Sorry Secretary Sonny, Our National Forests Are Not Crops

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue gathered up the “good ole boys” at the Missoula airport on June 12 to unveil the Trump administration’s “Modernization Blueprint” for more logging, mining, drilling and grazing on national forests. Photo by Missoulian.

The following guest post is written by Adam Rissien. 

Trump’s Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue flew into Missoula on June 12 to sign a memorandum directing the U.S. Forest Service to essentially double-down on its continued push to prioritize logging, mining, drilling and grazing, all while limiting environmental reviews. During the campaign-style signing event, Secretary Perdue—a former agribusiness CEO whose previous political campaigns were bankrolled by Monsanto and Big Ag interests—not only bragged that “we see trees as a crop,” but also ironically compared America’s bedrock environmental laws to “bubble wrap.” Apparently it was lost on Secretary Perdue that bubble wrap protects valuable things from being destroyed.

Missing from the secretary’s statements was any recognition that America’s national forests, 193 million acres in all, are actually diverse ecosystems that are home to hundreds of imperiled fish and wildlife species, and contain the last remnants of wildlands in this country that millions of people cherish. The secretary failed to mention how numerous communities rely on national forests to provide clean drinking water, or the fact that intact forests do more to remove atmospheric carbon than do stumps. In fact, national forests have a crucial role to play as part of global, natural climate change solutions.

Returning to the past, when resource extraction and exploitation ruled the land is hardly a blueprint for the future. Yet, this is exactly what the secretary ordered and what the Trump administration has been pursuing from Day One. In fact, Perdue’s memorandum comes on the heels of two recent Trump Executive Orders allowing industry and federal agencies to waive compliance with long-standing environmental laws that safeguard fish and wildlife. These orders follow Trump’s wholesale rolling back of rules requiring federal agencies to involve the public, take a hard look at the environmental consequences of its actions, and consider alternatives.

A recent Journal of Forestry article demonstrates the rationale for these rollbacks and attacks is baseless. Even without further “streamlining processes,” the Forest Service approved over 80% of projects between 2005-2018 by categorically excluding them from environmental analysis. The same study also showed that less than 1% of all projects were challenged in court.

Of course, this administration and industry proponents would never let facts change their story, especially when it plays on people’s fears and hopes. For years, those opposed to public land protection keep weaving nostalgic hints of returning to the good ole days when the mills were humming and the logging trucks filled with big trees, all the while knowing economics and automation make this impossible. At the same time, they use fear of wildfires as cover for industrial logging, sidestepping the reality that climate change and the historic drought gripping much of the West increases wildfire risks far more than cutting trees will ever address. The wildfires we see today matches what climate science tells us. If we truly want to see fewer large-scale wildfires, then we need to stop burning fossil fuels and do more to preserve intact, mature forests. Further, it is hubris to believe, and irresponsible to purport, that timber harvest will prevent wildfires. No one talks about hurricane-proofing the Gulf Coast, or tornado-proofing Oklahoma, but the Forest Service suggests if given enough latitude it can reduce forest fires – though the degree of which is left to the public’s imagination and that’s the point.

Ultimately, Secretary Perdue and the Trump administration believe national forests are little more than crops and the best, highest use for public lands is to exploit them with more logging, grazing, mining and drilling. The fact is, national forests and public lands are complex, living ecosystems with inherent value that deserves our moral consideration. These public lands are homes to grizzly bears, mountain goats, elk, trout, salmon and a whole host of other iconic wildlife species. Their survival depends on us, and we need to be better environmental citizens with our non-human neighbors.

America does need a “modernization blueprint” for the future of national forests, one that re-envisions their purpose so we can move beyond viewing forests simply as sources of lumber. In the 21st century, we need to strengthen forest protection, maximize the ability of national forests to serve as part of natural climate change solutions, and heal the scars left from decades of exploitation through true restoration, which cannot be done with a chainsaw.

Adam Rissien writes from Missoula, Montana where he’s the Rewilding Advocate of WildEarth Guardians. Learn more at

26 thoughts on “Sorry Secretary Sonny, Our National Forests Are Not Crops”

  1. Oh please; Wild Earth Guardians don’t agree with the Secretary on increasing NF output?

    Everyone has an opinion, mine is I would not support ANYTHING Wild Earth is saying….

