Hanson on snag forest habitat, again

CHAD HANSON, John Muir Project, in the Manteca, Calif., Bulletin today, with his typical message:
<a href=”http://www.mantecabulletin.com/section/160/article/96042/”>Rim Fire logging plan poses major threat to Sierra wildlife</a>

“The proposed logging would heavily target the rarest, most threatened, and most biologically diverse and rich forest habitat type in the Sierra Nevada—“snag forest habitat”—and it would further threaten numerous rare and declining wildlife species that depend on this habitat, including the Black-backed Woodpecker.”

OK, so why wasn’t Hanson writing editorials before the fire, advocating for using fire to create snag forest habitat?

49 thoughts on “Hanson on snag forest habitat, again”

  1. OK, so why wasn’t Hanson writing editorials before the fire, advocating for using fire to create snag forest habitat?

    Wow, a little picky there, huh Steve? I’m pretty positive that Dr. Hanson has written many articles and spoken publicly many times about the fact that wildfire creates snag forest habitat before the Rim Fire was started by a hunter’s illegal campfire.

  2. Just noticed that these substantive, context filled ‘money quotes’ from Dr. Hanson weren’t included in the original post above:

    “Snag forest habitat is created by higher-intensity fire that kills most or all of the trees in mature conifer forest (fire-killed trees are called “snags”). About 153,000 acres of conifer forest are in the Rim fire (the rest is non-conifer vegetation, such as foothill chaparral, and grassland), and only one-third of this conifer forest burned at higher-intensity levels, creating snag forest habitat. Of the approximately 51,000 acres of snag forest habitat created by the Rim fire on public lands, about half is on the Stanislaus National Forest, and most of this is proposed for intensive logging by the Forest Service. Much of it would be clearcut.”

    Those who assume that higher-intensity fire “destroys” the forest may wonder why this matters. It matters because every scientific study that has been conducted on this issue—including those done by the Forest Service itself—has found that snag forest habitat is as biologically diverse and rich as old-growth forest, and often more so. Many wildlife species are found primarily in snag forest habitat, and depend on it for survival, but most of these are now extremely rare, like the Black-backed Woodpecker, or are steeply declining in population, like the Olive-sided Flycatcher, and the Western Wood-Pewee. These species are seriously harmed by both fire suppression and post-fire logging.

    While there are approximately 1.2 million acres of old-growth forest in the Sierra Nevada, there are less than 400,000 acres of snag forest habitat, even after including the Rim fire; and snag forest habitat typically only lasts for a few decades after fire, after which it is replaced by the naturally regrowing forest as part of natural succession. So, wildlife species that depend on this habitat need a constantly replenished supply from new mixed-intensity fires.”

    • Once again, clearcutting in the Sierra Nevada has been banned since 1993. Salvage logging guidelines always have snag requirements, as well. The snag habitat in Yosemite National Park is enough for more than 300 pairs of BBW’s. There is certainly more habitat outside of proposed cutting units, too. Usually, Forest Service salvage projects have ample snags set aside for BBW’s.

      “While there are approximately 1.2 million acres of old-growth forest in the Sierra Nevada, there are less than 400,000 acres of snag forest habitat…” Just HOW MANY pairs of BBW’s do we need to “manage for”? Remember, these snags are useful to BBW’s for only 6 years. We have already seen the results of “letting nature takes its course”, in this specific area. We really don’t need 40 year old brushfields in an area where wildfires burn about every 20 years.

  3. Between snag producing fire events, the BBWP has to use old growth habitat and dead trees and fallen trees in that habitat to sustain them until they can irrupt in the post fire snag forest. Old Growth is more important to their long term survival, one would think, rather than depending on their being the opportunistic users of post fire snag forests for not that long a term. Saving post fire snags is a short term solution, and creating more older age forests with a cadre of annually dying and seasonally falling trees is in their long term best interest. Or so it would look.

    But, then, creating charismatic stars in the species world as surrogates for the cause de jour is where we have been for five decades or more. Need we shoot great horned owls in snag habitats? Or trap pine martens that rob nests? Or just proactively set some fires annually to create more snag habitat?

    I look at weather reports, the ballyhooed extreme drought in the sac like Sierra BBWP habitat on the North American BBWP habitat maps, and am pretty certain that there is no short term shortage of BBWP habitat, nor will there be any shortage in the near future. The species is in no ESA danger. It is the long term supply of Old Growth habitat in the Sierras that is interim habitat that would worry me. What will be left after this weather cycle, and what we can create for the future? How to get there from here? There are more than BBWPs involved in OG habitat concerns.

