Black-backed Woodpeckers One Step Closer to ESA Protection in CA, OR, SD

What follows is a press release from conservation groups John Muir Project, Center for Biological Diversity, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance and Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project. – mk

SAN FRANCISCO— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it will conduct a full status review to determine whether genetically distinct populations of black-backed woodpeckers — which thrive in forests where fires have burned — will get protection under the Endangered Species Act in two regions, California/Oregon and the Black Hills of South Dakota. Today’s decision that protection may be warranted for these birds comes in response to a scientific petition submitted by four conservation groups last May. Black-backed woodpeckers are threatened by logging that destroys their post-fire habitat.

Black-backed woodpecker
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Cephas. Photos are available for media use.

“This is the first time in the history of the Endangered Species Act that the government has initiated steps to protect a wildlife species that depends upon stands of fire-killed trees,” said Dr. Chad Hanson, an ecologist and black-backed woodpecker expert. “We are pleased to see the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognize the naturalness and ecological importance of this post-fire habitat.”

Black-backed woodpeckers rely on what is known as “snag forest,” high-diversity habitat that’s extremely rare and ephemeral because it is only created when either fire or beetles kill the majority of trees in an area. These standing dead trees — called “snags” — then become a virtual bed and breakfast for black-backed woodpeckers by providing nesting space as well as large amounts of wood-boring beetle larvae for the woodpeckers to eat.

Post-disturbance forests are only livable for the species for a short time — roughly 7-10 years — which means the woodpeckers need newly burned or beetle-killed forests to continually appear on the landscape. Unfortunately, that habitat is often destroyed by post-disturbance logging that removes the very trees the birds rely on. Because of logging, suppression of the natural fire regime and large-scale forest “thinning” to prevent fires in backcountry areas, there is now an extremely limited amount of usable habitat available to black-backed woodpeckers.

“The black-backed woodpecker is so highly adapted to burned forests that it’s almost impossible to spot when perched on a fire-blackened tree,” said Duane Short, a zoologist with Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. “Its black back and wing feathers protect it from predators as it forages for beetles, some of which have themselves evolved in concert with burned forests.”

“These birds desperately need the lifeline of the Endangered Species Act,” said Justin Augustine with the Center for Biological Diversity. “There are likely only a few hundred pairs left in South Dakota’s Black Hills, and about a thousand pairs in Oregon and California — these birds could wink out of existence if we don’t stop razing their habitat as soon as it appears.”

With dangerously small populations of fewer than 1,000 pairs in Oregon/California and only about 400 pairs in the Black Hills, the birds depend on habitat that’s likewise extremely scarce: Just 2 percent of the forests within the woodpeckers’ range from the Cascades of Oregon through California’s Sierra Nevada are currently likely suitable for them to live in, and only about 5 percent of forests in the Black Hills are suitable. The great majority of this limited habitat is unprotected and therefore open to logging.

“Over my 22 years of field-checking proposed timber sales in eastern Oregon national forests, I have been privileged to observe black-backed woodpeckers but have increasingly noticed their scarcity as the Forest Service has been implementing ever larger timber sales aimed at artificially reducing natural fire and insect occurrence, as well as numerous post-fire logging projects eliminating black-backed woodpecker habitat,” said Karen Coulter of the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project. “This status review is a good first step toward reversing that trend”

The groups that filed the petition to protect the birds were John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute, Center for Biological Diversity, Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project and Biodiversity Conservation Alliance.

31 thoughts on “Black-backed Woodpeckers One Step Closer to ESA Protection in CA, OR, SD”

  1. For a short comment Mac, I’m not sure where to start with yours.

    First, you have posted your “Two Management Perspectives” on this blog a number of times. It doesn’t mention black-backed woodpeckers once, so I’m not sure it provides another view to protected black-backed woodpeckers.

    Second, you may have missed the part in the first sentence of the press release, which says these are “genetically distinct populations of black-backed woodpeckers.”

    Finally, I notice that in your two perspectives piece you state (the CAPITAL letters are yours): “THE END RESULT OF “LETTING NATURE TAKE ITS COURSE as advocated by nature-centered environmental activists.” And for maximum dramatic effect you post a picture of homes burned as a result of Colorado Springs’ Waldo Canyon Fire.

    Well, as luck would have it, Sharon recently posted a video from the USFS and the National Fire Protection Association about the Waldo Canyon Fire called “Creating Fire Adapted Communities: A Case Study from Colorado Springs and the Waldo Canyon Fire.”