  2. Rissien’s point is the same old stuff. I think we discussed the same speech here.
    and here
    And here is a post from Andy Stahl in 2017.

    Some things WEG folks say are more interesting than others. This is the same old stuff. I don’t know why it is news, given that he will probably not be Ag Sec next January and railing against him is not going to change anyone’s mind about voting in November.

    I’m just grateful that for the past three years, I’ve read daily stories about “how bad the Sec of Interior is”- and the FS was mostly left alone by monied critical entities.

    • Sharon: Isn’t your point “the same old stuff?” Isn’t Secretary Sonny Perdue’s point “the same old stuff?” Isn’t your point “I don’t know why it is news, given that he will probably not be Ag Sec next January and railing against him is not going to change anyone’s mind about voting in November” the same old stuff? You often have told us all that we should not put any stock or credence into what the people who are in charge of America’s public lands legacy say or do. Should we just all sit back and do nothing, remain silent?

      And Jim Zornes, thanks for basically offering us nothing in your comment. Why would you even bother to simply tell us “I would not support ANYTHING Wild Earth is saying….?”

      So, when WildEarth Guardians says “America does need a ‘modernization blueprint’ for the future of national forests, one that re-envisions their purpose so we can move beyond viewing forests simply as sources of lumber. In the 21st century, we need to strengthen forest protection, maximize the ability of national forests to serve as part of natural climate change solutions, and heal the scars left from decades of exploitation through true restoration” you don’t support that?

      I’m pretty sure the vast majority of the American people would support a statement like that.

      • My point was that there are many useful and wonderful proactive things to do, but railing against Perdue based on a visit to Montana (we had Burchfield’s and now Rissien) is not one of them.

        “re-envisions their purpose so we can move beyond viewing forests simply as sources of lumber” I think that this was done with MUSYA and NFMA so WEG is perhaps 50 years behind. It’s just rhetoric. I think we all agree on rhetoric but there’s a reason the expression “the devil’s in the details” exists. What is “true” restoration? Are people currently engaged in “false” restoration? Is using biomass a “natural” climate change solution or not?

        • While I agree it’s hard to clarify what “true” restoration is, I would say that it’s restoration that leaves a healthier forest long term. A truly restored forest would contain a vigorous and healthy understory, which forest that is thinned (over-thinned) and regularly burned does not normally have.

          WildEarth Guardians has put much action behind stopping or mitigating ecologically damaging “restoration” projects, and in participating in genuine restoration projects. Genuine restoration is generally very light-handed and works with the processes of the forest, and repairs ecological damage. Logging and and the heavy-handed fuel treatments the Forest Service normally does (“false restoration”) work against the natural processes of the forest and often leave behind dysfunctional ecosystems. Yes I know there is a lot of detail one could go into about this, but that most of the ecosystems left behind after Forest Service “restoration” projects in the Santa Fe National Forest are dysfunctional is obvious if one just goes out and takes a look.

          The language of restoration has really been altered in recent years and the words used often mean “false restoration”. I wrote an editorial about this for the ABQ Journal 2/16/20. I would like to share it if I may —

          Forest Management: the words matter
          by Sarah Hyden

          The words we use define how we think about things. In forest management, words are oftentimes used to mean something very different than what they have meant in the past.

          The U.S. Forest Service has proposed two large-scale tree removal and prescribed burning projects for the Santa Fe National Forest. They are also developing the basic blueprint for further projects – the revised Forest Plan.

          Past projects have resulted in barren, dry and ecologically unhealthy appearing forests. Prescriptions have called for removal of the vast majority of trees throughout large areas of forest, and for new growth to be burned off regularly so the forest understory never recovers. The Forest Service’s stated objective is to moderate fire behavior and increase forest health.

