupying suitable habitat and excluding spotted owls, has reduced the effective size of the reserves that were established in 1994, and thereby reduces the potential population of spotted owls. Extinction risk is increased by this loss of habitat and smaller population. If we provide more suitable habitat, the population potential increases, and the risk of extinction decreases. The most rational way to respond is to protect remaining suitable habitat, expand and restore the reserve system to provide more suitable habitat to increase the likelihood that the two owl species can co-exist.

    This view is corroborated by owl biologist David Wiens who was interviewed on the Lehrer NewsHour. He said: “The more habitat you protect, the more you’re going to alleviate the competitive pressure between the species. Rather than reducing it and increasing the competitive pressure between these two species, we need to provide as much habitat as possible for them.” DAVID WIENS. NewsHour interview. “Biologists Struggle to Save the Spotted Owl.” December 18, 2007. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/science/july-dec07/owl_12-18.html Robert Anthony agrees, “If you start cutting habitat for either bird, you just increase competitive pressure.” Welch, Craig. 2009. The Spotted Owl’s New Nemesis. Smithsonian Magazine. January 2009. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/The-Spotted-Owls-New-Nemesis.html?c=y&page=2 And in the same article Eric Forsman added “You could shoot barred owls until you’re blue in the face,” he said. “But unless you’re willing to do it forever, it’s just not going to work.”

    The book “Signs of Life: How Complexity Pervades Biology” by Sole and Goodwin has an interesting discussion that immediately brings to mind the barred owl/spotted owl issue. Chapter 7 of the book describes work being done by a Japanese researcher named Kaneko who developed and explored a modeling concept called “coupled map lattices.” The lesson from these models is that when habitat is abundant, competing species operate within the “coexistence regime” but when habitat becomes scarce the model switches to a new attractor and operates in the “exclusion regime.” This model strongly supports the idea that retaining more habitat increases the likelihood that spotted and barred owls can coexist, and if we eliminate reserves or continue to log suitable habitat in the matrix, then barred owl may competitively exclude and extirpate the spotted owls. Similar results are demonstrated in resource competition models described by Tilman, Lehman, and Thompson. 1997. Plant diversity and ecosystem productivity: theoretical considerations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 94:1857-1861. http://www.cedarcreek.umn.edu/biblio/fulltext/t1694.pdf See also, Tilman, D. and P. Karieva, Eds. 1997. Spatial Ecology: The Role of Space in Population Dynamics and Interspecific Interactions. Monographs in Population Biology, Princeton University Press. 368 pp.

    • Bravo Doug, thank you for your important insights, references, and scientific contributions to enlarging the territory covered in this discussion.

      Your point regarding the tendency to reducing these issues to dichotomies is an important wake-up call for myself, in that I have made complaints of media coverage reducing these issues to polarized factions while being guilty, myself, of being sucked into those rhetorical whirlpools.

      Again, thank you!


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