Norm Johnson, Jerry Franklin & The History of “Wild Science!”

Here is an indexed 60-minute primer on how “Wild Science” led the way to the creation of the Northwest Forest Plan — basically by six people and three animals: the “Gang of Four,” Bill Clinton, and Judge Dwyer; spotted owls, marbled murrelets, and coho: 

This video is Norm Johnson and Jerry Franklin promoting their new book, The Making of the Northwest Forest Plan, at Oregon State University, mid-May 2023, during which they give a surprisingly honest assessment of how they did it, how it has turned out, and what needs to be done next. I’ve highlighted key words, phrases, and acronyms on the index, so you can just skip to any part you think might be interesting. This is the best 60-minute summary to the Northwest Forest Plan I’m aware of, and I’m guessing it also summarizes their new book fairly well.

They never say “HCP,” they just refer to federal streamside buffers being critical next creations on state, private, and tribal lands and the most important current political focal point — see Oregon’s State Board of Forestry, Private Land Accord, and former “First Oregon State Forest,” the Elliott, for definition and update. That, and systematically killing barred owls in the name of racial purity. I am in full agreement, though,  as to what happened to all of the “critical habitat” in the Labor Day Fires — and also the lasting economic damage to affected rural communities; both barely mentioned.

Biased summary follows Index.

3:30 Norm Johnson /spotted owls

5:40 Pinchot stable communities objective: “old-growth was the fuel for the sustained-yield engine”

6:40 ESA litigation

8:35 Jack Ward Thomas: “It’s not science. It’s scientists doing planning.” “Wild Science!”

10:40 Jerry Franklin: “A different kind of science . . . Who was going to get the money? . . . All kinds of dead wood = Healthy Forest”

17:00 Norm: “The Power of Scientific Authority . . . shocked the world . . . if the managers would just stay out of the way”

19:05 Gang of Four: Norm & Jerry talk old-growth and politics: Accepted by USFS Fall 1990

22:00 “We can map the old-growth in a week!” “Don’t forget about the damned fish!” (Congress)

24:40 Jerry: Yacolt Burn becomes artificial standard for 80-year-old trees (LS/OG!)
“That rule, which they dreamed up in an afternoon, is still there! It’s kind of amazing!”
“Only complete forest ecosystems in the Douglas Fir Region . . . the organisms . . . the processes.”

27:00 [Jim Sedell]/Gordie Reeves: “Gang of Four = Big Kahunas.” Gordon story: “People don’t care about spotted owls — you [fish biologists] just changed the game”

30:15 Norm: “Amazing change: 300-foot buffers on fish-bearing streams” “Fund restoration”

30:35 “Gang of Four Choices” Personal values in 3 or 4 days — “kind of amazing!” Congress approved! They understood owls and fish were incompatible with timber harvest

34:50 Gordie: USFS Planners Really Upset — “probably easiest conclusion I ever reached in my career”

35:55 Spotted Owls: Spring 1992 Judge Dwyer “really changed things” w/ESA invertebrate surveys

36:45 Clinton Plan: FEMAT LS/OG = 2x”Deeply Disappointed” = Option 9 LSRs Riparian Reserves Matrix

40:05 Jerry: Option 9 was “more efficient method of preservation” bringing aquatic-terrestrial together

41:05 Norm: President’s Plan “Released July 1, 1993 after a Furious Debate within the White House” 75% Decrease in Sales vs. spotted owls, marbled murrelets, salmon (Quotes Obama)

42:50 Public Criticism: massive drop in cut = negative employment/community impacts — no Tribes involved — Lawyers need more “protections”

43:40 Northwest Forest Plan: Dwyer “admires and approves” “greatly expanded (x 2) Riparian reserves”
“Moist and Dry” Forests and “the harvest level collapsed” — USFS timber had “near death experience”

47:50 30-Year Scorecard: “Moist Forest plantation thinning saved the federal timber program”
“Stabilized habitat” until the 2020 Labor Day Fires and barred owls . . .
fish need more buffers on lower tree farm and agricultural lands, too
difficult to provide economic assistance to displaced workers and damaged communities

50:20 Why the NWFP Matters: Implemented ecosystem planning: science & lawyers (Trump cite)

50:45 Recommendations: Kill barred owls, adopt “Moist Forest” planning, focus on private properties
Tribes were completely ignored, except for fish benefits — need to be included
started with one listed fish — now more than 30; needs to include private lands for buffers
Jerry: need to manage for future habitats based on current “science”

