Tongass transition to young-growth – are we there yet?

The Tongass National Forest is being managed under a 2016 amendment to its 2008 forest plan that addresses the Forest’s transition away from old-growth timber harvesting.  The amendment accelerated the transition in the plan from 32 years to 16 years, but there has been continuing controversy over how long that process should take.   Here’s the latest in an extended article from E&E News:

A new complication in the debate over the young-growth transition comes from Catherine Mater, a forest products engineer from Oregon who recently completed an inventory of 43 areas within the Tongass under a contract with the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station. There’s enough young growth coming online to provide around 55 million board feet of timber annually for decades, she said, or more than double the total timber volume the service reported cut there in fiscal 2018. Mater found 138,760 acres of young growth — between 55 and 80 years old — suitable for harvest. All of it was within 800 feet of Forest Service roads and away from steep slopes and other environmentally sensitive areas.

Of course there’s still pushback from the “timber companies and industry-friendly politicians, who want more thinning and bigger clear cuts.”

What caught my attention though was these comments from the Tongass spokeswoman:

Forest Service managers stand by their estimates that the young-growth transition won’t be complete before 2033, Fenster said. “If, once the analysis is complete, it shows the projections in the forest plan were not valid, then the Forest Service would have to consider alternatives to incorporating new information into the forest plan estimates,” Fenster said.

The projected volume of young growth was a fundamental assumption in the 2016 amendment, so I don’t think the Forest has the option of ignoring how it could affect the decisions it made in the forest plan.

12 thoughts on “Tongass transition to young-growth – are we there yet?”

  1. I have worked extensively with Mater, in association with Geos Inst of Ashland OR (as a board member), on the “Tongass transition issue”. I don’t have the patience to elaborate on the many ways the FS (my former employer) has dissembled, obfuscated, procrastinated, skimmed money, hidden facts for the past several years to stubbornly refuse to effect a transition to young growth harvesting. Mater has used the FS’s own data to conclusively demonstrate that an abundant supply of young growth is accessible RIGHT NOW in old, roaded clearcuts, outside of roadless areas and sensitive karts and coastal zones. These stands have nearly “0” defect (as opposed to old-growth where defect often exceeds 50%), and are of a diameter and height and volume per acre to substantially EXCEED FS estimates made a few years ago. She has worked tirelessly to get FS to assist local industry to log, mill (with modern, highly efficient HewSaw technology) and market this material. FS has stonewalled from the get-go. Yet the FS continues to shill for industry and pump OG clearcuts onto the market at a loss of $millions every year. Where is the “conservation leadership”? I’m frankly embarrassed for the agency, besides being irate.

  2. Forest Service managers in 2019 who continue to prescribe a 30+ year lead time before young growth can be offered as timber sales have failed to track their own past timber sales where Tongass young growth volumes have been sold into the market for over a decade (a fact the general public is unaware of but the timber sales records clearly document). More notably, the recent Prince of Wales Landscape Level Assessment (POWLLA) signed into a record of decision by Tongass Forest Supervisor Earl Stuart in October 2018 stipulates young growth timber sales of 3 million board feet per year starting 2020 through 2027, then increasing to 50 million board feet every year thereafter! So the recent forest inventory work conducted by the Forest Service (which we analyzed) has already dramatically altered Forest Service course of action with respect to young growth timber sales! The Forest Service is no longer planning for young growth transition, they have started it! And common sense (as well as on the ground data) confirms if you can magically jump to 50 million board feet young growth sales in 2028 (from only 3 million board feet per year sales between 2020-2027), you have much more volume already in the pipeline beginning 2020 to substantially increase young growth sales during the next seven years to reach that targeted sustained annual 50 million board feet of young growth sales beginning 2028.

    Instead of shipping those young growth sales as logs to export markets (as is currently done), what is needed immediately is funding promised by the Region 10 of the Forest Service back in 2017 to set up a Young Growth Milling Initiative that processes Southeast Alaska young growth logs to determine wood grade recovery and market demand for value-added products manufacturerd in Alaska.

    • “Instead of shipping those young growth sales as logs to export markets (as is currently done), what is needed immediately is funding promised by the Region 10 of the Forest Service back in 2017 to set up a Young Growth Milling Initiative that processes Southeast Alaska young growth logs to determine wood grade recovery and market demand for value-added products manufacturerd in Alaska.”

