Spotted Owls & Ecological Integrity

I was just getting ready to respond to Sharon’s public database idea (I’m all for it) and to the HRV modeling crowd (they are NOT historical ecologists — but that’s what is really needed) after checking my email, but came across the following news release first.

My pet peeves are the insistent references to “principles of ecological forestry” (which all of the agencies have apparently bought into, or been required to adopt, whatever they might be) and to the claim that these efforts are “science-driven” and represent the “latest science,” apparently based on “new scientific information.”

These are social value problems, and the scientists who need to be involved are cultural anthropologists and historical ecologists — both sadly underrepresented in the literature and in funding. Once common values and objectives can be established, then experienced resource managers need to become involved. So far, it looks like the whole thing is continuing to degenerate in closed door meetings at the hands of high-level bureaucrats, lawyers, and ivory tower theorists — not locals, and not skilled managers. And certainly not the public.

Have these “principles of ecological forestry” ever been independently peer reviewed, or is it just more in-house stuff? How did they change, given the recent influx of “new scientific information?” And — most importantly — where can American taxpayers review these documents?

Other thoughts?


U.S. Department of the Interior Contacts:
BLM, Jody Weil, (503) 808-6287
U.S. Department of Agriculture
USFWS, Jason Holm, (503) 231-2264
USFS, Larry Chambers, (202) 205-1005

For release: April 26, 2013

USFWS, BLM, USFS Leadership Travel to Pacific Northwest to Discuss Northern Spotted Owl Recovery, Forest Health

Washington, D.C.

As part of the Administration’s on-going commitment to improving forest health in the Pacific Northwest, recovering the northern spotted owl, and supporting sustainable economic opportunities for local communities, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, Bureau of Land Management Principal Deputy Director Neil Kornze, and U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell this week travelled to California, Oregon and Washington to meet with employees from both the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Department of Agriculture in an effort to underscore what they see as an historic opportunity for forest ecosystem progress.

“In the past two years, the Service has used the principles of ecological forestry and the latest scientific information to revise and update the recovery plan and identify habitat essential to the survival and recovery of the spotted owl,” said USFWS Director Dan Ashe. “With all three agencies aligned around these principles, we have an historic opportunity to accelerate the protection and restoration of healthy forest ecosystems that will support owl recovery and sustainable timber supplies.”

The USFWS , BLM and USFS have been working together for two decades on recovery of the northern spotted owl, protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The four employee meetings held in Olympia, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Eugene, Oregon; and Redding, California provided an important opportunity for agency leaders to articulate a common vision and intent, and address questions from the people who will play a key role in achieving that vision. The visit emphasizes the importance that sustainable forest health plays in the social, cultural and economic viability of communities in the Pacific Northwest.

“Balance is the key to our success,” said BLM Principal Deputy Director Kornze. “We are
working collaboratively with our partners to develop a sustainable path forward and a long-term solution to the complex forest management challenges in western Oregon and throughout the Pacific Northwest.”

In December 2012, the USFWS finalized a science-driven proposal identifying lands in the Pacific Northwest that are essential to the survival and recovery of the northern spotted owl. The USFWS identified 9.29 million acres of critical habitat on Federal land and 291,570 acres on state land.

“Our National Forests in the Pacific Northwest are a great national treasure, not least for all of the values they provide to local communities,” USFS Chief Tidwell said. “We are working with partners and communities to apply the latest science in maintaining and restoring habitat for spotted owl and other wildlife.”

The agencies have worked closely in developing the revised critical habitat designation and recovery plan. The plan embraces active forest management by applying principles of ecological forestry to target and achieve forest health. This will allow forests within the range of the northern spotted owl to be managed for conservation of the species, ecosystem health and economic opportunities for local communities.

The BLM is revising its resource management plans for 2.5 million acres of forest lands across six BLM Districts in western Oregon in order to address new scientific information related to forest health, the USFWS’s recovery plan and proposed critical habitat designations for the northern spotted owl. The plans will supersede those completed in 1995.

14 thoughts on “Spotted Owls & Ecological Integrity”

  1. I don’t know if “ecological forestry” was coined by Jerry Franklin and Norm Johnson, but they’ve been using the phrase to describe their vision of “a forest restoration strategy designed to produce ecological and economic benefits on federal forests in Oregon and Washington,” Journal of Forestry (a peer-reviewed journal), December 2012. Online, free:

    Their approach has merit, and I’d like to see it applied on some of the west-side national forests where now very little timber is harvested.