          The terms the Forest Service uses to describe its project goals and methods embody many unproven and incorrect assumptions about the effect of such draconian treatments on our forests and how useful they are in the cost/benefit analysis. This language makes it difficult for the public to think objectively about Forest Service proposals. Each of the following frequently used forest management terms sounds like restoration, but translates into widespread cutting and burning of our forests:

          • Forest restoration. Is removing the vast majority of anything restorative? Or is it destructive? Bringing in heavy equipment to cut down and chop up the majority of the trees throughout large sections of forest damages the forest floor. The soil becomes compacted and erodible, and the delicate structure both underneath the soil and of the forest understory gets torn up. The slash left behind can cause bark beetle outbreaks. Most past treated areas still appear barren and unhealthy.

          • Resilient forests. In their manual, the Forest Service defines resilience as the capacity of an ecosystem to return to its previous condition after such impacts as fire. Once a forest is largely cleared of trees and vegetation, it is much easier after a fire for the forest to return to its previous condition than would be the case for a fully functioning forest ecosystem with an abundant tree canopy and heathy understory. But is that resilience?

          • Thinning. Removing the vast majority of trees throughout large areas of forest is not thinning. It’s almost a clearcut. The word thinning sounds innocuous and beneficial, as in thinning a garden, but when the vast majority of vegetation is removed, the forest ecosystem becomes almost unrecognizable as forest.

          • Fuel treatments. Intensive tree removal and burning are called “fuel treatments.” The forest is alive. Trees and the surrounding understory are so much more than fuels that it greatly misrepresents the situation to simply call them fuels as if they are piles of firewood. The ecosystem is highly complex and sensitive to impacts, and we have not yet understood the consequences of such massive disturbances to it. The poor results of past thinning/burning projects makes this very clear.

          • Forest health. The Forest Service claims that widespread fuel treatments will increase forest health. Large-scale fuel treatments have not generally produced any apparent increase in forest health if that means a natural and functional ecosystem. The term “forest health” is used without a clear view about what it means in reality, how it can be achieved, or if it is even possible to increase forest health through intensive interventions in our dry southwestern forests.

          • Fire-adapted forests. Fire is natural to our forests. This term suggests that we can adapt to fire forests considered overgrown by the Forest Service by introducing a regimen of frequent low-intensity prescribed fire that would largely replace the natural fire regime, which includes fire of all intensities, even high-intensity fire. However, a mixed-intensity fire regime is essential for healthy functioning of the forest ecosystem. Also, a recent study indicates that the Forest Service has overestimated many-fold how often fire burned historically in our forests (William Baker, 2017). We can adapt forest communities to fire by fire-proofing structures and the 100-foot radius around homes.

          • Fire risk. There has so far been no successful effort to characterize what or where fire risk exists in our forest. The Forest Service commissioned a fire risk study for the Santa Fe “fireshed,” and it was based on a number of unproven and incorrect assumptions. Two well-respected scientists evaluated the fire risk assessment and found that it cannot reasonably be used to support forest management decisions.

          We need to look at what’s about to be done to our forests with a clearer view and using more objective terms. Newer research indicates the current approaches do not benefit our forests, or us, and can cause great harm to the ecosystem.

          What can you do? Engage with forest issues. Insist that the Forest Service do comprehensive analysis, an Environmental Impact Statement for both large-scale projects proposed for the Santa Fe National Forest. And support locally based environmental groups that are on the front lines of protecting our beautiful and irreplaceable forests.

          Sarah Hyden lives in Santa Fe

          • Restoration should include:
            1) Adjusting tree densities to match current precipitation levels
            2) Restoring resilient species compositions
            3) Restoring all-aged management strategies.

            Preservationists don’t want that.

            • Hi Larry,

              Many of us who want less interventions, and for interventions that do occur to be more light-handed and strategic, call ourselves conservationists, not preservationists. Maybe same thing, not sure. To address your points the best I am able (I am largely focused on the Santa Fe National Forest) —

              1) Tree densities will tend to adjust themselves to current precipitation levels. At least that is what I see here in the SFNF. Trees that don’t get enough moisture often die from drought stress, or they become weakened and succumb to insect attack. The weaker trees are culled out by natural selection processes, whereas in thinning projects the Forest Service has no truly reliable way to determine which trees are the weakest trees so they can preserve the strongest trees. They may be adversely impacting the genetics of treated areas. There are some very dense stands that may benefit from thinning, but I don’t have a strong opinion about that because I haven’t yet seen a thinning project in the SFNF that seems to have restored ecological integrity to the project area. Last year, I asked SFNF personnel in charge of the “restoration” projects ongoing and proposed in our local area SFNF to show me a thinning project that has achieved their desired condition in the eastside SFNF, where they had done a number of projects previously over the past decades. They could not. They had apparently have not achieved their desired condition even once, not even in one small area they could show us.