  4. Oh once again here he is saying that we are going to clear cut the whole thing and burned up forests are just and good as green ones, why maybe even better.
    I can’t help but disagree. The wholesale destruction of old growth forests through catastrophic fire is just about the worst thing that happen to a forest.
    But I don’t understand why he has to start saying there are plans for “intensive logging”.
    Obviously he has never been around a fire salvage timber sale. Never have I seen the Forest Service suggest logging than maybe more than 5% of what has burned, and always there are so many trees left it is hard to tell where the logging took place. Roadside hazard tree removal is usually about all they get through the scoping process.
    The Tiller Ranger District of the Umpqua National Forest is trying to put together a fire salvage plan on the 17,000 they burned up this summer and are recommending leaving all large diameter pine and df “legacy snags”. I imagine they will harvest not more than hundred acres if that, and this is on Matrix lands, that small part of the forest that is suppose to be managed for timber production.
    I am sure any plans for the Rim fire are not much different. Do he or anyone really think that there will be a shortage of dead trees? Any halfway mature stand of trees is full of them, whole mountainsides and watersheds when there is a fire.
    It’s so discouraging the way we treat our public forests and our pubic resource.
    Then you have somebody like Hanson spreading his opinion as truth and unfortunately people believe him.

  5. Larry or anyone who is following this, I’d be interested in whether you know about the statement that Matthew quoted..

    Of the approximately 51,000 acres of snag forest habitat created by the Rim fire on public lands, about half is on the Stanislaus National Forest, and most of this is proposed for intensive logging by the Forest Service. Much of it would be clearcut.”

    If we do the math, 1/2 of 51K is 25.5 K.. if we say 75% is “most” then .75 of 25.5 is about 18K acres. And if it were to be “logged” (“intensive” is just an adjective) that would be 18K not just “within the project boundaries”, but the sum of all the “units to be treated.” That seems like a lot for California…

    Plus I wonder why Hanson thinks it will be clearcut, if that isn’t allowed as, Larry says above. A link to project documents might be helpful if anyone knows where they can be found.

  6. Instead of just speculating, which I understand can be fun, I decided to take action and write Dr. Hanson directly, as his email clearly appears at the bottom of the guest column. Here’s what he wrote:

    The Forest Service is proposing to log just under 30,000 acres on USFS lands in the Rim fire in salvage logging units, plus several thousand additional acres in roadside hazard tree logging units, and most of this would be in the snag forest habitat areas (the Forest Service doesn’t do much salvage logging in low-intensity fire areas, but there is some). Under the current forest plan, there are no snag retention requirements for post-fire logging on USFS lands, so much of the post-fire logging is clearcut. Where it’s not, it’s very close to a clearcut–typically 4 snags per acre retention.

    • It took me only a few minutes to find the documents..here
      finding the scoping document here
      It’s a 15 page scoping document, lots of other information and specific maps, and photos.

      It does appear that there are 29,000 ish acres proposed for salvage/fuels treatment so that assertion is correct.

      However, here is what the scoping notice says the plan for snag retention is:

      Consider habitat needs for sensitive terrestrial species and meet habitat needs for Federally listed Threatened and Endangered terrestrial species:
      a. In all units retain:
      – All hardwood snags greater than or equal to 12 inches dbh.
      – A minimum of 4 snags (in the largest size class available) per acre averaged across ten acres in mixed conifer forest type.
      – A minimum of six snags per acre in red fir forest type.
      – The largest size classes of dead and downed logs greater than or equal to 12 inches in diameter at the midpoint at a rate of 10 to 20 tons/acre.

      I don’t understand where the statement “much of the post-fire logging is clearcut” comes from. Perhaps he did not read the scoping document since he refers to forest plan requirements only? Yet the acres are in the scoping document..??

      • Hanson seems to be banking on the idea that a PhD is more believable than a Forest Service document. Yep, let’s run that clearcut statement around more and more, since the newspapers eat up everything he has to offer. We also need a reminder that Hanson is not an avian expert, using the BBW as a “poster child”. Personally, I think it would be very difficult to exterminate BBW’s, if that were ever desired. We’ve already seen what decades of clearcut salvage has had on the birds. Why not see what carefully-designed, modern-day salvage projects do?

        • Well, lucky for Dr. Hanson (and I suppose unlucky for you, Larry) Dr. Richard Hutto is one of the world’s leading avian experts, especially when it comes to birds in the western US and fire ecology. And Dr. Hanson and Dr. Hutto work closely together on many of these issues. Just out of curiosity, who is your go-to avian science expert Larry?



          • It doesn’t take an expert to figure out that there are plenty enough acres for each and every pair of BBW’s in the Sierra Nevada. Hanson seems to not be telling the truth about clearcutting and acres needed for the birds. Yes, we see that he opposes all timber harvest, even the small and dead trees. Yes, he appears to think that the Forest Service still uses 80’s-style salvage logging. My prediction is that he will not win in District Court but, he’s likely win, among his favorite Ninth Circuit Court activist Judges. He is surely going for the “sue and settle” strategy, to get his way to a payday, as well.

