In Search of Our Desired Forest

Jumbo Peak, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, photo by Tom Kogut

“What we leave on the land is more important than what we take away.” – Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth, 2002

“Narrowly defined desired future ecosystem conditions, particularly if they are historical conditions poorly aligned with the unprecedented future, will seldom provide useful targets for management intervention.” – Stephenson, Millar, and Cole In Beyond Naturalness, 2010

What’s the true value of a Forest Plan?  Over the history of Forest Service planning, the answer has changed. Now it’s changing again – plans in the future will not be measured by the accuracy of their detailed descriptions of fixed “desired conditions”, but how robust and flexible the plans will be when dealing with uncertainty.

Of course, maybe the true value of planning was never what we thought. It may have simply been about drawing a map of the areas where activities could occur, and creating a certain level of accountability with the public about how the activities would be conducted. But the idea persists today that the central purpose of plans is to describe detailed “pictures” of our desired conditions, and the specific structure, composition and function of the necessary ecosystem elements.

What a history we’ve had! NFMA plans were originally conceived as essentially one big timber sale. During the Senate floor debate in 1976, Hubert Humphrey said that no project level NEPA documents would be required after a plan was completed. All the parts of the plan were equally important. That changed in 1990, when former Chief Dale Robertson began to assert that standards and guidelines were more important than objectives. Throughout the 1990s, we shifted our focus from the uses of the forest to the condition of the forest itself. While changing the NFMA planning rule, the 1999 Committee of Scientists described the purpose of forest planning as “outward looking, built upon assessments; grounded in current scientific understanding; collaborative in nature; and focused on desired future conditions.” Planners were told to concentrate on “what we leave on the land.”

Meanwhile, planning was requiring huge investments of time, and plans were being written with a few pages of goals and objectives followed by 100 or more pages of forest-wide or management-area-specific standards and guidelines. Good standards were difficult to write, because they required inventories of current conditions that weren’t available, understanding of changing technology, and the need for difficult projections about the level and intensity of likely future activities in the face of changing management priorities and changing conditions on-the-ground. It was difficult to set standards for things like old growth or riparian areas when we didn’t even know how many acres were out there.

So the 2005 and 2008 planning rules were written to make plans more strategic and vision oriented, like county comprehensive master plans, and less dependent upon prescriptive standards. The preamble to the 2008 planning rule explained that “plans are more effective if they include more detailed descriptions of desired conditions, rather than long lists of prohibitive standards or guidelines developed in an attempt to anticipate and address every possible future project or activity and the potential effects such projects could cause.”

But a funny thing happened when we started writing plans under the 2008 rule. Instead of 100 pages of standards and guidelines, we now had 100 pages of desired conditions. Rather than broad, strategic goals, descriptions of desired conditions were becoming specific, detailed, highly-parameterized descriptions of vegetation conditions: percent species composition, numbers of trees per acre, desired ranges of basal area, numbers of snags, etc. The idea was that detailed desired conditions could ease the burden on project planners in developing the “purpose and need” for projects. At the same time, these desired conditions writeups were suggested as a tool for “accountability”.

Meanwhile, we probably lost the idea that forest plans should be readily understood by the lay reader who treasures a forest.  For many people, a forest is a place.  It’s not a list of attributes.

But here’s the fundamental question about planning:  Do National Forests change because of Forest Plans or in spite of Forest Plans? Can we really control nature? Is intensive end-oriented management possible everywhere? In the Rocky Mountain west, we work in fire-dominated ecosystems with very long fire-return intervals. We have seen huge swaths of trees dying of insects or disease. The rates of change are enormous, and for some forests, current FIA data doesn’t represent the current conditions on the ground. We are heavily influenced by severe storm events – intense snowstorms, rain on snow events, patterns of drought, summer floods, even tornadoes. There is no equilibrium condition. Our Forest Plan modeling shows dynamic, ever-changing forests.  We have become focused on the types and rates of forest disturbances.  At the scales we’re dealing with, it may not be possible to map a single desired condition, or even a reasonably understood “range of conditions”.

