Gila plan revision’s “most divisive issues”

This is an account of a series of meetings that seems like a useful step in the forest planning process that I don’t think I’ve seen before:

Over the last year, the Forest’s planning team has held dozens of public meetings regarding the ongoing revision process. Through those, and other submission options, they have collected hundreds of comments on various aspects of the Gila’s management. Heather Bergman, of Peak Facilitator Group, called this round of meetings the “last call for ideas,” at Tuesday’s meeting in Reserve. Throughout the meetings, Bergman — whose company the Forest Service contracted to consult on the plan revision process — and Gila planner Matt Schultz showed attendees the range of opinions the team had gathered on each of the most divisive issues to that point.

These might be the same thing as “significant issues” under NEPA that warrant development of alternatives.  Here they are:

  • Livestock grazing management (“permittee should decide how resources are managed on their allotment” vs. “more restrictions placed on permittees” or eliminate grazing)
  • Land adjustments (“less public land” vs. “acquire desirable lands”)
  • Wilderness (delist some wilderness vs. significantly expand wilderness)
  • Riparian area management, restoration tools and “a few more”

Here’s what the facilitator took home:

“It is really amazing when you think about all of the different things the Forest Service manages on the Gila, these are the only things there is controversy on,” Bergman said. “There is a great deal of consensus on management, which is really nice.”

Lucky them!  Wildlife apparently didn’t make this list, which is not uncommon, even in places where it is a source of controversy, which is most places.  Maybe that’s because it is the underlying reason for other divisive issues like livestock grazing and riparian management.  (Maybe fire management is included under “restoration tools?”)

“Land adjustments” is not usually on this list, but at least on the Gila (home of Catron County) it looks like forest planning is seen as an opportunity to bring up privatization again.

13 thoughts on “Gila plan revision’s “most divisive issues””

  1. I feel like planning is the epitome of Yogi Berra’s statement of, “it’s deja vu all over again.” Seeing these issues from that part of the state has me recognizing that I have seen those issues before. As long as certain personalities reside in an area for a long time (and their perspectives/positions do not evolve), the next plan revision effort will likely identify these same issues.

  2. I agree that in some ways the issues haven’t really changed much since I started working on forest planning 38 years ago. The main new one seems to be that the Forest Service has learned that what they say in forest plans has consequences, so now they want to say less in forest plans.

    It would probably be even more the same, if the Forest Service could actually meet NFMA’s requirement to revise plans every 15 years (instead of 30+, except R9 of course). But it is important to give the public a chance to weigh in on those issues that they get told on projects are “outside the scope” of the project.

    Speaking of the public weighing in, here’s a forest planning update on the Nantahala-Pisgah revision process: “Massive volume of comments delays draft forest plan’s release” (They’ve even gotten FOIA requests to look at comments before the draft is released.)

    • Mac better check his math.

      According to the U.S. Forest Service’s official Cut and Sold reports for the Gila National Forest:

      2017 – Cut volume: 5 MMBF, Sold volume: 9.2 MMBF

      2016 – Cut volume: 6.8 MMBF, Sold volume: 9.7 MMBF

      2015 – Cut volume: 6.5 MMBF, Sold volume: 8.3 MMBF


      P.S. What would Mac’s chart look like if he documented the situation in the 1970s or 1980s? Would it show an entirely unsustainable timber sale program on the Gila National Forest. [Hint: Yes.]

      • Matthew

        A) Mac’s math is fine. As you have admitted previously on this site you never were good at math/science.
        You really need to grow your skill set and learn math, how to read chart labels, and not just grasp at something from a table that looks like it might shoot someone else down – read the whole table before you decide what it means:
        1) As you stated: “2017 – Cut volume: 5 MMBF, Sold volume: 9.2 MMBF
        2) From the same table that you linked to:
        Cut volume: 8,674.3CCF (HUNDREDS OF CUBIC FEET) = 867,430CF = 0.867MMCF ~ rounds to Mac’s 1MMCF, Sold volume: 1,731,552CF = 1.7MMCF

        BTW Sold volume is meaningless since it is only gone when cut. Not all sold volume is cut – so, cut is the only meaningful number and will show up in the report for the year in which it is cut. But, you already knew that. It’s nice to be able to make the numbers look 27 to 84% worse by referring to the sold numbers even though that double dips in multiple years (year sold and then the year cut again) and includes phantom volumes not cut.

        B) SO MAC’S #’S ARE CORRECT according to the reference that you linked to. You owe him an apology.

        1) Since gross growth was 19.5MMCF and Cut was 0.867MMCF – The cut was 0.867/19.5MMCF = 4.5% of gross growth which rounds up to Mac’s 5%.

        2) What Mac did not point out is that 62% of the total growth has been offset by mortality which would not be the case if this was a healthy forest instead of one in late senescence.

        Since you are so smart, why don’t you answer your own question about sustainability in the ’70’s and ’80’s or is that too much heavy lifting? You already know how to get the cut numbers and Mac gave you the reference to get the growth and mortality numbers in his chart. The rest is just elementary school math, I’m sure that you can do it.

        But, silly me, I forgot that you have already answered the question even though you haven’t offered any links to your sources. But who needs sources when you have ESP?

  3. Thanks for fitting so many insults into one comment Gil. Do you have any more? Please do share.

    You are correct, Mac’s numbers were in Cubic feet and I totally missed that and thought/assumed we were talking about board feet. However, that’s more of a reading comprehension error on my part, than a math error. I apologize to Mac for saying that he better check his math.