56:00 Questions: 1) “Survey and Manage?”: doesn’t apply to plantations; hasn’t been “court-tested”
2) BLM “storyline” regarding “conservation?”: “Most innovative . . . in adopting ecosystem management”
3) Wildfire and climate change: Jerry: “Obviously plantations most susceptible to change”
4) Eastern Oregon ladder fuels should be treated: no comment
5) “Newer goals” should include carbon sequestration: no comment


Bottom Line: Jack Ward Thomas said that “This isn’t science. This is planning done by scientists.” He was exactly right. In my opinion, we should have relied on experienced professionals from the beginning — this experiment of having nameless modelers construct our resource management plans — and our public employee hiring criteria — has been an obvious and costly failure. In 1990 the ESA-endorsed spotted owl allowed the “Gang of Four” and two fish biologists to impose “Ecological Forestry” on our public lands. In the Douglas Fir Region the result has been dozens of catastrophic wildfires, bankrupt counties, millions of dead wildlife, tens of thousands burned homes, thousands of failed businesses, and hundreds of deaths. The cost is in the tens of billions and continues to increase daily. When is it time to say “enough,” and return the active management of our public resources to local control, where the true experts live? Compare the 33 years of successful forest and wildlife management preceding 1990 to the 33 years that have followed. ESA bureaucrats have only been the silent tip of the iceberg in this mess. In my opinion.

48 thoughts on “Norm Johnson, Jerry Franklin & The History of “Wild Science!””

  1. You mean, “we should have relied on experienced professionals” who got us into the mess that the Northwest Forest Plan was court-ordered to address? By what metrics do you conclude that 33 years preceding the NFP were “successful”? I suppose if you’re just looking at board feet and ancient forest logged and species pushed to the brink, sure. But beyond that, I don’t think the past was so rosy; it certainly left us with numerous challenges.

    That said, I do agree that improvements to the NFP are warranted. For some recommendations, see (starting on page 196):

    • Hi Susan: I was a young adult, father, and business owner running a reforestation business for most of the 33 years preceding 1990. We had one major (10,000+ acres) forest fire in western Oregon between 1952 and 1987, the 1966 Oxbow Fire on Smith River. We’ve had more than 30(!) since. We had thriving rural communities, no one living on the sidewalks, clean, well-managed campgrounds, good hunting and fishing. You might not be old enough to remember. No major fires, lots of jobs, good schools, safe, beautiful forests.

      Compare that to now. Here’s one of many articles and editorials I’ve written about the topic:

      • Bob, you state in your article that the incidences of “large and catastrophic fires” increased 3,600%. Is that the number of fire starts or total acreage burned? You also mentioned that many of them started in wilderness areas. My question is if they started in wilderness areas, is it safe to assume most of the acreage in those areas had never been logged? If so, why are these forests with some trees that are several hundred years old suddenly burning now when they hadn’t been logged to begin with? Why hadn’t they burned prior to the Northwest Forest Plan?

        Jack Ward Thomas wrote a paper that stated land management is based on science, values and politics. Science, of course, doesn’t make land management decisions, it informs, and politics are based on values. Both science and values are continually evolving (as is the climate). The Northwest Forest Plan was informed by the science of the time and driven by values (laws are also based on values). Was the NW Forest Plan right? It depends on your values. Is it accomplishing the goals it set out to accomplish? That is up for debate and I would argue at the very least it needs updating based on new science and current conditions.

        I sympathize with your points about the impact on jobs and human suffering. I’ve only lived in rural areas and when the primary employer shuts down, it is very difficult. The difference in my experience (the mine shut down) versus yours, is that the Northwest Forest Plan impacted an entire region, not just a town.

        • Hi Mike:

          That number is the increase in number of fires in excess of 10,000 acres in western Oregon. Acreage figures for those fires is probably a similar percentage, or higher.

          In 1982 I was vice-president of Associated Reforestation Contractors and represented our industry regarding new Oregon Wilderness designations at that time. Our/my position was that any new Wilderness creations should require their active management — so they wouldn’t go to weeds and/or wildfire. A few areas had been mined, logged, or used as pasture, but logging intrusions were mostly minor and isolated. Proponents were making claims of 400-year-old trees and opponents were citing costs, risks, and lack of access for most citizens. The Kalmiopsis has now burned four times since it was made one of the first Wilderness areas in the world. No one can say, for some reason, if the rare endemic plants that caused it to be listed have benefited or been damaged by these fires.

