Annual harvest, net timber growth, and tree mortality in all National Forest timberlands between 1962 and 2016

This chart from a recent fact sheet by the Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials (CORRIM) illustrates the challenge of managing national forests: Timber mortality is increasing and net growth decreasing.


33 thoughts on “Annual harvest, net timber growth, and tree mortality in all National Forest timberlands between 1962 and 2016”

    • Hi Billy: If you look closely at the graph, the problems started in the late 1980s with a combination of reduced logging and a corresponding increased number of wildfires — as predicted.

  1. Three cheers for mortality! There’s still a severe shortage of large nags across the western landscape. In a natural forest growth and mortality would be in balance over large scales of space and time.

    Counterintuitively, fire and other forms of mass tree mortality (eg regen harvest) actually represent a loss of snags, not a gain. While there are some extra snags in the short-term, the loss of green tree population will result in a long-lasting shortage of snags after the snags fall and before the stand begins producing large snags again from the next cohort.

    We’re not doing forestry unless and until we’re doing morticulture.

    Harmon, Mark 1999. Moving towards a New Paradigm for Woody Detritus Management. in Proceedings of the Symposium on the Ecology and Management of Dead Wood in Western Forests. PSW-GTR-181.

    Rose, C.L., Marcot, B.G., Mellen, T.K., Ohmann, J.L., Waddell, K.L., Lindely, D.L., and B. Schrieber. 2001. Decaying Wood in Pacific Northwest Forests: Concepts and Tools for Habitat Management, Chapter 24 in Wildlife-Habitat Relationships in Oregon and Washington (Johnson, D. H. and T. A. O’Neil. OSU Press. 2001)

    • 2ndLaw: Those ideas are 20 years old, and they were very debatable even then. The fact is we now have a superabundance of snags that are posing a constant wildfire risk to adjacent lands and to wildlife. Their “ecological importance” has been grossly exaggerated by a small handful of academics, from my perspective, resulting in billions of dollars of unnecessary damage and horrific wildlife mortality. A “shortage of snags” is a really subjective opinion, as well as highly debatable from an ecological perspective, or other.

      Note: Mark Harmon most recently coauthored a peer with DellaSala and Hanson. That says a lot, too.

    • >> “a severe shortage of large snags across the western landscape.”

      Seriously, 2nd Law?

      According to the Congressional Research Service, “From 2012 to 2021, there were an average of 61,289 wildfires annually and an average of 7.4 million acres impacted annually. In 2021, 58,968 wildfires burned 7.1 million acres.” This report was issued a few days ago.

      The vast majority of those acres were in the west. 7.4 million x 10 years = 74 million acres. How many million snags are on those acres? If there were 100 trees per acre (there were probably many more), that’s 7.4 BILLION snags. A lot of them are (were) old-growth and mature trees. Let’s say there were an average of one old-growth and mature tree per acre (there were probably many more). That’s 74 million old-growth and mature snags. Let’s say 10% were harvested (the actual number is likely far less). That’s 66.3 million old-growth and mature snags.

      This does not include trees that died from insect attack, disease, drought, etc.


  2. It looks like stopping logging didn’t save the trees. It looks like our current management of our forests isn’t very successful if you like trees that are alive. Maybe it’s time we come up with some new ideas. It seems obvious to me saying we are going to save the forest by making it all off limits to forest management (except fire) doesn’t really work.

  3. If you manage in order to preserve trees, you eventually kill the forest type that you are trying to preserve.
    I guess that’s OK if you are only interested in preserving, for your lifetime, the aesthetics and species being replaced by evolution. But, that doesn’t seem to be working out too well as Bob Zybach explained. Funny how evolutionists want to stop evolution when it suits their interest.

    Mortality exceeding growth – So much for carbon capture. But, then carbon capture is just more quackery since we know that ice cores from two different parts of the world show that it’s been hotter with only half of the atmospheric carbon than we have now. People like to feel important so they find a cause without any effort to investigate the veracity of the claims.

    I guess faux science is OK if you don’t mind wild swings in sustainability, humongous ash trays and a lot of conversion from forest lands to non-forest lands as the loss of healthy forest land changes the climate.

