More Fires and Less Burned Snag Habitat: How Can Both Be True?

Oregon_amo_2011239NASA photo

Certainly this story is about Colorado and neither Oregon nor South Dakota; still, it makes a person wonder.

Here’s the link and below is an excerpt.

If wildlife acres burned double in the next 50 years, how can birds that live in burnt trees be on a bad trajectory in terms of habitat? Could someone in the legal business explain the logic path.. facts found, conclusions drawn, how that relates to the ESA regulations to make the FWS go spend bucks (I wonder if they track how many?) to assess this situation when Interior can’t afford to plow the roads to Yellowstone Park?

The hotter, drier climate will transform Rocky Mountain forests, unleashing wider wildfires and insect attacks, federal scientists warn in a report for Congress and the White House.

The U.S. Forest Service scientists project that, by 2050, the area burned each year by increasingly severe wildfires will at least double, to around 20 million acres nationwide.

Some regions, including western Colorado, are expected to face up to a fivefold increase in acres burned if climate change continues on the current trajectory.

Floods, droughts and heat waves, driven by changing weather patterns, also are expected to spur bug infestations of the sort seen across 4 million acres of Colorado pine forests.

“We’re going to have to figure out some more effective and efficient ways for adapting rather than just pouring more and more resources and money at it,” Forest Service climate change advisor Dave Cleaves said.

“We’re going to have to have a lot more partnerships with states and communities to look at fires and forest health problems.”

The Forest Service scientists this week attended a “National Adaptation” forum in Denver, where experts explored responses to climate change. They’ve synthesized 25 years of federal climate science as part of the National Climate Assessment — now being finalized for the president and Congress — as the basis for navigating changes.

Degradation of city watersheds is anticipated along with diminished cleansing capacity of forests. Forests today absorb an estimated 13 percent of U.S. carbon pollution.

New data shows bug attacks are already broadening. In Colorado, insects target trees at higher elevations, such as white-bark pines found in wilderness areas, said David Peterson, a Forest Service research biologist who co-wrote the 265-page report.

This was also interesting..

Some Western governors took the climate change warning as confirmation of current trends and called for federal help creating new forest projects industries.

Fires and insect attacks “are only going to get even worse,” Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said Wednesday. “We need a real federal commitment to managing our forests in a way that will prepare and protect our communities, protect and enhance wildlife habitat and protect our water for drinking, irrigation and fishing.”

33 thoughts on “More Fires and Less Burned Snag Habitat: How Can Both Be True?”

  1. “If wildlife acres burned double in the next 50 years, how can birds that live in burnt trees be on a bad trajectory in terms of habitat?”

    According to the press release posted yesterday, “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.”

    • apparently the climate change scientists are less sanguine about intentions about suppression to translate into realities of suppression.

      Also I have to say I’m pretty dubious about ” Large-scale forest thinning to prevent fires in backcountry areas” .

      Let’s start with “backcountry areas”.. to me that means without roads.. unlikely that there would be too much going on without roads. Thinning isn’t done to “prevent fires” but to “change fire behavior”.

      Does anyone have an example of a Forest Service project that is “large-scale forest thinning in backcountry areas”? Maybe we would learn that some of us disagree about what is “large scale” and what is “backcountry.”

      Certainly Hanson litigated salvage on the Angora fire, which was neither large scale nor backcountry… this all seems confusing..

  2. AP Article from today, as published in The Oregonian:

    Federal agency to consider protection for black-backed woodpecker

    By The Associated Press
    on April 08, 2013 at 7:45 PM, updated April 08, 2013 at 7:51 PM

    GRANTS PASS — A woodpecker that depends on intense wildfires for the standing dead trees where it feeds on insects is being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday it will take a closer look at the black-backed woodpecker. A decision is due in a year but could take longer due to budget cuts.

    Fish and Wildlife is considering two populations of the woodpecker — one inhabiting the Sierras of California and eastern Cascade Range of Oregon, and another in the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming. Another Northern Rockies population is not under consideration.

