Analyzing Reforestation Controversy: The Five P’s and Whitebark Planting

I posted Matthew Burgess’s work that shows 90% of people support tree planting.  But there are still controversies about it, that we will explore.  I think to some extent they are what we might call “manufactured controversies” or controversies that occur within the realm of “ideas about things at some global level” vs. “do we support planting these trees here now.”  How does something non-controversial become controversial? Well, it’s in the nature of current media to stoke controversy. If you want a truly depressing read, I recommend “Trust Me, I’m Lying” by Ryan Holiday. So let’s explore that together.

I’d like to start with my Five P’s. This might appeal to fans of the Pyramid of Pristinity.  It works for basically any natural resource topic, and helps us to understand the factors that are used in making judgment calls about whether doing something is a good thing.. or not. Feel free to add your own P or other consideration.

1.People.  Which people are proposing it and which benefit?  Some people have the benefit of the doubt and others not so much.  For example, Tribes might have the benefit of the doubt with regard to say, whitebark pine restoration.  But maybe not other Tribes who want pipelines or whatever. E.g., this Denver Post story from October 15. It’s a pretty interesting article;  hope it’s not paywalled.

“The Southern Ute Indian Tribe of southwestern Colorado has a higher long-term credit rating than Wells Fargo & Co. and more oil and natural-gas wells than it has members. Welcome to the other side of the tribal land energy conundrum.”

Sometimes this is brought up by people against projects, such as “foreign” companies.

2.  Purpose.  Why is the project being considered?  Thinning is good, for example, if it’s for fuels reduction, but bad if it produces “commercial” products.  I understand the concern that the Forest Service is incentivized by Congress to do timber sales, and that does affect priorities and practices.  For example, let’s look at firewood. Do we think that firewood permits for people are good, but for commercial folks are bad? But commercial folks supply to folks who perhaps can’t get out and do it themselves, due to disability or age. To me concerns about “lining the pockets of the rich” seem to be focused on forest products and oil and gas, and not so much ski areas, for example.

3. Practices.  This is where I, and many folks, like to dwell.  If we look at the history of forest certification.  With FSC, for example, that was the idea that wood products from forests would be considered good (sustainable) if certain practices were followed, to some extent regardless of purpose or people.  Forest certification has been successful, but there continue to be people who are against cutting trees regardless of purpose or practice.  And that’s OK, the point is to clarify the reasons people feel the way they do.

4. Place.  Some things may be acceptable in some places than others. Place, to my mind,  is a complex mix of people, Nature and history. People and Place are certainly related, but People within a Place can and do often disagree. Additionally, there are concepts of what People means, in terms of say race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender and so on, that transcend a specific Place.

5. Property.  This is a bit different from place, in the sense that we might want different things from say, private, county, state or various designations of federal lands.


There are also two non-Ps

Where do the controversies occur (media, scientific journals, within agencies)?

Are there institutions or mechanisms for resolution of these controversies?


So let’s look at Tribes restoring whitebark versus previous efforts. Note: there has been a large body of effort, in both the Pacific Northwest and in the Northern Rockies, to breed resistant whitebark pine despite the fact it has never been a timber tree. It began in 2001 in the northern Rockies according to this paper.

Or you might remember the hard-working folks who developed a Range-Wide Restoration Strategy, a RMRS GTR in 2012.

Anyway, if you weren’t following this, there was some debate about whether planting trees is “trammeling by man” in Wilderness.

Some of the 50 people in the audience scoffed as they pointed to the section of the Wilderness Act that defines wilderness as an area “untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” They argued that nowhere on the planet now escapes the influence of man, so planting trees shouldn’t be a big deal.

But Jimmy Gaudry, USFS Northern Region wilderness program manager, said it might be a big deal, depending on how many other groups want to manipulate the wilderness for their special purpose.