    Please consider watching the video, Mac, and let us know what you think about the Forest Service, NFPA and the Fire Department’s findings. While you seem to claim in your two perspectives piece that environmentalists and the policies we advocate for are the reason those homes burned down in Colorado Springs, the USFS, NFPA and fire department leaders in the video clearly claim otherwise. Here are some of the comments I made after watching the video:

    First, let me point out that I don’t know of one single environmental organization in the country that doesn’t completely support the FireWise measures explained in the video. In fact, I know of a number of high-profile examples of where environmental organizations have been leaders in getting these FireWise steps and concepts in front of more homeowners and communities across the country.

    The video mentioned that the fire started in very hot and dry conditions. The video also made it clear that on the day in which most homes were destroyed by fire that the winds were gusting to 65 miles per hour. To put that into perspective, the National Weather Service would issue a Hurricane Force Wind Warning if gusts top 75 mph, so needless to say 65 mph winds will knock you down to the ground and cause significant damage and disruption just on their own.

    As a result of those winds, one fire official stated, “A lot of the primary fuels were the houses. So the ignitions were house to house….it really turned into an urban conflagration.”

    Of the 345 homes destroyed in the fire 76 had shake shingle roof. 81% of the homes in the immediate area survived the wildfire and clearly the mitigation measures the homeowners took on their own home and their immediate surroundings ahead of time was a big reason why. So too, the mitigation work done right within the neighborhoods ahead of time had a big positive impact.

    Another likely hero to this story is the Class A roofing ordinance and code put in place by Colorado Springs in 2003. Once again the environmental community has always supported stronger building codes and ordinances within the WUI. Of course, in many wildfire-prone parts of the country such support of simple and effective building codes and ordinances is a form of communism, a UN conspiracy and/or just a simple “taking” of one’s private land and their “rights.” So, in many parts of the country enacting these common sense codes/ordinances would be meet with hostile resistance and conspiracy theories.

    Finally, unless I missed it, I didn’t hear much about logging a few miles away from the homes and community. I also didn’t hear the word “bark beetles” or “dead trees” once. Again, maybe I just missed it.

    But certainly, kudos to Colorado Springs for what sounds like a model FireWise program. Once again, if we want to effectively protect homes and communities from wildfire, we start at the home and its immediate surroundings and go from there. The video seemed to make the point that if only 1 out of 3 homeowners take the common-sense steps ahead of time, before the fire starts, that those other non-responsible homeowners are actually putting all the other homes, people and firefighters at risk.

    • Hi Matt: Here’s the quote that caught my eye: “genetically distinct populations of black-backed woodpeckers.” What does that mean? I’m sure an argument can be made that me and my siblings are a “genetically distinct population” from our first cousins (and even our own parents, and maybe even from one another), as an example.

      In the near future I’m planning to post a report I did a few years ago and an interview I gave a few days ago about spotted owls for comment on this blog. One of the key points I have been making for some time is that hoot owl varietals should be considered the same species, whether striped, spotted, from California, or from Mexico — apparently all members of the same species.

      The point I make on the interview is the same as I have been making for several years (and that is probably not politically correct, but usually gets the attention of the people I am talking with, which is my primary intent): There are far greater variations in physiology, colorization, plumage, vocalizations, preferred habitat, and diet between a Pygmy and a Swede than between a barred hoot owl and a spotted hoot owl. Same with black-backed woodpeckers and marbled (vs. long-billed) murrelets.

      I’m not sure if there is a documented instance of a Swede and a Pygmy couple actually producing viable off-spring, but I’d guess that the hoot owls, woodpeckers, and murrelets all have had such events in their respective histories. Of course, I’m not a climatologist or a geneticist, so there’s always that.

      • Congress specifically gave USFWS authority to consider listing “distinct population segments” by defining “species” to include DPS in the Endangered Species Act itself.

        Further, mere inability to produce viable offspring is no longer the sole criterion used by most folks to differentiate two species. If it were, one could take that argument to the absurdly extreme and consider lions and tigers the same species, since female hybrid “ligers” are often fertile.

        • Thanks, Matthew: I will check it out.

          John: This is exactly what I mean when I say the ESA has been “politicized.” When Congress gives a federal agency the “authority” to make genetic determinations, then legitimate science is left out of the loop — and the lawyers take over.

          I’m familiar with the liger argument but, at best, that seems like an “exception to the rule” rather than “business as usual.” I think the “absurd extreme” is to start allowing all species — even common hoot owls and murrelets — to slip in under this oddity. How about dogs and roses? Are a Peruvian hairless and a German shepherd the same species? A yellow floribunda and a red tea?