              2) I am not sure the Forest Service knows at this point what the current resilient species composition actually is for the SFNF, since they have not yet achieved the completion of a thinning/burning project that appears to have increased forest health. The results of past projects have been barren and ecologically dysfunctional landscape. The trees that naturally survive may be the most resilient ones in our current climate. Again, that does not mean I object to all treatments, but what is currently being done in the SFNF is clearly not working and needs to be fundamentally reconsidered. Instead the Forest Service wants to do vast projects with just an EA, even though they have by their own admission, never achieved their ecological purpose. This speaks to the importance of addressing Trump’s “modernization blueprint” as Adam Riessen did in the above article.

              3) I am not certain I understand this one, but it sounds like restoring the age structure of forest landscape? The most recent thinning project done here in the the local area SFNF was a section of the Hyde Park WUI Project. The prescription required all trees over 3′ and under 9 and 11 dbh to be mechanically removed. In that area, 9 and 11 dbh trees can be as much as 20′. So they have entirely removed a few age classes of trees. Many or most of the remaining trees under 3′ will likely succumb in the first of the broadcast prescribed burn along with any understory that tries to regenerate (and burns are repeated every 5-15 years), which is a part of almost all “restoration” projects. So at least in the most current project that embodies their current ecological knowledge and perspective, the age structure will be highly disrupted, not improved. There is theory, then there is the on-the-ground reality and the subsequent environmental consequences. It isn’t working. Maybe an entirely different approach would work, I honestly just don’t know. And the Forest Service doesn’t either. I believe they should have a workable plan before proceeding with more large-scale “restoration” projects.

              Here is an article from the WildEarth Guardians website, providing a general sketch of an alternative approach for the Santa Fe Mountains Project created by WildEarth Guardians, Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife. But the bottom line is that full analysis needs to be done, an EIS, since currently the Forest Service does not seem to know how to genuinely restore the SFNF.

     (please ignore this title, which was given to the article by the local paper and does not reflect the content of the article well)

              • 1),-106.802231,298m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

                Tell us again how drought, bark beetles and wildfire will reduce this forest’s stocking levels to optimum? Well, if you move slightly northward from there, you’ll see a thinned forest. Could you comment on that thinned forest, please? It appears that you don’t think human-caused wildfires are an issue in the SFNF. Thinning projects are for long term restoration, with short term impacts that take a few years to disappear (if done right).

                2) The thinned area north of my example seems to be functional, with adequate canopy cover. It doesn’t seem barren, and the spacing seems fine. I’m not a fan of cutting big trees, while leaving a little one to take its place. I’m assuming that is some of what you may be seeing. To me, economics makes a poor “purpose and need”. Thinning from below often helps to adjust species composition, too.

                3) I’m not a fan of cutting those large trees, unless they are an imminent hazard, (in your WUI). It sounds like the rationale for cutting the big trees is wrong. Larger trees are more fire-resistant and resilient. The assumption that controlled burns will kill the remaining stand seems a bit premature. Firefighters can and do accomplish successful prescribed burns, with excellent results. I’ve also seen the reverse, too. In the WUI, we NEED to have fire safety from increased human ignitions. The trend is that human-caused wildfires are, indeed, increasing, and we must not gloss over that fact.

                If you think the locals are breaking rules, laws and policies, feel free to take them to court.

                • Taking the local Forest Service to court has been done here, with some success and some failure, but overall the mismanagement marches on. The forces are strong.

                  I don’t know where the area is that you showed me. It doesn’t look good to me, and I see numerous dying standing trees, which often does happen after thinning projects. You can’t really tell how an area is functioning ecologically by an aerial view, but I can tell you that on-the-ground the highly thinned and burned areas look very bad ecologically.

