You say “logging,” we say “thinning,” “mechanical treatment” or “stand improvement”

And Trump says “tree clear.”  This article got my attention for a number of reasons.  It’s a follow-up to the story about the Trump tweet regarding forest fires.  It is another case of “upping the cut” under the Trump administration (doubling in this case on the Los Padres).  And it looks like the Forest is trying to disguise what it is actually doing with this project.  And using a questionable categorical exclusion to boot.

Critics contend the proposed logging in the Los Padres is a signal that the balance of power in national forests is shifting under the Trump administration. Such projects could open the door to commercial logging in other public forests currently managed as watersheds rather than timberlands, such as the Angeles, San Bernardino and Cleveland national forests.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue raised annual timber production targets for the Los Padres National Forest from 200,000 cubic feet of wood in 2017 to 400,000 cubic feet this year.

“We are witnessing a historical change unfolding in the national forests in our own backyard,” said Richard Halsey, founder of the nonprofit Chaparral Institute in Escondido, Calif. “Timber was never part of the equation, until now.”

Here’s the way the article introduced the project:

The federal government is moving to allow commercial logging of healthy green pine trees for the first time in decades in the Los Padres National Forest north of Los Angeles, a tactic the U.S. Forest Services says will reduce fire risk.

The scoping letter described the project as a “shaded fuelbreak.”

Treatments would include a combination of mechanical thinning, mastication of brush/smaller trees, and hand treatments such as hand thinning, brush cutting, pruning and piling of material.

That sounds fairly benign, but the proposed action sheds a little more light on it:

Mixed conifer and pinyon juniper stands would be thinned to a range of 40 to 60 square feet basal area per acre…  Trees would be removed throughout all diameter classes and would include the removal of commercial trees. Residual trees would be selected for vigor; however, larger Jeffrey pine would be retained per Forest Plan direction unless they pose a hazard or are infected with dwarf mistletoe. All black oak would be left unless they pose a hazard.

But the scoping letter states an intent to use this categorical exclusion:

(6) Timber stand and/or wildlife habitat improvement activities that do not include the use of herbicides or do not require more than 1 mile of low standard road construction. Examples include, but are not limited to:

(i) Girdling trees to create snags;

(ii) Thinning or brush control to improve growth or to reduce fire hazard including the opening of an existing road to a dense timber stand;

(iii) Prescribed burning to control understory hardwoods in stands of southern pine; and

(iv) Prescribed burning to reduce natural fuel build-up and improve plant vigor.

And then there’s this:

Ashley McConnell, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said her agency plans to work with the Forest Service to help protect active California condor nest sites or roosting areas. Logging, she said, could “benefit California condor habitat because the larger and older trees where condors typically roost are preserved.”

That’s what “thinning” means, right?

So has it been so long since the Los Padres has had a timber sale that they don’t know what to call it?  Or is this an attempt at sneaking by the NEPA requirements that go along with it?  Maybe you can technically call it “thinning” if you leave any residual trees, but that is clearly not what this CE was intended to cover.  There is another CE for hazardous fuel reduction, but it’s limited to 1000 acres of “mechanical treatments.”  And another for “harvest of live trees” (limited to 70 acres).  Is this the kind of misleading corner cutting the Forest Service is going to go back to when it is under pressure to “get the cut out?”

8 thoughts on “You say “logging,” we say “thinning,” “mechanical treatment” or “stand improvement””

  1. It would seem that the latest ploy of “hands-off management” folks is to link every move towards effective husbandry and pro-active stand treatment to Trump. I suggest that we agree to ignore the president’s unenlightened tweets and focus on the actual need for and results of proposed Forest Service actions. My read on this project that it is a carefully considered and conservative (in the traditional sense) approach to a real problem. Jon, can you offer an alternative?

  2. This is what “forest management” meant to me when I went I got my degree in Forest Management. I was somewhat disappointed that many of my younger years were in cutting trees and getting out the cut. Even after laying out well spaced clearcut blocks Ii later learned that a lot of the blocks were enlarge and almost touched each other as there had to be more MBF.

    What I see now is more like the management needed in the forests even on lands not suitable for timber production. Yes, there will be some areas with small clearcuts, and yes, some large trees will be cut but not all ( I would hope).

  3. Yeah, well, when the Bush Administration amended the Sierra Nevada Framework, opponents called it “Industrial Logging”, and told citizens that the Forest Service was ‘tripling’ logging levels across the Sierra Nevada. Actually, the levels went from 1/30th of the levels of the 80’s, up to 1/13th of those levels (on my old Ranger District). Of course, “Industrial Logging” has no restrictions on clearcutting, as well as no diameter limits and smaller stream buffers.

  4. The FEIS for the four SoCal forest plans includes discussion of WUI defense zones with open fuel breaks and WUI threat zones with shaded fuel breaks, along with maintenance needs for these zones and standards and guidelines for their construction and management. The Los Padres plan identifies which management areas are suitable for fuel break construction.

    The FEIS also clearly states that commercial timber production is not a suitable use on any of the four SoCal forests, but I could not find a timber suitability analysis in the planning documents online. But a timber target for a forest with no suitable timber base? Timber harvest as a byproduct of vegetation management would be better called what it is. Calling it a timber target tends to promote misunderstanding and distrust.

    If the forest can accomplish the assigned target through needed construction and maintenance of fuel breaks, that seems well and good, especially considering the current fire season, not to mention last year’s Thomas Fire and the Los Padres fire history in general.

    • Additionally, there is a very good chance that no one bids on such a project. Maybe a contractor, doing a Service Contract, would be able to sell the logs, as part of the project. Maybe it sells as firewood, but still gets counted as volume.

    • Agree there should not be “timber” target. Any MBF should be byproduct of the no timber operation. no wonder the public gets upset with the USFS.

  5. That was really my point – the the FS is not being transparent with the public about their management. It’s especially important if they have been assigned timber volume targets that are not supported by their forest plan (thanks, D). To Mac’s question, I can’t criticize the substance of the project (though locals seem to be doing that); just the process. They need to take the time to do it right.


Leave a Comment