Science Friday: Yale Forest School Scientists on “Proforestation”

When I first heard about the concept of proforestation, it seemed like an East Coast phenomenon. I thought “So what? Some of the usual suspects wrote an op-ed in Nature and various other outletsl their usual ideological beverage with a carbon twist?” Perhaps it’s timed to be part of a media campaign hoping to affect the Mature and Old Growth initiative of Forest Service and BLM.

Since I’ve worked on letters to the Forest Service about MOG, when I ran across a letter on proforestation by a bunch of scientists from The Forest School at the Yale School of the Environment I could recognize both excellent writing and a host of useful references. The themes that the authors touch on are also found in MOG. What’s particularly interesting to me about this letter is that Connecticut has no National Forests, and isn’t a dry forest/wildfire area. They don’t see forests go up in smoke, with associated carbon emissions. And they are talking about state and private land. So it’s interesting to see what they have to say.

Proforestation, on which the working group recommendations are based, is a recent political movement that aims to prevent forest management in the United States under the assumption that excluding humans from forests will serve as a climate change mitigation tool [4, 14, 15]. It also omits important aspects of forest carbon science [16]. It appears to be premised on a single opinion article published in an academic journal last year [14]. The reality is that forest carbon science is complex [17]. Excluding silviculture from Connecticut’s forests could result in them sequestering less atmospheric carbon over time, due to future losses from catastrophic disturbances (such as windstorms, invasive species, and fire) and lack of carbon benefits derived from forest products.
We lack a clear scientific answer to major questions related to forest carbon. These include:
• How do forest carbon dynamics change with forest succession, species composition, climate, and site characteristics? Disturbance events make future forest carbon dynamics, and the longevity of carbon stored in today’s forests, unpredictable [16, 18-23]. These events, which release vast amounts of forest carbon, are predicted to increase with climate change [24]. Appropriate and even optimized forest management can mitigate the risk of disturbance and reduce forest carbon lost in those events [25, 26].
• What is the lifecycle of carbon in forest soils and how does this relate to disturbance, climate, species composition, forest succession, and human activity [18, 22, 27-32]?
• Under what circumstances might unmanaged forests store more carbon than managed forests, and how do time and natural disturbances factor in to this comparison?
• How do methane emissions from forests differ between sites, species composition, and age structure [33-35]?
• What are the climate implications of multiple-use forest management which includes harvested forest products, compared to proforestation? Storage of carbon in forests and/or wood products are climate mitigation components, and wood can also serve as a fossil fuel reduction mechanism [1, 16, 36-38]. System level forest carbon accounting is complex and dynamic which highlights a need for comprehensive, and product specific, wood life cycle analyses and comparisons with non-renewable alternatives and market forces [39]. Woody biomass generated in forest management activities can bring additional climate benefits by either storing carbon in forest products [37] and/or replacing fossil-based counterparts [40].

Proforestation does not account for system level carbon dynamics related to forest products and misleads us to conclude that its adoption would be the most carbon positive of all forest policy choices. Given such questions, proforestation is an undemonstrated, unwise approach as a climate solution while active management provides a suite of approaches that can be tailored to find solutions to known and emerging threats to forest carbon storage and health. The proforestation movement misleads us to believe that people are not part of natural forests, a belief based on a dichotomy of nature and culture that has been shown to promote environmental degradation instead of conservation [41]. Indeed, for thousands of years before European colonists arrived, Indigenous peoples stewarded and actively managed Connecticut’s forests, through prescribed fire and harvesting of wood for a variety of uses. This active management by people still influences the forests we see today. The myth of a “pristine” unmanaged forest being the natural state of Connecticut’s forests is just not accurate or necessarily desirable for carbon sequestration, biodiversity, or other ecosystem services. Active forest management has been crucial through time for ensuring that our forests are healthy and resilient while meeting society’s needs.

What the proforestation movement gets right is that poor land management can decimate the biodiversity and ecosystem services of forests. Just as sound management has conserved our contemporary forest after a period of destructive agriculture in the 18th and 19th centuries, we now need to rely on ongoing management to steward these forests through multiple threats, including more frequent and intense weather events such as droughts and storms, and losses due to invasive pathogens. These increasing threats reflect the fact that Connecticut’s forests are human influenced, they have been for millennia and this is even more true today due to climate and other environmental changes. Keeping forests healthy and growing under conditions of multiplying and intensifying threats will require the ongoing human intervention that management offers. Management allows us to maintain growing forests, and growing forests sequester carbon.

Silviculture enables us to facilitate successional trajectories that will make forests more resilient to ongoing and emerging threats from global change, while supporting rural livelihoods and sustaining biodiversity. The science of silviculture in Connecticut is not about cutting primary forests, planting monocultures, or other such extractive practices which deliver only short-term gain. Outdated caricatures of forestry professionals are detrimental and threaten the resiliency of our state’s forests. Silviculture is about sustaining healthy forestlands, which involves anticipating and responding to disturbances that threaten long-term forest health, through science- and practice-informed strategies.

There are also broader issues at play here relating to sustainable rural economies and environmental justice and responsibility. For example, ‘preservation’ of a wealthy society’s resources leads to greater exploitation of forest resources in places where less regulation and scientific knowledge exist to ensure sustainable management. This concept has been described as the illusion of preservation [42]. We are loath to be drawn into the nuances of these arguments, but suffice to say that meeting energy and wood demands must involve globally-coordinated initiatives with consideration to the differences between biogenic carbon emissions and fossilized carbon emissions [17, 37, 43, 44]. In Connecticut, we have restored our state forestland through management which can continue to maintain – and even enhance – the carbon, other environmental, and rural community benefits of our forestlands. Exporting demands for forest products to regions without our rich scientific and practitioner expertise is damaging to both our state and the planet. Connecticut needs to support the DEEP Forestry Division by providing them with enough resources to fully, and appropriately, steward our State forestlands.

We end by stating that we are ProForests, ProBiodiversity, ProClimate and ProRuralCommunities. In Connecticut, that necessitates being ProManagement.

Attached is the letter with the references and the names of the signatories. My bold on the first sentence.

61 thoughts on “Science Friday: Yale Forest School Scientists on “Proforestation””

  1. Great post, Sharon — thanks. SAF issued a statement on proforestation last year.

    Generally speaking, proforestation advocates seek to ban active forest management on public lands. Active forest management in this case refers to any activity that removes carbon from the forest, which would include activities like logging or wildfire mitigation techniques (e.g., thinning and prescribed burning). Proforestation is founded on the belief that, in the face of climate change, we can maximize carbon sequestration and storage through a halt on all forest management activities. It can therefore be viewed as an extension of the age-old preservationist philosophy with a modern flair.

    There are a number of reasons that proforestation is problematic. For one, it does not factor in the loss of benefits outside of carbon storage that are fostered by forest management, such as biodiversity, essential wood products, a clean and stable water supply, adaptation to a changing climate, or rural economic activity. Proforestation also has a misguided view of long-term carbon sequestration and storage. As the IPCC recognizes, sustainable forest management is critical to mitigating climate change because of its ability to minimize emissions-emitting disturbances like wildfire, as well as its capacity as a renewable resource to store carbon in wood products that can replace other emissions-intensive materials.

    The proforestation concept has been building in momentum. It has appeared before local legislatures, has been prominently featured by major environmental organizations, and has been adopted as a climate solution by a number of environmental scientists. Recently, its advocates provided testimony before Congress, claiming that wildfire management techniques like restoration and hazardous fuels management are false fronts for profit-driven timber harvesting.

