When is a plantation “industrial”?

This press release from Oregon State offers interesting information on a study of the effects of timber harvesting on stream flows. The first sentence mentions “industrial tree plantations.” The Journal of Hydrology paper also uses the term — “industrial plantation forests.”

I wonder about the choice of the word “industrial,” which in some circles is often used in a pejorative sense. The second sentence of the press release says that “Industrial” means “intensively managed plantations” — a phrase that is accurate and much less loaded with non-scientific meaning. Also, a plantation might be intensively managed, but in no way industrial — for example, an area replanted after a wildfire and thinned over time to move it toward older forest structure. This would have the same effect on water flows as an “industrial tree plantation.”

Was this simply a poor choice of words? Is “industrial” an appropriate term is a scientific paper?


March 17, 2020

Timber harvesting results in persistent deficits in summer streamflow

By Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039, steve.lundeberg@oregonstate.edu

Source: Catalina Segura, 541-737-6568, segurac@oregonstate.edu

This news release is available online: https://beav.es/4qi

Photo of Needle Branch area of the Alsea River watershed: https://flic.kr/p/2iDGjzj


CORVALLIS, Ore. – Summer streamflow in industrial tree plantations harvested on 40- to 50-year rotations was 50% lower than in century-old forests, data from the long-term Alsea Watershed Study in the Oregon Coast Range showed.

The research, led by Oregon State University’s Catalina Segura, is an important step toward understanding how intensively managed plantations might influence water supplies originating in forests and downstream aquatic ecosystems, especially as the planet becomes warmer and drier.

“Industrial plantation forestry is expanding around the globe and that’s raising concerns about the long-term effects the plantations might be having on water, especially in dry years,” Segura said.

Findings were published in the Journal of Hydrology.

Running through southern Benton and Lincoln counties in Oregon, the Alsea River empties into the Pacific Ocean at Waldport and supports runs of chinook and coho salmon as well as steelhead and cutthroat trout.

The Alsea watershed has a rich research history dating back six decades; in the 1960s, it was the site of one of the first comprehensive studies of the effects of forest harvesting on water quality and fish habitat in the nation.

Those research results provided evidence for standards included in the landmark 1971 Oregon Forest Practices Act, among the first such laws in the United States to set rules to protect streams from the impacts of timber harvesting.

In the current study, Segura and collaborators looked at 27 years of streamflow data to compare the effects of historic and contemporary forestry practices on summer streamflow in three sites within the Alsea watershed: Flynn Creek, Deer Creek and Needle Branch.

Flynn Creek, 210 hectares in size, was designated a U.S. Forest Service Research Natural Area in 1975 and has been left undisturbed; 60% to 70% of its canopy is red alder and big-leaf maple, and the rest is Douglas-fir that regenerated following a 19th century fire.

Deer Creek is 311 hectares and has been historically used to study how road building and extensive forest management affect water quality. Three 25-hectare areas (25% of the total watershed area) in the Deer Creek watershed were clear-cut in 1966 (buffer areas near streams were left uncut). Over the last 30 years the watershed has been harvested again via intermittent thinning and clear-cutting.

Needle Branch, 75 hectares, has been used for examining how watersheds are affected by contemporary logging practices compared to historical practices – the 1960s and earlier. The entire watershed was clear-cut between 1956 and 1966. Eighty-two percent of that happened in 1966, with no trees left along the stream. It was 100% harvested again from 2009 to 2014 using contemporary methods, including retention of riparian vegetation near the stream.

Together, streamflow data from Needle Branch, Deer Creek and Flynn Creek enabled the scientists to determine forestry practices’ effects on how much water was flowing in the streams.

After the mature forests were harvested in 1966, streamflow increased for seven years, then began to decline as the Douglas-fir seedlings grew, eventually falling below pre-harvest streamflow levels.

Compared to mature forests, daily streamflow from 40- to 53-year-old plantations was 25% lower overall and 50% lower during summer months, when there is minimal precipitation in the Coast Range.