    The agency said conservation groups that petitioned to protect the birds presented substantial scientific information that they were suffering a loss of habitat because of fire suppression, salvage logging that removes fire-killed trees, and thinning to reduce the intensity of wildfires.

    The decision is giving conservation groups hope the bird can force changes in national wildfire policy the same way the northern spotted owl overhauled the idea of logging old-growth forests.

    Chad Hanson, staff ecologist of the John Muir Project of the Earth Island Institute, said the woodpecker has already figured in lawsuits to stop salvage logging.

    “We hope as a result of this, the Forest Service will in fact not only pay more attention to species like this, but do a proactive job of educating people that when fire happens, it is not a bad thing, wildlife rely upon it,” Hanson said. “These notions of catastrophic wildfire are really just politics and ignorance, and reflect outdated thinking.”

    Forest Service spokesman Larry Chambers said the agency’s wildfire policy was not changing because the bird was not yet listed as a threatened or endangered species. He added that the agency already took “science-based actions to protect its habitat.”

    The agency has also said budget cuts this year will force it to let more fires burn — a prospect Hanson said would benefit the woodpecker and a broad range of species.

    Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resources Council, a timber industry group, said the bird didn’t need any Endangered Species Act protection, because it was already getting plenty of new habitat each year from millions of acres that burn but are not harvested as salvage. He added there is a major debate going on over the role of the Forest Service on the national forests.

    “Are they going to be a firefighting agency, or a land management agency?” he said. “Right now, half the budget is going to firefighting. A tenth of it is going to forest management.”

    Hanson noted that major salvage logging is being planned for two areas that burned last year in prime black-backed woodpecker habitat, one on the Plumas National Forest in the Sierras, and another on the Winema-Fremont and Modoc national forests near Lakeview, Ore.

    — The Associated Press

    • Once again, we see the pursuit of a forest without humans. The idea that if we just “let nature takes its course”, everything will be fine, won’t work for a diverse, dynamic and human-dominated landscape. That last thing won’t be changing much in the foreseeable future. This “no protections” scam is a flat out lie, when talking about Federal salvage projects. We directly address bbw issues. If they are so rare, then they don’t really need that many acres, do they?!?? Right now, there are probably more snags in our forests than…. errr… EVER (in recorded history). With that being said, it is clear to me that “free range fire” is not the answer, in most cases.

      • Let’s see what you got here Larry….

        1. Spreading false rumors (the enviros supposed “pursuit of a forest without humans,” which nobody is advocating for).

        2. Claiming Dr. Hanson is a liar (“This ‘no protections’ scam is a flat out lie”).

        3. Making an unsubstantiated claim (“There are probably more snags in our forests than….errrr. EVER (in recorded history))”

        I won’t even bother asking you for a citation to back up that last one Larry.

        • Matt:

          1) Where man is a visitor that leaves no trace (or something like that) is at the basis for the “human as pathogen” stance taken by the Environmental industry and their lawyers since the 1970s. So-called “natural fire regimes,” road decommissioning, and “no logging” fit right into this perspective.

          2) I have personally listened to Dr. Hanson speak on this issue and, although I’m not sure if he was lying or not, he did make a number of dubious statements that seemed based more on advocacy than ignorance. He seems to have an obvious agenda on what he is trying to achieve, and the woodpecker appears to be his bird of choice for doing so. Just my take, based on limited exposure.

          3) I have personally documented the superabundance of snags that have accumulated in western Oregon during the past 30 years and compared them with known and projected (yep, “modeling”) snag numbers for the past 500 years and — by inference — the past 10,000+ years, since the glaciers from the last Ice Age receded. Other forest scientists around North America have come to similar conclusions in their own geographic study areas and so far no one has come up with a much different interpretation. More snags than ever before in history, almost everywhere you look in the US and Canada — woodpeckers should be forming huge flocks by now, if Hanson knows what he is talking about.