            If Hutto is such an expert, then why is Hanson still so wrong? He claims a shortage of habitat, when the math shows there is plenty of it. We’ve seen Hanson make catastrophic scientific mistakes, in the past (sampling for cambium kill at dbh!).

            • Aside from other points about the extensive BBWP habitat in the entire burn area, I wonder how much actual snag habitat is offered by the salvage prescription posted above by Sharon. Not being a bird person, I have no way to judge this.

              In addition to the snag retention measures described, I wonder how many acres of uncut leave areas might be in that matrix? Out of the 29,000 acre analysis area, realistically, how much might be cut? In Oregon, there would be lots uncut for various reasons, riparian etc.

              From above.

              Consider habitat needs for sensitive terrestrial species and meet habitat needs for Federally listed Threatened and Endangered terrestrial species:
              a. In all units retain:
              – All hardwood snags greater than or equal to 12 inches dbh.
              – A minimum of 4 snags (in the largest size class available) per acre averaged across ten acres in mixed conifer forest type.
              – A minimum of six snags per acre in red fir forest type.
              – The largest size classes of dead and downed logs greater than or equal to 12 inches in diameter at the midpoint at a rate of 10 to 20 tons/acre.

        • I got a very good PhD and I am hardly impressed by them, it is a rather poor indicator of knowledge for many people, after all, Matt and Larry don;t have one and they still know quite a lot. And you do not even need a MS in my opinion.

          I did not get mine until age 42, it was just icing on the cake.

          heads up to both of you.

    • thanks for that Matt, this looks like much heavier salvage than what I am familiar with on NWFP lands. How about riparian buffers and other leave areas inside the cutting units? I guess they do not have those.

      And out of that 30,000 acres potential salvage , can I assume that some large (?) portion will not be cut due to bad access etc. ??

      So how many acres are we really talking about?

      If it calls for copter logging, the returns to the FS drop considerably.

      • Remember, most of the Rim Fire that burned on Forest Service lands has been burned in the last 50 years. Most of those 30,000 acres are plantations less than 50 years old. The areas with the highest burn intensity were “protected” old growth wildlife habitats. There is one very large burned parcel of perfect, protected habitat, inside Yosemite National Park. Some people, like Hanson, might say that the Yosemite portion of the Rim Fire didn’t burn hot enough to fully benefit the woodpeckers. If the heavy-handed salvage policies of 30 years ago didn’t kill off the birds, I doubt that today’s progressive salvage projects designs would have little negative impacts on them, today. Due to the many roads, there are no Roadless Area issues, and there are some helicopter and cable units. However, most of those 30,000 acres are easy tractor units, in burned plantations.

        Again, the Forest Service shouldn’t have tried to design a project to get passed the Ninth Circuit Court. I doubt there is any salvage plan that could survive an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court so, just concentrate on felling all the trees possible, after a favorable District Court decision. You KNOW Hanson will sue, knowing his history of litigating salvage projects.

          • The analysis area should actually be the whole of the Rim Fire, to make sure that trees killed in the Park are fully accepted as a sort of mitigation for snag-loving species. The effort needed for the extra analysis would definitely help us in court. Let’s be serious about the fact that this small project WILL end up before the Ninth Circuit Court. That 30,000 acres are all cutting units, and marginal areas (outside of project areas) do hold a lot of timber volume but, those areas should also “count” towards acres devoted to BBW’s.

            • yep, agree on that, if BBWP is the species in contention, as a biologist I have to say they need to take the park and leave areas into consideration, not just cutting units.

              I wonder whether such a larger analysis area would be allowed as an argument in court?

              • Cumulative impacts rarely stay within a small analysis area. I wouldn’t be one to say that the snag acreage in Yosemite is 100% mitigation for the Forest Service projects, though. I just feel that there must also be acres closer to the project areas where pairs can live and reproduce. The combination of all the acres set aside for the birds should adequately address all of the issues, IMHO. Oh, and one more thing. Roadside Hazard tree areas can never be snag forest habitat. Such projects have no place in this discussion. It is “road habitat”.

  7. When was the term “snag forest” invented? Before or after “replacement old-growth?” These are relatively new terms for me, and sound far more political than they do biological. Forested areas that had experienced stand replacement events have always been called “burns” in my experience, just as “replacement old-growth” had always been called “second-growth” or “mature second growth.” When (and why) did the terminology change? And, for the record, I always assumed it was common knowledge that burns had more species diversity than conifer forests with (mostly) closed canopies. For that matter, why is “biological diversity” so important to people, and particularly when introduced or weed species are typically excluded? More Animal Farm for political objectives. In my opinion.