          Prior to being Wilderness, people routinely visited most of these areas, gathering firewood, picking berries, and setting fires. Later, grazing sheep. The removal of people for the most part from these landscapes resulted in predictable fuel build-ups, followed by unmanaged fires.

          • Thanks, Bob. I think you answered the question I was working towards which was if Indigenous people systematically burned in the areas that are now protected by the NWFP. I’m much more familiar with the natural fire regimes and fire history in my part of Colorado than out your way.

            An interesting side note: Back in the late 70s, one of my forestry professors at UMaine spent an entire class presenting data and showing the math as to why he thought a time of reckoning was coming to the NW timber industry within 20 years.

            We felt the impact of the decrease in the cut in the NW where I live in southern Colorado. Our largest mill, a stud mill, went belly up because it was run by a company that had several other mills in the NW. Those mills weren’t doing enough volume to stay afloat and it took down our local mill with it.

            • Hi Mike: The NWFP did not consult with Tribes during its preparation, as Norm readily admits, nor did they account for the actions of people for thousands of years before the establishment of Wilderness areas and subsequent passive management actions on public lands. My dissertation at OSU was specific to Indian burning history and subsequent catastrophic wildfires on the Oregon Coast Range. That data has been totally ignored by the “ecological forestry” believers, who seem to consider humans as pathogens in their vision of “natural succession.” And so we have wildfires and unemployment, as clearly predicted.

  2. There are so many lenses to look at the NW Forest Plan.

    (1) Did it live up to its promises (internally consistent?) did it save owls and also allow adaptive management in some areas? Was the projected volume achieved? Are owls still in trouble? Could they have foreseen that?
    (2) What worked, what didn’t? Certainly the folks who dreamed it up may have different ideas than others. I’d like to see a range of voices on that- those without direct involvement who might be less biased. In fact, it seems a bit odd that there hasn’t been an official after-action review by now.. to see what lessons can be carried into the future. OSU? should you convene such a group? Or maybe the State legislature? Should they have had more public input along the way.. maybe a FACA committee to check in with annually? Did the plan have unjust effects on low income communities? What voices could have been listened to but were not?

  3. I thank Bob for posting this. I’ve only read 38 of the 400 pages in the book and this hour long video doesn’t suggest that there is much sense in reading any further.

    I hear hubris about the plan process when the outcomes indicate that there should be a sense of failure due to bad priorities and an irresponsible time line that didn’t allow for an abundance of outside critical input which the video brushes over.

  4. Here we go again… NF mgmt prior to the NWFP was a FAILURE, plain and simple – unsustainable, disastrous for fish and wildlife, water quality, politically fraught. Winners? OK, timber industrial complex. Losers? Pretty much everybody else. Not a good way to run PUBLIC lands. For Zybach to hang recent fire history around the neck of NWFP is myopic. Those “good ol’ days” advocates remind me of MAGA thinking… yeah, the 50s era was pretty great unless you were black, poor, female, LGBTQ, non-white male generally. There are many reasons NF had to change. NWFP may not be perfect but it addressed a deep sickness. I say this book should be required reading for almost every federal employee in owl country so they DON’T FORGET!

    • JIm.. that’s a pretty broad statement. Do you mean West-side Oregon and Washington NF management was a failure? Because when I started in Central Oregon, we were still using selection cutting. In fact, the forests south of us in California were hardly doing timber management at all.

      And not to make too fine a point of it, all those guys I remember were white guys. Clinton, Jim Lyons, Jerry and Norm, Eric so there’s that..

      Here’s my take.. in Region 6 timber was king (as I was told) . The ideas even bled over the Cascades into our less productive country. Where our budget was within the rounding error of the budget on the “Big W” as we were told. The cut was too high, I even remember at a Biodiversity workshop, rangers expressing that. Was a too high cut a “deep sickness”?

      Were there ways of reducing the cut and improving practices without the downsides of the NWFP? I would think so, negative impacts could be reduced. And would that involve listening to experts on the ground and local people more? Probably.

    • Hi Jim:

      Did you actually live in the Pacific Northwest from 1950 to 1990? Your description of the situation at that time certainly doesn’t match my memories or documentary evidence such as photographs, film, newspaper accounts, books, or oral histories. Fish and wildlife? Or are you just talking about a minor subspecies or two? Water quality? Everyone drank from the tap in those days, w/o any negative results I can recall. Winners? Workers, families, recreationists, schools, parks, roads?