          • Environmentalists are not the only ones with lawyers, and the number of public interest environmental attorneys pales in comparison to the number of “industry” and government environmental attorneys. Think hundreds as opposed to thousands.

            As for enviros being labeled an “industry,” I can speak from experience that the majority of folks working for non-profit conservation groups do not earn huge salaries, but often struggle to make ends meet, just like a lot of other folks that work in other fields. Some executive directors of larger national organizations and some experienced attorneys might make relatively significant salaries, but that is not true for the majority of people who have devoted their careers to protecting clean air, clean water, and plentiful habitats and species off all types.

            Further, the “‘human as pathogen’ stance” as you call it has never been the approach for organizations for whom I’ve worked or volunteered. Organizations might advocate for less impact to lands and streams, but most groups are made up of human outdoor enthusiasts that love visiting these places for hiking, wildlife-viewing, etc. Perhaps some enviro at some point coined the phrase “human as pathogen,” or perhaps you did, but I’ve never heard it until today, and I’ve been working in this field for a few years. Regardless, the phrase does not encompass the actual positions of most enviro groups.

            • Thanks, John, for your considered reply. I am in full agreement on the lawyer issue and consistently argue about the legal representatives “on both sides of the table.” I just think that management of our nation’s forests and grasslands should be carried out by experienced and knowledgeable resource professionals and not by lawyers. Industrial forestland owners (NOT “the forest industry”) have probably benefited more by the ESA than any other group — and probably have the most lawyers in the fray, too. It is to their financial advantage not to have federal timber to compete with — a pattern of political action that goes back to the 1920s or 1930s.

              The “human as pathogens” descriptor comes from a fellow grad student (an ex-journalist from Idaho) about 20 years ago. I think he was the one that probably coined the phrase. To state it more accurately would be “other humans as pathogens,” to include the points you’ve made.

            • Timber company lawyers have had little, to no effect on Federal policies. They have been excluded from enviro-litigation until very recently. I still rather doubt that they will have much future impact, either.

              Yes, there are groups who want to end ALL Forest Service timber sales…. Still.

              • Larry: There are two groups of timber industry lawyers in this argument. The first is the “industrial forestry group” of large landowners that also have their own mills and international trade presence (Weyco, G-P, IP, etc.); and the second is (mostly) the “mom-and-pop” sawmill owners, logging companies, and tree farmers, etc., who have mostly been dependent on public forests for their livelihood.

                The first group has benefited mightily from shutdowns on federal timberlands; the second group has (mostly) suffered greatly from the same political actions of the past 30 years or so. The first group has only been too happy to let the enviros shut things down (even if they get blamed as the “bad guys” in the process); it is the second group that has been most damaged and unable (until recently) to be allowed to participate in the litigation process.

                This is kind of simplistic (kind of like “dry forest” and “wet forest” designations, but less so), but I think is basically true.

          • Larry H and Bob Z statements of fact have so little credibility. Their thinking seems clouded by incorrect mental models of the basic workings of forest ecosystems. They seem to forget all the ways that modern forestry is adverse to snags (think captured mortality and exported biomass).

            IN FACT, there is abundant evidence that there is a severe shortage of snags across the managed forest landscape on both federal and non-federal lands.

            On industrial forest lands “The density of large snags [under an industrial forest regime] was projected to be less than 1% that found in unmanaged stands.” Wilhere, G.F. 2003. Simulations of snag dynamics in an industrial Douglas-fir forest. Forest Ecology and Management. Volume 174, Issues 1-3, 17 February 2003, Pages 521-539.

            For detailed modelling of snag depletion on moist westside forests, see Nonaka, E, Spies, TA, Wimberly, MC, and Ohmann, JL. 2007. Historical range of variability (HRV) in live and deadwood biomass: a simulation study in the Coast Range of Oregon, USA. Can. J. For. Res. 37:2349-2364.

