I’m not a fan of abstractions in general, so I hesitate to introduce a new one into the lexicon. But if folks are going to use them, then I guess each person should be able to select and define our own. I will define “coastalism” as the tendency (conscious or unconscious) to see problems and solutions through the eye of a person living in a coastal environment. In the case of the US, that would be the East and West coasts. This is often coupled with a tendency to focus on scientific findings from coastal universities; policy recommendations of NGO’s with coastal boards and coastal headquarters, media from… coasts.. and so on. And often the people and organizations have not visited nor lived among non-Coastal peoples, except as tourists.
Coasts tend to have wetter forests and ideas like “leaving forests alone is the best thing for them” tend to have more of a grip there, because naturally (generally) they would just go on and on until some non-fire disturbance happens.
The history and funding of forest science has had a coastal bias in itself. For example, at Pringle Falls Experimental Forests in the early 80’s, we (the Area 4 Central Oregon silviculture folks) had a class taught by (terrific professors!) Bruce Larsen and Chad Oliver. We studied many models of species that were light limited; there were no models of trees that were water-limited. In our area, also, we hired a full-time reforestation specialist to experiment with planting, as the information we received from Doug-fir country didn’t work for drier areas.
It made some sense at the time to have that focus, as folks on the West side did more intensive management, and there was money related to that. However, we might ask if that coastalism still fits the needs of Oregon, given the overwhelming need to deal with fuels and living with fire in the fire-prone parts of Oregon. Which actually may compose more acres in the State.
Now, I don’t intend to give folks at OSU a hard time. My own Ph.D. professor, Tom Adams, was an OSU prof. They do terrific work. But it’s legitimate to wonder if OSU were located in Baker, or John Day, or even Bend, would the science produced be different? And of course, funding sources like NSF may also have a coastal bias. Since we don’t tend to look at things with that abstraction in mind, we might not observe it.
I wonder if the East Side 21-inch rule might never have been put in place were it not for West Side ideas about old growth colonizing (the idea, that is, not the old growth trees) the East Side? It took almost 30 years for folks on the East side to do their own research and find out…er… it doesn’t work? (We have applauded this co-designed and co-produced research on TSW before). I never thought of it as an antidote to Coastalism in science before.
Anyway, here is a news story (thank you NAFSR!) on the findings of the study.
“Historical conditions were much better suited for old growth trees,” said Johnston. “Since we began to suppress fires that maintained open stands of widely spaced old trees, competition from young trees, including fairly large fir that established in the absence of fire, is killing old growth trees faster than they can be replaced.”
Diameter limits were widely adopted by Forest Service managers throughout the 1990s, Johnston said, in the face of social and legal pressure to conserve old growth habitat. Eastern Oregon’s diameter rule was supposed to be temporary as the Forest Service put together a comprehensive ecosystem management plan, but that process stalled, meaning the 21-inch rule is now 25 years past its original sunset date.
“With the Forest Service’s 21-inch rule for eastern Oregon, even stands that could be restored to their historical basal areas still had a lot more shade-tolerant trees than they did historically,” Greenler said. “But allowing the larger shade-tolerant trees to be removed helps reduce competition around old growth trees and improves their chances in the face of future stress.”
Here’s a link to the Ecosphere paper which is open-source. Thank you, Johnston et al.! And all the partners!