The harvesting of the plantations didn’t lead to much of an increase in streamflow. The likely reason: high evapotranspiration from replanted Douglas-firs and other rapidly regenerating vegetation, and from the vegetation in the riparian buffer.

Evapotranspiration is the sum of the water that reaches the atmosphere through evaporation and transpiration – the process that moves water throughout a plant from its roots to its leaves.

“Results of this study indicated that 40- to 50-year rotations of Douglas-fir plantations can produce persistent, large, summer low-flow deficits,” Segura said. “While the clear-cutting of these plantations, with retention of riparian buffers, increased daily streamflow slightly, streamflow did not return to where it was before the harvesting of those mature forests, which apparently do not use as much water.”

The findings, together with other regional studies, indicate that the magnitude of summer streamflow deficits is related to the proportion of watershed area in young (30- to 50-year-old) plantations, Segura said. Comparatively little is known, she added, about the specifics regarding how evapotranspiration levels change as a tree ages or how much it varies with changes in forest structure as the forest matures.

“We need to improve our understanding of tree water use at the stand or forest level and how that changes as forests age,” she said. “We also need to continue to maintain our long-term studies as much as we can. The only way we found out what we learned here is because we had the long-term data.”

The National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, the Oregon Forest and Industries Council, Plum Creek Timber Company (now Weyerhaeuser Company), the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and the National Science Foundation supported this research.

Collaborators included Kevin Bladon and Jeff Hatten of the OSU College of Forestry; Julia Jones of the OSU College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences; V. Cody Hale of Nutter and Associates; and George Ice of the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement.



23 thoughts on “When is a plantation “industrial”?”

  1. I think that this is part of trying to generalize research results to make them sound better/more important.

    “Industrial plantation forestry is expanding around the globe and that’s raising concerns about the long-term effects the plantations might be having on water, especially in dry years,” Segura said.

    I’m not sure that it is “expanding around the globe” but if it is, hydrologic effects may well be different.

    If you said more simply “in western Oregon, with their common forest practices x,y and z it works like this” you might not get the same attention. Even slightly to the south, In the drier Sierra, fewer trees by thinning mean more water coming out in terms of communities dealing with drought… e.g,
    so it all depends on the area and the practices and the alternatives (what would happen with different sets of practices or left alone).

  2. Some of you seem to really like to focus on interesting nuances.

    According to Marriam-Webster:

    industrial (adjective) in·​dus·​tri·​al | \ in-ˈdə-strē-əl \

    Definition: “of or relating to industry.”

    • And in many people’s books, “industry” is evil. “Greedy corporations.” The author of the paper may not have intended to use the term industry or industrial in that sense, but that’s the sense in which it is often used these days.

  3. Does anyone have a comment on the actual study, or just a lot of comments about one word?

    Also, does anyone have a comment about the photo, which was included in the press release?

    It’s identified as the Needle Branch area of the Alsea River watershed in Oregon.

    • This website has a great deal of info on study, with its beginnings in 1959.


      A key finding of the study (and other paired watershed research in Oregon) in recent years is that stream buffers offer excellent protection of water quality and fish habitat, even when adjacent slopes are clearcut. I have visited the are several times.

    • This Photo brought back memories, was pretty typical of land surrounding and on the Siuslaw NF including the Alsea River watershed where I worked during the late 80’s – early 90’s. Could be a mix of FS, BLM and Private land. We called private as well as some BLM lands “Industrial” timber lands. FS lands were merely our “Plantations” or “second growth”. We learned these terms at Oregon State Forestry Program in Corvallis. Love to know what they are called now.

  4. Having served as Siuslaw National Forest Supervisor (which included this area) from 1992-1999, the contrast between industrial lands (their clearcutting practices persist today) and federal lands is quite sharp. Not so in the 1980’s, when federal mgmt largely mirrored industry. There IS a pejorative tone that many readers will apply to “industrial”; well-deserved in my opinion. But here it is simply descriptive using easy to understand language.

