“An Ecosystem Management Strategy for Sierran Mixed Conifer Forests”


“Description: Current Sierra Nevada forest management is often focused on strategically reducing fuels without an explicit strategy for ecological restoration across the landscape matrix. Summarizing recent scientific literature, we suggest managers produce different stand structures and densities across the landscape using topographic variables (i.e., slope shape, aspect, and slope position) as a guide for varying treatments. Local cool or moist areas, where historically fire would have burned less frequently or at lower severity, would have higher density and canopy cover, providing habitat for sensitive species. In contrast upper, southern-aspect slopes would have low densities of large fire-resistant trees. For thinning, marking rules would be based on crown strata or age cohorts and species, rather than uniform diameter limits. Collectively, our management recommendations emphasize the ecological role of fire, changing climate conditions, sensitive wildlife habitat, and the importance of forest structure heterogeneity.”

This is a basic scientific reasoning for the marking prescriptions we are using in our current project. In scanning through some of it (it seems QUITE comprehensive!), I found this little gem.

‘How is ecological restoration defined in the GTR? In the face of changing
climate conditions, our focus is on increasing ecosystem resiliency. This focus
is consistent with that described in USDA Forest Service Manual 2020.5,
which defines ecological restoration as: “The process of assisting the recovery
of resilience and adaptive capacity of ecosystems that have been degraded,
damaged, or destroyed. Restoration focuses on establishing the composition,
structure, pattern, and ecological processes necessary to make terrestrial and
aquatic ecosystems sustainable, resilient, and healthy under current and future
conditions.” ‘

8 thoughts on ““An Ecosystem Management Strategy for Sierran Mixed Conifer Forests””

  1. This GTR seems pretty common-sensical. My only problem with “restoration” is that some of our ecosystems have not been “degraded” so why can’t we just focus on resilience (where are we going and why?)” and not need to parse out the “degradation.”

    Because I have seen this become, in previous budget exercises, “I’m more degraded than you so I should get more bucks,”

    Also I wish people would just use the perfectly good English word “resilience” and not feel like they need to use “resiliency” also. This seems to have happened in the last couple of years; don’t know why.

    • Sharon: Maybe some of our forests have not been “degraded” during the past century or two, but they have certainly been changed. Restoration should be a return to, and maintenance of, desired past conditions — not necessarily an “upgrade” in some kind of evaluation system.

      Also — as many of us keep pointing out — this is NOT a matter of “getting more bucks,” it is a matter of generating more jobs (at no cost to taxpayers) by designing restoration projects so that revenues cover costs. Priorities should be set locally by local residents who can more easily (and more accurately) agree on what areas should be treated first, and why. And what characteristics should be “restored” and how.

      The bottom line is that “restoration” should be about restoring people to the land; NOT “natural fire” or “riparian functionality” or “ecosystem services.” Those things were only recently invented, and apparently have a lot more weight politically than they do as actual biological or ecological considerations. They didn’t used to exist, and as a result aren’t appropriate terms to be used in conjunction with “restoration.”

  2. We are having to deal with some historical degradations on our project. I think it was back in the late 40’s when crews went throughout the forest, cutting down big old “worthless” rotten trees, particularly the pecky cedars, which they felled and left out in the woods. We are also running across very old plantations, which were planted with any old ponderosa pine seed stock. Back then, they didn’t care where the seeds came from, resulting in goofy, slow-growing trees with poor form. Additionally, some stands were salvage logged, back in the early 90’s, and some were not.

    Marking timber continues to become more and more complex, with important in-the-field decisions made by temporary employees. Of course, our work is reviewed but, finding spots to create “gaps” and “clumps” is left up to us. I like our crew’s work but, I have to believe that other crews don’t have the experience and knowledge to perform at this high level, especially when some timbermarkers have zero experience, when they were hired.

  3. Bob, I must say that I very strongly disagree with your statement that “Restoration should be a return to, and maintenance of, desired past conditions.”

    How in the world can we return to “desired past conditions” in an age of dramatic climate change? Whether you think humans, development and burning all these fossil fuels, cutting down the native forests have something to do with climate change or not, the point of the matter is that the Earth’s climate changes. So again, just what “desired past conditions” are we supposedly “restoring” to?

    For many of us, restoration means removing the impediments to a naturally functioning ecosystem, not returning our ecosystems to some “desired past condition” (Which I would say is impossible to do anyway).

    • Matt: First, I don’t agree that we are “in an age of dramatic climate change.” My studies seem to support the idea that climate has changed — maybe dramatically — several times since the end of the last Ice Age, about 15,000 years ago. But also, that is has been — and continues to be — relatively stable and predictable as compared to the last 500 or 2,000 years.

      Second, “removing the impediments to a naturally functioning ecosystem” sounds like eco-babble to me, and seems to be a total misdirection away from common sense and clear communications. It is certainly different from what I am talking about. “Beware the Jabberwock, my son!”

      Finally, the “past conditions” I would — as benign dictator — “restore” would be the removal of invasive conifers into stands of older trees, grasslands, and berry fields ASAP in an attempt to maintain the stands of trees in excess of 200 years; mostly for wildfire, aesthetic, cultural, recreational, and historical values. Next (not necessarily chronologically), I would attempt to remove all of the billions of dead trees that have cluttered up our forests during the past 30 years — these are a wildfire risk (native plant and animal mortality), are ugly as hell, and weren’t there in such numbers at anytime in the known past. Then I would thin our all of the younger stands of trees to historical spacing levels and finally begin reintroducing regular prescribed fires to these areas, as the Indians did for thousands of years, for maintenance purposes.

      I can see why you are in strong disagreement with these ideas, Matt. They are different than what you are trying to achieve.

  4. I agree with Matthew about restoration, except the concept of “removing the impediments to a naturally functioning ecosystem.”

    As long as folks are on the planet and need food, building materials, energy and art, it seems unlikely that ecosystems will be “naturally functioning” unless you include humans as part of nature, in which case everything we do is natural, ergo we already have naturally functioning ecosystems. How about “moving toward resilient ecosystems that provide important ecosystem services?”. it seems to me like there would still be enough to disagree about (what’s resilient? what’s important?”) without going back to what used to be, whether we could get it back and why it was good.

  5. This paper was written in 2009, and later implemented into Sierra Nevada forest planning documentation, sometime later. It recommends against diameter limits, as objective science should but, that just isn’t possible with the Sierra Nevada Framework’s policies still possibly lingering. Yes, we still have a 30″ dbh rule but, some in the Forest Service want to find a way to change that. I both see the possible benefits for projects, and the risk of abuse. I have seen plenty of both in my career.

    On the crew, we kinda brag to each other when we find a tree we want to mark measured at 29.7″ dbh. When we find one that is 30.2″ dbh, we make an “official” measurement at 4.5 feet from the ground on the uphill side. It sometimes will bring in a more accurate 29.9″ dbh, fully legal for marking. Of course, we are measuring them because we want to cut them, either for spacing or for forest health. Often, such a tree is a decadent and suppressed white fir, between two truly huge trees. Taking out the white fir and cedar understory is our number one goal. Restoring better tree densities and species composition, as well as resilience. *nods to Sharon*

  6. Notice all the oaks in the picture I provided. A new practice we are using is to remove trees around the oaks, and using them as “space fillers”. We can remove some of the conifers growing under and through the oak canopies. In the past, we were directed to ignore the oaks as members of the forest community. I am very confident that GTR-220 is the future of our Sierra Nevada forests.


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