The dynamics of climate change create uncertainties at the scales we are working at.  Connie Millar has said that “although DC statements may be written broadly (“habitat for species x exists in adequate amounts to maintain current populations”), equally often they emphasize limited views of the future, or very narrow ranges of conditions (“4-6 snags per acre”). This suggests that the possibility of multiple ecosystem pathways, unexpected events, major interactions among elements, and threshold events are not really accepted by managers or the public. DC statements that recognize ranges of outcomes and not just singular states as acceptable are more realistic.”

Florida State Law professor Robin Kundis Craig has argued for new types of plans and regulations because “Stationarity is Dead“:  “we are moving into an era where ecological change might not be predictable and when external factors, positive feedbacks, or nonlinear instabilities in a system will cause changes to propagate in a domino-like fashion that is potentially irreversible. As land, air, and water temperatures generally increase, patterns of precipitation alter in terms of both amount and timing, and species shift as best they can to cope, “restoration” and even “sustainability” have the potential to become close to meaningless concepts. We are moving along an at least somewhat unpredictable path to an as yet unpredictable final destination.”

The planning problem is not just about natural forces – it’s also about societal changes. We are seeing new uses of National Forests, and more and more projects are proposed by somebody other than the Forest Service.  For instance, how can we anticipate in advance what standards and guidelines apply to laying a new type of fiber-optic cable across a forest?

As explained in the business and public administration literature, the purpose of a strategic plan is to identify core strengths, intended roles and contributions, and a “vision” which can be a rallying point or goal to be achieved. A plan should be robust and flexible, so it can adapt to changing conditions, changing knowledge, and changing politics, while being consistent with the organization’s core strengths and vision. A highly detailed plan will detract from the day to day sensing necessary to manage the unexpected. As Karl Weick and Kathleen Sutcliffe state in their book Managing the Unexpected:

A heavy investment in plans restricts sensing to expectations built into the plans and restricts responding to actions built into the existing repertoire. The result is a system that is less able to sense discrepancies, less able to update understanding and learn, and less able to recombine actions into new ways to handle the unexpected.”

Park Service scientists Robert Bennetts and Bruce Bingham have pointed out the reasons that it is highly difficult, if not impossible, for managers to achieve desired conditions, because of lack of information, lack of management control, unavoidable circumstances, and trade-offs based on societal values. They talk about the “punitive paradox”: managers aren’t going to report impaired conditions if they are being judged on the difference between existing and desired conditions. They conclude that desired conditions could be a useful scientific research question, but they don’t work as a management tool.

So where does this leave us?  Actually, some of the answers have already been mentioned on this blog.  There are some exciting planning techniques being implemented in the field.  We’ve got the tools – let’s see what we can do.

28 thoughts on “In Search of Our Desired Forest”

  1. “So where does this leave us?”
    If “this” means planning on the basis of a desired future condition, then we need to go back in time and realize we’ve proceeded as if we knew how an unmanaged system functions.

    We didn’t. We still don’t. Let’s not pretend we do.

    Heap upon this ignorance an arbitrary mandate for “uses” of the forest driven by an arbitrary and capricious expectation of “more and more projects” … “proposed by somebody other than the Forest Service”, even in a condition of dynamic equilibrium (a verifiable impossibility), and we have a farce.

    Factor in the inertia of entropy already set in motion, with an ocean already oversaturated in CO2, and myriad planetary systems already tipping towards chaos with nonlinear feedbacks now the threatened rule instead of the exception of no return, and we are left with two choices:

    We can either come to terms with our ignorance and foolish folly of the past, or continue the charade of “management” of disequilibrium.

    That is, we either batten down the hatches of resiliency on 193 million acres in the hopeful, headlong pursuit of restoration for the predictable ongoing but oncoming biological tempest of tempests,

    or, we may as well cash out every single liquid asset now on those 193 million acres and have one big going away party for the Planet. For whatever the US has disproportionately already done to the carbon accounting sheet directly and indirectly, heaped upon what it chooses to do in the name of “exciting planning techniques”, will determine the fate of Planet.

    There will be no middle ground except a continuation of the present farcical tragicomedy of the darkest sort.