    Bob Sproul: Unproven “New ideas” (aka adaptive management) are what got us into this mess. The solution is to turn forest management back over to the scientifically trained professionals instead of letting a collection of uninformed “Chicken Little’s” set forest policy based on their emotions and fears rising out of their ignorance.

    Ignorance seems to reign. The laws of plant physiology are ignored at our loss.
    Just more rampant “woke” nonsense.

  4. “The solution is to turn forest management back over to the scientifically trained professionals instead of” giving the public a voice in managing their forests. Just more rampant “MAGA” nonsense.

      • Just a believer that Congress decided in NFMA to give the public more of a role in deciding how to manage national forests (after considering the best available science, rather than fringe views.)

        • I agree that more public involvement in planning would be great. I’ve never seen or experienced it, though. Special interest groups, government bureaucrats, lawyers, and academics have always seemed to dominate these attempts with very little practical input from knowledgable locals directly affected by these “plans.” Public theatre, dozens of obscure acronyms, legal rulings, picayunish details, and thousands of pages of poorly written “reports” always seem to dominate the process, which all-too-often seems to end up in court at the additional cost to taxpayers. Then unemployment, wildfires, dead wildlife, and choking smoke. Maybe it’s only Oregon.

  5. I am troubled by the incomplete model being proposed that wood stores carbon and the forest grows back, so no worries, harvest has no effect on climate change. It’s not that simple and shouldn’t be presented as such. Without accounting for all the carbon inputs that go into the planting, managing, harvesting, processing, distributing, and product lifespan of wood products, it’s an incomplete picture that very well could have greater carbon outputs than storage. For example, forests are harvested so that I get junk mail. My junk mail isn’t storing carbon, it’s a total waste of carbon from beginning to end.

    As to what’s causing the mortality, it’s a lack of landscape-level active forest management (way too many smaller trees and surface fuel buildup) interacting with climate change (increasing beetles and wildfire).

    • I don’t think that not doing something can be a cause. I would say the increase in mortality is caused by stopping the natural processes that would have reduced the smaller trees and surface fuel build-up (interacting with climate change). Active management may be a solution in some cases.

  6. Billy Chaphan said “Any ideas on what began happening just before 2006?”

    The graph is pretty low resolution. BUT after 2003, the acreage burned increased significantly.

    This was the result of removing qualified immunity for Federal firefighters by legislation authored by Senator Cantwell of Washington state. The legislation was the direct result of the 30 Mile fatalities on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

    The Federal fire teams noticed and became much less aggressive in fire suppression actions. Over time, this has become the “new standard” in wildland fire suppression. The current National teams, have lost significant numbers of Federal firefighters that have been replaced by state and local employees with immunity protection.

    The change in numbers was even noticed by Governor Brown of Oregon when she commented that Federal employees were “missing” on teams.

    Not saying this change is good or bad, but it was a significant change directly tied to Senator Cantwell in my opinion.

    • “This was the result of removing qualified immunity for Federal firefighters by legislation authored by Senator Cantwell of Washington state. The legislation was the direct result of the 30 Mile fatalities on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.”

      A citation by the author, Vladimir, would be helpful for this claim. I believe the author misunderstands what went down.

      The U.S. attorney filed criminal charges of manslaughter and making false statements against the 30-Mile fire crew chief. Those charges were filed under existing law, i.e., no new law was needed to prosecute the federal employee. Although such charges are unusual, no public employee (firefighter or not) should think themselves above the law when it comes to their workplace, e.g., if you murder someone “on the clock,” it’s still murder.

      The 30-Mile fire did catalyze new legislation, but that new law has nothing to do with immunity (qualified or absolute). The law Senator Cantwell sponsored requires that USDA’s Office of Inspector General investigate federal employee fatalities resulting from entrapment or burnovers, i.e., the law removes this category of investigations from the Forest Service to OIG.

      • The impact on acreage burned was not due to the filing of criminal charges against Ellreese Daniels.

        It was Senator Cantwell’s “witch hunt” against the Forest Supervisor, Fire Staff, District Ranger, and Administrative Officer. The nearest of which were 20 miles or so from the burn over site.

        It has been almost twenty years since those days and I was on the edge of it working on the Forest and on fire teams as a PIO. These are MY observations.

        The Department of Justice was on the verge of filing charges on the four. They had to get personal lawyers to defend themselves.

