Sleeping With the Enemy?


Timber industry people who don’t trust forest collaboration believe that those of us who participate in collaboratives are sleeping with the enemy. Environmentalists who would rather sue than participate in collaboratives think that environmentalists who collaborate with us are sleeping with the enemy. So it’s unanimous. We’re sleeping with our enemies. I don’t care what our critics think. Collaborative groups, ours included, are solving political problems that should never have become political problems, and those problems are the reason why our forests are dying and burning before our very eyes. So if you really want to know what collaboration is all about, it’s about protecting forests from the ravages of nature, not just for our benefit, but also for the benefit of future generations.

Duane Vaagen, Chief Executive Officer
Vaagen Brothers Lumber Company, Colville, Washington

Larry’s note: Sent to me from a reader, this points out the, maybe, necessary mistrust at this part of the collaborative journey. We need all sides to embrace full transparency, so that the public at-large can more accurately form a better-educated opinion of the compromises that might work, for those site-specific conditions. I do think that the tables are turning, in favor of more active management and stewardship. I do think this summer’s fire season might convince a few more people, too.

14 thoughts on “Sleeping With the Enemy?”

  1. The fundamental problem is really defined by what Mr. Vaagen said.

    “… it’s about protecting forests from the ravages of nature, not just for our benefit, but also for the benefit of future generations.”

    Many of us believe it is arrogant for humans to think we have the power to stop the “ravages of nature.” Really? I would have thought by this point, we would have learned that is, in the long run, impossible. Forests have survived long before us. Whether they survive with us, and the collaborative process to log them is another matter.

    I believe it is disingenuous for Mr. Vaagen to claim his company wants to protect forests from the ravages from nature for future generations. What he means is that he wants to protect his company’s future livelihood from climate change and the resulting processes. That is what true transparency looks like. And what of the environmentalists who want to protect forests? Although there are some who try to claim it is about environmental attorneys getting rich, if you have spent more than an internet conversation with one of us, you know it is about the unabashed desire to make the world a better place for the benefit others, human and non-human.

    National forests are public lands. They do not belong to commercial interests. They belong to all of us. And a lot of us want them to be left alone. Contrary to what Larry said about tables turning toward more “active management,” I believe the public is actually expressing the desire to protect what nature is left and try to undo the damage we have already done. Hence, the increasing number of projects to remove dams, un-box rivers, conserve more open space, and increase opportunities for nature education. And yes, probably more legal action.

    • I guess “Richard” didn’t see where I was talking about site-specific conditions, with projects that meet the purpose and need. I like the pendulum to be closer to the middle, where it should and must be. Here in California, we don’t want more large fires, like the Rim and King Fires. We have yet to see all the damages from those disasters. Once we have normal rainfall, those areas will experience massive erosion, which will occur on some unsalvaged lands. We will also see most of those lands left for “Whatever Happens” ( no treeplanting).

      I tend to think that most local folks don’t want a mandated “Whatever Happens” program. Similarly, most of those eco-groups “sleeping with the enemy” don’t want unregulated forest liquidation. Sooooo, aren’t the solutions somewhere in the middle? (Didn’t I say that “consensus” was the toughest of the C-words?)

      • Larry, we are all for collaboration. But folks need to be transparent as you have suggested and get on board with the science. Salvage logging is not “restoration.” It is exploiting a natural resource. People just need to be honest about it. And the pejorative commentary about the evil shrublands taking over the forest needs to stop as well. The emotional froth that forms when manzanita is mentioned by some foresters in the context of post-fire habitats is quite ridiculous.

        And again, this notion that “we don’t want more large fires like the Rim and King Fires,” implies we are somehow able to control such things. This was one of the points I was raising. Like earthquakes, it is time we begin to recognize that large wildland fires are a part of the natural landscape. We can retrofit communities to make them more fire resilient, but pretending we can stop them through local, site-specific, or landscape level logging is foolhardy and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

        “Our results suggest that wildfire burning under extreme weather conditions, as is often the case with fires that escape initial attack, can produce large areas of high-severity fire even in fuels-reduced forests with restored fire regimes.”
        – Lydersen, J.M., M.P. North, B.M. Collins. 2014. Severity of an uncharacteristically large wildfire, the Rim Fire, in forests with relatively restored frequent fire regimes. Forest Ecology and Management 328: 326-334.