“It’s the concept of a death of a thousand cuts. One thing after another, we’re making concessions for the types of activities we’re approving in wilderness landscapes,” Gaudry said. “It gets to the point where what are we doing different in the wilderness versus what we’re doing on the rest of the forest. Every time we say yes to something, why are we saying yes to that and not the next thing that comes through the door?”

Gaudry said he encouraged the discussion, but a more neutral process was needed, where trust could be built between stakeholders and where people would do a better job of listening to each other.

But for now, the Forest Service would lean on policy and law, which provides “solid direction regarding wilderness management,” Guadry said.


So here we have it.. restoring whitebark pine is generally a good thing, because People want it; it has a Purpose everyone agrees on; it’s an acceptable technology (Practice) and we think it will work in that Place; but our understanding of Property in terms of Wilderness means it’s a no-go.

So let’s look at the non-Ps-

Controversy occurs within the FS/stakeholder community

Controversy is resolved by the Forest Service.

12 thoughts on “Analyzing Reforestation Controversy: The Five P’s and Whitebark Planting”

  1. With whitebark pine, the Park Service considers the blister rust, an invasive disease, as trammeling…the Forest Service does not.
    Also, as I heard someone say recently, we had to create the myth of pristine wilderness in order to save it – indigenous people have lived in and stewarded these areas for a long time – we cannot continue to ignore that. Whitebark pine was a food source.
    And if we want to talk about trammeling – why does the FS allow State Fish & Wildlife agencies to plant fish in wilderness lakes that never had fish in them? Isn’t that trammeling?

        • I think I was using what it says about clarity Ps is not as clear as P’s to me. But thanks for the link! It looks like a great resource.

          • I couldn’t help it, I did a little more digging since it is blowing 40 mph outside right now. According to the Chicago Manual of Style (according to a copy editor – I don’t have access to the manual), if the abbreviation is capitalized it would not have an apostrophe unless it was showing possessive, but would if it was lower case. So, Ps and Qs and p’s and q’s would be correct… according to this reference.

  2. Jimmy Gaudry has probably forgotten more about Wilderness than we will ever know; we go back a couple decades, and consider him a good friend. He is correct, in my opinion, on “death by a thousand cuts”! Tree planting has no place in Wilderness, neither do a plethora of “ionized” uses currently being thrown toward policy correction potential.

    Wilderness is special; it is a land use of really “hands off” management, except for the recreation and enjoyment for which they were created. No place for fuels work, no place for prescribed fire, no place for managed fire unless it is a natural ignition and certainly no place to put seedlings into the ground.

    I had a good friend, who was a retired veterinarian, who had a bumper sticker on his rig that stated “Wilderness – land of no uses”….. Well, that’s not true, but these special places set aside for special reasons carry the protection to keep them that way! My point is, we put Wildernesses in areas they didn’t belong in the first place, but now they are there, by God we are going to manage them the way the Law intended!!!

    • Jim Z. I agree both with you and Anonymous.

      1. The list of things in and out seem random.
      2. The conceptualization of Wilderness seems to ignore Native Americans

      Wildernesses can be full of human poop, loose dogs, loud boomboxes, cows, horses, airplane overflights, non-native species, climate impacts and so on. It seems kind of Disney-esque. And yet.. Disney has a place. It’s complicated.

  3. One of the uses of designated wilderness is as a control to compare to more heavily managed lands. I’m a strong designated wilderness advocate and consider wilderness a part of a larger multiple use land management mission – part of a land management mosaic. But, I believe federal land management agencies should be open to planting imperiled tree species in designated wilderness when humans are the cause of their decline.

  4. When people talk about planting whitebark pine, they are not talking about planting “plantations”, yet that is the picture that people often have in their minds. Indigenous people cultured trees for varied purposes for millenia – even in wilderness areas. They used fire in wilderness areas (prescribed burning) for millenia. Removing indigenous people from the land (including wilderness areas and national parks) is starting to result in unintended changes that are being amplified by climate change. While development and industrial uses should (to me) be excluded from wilderness, “traditional” management practices of indigenous people should continue to play a role in wilderness and national parks.


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