    While SAF has always educated diverse audiences about the benefits of forest management and the critical work of forestry professionals, this is the first time we are directly calling out proforestation. This handout is written to educate the public and policymakers on the issue of proforestation, and we hope that it will be shared and distributed by our members across the country who face similar challenges. We are dedicated to supporting forestry and natural resource professionals, which involves educating the public on science-based forest management and the essential services it provides to a growing population, both in the US and abroad.

    [These links are in the main page cited above:
    You can download the handout here.
    For citations, download the longer version here.

    • Proforestation, or better yet, establishing the up to 30 percent of Wildlands in New England that independent scientists recommend on public land is much more practical and constructive than logging public land. The IPPC reference is to general for application to New England, especially Southern New England. Logging public land in this area has not reduced the 95 percent of the wood the region imports, despite state governments wasting money trying to stimulate the wood products industry in Southern New England, so the wood-products argument is not practical. Logging private land has some potential, but private land owners, even with incentives, have not been easy to convince. Forest fire threat is minimal in Southern New England and logging would not reduce the fires that do start. Please provide evidence that watersheds need to be managed, becasue I have not seen any studies to support it. I’ve been looking for evidence that active forest management succeeds in fostering climate resilience, so if you have references, please provide them.

      I have a hard time accepting the credibility of foresters, since for most of them, their livelihood depends on logging. That includes the forestry professors authoring the most applicable papers in the handout. Many of the others don’t apply to New England or Southern New England. The biodiversity argument is founded in state fish and game agencies theory that increasing abundance of any declining or rarer species within a state requires creating habitat, a process that releases carbon. Beyond individual state borders, most of these species are secure or nearly secure within their range. The unecessary creation of habitat for them further imperils species that are more vulnerable elsewhere in the world.

  2. Proforestation advocates fail to take into account that Original Peoples all over the world actively managed the land. The concept of a “Pristine, untouched Old Growth Forest” is based on the ignorance of that fact.
    The Algonquin in the Northeast North America actively burned the land as well as implemented other management activities, similar to Original Peoples of the Plains and West of the Rockies.
    Proforestation advocates must think that we should all live in big cities and that we come from Aliens, if they advocate for excluding humans from the landscape.
    Anyone have anything to add?

    • And that building materials, if not wood, all come from aggregate/quarry sources. I’ve never seen gravel pit regrow in a generation.

    • If you read the articles on it you’d see that’s not what proforestation is advocating for at all. Proforestation proponents clearly state we need to *manage* forests in a way that is in alignment with their ecology so that they continue to sustain us and all the other species/functions/values they provide into the future. In many places, this means not logging larger/older trees and letting forests recover from 150 years of exploitation, bc large/old trees are at great deficit relative to past historic conditions and provide essential services and functions such as carbon storage, wildlife, etc. Management does not equate to commercial logging. But if you want to keep smearing a perspective you don’t like and make a bunch of false statements, your prerogative, Joseph.

      • SAF’s statement on proforestation:

        ” Generally speaking, proforestation advocates seek to ban active forest management on public lands. Active forest management in this case refers to any activity that removes carbon from the forest, which would include activities like logging or wildfire mitigation techniques (e.g., thinning and prescribed burning). Proforestation is founded on the belief that, in the face of climate change, we can maximize carbon sequestration and storage through a halt on all forest management activities. It can therefore be viewed as an extension of the age-old preservationist philosophy with a modern flair. “


        There is no convincing evidence Indigenous peoply widely used fire in Pre-Colonial New England. Read the linked study.

        Most of the species the “biodiversity ” movement want to increase the numbers of are secure within their range and few or none of them are endangered in their overall range-check their status on NatureServe Explorer. Creaton of early successional habitat releases carbon and imperils species that are much closer to extinction than those that benefit from creating ESH in New England. Vulnerable human populations worldwide are also closer to the brink than the rarer species in New England. Wood production on private land could help reduce wood importation, but wood product production on public land in Southern New England has not reduced wood importation, but does release carbon. Many independent scientists are calling for as much as 30 percent unmanged forest, Wildlands, in New England in order to support genuine native biodiversity. Native species rely on mature forest to survive. Public forest are the place to begin reaching this goal.

  3. It’s entirely irrational to say that if we aren’t logging the forest we’re “preventing” forest management and no longer managing the forest at all.

    There’s simply no basis in the science of 382 million years of tall tree natural history/forest evolution that proves forests can’t survive without dumb people with chainsaws who think they understand how forest ecosystems work because they only thing they know how to do is cut down trees.

    Tree farms are not healthy diverse forests and people who cut trees down are almost always pushing a failed management agenda that turns recovering wild places into tree farms again. Their agenda to manage the whole planet as evenly space monocrop farm that lack structural and biological diversity hasn’t benefited forests, it’s pushed them to the brink and created a world-wide deforestation crisis at the very moment that we need carbon sequestration the most.

    Wuerthner best sums up this idiocracy, which pretends its the only way a forest can be “managed” when he says:

    “In their view, any mortality from anything other than chainsaws is a sign of decay and waste. And of course, their solution is chainsaw medicine to “fix” what is ailing the forests. However, this perspective ignores, climate change, evolution and natural ecological function. We are witnessing higher mortality from natural processes primarily due to warming temperatures and significant drought. The on-going drought across the West is the most severe in 1200 years. Extreme drought drives all other mortality factors. It makes some trees more vulnerable to insects or disease and it is absolutely the reason we are seeing large wildfires. The continued myth that fire suppression is causing wildfires ignores the overriding role of climate/weather in wildfires.”

    • Deane, did you read the position paper from the Society of American Foresters? Here’s the link:

      Main messages:

      1) Forest management provides an invaluable suite of benefits to society, including diversified wildlife habitat, essential wood products, regulation of water quantity and quality, and the ability to adapt forests to a changing climate. With its focus on carbon stored in forests, proforestation overlooks these services and fails to account for the full climate benefits of the forest sector or the growing challenge of natural disturbance emissions.

      2) Forest management offers strategies to manage for carbon sequestration, including forest regeneration and afforestation, carbon stored in durable wood products, and improved resilience to carbon-emitting disturbances like wildfires and insect epidemics. Preservation can be appropriate for unique protected areas, but it has not been demonstrated as a solution for carbon storage or climate change across all forested landscapes.

      The Society of American Foresters was founded in 1900 by Gifford Pinchot and today has about 10,000 members, most with at least a bachelor’s degree in some aspect of forest management. It has position papers and backgrounders on a range of forest-management issues. I’ve been a member of SAF since 1981.

      • Everything that the SAF purports to do in theory as listed is what needs to be done. They know how to talk the talk.

        However they consistently fail to walk the walk because they are in the business of cutting down healthy trees not for the forest’s benefit but for the benefits of bank accounts and whatever it takes to further that agenda they have proven themselves to do.

        This proud heritage of deforestation which subtracts tree redundancy and diversity over time eliminates rather than promotes forest resiliency because what foresters leave behind in a forest almost never counts, only what they take out, which is entirely un-natural and not based in how a living planet has evolved to function is what counts.

        Natural history / legit science makes it clear that hauling biomass off the land at scale deprives and impoverishes the land and no amount of dogma about the benefits of that insanity changes the legitmate science that explains how harmful it is. If Gifford Pinchot was alive today and saw how scarce trees older than 20 years really are these days he’d denounce ever last one of you who made a mockery of his teachings.