      I think you are just making things up to make a point, or else your memory is failing you in your later years. 50s era LBGTQZ? Poor, black females in Oregon vs. the “timber industrial complex?” What does that have to do with forestry? There may be “many reasons” the USFS changed direction so severely in 1990, but these ain’t them. You are mostly just spouting what used to be called “revisionist history” and rationalizing your role in these changes from all appearances.

  5. It doesn’t appear that anyone even pumped the brakes when JWT said ‘this isn’t science’.

    A Prime example of the lack of focus on science based priorities as the driver is:
    Eric Forsman’s admission that ‘there was no science on the NSO side so we were guessing’. Yet the NSO was the prime driver for the NWFP. Regardless of the fact that the NSO had better survival rates in commercial plantations than anywhere else. And guess what, it now turns out that evolution was and still is replacing a less flexible NSO with a far more flexible owl in a period when everyone was and still is panicking over global warming which the Barred Owl was and is much better suited to survive in. So now, instead of spitting into the wind, we are now going to shoot shotguns into the wind.

    This lack of prioritizing based on the relative stability of the involved sciences means that we have spent unconscionable amounts of money so that we could spit into the wind!!! The spit on our face is:
    – The smoke in the air and it’s health issues for a thousand or more miles from each fire
    – The loss of life
    – The loss of wildlife and the very habitat that we were trying to perpetuate for threatened and endangered species which in turn has a negative impact on climate.
    – … etc.

    Instead of tearing everything down with one act of misinformed law and trying to swallow the whole plate at one time, it would seem to have been better if we had used validated science as the foundation and take a Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) approach.

    A) Such a process would prioritize the involved sciences based on their relative stability as determined by consistent results over a wide span of temporal and spatial diversity. At the top of the rankings would be those validated by uniformly successful application over a large number of trials and especially by those with consistently successful and extensive operational adoption.

    Fundamental sciences like plant physiology (correction 6/8/23), soils, hydrology, geology, and climate would be at the top of the stable sciences list. Fire science and site specific silviculture (including associated entomology and pathology {correction 6/8/23}) might follow next and then terrestrial, aquatic, and aerial wildlife rankings by species. The wildlife species found to be more heavily researched would possibly be based on their importance for food, sport and other recreational opportunities like birding. There was no NSO research to speak of until Eric Forsman entered the picture.

    B) Current management practices would also be evaluated to determine what the shortcomings were and the opportunities for incremental improvement would be determined based on implementation time frame and cost.

    C) Then the stable sciences would be married with the opportunities for improvement and then the low hanging fruit would be incrementally carried out.

    D) Priorities would be reviewed from time to time based on fully vetted science rather than the current hot idea or guesses as happened with the spotted owl.

    Instead, we acted like a couple who couldn’t get their clothes off fast enough.
    However, the consequences were significantly more nuanced with catastrophic results.

  6. Thanks Gil:

    You and I have butted heads occasionally in the past, but we are in lock-step on this topic. I agree with both you and Sharon that it is long past time this plan — and the process that created it — were publicly and transparently reviewed. And by actual peers — forest managers, field scientists, loggers, and experienced wildlife biologists. This “peer review” of biased modeling outputs by other nameless modelers has been an expensive and deadly experiment we should all learn from — rather than accepting these outcomes as “science,” or even acceptable, much less desirable. Should have happened 25 years ago, but always better late than never.

    • At least neither of us has quit trying to bring some sense to all of this even though, considering politics and the public selfishness and ignorance that drives it, we are both probably wasting our time. But, our love for forests and all of their complexity drives us on.

      I have always appreciated your insights.

  7. How to keep this brief? BZ… yes, I lived in OR 65-68 (Umpqua and Malheur NFs). Not making stuff up. First, my MAGA reference was analagous: entire USA as to PNW. Thus, if your life and economy depended on federal timber, great! Haves and have nots? What about the burgeoning (legitimate) “have not” env constituency and their beef? FS ignored, belittled, and denigrated these owners of public lands while ramming OG cc’ing down everyone’s throat. Franklin and Fred Swanson described being laughed out of Will NF Supv’s office after describing OG values revealed by research in HJ Andrews Exp Forest. FS officials had many opportunities to change, but as Judge Dwyer noted, they chose to “willfully break the law” liquidating OG.
    Thus, the “deep sickness”… characterized by Orville Daniels (esteemed Lolo NF Supv) who said FS “went over to the dark side” in pursuit of timber. This was my lived experience, observing dogmatic FS behavior from inside the tent. Wrote a book about it (Toward a Natural Forest; OSU Press 2015). Sharon: true, Malheur did “selective logging” that looked to me like stripping the forest of the best big trees. Not sustainable; wheels came off there also.
    My approach to managing Siuslaw NF (post-owl crash) was to use the NWFP as a guide, but I departed significantly from its original concept. As authors noted, commercial thinning of plantations (pioneered on Siuslaw to enhance late successional forests) “saved the NWFP”.
    NWFP could have – should have – been adjusted serially to make it better. Ecosystem mgmt premise of NWFP is still far superior to previous tree farm mentality.

