UC Berkeley Gets it Right, and Gets it Wrong

A Cal-Berkeley fire scientist shows his unawareness of current Forest Service policy but, his other ideas favor active management of our Sierra Nevada National Forests.


The situation is compounded by the gridlock between environmentalists and commercial foresters. The former favor thinning, but they want all logging plans to leave the larger trees, particularly those with trunks over 30 inches in diameter. But the timber companies maintain it is necessary to take a significant number of bigger trees to fund thinning and restoration programs.

Stephens generally favors the enviro position. Landscape-scale wildfire damage is driven by vast acreages of small-diameter, closely-packed trees, he says. By leaving the larger trees, the essential character of a natural forest can be maintained, even accelerated. And he thinks markets can be found for products produced from thinned, scrawny trees.


Of course, there has been a ban on the cutting of trees larger than 30″ dbh, since 1993. Ditto for clearcutting! These are two big hot-button issues for most “conservationists” but, there are still people out there who want timber sales banned, altogether. There are others who would love to go back to the Clinton rules of the Sierra Nevada Framework, which would shutdown much of Region 5’s timber management programs. A 22″ dbh tree, underneath a 36″ dbh tree cannot be considered “scrawny”. ¬†Generally, most of the thinned trees are in the 10-18″ dbh size, averaging about 15″ dbh.

4 thoughts on “UC Berkeley Gets it Right, and Gets it Wrong”

  1. I continue to be concerned that we debate the tools and techniques rather than the goals and objectives. Silviculture, the different timber harvesting techniques, are simply some of the tools of management available to achieve a desired future conditions of our remaining forests. Experience has suggested that when we focus on goals and objectives we are able to come together and reach informed consent much easier than trying to agree on tools and techniques. Informed consent is also much more realistic than achieving agreement. Consent is 5.5 on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 representing total agreement. Products from the forests should be viewed as the by-product of sound management. Our remaining forests are critical to the sustenance of the human species and demand our united efforts to come together, to manage our remaining forested lands for health and diversity. Demands will only increase as our population expands and we must remember ,” what we do to our forests we do to ourselves”. Management is critical to our future!

    • Well, it appears that Cal-Berkeley needs to be more “informed” about a decision made more than 20 years ago. The original SNF reduced harvest levels to 1/30th of the 1988 harvest levels. That was the pendulum swinging way too far, making ALL trees above 20″ dbh into “sacred” trees, never available for cutting, ever. Smarter people intervened and we had the amendment to continue with the existing 1/13th level of harvesting. Or, we can pretend that “whatever happens” is best for our forests. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, ad infinitum. We know that those forests are overstocked and that ladder fuels dominate “protected areas”. The original CASPO rules allowed just one entry, then hands-off. Well, some of those areas that were entered 20 years ago need more thinning. Would it be good to “follow the rules” and continue to preserve those at-risk stands? How long before we get definitive science that is acceptable to the serial litigators? …. How long before more Rim Fires makes those points moot?

  2. Larry… I noticed the same thing here in Colorado. When we sat down with professors from CU and some from CSU, they kept telling us that the things we were doing were bad, but we weren’t actually doing the things they thought we were. We tried to tell them what we actually did, but I don’t think they trusted us (some dismissed our statements fairly disrespectfully ) and (here’s a thought) due to no “People’s Database” we couldn’t show reports with what treatments and acres were actually done each year. Therefore they continue to keep saying things that aren’t true, and people who read their papers and their students believe them.

    So I think there is dual responsibility here.. sure, professors shouldn’t act as if they know things they really don’t know (not that NEPA coordinators ever do that ;), nor lawyers, nor theologians for that matter, it seems like a pretty common human foible) but it should be easy to get what veg treatments are done, how they’re done and where, by year and summed over forests, states and regions.

    It’s funny we have plenty of bucks to run models of what might happen in the future, but we have no bucks to find out what is happening now. And thank you folks who lobby for FIA, but how about “FIA Plus”… Plus rounding up what people want to know about the NF’s?

  3. There are, however, some folks who are looking at eliminating the 30″ dbh diameter limit. Two years ago, I was directed to mark (by our District Ranger, ignoring everyone under and over him) those larger trees, if they blocked the growth of quality oak trees. That decision was based on science but, clearly, not defensible in court. We had to go back through cutting units to check tree diameters, to meet the 30″ dbh standard. Several eco-groups were buying into highly-regulated old growth harvesting. Apparently, Forest Service leadership is also looking into ways to cut bigger trees, under certain conditions. If the humans attached to the trigger-fingers are smart enough and experienced enough, then sure, highly-regulated old growth harvest, coupled with the “clumps and gaps” strategy, would work for me. Politically, it would be a minefield.

    Another issue looming in the Sierra Nevada is the threat of catastrophic bark beetle infestation. Almost everywhere I look around here, there is a new bug patch. Once again, we’re going to have to deal with a large beetle outbreak, and thinning strategies will be put on hold.

    The war on drought does not go well.


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