        Secondly, it is time we stop calling these fires, disasters. They may be disasters for industrial logging interests and those who make their living in the business of selling trees, but ecologically they restore rare habitat types and are a natural part of the forested ecosystem. And data strongly suggests that rather than being anomalies, these large fires are not far outside historical parameters.


        11 Reasons Why Burned Forests are Beautiful
        Posted on August 4, 2014

        A severely burned forest is not a “destroyed” forest, but rather a habitat restored.

        That is not something you are likely to hear during or after the next large forest fire in the Sierra Nevada. It certainly wasn’t during the 2013 Rim Fire in Yosemite and the Stanislaus National Forest. It should have been, however, because the science is clear – severely burned forests provide some of rarest and most biodiverse habitats on earth.

        For more:

        • It certainly is a “disaster” to the goshawks and spotted owls that no longer have essential nesting habitats, which was protected from logging, only to be lost to a catastrophic man-caused wildfire that has been long-predicted. Pretending that severely-burned forests as “just as good” as endangered nesting habitat is “disingenuous”, as well. Pretending that snag habitat is rare in a 250,000 acre firestorm, is also seen as “disingenuous”.

          Reducing the severity of future re-burns, through “snag thinning”, is one way to encourage recovery in a shorter timeline. Have you even, personally, visited the burned area? Where are the promised clearcuts, away from roads?

          Yes, by all means, let’s have full transparency, in your own comments and “beliefs”.

          • Larry, as I expressed the last time we engaged here, it would be helpful if you would ditch the veiled insults and the cute quote marks. It doesn’t serve your cause.

            It might also be helpful if you read the provided information in the linked post. That way you would be able to ask me questions I haven’t already answered such as, have I ever been to the burned area? Do you homework. It will make your arguments more powerful. Here are some stats from the the burned area so many are calling a disaster:

            In one 1600-meter transect we found lots of conifer regeneration–especially pine, beautiful shrubs and oaks way into the interior of a big high-severity patch. We couldn’t find an area more than about 1/4-acre in size without significant conifer regeneration, and even 1/4-acre areas without regeneration are rare. Some in the Forest Service are are not being honest about the existing regeneration or about the scientific evidence, which does not conclude that high shrub cover precludes conifer regeneration. In fact, there is growing evidence that the shrub cover protects conifer seedlings/saplings against herbivory in the early-successional stages.

            What have you found in your on the ground surveys?

            Regarding your continued insistence in using the word disaster. Yes, the fire burned nesting habitat for many birds. That’s what happens in fires. However, our evidence has shown significant foraging activity in the burned area by spotted owls and a continued vibrant population prior to salvage logging activity. Animals have been adapting to large, high-severity fires for millions of years. Some die, others are able to exploit the restored post-fire habitat. This is nature. It is not a disaster ecologically. However, the real disasters are often when we try to circumvent natural processes through human-centric management actions.

            • The existence of 400 year old pines throughout most of the Sierra Nevada shows that stand-replacement fires, especially, weren’t the norm in Indian-dominated areas. They knew the value of green trees and “managed” lands, collecting berries, hunting game and “profiting” from those management activities. Again, it is very clear that there is no lack of snags, and snag habitats, within the Rim Fire. You CANNOT exclude the National Park acres, just because they are on the other side of a line on a map drawn by humans. One could also say that animals have adapted to salvage thinning, during the last 25 years of snag thinning. Let’s be ultra-transparent here! You said that there would be clearcutting and the Forest Service thinned out snags and eliminated hazard trees, instead. Did you “sample” salvaged areas, near ruined nesting habitats? Did you find out if they were nesting, or not? Was there any documented harm to the birds trying to hunt in salvaged areas? Did you see “skinny” and starving owls? No wonder the Appeals Court shot you guys down.

              My “surveys” include the views of increasing bark beetle activities, as I predicted. I also saw very large unburned areas that also have a wealth of bark beetles kills. In the Highway 120 area, there are millions of board feet in dead trees that will fuel the next inevitable wildfire. You should also remember that burned habitats only support BBW’s for a mere 6 years. Should we be sacrificing jobs, board feet and recovery efforts for just 6 years of habitat?

              Sooooo, it does seem like we can either manage green forests, for the “greater good”, or we can laugh in the face of climate change, habitat loss, burned homes, increased erosion and the loss of many great forest things that humans, indeed, cherish.