            For snag depletion in dry interior forests, see the ICBEMP Scientific Analysis Group which found that “Across the [interior Columbia River] basin (all lands) large snags have declined more than 30 percent. This was most likely a reflection of the loss of late-seral forests, particularly in the dry and moist PVGs.” Miles A. Hemstrom, Wendel J. Hann, Rebecca A. Gravenmier, Jerome J. Korol. 2000. [SAG] Landscape Effects Analysis of the [ICBEMP] SDEIS Alternatives. USDA/USDI, draft March 2000.

            Korol et al (2002) estimated that even if we apply enlightened forest management on federal lands in the Interior Columbia Basin for the next 100 years, we will still reach only 75% of the historic large snag abundance, and most of the increase in large snags will occur in roadless and wilderness areas. Jerome J. Korol, Miles A. Hemstrom, Wendel J. Hann, and Rebecca A. Gravenmier. 2002. Snags and Down Wood in the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project. PNW-GTR-181.

            Wisdom et al (2008) found that snag abundance in the Pacific northwest forests is inversely related to past harvest and proximity to roads. Wisdom, M.J., and Bate, L.J. 2008. Snag density varies with intensity of timber harvest and human access. For. Ecol. Manage. 255: 2085–2093. doi:10.1016/j.foreco.2007.12.027. (“Our highest snag density … occurred in unharvested stands that had no adjacent roads. … Stands with no history of timber harvest had 3 times the density of snags as stands selectively harvested, and 19 times the density as stands having undergone complete harvest. Stands not adjacent to roads had almost 3 times the density of snags as stands adjacent to roads.”)

            “[E] xisting conservation provisions and forestry regulations generally do not fully address the needs of many species associated with mature coniferous forests. … many forest birds use snags, a limited resource in managed forests, for breeding habitat (Bunnell and Kremsater 1990). … Managed second-growth conifer forests typically contain many fewer snags than older forests … Most modern timber harvest practices include pre-commercial and/or commercial thinning, which are designed to increase tree vigor by reducing competition for sunlight and water; thinning generally reduces suppression mortality. These practices, as applied in 45-55-year harvest rotations, reduce the likelihood that large snags will be retained for the entire rotation or to successive stands (Wilhere 2003). … The modern forest management paradigm in west-side forests of Washington and Oregon has changed little over the last half-century (DeBell and Curtis 1993). Forestry practices during this period have emphasized short rotations, clearcut harvesting, and replanting. … The general lack of meaningful conservation value being provided for species associated with matureforest structures on non-federal lands is an impediment to Partners in Flight conservation planning in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere.” Buchanan, J.B. 2005. Challenges of Avian Conservation on Non-Federal Forests in the Pacific Northwest. USDA Forest Service Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-191. 2005.

            “Snag abundance on nonfederal lands was inadequate … Large remnant snags provided much of the snag habitat for cavity-nesters in early- to midsuccessional stands. This habitat will be lost gradually and may not be replaced using current timber management practices. If nonfederal lands are going to contribute habitat for snag-using wildlife, greater attention is needed to retaining large snags and live trees when thinning and regenerating stands. On federal lands, management for viable populations of cavity-nesting wildlife needs to more fully consider snag habitat conditions on adjacent land in determining needed habitat quantities, characteristics, and placement that best meet management objectives.” Ohmann, J.L., McComb, W.C., and A.A. Zumrawi. 1994. Snag Abundance For Primary Cavity-Nesting Birds On Nonfederal Forest Lands In Oregon And Washington Wildl. Soc. Bull. 22:607-620, 1994 619

            • Tree: At least Larry’s and my “statements of fact” have the credibility of being attached to real people with real credentials. You, on the other hand, are anonymous. So much for your credentials and the value of your opinions. However, you seem to enjoy placing yourself in the role of some kind of expert or authority. Why is that?

              PS I am familiar with much of the work you cite and several of the individuals you quote. Why do you give them more “credibility” than the opinions of either Larry or me? I might be willing to do “dueling experts” on this topic at some point, but probably not with an anonymous individual in a public forum.