        THAT is what caught the attention of fire teams. The four principals had a very good reputation in the fire community and the thought was “IF they are going after those four, what chance do I stand?”

        Many Federal firefighters took retirement at that point, and many in the “militia” decided to stop doing fires. The Forest Service, after Cantwell’s legislation passed, paid part of the liability insurance for Federal firefighters for 1 million dollars of coverage.

        Is there any decision a IC or OPS makes on a fire that results in less than a million dollars of liability?? By definition, somebody dies on a fire, the standard fire fighting orders in hindsight were probably not followed on a minute to minute basis.

        In my opinion, that resulted in the significant increase in burned acreage starting in 2003. Nobody was going to take a chance on losing their life’s estate on a split second decision on a fire.

        That is why the acreage burned jumped after 2003.

        That is the simplest explanation. Wildland landscapes across the west do not respond that quickly.

        BTW. Increased burned acreage as a result of fire teams being more conservative in their approach to fire fighting is NOT necessarily a bad thing.

        • Vladimir: Few would dispute that “safety first” policies have changed how fires are managed. Few would dispute that “safety first” resulted from too many dead firefighters, e.g., Storm King Mountain and 30-Mile.

          Where I question your causality thesis is the role personal civil or criminal liability plays in firefighting practices. Every first responder at every level of government, from EMTs to police to structural firefighters, work in an environment replete with opportunities for liability. However, for reasons peculiar to the insular world of the U.S. Forest Service, it seems to have gotten that memo very late in the game. Other state and local first responders have been purchasing liability insurance for years before the Forest Service realized that there can be legal consequences for an employee’s tortious or criminal conduct. Who knew? The insurance is pretty cheap, too. Much less than a doctor pays for malpractice insurance.

          Thirty Mile was a clusterf___ from the outset. But, you know that — you were there.

          PS: A meteorological explanation for acreage burned can be found in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which correlates nicely. So, too, does women’s skirt heights, but inversely.

          • You make some valid points..

            However, it was a shock to Forest Service employees particularly with Senator Cantwell’s “witch hunt” procedures.

            My point, is that with the immunity issue and potential and actual criminal prosecution of Forest Service employees for actions while fighting fires CHANGED how fires were managed after Senator Cantwell’s actions.

            The increase in burned acreage starting in 2003 is a reflection of her actions. It was NOT a environmental effect, but rather a political one.

          • .It was a shock to Forest Service employees particularly with Senator Cantwell’s “witch hunt” procedures.

            My point, is that with the immunity issue and potential and actual criminal prosecution of Forest Service employees for actions while fighting fires CHANGED how fires were managed after Senator Cantwell’s actions.

            The steep increase in burned acreage starting in 2003 is a reflection of her actions. It was NOT a environmental effect, but rather a political one.

            So much of 30-mile reporting focused on the fire and fatalities. That’s fine and appropriate, but there has been little discussion on how the political effects changed wildland firefighting policies.

            • Hi Vladmimir: I would agree that politics have greatly changed wildfire fighting policies, but more indirectly and beginning in 1987 and the Silver Complex Fires and followed by the 1988 Yellowstone Fire and the increasing severity and extent of USFS and BLM wildfires since.

              Look at the budgets and the ever-increasing need of seasonal manpower from that time until now. I, and others, have been accurately predicting these events for several decades, based on increasingly passive federal forest management policies and adoption of the 1989 Equal Access to Justice Act. Wildernesses, roadless areas, streamside buffers, and ESA HCPs have been fueling these events and resulting in evermore dangerous conditions for increasing numbers of inexperienced workers. Insurance costs go up and worker capability goes down, same as always.

              My position has long been that these should be year-around positions hiring legal, local workers and combining fuel treatments, road and trail maintenance, tree planting, and weed control with firefighting, as the need arises.

              • I was involved in a fair amount of Forest Service appeals and litigation when I worked for them and I don’t recall ever hearing anyone bring up potential EAJA fees as a reason for a land management decision, or really even as a reason for proceeding with a lawsuit or not. (But if others saw this somewhere, please chime in.)

  7. Neither do I.

    However, in a side note. The recreation Program on the Wenatchee NF lost a lawsuit and we paid EAJA fees.

    I did, at a public meeting, mention the EXACT AMOUNT of EAJA fees that recreation program paid for a recent lawsuit.