          This type of Congressional authority has cost US taxpayers billions of dollars and ruined (at least for the short term) millions of acres of public forests and the economies of thousands of rural families and communities. Maybe not the best move, in retrospect.

          It would be nice if Congress used its authority for something worthwhile — such as coming up with a balanced budget — and then let scientists make scientific determinations rather than allowing agencies to do so. Otherwise, we get the exact mess we’re in right now.

          • Courts defer to agencies’ technical and scientific expertise all the time. When it comes to the ESA, though, no one should give any deference to agency experts? One would assume the folks making DPS or ESU or subspecies determinations at USFWS and NMFS have some credentials in that regard.

            Every piece of legislation has some element of politicization. It takes political will to pass legislation and political will to implement it. The Supreme Court has not found the ESA to be unconstitutional, so Congress was not acting outside its authority. Different people have very different definitions of “ruined” in the contexts you mention. Perhaps it has to do with the expectations people have for public lands, sometimes implied by statute, sometimes perceived because things were done a certain way for a number of decades and now they’re not.

            Humans have directly manipulated domestic dogs and certain plants like roses to develop different varieties. I don’t think comparing those to species that evolved without direct human manipulation is apt.

            There are over 200 types of owls. What is the purpose of using “hoot owl” over and over? Just to state that you think all owls (or at least spotted and barred owls) are the same species?

            • John: I call them “hoot owls” because that is what they are — the most common owls in North America. People keep missing this point, just as you have. Look up “Barred Owl” on Wikipedia, for example.

              Whether you believe human-induced varietals are significantly different than geographic-based varietals, so far as genetic diversity and desirability is concerned, would make an interesting discussion. Still, the analogy holds — at least so far as the “diversity” aspects of genetic variation and distinct species are concerned.

              Also, I will say that I, for one, DO “assume the folks making DPS or ESU or subspecies determinations at USFWS and NMFS have some credentials in that regard” — but I ALSO assume that these same credentialed individuals (whoever they are and however they may have been selected) LIKELY have “a dog in the fight.” That is, I don’t trust them and I would advise others to be wary of the process as well. And for similar reasons.

              I agree with Sharon’s observations that the “blue boxes” (I think) on JZ’s flow chart would be ideal points in which to make all (“all”) ESA documents publicly available via the Internet.

      • In the context of the Endangered Species Act the sticky issues of “species” and “interbreeds when mature” is probably most fully developed in the concept of “evolutionarily significant unit” or ESU used for listing of anadromous fish. I have no idea if this will come into play in the case of the black-backed woodpecker but when things get sticky, this is one way it could get resolved.

    • The disputed webpage has 4 photos. The first three are real-world conditions that contrast the results of management and non-management. That contrast constitutes the theme of my the web-site. You chose to focus your remarks (that I agree with) on the 4th photo. I would welcome your comments on the other three photos and on the two opposed views (quoted below) of the impacts of non-management on Forest Service land in the Deep Creek drainage*. They capture the essence of the difference between two management philosophies.

      ANTHROPOCENTRIC VIEW: a sea of old, dead lodgepole pine, killed by the mountain pine beetle. A valuable resource wasted, jobs lost, revenues forgone, fire hazard extreme (control and mopup most dangerous, difficult, and expensive), an esthetic nightmare and a danger to the forest visitor.

      ECOCENTRIC VIEW: Ecologically, this area of dead pines constitutes one the most important and biodiverse forest habitat types in the U.S. Called “snag forest habitat”, it has always been a natural part of forest ecosystems and is key habitat for many imperiled wildlife species. It is threatened by fire suppression and post-fire or beetle-kill logging.

      *Interesting coincidence: The Deep Creek photo includes part of the proposed Cabin Gulch Vegetation Treatment Project on the Helena National Forest that is now being litigated by the Alliance for Wild Rockies and the Native Ecosystems Council.

  2. Matthew posted a press release so I thought I’d look up something from FWS. It’s not exactly clear to me, but this seems to be it..

    First of all, having sat in a meeting with people discussing various ways of determining Distinct Population Segments in fish, I am a bit underwhelmed by the scientific validity of the concept. So the species is all over the country but specific areas might be threatened, well OK, but that’s not Endangered Species, that’s Endangered Populations. Which is a different thing.. or is it now the same, and I missed it?

    But what I really don’t get is that if climate projections tell us we are entering an era of more larger fires, that we have a species dependent on burned trees, and we are worried there won’t be enough burned trees? Due to salvage logging?