        Go visit any California State park or National park that never had its primary forest logged and you’ll find a far more diverse and far healthier ecosystem than anything humans have “managed” with chainsaws. Of course foresters are really good at lying to themselves and everyone else about the atrocities they commit to soil ecology and the greater ecosystem as a matter of daily activity.

        And guess what? For 382 million years tall tree forests have naturally evolved and thoroughly adapted to thrive without humans hauling biomass off the land at scale.

        This doesn’t mean that forests don’t need human management, it means that forests don’t need ecologically illiterate humans in the form of SAF members cutting down more trees as the only solution for every management challenge.

        The forest does need humans to do intensive inventories and tracking of soil subsystems and wildlife populations for early detection of imbalances so we can learn regenerative ways rather than destructive ways to restore balance. We also need management via low impact manipulations like branch pruning and weeding and clearing small amounts of space for plants and seedlings so when a tree falls or dies standing, there’s a whole ecosystem of diversity ready to take over. that opening in the canopy.

        But go ahead and tell me about your pride of a 100+ year old death cult that has made a god of turning the whole world into stumps in the name of “saving” what was there before the stumps were made.

        • Deane, Here’s what the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change wrote in its August 2019 Special Report, “Climate Change and Land”:

          “Sustainable forest management can maintain or enhance forest carbon stocks, and can maintain forest carbon sinks, including by transferring carbon to wood products, thus addressing the issue of sink saturation (high confidence). Where wood carbon is transferred to harvested wood products, these can store carbon over the long-term and can substitute for emissions-intensive materials reducing emissions in other sectors (high confidence).”

          • Why no link to your reference?

            What’s more, an unverifiable political reference based on overly compromised and conflicting human forces trying to decide who has the upper hand when it comes to forest policy/governance has absolutely nothing to do with the natural science of forest types that sequester more carbon than they emit due to a prolonged lack of carbon releasing disturbance.

          • This IPPC passage has limited applicability to Southern New England. The attempt to stimulate the wood products econonmy in MA has failed to decrease the 95 percent of wood the state imports while wasting millions of taxpayer dollars. The substitution of wood for other construction materials has been the argument of foresters and the logging industry for decades, but has not come to pass. It’s value has also been seriously been questioned:
            Nunery J. S. and Keeton, W. S. 2010. Forest carbon storage in the northeastern United States: Net effects of harvesting frequency, post-harvest retention, and wood products. Forest Ecology and Management 259: 1363-1375.

  4. There is probably room to accommodate these divergent views across the country’s landscape. Not all land needs to be wilderness, but neither does it all need to be managed. There is something different about unadulterated, mature forests, something healthy, spiritual. I walked in one this morning, felt it in my bones, and hope the tinkerers can keep their itchy chainsaw fingers at bay, at least over some goodly expanse of these places. It strikes me as a bit hubristic for humans to say forests are somehow dependent on us, when they preceded us by millions of years and likely will succeed us as well.

    • Exactly! Thanks so much for your comments Ted! The hubristic humans to which you refer are not arguing the natural intelligence of nature, nor how we discover and become inspired by its inner workings via credible scientific observation; rather their dogma is based on a crazed desire to control and dominate/enslave a living system for their own needs above all other life generating needs for millions of species they share our planet’s living systems with.

      The lack of consequences for their highly destructive behavior has created the societal/suicidal normalization of destroying a forest by claiming that you’re saving it.

      Or rather, as this article explains, there’s more to honesty than not lying: “Honest behavior has relational elements—for example, fostering an accurate understanding in others through what we disclose and how we communicate—and intellectual elements—for example, evaluating information for accuracy, searching for accurate information, and updating our beliefs accordingly,” explains study coauthor Taya Cohen, associate professor of organizational behavior and business ethics at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.”

    • It does really depend upon us when human-caused wildfires destroy so much. We should not be pretending that 85% of all wildfires ‘might’ turn out to be ‘natural and beneficial’, as long as we preserve so much acreage. Basically, that is the premise of the agenda-based science of preservationism, regarding modern western forests.

  5. I’d like to see Moomaw et al. respond to these criticisms of the proforestation perspective. I certainly don’t find this Yale letter, the SAF position and other similar comments to be at all persuasive or even factual. Generic statements that “active forest management can better promote biodiversity, sequester more carbon”, etc. etc. are meaningless without evidence that such claims can lead to more beneficial outcomes relative to a proforestation approach. Certainly there is plenty of evidence to the contrary, given the way forestry is often practiced. The burden of proof should be on those who prefer to manipulate/engineer our forests to demonstrate that their interventions will lead to better outcomes for the greatest number. Among those who practice medicine, many take a pledge at the outset to “do no harm” — foresters should be held to a similar standard.

    • Can you show me the ‘harm’ done in this commercial thinning unit, where no trees larger than 29.9 inches in diameter were targeted? Generally, trees averaging about 15 inches in diameter are thinned out, resulting in a more resilient forest, with better species composition and more wildlife-friendly size distribution.,-120.3287831,144m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en (Zoom out to see more cutting units)

      In fact, one cutting unit was used to stop some wildfire ‘slop-over’ from the Caldor Fire. Additionally, there are some 2 acre chunks WITHIN the cutting units where no trees were cut. The “clumps and gaps” strategy was used wherever it made sense, on the ground. It is not about “do no harm”. It is more about the ‘balance of harms’, where there is some short term damage, to avoid much more serious long-term damages (like soils damage from wildfires).

    • Robin, I think that much of this discussion is folks talking past each other. Some people talk in mesic forest abstractions, and others in site-specific dry forest examples.

      We can see Larry’s google maps of lots of dead trees mixed with live trees. The proforestation argument would say “don’t take out the dead ones, it’s better to let the live ones burn.”

      A toasted landscape with no living trees is better for carbon and biodiversity.. not in my experience. And I have seen enough of them to have some idea. But maybe I just prefer forests to shrublands and grasslands.

      The argument seems to be “because natural is best” except it can’t be natural because the history of Native Americans and the last two hundred years was not natural, fire suppression was not natural, and climate change is not natural..

      See, to me that seems to be “evidence and demonstrations” that taking out the dead trees (not all of them of course from a fuel management perspective) does and has led to beneficial outcomes including future living trees, biodiversity, and the fact that dead trees don’t sequester carbon and living trees do.

      We see that proof in front of our eyes. But you and others do not. Maybe a field trip is in order.

      Where I live, there is no timber industry to speak of but lots of fuel treatments. Are fuels practitioners also against biodiversity and carbon compared to proforestation?

      Their paper says..

      “However, some evidence suggests that proforestation should actually reduce fire risk and there are at least three important factors to consider: first, fire is an integral part of forest dynamics in the Western U.S.; second, wildfire occurrence, size, and area burned are generally not preventable even with fuel removal treatments (Reinhardt et al., 2008); and third, the area burned is actually far less today than in the first half of the twentieth century when timber harvesting was more intensive and fires were not actively suppressed (Williams, 1989; National Interagency Fire Center, 2019). Interestingly, in the past 30 years, intact forests in the Western U.S. burned at significantly lower intensities than did managed forests (Thompson et al., 2007; Bradley et al., 2016; Table 1). Increased potential fuel in intact forests appear to be offset by drier conditions, increased windspeeds, smaller trees, and residual and more combustible fuels inherent in managed areas (Reinhardt et al., 2008; Bradley et al., 2016). Rather than fighting wildfires wherever they occur, the most effective strategy is limiting development in fire-prone areas, creating and defending zones around existing development (the wildland-urban interface), and establishing codes for fire-resistant construction (Cohen, 1999; Reinhardt et al., 2008).”

