Forest Service logs (err, “thins”) old-growth to help aspen

Earlier this summer Sharon had a post titled, “Tree vs. Tree: An Aspen Restoration Project,” which looked at some of the issues surrounding the Tahoe National Forest’s “Outback Aspen Restoration Project.”

Well, this morning, the Sacramento Bee’s Tom Knudson took another look at the project, this time with local residents, who are not too happy with the Forest Service and with the Tahoe National Forest supervisor, who is not too disappointed with the project.  Although, in fairness, the Forest Service supervisor did decide to halt logging (or do we call it “thinning?”) of trees 40 inches in diameter or greater on the remaining 190 acres of the project.  Here are some highlights from the article:

Standing amid a scattering of stumps last week, an official from the U.S. Forest Service acknowledged the agency made mistakes by logging too many pine trees, including majestic old-growth giants, in an effort to help another Tahoe species: the quaking aspen.

But he rejected calls from local residents that the Tahoe National Forest sharply scale back the cutting along Independence Creek north of Truckee.

“Are there places where there are some trees that I’ve seen out here – some live trees still standing and some stumps – that I would have preferred be marked for retention? Yes,” said Tom Quinn, supervisor of the Tahoe National Forest….The extensive cutting has incensed residents and conservationists, who were out in force at Friday’s meeting.

“We are shocked at the situation, the catastrophic damage being done by our government with absolutely no care for public input,” said Mary Leavell, who grazes cattle in the national forest with her husband.

“We all ultimately want forest health,” said Lauren Ranz, who lives part-time on a former 450-acre ranch near the logging zone. “But I don’t think this is the way to get it.”

Despite his concerns about cutting too many large, old trees, Quinn defended the project…He said the agency’s decision to allow the cutting of old-growth trees was consistent with the goal of aspen restoration, even though it angered neighbors.  “They were probably social mistakes, more than ecological mistakes,” he said of the agency’s actions.

To try to quell criticism, Quinn announced that Forest Service officials have decided to halt logging of conifers 40 inches in diameter or greater on the remaining 190 acres of the 479-acre project. But he rejected suggestions to limit cutting to trees 30 inches in diameter or less….

“I’m extremely disappointed,” said Fred Mitchell who lives on 80 acres near where the cutting is taking place. “There are so few trees 40 inches and above, anyway.

“They’re brushing off the public like we are a minor nuisance, like we don’t count for anything,” Mitchell added.

Mitchell is one of a group of residents who have marshaled opposition by handing out flyers, contacting lawyers, political representatives and environmentalists, even placing mock tombstones on the stumps of large trees – some more than two centuries old – that have been logged.

“It’s not what they told us it would be,” said Gary Risse, a part-time area resident who is among those opposed. “I can tell you without a doubt there was no mention of clear-cuts whatsoever. That would have stopped it.”

…Chad Hanson, director and staff ecologist for the John Muir Project, said other agency projects have succeeded with less intense cutting.

“Scientific studies … do not support the assumption that you need to clear-cut forests, especially 150 feet or more away from aspen stands, or that you need to remove old- growth trees,” he said. “That is not scientifically necessary.”…

“I’ve covered about 300 acres of this project looking for legacy (old-growth) trees,” Mitchell said. “From what I can gather, there has only been one legacy tree left for every four and a quarter acres, which is not a very good number.”

14 thoughts on “Forest Service logs (err, “thins”) old-growth to help aspen”

  1. Matthew- why do you have a problem with the use of the word “thinning” in this case? If we use the dictionary definition of logging (taking trees to a mill), conceivably you could thin and stand AND take trees to a mill.

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  2. When I think of restoration thinning i do not usually think of taking 40 inch pines. ( assuming that this is at breast height) I can well imagine taking 40 inch white fir in central Oregon since they can reach that in 80 years, encroachment on my beloved ponderosa stands in my view so fine to cut them. But how can the FS rationalize taking the few remaining old pines in this case?

    I am often very pro thinning but this looks like another case of a well loved dog getting into the chickens again, you just can;t trust many timber people. As a forester I do get to say that too.

    I have photos of heavy thinning I was fine with but this does not seem to be one of them.

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  3. Sharon, I find it utterly ridiculous that anyone could use the term “thinning” in the context of cutting down trees that are 3 to 4 feet in diameter. Thanks.

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    • Well, I guess since I haven’t seen the site, I was thinking that if all (most) of the trees in a stand or clump are 30 and 40 inches, then if you wanted to thin, you would have to take ones that are 30-40 inches.

      For example, this one in the photos in the story is:

      Randall Benton / rbenton@sacbee.com

      The U.S. Forest Service’s Teri Banka measures the diameter of a large, old-growth conifer in the Tahoe National Forest in July. The tree, nearly 6 feet in diameter, was marked to be saved during a conifer-thinning project intended to protect aspen groves.


      “nearly 6 feet” if it were 6 feet that would be 72 inches. So 30 would be not so big, relatively speaking.

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  4. It seems like I’ve heard some of these things before. “Mistakes were made”, “The public was brushed off like a minor nuisance”, “it’s not what they told us it would be”, “to try and quell criticism, the FS decided…”. Anyone see a pattern here?

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    • Jerry, the fact is that different elements of the public have different opinions, people have different ideas of what they are told, the FS tries to “quell criticism” or make all elements of the public happy by listening to people but it’s impossible when they disagree with each other.

      I think it would be interesting to hear both sides of this story, in greater depth than a news article.

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      • “So 30 (inch diameter) would be not so big, relatively speaking.” (?)

        Sharon,
        Since, after intense public blowback over half-way through this “restoration” project, a 39 inch diameter tree can still be cut down (and apparently in stands where larger legacy trees have been largely extirpated), your bias is self-evident when you invoke relativity here.