    • Bob, I don’t know about “snag forest”, not sure I’ve seen that, but “snag” and “snag habitat” and “snag-dependent species” are pretty much omnipresent in the Region 1 forest plans I’ve seen from the mid 80’s (Nez Perce, Lolo, Lewis & Clark…) I would agree that “snag forest” is a strange term, but the other uses make biological sense to me, so they make sense the way the FS used them in the forest plans I’ve looked at. As for “biological diversity”, that’s an interesting one, actually it’s the example I had in mind for a post on normative science that I keep meaning to do. Lots of scientists come down hard on so-called normative (i.e. policy-advocating) science and argue for pure objectivity (whatever that is), but the same scientists often don’t blink at assuming biodiversity is a universal goal. Which contradicts their argument. I use the example in my classes that many folks think the apple tree is indigenous to the Americas (it’s not, we got it from Asia via Europe). Whereas, the bacterial pathogen that causes fireblight disease of apple, pear, and related plants is indigenous to here, but not to Europe/Asia. Shortly after we got the apple (Geo Washington was one of the first), we managed to send them the bacterial pathogen. Which has resulted in decimation of the Italian pear industry. But at least they’re now more biodiverse than they were!

      • This makes me think of a question. Is a burned forest, with all its new (common) species diversity, better than an old growth forest, which harbors actual rare endangered species? The Rim Fire area seems to have now become a permanent brushfield, which eventually has very little species diversity, before it burns the next time.

      • Thanks, Guy: I was pretty sure “snag forest” was a new term, and it seems to be mostly political — and “strange” — in origin. I agree with your other uses of “snag”, however, but I have always been a little leery of the term “snag-dependent species”. Maybe you and Larry can give me a few examples in that regard. I can’t think of any, but bugs and fungi aren’t my strong points.

        The Oregon crabapple (Malus fusca) is one example of an apple native to North America. The stories of Llewellyn bringing the first European apples to the Pacific Northwest by Oregon Trail in 1847, or the Hudson’s Bay Company growing an apple orchard from seeds in 1828 are important parts of Northwest lore — same with the first honeybees to arrive via the Oregon Trail, as reported in the local and national newspapers.

        I like your takes on “scientific objectivity” and “biodiversity.” The example I use is Port Orford white cedar, which has a somewhat similar history to the Italian pear.

        • I tend to think that the boom and bust cycles of wildfires, bark beetles and snag recruitment were more pronounced in pre-European forests. Here in California, the Indians expertly “cultivated” long-lived pine forests, especially in the middle elevations. Those forests rarely had high intensity wildfires, or massive bark beetle attacks. I doubt that there were ever many BBW’s in such landscapes. The higher elevation true fir stands were somewhat “confined” by Indian burning practices. Wildfires burned more acres at the higher elevations, back then but, I doubt that those fires were of significant severity, due to the fragmented true fir stands.

          There is no lack of snag habitats in the Sierra Nevada, especially when compared to historic and pre-historic conditions. Hanson believes that each and every snag deserves to be potential food for snag-dependent species.

          As I have predicted, conditions are being set up for another massive bark beetle bloom, with a third year of drought happening right now. Just the protected dead forests of Yosemite should be enough to unleash clouds of bark beetles, spreading northward to Lake Tahoe, and beyond. It happened before, back in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

          • Weren’t the late 80’s and early 90’s also the era with record high (or near record high) logging volumes on most western National Forests?

            • The change for us began in 1988, when “New Perspectives” reduced the ASQ on our RD from 65 million to 45 million. For four years, we didn’t sell any green sales, dealing with the massive salvage volumes. In 2001, the ASQ was all the way down to about 2 million! I think the 80’s had the highest volumes, especially here, in the Sierra Nevada. We need to adjust tree densities to match average precipitation, even maybe creating a moisture buffer, where thinned trees always have access to ample amounts of water.

              This train wreck is well on its way, and how are we going to react to it?!? Some people prefer to be reactive to “whatever happens”, instead mitigating it, in advance.

  8. No lack of snag forest in Regions 1 and 6, but in the sierras they have not had as many hot burns. It is a new idea to me, and I prefer my trees alive but I recognize what people like Hanson is saying about the value of that early seral snag habitat. Not being a bird person, much of it misses me. But the BBWP creates habitat for other cavity nesting birds so it seems an important component.

    As john Thomas has pointed out, the BBWP is not in any danger across its range, I figure we have plenty of them in Oregon. (?)

    I might offer that even with the largest salvage program the FS is perhaps ever to achieve, there are plenty enough sangs out there for the critter now.