      Dream on… Catherine, Jim, and Dominic, the agency/industry wet dream of reducing our most biologically valuable and vulnerable watersheds of our increasingly rarified temperate rainforest karstlands to a YG crop status must still compete in a globalized marketplace.

      And your plantations will never function as forests capable of sustaining subsistence requirements of plantation workers, nor assure viable wild runs of salmon.

      Nor do your wet dreams include the massive uncertainties of Anthropogenic climate disruption.

      Economically, your colonialist visions of a subsidized Tongass tree plantation fails to include the realities of the globalized free market race to the bottom of cheap wage pools; and high transportation costs of remote locations far from the globalized markets.

      Further, you haven’t a clue as to whether a third short rotation of YG is even biologically possible here without resorting to the same desperate biocidal treatments of herbicides, fertilizers, GMOs etc. your little plantation scheme mimics in competition with the corporate multinational giants of timber production.

      And Jim, as an ex- line officer careerist occupying several seats of power perspectives all the way up to deputy chief, you have a lot more to be embarrassed and irate about than OG asset stripping for export to service Senator Lisa Murkowski’s campaign finance debts– AT ALL COSTS– including professional integrity.

      And Dominic Dellasala: I’ve repeatedly asked for your assessment of the carbon consequences of your plantation advocacy. Well, in the absence of your response, we now know the carbon debt of plantation YG on your own home turf in Oregon,

      113 tons per acre but curiously no calculation by you on the Tongass?

      So you clearly seem to speak out of both sides of your mouth simultaneously to suit your foundation grant deliverables $hilling for the Transition Unicorn in 4 part harmony with other corporate collaborationists of eNGO-land.

  3. Correction:
    The Oregon tree plantation debt is 210 tons per acre.

    In all likelihood though the Geos Tongass plantation scheme has a far larger carbon debt due to the additional transportation carbon footprint of (supposedly) establishing a viable value added industry getting finished products to the market place.

    Right Dominic?

    Further, Catherine, the existing value added industry of the Viking can’t even make OG milling viable without exporting half its HIGHGRADED OG to cover its costs– but that’s not all–

    PLUS a $31,000,000 taxpayer gift avg. annually, as determined by the recent Tongass Timber accounting of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

    So, Catherine, while R10 promised to gift Viking et al, with millions of retooling grant dollars in 2017 to Transition with, and since the agency is committed to “multiple use,”

    … how about putting in a special plug for the actual economic backbone of the Tongass and buying me and my cohorts new Transition fishing boats to chase our new Transition target species in the Transition created by The Blob, ocean acidification, and extreme drought already here ahead of schedule on the Tongass?

    After all, isn’t it in the spirit of multiple use and while you’re advocating freely distributing the extra taxpayer largess so graciously?

    After all, Viking et al have long since been gifted with magic Appraisal of Record accounting practices (which Jim has certainly furnished by his signatures approving these extra special “Alaska Rules”over the decades), we’re talking amazing guaranteed benefits which lower Viking’s stumpage rates.

    These include TAXPAYER PAID profit and risk insurance, don’t they Jim?
    How bout transportation costs?
    How bout camp costs?
    (And too many other magic numbers to list.)

    So in the spirit of multiple use, how about a little help for a struggling fishing industry?
    I’d love to have the same socialized costs of uncertainty as the “timber industry” when the price of fish drops, pay my fuel, bait, insurance, crew costs, etc. etc. etc, and I bet the fleet would too!

  4. I have no idea who this clown is – but the slide he uses was worked on by me and Jason Grant – so know they source buddy before you blast away at things you know little about!

    • The source of the information is not nearly as important as the carbon implications to what you are advocating for Dominic– public policy on public lands known to be environmentally, socially and economically catastrophic.

      Besides, does it really matter if you know or remember me? (In fact, we met a couple of times, from the Tongass Rainforest Symposium in Juneau in which you autographed my copy of your book to the Tongass Advisory Committee meetings. I have an excellent recall of watching Catherine and your presentations at the rigged TAC “Transition” process. Your advocacy flies in the face of reason why you’d be promoting permanent condemnation of the most biologically-precarious “Hammered Gems” (watersheds of the Central/Southern Tongass.)