                  I don’t at all think allowing to some extent natural processes to do the “restoration” and keeping projects limited is optimal. It’s just that everything else seems much worse. We are in a bad situation here due to a number of factors, including Forest Service mis-management, and lack of monitoring and sufficient analysis. Also lack of taking current research into account outside of a relatively narrow perspective.

                  I think human caused fires are a very big issue, and believe addressing human behaviors is the best way to address this issue, although in come cases limited and strategic fuel treatments might help. Even not properly maintaining electrical lines is a human caused factor. Las Conchas was sparked by a poorly maintained electrical line that blew down on a dry and windy day. I know people who were there during that fire, and they told me that thinned areas did not slow that fire down at all, and it would even re-burn areas already burned to a crisp. Cerro Grande of course was started by human behavior, a prescribed burn done in inappropriate weather. The Pacheco Fire was caused by a campfire gone out of control. Some of these things can be addressed by changing human behaviors, such as long forest closures during the hot dry season. Or limiting prescribed burns and being very specific about when and where they are done.

                  Fuel breaks don’t work well during the very hot megafires that occur during optimal fire weather. Not to say they don’t work at all, but it comes down to the cost/benefit analysis of the ecological damage caused by treatments vs. the ecological benefit and potential for mitigation of fire behavior, and I have not seen that the cost/benefit analysis falls on the side of doing intensive and widespread treatments.

                  Also the constant prescribed burn smoke has become a very big pubic health problem here. I do not buy the aphorism the Forest Service gives us “you either breathe the smoke from prescribed burns or wildfire”. There are many reasons why that is not a reasonable comparison, but the main point is that they have no proof of that statement. Project planning by aphorism is not acceptable.

                  I am far from being any kind of expert, and I was just telling you what I have observed. I do believe that W. Baker’s 2017 study that suggests the historical fire return in the SF watershed is much more than estimated by Forest Service/USGS scientists (Baker estimates 55 years on average for dry mixed conifer and ponderosa), and that the estimate the Forest Service is operating on for the historical fire return (5-15 years) is possibly not correct, is likely an important part of the explanation for the bad condition of treated areas in our forest. They are over-burned after they are over-thinned, and the understory is never allowed to meaningfully return, with major ecological consequences.

                  I appreciate the concerted efforts on this site to work out forest policy issues for the benefit of our forests, but we are a long way from those refinements in the SFNF. We just need the basics to work with, monitoring and analysis incorporating a broad range of research. Also including the public in the process and following both the spirit and law of NEPA, or of whatever is left of it.

                  So I have to leave working out the details to those of you more qualified, but my point, at least for the SFNF is it’s not that easy and we need the basics to be done by the Forest Service, and we will do everything in our power to get that to happen. Because our forest is precious to us and in process of being highly damaged, and we don’t know what the ultimate price of this trajectory with USFS projects will be.

        • Some of these terms are outcomes and some are practices. For the former, I’m hoping that those who are revising the Santa Fe National Forest plan (and others) are talking about “desired conditions” for forested ecosystems. That has a definition in the Planning Rule: “a description of specific social, economic, and/or ecological characteristics of the plan area, or a portion of the plan area, toward which management of the land and resources should be directed. Desired conditions must be described in terms that are specific enough to allow progress toward their achievement to be determined, but do not include completion dates.”

          Instead of using euphemisms and terms subject to value-laden interpretation, there should be discussions of defining desired conditions for an ecosystem (including Larry’s #1 & 2): exactly what the vegetation should look like (vertical and horizontal structure, including the understory), how it should be distributed (i.e. for connectivity), and what sort of fire regime (frequency, intensity) would produce that. If it’s going to be different in some places for non-ecological reasons, those reasons should be identified as “values at risk,” and an area managed with different desired conditions must be identified as a management area.

          For the management practices, if the desired outcome is defined for a national forest through the forest planning process (and the more specific the better), there shouldn’t be the same level of confusion (obfuscation? distrust?) about what tools or treatments are appropriate when planning projects (Larry’s #3).

          • Yes, but that is not being done. The Scoping Document for the Santa Fe Mountains Project is so general and non-site specific as to be fairly useless for what you describe. Condition-based approach. The desired condition comes from GTR-310, and it is based mostly on data points from forest around Flagstaff, not really relevant to the SFNF.