  2. Nice assessment, John.

    One question that came up when talking with a colleague yesterday: If you are working in city or county government, do you “implement” a general plan? I think not. The general plan serves as either an umbrella over the adaptive management actions of the governmental body, else as a touchstone to help guide such action. But there is really nothing to implement. At least when I was on a city council we never really talked about implementing our plan.

    In talking with two FS planning directors earlier this week, both seemed more intent on fixing “planning” via rule implementation than in fixing the “rule.” This is unfortunate in my estimation.

    The “rule” ought to have framed things up for whatever follows re: national forest management. Instead, it appears that the rule development process is now largely viewed by many in the FS as a “throwaway,” so that they can get on with “God’s work” whatever the flavor of that might be this year.

    • But there is really nothing to implement. At least when I was on a city council we never really talked about implementing our plan.

      I’m not sure that I agree with this comparison. City/town councils and county commissions “implement” their comp plans, city plans, small area plans, etc. in different ways, but mainly by issuing permits (e.g., zoning, building) to the public and private sector. Although in many cases those boards are not developing projects directly, they are still carrying out the vision of their plan by determining where and how such projects are implemented. Or at least they should be – one might argue that many issues communities have today (e.g., sprawl, traffic) are often the result of such boards NOT following or “implementing” their own plans.

      The USFS issues special use permits, so in that respect, the comparison is similar – determing where or where not an activity is appropriate (based upon the plan) and to what specifications or conditions it is developed/conducted (e.g., stipulations for oil & gas leasing). The agency is also implementing it’s own activities (e.g., campground development, controlled burns, timber harvests).

      Perhaps we’re just arguing semantics over what is meant by “implementing,” but if plans are designed “to help guide such action,” doesn’t that imply there IS some future action on the part of the plan developer?

  3. I wonder if Bosworth ever dreamed that so much “would be left on the land”. Considering the USFS now logs 20% of what they did during his tenure. Do you ever wonder what his “prefferred timber harvest level” was? In light of “changing public values”, I’m sure he wanted to dial back timber harvest, but to what level. 80%? 70%? Probably not 20%. I’ve always wondered what Jack Ward Thomas would have liked to set as a goal. I’m sure Dombeck was quite proud of reducing it by 80%.I wonder how many retired Cheifs would like to see an increase in timber harvest? I’m sure decorum prevents them from voicing their opinion now.

    Whats pathetic is the USFS doesn’t even know how much they’re logging now. They can’t tell the public what percentage of the forest they are logging every year. You’d think knowing how much was being logged would be THEE most fundamental question the public would like to know? It should be in every monitoring report. How did this slip through the cracks? I guess statistics and perspective have no place in philosophy.

    Just a word on “suitable” and “Non”. Mark Squillace mentioned something about “no harvest” in non suitable for ten years unless its salvage. Keep in mind, that in the pine beetle forests of Colorado, much of the timber harvest is now in areas classified as “non-suitable”. Every major ski resort is developing EA’s that would salvage and sanitize log their ski slopes. Vail Ski Resort is proposing logging on 4000 acres. Even Aspen is getting out the cut. No small thing. I don’t think Ski areas are classified as “suitable”.Throughtout the west, WUI logging tends to be in non-suitable areas due to the proximity to homes in low elevation dry forests that barey grow a crop of industrial wood.

  4. Since so few of our forests have been “unmanaged” since the glaciers receded, why do people feel the need to have vast unmanaged forests? To “protect” them from fire suppression? To “protect” bark beetle habitat? To let whatever happens to our forests happen, then calling it “wild” and “restored” and “natural”, then praising Gaia??

    If we are going to be making brand new “resilient ecosystems”, shouldn’t we “craft” them to fit the predicted climate with management, instead letting vast portions of it die, rot and burn?

    • “Die, rot and burn” are natural processes which because of the “craft” of prior mismanagement, are now occurring on an unnatural scale and frequency.

      Why do people feel the need to explain the deconstruction of formerly resilient, complex natural systems, which after “management” now suffer grand scales of extinctions, disease, and conflagration?

      “In ancient Greece, hubris referred to actions that shamed and humiliated the victim for the pleasure or gratification of the abuser…”
      Hubris was also used to describe actions of those who challenged the gods or their laws…”(Wikipedia)

      By any objective appraisal, that which now requires “restoration” is reflecting mismanagement, borne of a controlling abusive attitude occurring on a scale grand enough to imperil an entire planet.