      You are advocating for a colonial legacy on a public lands policy proven to be a politically-driven pipe dream losing millions of dollars a year advocating for policies on coastal temperate rainforests. This represents the quintessentially most significant opportunity cost:

      that of endorsing precisely what could be potentially triggering unstoppable climate feedbacks, many of which are already in motion.

      So I would appreciate a cogent response from you Jim, and Catherine (as opposed to name calling) on these several issues raised in this forum, especially about advocating for a demonstrably carbon intensive debt consequence of public lands policy during a critical time frame in the midst of an internationally-recognized “Climate Emergency.”

      Further, what are the implications of your plantation advocacy during the second consecutive year of “extreme drought” on the Tongass — resulting in extensive sawfly damages with particular emphasis as it relates to continued intensive management on YG short rotation clearcutting?

      Been in the Tongass on the ground lately? We’ve got real problems Dominic, according to a USFS entomologist:

      “Last year, the sawfly munched on about 40,000 acres of hemlock in the region. This year, that number ballooned to close to 400,000 acres of damage.”

      Thanks in advance for your cogent responses to these several cogent points on crucial matters of public policy determinations for what remains of the Tongass National Forest.

  5. David, I know you feel strongly about the Tongass. But what do you see as so wrong with harvesting the plantations?
    If the climate crisis is as bad as some think, we will never get the old old growth back with the species it used to have. So we can only go forward. We can certainly disagree about specific plantation management practices (just so you know there are no GMO forest trees to be possibly planted). It seems like you think that no harvests should occur, even on previously harvested lands?

  6. “David, I know you feel strongly about the Tongass.”

    I’m having a hard time with this unnecessarily patronizing opening.

    Q: “But what do you see as so wrong with harvesting the plantations?”
    (You ARE reading these entries I’ve invested effort and child-like faith in achieving efficacious communication, right?)

    A: (besides my previously stated objections…)

    Life on remote islands of Southeast Alaska formerly graced with lush coastal temperate old growth (OG) rainforest, perpetually providing abundances of natural wealth and subsistence for all, have been subsequently reduced in vast areas, to impoverished export colony fiber plantations. The Tongass Land Management Plan subsidized by US taxpayers to the tune of well over a BILLION dollars over past decades has been long since exposed as a false “forest economy.”

    That USFS-engineered false economy was based upon false promises, resulting in life that hasn’t turned out so rosy for many of our residents.

    Nor, for any middle class taxpaying American who has been paying attention to federal deficit-exploding gifts to multi-national corporate raiders, nor any inhabitant of the biosphere dependent upon a survivable planet, and especially not for most plantation-residing Alaskans and the former wild denizens of former OG landscapes…

    Not so rosy, Socially:
    for all residents of national forestlands of the Tongass as well as ANCSA Native corporate lands reduced to privatized, subsidized, Young Growth (YG) corporate fiber plantations (and normalized by the media, including this blog). The societal horrors of poverty, suicide, domestic violence, drug abuse, etc. etc. are well-documented results of such false economies built upon false claims of extractivist champions such as yourself, Jim, Catherine and Dominick, Sharon.

    In the wake of such models of extractivism, our villages and municipalities are now reliant upon often dwindling resident property taxes to fund government and social services in proximity to corporate plantations (begging the question, “who, of any means, seeking a high quality of life would choose to locate in proximity to ANY corporate fiber plantation with its high cost of living, and a deconstructed administrative state to boot?)

    Consequently, all residents are collectively suffering in the wake of protracted state failures to raise adequate revenues to fund government from the same unsustainable state extractivist polices. This scenario is threatening a collapse of Alaska state government into a full-blown FAILED STATE status. (According to Wiki):

    “A failed state is a political body that has disintegrated to a point where basic conditions and responsibilities of a sovereign government no longer function properly… Common characteristics of a failing state include a central government so weak or ineffective that it has an inability to raise taxes or other support, and has little practical control over much of its territory and hence there is a non-provision of public services. When this happens, widespread corruption and criminality, the intervention of state and non-state actors, the appearance of refugees and the involuntary movement of populations, sharp economic decline,…”