      Which is fascinating and not in line with the existing literature by fire ecologists nor the lived experience of many people nor the folks in Congress who funded BIL and IRA.

      With all due respect to Reinhardt et al.

      “wildfire occurrence, size, and area burned are generally not preventable even with fuel removal treatments” should we listen to them rather than fire suppression folks, and well, the evidence of our own eyes?

      Should fuels practitioners be held to the “first do no harm” standard also? And how does that work?

      • Sharon,

        What I was pointing to in my comment is that the long-term well-being of forest ecosystems — and the numerous, irreplaceable values they provide to present and future generations — is often not the objective of public land management. Because of this our forests, and therefore us, continue to suffer. We got away with timber primacy and mechanistic thinking about forests for a long, long time, but it’s coming back to bite us now. Yet some people aren’t ready to acknowledge this or change.

        It’s my understanding from reading Moomaw and others that proforestation is not “no management” or don’t ever do anything, but rather put the well-being of the forest and forest-related values at the top of the list, particularly on public lands. It’s not about what is ‘natural’ or not. In Eastern forests that have little fire, we can let most forests continue to develop, accrue carbon, protect watersheds and soils, etc. In many fire-suppressed western forests, benefit can be provided by removing smaller trees (which are often not commercial) and dramatically increasing the amount of Rx & managed wildfire, etc — but the primary goal of these interventions is not producing wood products.

        The era is over of managing forests as commodities to engineer with an attitude of “we know what’s best”, we understand all we need to know to predict outcomes, maintain functions, etc. In contrast, the attitude of proforestation is humble stewardship — recognizing we’ve taken so much, it’s time to give back. As Moomaw et al suggest, the way to “serve the greatest good” is to manage so as to maintain/restore real forests, not just cut and plant trees.

        • 1. How many eastern forests have had “little” fire? I wonder. Check out this “Fire in eastern oak forests: delivering science to land managers” especially the first three papers.

          2. It is unclear whether “intact” means no human intervention, including prescribed fire. So if we were to ask “what do they mean?”

          a. Commercial forest management is bad.
          b. Commercial forest management on public lands is bad.
          c. Managing vs. leaving alone is bad

          I’ve looked at a couple of the papers and it seems to be massively unclear.

          3. If you’re talking about, on federal lands, whether the “primary purpose” is wood production. for timber industry then that’s a subset of all of it. “We believe that no FS or BLM sales should cut merchantable trees for sawlogs strictly for timber purposes”- while I might not agree, at least that would be clear.

          4. As we discuss in the Eastside screens issue, removal of some smaller trees to protect large trees works and sometimes the smaller trees are still large enough to be commercial.

          Where is “timber primacy” currently occurring on federal lands?

          • Sharon,

            I was speaking in broad terms about relatively little fire in many Eastern forests compared to dry western types. Again, proforestation doesn’t mean we don’t consider *stewardship* actions that are in alignment w/ ecological principles and natural disturbance regimes. Many forester-types try to paint ecologically-informed approaches to forest management as “do nothing” or “leave it alone”. But it simply ain’t so, as others have pointed out in this thread of comments. The key is that the priorities are different, and they really need to be — because of the poor state our forests are in now and the increasing stresses they’re facing.

            I suspect the reason it’s not stated in the proforestation papers re: no removal of any merchantable timber anywhere anytime is because, as you’ve pointed out, in some cases it can be compatible w/forest-first mgmt approaches. But it’s a secondary by-product, not a goal. The rub is that agencies too often purport to be taking out trees (sometimes large/old) under the auspices of doing good things for the forest, despite the fact that such actions aren’t supported by the science. Many examples of this both past and current, probably some discussed on this site. This is what I mean by timber primacy — until ~25 yrs ago timber production was the clear agency agenda. But despite the fact that concerns and priorities have dramatically changed, the default action by FS and BLM is still too often removing merchantable trees from public lands — even when doing so is not serving the greatest public good.

      • I agree (and this thread is evidence) that this topic lends itself to talking past each other because there are so many variables. But I think Robin offered the solution to that: “The burden of proof should be on those who prefer to manipulate/engineer our forests to demonstrate that their interventions will lead to better outcomes for the greatest number. Among those who practice medicine, many take a pledge at the outset to “do no harm” — foresters should be held to a similar standard.”

        But you need to look at these two sentences together in relation to a particular place, and if the question is carbon storage, proposals to improve that forest’s contribution must demonstrate that the proposed action is better than no-action (measured against carbon outcomes; you can of course complicate this with all the other potential costs and benefits). Or better yet, shouldn’t forest plans make a call on whether active management should occur on different parts of a forest based on contributions to carbon storage?

        • Why would decisions on active management be based on “contributions to carbon storage” any more than any other value? Like forest resilience, for example, or even ecological integrity?

          • Maybe because the planet is in a human-generated climate crisis, and declining terrestrial carbon stocks are significantly contributing to it? Alternatively, if forests are managed with carbon storage/sequestration as a primary objective, they may help contribute to climate mitigation. Only would make sense though for ppl who are not climate deniers.

          • Great articles, Steve. Thank you.

            Some thoughts on the article RE: Impacts of Forest Management on Biodiversity:

            “Management type:

            We grouped the compiled dataset into 10 management categories and calculated the effect size for each group. Three out of six timber-producing management regimes – Selection and Retention systems and Reduced Impact Logging – did not alter species richness. Out of the other three timber-producing management types, timber plantations had the highest impact (on average, 40% reduction in local species richness compared to natural forests), followed by clear-cutting (22% reduction) and conventional selective logging (13% reduction). Out of the non-timber-producing management regimes that we considered, agroforestry was least detrimental, retaining, on average, 68% of species richness found in nearby natural forests. Fuel wood plantations had a very similar impact on species richness as timber plantations (i.e. ~40% reduction). Non-timber tree plantations, referring mostly to oil palm and rubber and slash & burn, reduced the species richness by ~54%, which is the highest impact among all the 10 management systems considered”

            Obviously, the key phrase here is “compared to natural forests.” This highlights the fact that baseline comparisons are to ‘UNmanaged forests.’

            I wonder if there are any examples showing that species richness actually increased due to timber extraction practices; I expect there are few instances where biodiversity was enriched rather than reduced. Although, there may be limited cases where altered habitats favored a few specialized niches, for example, for early successional colonizers.

            “All types of management change some properties of the forest, such as tree age structure, microclimate, or soil conditions. It is unrealistic to expect any type of forestry to have no impact on forest biodiversity. We demonstrated that these impacts vary substantially between forest management types. We found that in terms of relative species loss at the plot level, ways to produce timber can be ranked from best to worse as follows: selection and retention systems in temperate and boreal regions, reduced impact selective logging (RIL) followed by conventional selective logging in tropical regions, clear-cutting in temperate regions and timber plantations. Management regimes not focusing on timber production are, in general, more harmful to species richness than timber-producing regimes. A notable exception is agroforestry, which is associated with lower species loss than timber plantations.”

            Caveat: “Our meta-analysis did not take into account the surrounding habitat types and secondary impacts.”

            So, the crux of the issue always seems to hinge on “Biodiversity vs. Economic” trade-offs. This is where an ethical valuation calculus comes into play; how much do we value biodiversity vs. wood products? Is the decision to be one of short-term economics? Or one of long-term species preservation?