              • Unlike BZ and LH, I am attempting to provide evidence instead of unsupported assertions of fact (and opinion). I will give your views more weight when I can harmonize them with all the other lines of evidence available to me. Try publishing and subjecting your methods and conclusions to peer review.

            • My Yosemite National Park example clearly shows how an old growth stand can be turned into a snagless wasteland in just 20 years. Yep, no past logging impacts and less fire suppression than on Forest Service lands. Re-burn is never addressed by preservationists, and higher human-caused ignition rates are facts that cannot be avoided. We need resilient forests that survive frequent fires.

              It is all about site-specific science, too. Such a blanket policy like Tree desires simply won’t work for most of the public forests. The “whatever happens” style isn’t supported by site-specific science.

        • The preservationist’s endgame is a complete removal of all human impacts and constructions. They want a forest where “nature” rules and humans cause no damage. “Make it all Wilderness” and “Re-Wild At All Costs” are the shrill battle cries of the most vocal.

          There are, indeed, MANY Federal protections for the bbw. Any claim otherwise is a lie. I have followed them during my career.

          Since American Indian burning started not long (in landscape time) after the glaciers receded, it would be logical that there were FAR fewer snags in areas extensively and consistently burned. The effects of fire suppression produce more snags, as scientific logic also suggests. Ask Bob about pre-European landscapes, and he will tell you my statement is pretty accurate.

          • I’ve known a lot of vocal people that work for conservation groups but I’ve never heard anyone say “Make it all Wilderness” or “Re-Wild At All Costs.” Maybe I haven’t met the right people.

            What do you consider protections for black-backed woodpecker? Sensitive Species status? Objectives or standards in forest plans?

            • The BBW is, officially, a “Species of Concern”, with management direction, and all. The birds are guaranteed minimum snag protections, as well as nesting season “Limited Operating Periods”, where activities are suspended until the birds fledge. Even on green timber sales, we leave buffer trees around snags that wildlife will use. Our clump and gap strategies work well for wildlife.

              Many comments sections in online newspapers have plenty of statements preferring no intervention by man. You know this to be true! There are plenty who prefer political polarization, and will say anything to get their way.

              • Preferences for “no intervention by man” in certain areas is different than “Re-Wild At All Costs” or “Make it all Wilderness.” I tend to avoid comments sections for most online newspapers. The level of dialogue I found in most is not very enlightening. That said, if you know of some that you recommend as providing thoughtful responses, I’m interested.

              • John and Larry… I was nosing around with regard to the Angora Restoration Project (John, if you want to search for Angora in the search box, we had quite a discussion on this awhile back) and discovered a couple of things…

                First, by the time the appeal decision was issued,
                it was actually moot, because there had been no restraining order issued so the project had been completed when the original case was won. maybe John can help us understand why folks appeal when it’s moot, it seems confusing.

                Also, the plaintiffs were actually out on the site when the project was done, telling the FS about a nest tree that they had missed so the FS avoided it (I heard this from the FS) . So one could argue that they were more successful at protecting birds by being out there than by unsuccessfully litigating and appealing..

                Finally, I was curious about any monitoring of the consequences to the birds on the project, but I was told that the BBW monitoring was done regionally.. but I couldn’t find the results on an internet search.. maybe Larry or someone else could help?

                In the past, I’ve noticed that sometimes lawyers say “there is no protection” when they mean “we can’t take them to court if they don’t do it; must be a plan standard”, while others mean “there is protection” if people actually protect on the ground for whatever reason. This can be confusing when lawyers and practitioners talk.

                • I have not read the Angora documents, but folks generally appeal because the underlying issues are too important to let slide, even if the project has been completed. In other words, folks bring lawsuits in response to suspected violations of law. Just because the project at issue in one lawsuit is completed does not mean the plaintiffs want to see the same suspected violation of law repeated in a future project. If the plaintiffs prevail at the appeal stage, it sends a message to the agency not to repeat the same violation of law in similar circumstances in the future, i.e., it creates legal precedent.

