How Old is Old Growth? Goose Project

What I found interesting about this Courthouse News Service article on the Goose project was this statement:

Promising that the Goose project will reduce fire risk, provide timber, create jobs and improve wildlife forage, the agency says it has “responded to the concerns raised by residents and made numerous adjustments to the project; including modifying the project near private property boundaries.”
“The harvest plans purposely exclude cutting larger, older trees that are present within the larger planning area,” according to the agency’s website. “Harvest will occur of trees that are from 40-120 years, with the bulk of the harvest occurring of trees that are 60-80 years old. While definitions of Old Growth vary by region and the scientist making the analysis, generally in the McKenzie Bridge area a tree is not considered Old Growth until it is 200 years old. Some people have told us they are not in favor of any logging or would prefer we only thin plantations under the age of 80.”

So here’s a simple question…what is the project going to cut? And if it is max 120 years, is anyone claiming that that is “old growth?”

12 thoughts on “How Old is Old Growth? Goose Project”

  1. The answer to how old is old is a matter of whether you answer the question as a scientist or a human. To the scientist it has an analyzed conclusion. To the human it is a matter of beauty in the eye of the beholder. The humans I have led up into tract 320 or along the Frissel trail agree that this is amazing old growth and it should remain. It is not for debate, it is important to those of us that are here now. Jerry Gilmour save mckenzie bridge

  2. I don’t know that we need a semantic debate about the definition of old growth. Naturally regenerated stands over 80 years old provide a variety of old forest functions. Under the Northwest Forest Plan, stands over 80 years old are considered “late-successional old-growth.” 1994 NWFP FSEIS p 3&4-13. The authors of the Northwest Forest Plan said:
    “It is important to distinguish between an arbitrary definition of ‘old growth’ and an ecological definition that focuses on ecological functions and processes. Many mixed-age stands that include only scattered individuals or patches of old trees in a matrix of mature trees probably function ecologically much like classical ‘old-growth’ stands that have large numbers of old trees. … Therefore, the terms ‘late successional’ and ‘old growth’ used in this Final SEIS include the successional stages defined as mature and old growth, both of which function as old growth.”

    The Goose Project Environmental Assessment describe the proposed action (Alternative 2) as including:

    a. 1255 acres of commercial thinning (496 acres of which are plantations, the remainder are fire-regenerated stands of varying ages);

    b. 41 acres of regeneration harvest;

    c. 322 acres of “gaps;”

    d. 195 acres of early seral wildlife thinning;

    e. 11 acres of dominant tree release;

    f. 38,004 thousand board feet of timber removal over a 3-7 year period (of which 9 mmbf is from plantations, 29 mmbf from fire-regenerated stands);

    g. 43 acres of suitable habitat for the northern spotted owl “removed” by logging
    and road construction (Errata Sheet – Goose Project, EA Appendix E-1;

    h. 331 acres of suitable habitat for the northern spotted owl “downgraded” by
    logging (Errata Sheet – Goose Project, EA Appendix E-1;

    i. 80 acres of suitable habitat for the northern spotted owl downgraded by fuels
    treatments (Errata Sheet – Goose Project, EA Appendix E-1;

    j. 60 foot no harvest buffer on perennial streams, 30 foot buffers on intermittent
    streams; (EA pp 40-41). Full riparian-reserve-width buffers (172-344 feet) on
    a few streams (EA p 93);

    k. 362 acres of thinning in riparian reserves, including 148 acres of young-
    managed stands and 214 acres of natural, fire-regenerated stands, many over
    80 years old (EA p 47);

    l. 8 miles of temporary road construction (a portion of which goes through high quality owl habitat aka “old growth” known as “RA 32”);

    m. 1 miles of permanent road construction;

    n. 588 acres of non-commercial hazardous fuel treatments.

    o. 660 acres of roadless logging would render ineligible for wilderness 1,249 acres from a 9,000-acre “potential wilderness area” above the community of McKenzie Bridge;

    • Doug: I am not sure what that long list of numbers is about — looks a lot like government zoning ordinances — but I’d like to point out that “naturally regenerated” (or planted) trees of any age “provide a variety of forest functions,” whatever those “functions” might be.

      Also, I was interested to see the NW Plan definition of old-growth you have quoted. That’s an age classification — as in “even-aged stands” — not some kind of mystical “ecological” assessment. Totally typical for Douglas-fir (and juniper and lodgepole) that have invaded abandoned prairies, orchards, or fields; apparently sometime around the replacement of grazing livestock with automobiles and chain saws about 80 to 120 years ago. Almost indistinguishable from planted trees of the same age and species. Or hand seeded.