              • Larry, I get what you are saying. You want to try and protect board-feet from high-severity fire. Our position is that it is a fool’s errand to try to stop fires beyond protecting communities, thinning projects are too focused on viewing the forest as commodity, and as a fire management tool, such projects are a waste of taxpayer money. High-severity fires happen. The evidence thus far indicates that is going to continue and there isn’t much we can do about it.

                Regarding your other points:

                I wish there were 400 year old pines throughout the Sierra. Compared to what once was before the timber companies came along, ugh! That said, there is enough research indicating that the high severity patches in the Rim Fire are not outside of the historical range. Areas initially mapped as large contiguous high-severity fire patches a few thousand hectares in size are now, in the final assessment, generally comprised of many smaller patches dozens to a few hundred hectares in size. And there is a lot of regeneration in many of those.

                Native Americans are human so we will include them in the artificial management component of what we are talking about. Regardless, there are millions of people on the landscape igniting fires and invasive weeds that are brought in due to massive soil disturbance caused by fuel treatments, logging, and fire suppression activities. Using the past to guide our future management is not particularly compelling, especially considering climate change.

                Animals can not adapt evolutionarily over 25 years. This is why so many species are becoming extinct due to our actions. Evolution works over millions of years.

                Hmm… can you please quote where I said there would be clear-cutting? I don’t recollect that. We have shown photos of clear cutting in the private in-holdings to demonstrate what the practice can do, but the hazard tree removal issue was not a problem for us as long as it was along roads that were actively used. I think you are lumping all opponents to the salvage logging project together.

                Reliable surveys are not casual views of particular areas with general observations. Those are anecdotal observations prone to bias. Do several random transects, count the regeneration, then we can discuss the forest’s actual condition. The beetle-kill thing is not particularly relevant to the regeneration discussion. But beetle-kill is not some kind of unnatural event or something we need to respond to on a landscape level. Beetles don’t kill trees. They are a natural response to drought and have been munching forests for millions of years. After the trees die and the needles fall off, they are much less flammable than before. I think you are really focusing on the loss of commercial timber.

                Larry, we just have a major philosophical difference in how we view nature. I respect your experience and viewpoint. Our dialogue is fun as long as it doesn’t get snarky with quotes and such. But it is not going to matter what data I present. You see the forest primarily in a utilitarian way, I see it as a place that needs to be protected from us and allowed to evolve on its own.

                • When I said “You”, I meant the collective of the litigants against the Rim Fire salvage. In their press release, they did talk about the threat of clearcutting. Of course, the only clearcutting would be in the 100% mortality zones along roads, (but that isn’t what was in the press release). If you subtract the hazard tree acres out of the total acres, you have about 16,000 salvaged acres. Of those 16,000 acres, some of it didn’t sell, and some of it was small diameter plantation trees. So, how much does that leave to impact owls and snag-loving creatures, when there is still so much untouchable destruction for them to feast upon?

                  Regarding humans in the forest environment, what is your proposal to limit dumb humans on public lands? How will you stop humans from torching-off the vast repositories of both live and dead fuels in our Forests? *gets popcorn*

                  “Random transects”? Is there really such a thing? In the first several years, you might see regeneration, especially stump sprouts from oaks. However, where there are no seed sources, we won’t be seeing any ponderosa pine regeneration. Additionally, the bearclover, manzanita and ceanothus will also ensure that pines will struggle. We have already seen 40 years of “anecdotal” pictures of old growth brushfields that burn at high intensity. And what about soil-damaging re-burns? The Park Service’s own Yosemite fire specialist said it is likely to have more catastrophic re-burns, within the Park. THERE is where we should be studying!

                  Regarding the flammability of Sierra vegetation; If it is dead, than it can get no drier or more flammable when it has no moisture in it, at all. Dead fuels always dry out, completely, during the long hot Sierra Nevada summer, and now, the long dry winters. We can pretend that those fuels will burn “naturally and beneficially”, or we can plan for opportunities to make fires and droughts less severe. When the public sees a mushroom cloud, or maybe even several mushroom clouds, from a firestorm, they want their government to do something to reduce those events. People don’t look at snags and brush as beautiful scenery. They think it is ugly, especially when there is so much.

                  Finally, painting the Forest Service and the timber industry as wanting to cut down every last tree isn’t helping your cause. Many preservationists are rejecting the “Whatever Happens” mindset, in favor of planning for climate change, drought, bark beetles and wildfires. “Beetles don’t kill trees”????? Yeah, let’s see you pitch THAT to the scientific community!!!