            As far as carbon balances, it seems to me that any removals, especially of large-diameter trees, dead or alive, would only deplete carbon stores and sequestration capabilities. The disturbance of soils by the process of logging would also be a factor adversely impacting carbon retention values.

            Therefore, if management is to occur, it should probably favor selection and retention systems under reduced-impact logging techniques and/or foster agroforestry practices.

            • Michael, Here’s one article I’m familiar with, from New Jersey Audubon in 2020:

              Endangered Golden-Winged Warbler Found in a Managed Site on Sparta Mountain!

              “On May 20, 2020 a rare Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) was found using a patch of young forest on Sparta Mountain where the mature trees had previously been harvested to create young forest habitat for the warbler and other wildlife. The rare warbler was discovered by NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife Senior Zoologist, Sharon Petzinger, while conducting annual bird surveys. New Jersey Audubon Stewardship Project Director John Parke photographed the bird at a later date in the same location. The warbler has been observed occupying the young forest habitat throughout the 2020 breeding season. This is the first time that Golden-winged Warblers have been recorded at this particular location utilizing the created young forest habitat.”

              See also the Young Forest Project

              Most people know that wildlife needs mature forest. They understand that grasslands and wetlands are also highly valuable to our region’s wild creatures. Another type of habitat is less well known, yet every bit as important if we are to have diverse wildlife and a healthy land.

              It’s called young forest, and it’s essential for many different animals from small reptiles to large mammals. Many birds need this habitat, too, including ones that breed and nest in mature woods. Young forest is used by rare species of wildlife and by those that are more abundant.

              Some of the animals that need young forest are ruffed grouse, American woodcock, and whippoorwill; bobcat and Appalachian and New England cottontail; and box turtle, wood turtle, and green snake. White-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and a broad range of songbirds also rely on the food and cover offered by young forest.

              Unfortunately, the amount of this habitat has dwindled over the last 50 years, and as a result, more than 60 kinds of wildlife have suffered serious population declines in New England, the Mid-Atlantic states, and the Midwest.

              What is young forest? It’s the shoots and sprouts of young trees springing up again in incredible numbers from the root systems of older trees following a timber harvest. It’s an old field filling in with saplings and shrubs. It’s a swampy tract thick with shrubs. Young forest can be a pine barrens greening up again following a controlled burn carried out by a trained fire crew.

              To keep the land healthy, we need a balance of different habitats. As we have come to understand the value of wetlands, we’ve stopped draining them and even begun restoring them. We’ve protected thousands of acres of older forest, benefiting the animals that live there. Now we must meet the challenge of providing enough young forest for wildlife.

            • Michael, I think if you look at EAs you will find explanations of why people do veg projects the way they do, including addressing concerns of exotic species, soil disturbance, carbon and so on.

          • Steve – Regarding the golden-winged warbler. I think we should assume that any species benefiting from timber management are already accounted for in the numbers Michael cited. Species preservation may be a higher priority than species richness where that species is at-risk. However, a better solution for species needing young forest might be to maintain selected young forests as young and leave the older forests alone. That’s not “nature’s way,” but it may be where we are today with older forests so scarce.

            • Jon, the trouble with the golden-winged warbler and numerous other species of birds and mammals is that there isn’t enough young forest habitat. Forest managers can make young forest habitat by clearcutting, seed tree harvests, or other silvicultural treatments. Active forest management will be required to maintain a suitable base of young forest habitat across the landscape. These treatments may be commercial — log sales can support this sort of management.

              The golden-winged warbler is an eastern US species. In the west Jerry Franklin and Norm Johnson — two of the architects of the NW Forest Plan — have proposed using “ecological forestry,” where harvesting relative small areas — creating openings — creates young forest habitat.

              “One of the important justifications for the regeneration harvesting is to begin again to develop some early-successional ecosystems, because we’re simply not creating those any longer.” — Jerry Franklin, The Forestry Source, Nov. 2011. Franklin was talking about federal forest in the region, where the NW Forest Plan was largely responsible for the decline in regeneration harvesting. He said, “…thinning can be good, but the openings in the forest canopy created by regeneration harvesting are increasingly scarce.”

              In a presentation about the this sort of ecological forestry, Franklin said:

              So what do we get out of a variable retention harvest of the type proposed?

              * Diverse early seral ecosystems, including habitat for elk and deer
              * Well distributed sources of seed, other propagules
              * Improved landscape permeability
              * Resilient ecosystem
              * Diverse wood products

              In other words, Franklin and Johnson proposed commercial timber harvests as crucial to providing diverse habitat types. Unfortunately, organized vehement opposition to commercial timber harvesting shut down the widespread use of ecological forestry.

              • Coincidentally, I just came across this article by Jim Abrams, a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Ohio. “Ohio’s ruffed grouse population devastated.”



                Their plight is a reflection of the declining successional habitat required for the bird’s existence, a critical habitat shortage that effects many upland-dwelling species from bouncing warblers and long-beaked woodcock to the secretive little gray fox. As is true with all wildlife species, habitat remains the key. Forest health is the all-important factor in managing ruffed grouse. Many walk through the forest and have a picture of what it should be: tall, straight trees with squirrels hopping playfully, logging curtailed and under-growth minimalized, trails allowing easy access, and all fires eradicated. In one word, pristine.

                Sounds great on paper, but that ideal is neither natural nor a friend of wildlife except for those bouncing squirrels. Misperception about timber and fire management is a big reason why ruffed grouse habitat has disappeared. In fact, grouse rely more than most species on forest disturbance and the early successional habitat that comes from those disturbances.

          • I guess I wasn’t clear in how I used “young.” I meant there should be plenty of previously logged areas that don’t provide much species richness that should be the priority if more openings are needed (I think Franklin and Johnson would agree with that). And also, if the issue is hunting opportunities for game species, there are more options than logging public lands.

          • My final word on proforestation is that there is no science that says we need to keep each and every 14 inch diameter white fir or cedar in all Sierra Nevada National Forests. Our annual precipitation cannot support all of those trees at once.

  6. It’s the old Pinchot vs. Muir argument of conservation vs. preservation.

    I think it’s ironic that the Proforestation position would be espoused by students at the very school Gifford Pinchot founded, the Yale Forest School (renamed Yale School of the Environment in 2020).

    Here is an Oct. 2019 Yale Environment 360 interview with policy scientist William Moomaw, who, in recent years, has turned his attention to working on NATURAL solutions to climate change. He explains that the largest places on land that are removing carbon dioxide [from the atmosphere] on an annual basis are forests. Furthermore, in multi-aged forests around the world of all types, half of the carbon is stored in the largest one-percent diameter trees. Consequently, he believes that letting existing natural forests grow is absolutely essential to any climate goals we have.

    Intact Forests in the United States: Proforestation Mitigates Climate Change and Serves the Greatest Good:

    On the MOB issue, according to Moomaw, “We’ll continue to need and want forestry products — that’s understood. But the attitude in much of the forestry industry is that all forests must be managed by principles that improve forests for timber production. But we have to recognize that there’s a distinction between industrial production forests and natural forests, and we must make clear that natural forests are managed for biodiversity and the full set of ecosystem services that forests provide. And, by the way, which biodiversity are we shortest of? The biodiversity that’s associated with older forests. We hardly have any older forests left in the Lower 48 states. It’s in the small single digits of our original forests. The Forest Service says that less than 7 percent of U.S. forests are over 100 years old.”