            Most of the Forest Service analysis and research around here is based on unproven and questionable assumptions. So there is little trust. They do very little monitoring. They perform land experiments and do not collect the data to understand the results. They say it will be different this time, and yet are unwilling to do the appropriate level of analysis. It’s a very bad situation and our forest is paying the price, and so are we.

            Given that after decades, the Forest Service can’t point to a thinning project that they call successful, that meets the criteria of their desired condition, for the time being refinements don’t seem very relevant.

            • I was focusing on things that need to be done with the revised plan that would help with future project planning. I’m surprised they are using off-site data for desired conditions.

              For a project today they’ll have to bring the best available science to bear on the effects they expect to result. Much as the Forest Service likes to monitor, that is funding dependent (and it wouldn’t surprise me that monitoring likely to reveal bad things about active management would not be a high priority for the agency). That can generate a need for citizen science to provide information that at least raises questions that the Forest Service will have to address in a public process. Keeping in mind that scientific controversy about the effects of an action is one of the “significance” triggers for an EIS.

              • Hi Jon,

                There are several significance triggers that require an EIS. The Forest Service is clearly just choosing not to do it, and they can do that unless conservation groups take them to court. I hope that will happen. Meanwhile we are trying to apply public pressure. Such a lot of work just to try to get them to follow NEPA law. The aggravation you may hear in my words is that they are requiring this of us, when this project and the other very large project they have proposed for the SFNF clearly require an EIS. And that they are unwilling to consider a full range of research, they limit themselves to a narrow range of research that supports their fuel treatment perspective.

                The health impacts from so much prescribed burning are very bad. Many people have testified at County Commission and City Council meeting about how bad the impacts of the the prescribed burn smoke here are on their health, and the cost to their lives. The Forest Service refuses to monitor human health impacts. Also the public stated these concerns in the the Santa Fe Mountain Project scoping comments, but those public comments were withheld from the public. We have posted all the public comments on The Forest Advocate (we obtained them through FOIA) and did a page of representative excerpts. Talk about controversy about the impacts of the project on the human environment…..

                Check these out, just takes a few minutes.


                • I’ve never heard of withholding public comments from the public – scoping notices usually warn commenters that their comments would be public. (I’ve also never heard of any regional forester authority to make exceptions to the roadless rule.)

                  This reminds me of the “old” Forest Service: “If I take the time to do an EIS I won’t meet my targets for the year.” And there’s probably no consequence for having a court tell you should have done an EIS. But maybe I’m wrong ….

                  • There may not be actual requirements for sharing scoping comments, but the Preamble to the FS NEPA regulations refers to scoping as a “collaboration process,” which would give me the expectation that everyone knows who is saying what, and I don’t think the FS could characterize something as “collaborative” if there is a lack of transparency about public comments. (The “old” Forest Service wasn’t into collaboration either.)

  3. Mr Koehler’s re-post struck me as being long on opinion and short on facts. I’ve delayed my comment to gather some relevant facts —

    Adam Rissien’s recent op-ed presented arguments opposing U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue’s directive to increase the timber harvest from national forests. Unfortunately Mr. Rissien failed to include pertinent facts that indicate the urgent need to increase the management intensity of the timber resource.
    Over the past 3 decades the timber harvest from western national forests has declined by 83% while mortality has increased by 140%. Virtually unmanaged, aging, over-dense, and fire-prone timber stands lack the resilience to survive the stresses of a changing climate
    Conditions on Montana’s national forests reflect the deterioration of the west’s federal timber resources. More timber dies than grows on the states’ forests.The annual timber growth is 600 Million Cubic Feet (MMcf) while 643 MMcf is lost to fire, insects and disease. The forests are currently harvesting about 5% of the annual growth.
    Timber is a renewable resource. With careful management our public forests can, provide a never-ending supply of this valuable commodity along with the other ecosystem services of energy (biomass, hydro, solar, wind), water, forage, recreation, and wildlife.
    The world is changing. new times demand new measures. A “hands off” approach to the impacts of climate change, as advocated by Mr. Riessen, means a continuing degradation of our nation’s woodlands. Prudent husbandry, not abandonment, is the rational approach to preparing our national forests for the future.
    Data sources –

    • Hi Mac McConnell. Thanks for sharing your “old-school” perspective. In modern times, many people (including some of America’s top scientists and researchers) view national forests as ecosystems, places where threatened and endangered species find refuge, places that provide clear water, promote biodiversity and help combat the climate crisis.