    But we don’t have numbers to check on how much “salvage logging” there is..because the FS doesn’t keep track (please tell me I’m wrong…). All we know is that we drive around and see hardly any. Occasionally we’ll see a project on this blog where some proportion usually very small, around communities, is salvaged for fuel reduction.

    Anyway, I am confused as the concern about the habitat does not seem related to the actual current or future conditions of the habitat.

  3. There were a few quotes that jumped out at me:

    “An intensely burned forest of dense, fire-killed trees is perhaps the most maligned, misunderstood and imperiled habitat”


    “Black-backed woodpeckers rely on what is known as “snag forest,” high-diversity habitat that’s extremely rare and ephemeral because it is only created when either fire or beetles kill the majority of trees in an area.”

    It was the use of “imperiled” and “extremely rare” that I’d question for the reasons Sharon mentioned above (increase in fire, etc). I’m all for a little artistic license to support the cause…heck I’ve been guilty as well.

    I did a quick google search on California wildfires 2012 to try and find acreages. Many of the news stories talked in terms of square miles of individual fires…70 here, 150 there 35,15, and so on. It would seem on the surface that burned forests are not “imperiled” or “extremely rare”, at least in Cali…for the next 7-10 years anyway. I’m sure someone could find the same info for SD and OR. I don’t feel the need to provide stats here to make that point. You can look it up.

    Interestingly, in my searches I noticed that the home range for a black backed woodpecker is approx. 500 ha, which is about 2 square miles (if I did my metric math conversions right, someone correct me if I’m way off please). Again, seems, on the surface that there should be plenty of habitat based on the past 7-10 years (and reasonably forseeable future) of fire activity.

    Karen Coulter presents some anecdotal evidence here: “Over my 22 years of field-checking proposed timber sales in eastern Oregon national forests, I have been privileged to observe black-backed woodpeckers but have increasingly noticed their scarcity as the Forest Service has been implementing ever larger timber sales aimed at artificially reducing natural fire and insect occurrence, as well as numerous post-fire logging projects eliminating black-backed woodpecker habitat,” said Karen Coulter of the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project. “This status review is a good first step toward reversing that trend”

    My first question would be how much of that (eastern Oregon) is actually (potentially) habitat for the bbw in the first place? Second I would wonder, since the bbw habitat is “‘ephemeral”, how much of the decline in her sightings is a result of natural progression toward no longer being habitat vs. “post fire logging”. I’ve sent a good deal of time (on fires) in eastern OR and it seems like a lot of high desert with isolated (for the most part) timbered areas, much of which is steep and inaccessible by logging equipment (Umatilla) or wilderness/backcountry (Wallowa-Whitman). I haven’t seen it all though.

    While I can chalk Karen’s statement up to artistic license (hey you know wolves caused the decline in elk here in Idaho), I find the CBD press release a little more disturbing:

    “Unfortunately, the U.S. Forest Service and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection provide absolutely no regulatory protection for burned forests on private and public lands. Not only does burned forest habitat have no legal protection, standard practice on private and public lands is to actively eliminate it. So as soon as fire and insect outbreaks create prime black-backed woodpecker habitat, salvage logging destroys it, while fire suppression — also standard practice — prevents the creation of new black-backed woodpecker habitat and eradicates existing habitat.”

    The undertones of that statement are a little more ominous. My first take is that CBD would use listing as a tool to regulate what happens on private grounds. I don’t know (maybe Larry can help with stats) that the USFS’ standard practice is to “eliminate” bbw habitat, but I don’t work there either. The only part of that statement that would seemingly be true is that, yes…the USFS has no reguatory control over salvage logging of burned forests on private ground.

    Good follow-up questions:

    How much private ground in CA/OR/SD has been burned in the last 7-10 years. how much has been salvage logged? Same for USFS lands?.

  4. While preservationists would LOVE to have an extra layer of “protections” for dead forests, their real targets are private timberland salvage. Modern Federal salvage logging does take blackbacked woodpeckers into account, providing them with plenty of habitat, both inside AND outside of cutting units. Hanson still clings to his fantasy of ending the Federal timber sale program, across the nation. Hanson still litigates even roadside hazard tree projects, within burned forests.

    In the not-so-distant past, only a few snags were left PER UNIT, much less, per acre. The Biscuit Fire logged on only 4% of the entire burned area. My last salvage project left 55% of the burned area. Clearly, there is no shortage of “habitat” for the birds.