    The import of the FINDINGS – that such practices diminish stream water quantity by as much as 50% in low flow season – is enormous as it demonstrates once again that timber-centrist forestry usually comes at the expense of other important forest values (water, fish, wildlife). The spotted owl conflict resulted in jettisoning “industrial” forestry on public lands leaving many of my FS peers very bitter about the outcome, while many others celebrated. Jerry Franklin and co-authors have an outstanding book in press that lays out the bare-knuckled fight within both society and the FS itself to resolve the impasse. Wait for it!

  5. Here is the study’s abstract. I wonder why they picked such a short reference period, 2006-2009. Three of those years had below average precipitation (Benton County, July – September), according to NOAA’s National Climate Data Center.

    This study examined long-term changes in daily streamflow associated with forestry practices over a 60-year period (1959 to 2017) in the Alsea Watershed Study, Oregon Coast Range, Pacific Northwest, USA. We quantified the response of daily streamflow to (1) harvest of mature/old forest in 1966, (2) 43- to 53-yr-and 48- to 58-yr-old old industrial plantation forests in 2006–2009, and (3) logging of the plantations using contemporary forest practices, including retention of a riparian buffer, in 2010 and 2014. Daily streamflow from a 40- to 53-yr-old Douglas-fir plantation was 25 % lower on average, and 50 % lower during the summer (June 15 to Sept 15 of 2006 to 2009), relative to the reference watershed containing mature/old forest. Low flow deficits persisted over six or more months of each year. Surprisingly, contemporary forest practices (i.e., clearcutting of the plantation with riparian buffers in 2009 and 2014) had only a minor effect on streamflow deficits. Two years after logging in 2014, summer streamflow deficits were similar to those observed prior to harvest (under 40- to 53-yr-old plantations). High evapotranspiration from rapidly regenerating vegetation, including planted Douglas-fir, and from the residual plantation forest in the riparian buffer appear to explain the persistence of streamflow deficits after logging of nearly 100 % of the forest plantation. Results of this study indicated that 40- to 50-yr rotations of Douglas-fir plantations can produce persistent, large summer low flow deficits. While the clearcutting of these plantations, with retention of riparian buffers, increased daily streamflow slightly, they did not return to pre-first entry conditions. Further work is needed to examine how intensively managed plantation forests along with expected warmer, drier conditions in the future may influence summer low streamflow and aquatic ecosystems.

        • They show that in Figure 5. After the first entry (1967-1973) there were generally increases in mean daily streamflow for the 7 year duration after treatment. They are just making the point that water balance modifications exist for decades following harvest but swing in the opposite direction as the site becomes densely occupied. It makes sense mechanistically given how well stocked intensively managed stand are and how that affects ET.

  6. To me, the problem with the terminology of “industrial” is that it usually means what the forest industry does, but private industry does many different things in different parts of the US, not to speak of other countries. So let’s dig deeper. What do they have in common? Clearcutting, planting monocultures (sometimes with tree improvement based seed sources), applying herbicide, sometimes fertilizer, and thinning.

    What does the FS do? This is what I’ve seen and perhaps can’t be extrapolated to Western Oregon.
    Sometimes (I’d guess infrequently except when overstory is dead) small clearcuts, generally mixed species, some species planted and some natural, no herbicide, no fertilizing but potentially yes to thinning.

    So what of these different things (non-“industrial” versus “industrial” would affect the hydrology? Species? Stocking levels? When and how much is thinned? These are much more interesting questions than whether something is “industrial” or not.

    • There are also companies such as Collins Pine that generally doesn’t use clearcutting. And companies such as PorlatchDeltic that have at least some of their lands FSC and/or SFI certified. These companies practice “industrial” forestry, no?

  7. Yes, of course thanks for pointing that out. I became curious about that in Oregon (without a side by side of SFI and FSC standards in western Oregon) https://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/2013/08/leed_certification_vs_oregon_w.html

    “Substantively, there isn’t a huge difference” between the two programs’ requirements here, says Kevin Boston, a professor at Oregon State University’s college of forestry. But small differences can matter, and one, he points out, involves maximum clear-cut size. SFI, echoing state rules, targets 120 acres. That’s roughly twice the area of FSC’s regional maximum. While clear-cuts may not be popular, they’re appropriate in forests dominated by Douglas fir, a species that needs full sunlight to regenerate.