        The image provided by the SacBee, USFS (and yourself), gives the impression these are representative of the stand structure when in fact, such giants make for a great photo-op but in reality, are the exceptions to existing stand structure. The use of this image might help for augmenting agency PR, but like most PR tactics, it is unrepresentative of the actual reasons for the public outcry.

        Clear cutting was apparently downplayed (according to the public complaints, and my brief search of the aspen project file), if not deliberately excised from agency descriptions of the project.

        I see nothing wrong with restoring aspen communities. It’s just when “restoration” provides an excuse to clearcut that it becomes obvious we have an agency with an agenda to use restoration as just another cover for logging old growth. What’s the average age of a 3-4 foot diameter tree? Does a 39 inch diameter tree qualify, “relatively speaking”, as important to old growth stand structure and function?

        Also with this example, we have an agency which resorts to the use of Orwellian language to advance that captured agency’s agenda (i.e. Supervisor Quinn’s calling the cutting of old growth trees as necessary for “restoration”.)

        Given the complaints are coming from affected locals representing historically opposing sides (ranchers and conservationists alike), the agency has clearly failed to adequately inform. This demonstrates the shortcomings arising from agency predilections to log under a CE while exposing the failure to fully inform the affected public and take their concerns into full account. After all, Quinn, “rejected calls from (the affected) local residents that the Tahoe National Forest sharply scale back the cutting.”

        No wonder the agency has a public trust issue.

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        • Here’s what the Decision Memo says:

          To promote aspen regeneration, tree removal will not be constrained by an upper diameter limit. In most cases, trees marked for removal will be smaller than 30 inches dbh. The retention of large, late seral trees that existed prior to Comstock-era logging and/or wildland fire suppression in the Lake Tahoe Basin will be evaluated as follows:
          a.
          Tree species exhibiting resistance to White Pine Blister will be retained.
          b.
          Trees exhibiting old tree characteristics will be retained. Old tree characteristics are defined as follows: 1) mature to over-mature age class; 2) the tree crown is round to flat in shape; 3) tree bark plates are very wide or long; and 4) branches are drooping, gnarled, and crooked. These characteristics are equivalent to Dunnings tree classes 4, 5, and 7.
          c.
          Trees not exhibiting old tree characteristics may be removed unless a silviculturist or similarly qualified staff identifies that:
          i.
          The species of tree to be removed is under-represented within the surrounding stand (e.g. the tree to be removed is one of very few or the only representative of a desired species, such as sugar pine, in the area of the treatment stand).
          ii.
          Old trees are absent or under-represented and would have occurred in the stand naturally, necessitating retention of the tree(s) in question to develop an old tree cohort.
          d.
          Individual trees may be cored to determine tree-age when necessary to help determine old tree characteristics, although utilization of this more costly and labor-intensive approach is expected to occur as an exception rather than the rule.

          So, David, are you saying you disagree with this approach to restoring aspen (the reason they’re doing that is in the purpose and need)- (which parts do you disagree with?), or that they are not actually marking the way the decision memo lays out? My project antennae tell me there’s more to this than meets the eye.

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          • Sharon,
            Thanks for confirming we’re talking about the same Decision Memo. I am saying I disagree with any public process that fails to adequately inform the affected public as to whether clear cutting is going to occur, and the full extent of the associated impacts. This failure rang loud and clear with the affected public regardless of the differences in their conservation ethics.

            My project antennae are also alerted — in regards to project funding. In this regard, I am saying there is absolutely no excuse for holding any “restoration” of past agency mismanagement on public lands hostage due to (supposed) funding cutbacks which set the stage for corporate “partnering” opening the door to further mismanagement opportunities. That this slips under full NEPA review as a Categorical Exclusion only confirms the oft-stated concerns of Mark Rey’s, (et al.) shenanigans.

            As I’ve pointed out before, this “restoration and stewardship” agency Transition is a scam which depends upon financing derived from high value old growth logging. Shame on this agency for prior mismanagement and shame on this agency for tying restoration to further the ends and means of duplicitous actions on public lands.

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  5. Restoration=business as usual. Collaboration=pseudo public participation. National Forest logging=more borrowing from China. Bush Administration=Obama Administration=Romney Administration.

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  6. What is important to me is how old the pines are. If measured at the stump of a tree that flares at the base as many ponderosas do, you can get 40 inches diameter on a tree only 25-30 inches at breast height, the standard way to measure tree diameter . But on some sites, a tree only 25 inches at breast height can be much older than many think.. This age data should be easily available in the EIS or EA.(??)

    I have not seen the site, so probably better to withhold any heated opinions.

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    • Greg, that’s a good point… so do we want to protect old growth because of their structural properties or because of its age? I think those might lead you to different conclusions…

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      • Protect old-growth simply because it is rare — not a very complex concept. The other “arguments” are really just red herrings. As a small private timber lands owner my family grows pulp crops of aspen every 40-50 years on Minnesota’s 4th forest. Any old-growth, and even some of the 2nd/3rd growth, red and white pine are often reserved — not for their timber value but because they are just neat big old trees.

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  7. Yes, it could, but in general I am much in favor or hanging onto older stands of any kind. Hence my discomfort with hot fires that kill too much of it. I prefer eco burns that just thin them out, knocking out the understory with a few tastefully scattered pockets of severe mortality to spice it up. When that climbs over 20% I feel ill.

    I understand that I am being sentimental here. But i have a lot of pics of such understory eco burns and thinning i am comfortable with, usually meaning whacking the understory so we might hang onto the big old ones in a fire. Hopefully.

    I saw too many big dead trees in Biscuit, if our CA friends want those in their life, they can visit us in the Siskiyou. Maybe we can lend you a few black backed woodpeckers, I assume we have a few to spare.

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