    Unfortunately, “ecological forestry” is another buzz phrase, apparently now adopted by the USFS. It will come to be over-used and misinterpreted, as have terms such as “forest restoration” and “environmentalist.”

    And “forest ecosystem progress”? Soon to be another buzz phrase?

  2. Bob and Steve, I thought Jerry was an advocate of “ecological forestry” back when he was advocating “big messy clearcuts” (was that the 80’s?).

    Also Brian Palik gave a talk at the SAF Convention in Spokane 2012 where he discussed ecological forestry.. and I think he gave some principles (Steve, can we get the ppt for that?). When I heard it I thought “that sounds like the PNW before I left 25 years ago.”

    Of course, it makes me wonder what “unecological forestry” is; but as far as I know, whatever it was was dead in the PNW long before the NW Forest Plan, thanks to the work of Jerry and others.

    s what they were thinking in 1999 about the Williamette.. interesting..

    In areas managed for timber, or matrix
    lands, implementing the Northwest Forest
    Plan will eventually result in a divided land-
    scape, with all old forest along the streams,
    with the areas between fairly intensively
    harvested on an average 80-year rotation,”
    says John Cissel. “The mature age class will
    nearly disappear from the landscape, leaving
    no replacement for old Douglas-fir forests
    when they are depleted by mortality.

    • Sharon: The “messy clearcuts” that Franklin promoted 25 years ago were called “New Forestry.” Maybe this is just a type of Newer New Forestry. The designs of these units were similar to HRV projects today — based on very little actual historical documentation and mostly the result of computer projections based on unstated individual values and assumptions. Not actual historical variations. The result is typically an expensive, homogenized, sloppy looking imaginary reconstruction of (theoretically desired) past conditions. I think the logic is fairly good on these things — it is just the the lack of guiding or corroborating information that is glaringly absent.

      Like Larry says, we need site specific research for management projects — not homogenized computer printouts. Too, a rejection (of at least) parts of New Forestry does not indicate a desire to return to Old Forestry. What it indicates is that there are better ways of meeting management objectives. Now we just need to find out what those objectives are: my interest is that they be developed scientifically and locally — not dictated from Washington DC using “science” mumbo-jumbo as their rationale.

    • Sharon, I don’t have Palik’s presentation (though I may have the audio). Here’s what was in the Source about his talk:

      Palik’s presentation, “Encouraging Ecological Resilience: Why Does It Matter?” outlined the principles of what he referred to as “ecological forestry,” discussed how foresters could enhance the resiliency of the forests under their management and continue to profit from forest products by adopting this management approach, and encouraged audience members to implement the tenets of this approach in their work.

      “All of you, as professional foresters, have a set of tenets that you operate by,” Palik said. “What I’d like you to do is to think about adding some of these to your toolbox as well.”

      According to Palik, the “ecological forester” sustains ecosystems — not growth and yield — knows that managing for commodities is dependent on sustaining ecosystem functions, seeks complexity and heterogeneity, seeks continuity across forest generations, maintains options for the future by maintaining “every cog and wheel,” practices silviculture with a landscape perspective, and is flexible and cognizant of the bigger picture.

      “You, too, can do this. You can have your cake and eat it too, in terms of balancing economic and ecological objectives for your forestry.”

  3. Not sure how you get site specific research to guide management on individual project proposals, let alone on a watershed basis in today’s dry-bones funding for science and forest management.
    There are fundamental ecologic facts or principles that can be applied to larger areas or tracts that can guide you in the right direction.
    Johnson and Franklin, in their update of two weeks ago of their relevant paper, say clearly that after ecological forestry guidelines are set, then cultural and economic factors must be added. Seems like a reasonable approach to me. In contrast to the “old days” when forest management decisions were based on the annual allowable cut prescribed by the WO and RO to each forest.

    • Yes, but I don’t remember those “good old days” since the mid 80’s or since “ecosystem management”. All of the ideas sound the same.. I wonder if there’s a history comparing the principles of EM, New forestry, and ecological forestry? The latter two seem more westside Oregon based and silvicultural in orientation.

    • Ed: I think Franklin and Johnson are putting the cart before the horse. The cultural and historical aspects should be considered first, and then the (hopefully site specific) plans developed. This is the old “top down” approach where the USFS would hold public meetings in which the entire time was spent informing the “public” about what they were doing and why. Zero actual public input. Also — notice how often economists are wrong, and how much they disagree? That’s why I think we need cultural anthropologists (who can engage the public without an agenda, to help determine local values and desired future conditions) and historical ecologists (who can actually document past conditions, which imply — and describe — future options). Franklin is an old-growth guru and Johnson is an economist, and neither one has significant experience in regards to wildfire, reforestation, or forest management.