    That’s one reason

    Roseburg Forest Products has not sought FSC certification for the 460,000 acres of forest it manages in Oregon, relying instead upon strict standards contained in state law. The company has obtained FSC certification, on the other hand, for 175,000 acres of forestland it manages in California. The terrain in Oregon lends itself to larger harvest units, says Eric Geyer, the company’s manager of external affairs and corporate development. And so do the trees themselves. The company’s California land is heavy on pine, and its Oregon land on Douglas fir.

    And here’s something about Collins Pine FSC-certified Lakeview unit. http://www.collinsco.com/lakeview-overview/

    Scientific Certification Systems final report commends Lakeview for:
    Past and current timber harvest activities that are not selectively removing necessary habitat for any species of taxa.
    There is ample evidence across the ownership that silvicultural regimes do not require use of herbicides to secure adequate regeneration.
    Collins’ presence in the Lakeview regions has been stable and long-term. While its competitors have come and gone, Collins has sustained and now remains the only industrial forest management and processing concern in the region.
    The company has, through its actions over the long haul, created and maintains a very good reputation within the community.
    The company has a general policy of open public access to the Collins Lakeview Forest, subject to selective road closures when necessary for public safety and resource protection.

    It seems like IRL (not academic publications) the term “industrial” doesn’t mean any particular practice or lack thereof. If the study is about “forest practices as practiced currently by some members of the forest industry in western Oregon” that would be more meaningful IMHO. Some of the old OSU professors would have been far more careful about generalizing to areas/treatments and so on that were not studied, but I think that’s just a change in the academic culture of science since the 70’s.

  8. FWIW, I’ve always understood “industrial” forestry to be what you do to achieve financial goals related to product volume and/or profit. What you do silviculturally to accomplish that of course varies by location. Collins seems to have found they can best achieve those goals with “lighter on the landscape” treatments, but it’s still “industrial.” “Non-industrial” private owners and public owners have different goals. (Not that the Forest Service didn’t once practice industrial forestry in some places, and may still come as close as federal laws let them in a few.)

    • “Non-industrial” private owners may use the same harvest methods (including clearcuts) and generally follow the same forest practices laws/regs as large corporations with 10s or 100s of thousands of acres.

      I don’t have access to the full text of the paper. Perhaps the author defines “industrial tree plantations.” I suggest that using the term “industrial” is needlessly vague and potentially biased.

      • Some people will use the adjective in front of “logging”, for the same effect. It is often applied to the Forest Service, despite their many-varied treatment methods, purposes and needs, and government processes. Labeling “thinning from below” as “industrial logging” just isn’t truthful. How many timber companies use “thinning from below”?

  9. Jon brings up an excellent point regarding “Non-Industrial” private forest landowners.

    Turns out the U.S. Forest Service has resources for these “Nonindustrial private forest landowners.”

    Check it out: https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/19066

    That tells me that the term “industrial” vs “non-industrial” is pretty well understood in the biz.

    • Yes, there has always been outreach to the NIPF community. Steve’s point was that the environment is affected by practices, not by whose name is on the property title. What we’ve been discussing is whether there is some set of practices, consistent in time and space, that can be characterized as “practices used by industrial landowners”. I think we may have come to the conclusion that there might be around coastal Oregon (the base are following the state regulations for Oregon (which have changed through time). Then there is SFI and FSC certification.

      Outside of western Oregon and Washington, though, it would be hard to round up a set of practices and say that they fall into a box of “industrial”, because different parts of the country are so different (as are FSC standards for different parts). Let alone the world.

  10. Oregon (and maybe other states?) like to categorize forest ownership for purposes of reporting statistics, etc. One big distinction among private forest owners is between private industrial vs private non-industrial forest owners.

    The assumption is that industrial owners are more likely to be focused on economic objectives, while non-industrial forest owners might have more diverse objectives.

    See https://www.oregonlaws.org/glossary/definition/nonindustrial_private_forest_landowner This definition seems a bit outdated in this age of TIMOs and REITs.


Leave a Comment