      The hubris embedded in the claim “If we are going to be making brand new “resilient ecosystems”… is rife with illusions of control of life forces… “shouldn’t we “craft” them…” assumes possession of the skills of creation.

      Skills of destruction, yes. Skills of creation– I don’t think so.

  5. As Dave notes, nice summary John. I think you are correct that, at its core, planning “may have simply been about drawing a map of the areas where activities could occur, and creating a certain level of accountability with the public about how the activities would be conducted.” But the key word is “simply” – it’s NOT simple. The public, and even agency staff, expects clarity and justification for both of those aspects. Thus the development of detailed DCs and standards/guidelines (despite their limitations and the unexpected, as you note).

    My hope is that the “Goldilocks Principle” prevails, and that we just haven’t found it or been willing to widely implement it yet.

  6. John notes:

    Connie Millar has said [p. 122] that “although DC statements may be written broadly …, equally often they emphasize limited views of the future, or very narrow ranges of conditions…. This suggests that the possibility of multiple ecosystem pathways, unexpected events, major interactions among elements, and threshold events are not really accepted by managers or the public. DC statements that recognize ranges of outcomes and not just singular states as acceptable are more realistic.”

    Wow! “DC statements that recognize ranges of outcomes and not just singular states as acceptable are more realistic.” Doesn’t that sound a bit like what I offered up last spring in Fixing the Rule:

    [Assessments and monitoring reviews] might be accompanied by some simple scenario planning — which is more the stuff of futuring than of planning — to deal with emergent, but unknown, even unknowable futures. Note that scenario planning specifically avoids the “desired future” trap.

  7. In an “open and transparent” government, without a hint of “suppressed science”, apparently, even the Obama Forest Service cannot be trusted with “flexibilty” and “discretion”. I do agree with your spin on “futuring”, Dave, and that has always been a part of my timbermarking style, especially concerning leave trees. Who could be trusted to utilize this futuring idea that emphasizes even more “discretion”?

  8. The recent accusations of the Forest Service being “untrustworthy” and “making things up” doesn’t bode well for our National Forests. It seems that Americans need more disaster, destruction and firestorms to be convinced that what foresters have been saying for decades is, indeed, coming true. Even Al Gore somehow finds a way to ignore overstocking, fire suppression and species composition issues to spout to the public that “climate change” alone is “killing our forests”.

    What will it take for eco-groups to trust the Forest Service?? Forget moving the goalposts, yet again. What does the Forest Service have to do to end the legal wranglings and micro-managing, forever? When will Forest Service “Ologists” be respected as “real” scientists, and their recommendations be heeded as “sound science”. I resent the broad rollerbrush being used against ALL Forest Service employees, who collectively, add to the decisions in the woods. The mere fear of potential corruption should not stop the Forest Service from doing beneficial forest management.

  9. Excellent post, John! I would like to add a few bits..the practical side of DCs. There are the biological DC’s- snags per acre or age classes of trees- which as many of the quotes point out- are fundamentally flawed, given climate change and (what is less known) the costs of intervention. What is the point of the public and paid employees (one of my coworkers says “think of the money we spend as tax money coming from the pockets of a single waitress with two kids”) articulating to the nth degree conditions that perhaps we will never to able to afford to obtain?

    At a couple of public meetings I attended, the people were frustrated about talking about DC’s. They wanted lines on maps, and some of them (interest groups, generally) wanted objectives. DCs are only words on a piece of paper. If somehow we wanted to pursue “lines on maps” coupled with “accountability” there must be a more direct approach.

    As to the non-biological DC’s.. we want clean toilets and a sustainable recreation program. Is that too specific? Too general? Wouldn’t that be the same for each forest?

    David- I don’t see the world in black and white, but rather shades of gray. Your statements remind me of the Old Testament prophets.. Repent! The end of the world is at hand! Avoid evil and do good! But in our world there are a myriad of decisions large and small, and a myriad of views on what is good, and no particular objective evidence that the world in ending.