    • Larry, Do you not see the incongruity here? “In the not-so-distant past, only a few snags were left PER UNIT, much less, per acre. … . Clearly, there is no shortage of “habitat” for the birds.” Snag rich forests take a long time to develop. After many decades (and a huge fraction of the forest landscape subjected to the policy) of leaving only a “few snags per unit,” it takes a long time to grow mature trees, then have them burn and not be salvaged. As a result of a many decades of logging and fires+salvage a large fraction of the landscape is NOT mature forest, so fires that burn today are not in mature forests that produce high quality snag habitat, but rather in young forests, or non-forests, that do not produce habitat for black-backed woodpeckers.

      • Tree: How many snags meeting your description do you think existed in North America in 1600? How many woodpeckers do you think populated them? How about in 1800? Or 1950? I’m not sure where you are getting your information, but I’m pretty certain you can’t document it. An authoritative tone does not conceal the fact that you are just speculating here. And that your speculations are simply repeated from other sources.

        • BZ: ” I’m not sure where you are getting your information, but I’m pretty certain you can’t document it.”

          For a long list of sources see comment #11 here:

          LH says “Clearly, there is no shortage of “habitat” for the birds.” but you did not ask him to back up that unsupported assertion. Looks like information that supports your skewed worldview gets through without scrutiny, while evidence challenging it gets blocked.

          We’re all flawed. It’s good to be aware of it, so we can check ourselves.

          • With about 40 million acres of dead trees, there is no shortage of snags, Tree. So, there is an estimated billion plus snags out there, waiting for any snag-dependent species to come by and use it. This level of snag development simply isn’t “sustainable”. When mature forests are gone, due to wildfires and past logging practices, the woodpeckers will be gone, as well. Blaming the past won’t bring back the habitat. We have what we have, and have to move forward from here.

            Owl and goshawk habitats should have protections against people who don’t care if wildfires destroys essential nests. Goshawks and owls already ARE listed. BBW’s aren’t…. yet.

          • Does someone actually have a GIS or satellite estimate of acres of burned forested (and un, I suppose) habitat by state? It seems like it could be done with some approximation of snags per acre depending on the assumptions…

            Seems like conceivably a group (composed of both “sides” plus several bird biologists) could mutally ground test some of those assumptions and we could arrive at a real estimate of current snag habitat.

            I wonder if the FWS will be funding this?

      • There are places in the Sierra Nevada where wildfires have been very common. Snags were often burned before they get old. Some areas had 13 fires in the last 100 years! These lands were dominated by “Indian management”, and forests were long-lived, because fires were frequent and cool. Woodpeckers have always encountered “barriers” of non-vegetation. If they didn’t die off when salvage projects left so few snags, they should do just fine in areas of modern multi-goal salvage projects. Steep ground and streambuffers are perfect places for dedicated snag habitat.

        We also need to include ALL of the wildfire into the project area, then setting aside snags for the birds. If you don’t include off-limits burned snag habitat into the project area, you don’t get “credit” for the habitat acres. It is important to have an accurate percentage of lands set aside for snags.

        Clearly, the main target is private salvage projects on private timberlands. I have seen where the loggers were already logging while the stumpholes were still smoking. They usually just clearcut, slash, burn, then replant, all in a short period of time.

  5. Who was the enviro who said, “we couldn’t have genetically engineered a better species than the spotted owl to stop old growth logging”? That’s all this bit of theatrics is about. It has nothing to do with the bird, it has all to do with the ideology of the few to reintroduce wildfire back into the peoples forest.

    If the CBD really cared about ALL endangered species, they’d be rooting for those dependent on early seral. Here’s a tidbit from an EIS done on the White Mountain NF in New Hampshire, ” One of the most important wildlife issues today in New England is the decline of early-successional habitats and the species associated with them (DeGraff et al. 2006).” Even the Audubon Society is promoting clearcutting to help those early seral species, many of them on the brink of extinction. The particular EIS calls for clearcutting on almost 1000 acres. Yes, the forests and the wildlife that goes with them has returned with a vengence to the Northeast(who woulda thought that Massachusits could have 40,000 beaver and New Jersey 6000 bear). How come nobody cares about those endangered species dependent on early seral? Because they don’t fit in with the political goals of the litigants.

    The dirty little secret on USFS lands in the WEst, is that not ONE of them are even close to their “objectives and goals” for early seral. Lately I’ve been reading some EIS’s from the Clearwater and Nez Perce in Idaho (ever since I read that the state of Idaho harvest 2.5 times the timber than the USFS). They’re typical of most forests in Region 9. On all the EIS’s, the “desired” amount of “early seral” is 10-15%, and on all of them the “existing” is around 1-5%. It’s pretty obvious the USFS is extirirating “early seral species” on the forests in the Pacific Northwest. Of course, on the roadless and wilderness on those two forests…there is no shortage of wildfire induced “early seral.” Which brings me to my next point.