      Also, you are mistaken in assumption that Secretary Sonny’s “Modernization Blueprint” was all about logging.

      A large part of the memorandum was about “streamline processes” (ie less science, less research, less citizen input) to expand “energy dominance” (dom·i·nance /ˈdämənəns/ noun: power and influence over others).

      Sure, Sonny also got up in front of the Good Ole Boys to promote reducing “regulatory burdens (ie less science, less research, less citizen input) to promote active management (ie industrial logging and roadbuilding) on Forest Service lands.” Apparently, the fact that essentially the ENTIRE timber base of the ENTIRE National Forest system can be logged via various “categorical exclusions” from the National Environmental Policy Act isn’t enough.

      Sec Sonny also wants to “streamline renewal of range permits” for livestock grazing on National Forests. Most of these were already done (if they were done at all) using CE’s, but apparently “”categorical excluding” something from NEPA isn’t “streamlined” enough. Let’s remember that right now 102 million acres of the 193 million acres under the Forest Service’s administration is already open to livestock grazing, for just 6,250 permit holders in the entire U.S. These ranchers pay $1.35 per month per a cow and her calf for this privilege, which comes at a tremendous cost to US taxpayers, native wildlife, clear water and threatened and endangered species.

      Sec Sonny also wants to “streamline” the permit process for recreational activities on National Forests. As has been documented by Forrest Fleischman and others, the vast, vast majority of the “permit process for recreational activities on National Forests” is already done by CE’s, but apparently being “categorically excluded” from the requires of NEPA isn’t “streamlined” enough.

      Mac, you also claim “A ‘hands off’ approach to the impacts of climate change, as advocated by Mr. Riessen [sic]….” Yet, Adam Rissien never in any way, shape or form “advocated a ‘hands off’ approach to the impacts of climate change. In fact, you can see here and here numerous specific examples of where Rissien, and WildEarth Guardians, supports a very “hands on” approach.

      Anyway, Mac, sorry, but we don’t see eye to eye and your “lectures” really just expose you “old school” ideas for what they are: A blast from the past, and a monument to a way of thinking that, thankfully, is becoming a thing of the past.

  4. Hi Matthew,
    Adam Rissien is the “Rewilding” Advocate for Wild Earth. ” Rewilding”, by definition (restore an area of land to its natural uncultivated state) would seem to be essentially a hands off action. It is based on the hope that a return to nature will solve solve the problems created by non-management

    On the other hand, the the results of three decades of hands off management of national forest timber is clearly visible on the ground and thoroughly documented in the literature, as summarize in my recent letter to the Missoulian
    Prudent forest management is best approach
    Jul 9, 2020

    Adam Rissien’s recent opinion (June 28 guest column) presented arguments opposing U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue’s directive to increase the timber harvest from national forests. Unfortunately, Rissien failed to include pertinent facts that indicate the urgent need to increase the management intensity of the timber resource.

    Over the past three decades, the timber harvest from Western national forests has declined by 83% while mortality has increased by 140%. Virtually unmanaged, aging, over-dense and fire-prone timber stands lack the resilience to survive the stresses of a changing climate
    Conditions on Montana’s national forests reflect the deterioration of the west’s federal timber resources. More timber dies than grows on the states’ forests. The annual timber growth is 600 million cubic feet (MMcf) while 643 MMcf is lost to fire, insects and disease. The forests are currently harvesting about 5% of the annual growth.

    Timber is a renewable resource. With careful management, our public forests can provide a never-ending supply of this valuable commodity along with the other ecosystem services of energy (biomass, hydro, solar, wind), water, forage, recreation and wildlife.

    The world is changing. New times demand new measures. A “hands off” approach to the impacts of climate change, as advocated by Riessen, means a continuing degradation of our nation’s woodlands. Prudent husbandry, not abandonment, is the rational approach to preparing our national forests for the future.