    The funding of ALL state functions, being dependent upon fossil fuel extraction, mining, and OG asset stripping — all of finite resources — thereby imperils, and impoverishes all present and future generations from accessing such resources and vital ecosystem services they’d otherwise provide… essentially mortgaging our future while;

    This neoliberal siege has resulted in our coastal temperate RAINFORESTS suffering under EXTREME DROUGHT, TOXIC ALGAL BLOOMS, MASSIVE SALMON DIE-OFFS in RECORD BREAKING STREAM TEMPERATURES, OCEAN ACIDIFICATION, THE BLOB, FARMED SALMON DISEASES, MARINE MAMMAL AND SEABIRD DIE-OFFS in the TENS OF THOUSANDS, etc etc.) each, and all species, depending upon the existence of thriving, intact, old growth marine and terrestrial ecosystems.

    So, not so rosy, Environmentally:
    for the devastated former OG forest community landscapes — and certainly not so rosy for the quality of life of all its former plant and animal denizens of that former OG community which once provided essential subsistence resources aplenty to remote, rural, community resident Alaskans. (We choose to avoid reliance on deregulated, toxic, USDA agribiz products at the corner stores you enjoy ready access to.)

    Not so rosy, Economically:
    for the other OG-dependent, economically legitimate, ACTUAL revenue-producing sectors of our archipelago — such as commercial fishing, the hosting of international eco-tourism, and providing charter and recreational service industries — (to begin a tiny sampling of non-destructive (i.e. non-suicidal) economic policies… )

    Neoliberal extractivism on the other hand, confines Alaska’s social fate to that of an export colony status, and has resulted in a protracted multi-billion dollar state budget deficit crisis that did not happen by accident, nor by incompetence, but certainly engineered by political economic fundamentalism.

    You, Jim, Catherine, and Dominick play right into this game of neoliberal extortion with your advocacy for precisely what this planet is dying from — colonial exploitation of resource-rich landscapes. Dominick is cheerleading this while 800 of his fellow scientists have recently advocated peaceful civil disobedience by the public against just such extractivist policies killing our planet that Dominick presently endorses.

    This classic neoliberal predicament imposed upon Alaskans was a politically-engineered, bound-to-happen, no-brainer. (Roughly 90% of the source of state revenues necessary to the responsible functioning of state government was limited to the market price of oil and other wildly-speculated commodities markets well-known for radical price swings.)

    90 eggs of one hundred placed in one of two baskets hardly qualifies as fiduciary obligations of state government to manage financial risk.

    Of course this riskiest course of revenue streams was used to create an excuse to renege on Alaskan’s social contract and force more extractivism as a supposed remedy to state failure. Here’s just a few consequences we now live with:

    **The world-renowned, Alaska Marine Highway Ferry system service budget for the Alexander Archipelago has been eviscerated.

    **Basic essential social services expected of civil society (health, education, police, public broadcasting, humanities, arts etc,etc. and our social safety nets, eliminated or eviscerated.

    **Basic governmental functions such as regulation and management — eviscerated or eliminated.

    Where is GEOSs’ Dominick, Mater, and Jim on this predicament?
    Why they’re $hilling for more taxpayer-subsidized extractivism!

    How is this?

    Jim, Catherine and Dominick are lobbying on behalf of corporate profiteering plantations with taxpayer-paid, profit-and-risk-insurance-provided!

    Their preferred plantations are derived from, and sourced via, the former public “commonwealth” of previously intact OG and YG forests which were once world-class reservoirs of carbon sinks and sequestration. My several attempts to ask Dominick to assess the carbon consequences of his extractivist plantation advocacy remain unanswered, except for his personal attack assuming I wasn’t already aware he contributed to the chart I used to demonstrate his professional contradictions.

    These OG resources in their natural state, had already been providing public wealth for the many — versus GEOs’, et al.-greenwashed-enabled profiteering for the benefit of a tiny few — at great long-term expense to the many.

    Jim, Catherine and Dominick justify this corporate profiteering by championing an even tinier trickledown pittance– (derived from mammoth federal subsidies paid by, (and yet, to?), the little people on the plantation who live here) about once every 60 years or so. I know I can’t make a living fishing a species once every 60 years.