    Can anyone find any forest ecologist worth their salt that would just look at growth, mortality and harvest numbers of a national forest to make some grand statement about the ecological health of a specific national forest?

    • Matthew

      Thank you for your genuine effort at civility. I also will respond with civility to your question above as to: “Can anyone find any forest ecologist worth their salt that would just look at growth, mortality and harvest numbers of a national forest to make some grand statement about the ecological health of a specific national forest?”

      1) A “forest ecologist worth their salt” with many forests/areas to rank in terms of the need for intervention would have to prioritize the needs in order to use his/her limited resources effectively. To obtain such information he/she would start with the broadest parameters and then drill down on the highest priority with field visits and where the field visits corroborated the broad findings, they would then drill down to field studies to determine the root cause of the poor health. They would then come up with alternative intervention plans and rate their efficacy, cost benefit to maximize the efficient allocation of their limited resources and, finally, consider the probability that NEPA and enviros would allow the process to go forward.

      2) Where success was probable, they would proceed to get approval to implement the plan. Where success wasn’t probable, they would move down the list of priorities to the next most serious forest/area/site of concern.

      3) What no serious ecologist would do is use cut/sold volume reports to support a statement that harvest levels were unsustainable. Such a determination requires a knowledge of the forest inventory by stand type and restricted status, desired stand lifespan for each of the specific ecosystems and their dependent species, mortality and growth. For example, all else being acceptable, your example of 5MMBF cut could equate to a very sustainable lifespan for very long lived species/ecosystem niches of 1,000 years if total inventory was 5,000MMBF. On the other hand an inventory of 500MMBF would only be appropriate if the life span maxed out at 100 or less years while an inventory of 2,500MMBF would indicate sustainability for a forest type with a max lifespan of 500 years (again, given that all other parameter values were within reasonable ranges of acceptability for all laws, regulations, policies and established scientific laws for physiology, soils, geology, hydrology, terrain, aspect and etc.).

      Does any of this help you see the big picture and the need for specific and well documented facts before making rash statements?

  4. Hi Guys, I’m flattered that somebody’s reading my charts and talking about them. Gil, thanks for pointing out the significance of the 62% mortality figure . To me, the chart highlights the huge imbalance between mortality and harvest. I’m not sure how one quantifies “ecological health”, but the U.S. Census Bureau quantifies human well-being in a number of ways. One key metric is poverty level. Census data reveal that counties with high percentage of national forest land universally have higher poverty levels than their urban neighbors.

    Sustainable prudent timber harvesting produces jobs and furthers community and family stability. The national forest’s failure to manage the timber resource has contributed to the depressed conditions of forest-dependent communities in both in the east and western US.. An essay in the just-published SAF book “193 Million Acres” examines this issue in depth.

    • For whatever it’s worth…

      Census data reveal that rural counties have higher poverty levels than urban counties. In other words, there is higher poverty because the counties are rural, not because of land management or proximity to National Forests.

      Here’s some information and studies from Headwaters Economics: (Slides 47 and on are mostly related to this discussion)

      • Matthew

        Thanks for the useful links above.

        What did happen, post the 1990 85 to 90% federal harvest reduction, is that the manufacturing, logging and transportation infrastructure was destroyed in the affected counties. That infrastructure is necessary to reduce the probability of wildfires turning into catastrophic acreage losses and to reduce the marginal cost of the forest management necessary to lower the risk of said losses and the collateral damage to the “protected ecosystems”, downwind/downstream health damages and lost lives, loss of healthy soil and important socioeconomic infrastructure.

        What did happen is that the removal of sound sustainable forest management allowed the stand densities to increase to unhealthy levels and to significantly greater proximity of individual trees thereby significantly increasing the probability of an ignition turning into a catastrophe which was in turn exacerbated by the current extended period of increased warming.

      • Matthew, You’re absolutely right in that rural counties are generally poorer than their urban neighbors. There are many factors besides the national forest presence that create that condition. My concern is that national forests contribute to rural poverty by failing to harvest the volume that could be cut (certainly more than the present average of 6-8% of growth) and should be cut (to maintain stand resilience, provide early succession habitat, and yield a host of other environmental, social, and economic (jobs!) reasons). We’re not talking “cut out and get out” anymore , Matthew, We’re talking prudent, thoughtful husbandry of a renewable resource.

        To illustrate: The counties with largest areas in the Gila N.F. are Catron and Sierra with a combined N.F. area of 1.8 miilion acres. Their poverty rates (2015) are 23.4% and 28.7%. Compare with the national average of 13.5% and the state average of 20.4%.

        Human beings are part of the ecosystem and deserve consideration too.

  5. One of the things that also happened was the consolidation of the FS. The FS jobs moved to the urban centers and ranger districts lost jobs. That hurt the rural economies and their social well being also.
    They is so much work to be done in our forests and all we seem able to do is spend billions burning them up.
    The fires we had this summer in Southwestern Oregon were not fought by the FS, but managed by the FS. (I might add with the no pubic comment allowed). These fires caused, untold hardship on our economies, health, ability to recreate, and furthered the degeneration of our unique, diverse, “ancient”

  6. The national forest obligation for “community and family stability,” to the extent it relates to timber harvest is limited to planning for non-declining flow that is coordinated with other uses of national forest land (36 CFR 221.3(a)(3) and (4)). There is no obligation to produce any particular amount (but there is a maximum).


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