A guest post from Felice Pace. You may have read his posts on the Range Blog of High Country News.
It does not appear that there has been discussion on this site about whether the main tool being used to implement forest restoration/fire risk reduction projects on public lands – the timber sale contract – is a good tool or even adequate for the task of forest restoration/fire risk reduction.
From my perspective (30 years of looking at timber sales), the timber sale contract is a good tool if the task is getting logs out of the woods and to the mill but a poor tool if the task is forest restoration (including fire risk reduction).
The problem is that when a timber sale is used to implement restoration – including when the timber sale is embedded within a stewardship contract – timber economics rules. Because public forests are remote and because production and transportation costs in the western US (where most US public lands are located) are high, economics dictates removing too many trees per acre and too many large (dominant) trees. This almost always frustrates the restoration objective.
For example, FS in the Klamath Mountains typically “thins” down to 40% or less canopy closure for restoration/fire risk reduction. But reducing moisture competition and opening the stands to sunlight to this extent results in accelerated sprouting of trees and brush. This in turn results in more fire danger – and a dense, highly flammable understory 8-30 years after the “treatment”.
If we really want to restore western forests we need a different, more appropriate tool. Restoration work should be funded up front and accomplished via straight up service contracts. Any commercial product which results can/should be sold separately from the log-sort yard.
Would it be possible during this new round of forest plans to try such an approach on at least one forest per region?
Felice Pace has lived in the Klamath River Basin since 1975. For 15 years, he worked for and led the Klamath Forest Alliance as Program Coordinator, Executive Director and Program Director. He remains part of the Alliance’s Core Group, and now consults with environmental and indigenous organizations on fund raising and program development. He currently resides at Klamath Glen, near the mouth of the Klamath River.
Note from Sharon: Many service contracts are out there.. some forests have mostly service contracts. I wonder if any forests have 0 timber sale contracts, I bet many districts, even in Colorado, do. I wonder if there is a table somewhere of mechanical treatment acres by service contract or timber sale contract by forest? Anyone?