    You also said

    The hubris embedded in the claim “If we are going to be making brand new “resilient ecosystems”… is rife with illusions of control of life forces… “shouldn’t we “craft” them…” assumes possession of the skills of creation.

    Skills of destruction, yes. Skills of creation– I don’t think so.

    I don’t know what you are talking about; certainly humankind has choices to grow apple trees or hay, to use herbicides to get rid of invasive species or not, to live on soybeans or beef. You seem to be saying human intervention can only be “destructive.” It seems a bit misanthropic.

    Marek and Dave I- I think it probably is semantics- but take the idea of “caring for the land and serving people”- would you prefer to say that your daily tasks are about caring for the land, or “implementing a plan”. Implementing a plan sounds dull and bureaucratic, comparatively, plus some of our plans are old, old, old. I would prefer Dave I’s nimbleness to “following a plan.” It’s really about the people and the land, and not about the documents, in my view.

    Foto- I missed the “Forest Service can’t be trusted” part..was it in this set of comments?

    • Sharon, my reference to hubris (I know it when I see it) is in its fascinating etymology which connects Greek mythological themes (parables of fatal character flaws) with present day manifestations of “being out of touch with reality and overestimating one’s own competence or capabilities, especially for people in positions of power.” (Wikipedia)

      I feel that as a species we don’t all possess a tragic predisposition for self-destruction and sociopathic tendencies, but there does seem to be a high correlation between those tendencies and hubris, with positions of power, and alternately, those tendencies and hubris in those who derive their sense of identity and personal power from fatally flawed, yet powerful characters and their tragic beliefs, addictions or obsessions.

      So it is with some amusement, that I, (as a long established agnostic), get to watch you and Fotoware twisting my etymological references of polytheistic Greek mythology into the present day dominant monotheism of Western civilization(sic), infamous for its god granting “his” subjects “dominion” over creation.

      Noted atheist Richard Dawkins (brilliant but quite unlikeable to me) has advanced a fascinating thesis to explain all this. It’s called “Viruses of the Mind”( ).

      Fotoware’s hubris-filled claim to be capable of ‘making brand new “resilient ecosystems”’, in the aftermath of having deconstructed them — which has helped precipitate climate change — combined with your thoughtful questions as to whether we will be “able to afford” “the costs of intervention” to climate change, (the ‘dominion virus?’) contributes to a grim prognosis for life as we know it.

      Which leads (and I thank you) to the whole point of this blog, (I thought): For me to differ with you both, and state my beliefs — that there are no fungible ethics, nor shades of gray in the unprecedented crisis of “irreversible, catastrophic climate change”(IPCC AR4) which people in positions of power are failing to adequately respond to, and others choose to ignore the urgency of. My contention is that we are all in a position of power when we speak our truths to each other.

      There can be no more quintessential form of misanthropy, Sharon, than when an administration, its agencies, its bureaucratic minions, its apologists and/or the insufficiently motivated and terminally self-absorbed, deny or equivocate the urgency of the moment as it relates to the virtual certitude of near-term triggering of positive feedback cycles of climate forcings which are likely to result by our inaction and thus turning our backs on life as we now know it.

      In short, what part of “irreversible, catastrophic climate change” are we having trouble understanding where our priorities must lie?

      The question is not “How much will this cost, and can we afford it?”, nor is the question,”why do people feel the need to have vast unmanaged forests?”

      The question is, “Does a majority of us possess the necessary ethical and empathetic capacities to significantly alter our behaviors and world view so that life as we now know it will be able to continue to hopefully evolve?”

      “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm.
      An initial 350 ppm CO2 target may be achievable by phasing out coal use except where CO2 is captured and adopting agricultural and FORESTRY PRACTICES that sequester carbon.(emphasis added)
      If the present overshoot of this target CO2 is not brief, there is a possibility of seeding irreversible catastrophic effects.” (Hansen et al. 2008)

      • Perhaps, David, you should look into the origins of words like rhetoric, sarcasm and ignorance. I was merely parroting some of the people involved in the new Planning Rule, who eschew historical states of partial equilibrium, in favor of “brand new resilient ecosystems”.

