Another Point of View on the Black Hills Report-Guest Post by Frank Carroll

I think this is the kind of photo Frank is talking about in his post.
Thanks to Frank Carroll for this guest post! Here’s some background on him. He is another retiree who worked on the Black Hills. Note: this discussion (and the previous thread on the report, and perhaps The Smokey Wire itself) should make you wary about any claims that “Forest Service employees think” or “Forest Service retirees think”. It’s interesting that we managed to live with each other and get along, for the most part, with our range of views.

Frank questions whether the report itself (on LTSY) can entirely answer the question “what, where and when should timber be cut on the Black Hills.” This is the first of two guest posts by Frank.

Russ (Graham), Mike (Battaglia), and Theresa (Jain) have done their usual stellar job as scientists in reviewing the record, compiling appropriate data, applying expert analysis, and disclosing their conclusions and answers to a set of specific questions about maintaining a nondeclining even flow of timber and sustained yield of timber over time. These great scientists were asked how much timber is growing across the forest, how much is available for harvest, and how do those answers line up with the current allowable sale quantity and current timber management plans. They answered fully and to the best of their ability.

They were not asked to assess what the timber market has in store in terms of innovation, new technologies, new wood processing equipment and techniques, the pluses and minuses of various levels of timber industry outputs, or personal and personnel factors, market factors, or political factors that would inform strong direction to the industry from the Forest Service as everyone tries to navigate the future.

As we would hope and expect, our scientists did a solid job of answering a specific set of questions based on a specific set of expectations and assumptions, and did not swan off into territory beyond their training and understanding.

Black Hills Timber Growth and Yield is a solid piece of work and the authors are to be congratulated.

Black Hills Timber Growth and Yield does not comprehensively enlighten our understanding about how to move forward with the timber industry in the Black Hills.

Anecdotal data and our experience show that our timber industry can and will successfully negotiate the challenges of the future and maintain a strong and vibrant presence in the Hills.

The FIA data suggests, because it is not a one-for-one inventory of trees, that our forest is dying faster than it is growing and that the current ASQ is not sustainable.

The timber industry argues that we know we can cut trees and keep a viable forest industry going. We don’t know that we’re actually running out of trees. It’s theoretical. It’s a model. It’s imperfect science, the thinking goes.

In any event, there is not sufficient data and no comprehensive answers to many related questions about factors that influence the success of our timber program that would settle the unsettled question; are we overcutting the Black Hills?

Our choices are to substantially revise our allowable sale quantity to line up with Russ’ report, or to choose the status quo and see what the future brings.

In any event the Forest will abide. Either it will continue to meet the demand for trees or it won’t. We’ll either continue to have a viable and healthy timber industry or we won’t.

The principal players won’t change and the report won’t change their minds. The biological forest is cooperating as it always has and seems destined to continue to grow trees. We don’t know what fires and bugs are planning but it doesn’t matter. It’s a self-regulating system. As the nature and form of forest structure changes, the industry will adapt and change to find new opportunities. The Forest Service must not stand in the way of this natural process of various forces experimenting, testing, and finding a way forward.

We are not in the equivalent of a natural pandemic where we must decide to crash our industry. We can and will maintain as much of the status quo as we can and see what’s in store for us all. We need our industry, our industry needs us, and those are factors Russ, Mike, and Theresa could not assess.

All of this is, or course, my humble opinion having participated in the politics and practice of forestry for many decades.

I am reminded of old photos of the Black Hills at the turn of the last Century. The hills and ridges are denuded of timber as far as the human eye can see, or the camera record. And, yet, here we are.

Congratulations on a report well done.

Frank Carroll is managing partner of Professional Forest Management, LLC, PFMc, a full service forestry and grassland consultancy. Frank and partner Van Elsbernd have been working since 2012 to understand and help shape wildland fire policy. Frank is the principal author of the wildfire impact analysis for the Mount Rushmore Independence Day Environmental Assessment. PFMc has helped over 600 clients recover almost $600 million in damages from wildfires across the West. [email protected]

11 thoughts on “Another Point of View on the Black Hills Report-Guest Post by Frank Carroll”

  1. “The Forest Service must not stand in the way of this natural process of various forces experimenting, testing, and finding a way forward.” That’s an interesting opinion, but opinions like this are exactly why Congress passed the National Forest Management Act. The Forest Service now has to operate within legal sideboards, and there are important ones that govern how much timber that can be cut. It looks to me like the science is telling us that this is a situation where the Forest Service must stand in the way.

