Recent posts in this blog have advocated cessation or reduction of logging as a cure for poor water quality, erosion and other problems that may occur with timber harvesting. The three decade nationwide decline in timber harvesting on our national forests has been a long-term test of the validity of this proposal. This de facto experiment has revealed the critical need for more active management of the timber resource.
While this 30 year decline occurred nationwide, the impacts have been most severe in the West.
Figure 1 graphically depicts the changes that occurred on western forests during this period of limited harvest.
In the west in the early 1990s the United States Forest Service was cutting about 40% of the growth while 30% died.
In 2016 the USFS in the west cut 7% of the growth while 75% died.
Figure 1 tells its story clearly and succinctly. On a more localized scale, Figure 2 reveals the recent condition of the timber resources in the Northern Region of the U.S. Forest Service (R-1). It is an example of the how this involuntary virtual shut-down of logging is playing out in the real world.
The results are clear: a tiny cut, massive mortality, and negative net growth.
The enormous economic and social impacts of this operational shift have been documented extensively elsewhere.
However, the effect of widespread tree mortality on climate change often is overlooked. The large reduction in oxygen producing leaf area plus the addition of a huge volume of decomposing (CO2 generating) dead trees only can accelerate this unfolding global calamity.
The solution to these problems is not less management but better management: the universal use of Better Management Practices and the corrections of the many causes of management impotence.
Among the most frequently cited of these causes are:
- over-regulation (a tangle of shifting, restrictive, unclear, and often conflicting laws, regulations, executive orders, written and unwritten policies, and judicial mandates)
- serial litigation
- over planning and analysis (appeal-proofing proposals and reports)
A combined effort by timber interests, the environmental community and the USFS aimed at removing these impediments could be a productive strategy moving towards prudent husbandry of our public lands.
Logging opponents are urged to study the charts and consider their implications. Comments would be welcomed.