    • Jim:

      “As authors noted, commercial thinning of plantations (pioneered on Siuslaw to enhance late successional forests) “saved the NWFP”. NWFP could have – should have – been adjusted serially to make it better.”

      Sounds like you did your part for Continuous Process Improvement (CPI). But. had a hard time incorporating the “Continuous” part of “CPI” with the political and massive institutional hierarchy focused on their “solution” and not wanting to stir up anymore unrest. Inertia is a terrible thing to overcome but even harder after a long fought battle has brought some sense of peace to the leaders.

  8. Thanks. I ran into much opposition at Reg Office, and apathy among other forest supvs (though many eventually came around to appreciate our initiative). Then Bush admin came in, dedicated (my view) to discrediting NWFP and scrapping as much as possible.
    I agree with you that CPI works on most policy formulations (eg Affordable Care Act; which could have been improved, except for staunch opposition that liked fomenting discord and chaos).

    • Jim,
      I agree with you on CPI for both Affordable Care and the NWFP, plus CDC and others handling Covid, and maybe a lessons learned and improvement followup to the Durham report for the FBI. A great question would be “how can we do CPI when partisan players use it as a partisan football? How can we break that gridlock (or exorcise the demons of partisanship)? I think the FS did great with prescribed burning and the 90 day stand-down with getting people involved in improvement and making the improvements transparent.

  9. Taking off from JWT’s quote “this isn’t science” We should add ‘this is politics and vote getting politics should have no place in it.’

    Until the following are removed from the forest management process, We are literally doomed:

    A) judges – the legal system has nothing to contribute to science.

    B) Politicians – submitting to the pressures from citizens (especially so called environmentalist groups). See “E” below

    C) Other …ologists on the periphery like some myopic ecosystem specialists.

    D) Science which has not been rigorously validated over a wide period in time and geography.

    E) Citizenry who are uninformed or misinformed should have no place other than to respond to a survey of what they like or would like to do in forests (no guarantees when they go against the science and could threaten the environment, i.e. flyover and terrestrial viewsheds should be accommodated but not when they override the science for the part played by forests in a healthy ecosystem or when they take money from sound and truly sustainable forest management.

    Until those who have no significant knowledge of or experience with the Big Picture of the totality of the Forest Sciences involved are kept out of the decision making process, except when called in on an as needed advisory basis, they will continue to shoot themselves, their heirs, the rest of us and the environment in the gut. BTW, there are no Emergency Rooms for Environmental Gut Shots.

    Unfortunately, even though they are holding crap in their hands, they refuse to see, and therefore wont admit where they went wrong. We are literally doomed unless they are removed from the process. When we are wiped out by their self centered actions, the earth will start all over as it has many times before.

    SUSTAINABILITY must recognize that healthy forests require management that includes the type of harvesting (thinnings , selective, clearcut and etc.) as determined by the species and site. Sustainability compatible with humans will not be possible without forest management and a dependable budget. Likewise sustainability requires a relatively sustainable forest industry in order to execute some of the necessary management and offset some of the management costs.

    Expectations for recovery must be lowered as it will probably take more 50 years before any progress is really noticeable considering the current state of neglect in our national forests.

    This is bigger than any of us. Maybe the aliens, will intercede. Odds of success are somewhere between slim and none.

    As Pogo said: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

  10. Gil: strongly disagree with some of above. Judges contribute to APPLICATION of science, eg Dwyer and owl. FS officials were largely ignoring science until he required them to. IMO most field foresters do NOT know much science except what they’re told. Many enviros I know have a much more comprehensive grasp than your average gs 11 forester. Classic elitest “Know it all” view to keep them out of decision process. NFs are PUBLIC lands after all.