  2. It might be worth noting the 1888 picture of Deadwood reveals “hills and ridges are denuded of timber as far as the human eye can see…” Are you aware of early mining history in this area, Frank, which denuded this area? You should also be aware of photo documentation of the 1872 Custer expedition. These 150-year old photos do NOT record anything of the kind. The Black Hills were covered in Ponderosa pine, though surely not as thick as after decades of fire exclusion once the Forest Service took over. Unlike you, I don’t think I’d describe the mission of the FS as getting out of “the way of natural processes”, so much as working WITH these natural processes to serve society, including timber industry. But allowing industry interests to overwhelm natural imperatives and sound land ethics is cavalier and corrupt.

    • Jim, I think perhaps Frank’s point was that trees have grown back from more intense cutting than that applied currently. Also I’m the one that picked the photo so I’m not sure that that was the photo he had in mind.

      • The 1874 expedition photos show a forest dominated by open stands of PIPO but also with about 20 percent of the forest in dense stands destined to burn (Arno). The later photos after mining got serious at Homestake and so on show denuded slopes as far as the photo can record. So, Sharon, your photo is appropriate. My point is that after strip mining timber for miles in every direction and feeding the wood to 44 sawmills, we still manage to feed a vibrant timber industry. The FS didn’t figure out hos to do that. The industry figured it out using market forces and innovation. Sawmills today are unrecognizable from the sawmills of the past, and sawmills of the future will be as well. Witness the high-speed curve sawmills in Germany and elsewhere run by three people with computers. We need to help them help themselves, and we don’t get there by hand-wringing. It really is a self-regulation system and it has never been regulated by FIA data.

    • Whether it’s cavalier and corrupt or not is in the eye of the beholder. My point is that the symbiotic relationship between the FS and industry should not be artificially skewed based on one set of data, LTSY for example. There are so many other important considerations in the mix and factors that do not lend themselves to stem counts.

  3. Forestry is a science and long-term sustained yield is taught in every Forestry school in the country. Managing for LTSY is considered a necessity in Forestry, not just a good idea. Determining LTSY can certainly be done and the GTR has done a good job of that with more data than probably any other Forest in NFS has. NFMA requires that the FS shall limit the sale of timber from each national forest to a quantity equal to or less than a quantity which can be removed from such forest annually in perpetuity on a sustained-yield basis. It doesn’t say do that if you can pull it off politically or if it is convenient. FS Research crunches the numbers as scientists do. Forest Supervisors are paid well to do all the other stuff such as politics, markets, understanding timber industry, etc. That’s their job. It is also their job to do the right thing, even when it is hard. If we are going to let the timber industry run the FS timber program, then we certainly don’t need GS-15’s around. We could just make the timber program purchaser select and call it good, if they are the ones that have it all figured out. I wonder what Gifford would have to say about this. I kind of think that the problem that we have on the Black Hills is why he saw a need to start the Forest Service in the first place. Industry of all sorts is a wonderful thing in this country and is certainly part of what makes America great. But, it has been proven way too many times that industries will turn their back on important things for profit, absent of regulation and oversight. Look at Smithfield in Sioux Falls.

    • The GTR has a range of 70,000 ccf to 115 ccf (35 mmbf to 57 mmbf) depending on the assumptions in the given scenarios. Industry wants it to remain at ASQ which is 202,000 ccf (100 mmbf).

  4. See also:

    Forester (and former Forest Service spokesperson) Frank Carroll says Environmentalists are “arsonists” and “bomb-throwers;” Mike Garrity is a “henchman;” and there’s a whole “enviro-terrorist industry.”


    RE: Sharon’s comment: “Note: this discussion (and the previous thread on the report, and perhaps The Smokey Wire itself) should make you wary about any claims that “Forest Service employees think” or “Forest Service retirees think”.

    I agree with Sharon. I think there are probably very few former U.S. Forest Service employees and/or USFS retirees who have spent their post-USFS careers filing lawsuit after lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service over wildfire and fire suppression issues, policies and tactics, quite like Frank Carroll has.


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