    Maybe more emphasis needs to be placed on human “management?” History is rife with examples showing that if Homo economicus is not restrained from pursuing excessive short-term environmental exploitation and re-engineering, the outcome will likely be severe environmental degradation, loss of ecosystem functions, deforestation, and, ultimately, desertification. IMO, the best approach would be to revisit and heed some of the prescient warnings and prophecies expressed by the likes of George Perkins Marsh, Aldo Leopold, John Muir, and Rachel Carson. Or, listen to the recommendations of the late [Biologist] E.O. Wilson, who argued that we need “half earth” — that is, half the world needs to be left to nature in order to function. I suppose with one kidney and one lung, we can make it.

  7. Oops, meant to say MOG (Mature Old Growth), not MOB. :)) I wish there was a way to edit and revise submitted comments. Oh well.

    PS I have been a SAF member for a number of years, also, and I think the SAF would benefit by evolving with the times and issues; commercial timber products should only be a fraction of their focus; environmentally-minded “management” should be higher on their list of important topics. More focus should be placed on urban forestry as well.

    • SAF is far from focused primarily on timber harvesting. It has 27 Working groups that each focus on topics such as:

      Urban and Community Forestry
      Water Resources
      Wildlife and Fish Ecology
      Forest Health and Genetics
      Bioenergy, Climate Change, and Carbon
      Recreation and Wilderness Management

      These position statements are listed under “Highlighting the Diverse Benefits of Managed Forests”:

      Biological Diversity in Forest Ecosystems
      Forest Offset Projects in a Carbon Trading System
      Strengthening Community Forestry and Urban Tree Management for Multiple Benefits
      Utilization of Woody Biomass for Energy
      Protecting Endangered Species Habitat on Private Land
      Forest Water Resources
      Recreation and Managed Forestlands
      Forest Products Industries and Markets
      Sustainability of American Forests

  8. from Sharon…”They don’t see forests go up in smoke, with associated carbon emissions.”

    This statement is one I hear often from those who haven’t looked at the research, especially Bev Law at OR St Univ. When I ask most FS people to guess how much forest carbon is “lost” in fires they usually offer numbers north of 50%. Law says about 5-8%. Most of what we SEE is steam; H2O. That’s a huge difference. And it is central to the discussions currently underway on MOG forest policy. I’m glad some are actually searching for facts instead of conjecture. What concerns me is FS policy and decisions that rest on erroneous information.

  9. from a 2014 TSW post on Law’s research…
    2. Role of natural disturbance in forest carbon budgets
    Natural disturbance from fire and insects has little impact on forest carbon and emissions compared with intensive harvest.

    Although wildfire smoke looks impressive, less carbon is emitted than previously thought (Campbell et al. 2007). In PNW forests, less than 5% of tree bole carbon combusts in low and high severity fires (Campbell et al. 2007, Meigs et al. 2009). Most of what burns is fine fuels in low and high severity fires, making actual carbon loss much less than one might expect. For example, from 1987-2007, carbon emissions from fire were the equivalent of ~6% of fossil fuel emissions in the Northwest Forest Plan area (Turner et al. 2011). If fire hasn’t significantly reduced total carbon stored in forests, it isn’t going to materially worsen climate change.

    In the western states, 5-20% of the burn area has been high severity fire and the remaining burn area has been low and moderate severity (MTBS; In the PNW, 50-75% of live biomass survived low and moderate severity fires combined, which account for 80% of the burn area (Meigs et al. 2009). Physiology measurements show that current methods used to determine if trees are likely to die post-fire lead to overestimation of mortality and removal of healthy trees (Irvine et al. 2007, Waring data in Oregon District Court summary). Removal of surviving trees from a burned area will reduce carbon storage, and in many cases regeneration.

    The release of carbon through decomposition after fire occurs over a period of decades to centuries. About half of carbon produced by fires remains in soil for ~90 years, whereas the other half persists in soil for more than 1,000 years (Singh et al. 2012). Similarly, after insect attack and tree die-off, there isno large change in carbon stocks. Carbon stocks are dominated by soil and wood, and wood in trees that are killed transfers to dead pools that decompose over decades to centuries.

    • I think one problem is, Jim, that when you look out your window and see areas where no trees have grown back, and it’s 20 years later, the average figures across the western states is not really a meaningful number.

      People and wildlife like living trees. We can see thousands of acres where there used to be trees and now there aren’t. This is kind of like stating “the science says”.. “on average only 5% of university departments discriminate against women, so a) there is not really a problem, and b) you don’t need to address it.. even if your department is at 20%.”

      And the CO2 released from wildfires seems to vary between OSU forest scientists and folks like the CARB and other Ca researchers.
      What this UCLA/UChicago shows…

      And the California Air Resources Board.

      Of course, CARB also doesn’t like PM 2.5 and other baddies from wildfire smoke, so there’s that.

      • OK… btw plenty of wl like DEAD trees. And I know dead trees don’t sequester carbon but they do store carbon, so there’s that.
        I agree that fires (like Jasper in BHNF) can result in loss of forest, but even there natural regen is slowly beginning to reclaim areas (at low densities, obviously). Here’s the rub: I see many people clinging stubbornly to the notion if we could “just treat or manage all these acres” (like, 50 million +?) we’d get on top of this fire thing. I think the “Big Mo” of climate change refutes that hope. In spite of heroic efforts and ever-increasing spending, agencies are losing ground. Honesty demands that we tell people bad times lay ahead, BUT fires are not all bad. Agencies will continue to do their best with mixed results and occasional bad news (eg escaped presc burns). Meanwhile… proforestation argues for change — a more enlightened, humble approach. See above discussion

        • Your comment reminds me of this study published by USFS researchers, suggesting that despite proposed major increases in ‘pace and scale’ of mechanical fuels treatments in Sierra Nevada forests, such actions will not appreciably alter landscape-scale fire behavior, acres burned and other fire metrics they studied. While restricted to the Sierra, authors state results likely would be similar in other dry forest regions in western US.

          This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t utilize small-diameter thinning to try and create more fire-resilient forests where it makes ecological sense and is most strategic on the landscape, but as you point out, so often the agencies and others claim (or insinuate) that mechanical treatments can and should be the “solution” to bigger wildfires, dying trees, etc. I have yet to see any evidence that actually supports this assertion, but increasingly more and more evidence to the contrary. (e.g. that climate change is outpacing changes to forests/fuels we’re making in real-time).

          • Well, we have had about ONE WHOLE YEAR so far, of additional funding for fire mitigation and thinning projects. Just what are you expecting from this current situation? Of course, there has never been such a thinning program in the history of the Forest Service but, you’re saying that it doesn’t work? No one (of importance) is saying that thinning is a ‘magic bullet’, designed to fix all of our forest problems. It does, however, result in better resilience, and that is a good thing. Congress has spoken and I don’t think that anyone can stop what is currently in motion. There is a lot of reality that many people (on both sides) choose to ignore, with these issues.

          • Robin, I don’t see agencies saying that mechanical treatments are the solution.

            They seem to be saying “prescribed fire, mechanical treatments, PODs, fire suppression, hardening of homes and other infrastructure are all part of the solution.” Where do you see agencies claiming this?

            And the North article you cite says the same PODdish thing..

            “Analysis suggests mechanical treatment in most subwatersheds could be more effective if it established a fuel-reduced “anchor” from which prescribed and managed fire could be strategically expanded. With potential future increases in wildfire size and severity, fire policy and forest restoration might benefit if mechanical thinning is more widely used to leverage and complement managed fire. ”

            Also, the idea that forest products should be byproducts of other forest treatments (for HRV, species diversity, etc.) was an idea, as I recall, of Ecosystem Management in the 90’s. So the idea has been in the FS for a long time.
            It’s not new.. so what specific aspects of the current policies are you questioning?