    • Yes, “NFs are PUBLIC lands after all.” But that doesn’t mean that the public has the knowledge to manage them. In fact, it is amazing to me that too few see the negative consequences of the role the public played in the NWFP decision process. As I said elsewhere above, the public needs to contribute by giving their input on what they’d like our forest management plans to consider subject to the constraint that said desires are not implemented to a degree that the impact doesn’t destroy the very object that they want to “sustain” which would seriously impair our own sustainability.

      I’m not sure that I understand your “classic elitist” statement. But, reading between the lines, I think that I see elitism differently than you. I see it as being a problem with the egotism of the intelligentsia and powerful in unrelated areas as well as the selfish exerting their will over those who have the comprehensive training, experience and devotion of those who have the knowledge, wisdom and patience not to shoot first and ask questions later. Evidence to my point is the blind not admitting that their selfishness, egotism and ignorance played any part in the current disaster. That is elitism. IMHO, Elitism is power and influence without any responsibility or accountability.

      P.S. If a forester hasn’t got the qualifications to contribute in any way to the determination, then that forester has no place at the table. But, I believe that we discredit the average field forester’s ability to contribute based on what they see in the woods. Hm!!! Just like when they told everyone that the NSO was thriving in plantations. All of the survival studies throughout the process and since then have uniformly supported their claim. Yet the elitists from the president on down ignored them.

  11. The Northwest Forest Plan was and is a total disaster on several fronts.

    The choice was between saving the public timber industry in the northwest or the spotted owl. The NWFP destroyed the public timber industry and the spotted owl is headed for a life in captivity in zoos.

    Everybody including President Clinton should have met in Portland and him flip a coin instead. Heads we save the timber industry, tails we save the spotted owl. Unbelievable, that the “best” scientist came up with a plan that ended both the owl and the public timber industry.

    Worse yet, the casting professional management of the National Forests as incompetent has
    directly led to the burning down of our National Forests, Park, and towns throughout the west as forest policy and management shifted resource professionals to lawyers.

    But some comments on the Gang of Four.

    The Wenatchee NF sent a paper to the Gang of Four written by owl scientists, and other resource specialists that the the NWFP would result in the extinction of the spotted owls on the east slope of the Cascades. I don’t know how the rest of the Forest is doing with owls, but in Chelan County we went from 100 owls in 1994 to ONE today. With all due respect to Three Dog Night and Harry Nillson one is a very lonely number when it comes to spotted owl recovery.

    Barred Owls were ignored, but even worse is that the Colville National Forest used the barred owl as an indicator species, and had a modeling contraint in ForPlan to insure that the barred owl population would flourish.

    I pointed out to the wildlife biologist that barred owls were an “invasive species”, but he countered that they arrived on the National Forest with settlement by farmers and the changed habitat. That made them a naturalized invasive species, just like me.


    But as they say, there is more.

    When I took the planning job on the Colville National Forest, I returned to UC Berkeley and Dr. Bill McKillop cornered me and ask “what in the hell was the Forest Service doing adopting ForPlan as a planning tool”? Bill, was rather fond of timber management, but he clearly recognized that the National Forests were more than tree farms and picking ForPlan as the primary planning tool was a huge mistake.

    It is interesting that the Gang of Four kept ForPlan and used it extensively. Folks, when the only tool you have is a hammer, the entire world does look like a nail. It did lead to everything including the NWFP revolving around timber numbers and the baggage that ForPlan brought with it like non-declining even flow.

    Using ForPlan as the primary tool for the NWFP resulted in its failure.

    The ONLY reason to run a timber harvesting model is to insure that you do not run of timber.

    Here are the timber numbers for the Wenatchee National Forest that came out of ForPlan.

    Total Growth on the Forest including Wilderness, RNA’s, everything…….500 million board feet.
    Pre-Forest plan allowable cut on the Wenatchee National Forest…………..175 million board feet.
    Preferred Forest Plan Alternative, prior to the NWFP…………………………………124 million board feet.
    NWFP allowable cut…………………………………………………………………………………………….25 million board feet.

    The number of ForPlan runs for the NWFP was staggering. All the runs giving answers in the 25 million range. The Wenatchee National Forest was NOT going to run out of trees due to timber harvest.

    The focus needed to be on the transition, not the silly numbers generated by the ForPlan model.

    On the fisheries issue, I am glad that Jim Sedell finally admitted that the public lands were NOT the problem, but rather the private lands and operations are where the problem is located. I asked Jim, what was the difference in habitat between National Forests and private lands and was told that the private lands were toast.