        If “climate change” is as framed, then mitigation measures for our forests SHOULD be to reduce stocking levels and increased available water for the trees we really want to keep for another 300 years. Instead, the scant preciptitation is spread out between the entire overstocked stand, making it perfect bark beetle habitat. With bark beetles, it is less about cold temperatures and more about “suitable habitat”. I take it you don’t know about how bark beetles produce an antifreeze-like substance in the bodies to ward off the cold.

        If we could, somehow, reduce stocking levels, correct species compositions to historical baselines, and return prescribed fires to the landscape, then forests could once again be resilient, aesthetic, majestic and diverse.

        Hansen is a loony, and it speaks volumes that you cite his “lunacy”. Ummm, when was the last time the oceans boiled off this planet?!?!?!?!?….Would that be…NEVER??!!??

        If we “magically-fixed” climate change, we would still have dying forest, diminishing ESA habitats and catastrophic wildfires due to the preservation of “unnatural” forests. Or, don’t you think that Indian-dominated landscapes weren’t a good thing?? Did Indians have the same “hubris” as other forest scientists?? Apparently, it looked like they were able to radically-affect their own natural worlds, for the benefit of themselves, alone.

        David, I think you might be much happier on a leftwing climate website, where you might feel more at home. We talk about forests here, regardless of the weather. We talk about forest health, regardless of partisan politics. We talk about solutions, regardless of wild claims of GaiArmageddon.

  10. All the eco-groups are lining up to say that there must be rigid constraints on Forest Supervisors when making decisions, as they are suspected of potential corruption. I contend that Forest Service infrastructure (what is left of it) provides the Forest Supervisor with the data and observations he/she needs to make these decisions. I also contend that there are already existing rules, laws and policies to ensure that government corruption will be minimized. Any hint of corruption will be seen and reported, with consequences. I think the eco-groups really fear the probability that they will start to lose lawsuits they used to win, under the old rules.

  11. Foto- did they actually use the word “corruption”? Looking at Wikipedia, under “political corruption” it is defined as:

    Political corruption is the use of legislated powers by government officials for illegitimate private gain. ..
    Forms of corruption vary, but include bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, patronage, graft, and embezzlement. While corruption may facilitate criminal enterprise such as drug trafficking, money laundering, and human trafficking, it is not restricted to these activities.

    I thought some groups were simply accusing local line officers of not being able to make the “right” decisions according to these groups’ view of “right” ness. Possibly because local line officers may be influenced by the feelings and desires of local people and their elected officials, which may not be as enlightened as those of national groups. Which is a far cry from the “corruption” definition. It may seem pedantic, but if forest planning is about the combo of lines on maps and accountability, it’s important to understand what is the perceived problem, so we can think about appropriate solutions.

  12. Yes, they did use the word “corruption” to describe a Forest Supervisor’s potential decision to manage forests instead of “preserving” them. Some eco-groups still claim that “the fox is guarding the henhouse”. (Yeah, sounds like another definition of “corruption”) Yes, and I have seen actual corruption before. Imagine a Timber Sale Administrator, whose wife is the head of the School Board, expanding a 2.2 million board foot salvage sale into an 8 million board foot behemoth.

    If a Forest Supervisor cannot be trusted to “make the right decisions”, then who else is qualified to make those decisions?!? Certainly NOT Judges, who are also subject to partisan politics and corruption, as well.

  13. Footware:

    Besides the fact that your incomprehensible rants over “the oceans boiled off this planet”(please explain) your statement criticizing me for quoting Dr. James Hansen (‘Hansen is a loony, and it speaks volumes that you cite his “lunacy”)sounded vaguely familiar.

    Sure enough, it was a MediaMatters article pointing out Rush Limbaugh had called Hansen a “lunatic”, which brings into clear focus your other statement:

    “I was merely parroting …”

    Now we know who you parrot.

    Hansen, when notified of a similar slander had this to say in response:

    “if he is going to wander into something with major consequences for humanity and other life on the planet, then he should first do his homework — which he obviously has not done on global warming.” James Hansen

    • You could not be more wrong about me, Davin. I do not watch or follow rightwing Republican “celebrities”. I’m in the middle, somewhere. A little left on some issues, and a little right on some issues but, never straying too far from the middle. Hansen has stated that “the oceans will boil off” if we don’t do something drastic and immediate. I used the term “lunatic”, because I thought I was being original and clever, since he works for NASA. I guess I’m not that clever, or original. In fact, he even berates other climate alarmists for not being as….uhhh…. alarmist as he is.