    Now that’s quite a scam, and here’s how it works:

    GEOS and other (small “e”) eNGO industry/agency collaborators get paid to pitch a false narrative of “Transition” (while posing as OG protectors). Their pitch is comprised of a false dichotomy(False Choice) employing a classic Sophie’s Choice:

    Shall this public extortion of taxpayer funds, and public forest resources already providing public wealth, be expropriated for the purposes of corporate profit taking be derived from public OG or YG?

    (Or both? Historically, as well as currently and for the foreseeable future, the answer is decidedly both OG & YG will be expropriated.)

    Either way we — and all future generations of Americans along with all life on our planet — get doomed by maintaining this shameless business of public extortion through neoliberal extractivism at the cost of a liveable planet. (This is known as “Business as Usual.”)

    But how could this happen in broad daylight?

    Actually, it’s simple. This false narrative then gets fecklessly, uncritically, and unethically amplified thousandfold, by regional, state and national news media, (“public” nonprofit, and for-profit corporate media alike.)

    So that’s the backdrop Sharon, and the USFS is a major player in creating utterly destructive and failed extractivist policies that have gotten us nowhere but social, economic and environmental DYSFUNCTION.

    Social scientists have documented the mechanism of this trap created by USFS directives and fraudulent assumptions driven by captured agencies in collusion with industry. Besides, all the circumstantial evidence exists — provided by the agency investigating itself Sharon. (The WOAR remains unexplained by the Chief of USFS Sharon. How do you expect us to trust Smokey’s Smoke and Mirrors when he’s already admitted massive deceptions and fraudulent premises with no evidence of personal or professional accountablility being exacted?)

    Here’s one of scores of peer reviewed studies on the machinations of extractivism:

    “Caught in the trap of the curse of plenty “
    “Although it seems hard to believe at first, on the basis of recent evidence and many accumulated experiences it is possible to state that poverty in many countries around the world is related to the existence of significant natural resources wealth.”

    But ethnologists and anthropologists such as (Kirk Dombrowski, et al) have also examined the social, environmental and economic consequences of Jim, Catherine, and Dominick’s advocacy for plantations as it relates to ANCSA’s conversion of Native tribal landscapes in Southeast Alaska to corporate plantations Sharon.

    Plantation economies create profound human and environmental tragedies Sharon.

    This charade began with deliberate agency Bait and Switch tactics cleverly employed by the R10 which once claimed land management rotations of second growth would achieve functional OG structure, function and composition capable of supporting OG dependent species.

    That Bait was switched to YG fiber plantations with magical notions of milling even Viking Lumber located ON Prince of Wales Island where most of the plantation acres reside!
    If Viking can’t make value-added milling work without subsidizing its operations exporting OG sawlogs to China, exactly how does Catherine expect it to work?. Kirk Dahlstrom of Viking has already stated retooling for YG is a failed buisness model.

    And we certainly have all the evidence that the previous Pulp Era on the Tongass was nothing but a taxpayer-funded federal-deficit-exploding, duopolistic, small logger-destroying scam.

    Catherine’s premise that we’re suddenly going to have a value added plantation-based manufacturing “industry” providing its “wall of wood” flies in the face of the reality of globalized markets. These are based upon highly competitive, and tragically exploitative market conditions operating on the same race to bottom methodologies of globalized markets that justified the present de-industrialized American ghost towns of the Rust Belt, Sharon.

    Re: “we will never get the old old growth back with the species it used to have.”
    That’s a first time ever (unsupported) claim as it relates to coastal temperate rainforests of Southeast Alaska, Sharon. I’d love to hear more… if you know something I don’t… but by all appearances, it’s an unsubstantiated throwaway, self-fulfilling prophesy, based on self-justification premises.

    Re: “just so you know there are no GMO forest trees to be possibly planted”
    I invite you to reread my previous statement regarding GMOs and herbicides Sharon. How does Jim, Catherine and Dominick expect the plantation model located in Southeast Alaska with infamously high labor costs and high extraction costs and high transportation costs to compete with private plantations employing GMOs, fertilization and herbicides on a 40 year rotation, operating by a fraction of these costs in Southeast Alaska?

    Native corporations here are already applying herbicides known to be carcinogenic to their fiber plantations and luckless workers and residents.

    The USFS has been primarily responsible for our invasive weeds problem on our thousands of miles of NFS logging roads and they are also using the same cancer causing herbicides to fix the problem they have full responsibility for creating.


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