                  “Management direction” does not always mean literal protection or provision of habitat. Some forest plans probably have “standards” for snag density and retention, but some do not. “Objectives,” “desired outcomes,” and “guidelines” in forest plans do not provide the same level of accountability as “standards.” A violation of a forest plan standard is a violation of NFMA. The same is usually not true for “objectives,” “guidelines,” or “desired outcomes.”

                  The head-scratcher for many is if “protection” is actually happening on the ground, why not just make it a “standard” if it’s already happening? Easy win for the agency! But the agency often wants discretion to not apply those “protections” at the project level, so it instead uses “objectives” that are measured forest-wide. The concern is the “death by a thousand cuts” incrementally across the forest because “objectives” usually don’t provide project-level accountability.

                  Of course, lawyers advise clients on what are legal hooks and what are not, and those hooks’ relative strength. Lawyers do that across the spectrum, not just in national forest management cases.

                  • Here in California, we have several self-imposed protections for wildlife, including spotted owls, blackbacked woodpeckers and fishers. In fact, the unlisted California Spotted Owl has, arguably, better protections than the listed northern spotted owl. Clearcutting and highgrading has been banned in the Sierra Nevada since 1993. Much of the litigation around here comes from Hanson on salvage sales, including roadside hazard tree projects within burned forests.

  3. wow…so it’s really not about the bird at all… I doubt a Senator in Colorado would run on platform of “people are ignorant because they think fires can be bad.” So maybe listening to people is “politics” and hence bad. Yet this non-elected individual has the power to potentially make this happen. Fascinating. I wish the political scientists who used to be on this blog would return…

    “We hope as a result of this, the Forest Service will in fact not only pay more attention to species like this, but do a proactive job of educating people that when fire happens, it is not a bad thing, wildlife rely upon it,” Hanson said. “These notions of catastrophic wildfire are really just politics and ignorance, and reflect outdated thinking.”

    • Why does it matter whether a senator in Colorado would run on Dr. Hanson’s platform or not? The general public has been told “only you can prevent forest fires” for decades, a clear message that fire in the woods is bad. We now know more about the role and importance of fire in many species’ life cycles. Dr. Hanson is not running for political office, so why should he worry about offending someone who might in fact be ignorant regarding the latest research on fire ecology? The Endangered Species Act allows for citizens to petition for species’ protection when the political will to proactively do so might not exist in whatever administration is overseeing USFWS at the time. Dr. Hanson’s non-elected status is not really relevant. Most of us are non-elected. We can all petition species for listing – Congress gave citizens that ability in the ESA. Of course habitat protection is a reason for petitioning a species for ESA listing. The ESA itself is aimed at protecting habitat through many of its provisions.

      • Somehow, “Only You Can Prevent WUI Fires” doesn’t send the right message. Yes, people ARE dumb enough to be more careless with fire, because they learned that “wildfires are natural and beneficial”.

        Can we petition the ESA to protect habitats from wildfires?? *half-smirk*

      • John, what I was saying was that generally in our country decisions are made through elected officials. Neither Dr. Hanson, Dr. Zybach nor Dr. Friedman are elected officials.

        It’s not about “worrying about offending people” it’s about getting a person’s policy preferences in place. You can run for office- or you can petition and litigate. Yes, it is true that the ESA provides for that and we can wait for the separation of powers to work itself out.

        Probably the most important point I want to make is that while Dr. Hanson is a “scientist” his arguments are not scientific arguments.

        1. Fire is good for some critters. Well yes, that’s true and bad for fishies whose habitat gets sedimented over, and people whose houses get burned… your point?.
        2. There is not enough habitat in the future due to salvage logging.
        Everyone on this blog knows that we don’t know that because we don’t know how many fires we’ll have and how many acres are impacted, plus we don’t know how many acres we currently salvage. It’s interesting that we can get the FWS to study the bird through petitioning, but we can’t get the FS to make available the only information on habitat that seems relevant. But even if we knew the current..
        3. we have to go with the projections of climate folks for the future. If the climate science community says “more fires likely” and Dr. Hanson says “no” or “fires are good” that’s not a scientific argument.