      We cannot derail the conversations about what to do to mitigate these predicted effects on our public lands. The spirit of the new Planning Rule is about restoration. I fear that some people like the power of the word, but do not care for the literal meaning, as applied to our forests. I’m naturally skeptical that actual restoration activities will be widespread. And, what happens if we have 25-35 million acres burned in the next two years, and a new Presidential race? Disaster and carnage seems to sometimes break gridlock.

  14. I consider James Hansen to be a political activist, who has blurred the line between Science and politics and in my mind has discredited his science. The global warming/climate change issue seems to be heavy on politics, with some questionable science. I believe that the Global Warming issue is losing political ground, despite the nearly continuous scare studies/stories put out by the media and research. There are some parallels with the science used in the Forest planning and management. Folks are all for using the best science as long as it agrees with their politics. Like the bug kill lodgepole pine issue discussed numerous times on this blog, if there’s a study or research out there that supports your point of view then that’s the one to use. It’s getting to be a challenge to determine what is science and what is advocacy. Politics is a major part of forest planning, but often times the politics attempt to justify itself with advocacy science.

  15. Fotoware and Michael D:

    Okay, we get it — You both (likely not scientists) discredit James Hansen for being an activist.

    Now, how are you going to discredit the hundreds of scientists whom have chosen Hansen to be their lead spokesman?

    Scientists from over 130 countries who contributed to the IPCC(AR4) including more than 2500 scientific expert reviewers, more than 800 contributing authors, and more than 450 lead authors?(Wikipedia)

    Of these, the Working Group 1 report (including the summary for policy makers) included contributions by 600 authors from 40 countries, over 620 expert reviewers, a large number of government reviewers, and representatives from 113 governments.

    Hansen was the first to warn Congress in 1988. These warnings have come true and are now our collective predicament. He’s NASA’s chief climatologist and an activist on his own time. Considering his depth of involvement and what’s at stake, I find his activism to not only be appropriate but demonstrative of his humanity.

    Tell ya what– keep believing the misinformation you’re getting on the boob tube paid for by ExxonMobil, Koch Foundation, Massey Energy, and other multi-billionaire fossil fools and their beneficiaries such as the Reason foundation, Heritage Institute, (etc. ad nauseum.)

    Keep believing there’s no “activism” to wonder about coming from those sociopathic greedheads. I recommend though, that you don’t have children, or if you do, don’t admit your peculiarly clueless denialism that they’ll be witness to and victimized by for the rest of their lives and their children’s lives.

    No, it won’t be because of the denialism just you two passionately embrace, it’ll be because of all the truly amazing people just like you.

    • Sorry, David, but if you had actually read and understood what I had posted, you’d know that the picture you just painted doesn’t describe my opinions about “climate change”, at all. I have done surveys and collected data, made conclusions and recommendations on land management decisions. I don’t know if that makes me a “scientist” but, I do know something about many sciences. Hansen’s “boiling oceans” statement is akin to saying “If we have global nuclear war, our oceans will boil off”. Hansen is saying that if we don’t do anything about dirty energy or pollution for XXX amount of years, our oceans will boil off”. He assumes that humans will do the exact damaging things, continue to use fossil fuels and never innovate and change to better things….. Well, DUH!

      Any “climate change” mitigation through caps and taxes will NOT have any beneficial short-term effects on our “unnatural” forests. I think we all want climate stability, David, but we also think we can “fix” our forests, where they need it. You’re saying that because of the damages of the last millenium, that we should do nothing in this one?!? Doctors punched holes in skulls to let out the sickly demons in the last millenium. Should we handcuff them all for this one?

      • I do read, but will be the first to admit I can misunderstand. Given the whole political spectrum has been violently shifted to the right in this country, it may be that you misunderstand where the “center” lies these days– and that is totally outside the realm of reason and ethics. It is precisely this “center” which is supporting US military global domination and assuring no meaningful response to climate change.