  9. Let’s do some math! If there are only 700 pairs of BBW’s left in the Sierra Nevada, that means they would like to have 100 to 200 acres each, making a total of 70,000 to 140,000 acres needed every year. That does sound like a lot, in the Sierra Nevada but, if you remember that the birds use the habitat for 6 years, it isn’t all that much, spreading it out over six years. So, that averages out to about 12,000 to 24,000 acres, annually, required for each and every bird in all of the Sierra Nevada.

    Just the portion of the Rim Fire, inside of Yosemite, takes care of 2 years worth for all Sierra Nevada Forests, and their BBW’s. Certainly, the American Fire will also be supplying some acres, as well. Every wildfire in the last six years is adding to the acres available to the birds. There is some context, and I’m just not seeing much of a correlation between “snag forest” acres and populations. We are certainly, “snag rich”, here the Sierra Nevada, especially compared to pre-European conditions.

  10. I’ll jump before Bob does about the pre-European induced fire cycle, of low intensity.
    Four to six snags per acre of good diameter will provide lots of long term nesting habitat not only for blackback peckerwoods, but other cavity species. The down nurse logs will do the same and if they are the right logs, also provide water retention for regen. What the heck is Hanson’s problem? He’s anticapitalist and ecocentric, pure and simple, zero cut to the core.

    • Thanks, Dave:

      I’ll go you one better in that I think 4-6 snags for every 10-50 acres is plenty to accommodate historical levels of snag dwellers — and that is far more dead, standing trees per acre than existed over most of the western US during early historical time. I don’t know if Hanson has a problem, but I do know he is a problem, and — from my perspective — not in a particularly helpful or beneficial way. Mostly as a costly, willing and capable obstructionist by most accounts. At some point this “snag forest” Fantasyland will go away, along with the “sciences” of phrenology and eugenics — although we seem to have lately transferred the lessons of the latter example from humans to owls. The “science” behind most of Dr. Hanson’s woodpecker proclamations will, at some point, have to lose credibility with the courts in much the same way they have become meaningless to most other scientists, recreationists, and mathematicians. In my opinion.

    • Prof. Kolb unfortunately trivializes the wood-to-soil argument, although he apparently wasn’t aiming at a scientific audience with his hobbit-lore comparison. Here’s a site that treats the subject much more thoroughly and accurately:

      And here’s a short but appropriate rebuttal to his opinion piece:

    • Knowing both Dr. Hanson and Dr. Kolb I will say that, without doubt, Dr. Hanson would do quite well against Dr. Kolb in any type of public debate about these issues.

      Also, looks like Dr. Kolb was taken to task for this very oped. So not sure what’s to be learned from it.

      Professor Peter Kolb’s opinion of Jan. 10 deserves a response, especially where he claims “the myth that wood builds soils has been around about as long as the ‘Lord of the Rings’ story.” Contrary to Kolb’s assertion that this is a myth, the European Union’s “Atlas of Soil Biodiversity,” U.S. Forest Service and other research find otherwise.

      As deadwood decays and is ultimately incorporated back into the soil, the downed log/soil interface provides cool, moist habitat for animals and a substrate for microbial and root activity. These play an important role in returning nutrients back into the soil. Deadwood also provides germination spots for small seeds, helps regulate water flow, stores carbon, replenishes organic matter, and ultimately helps build the soil.

      Many downed dead trees are called “nurse logs” because of the numerous young trees that sprout from the moist, rotting wood. This can be learned either by spending time in the woods or by reading research papers.

      Beware those like Kolb who call dead trees “carbon waste” and then argue they are of limited value to the forest ecosystem. We expect to hear this from industries that want the dead wood for their own financial gain, regardless of the public subsidies needed to turn their private profit. We expect university staff to be a bit more objective.

      Keith J. Hammer, Chair, Swan View Coalition, Kalispell

      • Guy and Matthew

        I think that you have misread Dr. Kolb’s article. Please consider the following:

        1) “Some wood is great habitat for small animals, fungal communities and nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and serves its best purpose helping hold onto critical moisture in the dry forest ecosystems of the Northern Rockies.”
        –> This statement by Dr. Kolb is entirely in agreement with Mr. Hammer’s article (which appears to be heavily borrowed from Chapter 3, page 19 of the European Atlas of Soil Biodiversity). So, I don’t see why anyone is faulting Dr. Kolb and restating what he said as if he had ignored or been ignorant of such facts.