    The Forest Supervisor got a LOT of calls from the environmental community that it wasn’t fair to disclose the EAJA fees to the public.

    My argument was that I share ALL the recreation budget information with anybody that asks and on my seven page budget spreadsheet that is shown as a cost. That we need to be transparent with the American public on what we do….we work for the AMERICAN PEOPLE.

    His response, quit talking about it in public.

    • It would be great to have these fees made readily available to the public, which pays them. Nonprofits do not pay taxes that go toward the management of our public lands, but they do collect EAJA funds when they win certain lawsuits. Double-whammy for taxpayers, and often the winning lawsuits keep people from working and paying taxes. You could look it up.

    • Vladimir, that’s an interesting question you raise. I am with you on transparency. My understanding was that DOJ was unwilling to release the figures to the public. They always seem to play by different rules, so I accepted it. When I worked in the Region, I never saw those figures.

      I wonder why folks wouldn’t consider it “fair”? Anyone?
      I also wonder why the view of not-releasing has such holding power across administrations of different colors? This reminds me of Chief Jack Ward Thomas and these quotes from his journal in an earlier post from 2011.
      P 132

      “One of the most stunning facts that I have learned over the past year is that, in its ability to independently determine whether or not to proceed with any legal activity, the Department of Justice wields the greatest capacity to set policy of any agency of the government. I naively assumed that the chief of the Forest Service made the decision as to whether to pursue a court action. Not even the undersecretary or the secretary makes those decisions. Such can merely request and suggest. The Department of Justice decides- the agency can proprose and the Department of Justice disposes. That power is not well understood even by students of the internal workings of government. If the policy-setting power of the lawyers in the Department of Justice were well understood, I don’t think anybody- Congress, the persons affected, or politically appointed agency administrators- would appreciate that fact.”

      P 232

      “In my opinion, and those of my legal advisers, the proposed agreement contained three real clunkers to which we strenuously objected. The Department of Justice is, in my opinion, almost always too eager to settle legal actions, particularly when plaintiffs are of the environmental persuasion. It was a shock to my system to find that the Department of Justice does not consider the Forest Service a client. They have little concerns as to the desires of the Forest Service or any other agency. They set their own course and in doing so are de facto setters of policy. Somehow that seems to be a serious flaw in the system. But for now, at least, it is the system.”

      This is not a problem best addressed at the Forest level. Perhaps TSW can bring some attention to it.

  8. I don’t think that would fall under any of the FOIA exemptions if someone asked, but the agency could choose to not advertise it. In any case, EAJA requires an annual report that summarizes the data – here is the 2022 report (where the Agriculture and Interior DEPARTMENTS together account for 4.5% of the total, and the Forest Service doesn’t even get an individual mention).

    Here’s a little more (“EAJA payments don’t invite litigation”)

  9. There were a lot of changes in firefighting tactics that have resulted in less direct attack and more indirect attack. This results in more acres burned. The State of Oregon uses more direct attack and their objectives are to protect land from fire that is under their protection. This came to a head during the 2020 Labor Day Riverside Fire on the Mt. Hood NF. All of the 2020 Labor Day fires were severely understaffed initially – much of the firefighting on some of them was by Rural Forest Protection Association members. At one point, the news said that the Lionshead and Riverside Fires (both being managed by Forest Service Fire Teams) were going to burn together (they were a couple of miles apart at the time). Shortly after that announcement there was a “tactical” stand down (or something like that) on the Riverside Fire. In a subsequent presentation I heard that private landowners between the 2 fires were very concerned that their lands were going to be allowed to burn. After that “stand down”, the firefighting tactics changed and the fires were not allowed to burn together. As a land manager, it is frustrating to see how little the Forest Service values lands and other assets that are burning – as one researcher puts it – it has become the fire-industrial complex – and it’s more about process than it is about protection of land and land values.

    • The change in Forest Service tactics is directly related to Senator Cantwell.

      As I mentioned earlier, this is not necessarily a bad thing. There was an extensive article on that specific fire in the Oregonian??. I do remember reading a really long article on it.

      Does anybody have the data source document for the graph shown at the beginning of this thread??

      Found it!!!

      That is a very, very important graph for public debate. I assume that the data source is CFI inventories. It would be interesting to split the Federal lands from the private lands and take a look at those graphs.


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