    W.V. (Mac) McConnell
    Land Use Planner, Forester
    Tallahassee, Florida
    You can verify the statistics at the following:

    I like to think that my “lectures” and “Old School” ideas are based on verifiable statistics. To ignore the facts can only lead to disaster.

    • Howdy Mac. I’ve known Adam for over 20 years and we work together at WildEarth Guardians. It seems to me that you have a lot to learn about the concepts of “rewilding” and “restoration.” Just because science-based “rewilding” and “restoration” don’t include the type of resource exploitation some in your generation are still, apparently, so very proud of (despite the fact that it got us into this ecological mess) doesn’t mean it’s “hands-off.” I also think it would surprise many people, including employees of the USFS, to learn that the U.S. Forest Service has engaged in solely “hands off management” since 1990, according to you. Happy trails.

  5. Actually, national forest lands that have been designated as suitable for timber production are literally expected to produce crops. Here’s the definition of “timber production” from the Planning Rule: “The purposeful growing, tending, harvesting, and regeneration of regulated crops of trees to be cut into logs, bolts, or other round sections for industrial or consumer use.” While it’s arguably possible to have regulated crops of trees that also contribute ecological value, timber volume is going to end up driving projects there, and I think the public is missing the boat on how important it is that the next round of forest plans designate as little of the national forest as possible as suitable for timber production. Forest plans could still allow timber harvest when that helps achieve desired landscape conditions.

  6. Jon: I worked very hard as Deputy Chief to get rid of “suitable for timber production” lands and language from the 2000 version of NFMA regs, echoing your thinking. The Act made that very difficult, but some progress emerged. Then 2000 regs were dumped by Bush admin. It took until 2012 version to create a lasting rule. My thinking was that the bulk of timber harvesting should be done under stewardship contracting and for purposes other than simple boards (like fire risk reduction, wildlife hab enhancement).

    • Jim, was it this section of NFMA that was the problem?
      “(k) In developing land management plans pursuant to this Act, the Secretary shall identify lands within the management area which are not suited for timber production, considering physical, economic, and other pertinent factors to the extent feasible, as determined by the Secretary, and shall assure that, except for salvage sales or sales necessitated to protect other multiple-use values, no timber harvesting shall occur on such lands for a period of 10 years. Lands once identified as unsuitable for timber production shall continue to be treated for reforestation purposes, particularly with regard to the protection of other multiple-use values. The Secretary shall review his decision to classify these lands as not suited for timber production at
      least every 10 years and shall return these lands to timber production whenever he determines that conditions have changed so that they have become suitable for timber production. “?

      Pesky old statutes!

      Note, others than the Bush administration had concerns about the 2000 Planning Rule. I was working at the Office of Science and Technology Policy while it was clearing OMB, and some of their reviewers were concerned about the cost. I thought it looked like a full employment program for historic vegetation ecologists. …

  7. I don’t think designating as little land as possible for timber production is a good idea. Possibly timber production could be allowed in other designations, but usually it isn’t. It is difficult enough to get timber production from the lands designated for timber production. Now maybe if it was acknowledged that timber production has a place across the forest, it might make sense. Also it is not like all lands designated for timber production end up degraded. Most of these lands are being managed to insure trees for the future and desired landscape conditions.

  8. Kind of lengthy to get into, but… NFMA was intended to curb, not promote timber harvest. But the orig regs (1982) came out very timber centric anyway. Bob, Siuslaw (which we’re both familiar with) is a good example. Timber-dominated agenda continued unabated til it crashed in court. “Timber production”, on public lands, should seldom be the driving force. I’m actually a devotee of thoughtful and humble logging. In my view, it’s best use is in service of other goals. Logging the crap out of NF’s in the misguided belief that they can be “regulated” for timber production created manifold problems.

    And Sharon, I heard plenty about the mantra about costs of the 2001 regs. We’ll never know will we? But I do know this — even with “streamlined” and “improved” regs, the pathetic, decades-long failure to keep plans current and responsive to changes in society and other conditions (eg climate change) is a professional embarrassment.


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