        2) “Wood is extremely nutrient-poor and as it decays it releases organic acids that do a pretty good job acidifying soils and enhancing nutrient-leaching” … “What builds the best soil are the forbs and shrubs that every year grow and turn over soluble carbohydrates and fine root systems into the soil and for some species fix nitrogen, often at a rate 100 times that of decayed wood – living bacteria.”
        –> This is confirmed by:
        – See Page 3 of: http://www.soilandplantlaboratory.com/pdf/articles/CompostAGuideForUsing.pdf
        – See: http://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/jrnl/2010/nrs_2010_smith-k_002.pdf
        – Natural management in PNW is most dependent on downed wood. http://www.fs.fed.us/r6/nr/wildlife/decaid/pages/Ecosystem-Processes.html
        – Especially See:
        ** http://www.nerrs.noaa.gov/doc/siteprofile/acebasin/html/envicond/soil/slform.htm#ace

        3) As to the role of “Nurse Logs”, it a species and region specific occurrence which is probably why I, nor Dr. Kolb have seen much in the way of “Nurse Logs” while Mr. Hammer living in the Swan Vally has. See Chapter 2, page 101 (here http://books.google.com/books?id=a0oBWOXHfOYC&pg=PA101&lpg=PA101&dq=nurse+log+species&source=bl&ots=uYwE1cBo3B&sig=vIN3b76MiP64qgoXfLA3mCiP7Vg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=-K_pUvaXIKLXyAHevYHoBw&ved=0CG0Q6AEwDQ#v=onepage&q=nurse%20log%20species&f=false ) for some species where “Nurse Logs” are critical when natural regeneration is the only option being considered. The blanket statements of both Dr. Kolb and Mr. Hammer are both too much of a one size fits all statements without the necessary qualifiers.

        I see no reason for the vitriol heaped on Dr. Kolb – all in all it is a reasonably balanced article.

        • In moist areas of the PNW those very long lasting down logs do accumulate lots of N but that is from soaking it up over decades from throughfall rain and litter accumulating on the surface, and they tend to be biologically rich.

          They were so big that they could retain water all summer and support that biota. But these were large enough to provide a drier shell insulating a moist core. I think the large legacy dead wood in the PNW is perhaps unique?? Is it common in other areas?

          In drier areas and landscape positions that do not allow long term retention of large wood, I don;t think it serves as much of a function and those systems never had much large wood on the ground.

          But it is absolutely the truth that when it comes down the wood itself is nutrient poor, most of the tree nutrients are in the folliage and small branches. People chortling that that wood was a critical nutrient source were way off the mark. I heard this a lot.

          Over time it does seem to have a special role in moist PNW but that is due to the lignin content of the conifers allowing it to persist while across most of the world, most wood rots pretty fast or it burns in later fires.

          But as guy pointed out, it fills other functions even if short term, wildlife habitat, etc.

          I have seen large down wood as nurse logs in wet areas of the PNW, but I did not see them as really necessary since there were plenty other regen. Hemlock seemed to like it the best.

        • Gil, you’re right that Prof. Kolb did mention the habitat/microbial/moisture components, which is why I was a little confused that he then seemed to discount those same factors. My point was only that he oversimplified the issue and seemed to ridicule other viewpoints with his “hobbits” analogy. That doesn’t really inform the discussion, especially for a non-scientific newspaper audience, and I just think he could have aimed a little higher. So no vitriol there, I respect Prof. Kolb, he studied at my university and I’m embarrassed not to remember which, if any, of my classes he might have been in. Thanks for the references, the “decayed wood advisor” is especially well done. More generally, it’s something I’ve been trying to wrap my head around, how do we adequately account for factors that are difficult to quantify (so-called “ecosystem services” for lack of a better term) and deal with them alongside more straightforward quantifiable processes (growth and yield models for example) without getting stuck in an apples-and-oranges situation. Anyway, that’s a bigger topic for a later discussion.

  11. A few years back I asked Mr. Kolb, who spent a year in Germany studying their forestry, if 300 years of intensive forestry had negatively affected soil productivity. He responded that quite to the contraire…forest growth rates had “increased” by 20% in the last century due to “industrial pollution.” LOL. Turns out the acid rain was a fertilizer. Don’t ya love it.

    Germany has about the same forested acreage as Montana….and yet logs 8 “billion” board feet while Montana logs 250 “million.” This in a country that is practically run by the “Green Party.” 40% of German homes are heated by wood stoves….not pellet stoves mind you….must not have the same temperature inversions as Missoula eh…either that or they’re poisoning their children. The one wilderness area in Germany was attacked and killed by beetles…and if I recall…they passed legislation to log it….LOL.(don’t quote me on that one). Let’s see….I think we all know the EU seems to have bought into the “Carbon neutrality” of wood biomass…to the tune of clearcutting vast swaths of the South and British Columbia. The dirty little secret is wind and solar have failed dismally in the EU…and their subsidies make Solyndra look like a lemonade stand. Gots to love it. Somebody really needs to straighten them out….theys got their math all wrong dude. Somebody needs to educate them with enlightenment. It’s obvious that they’re wrong..and the radical enviros are right. Last I heard they were about to embrace “Fracking” in a desperate attempt to meet their carbon goals…which is a good idea considering that “fracking” was responsible for reducing our carbon footprint by 48% while “wind and solar” contributed a whopping 2%(of course…our 6 year “economic recovery” contributed the other 50% of reduction).