    So why not tell the public that the National Forest lands were better managed for fish than private lands and in fact, represented a last hope for many species. Instead the Gang of Four, once again, chose to demonize professional management of our National Forests.

    And the public lands slipped into management by lawyers, federal judges and politicians.

    Today, 30 years later, the next RPA revision will show that net growth on the National Forests is NOW NEGATIVE. We are literally burning down the National Forests and Parks.

    In those 30 years, we have burned down 1/3 of the wildland acreage in the state of California. ONE-THIRD. We have had mega-fires that have literally burned a MILLION ACRES, with no chance of reforestation for a large percentage of that land. We are converting our National Forests into National Brushfields at a rapid clip.

    That is the legacy of the Gang of Four.

    History will not judge the NWFP kindly, no matter the spin we are desperately seeing today.

    Vladimir I. Steblina

    • If the timber targets of 1 billion BF/year had been met — the harvest has been a third of that or less — we’d have a very different economy.

      • But Forplan runs could lead to all kinds of biologically bad outcomes. I don’t know what the right answer would have been but I think I can trace my distrust of models back to that.. it’s the knowledge that’s not included and the surprises to everyone that’ll get you.

        • ForPlan by definition will lead to “biologically bad outcomes”. It is a TIMBER SCHEDULING MODEL.

          It works well for that. BUT only if the decision makers have a clue about linear programming and various “issues” with timber harvest scheduling.

          The effect analysis always needed to be done outside of ForPlan.

          Jack Ward Thomas and the Gang of Four had no clue!! Norm Johnson, knew better, but he was the “father” of ForPlan and was unwilling to abort the baby.

          • Per my colleague Dave Iverson, Norm warned the Forest Service that FORPLAN was the wrong tool for the job:

            I remember one day in 1979, before I joined the Forest Service, having lunch with FORPLAN developer K. Norman (Norm) Johnson when a memo came down from the Forest Service Washington Office declaring FORPLAN to be the primary analysis tool for forest planning. Norm said, “My God, we’ve just lost the war.” No truer prophecy was ever uttered. But that was just the beginning of my nightmares with what I call economic fundamentalism. The problem extended beyond the FORPLAN follies, into project and program cost-benefit analysis generally. When passion for this type fundamentalism began to wane, a new threat appeared in the form of free-market fundamentalism. That latter threat is still very real, while the two former threats have faded into memory.

            Dave’s recollection matches mine. FORPLAN’s major cheerleaders were the timber industry and its handmaidens in the Forest Service’s timber shop.

            • Hmm. And 40 years later we have moved on to climate modeling fundamentalism.. plus ça change. Or we can mix economics and climate and get the social cost of carbon.

              I wonder what was the “war” and who is the “we” who lost it?

            • All Norm had to do was make that statement public and refuse to let the Forest Service use ForPlan.

              Was ForPlan in the public domain?? What was wrong with Timber RAM other than the name??

              As I said, Norm refused to abort “ForPlan”. It is on his shoulders not the timber industry or the handmaidens in the Forest Service.

              But I agree, that decision alone made sure that planning in the Forest Service was doomed to failure.

              BUT, Norm was given a clean slate by President Clinton with the NWFP and he STUCK with ForPlan.

              It is on Norm.

              • I’d lay the blame for the Forest Service’s planning failures at the same root cause as all long-term, centralized planning failures — it is not possible to predict the future nor to control exogenous forces (or even all internal ones, for that matter). I’ve long believed (and suggested model NFMA rules accordingly) that the Forest Service should abandon comprehensive land-use planning altogether. In its stead, the Forest Service should replace planning with managing (what a concept!).

                So, what is managing? The question itself goes to show how far we’ve strayed from sanity. We can no more envision managing a national forest WITHOUT a plan than we can imagine managing our household without a plan. Oh, wait. 🤔 I don’t have a plan for managing my household. Do you? I just sort of muddle through, day-by-day, week-by-week, tending to things that need tending to, ignoring what I don’t have time for, listening to my fellow householders. Heck, I even collaborate with them when convenient.

                • Andy

                  I understand.

                  But I don’t think modeling should be tossed out completely. It has it’s place as a continuously evolving means of collecting the assumptions involved in management, marrying them with the management plans necessary to sustain our national forests and giving us a long term rough guess of the consequences of our intended actions.