    Besides my Oxy dream of having the GAO do a study analizing the EIS costs on “litigated vs. non-litigated forests,” I dream of NASA doing a geography study of “percentages of burned forest” on the Frank Church, Selway, and Bob Marshall wilderness areas.” Anyone who can operate Google Earth can see they’ve been heavily impacted by wildfire the last 20 years. What a perfect example for the public of “what might have been” on all national forests if not for the evil roads. It also highlights that fire suppresion isn’t so much a function of vegetation, as it is a funtion of road access. This can be demonstrated by knowing that on the average “roaded” interior western forest the USFS puts out, what, 98% of fires, most probably before 10:00 AM. I do believe we’re talking what, 100 fires per summer? In the Frank Church I imagine they put out none. Access is the key to that. Why hide how much is burned in these wilderness areas from the public?

    But hey…won’t the end result of the wildfire advocates be MORE early seral? Well, the public is probably disinterested when fires burn in wilderness out of sight out of mind…but it will be a different story when it cooks off both sides of I-90 from Lookout pass to Missoula. They’re gonna look at it the same way as their predecesors did after the 1910 fires. You’re also gonna run into the basic human nature question of “uh…I don’t get it…it’s bad to log it…but it’s good to let it burn for a bird (black backed woodpecker) that has more snag habitat then it’s had for the last 100 years.” They don’t give a crap about ecology. This country’s policies are based on the “pink slime syndrome.” Simple aesthetic images.

    I posed this question before, but here it is again. “It’s not a question if wildfires are bad for the ecosystem since the “scientists” tell us the ecosystem can never harm itself, the question should be if nature can heal from a wildfire, then certainly it can heal from a clearcut that has much LESS enviro impact.” It’s a “double standard” that stinks of hipocricy. It’s selectivism logic. I think the Bolle report brought on the “40 acre clearcut,” which is now recognized as doing nothing but contributing to fragmentation and small “patch size.” I think the USFS realizes this. On a lot of these MPB salvage clearcuts, be it in Colorado or Montana or Idaho, the USFS is getting exemptions left and right to the 40 acre rule and making the clearcuts up to 150 acres.

    Now here’s a thought experiment. Perhaps, in the past, to REALLY emulate the “natural process of wildfire”,the USFS should have entered into a watershed, then spent a few years logging 4000 acres, scarify the crap out of to ensure that many tens of thousands of tons of sediment enter the streams, girdle the trees in the riparian zone to promote woody debris in the streams, maybe dump lots of fertilizers to get the “nutrient bloom,” then back out recontouring the roads as you go, and leave it alone for 100 years. Oh…that’s right…the only thing it would lack would be the snag habitat for a bird (black backed woodpecker)that has more snag habitat now than in the last 100 years. Mendacity.

    • Which early seral-dependent species are you referring to as “endangered” or “on the brink of extinction,” Derek? Which early seral species is USFS “obviously extirpating” in the Pacific Northwest?

    • The conservationists I know support high quality early seral habitat created by natural processes like fires, wind, insects, etc. We are skeptical of sub-par early seral habitat created by commercial logging where a high fraction of the legacy structure is removed, followed by replanting of crop trees (which just truncates the persistence of diverse early seral species composition). Logging for early seral is more accurately viewed as an veiled excuse for logging rather than a sincere effort to restore early seral habitat.

      There is no shortage of early seral in most areas of the Pacific northwest where clearcutting is still practices on non-federal lands. Even though the quality of early seral created by industrial forestry is of low quality, its sheer abundance partially mitigates for the lack of quality.

      It makes no sense to log mature forests to create early seral. That’s just trading one rare forest type for another. If early seral is really a priority, it can be enhanced through improved practices on non-federal lands, curtailing salvage logging, and embedding small structure-rich “gaps” when thinning the abundant dense young stands that are left over from the heydays of clearcutting on federal lands.

      I wonder how much early seral habitat was created by Hurricane sandy in the Pine Barrens? I wonder how much of it was salvaged?

      • Tree, what you’re describing actually sounds like lot of the design features built into harvest projects these days, i.e. leaving legacy trees, irregular edges, skips, gaps, clumps, etc, etc, etc. We know logging will continue, the intention is to minimize the detrimental effects and replicate disturbance “to the extent possible.”