    No…I haves a feeling that the citizens of the EU would despise what’s going on in Montana forestry. As far as Mr. Hammer’s credibility….I don’t think anyone would ever expect the Swan View coalition to be objective.

    • Derek, if you want to exchange Germany’s forests for the wild, expansive forests in Montana go right ahead. I’ll stick with Montana.

      However, if you want to exchange Germany’s current political system, modern political beliefs, progressive regulations (both environmental and social) for Montana’s current political system and (lack of) regulations I’m all for it.

      • And got to give the German people credit for taking to heart a hard lesson about their toxic nationalism in WW2, commendable. And I am not one to forgive easily.

        The second largest ethnic group in the US is German and they made up a large part of the Union army, 2nd after the Brits.

    • no surprise about the acid rain in germany, that is nitrogen inputs that we are also seeing in the NE. What is there to laugh about?, this is well understood by forest ecologists. Long term impacts are open to question from excess nitrogen. Perhaps there will be none in most places but too much can acidify soils, this actually happens under some alder stands with their huge N inputs. So,mebody with a better understanding of soil chemistry can explain those impacts.

      But,the impacts of acid rain across Europe were quite overstated a few decades ago however the people i worked with at cornell found that the worst problem in the NE US was acid fog on highest summits of the Adirondacks and Catskills, it really did impact the red spruce up there but that was a local phenomenon. Plenty of dead spruce up there.

    • I agree that excessive solar subsidies in germany were a mistake but those have been reduced drastically, I also see that massive solar in northern Germany with its dismal skies was an error but that was a few years ago, With sharp drop in cost of solar, it is looking pretty good in many places now although excessive subsidies in places like Spain have turned out lemons.

      In southern Germany solar makes a lot more sense, but the subsidies have hit some people with energy bills that are too high. But the key point is that now subsidies are much smaller and the excessive ones in the past did something to jump start the industry.

      But how can you say wind power was a failure in Germany? Hard to figure that with even larger wind farms going in offshore on floating platforms. If you don;t mind looking at them, I might say that wind has been a great success in Europe, much better than solar.

  12. Here’s an old but interesting Forest Service paper, doesn’t necessarily support any particular agenda except for the value of knowing more about what’s going on out there in the woods:
    Interesting how Powers puts forest management and productivity squarely in a NFMA context. This part, written 24 years ago, seems precocious: “Although soil-quality monitoring standards now in use tend to focus on changes in porosity and organic matter, they are based mainly on “best professional judgment” from extrapolation of anecdotal studies or from general observations that are subject to various kinds of bias. Definitive calibrations such as depicted in figure 1 simply do not exist. Because of this, many standards may face legal challenge as to whether they are too restrictive, or not restrictive enough. The effectiveness of current standards must be validated. If standards are found wanting, they must be improved.”

  13. I think it is important to note that it plays different roles in different ecosystems. In the moist areas of the PNW, those big logs can last a very long time, esp in those areas with long fire return intervals. In drier parts of the Siskiyou and E Oregon, those logs often burned up in ground fires so we did not have as many of those large legacies with their associated ecological roles.

    In E oregon they last longer as snags due to less rot, while on the west side they last longer as down wood.

    I was not sure of the role large down wood or snags played in hardwood forests where they mostly rot quite quickly.

    Not much dead wood in German forests, and they still seem to be doing “well enough” although some ecologists might disagree. I have often wondered. They are not forests I want to spend any time in although as production forestry, it seems quite successful, but not for me.

    Quite a few good scientists have spent a lot of time on this dead wood issue, I know rather little myself but did often wonder about forests in NY which are dominated mostly by species that do not persist long as snags or down wood, mostly gone in 20 years after big blowdown.

    However, before their loss in the blight, those chestnut logs lasted “forever”. There are large snags in PA that have been standing since the 1920s. And those white pine snags seemed to persist too.

    • While I generally agree with Greg’s moist areas in PNW vs drier parts of PNW it’s also critical to think about the differences due to aspect, elevation and slope. For example, a big tree falling to the ground on a west or south slope in Montana will likely have a much different future than a big tree falling to the ground on a north or east facing slope.