        Being a fire ecologist is not being a wildlife biologist nor a climate modeler. That’s why most issues nowadays require an interdisciplinary approach.

        • Won’t USFWS take an interdisciplinary approach in its further review of whether ESA protections for the black-backed woodpecker are warranted? Won’t it ask all those same questions to wildlife biologists, climate modelers, AND fire ecologists, not to mention countless other experts-in-various-fields?

          Some decisions in our country are made by elected officials like Congress, and some are made by non-elected officials in the executive branch to whom Congress has delegated authority. Here, Congress has delegated authority to USFWS to review this petition and determine whether ESA protections are warranted for the black-backed woodpecker. Why are folks so upset with Dr. Hanson when USFWS has not even yet exercise its delegated authority through a likely interdisciplinary approach and made a final decision? Just because he has a different perspective on fire than some others and isn’t afraid to say so?

  4. The following comment is from Dr. Richard Hutto, UM professor and director of UM’s Avian Science Center, and is shared with his permission.


    A few different issues seem to emerge every time folks get going on this:

    (1) Everyone asks, If there’s likely to be more burned forest in the future, what’s the problem? (e.g., Steve Wilent’s comment that “If wildlife acres burned double in the next 50 years, how can birds that live in burnt trees be on a bad trajectory in terms of habitat?”). The press release you posted said in no fewer than two places that it was the treatment after fire that puts the birds at risk, so he’s missing a point that apparently needs to be worded even more forcefully. I would add that the BBWO also loses habitat as a result of PRE-FIRE thinning–recently treated forests are no longer suitable if they then experience a natural severe fire disturbance, so we are losing acres from both pre- and post-fire logging.

    (2) Sharon’s comment about what Bullock said (Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said Wednesday. “We need a real federal commitment to managing our forests in a way that will prepare and protect our communities, protect and enhance wildlife habitat and protect our water for drinking, irrigation and fishing”) captures other huge problems. People believe that thinning forests miles from a community will protect that community, bit there are absolutely no data to support such a claim. Why are we wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on thinning projects and firefighting efforts miles from communities when they don’t come close to doing what we believe they do? I don’t think we need to attach “backcountry” to forest health or forest restoration projects…even projects mere miles from town do not reduce the chance of a severe fire event one bit because weather is what is responsible for the vast majority of severe fire events;

    (3) The Bullock quote also reveals that he believes forest management “enhances wildlife habitat.” That’s because he isn’t thinking about anything but elk and other “wildlife” that might benefit from tree thinning. It’s all in the eyes of the beholder, and most people (and MTFWP) do not view woodpeckers (or anything but game species) as wildlife! I’m sorry, governor, but not all species benefit from the kind of forest management you’re referring to.

    (4) The other misconception represented by the Bullock quote is that our water quality and fisheries would be better without severe fire disturbance. There is a large literature showing that after a brief pulse of runoff, both water quality and fisheries health is improved immeasurably for years to come.

    (5) Finally, the ESA is merely a tool to get folks to think more broadly about a bigger issue–in this case, the ecological value of severely burned forests. The subspecies issue is irrelevant except in the technical sense (to get the species to qualify). The woodpecker is in little danger globally (just as grizzly bears are in little danger globally); the ESA petition should be viewed as a wake-up call to begin thinking more seriously about the ecological value of things we might not have considered valuable without that wake-up call. The ESA requires agencies to be concerned about the HABITAT that supports a species, not the species, per se.