        • I will confess that I have been adopting a rather one-sided, cynical posture in my previous posts, and I have exaggerated my stance somewhat for rational provocation. But, sometimes, taking a dialectic approach can help stimulate thinking and debate. I’ll also admit that in the past, I have championed ecological silviculture (Jerry Franklin style) as a viable applied solution, where forest management endeavors to mimic and emulate natural “disturbance” regimes/events to provide an alternative to wholesale clear-cutting methods. But, I believe we should also consider rewilding as a potentially viable solution. For example, I can point to case studies where the cessation of human presence/intrusion has been remarkably restorative of natural conditions. For example, here are a couple of recent books detailing places where nature is now flourishing in the absence of humans; books like these:

          “Islands of Abandonment: Nature Rebounding in the Post-Human Landscape,” by Cal Flyn (2021)

          ..and, “The World Without Us,” by Alan Weisman (2007)

          or, “Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life,” by George Monbiot (2019),
          or, “Rewilding: The Radical New Science of Ecological Recovery,” by Caine Blythe (2020)

          and others.

          Of course, we don’t want to rely on nuclear-contaminated landscapes (e.g., Chornobyl) as a means of implementing these types of rewilding experiments. But, these situations do provide evidence of the remarkable resilience and recoverability of nature without intensive human “management” driving the process. Obviously, this theme is not restricted to a few hippy environmental kooks; it is an empirically legitimate hypothesis, and many wise scientists and researchers are pondering the possibilities, no matter how vocal and resistant the presiding establishment parties object to the idea; a paradigm shift may be warranted.

          On the other hand, I will also admit that, mostly due to our omnipresence and historically intrusive activities, the natural landscape in most of North America has become severely bounded, constrained, and modified to the point where active management has become a real necessity, whether we like it or not. For example, I watched 60 Minutes tonight, and the subject was the overpopulation of wild horses in the West. The finite resources and geographic limits on habitats for horses and other wildlife have resulted in a situation that demands active human-directed measures, such as herd-culling, to protect and limit populations to keep them within sustainable parameters. The current overabundance of deer in our forests is another prime example. There are few solutions available, especially since we have already replaced natural predators that would have “managed’ conditions naturally. But, one must acknowledge that this is the slippery slope that begs for better remedies. Humans are a necessary component of the solution, but not a sufficient one. It’s time to rethink our management processes where/when we can.

    • In my vast salvage logging experience, there is substantial post-fire mortality from bark beetles and cambium kill. There is also noticeable mortality post-salvage, as well. Re-burns are always an issue, here in California. Many recent large fires included re-burns, including the Rim, Creek, Camp, Caldor and Dixie Fires. Law consistently discounts the impacts of re-burns.

      One only needs to look at Yosemite as a ‘control sample’ of forest management, with today’s real-world impacts. This ‘protected’ area near Foresta, inside the Park, used to be a majestic forest of massive sugar pines and other old growth species. Now, after 2 re-burns, even the brush is struggling to survive. Of course, those re-burns were human-caused, and are a reality of this modern world we all live in. The results of ‘letting nature take its course’ are clearly on display to visitors driving along Big Oak Flat road (as well as the Tioga Pass road).,-119.7519472,291m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

      • From the Yale School of the Environment (Forest School) opposition letter to the draft recommendations of the GC3 Forests Working Sub-Group and the GC3 Science and Technology Working Group call to prohibit timber harvesting on Connecticut’s state forestlands.

        “Disturbance events make future forest carbon dynamics, and the longevity of carbon stored in today’s forests, unpredictable.”

        Yet, they readily propose the intensive application of human-engineered “disturbances.” How does that work? Aren’t active silvicultural practices also considered “disturbance events?” Are silvicultural applications really that “predictable?” If human-initiated silvicultural disturbances are designed to accelerate and selectively introduce typical disturbance effects, how are those disturbances identified, planned, and applied? Using limited-variable computer models? Using intuitive presumptions or reliance on historical anecdotes, analogies, and hearsay? Are they using references to indigenous accounts or archeological evidence? How reliable are these methods? Some management advocates assume that they can supercede and improve upon natural processes using human-designed practices. However, history is replete with examples of the unexpected consequences of such thinking. There are many examples where, upon future reassessment, the evidence showed that such over-confident beliefs were found to have been near-sighted and misguided. But, the damages done often cannot be reversed or repaired for an extended period of time.

        The current industrial timber extraction capacity is such that it depends on continuous and expanding material inputs to sustain its operations and maintain capital investment and remunerate its shareholders. However, the depletion of finite resources at the present rate is inevitable, and likewise, a reduction in industrial capacity is also inevitable. In other words, we are running out of economically profitable sawmill size trees, and the most valuable large trees that contain the largest quantities of carbon are being lost rapidly, or are gone already. It’s analogous to historical instances where excessive quantities of fish stock have been harvested and now face catastrophic population collapse. That’s why fishing regulations have had to be imposed in certain areas to allow for the recovery of fish stocks, to the chagrin of commercial mega-fishing fleets. There are so many examples where the reckless and unregulated overharvesting of resources has had profound long-term impacts on the sustainability of a resource and even its outright extinction (e.g., passenger pigeons, American bison, tigers, rhinos, certain species of fish …).”

        I think the expressed goal of proforestation is to slow, or refrain from commercial-scale timber harvesting altogether in some impacted regions, for a certain period of time (i.e., preserve the largest, most valuable old trees) so that a sufficient period of time (a lengthy period of time – for tree growth is slow compared to human lifespans) has transpired to allow for the natural replenishment of resources (i.e., little trees need time (usu. > 70 years) to grow and thrive).

        Besides timber management, other considerations need to be more highly prioritized, such as water quality and availability, ecosystem services, and biodiversity, to name a few. Current management objectives are heavily biased, or even exclusively biased, toward wood products and short-term, discounted economic capital gains. This mindset is not sustainable.

        Proforestation would potentially allow time enough to assess actual, as opposed to presumed and hypothetical, conditions on the ground, and research could fill in some of the unknowns so that better models might be developed over time. The current belief that we already know it all, or even enough, is a dangerous hubris that restricts the possibilities of future adjustment once we have discovered that we are/were, in fact, mistaken. These attitudes are not restricted to forest policies, for sure.

        As George Perkins Marsh once said: “The improvement of forest trees is the work of centuries. So much more the reason for beginning now.” Proforestation is one possible way of cultivating natural forests without relying on intensive “management” performed by manipulative human activities. It’s worth a try, at least in some regions that need to recover from past over-exploitation.

        • “The current industrial timber extraction capacity is such that it depends on continuous and expanding material inputs to sustain its operations and maintain capital investment and remunerate its shareholders.”

          Of course, this is how private landowners deal with their own lands, and not how it works on Federal lands.

      • Larry,

        What I read in your comment is an attempt to use recent severe fire effects in Yosemite National Park as criticism for ‘letting nature take its course’ — by which I suspect you mean no management. As mentioned in my earlier comments in this comment thread, this is not what proforestation advocates are proposing in frequent-fire forests. I find it interesting that any alternative to the conventional, mostly timber-oriented approach to managing forests is repeatedly equated with ‘do nothing’. This comes across as a way to demonize or marginalize an approach — in the case of proforestation, one that puts well-being and restoration of the forest first — that one disagrees with or feels threatened by.