  14. Greg and Matthew, agree with all your points. I’ve been looking at some published “residence times” for deadwood on the ground, ranging from 30+ years for Ponderosa on south-facing slopes in the Sierras to as little as 5 years for e.g. Doug-fir or WH on some northern exposure ID/MT sites. Which all ties in to fire hazard, soil temperatures, soil nutrients and C-cycling, wildlife habitat for the inelegant but important species including rodents, arthropods etc., persistence of some root/butt-rot fungi but also mycorrhizal and beneficial saprobic fungi, retention of snow cover, which in turn affects GHG and N fluxes, etc. etc. Bottom line (for me anyway), it’s a lot more complex than the overly simplistic carbon neutral biofuels” or even the various carbon LCA’s out there would suggest, in part because it’s hard to put numbers on ecological complexity and so it’s easier to just ignore it.

  15. dead wood, standing or down has been a large part of any forest ecosystem, with varying impacts, I figure the longer it stays around, the more impacts but perhaps not. Short term it also serves a function but perhaps not critical.

    ( I do think some of the talk on large dead wood is overstated, I called it the LWD cult but not to ignore its importance in places.

    I do wonder what the loss of large wood has meant in German forests and others.

    No doubt a loss of snag habitat for birds. And large wood can serve as a refugia for biota to survive fires if center is still moist, and as Matt says, much more an issue on some slopes than others. Certainly in moist riparian areas and on north slopes.

    I was looking into LWD in streams in NY since there is so little of it now, and admittedly, when it was there it did not last too long but perhaps still important for holding sediment and building floodplains in places with loose glacial debris. I think loss of LWD in streams resulted in channel changes in places. I was trying to get a handle on that but nothing publishable.

    I did bring Jim Sedell out to talk, one of the LWD gurus in the PNW and he really got cornell fish people talking since LWD had been such a small part of their thinking.

  16. I’m agreeing with all that is being said (excepting perhaps the German politics part), and particularly appreciate the regional perspectives affecting the LWD (large, woody debris) “cultists.” One thing that strikes me, though, is greg’s statement: “I was looking into LWD in streams in NY since there is so little of it now . . .” Did there used to be more?

    Part of the problem with the popular and expensive act of putting LWD in streams for “fish habit” in the PNW is that wood floats. Jedediah Smith noted the great amount of trees floating in the Oregon Smith River that made canoe traffic difficult when he visited the area in 1828, apparently the result of some massive landslide or windfall or something upstream — all moving toward the ocean. When we had two major floods during 1996 in western Oregon the same thing happened: much of the LWD that had been placed by “volunteers” for the fish, and at the expense of Oregon taxpayers, just floated away. I documented the same thing upstream from Jackson Creek on the South Umpqua in June 2011, and the result was that more wood was put into place — with paid contractors — almost immediately after the flood waters settled, but maybe anchoring the logs in place at that time. Here is a 6-minute video on that event and how the “structure” was piling up near bridges, up on banks, and/or floating away: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjSKwKWnW-c

    During the thousands of years that Indians fished, swam, canoed, and drank from western Oregon streams there appear to have been significantly larger beaver populations present, producing many of the ponds on smaller streams that likely benefited local fish populations in much the same way that LWD is intended to function at this time. However, the Indians depended on large wood for fuel, tools, canoes, and living structures (and totems among some peoples), and so it was greatly valued for those purposes and likely snagged and harvested whenever possible; practices that continued until early historical times. Also, at the least, trees could be impediments and safety hazards to canoeing and swimming and may also have been removed for those reasons when possible.

    I personally doubt that LWD was much of a factor for fish populations until recent times in PNW streams for these reasons (and others), and would guess the situation was similar for NY streams in precontact and early historical times.

  17. One thing they understand now is that the wood in streams needs to be anchored somehow, best if with a large root wad that lodges into the bank. Lots of early wood placements did flaot away but if part buried by sediment they can stay put, and they have to be long enough to wedge into banks.

    Such wood placements have been much more successful in recent years although I too often saw the efforts as a simple minded effort. Such as in meadows in E Oregon where there had been little wood, it was a cure all that anyone could latch onto as mitigation, appropriate or not.

    I have seen a lot of useless projects, for it to serve much habitat function, it needs fairly large sediment source so the log creates scour pools, which is surely not the case in many areas of upper grande ronde which has little sediment.

    That said, in some heavily forested unlogged streams such as Desolation creek in upper NF John Day, the amount of wood is astonishing, and wider scale comparisons of logged vs unlogged streams out there show much the same. Much of the deep pool habitat is Desolation is associated with large wood, although not the case in other bedrock dominated areas.

    I think in parts of the NE there surely was more wood, but to persist it had to be large and of a longer lasting species like hemlock. Hardwoods do not last long, they were more ephemeral, but perhaps important in places.

    How much more wood in the NE is anyone’s guess, only intact areas we have to compare are steeper boulder dominated streams in the adirondacks, where wood would have little impact on channel habitat.

    PLaces with the most impact from wood would often have been lower gradient reaches which were logged out early, often using stream bottoms as skid trails and ripping out what wood was there..


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