        What’s tough to digest though, is the fact that (at least here in the northern rockies) millions of acres burn every year and only something like 1% of the NFS lands are logged. Just seems reaonable to think that a mobile species depedent on snags could find suitable habitat and there’s no use in fighting for insignificant patches of habitat in the broader context of things. This may not apply to other areas with extensive commercial timber lands though.

      • TreeC123, As a response to your statement that “Logging for early seral is more accurately viewed as an veiled excuse for logging rather than a sincere effort to restore early seral habitat,” I point to an article in the February 2012 edition of The Forestry Source (I’m the editor), “NJ Audubon Society Supports Active Forest Management Bill.” The bulk of the article is an interview with Don Donnelly, a forester with the New Jersey Audubon Society. One question I asked was “Tell me about one of the tracts that New Jersey Audubon is managing.” Here’s his response:

        “Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area, which is owned by the state Department of Environmental Protection, consists of almost 4,000 acres. It was extensively cut over at the turn of the last century, and the forest that we have now is about 100 years old — 4,000 acres of mid-successional hardwoods with very little diversity. One of the department’s goals is to increase diversity, to change the forest structure, change age classes. One of the species that we used as a target was golden-winged warbler, which requires early-successional habitat. It’s a declining species — there are only about 20 known breeding pairs remaining in the state. Some of them occur along powerlines that go through the Sparta Mountain WMA. The idea is to play off of the grassy habitat that is maintained under the power lines and to do a series of small clearcut patches along the power lines over time to continually recruit new age classes that are appropriate for golden-winged warbler breeding habitat, which is typically a 5- to 15-year-old stand, with maybe up to 3,000 saplings per acre and a combination of trees and shrubs, preferably adjacent to wet areas.”

        Mid-successional stands with very little diversity are common on federal lands in the Pacific Northwest, though with different tree species, of course. In another interview article, “Does Federal Forestry Have a Future in Spotted Owl Country?” (November 2011), I interviewed professors Jerry Franklin (UW) and K. Norman Johnson (OSU), who have called for increasing the amount of early seral habitat in the PNW. Franklin explains:

        “Franklin: One of the important justifications for the regeneration harvesting is to begin again to develop some early-successional ecosystems, because we’re simply not creating those any longer. That condition is disappearing on federal lands. On private lands, the reforestation is so aggressive that it essentially does not allow the development of those early-successional ecosystems, either — ecosystems that are highly diverse, both in terms of plants and animals, and have a lot of habitat specialists.

        “Another reason for these regeneration harvests is to produce some wood, but it’s all done in the context of adopting a new silvicultural system that involves the management of mixed-age, mixed-species stands on longer rotations. The development of early-successional ecosystems is a key part of that larger silvicultural system, and we’ve justified it ecologically on the basis that we have a developmental stage that is no longer being created, that is below the historical range of variability.”

        Of course, none of these folks advocate cutting old-growth to create early seral habitat, but “clearcuttng” in mature or mid-seral stands for ecological and other purposes. Franklin and Johnson discuss their silvicultural approach in the December 2012 edition of the Journal of Forestry, ” A Restoration Framework for Federal Forests in the Pacific Northwest.”

        • What a refreshing breath of fresh info you are Steve. If I recall off the top of my head…I do believe the USFS PNW stand structure make up is something like 33% Old growth, 33% sapling and pole, and 33% in the “mature” stage…as in 80-150 year old. The last is the structure I tend to focus on. I’ve said before on this blog…that I don’t think we need to log Old Growth anymore whether it be Oregon or Montana. There is an abundance of mature from 100 years of fire suppresion. If even mature is unpalatable in the PNW then there is an abundance of 50 year old regeneration…but the USFS seems bent, probably because it’s the only “non-litigation route to persue, in only thinning these stands when they could be regenerating them to early seral. The reasoning given in the EIS’s is to “speed them on the path to creating large diameter furure old growth stands.” The PNW is not my area of interest, so I may be wrong,and this is antedotal, but from reading Oregon Fish and Game reports, it’s rather obvious that Elk are almost non-existant on USFS lands there. But what gets me…is anyone even “looking” for smaller, less “charistmatic” species that are dependent on early seral? Butterflys and such. Nobody is looking cause nobody is litigating over them. I’ve often fantazised about litigating and getting a federal judge to order the USFS to clearcut thousands of acres for early seral dependent species. Frankly, the Canadian lynx comes to mind. But of course, we all know that NEPA enviro litigation is based on “procedural” steps..but perhaps the ESA could be a path. Maybe Mr. Persell could tell us if such a lawsuit would be feasable…as an academic exersize of course.