                  In the early 90’s, tried to get a copy of ForPlan but the USFS was having no part of it.

                  Here is a summary of the foibles of optimization considering manager’s desires to twist the use of models to the advantage of their next bonus/raise.

                  1st) I used a contractor developed plywood plant profit optimizer to determine optimal product mix. The key to it’s success was a monthly reconciliation of actual verses planned results. That process allowed us to remove the impact of exogenous variables. After that it was easy to use accounting variance analysis to determine where the factors used in the model had changed in terms of available veneer grades, product price, cost and yield. That resulted in, as needed, studies to find out why the yield, cost or quality had changed. Then, if it was a process problem that could be corrected, it was corrected. If not, then the factor value was changed. It worked great for a year or two. I knew that there was a problem when i noticed “white out” shading on my review copy of a monthly reconciliation. 🙂 😉 Due to the cost of maintaining the data and to avoid embarrassment for the revealed poor performance, the plant manager was getting his secretary to alter the automated report. It seems that a smooth tongue and short term headcount costs often override the facts. End of project.

                  2nd) I used a commercial product “Woodstock” for our forestry division. Woodstock can handle any parameter that is pertinent to the sustainability of the total forest or other life cycle objective.
                  a) The objective was to optimize non declining yield for a commercial forestry company (a big asset in selling our timberlands). In addition, it was to guide us in determining what stands needed what kind of harvesting for the next year’s budget process. Justifying the use of fertilizer was the result of using the model to determine financial impact.
                  b) My plan was and still would be the same as in the plywood plant which was to provide a self checking model continuously refined closer to reality each year. But, when reviewed, it was obvious that the yields were unreasonably high in order to bump the cut up and make the operating manager a nice bonus and a raise. End of project.

                  Lesson learned. Modeling is of dubious value in dynamic open systems unless there is a long term commitment to incorporate:
                  – reconciling predicted versus actual
                  – correcting out of tolerance processes
                  – correcting out of date data
                  – updating the model as CPI (engineering, science or astute observation) refines the modeled process.

                • This is one point Andy and I agree on.. sure there are useful decisions like ESA decisions, leasing availability, transportation and so on. FS Planners and maybe the Committee of Scientists talked about planning as a “loose-leaf notebook of current decisions”.

                  I did learn that the fans of NFMA planning as currently conducted (or a better version always on the horizon) are many and powerful.

                  As to “It is not possible to predict the future”.. I agree, I keep arguing for more humility among climate modelers with little success.

              • The way I remember it (as someone who was hired in 1980 to do Forplan), the goal of forest planning modeling (and NFMA for that matter) was to come up with harvest levels that were sustainable based on a professional best guess at what future conditions and limitations were going to be (based on how we allocated the land to different uses and forest-wide limits like at-risk wildlife species). The Forest Service (Timber RAM and non-integrated functional resource planning) had not been successful at doing that. Forplan and forest plans were an improvement. I don’t think the goal can be questioned, and while I think a more adaptive approach would be better, I have not heard a lot of good ideas on how to achieve the goal in fundamentally a different way (including when I worked on the 2012 Planning Rule).

    • Vladimir

      Thank you for this insight. More examples of the rush to judgement imposed by an extremely powerful political leader so that he could get his supporters off of his back and win even more voters. Damn the consequences. Short term vision has no place in forest management.

  12. Sharon said…”Hmm. And 40 years later we have moved on to climate modeling fundamentalism.. plus ça change. Or we can mix economics and climate and get the social cost of carbon.

    I wonder what was the “war” and who is the “we” who lost it?”

    I think you deserve a response to your question.


    • Anonymous

      Just more modeling games ESPECIALLY when the multi-millennial record shows that atmospheric carbon has nothing to do with global warming.

    • Hi John:

      It is linked at the very top — unless you are referring to another video. I’ve requested the original from OSU but no response.

  13. “Wild science” specifically refers to the Western Coniferous Forest Biome Project and subsequent research funded by the National Science Foundation. See chapter 4. The funding source authorized by Congress enabled researchers to work independently of the land and resource management agencies whose aggressive and poorly planned applications of “sustained yield” caused the programmatic meltdown of 1988-92.

    In contrast, the authors describe “domesticated science” as “designed largely to assist forest managers to do better what they had already decided to do.” Page 59. Few managers embraced the NWFP because it repudiated their forest plans as recipes for extinction of birds and fish

    It’s always helpful to read the book before commenting on its content.


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