        And in the case of Yosemite, you failed to mention: 1) removal of Native peoples that sustainably stewarded the land for centuries with fire (but not tree cutting), 2) the subsequent suppression of fire for 150 yrs, and 3) the fact that much of Yosemite NP was commercially logged in the late 1800’s into the 1920’s, which created more flammable forest conditions across many thousands of acres (and that have subsequently burned). Also there’s the current warmer/drier climate, which is increasing fire hazard and intensity irrespective of forest conditions. So your attempt to make NPS management into a bad idea for these forests simply bc there’s no active timber program is fraught with problems.

        My understanding is proforesters want to put fire back (both Rx and managed wildfire) into these dry forest landscapes as much as possible — which is the only option we currently have that will allow them to become more resilient again. That’s not an opinion, but what the vast majority of the science points to on this issue.

        • There are many ‘dealbreakers’ you ignore. Yosemite forests have the same modern issues that National Forests have, including man’s impacts. Yosemite tries to apply ‘proforestation’ but has failed many times in the last 30 years. Hey, they have even cut (and sold) trees recently, merely for better views. They have let fires burn, forcing them to cut hazard trees, which wouldn’t have died if they exercised more control (not necessarily full control, but on-the-ground monitoring and action, if needed) over the many lightning fires.

          The Foresta area was not logged. 30 years ago, there were massive trees there. Now, there is not much of anything. Three fires since 1990 will do that to such an area. My point about Yosemite is that their ‘management’ had been flawed, and they are now changing their styles for better results. I spoke with the main fire guy, and he admitted that past practices were mistakes.

          Regarding National Forests in the Sierra Nevada, today’s logging takes mostly small merchantable firs and cedars out, from under dominant trees, providing space for better trees, to grow and flourish as tomorrow’s old growth. Your view preserves overstocked and ‘unnatural’ thick flammable forests, choked with too many trees.

          My plan for restoration?

          1) Adjust the trees per acre to match the current annual precipitation.
          2) Adjust species compositions to a less flammable mix.
          3) Enhance forest structure, to favor old growth dependent species.

          Finally, Congress has acted, and directed the Forest Service to thin western forests with the extra money, while still following existing rules, laws and policies. Commercial thinning will continue to happen, despite the angst and guilt of some citizens. Forest Service scientists will weigh the actual site-specific forest data to decide what silvicultural methods are appropriate. Proforestation will not enter into the discussion right now. It does have some value in stands where there is not enough excess timber to thin, like in the southern Sierra Nevada, where mortality is very high.

          Salvage logging will continue to occur, when the courts decide to allow ‘snag thinning’ on Forest Service lands.

          People who do not agree can always go to court. Luckily, thinning projects in the Sierra Nevada are rarely litigated.

  10. This article provides an excellent discussion of some of the variations of management intensities that might be worthwhile (i.e., one size does not fit all circumstances). There are some situations where passive management may be best and others where more active management may be warranted. For example, passive management is a more reasonable approach in native Beech forests in Europe.

  11. The Yale folks have their own misleading analysis to explain.

    among others …

    First, quantifying substitution effects requires a lot of detailed analysis that is never produced. So logging proponents tend to fall back to the theoretical maximum value. Substitution benefits are also greatly delayed and a lot of warming occurs during the time lag between carbon emissions and alleged benefits.

    Mark Harmon says “Substitution of wood for more fossil carbon intensive building materials has been projected to result in major climate mitigation benefits often exceeding those of the forests themselves. A reexamination of the fundamental assumptions underlying these projections indicates long-term mitigation benefits related to product substitution may have been overestimated 2- to 100-fold. This suggests that while product substitution has limited climate mitigation benefits, to be effective the value and duration of the fossil carbon displacement, the longevity of buildings, and the nature of the forest supplying building materials must be considered. … Conversion of older, high carbon stores forests to short rotation plantations would over the long term likely lead to more carbon being added to the atmosphere despite some of the harvested carbon being stored and production substitution occurring.” Mark E Harmon 2019. Have product substitution carbon benefits been overestimated? A sensitivity analysis of key assumptions. Environ. Res. Lett. in press

    Second, stabilizing carbon at the stand level has nothing to do with climate effects.
    “Stabilizing” forest carbon is becoming a buzzword and a new goal for forest management, but it is NOT a climate solution. In order to address the global climate crisis, we need to reduce atmospheric carbon at the global scale, not stabilize forest carbon at the local scale. This is because Earth’s atmosphere is well-mixed. It does not matter if forest carbon booms and busts at the scale of stands or even landscapes. What matters is the total amount of carbon in the atmosphere, which is the net result of both carbon emissions in some locations, and carbon uptake in the rest of the living landscape that is still growing. From a climate perspective, it might make more sense to let forests grow and accumulate carbon in vegetation and soils (let forest carbon boom), even if it is not considered “sustainable” over the long term because it will eventually burn (the carbon might go bust), because every day/week/month/year that carbon stays in forests and soils is a day/week/month/year with less solar forcing.

    The goal of stabilizing carbon is especially suspect when the proposed activities required to stabilize carbon themselves emit carbon. The first problem is that emissions come first and alleged carbon benefits from avoided disturbance are delayed. This time lag conflicts with the urgent need to avoid emissions and store carbon in the near term.

    The second problem is that the carbon emissions from efforts to stabilize carbon very likely exceed the carbon “savings” from those stabilizing actions. This is because it is impossible to predict where or when natural destabilizing events such as wildfire might occur. Only a small fraction of deliberate actions taken to stabilize forest carbon will actually interact with natural disturbance events and provide carbon benefits. Most individual efforts to stabilize carbon will cause carbon emissions without any offsetting carbon benefits, so collectively, efforts to stabilize carbon will emit more carbon than just letting forest carbon accumulate, and eventually boom and bust.

  12. On the topic of dead trees/snags, I agree that at some level they are a necessary habitat component of forested ecosystems. What I do not understand is the commentary here, in some cases quoting highly regarded researchers stating that carbon emissions resulting from fire seem to end with the fire, claiming that dead trees/snags store carbon so should be left in place. This ignores the fact that dead vegetation/wood decomposes and results in carbon emissions, eating into the storage. And decay rates of wood are well documented. When I walk in the forests, whether “intact” or having been previously logged, there is very little left of even the largest logs on the ground after six or seven decades. Forests of the Cascades, Klamath & Siskiyou Mtns. and Sierras hold massive carbon stores which when burned as we’ve seen these past 2 decades, often result in stand replacement fire covering entire watersheds. IF they do not reburn of course the forests grow back but it takes years for sequestration to balance the carbon emission. And when they do reburn, the rate of carbon emission again spikes.

  13. I left a comment a short time ago, I apologize for not having read your comment criteria. I mentioned a book Smoke : the myth_ _ _ the author is Chad Hanson PhD. his website is: He is the absolute authority on forest Ecology. He has no ties to the forest industry, like so many professors do have at college forestry departments. Integrity is the essential!!

    • If you search this site for Hanson, you will get a wealth of more information about him, his shortcomings, and his agenda-based science. He has, however, made a bundle of money litigating salvage sales and making false claims about clearcuts on Forest Service lands, in the Sierra Nevada.

    • Michael: Are you the author of “We Can Do It?” Or is that another Michael Gengler? In either instance, I suggest following Larry’s advice when assessing Chad Hanson’s “absolute authority.” As a forest Ecologist, Hanson is a fairly successful lawyer. His abilities as a researcher and scientist are more debatable.


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