      Weren’t the 3-C’s in McKenzie Bridge about 80 or 90 years ago, planting trees and cutting them down, putting out fires, and building trails? Try Googling that for a little forest history!

      And why is 80 suddenly a magical number? Because a government committee decided? I can tell you why 200 is an important consideration: my business partner is 93, which is a lot more remarkable achievement than a conifer making it 80 years; but he’ll never come close to 200, and the conifers might — those are trees he has shared with his great-grandparents and their families, and maybe a few of the thousands of trees he has planted, in turn, will reach down to his great-grandchildren. Eighty years is common and typical; 200 years is exceptional and worth considering.

    • I think we need to see how much of that “suitable habitat” is nesting habitat, or foraging habitat, which differ greatly in their characteristics. Also, since there is a core area for owl directly adjacent, it won’t matter as much if trees are removed, since owls are quite territorial. Chances are, their “nest tree rotation” will still be intact and unharmed.

      Now, I’m not giving the project my blessing but, we need to cut through the chaff and push for a project that enhances the existing forest, instead of removing all that timber volume, in such a tiny area. Tree densities should match the annual rainfall, resulting in a more healthy and resilient forest.

      All in all, this project looks like it won’t make it through the courts. There are too many loopholes that push the envelope of legality and ecology. I’d prefer a forest with good canopy closure, healthy densities and enhanced wildlife habitat.

  3. Sharon: It was refreshing to see the number “200 years” used to define old-growth. That is a number that has been traditionally used by scientists and lumbermen alike throughout the Pacific Northwest for nearly 100 years. Douglas-fir trees in the 80 to 120 year age group are largely invasives into the prairies and oak savannahs that characterized much of the treatment area more than 120 years ago, and are considered “second growth.” Between 120 years or so and 200 years of age the trees are called “mature second growth.” Until recently, that is, and then seemingly for political purposes rather than scientific or economical reasons.

  4. Just for comparison, I measured a tree that was not taken in a clearcut. I cored the tree and it was 60 years old, 36″ dbh and I forget how tall it was. It was a Port Orford cedar. These are the kinds of projects that the timber industry thought they were compromising for, on “matrix lands”. This is an example of how a listed northern spotted owl gets less protection than the California spotted owl, which isn’t listed. You can cut trees up to 60″ dbh under the current northern spotted owl rules, where in the Sierra Nevada, the diameter limits are at 30″ dbh.

  5. This issue came to light as a result of the FS assertion in the public discussion that the trees to be cut are young trees having a diameter of 7 inches or greater. It was a misleading tactic designed to sway public sentment. In that context, 120 year trees are on the far end of the spectrum. Jerry Gilmour

  6. Our revised forest plan dropped “old growth” as a definition and went to “large tree”, which I think is defined as anything greater than 20″ diameter. The term “old growth” is kind of like “restoration” it means different things to different people. But a 20″” diameter tree is easy to define.

    • Absolutely! A big tree is ecologically-valuable, no matter what age it is. And, of course, no one complains when a 180 year old suppressed 13.2 ” dbh tree is harvested. One problem with diameter limits is that superior trees just below the threshold are often cut, and crappy trees just over the limit become “sacred”.

  7. Michael: The word “large” has at least as many interpretations as “old.” A 20-inch tree in many western Oregon forests might be described as relatively “small” or even “sickly.” And it might be old-growth, too.

    20-inches is no more exacting than 200 years. Quantified semantics is what we’re dealing with here. Depends on who is defining the terms. And what their motivation seems to be.

  8. I agree that “Is it old growth?” is probably the wrong question.

    A better question is “Can this stand benefit from the proposed treatment (commercial logging in this case)?” In that regard, age and size and density of trees are all relevant.

    It is much easier to see a need to carefully thin dense young planted stands. It is harder to see any net ecological benefit from logging naturally regenerated stands, especially those over 80 years old that are are already providing relatively under-represented old forest values and they have all the building blocks for self-improvement through natural processes. Removing large trees from such stands, at least on the wet west-side, is just removing habitat structure.

  9. Where I’m at in west central Idaho a 20″diameter tree is fairly large, but there are no diameter limits. 20″ probably would not be appropriate in other areas, such as western Oregon. Enhancing large tree component is a goal under current management schemes, as well as reducing stand densities and encouraging seral species such as Ponderosa pine, Western Larch, Aspen, and Douglas fir depending on the site while reducing true firs. Dense “old growth forest” were not common or wide spread historically due to fire frequencies. The dense stands tend towards insects and disease and stand replacing fires.


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