        You also misunderstand my position:

        I’d be all for agency restoration of its past mismanagement which helped contribute to our climate emergency, even if USFS “restoration” is precisely the scenario of Naomi Kline’s “Disaster Capitalism”.

        In similar fashion, the taxpayer got extorted to fund the destruction of its forest ecosystems in the name of “jobs”, and now gets extorted to fund the “restoration” of those impaired ecosystems. Go for it boys. Kinda like a perpetual motion machine of extortion.

        The main problem I have with “restoration” is that it’s been highjacked — such as was recently revealed by two retired USFS Biologists in their letter to Maria Cantwell regarding the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Act (CFLRA)– in their words:
        This is a “fleecing of America” both in the cost of several million dollars and the lack of public participation.”

        But please Fotoware, don’t get upset when you’re perceived as not understanding some basic premises of climate change. Such as:
        “damages of the last millenium”
        (You’re only 750 years off on this)
        The climate changes are the result of the dramatic increase of the emissions attributed to fossil fuel use of the industrial revolution — and onwards and especially in the last 50 years.

        Second, there’s this sticky wicket concerning tipping points and not knowing when they get initiated even when there’s strong evidence to suggest feedbacks are already occurring. I’m not as sanguine as you as to how much time we have to save ourselves. A carbon tax is an essential stopgap measure to returning to 350ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere.

        So let’s keep things in perspective here please.

        Third, try not to get too high-centered on Hansen’s observations of planetary atmospherics, and especially don’t attribute your words to Hansen who never said them in the first place.
        (““boiling oceans” statement is akin to saying…”)

        Prior to ever being chosen as NASA’s chief climate scientist he was selected as NASA’s lead astrophysicist for interplanetary exploration.

        I defer to Hansen’s expertise on this.

  16. David- I am trying to catch up with these discussions, since I have been focused for a couple of months on some other issues.

    You said in post 14 above

    “Which leads (and I thank you) to the whole point of this blog, (I thought): For me to differ with you both, and state my beliefs — that there are no fungible ethics, nor shades of gray in the unprecedented crisis of “irreversible, catastrophic climate change”(IPCC AR4) which people in positions of power are failing to adequately respond to, and others choose to ignore the urgency of. My contention is that we are all in a position of power when we speak our truths to each other.”

    I think the “right answer” to climate change is what is outlined in the Hartwell paper. Here’s the link to the paper itself.

    There is a difference between 1) thinking climate change is real, 2) thinking climate change is real and produced by greenhouse gases, 3) thinking climate change is real and produced by greenhouse gases, but also other human-induced factors which also need to be taken into consideration in any solution.

    Based on my readings and discussions with knowledgeable folks, I am in category 3. And my solutions are as per Hartwell.

    Are you a 1, 2, or 3? And what solution do you prefer? You and I agree that cap’n’trade is not a good solution, so you must have other solutions you prefer.

    • Sharon,
      I’ll need time to give the paper a read and have glanced at it. They’re using compelling language in their arguments though.(My those discredited guys from The Breakthrough Institute sure get around these days don’t they? Weren’t they the authors of the “Death of Environmentalism”?)

      We definitely need some new approaches the most reasonable seems to have come from Hansen himself and is now proposed legislation:

      People’s Climate Stewardship / Carbon Fee and Dividend Act of 2010

      and here’s a discussion and comparison

  17. Again, you misunderstand, David. When I am talking about “damages of the last millenium”, I was only talking about logging. Yes, logging practices were very bad, for a while. We made some necessary changes in the 1990’s to change how forests are managed. Just because the Forest Service used to clearcut, that doesn’t mean we should ban low-impact mechanical thinning (or any other tool in the forester’s toolbox) and harvesting that does “the greatest good”.

    The definition of restore in the handy little dictionary I have says “repair, re-new, re-establish”. What is your definition of “restoration”, and how has the term been “hijacked”, David? Do you have some specific restoration solutions for climate change impacted forests? The most common western forest is mixed conifer, including ponderosa pine. This also includes where lodgepoles have invaded, due to fire suppression. Please tell us what you would do to “restore” these forests, using your own definition.

    Now is your chance to show us all what to do with our forests in the face of Hansen’s opinions, David.


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