          • Derek: We haven’t needed to log old-growth in Oregon for many decades — but if we are going to save our remaining old-growth stands, we need to start logging IN old-growth, and the sooner the better. Same with developing new stands of old-growth from mature 2nd-growth stands — and probably starting with salvage logging and new plantations and precommercial thinnings in areas in which historical stands of old-growth have been logged, burned, or otherwise removed.

            Currently we have tens of thousands of acres of old-growth being killed by direct competition from younger trees and by crown fires every year in Oregon — and the same thing is taking place in the adjacent states of California, Washington and Idaho, too.

            Check out the photos in an article I posted here about a year ago, to see typical examples of what I am talking about:


            Here is the discussion that took place regarding (mostly) the written content of the article:


    • Oh crap…I just realized I said “region 9” in my above quote when I meant “region 1(Northern).” And in my “clearcut 4000 acres of watershed…I forgot to include at the bottom…”that should take care of the “pulse Vs. Press” problem.

      And “Tree,” you make a good point about “industrial” lands providing early seral. A good “touche” moment. It’s a conundrum I’ve wrestled with many a time…to the point of fearing one of you guys would bring it up. And it’s very applicable to the “checkerboard railroad section lands.” Without pooring over a USFS map of individual forests in the PNW, I couldn’t make a call. But in national forests that have little or no checkerboard lands adjacent to them,I don’t think that reasoning applies. Out of 17 million USFS acres in Montana, only 1.5 million are industrial forest lands. The “other private” lands, ie. ranchers ect., tend to be low elevation. The Kootenai and Lolo certainly have them, but there are huge blocks of USFS only.

      Something else fun about railroad sections, and their history, is they certainly aren’t limited to 20 miles on each side of the railroad ROW. I know of no railroad over Lolo pass or up the Swan Valley. I’m guessing they were “in Leiu of” lands. As in some of the lands were already homesteaded back east…so here you go fella’s, go pick what you want.And they picked the biggest ponderosa forests they could find. Obviously, so did the states. I’d love to know the history behind all that…being in the land business as I am.

      Something else I’ve observed about the industrial land and those ponderosa forests. Plum Creek has done an outstanding job of “pulp wood” thinning their “pole stands” on cut over lands. Too bad the pulp mill in Frenchtown closed…cause I imagine they made a dime on it. And I mean on a landscape level. Now of course, the “leave trees” will be cut down at CMAI in another 40 years or so in a shelterwood harvest…but my point is…if they did it, how come the USFS couldn’t do it at a landscape level on some of their low elevation ponderosa cutover lands. But instead of cutting them at the 120 year rotation age…leave them for future old growth. Guarantee that with some kind of conservation easement. Restoration of P-pine forests…now there’s a common ground someone should be able to embrace. What a nice dream…but in the climate of distrust shown on this blog,by both sides, it will never happen. Perhaps the Nature Conservancy…instead of dumping the lands they bought from Plum Creek under that “legacy” deal onto the USFS who can’t manage what they got now, should instead hold on to a couple hundred thousand acres and do it themselves. Or perhaps in giving it to the USFS, could attach such a conservation easement.

      Anyway…forgive me for rambling.

      • Derek: If you are interested in the history of those lands, they are easy to trace via county or federal records. A good background book (with some great photos and exacting legal descriptions) for the strategy you suspect is “Looters of the Public Domain” by Stephen Puter in 1907. In fact, that book would probably make a great discussion point on this blog at some future time.

        Also, please note that the “early seral” stages on industrial lands are ephemeral — and often composed of weed species or sprayed shrubs until the planted conifers shade them out. The early seral stages truly missing from western Oregon are the oak savannahs, grasslands, berry fields, brakes, and camas prairies that became covered with houses, streets, malls, highways, and planted crops. The industrial forest clearcuts and partial cuts are an entirely different animal.

  6. Thanks Bob…I’m a sponge for that stuff. I shall defer to your expertise on the PNW. Years ago, to limit the load, I stopped my efforts at the Montana Idaho border.
    Oh…and Tree…I thought up a come back for you. You said something along the line of “industrial lands provide plenty of early seral.” But we’re talking about forest service land. WE also talk a lot about how the USFS needs to “follow the law”. Now, isn’t the USFS tasked by law to provide habitat for a “diversity of species.” That would include early seral species? In that context, of the USFS “following the law,” industrial lands are moot. Does anybody agree, or disagree with the statement that the USFS is “tasked by law to provide species diversity?”


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