  4. Here in the Sierra Nevada, the GTR-220 seems to be our best guide, so far. Sadly, it isn’t “legal” to do everything in the study. However, there seems to be plenty of consensus about important parts of the GTR-220. Retaining and enhancing oaks is not only great for “ecological integrity” but, it also supports more diversity and resilience for the entire watershed ecosystem. The clumps and gaps strategies work well for increased “edge effect” and diverse habitats. Fire and insect resilience also add to ecological sustainability and restoration. (Hey, Bob? Couldn’t we play the same game?)

    It would be funny if it were true and…. *smirk*… it IS! Yes, it is quite a mouthful but, many people who read the study would know it to be true. I am hoping our last year’s ambitious Callecat project can be a showpiece for New Age forestry.

  5. Bob, I like the idea of historical ecologists, but the bottom line is still this…someone has to decide what era or century or date of history (and its associated forest condition) are we going to manage for? Native American burning history of 1723? Pre Columbus?
    Pre migration of natives down the western corridor?
    Seriously, this is, and has been the major hangup with management decisions for the past 20 years. What ecotypes or forest cover mix are we trying to manage for?
    It was “easy” back in the timber decades when there was only one answer, from the silviculturalist who prescribed a management picture based on the locally favorite sawlog species, managed to produce the most sawlogs in the shortest rotation.
    But those days are gone…thankfully. So who decides?

    • Hi Ed: I was just starting to look over Larry’s GTR-220, which is specific to his area and might be a format you’d be interested in trying in your neck of the woods. I wanted to get a little closer look before responding, but he makes a good case for it. Also I like the ring of New Age Forestry better than Newer New Forestry.

      Yes, we are in agreement: someone has to decide. It is the National Park Service, not the USFS, that is charged with recreating and maintaining a slice of historical Americana — I’m not sure how those decisions were made. I would have hoped that the USFS would have remained true to the Multiple Use/Sustained Yield Act, rather that the current FWS-directed “critical habitat” path of the past 25 years, though. That seems to assume that at some point in the past there was more “habitat,” and therefore larger populations of those plants and animals that are currently being favored by present resource managers. Still, they don’t seem to do their homework, and so far results for this massive social engineering project have not met expectations, much less predictions.

      My choice would be to have knowledgeable locals, working with agencies and as advised by interested third parties, make those decisions. That’s where the cultural anthropologists come in before the economists and sociologists can get started. Internet would be a wonderful — and expected — tool for discussing such issues and considering the information they were based on.

      Next, I would not choose a year or any one set of conditions — that would be for others to decide, however it was done. Rather, I would look at it like a weather report: what are the average temperatures, rainfall, seasonal variants, extremes of flooding, wind, etc., that can be documented? Those are pretty good guidelines for predicting future seasonal weather patterns. From that I would — hopefully collaboratively, with local leadership — select which conditions were most generally favored and which were best to avoid, if possible, FOR THAT AREA — and based on the historical record providing a list of documented possibilities: e.g., “replacement” old-growth would probably be better located in areas in which the same species had survived 200+ years in the past, rather than a wind and snow damaged stand of 90-year old invasive trees growing in an old huckleberry field. Location is everything.

  6. And remember in some areas if you simply removed fuels from WUI (in areas without much in the way of industry), that would use up your budget for vegetation management. So whatever you would otherwise manage for is fairly hypothetical.

    • Sharon: I would argue that the same thing holds true for forest management budgets as for the USFS maps sales. That is, since they are national lands there should be a national bottom line showing some kind of profit (“fiscal management”). Timber sales on the Gifford Pinchot, for example, helping to maintain recreational trails in New Mexico. There is no real reason to be spending as much as we do on wildfire management (at least, according to the historical record), and there is no real reason for the USFS losing money on managing the nation’s forests. Plus, left up to the ingenuity of knowledgeable locals and the certain local availability of forest products, I’m guessing a lot of those money-losing jobs could be done profitably as well.

      • Well, the Quincy Library Group seems to be a perfect example of how local collaboratives will continue to struggle. People like Chad Hanson will continue to litigate and win, against plans that cannot possibly survive the scrutiny of complicated rules, laws and policies that the Forest Service is expected to uphold. They tried something new and progressive but, the courts wouldn’t support it. I just don’t think that shortcuts are the way of getting things done, if cutting trees is what you want to do. It is better to follow plans designed to “restore”, instead.


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