                  • Larry, pine beetles don’t kill trees, they just come in after the tree is drought stressed and finish the job. Kinda like a person with a compromised immune system getting the common cold. Beetles are part of the natural cycle. Our problem is thinking we should and can fix it.

                    I never said I think the USFS and the timber industry want to cut down every last tree.

                    And who are these many conservationists you seem to think are on your page? I think you may be embellishing some wishful thinking. The Nature Conservancy and the Buckley’s Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center don’t count.

                    • “Pining” for forests without human impacts is pure fantasy. Every group that participates in a Collaborative is rejecting your humanless forest ideas, in favor of some sort of site-specific active management. Yes, those are the groups that some are considering as “sellouts to the Government Machine”. However, those groups feel that action is needed to protect the remaining at-risk habitats and favorite human spots. You cannot exclude any group that you don’t agree with. Your claims of “exploitation” imply that you don’t like the Forest Service thinning snags on less than 10% of the burned area on the Rim Fire. You’ve made it very clear that you don’t agree with the Courts’ decisions but, those decisions remain. The Forest Service “followed the law” and you guys lost… TWICE! Hooray for science!!!!!

                    • Well Larry, I guess you showed us.

                      Do you ever question anything you believe? Do you always agree with court decisions? Do you think the way you respond here is similar to how folks in collaborative groups talk with each other and achieve compromises? Hurray?

                      OK, like last time, it appears you are more interested in telling than listening.

                    • I believe what I see on the ground. And, I have seen a LOT of burned landscapes and finished salvage projects. I do keep saying that we need more public education so that we can reach consensus, on the way to compromise. Then again, you feel that doing nothing will fix all of our forest problems. I feel that solutions should come from the middle of the road. You feel that the one single solution for everything is to do nothing. I think that is how it will stay, as long as you keep your mind closed to the “big picture”, rejecting each and every “C-word”.

        • A severely burned forest is no longer a forest. All that is left are dead trees and rocks.
          It is ground zero. It is not restoration, it is destruction. What is left may or may not ever become a forest again. It is a complete change of habitat.
          Save the old growth! Stop the fires.

  2. I like the idea of collaboratives when they bring all sides together to learn about and understand a problem, investigate possible solutions, and then agree on a solution that will work for everyone. However, all parties who have an interest MUST take part in the process. If they do not take part or they choose to walk away, they should no longer have the right to sue or otherwise bring things to a screeching halt.

    Some would say that is undemocratic and is not how America works. I’d say that is exactly how America works. Congress is a (dysfunctional) collaborative and they are supposed to make decisions on behalf of all of us; everyone has a chance to take part in the process. Once they make a decision, so long as it is legal, it goes forward and no one can bring it to a screeching halt – end of story.

    What concerns me is that some may not like the collaborative decision and feel it is entirely within their right to sue and bring a halt to everything. That seems too much like the child who does not get their way so they have a tantrum.

    To say it is “disingenuous” for a company to want to protect a forest is ludicrous. For a natural resource-based business to stay in business for the long-run (i.e., be sustainable), the resource on which it depends MUST also be sustained and protected.

    I’d agree that we should all have an “unabashed desire” to make the world a better place. At the same time, it must be acknowledged that the source of ALL tangible things we use in our lives come from natural resources; we either grow them, mine them, or pump them – this is the source of ALL our food, air, water, clothing, shelter, energy, etc. This seems to be something our increasingly urbanized society has forgotten. The only real question is not IF we use natural resources; it is HOW we use natural resources in a wise and sustainable manner.

    People who want our national forests left alone must also acknowledge that we are net importers of about 40% of our softwood consumption. That means that, as we “save” an acre, for example, of highly productive Coast Range forest, we merely send the cost of our consumption elsewhere. Oftentimes, that means using 20-30 acres of Canadian forests to replace that acre of our “saved” forest. To me, that is a matter of ethics – is it right to “save” an acre of our forests but then export the cost of our consumption by using 20-30 acres of a foreign forest? This is something we should be thinking about.

    I like old trees, clean water, wildlife, etc. I also like wilderness areas, national parks, and so forth. But, leaving our national forests alone? There are just too many of us who use things that come from the natural world to be able to do that.


Leave a Comment