    Professor and Director
    Avian Science Center
    Division of Biological Sciences
    University of Montana

    • Matthew: Here is the source of your “tool” concern — Hutto’s statement that “(5) Finally, the ESA is merely a tool to get folks to think more broadly about a bigger issue–in this case, the ecological value of severely burned forests.” If that is what Hutto actually believes, Gore help us, every one. Or at least keep Hutto on campus. How about the “ecological value” of a hurricane, a tsunami, or a meteor strike? Lots of overlooked “value” in those types of events, too. Maybe we’re just working with the wrong tools?

    • Dick says: “People believe that thinning forests miles from a community will protect that community, bit there are absolutely no data to support such a claim.” and,

      “even projects mere miles from town do not reduce the chance of a severe fire event one bit because weather is what is responsible for the vast majority of severe fire events;”

      So, we are to believe that the vast “pre-settlement” low density stands of old growth poderosa pine forests that covered a good portion of Montana existed not because they were naturally thinned but because there was NO extreme weather events?

      MPB killed stands also provide habitat for black backed woodpeckers.
      Will Dick admit there is more MPB habitat in Montana now then at any time in the last 100 years? Can he tell us what percentage of that MPB habitat has been logged?

      Are we to believe that once again the people of the forest are to sacrifice their forest for a species that managed to survive decades with less habitat than now exists?

      I find it very usefull in the “public arena,” that the people of the Pacific Northwest can now see that destroying economies to save the spotted owl,has only resulted in depressed economies,extirpiration of early seral species on federal land, and the owl is dieing off anyway. A bit of egg on face. A bit of bitter irony.

  5. A quick answer to the question posed about the seeming incongruity between more fires but less snag habitat for species like black-backed woodpeckers.

    Answer: fires that burn in rangelands, grasslands, and industrial tree farms to not create snag habitat suitable for black-backed woodpeckers. Only fires that burn in mature forests that are not subsequently salvage logged will produce high quality habitat for black-backed woodpeckers.

    Practices on non-federal lands will produce little if any good snag habitat. On public lands, past practices have left us with a shortage of mature & old-growth forests that serve as the recruitment pool for high quality snag habitat when it burns.

    Recovery of black-backed woodpeckers requires three steps – (1) grow more mature & old-growth forest, (2) modify fire suppression and fuel reduction practices to tolerate mixed-severity and stand-replacing fire where possible, and (3) don’t salvage large snag habitat when it is created by fires. Obviously, federal lands will have to carry the entire burden, because non-federal lands will probably not do any of these things.

    Korol et al (2002) estimated that even if we apply enlightened forest management on federal lands in the Interior Columbia Basin for the next 100 years, we will still reach only 75% of the historic large snag abundance, and most of the increase in large snags will occur in roadless and wilderness areas where tree growth and mortality can play out unmolested by logging. Jerome J. Korol, Miles A. Hemstrom, Wendel J. Hann, and Rebecca A. Gravenmier. 2002. Snags and Down Wood in the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project. Pacific Northwest GTR-181.

    • Of course, Tree doesn’t offer any middle of the road solution that addresses other problems with burned forests. Advocating high intensity wildfires just so woodpeckers can use the snags for for about a decade seems like a “waste of resources”. Again, there is NO shortage of snag habitat on Forest Service lands…. period! It simply is not solely about sheer snag numbers. If that were the case, we would have a wealth of birds throughout the west. Once again, modern salvage projects save snags both inside and outside of cutting units. Also, more snags are “produced” when bark beetles inevitably kill significant amounts of green trees, after the loggers leave.

      So, is it the mere presence of loggers that prevents the birds from thriving? Since we leave substantially vast amounts of snags on our projects, just where are we impacting them? Yes, we leave multiple sizes of snags inside our cutting units. Salvage sales are already severely constrained, compared to the 80’s. I have seen the huge changes in salvage projects, and now, these woodpeckers currently dominate project design, here in California. The fuels guys would love to see less snags but, they also lose against the bbw.

      If the birds’ numbers are so low, and their acreage requirements are relatively small, just how many acres of snags do they realistically need?


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