Last Day for ANPR Comments I. The MOG Thing


Today is the last day for comments on what I used to call the Mature and Old Growth ANPR.  First let’s give the Forest Service some kudos for the differences between it and the BLM proposed rule.  Like the IMBA letter suggests, the BLM could have benefited from collecting ideas (through an ANPR) and then further honing the proposal in a proposed regulation as the next step. Also when time periods were extended the BLM’s were shorter and the BLM had the close on July 5, right after when most people had a holiday weekend.  The BLM had a few public meetings and some online..the Forest Service approach was different, but then there is not a proposed rule yet, they’re collecting ideas in the ANPR.

Since I first posted on the ANPR, I’ve had much time to reread the Federal Register notice and look at some individual and group responses.  It remains puzzling to me as there seem to be two basic threads.  One is the mature and old growth question.. should some regulation be promulgated about not cutting trees in mature and old growth, as recommended by many ENGO’s?  Check out the Climate Forests Campaign here.

There are many ENGO heavy hitters (in the Biden Admin) like Earthjustice, NRDC, and the Sierra Club among the group. Their argument seems to be.. this is the rationale folks are sending in based on  the “take action” letter:

In addition, older forests and trees are far more adaptable to the impacts of climate change, especially compared to industrial tree plantations. Nationally, carbon losses from clearcuts and other logging are up to 5 times higher than emissions from fire and other natural forest disturbances combined. Logging older forests grossly undercuts these benefits.

We urge you to include in any future administrative rules an end to ecologically harmful logging of mature and old growth forests and trees on federal land. While there are certainly other threats to our older forests, including wildfire and drought, the threat of logging is fully under your control and can be quickly acted on.

The first few sentences appears to conflate federal and private lands (I can’t get their link to check it), and the alternative on national forests is not “industrial tree plantations.”

The second is that however tiny the proportion of disturbance due to timber harvest (regardless of purpose, including ecological restoration and fire risk reduction) that is what can be controlled so you should stop.  Presumably even for fire risk reduction and ecological restoration.

The ANPR has some interesting tables for those who haven’t read it, so I thought I’d put them in this post.

There are difficulties though, with the argument of stopping any tree-cutting in mature and old growth forests.  For one thing,  the bipartisan Congress has asked the Forest Service to cut some mature trees for fuels reduction, in part to increase the possibility of protecting old growth trees and stands.  Then there is the need for early successional habitat for diverse tree (species like some oaks and pines) and wildlife species, as biodiversity is thought to be a good thing, and is in the 2012 Planning Rule.

Given the desire and appropriations by a bipartisan majority in Congress for fuel treatments, I don’t see how any such no-cutting mature and old trees rule would end well (except for work for litigators). And for environmental lawyers here at TSW, no, I don’t think that making more work for you all is why these ENGOs are doing this.  Sure, you can say that the Sierra Club has wanted to end commercial logging since 1986 -ish, so perhaps climate is just the latest justification for this same point of view.  And the Biden Admin may seem like a good opportunity to run this up the flagpole.  But I can’t see an endgame where no-cutting trumps fuel reduction treatments and openings for biodiversity at the end of the “separation of powers” day.  And I know that folks in the ENGOs  know more than I do about this, and for sure are smarter and more politically astute than I am.  So what is this really about?

On the other hand,  some Forest Service folks have told me that the “no-cutting rule” idea isn’t going anywhere and the ANPR is really about how the FS should respond to climate adaptation.   But based on the FOIAs I’ve received, the FS isn’t necessarily calling the shots with regard to forest policy in this Admin (nor is USDA).  So I would be inclined to include your thoughts on MOG in any comments you want to send in today.  Next post: the rest of the questions in the ANPR.


22 thoughts on “Last Day for ANPR Comments I. The MOG Thing”

  1. The ENGO folks always push the idea that the Forest Service wants to do “industrial logging” in these old growth forests. Yes, there are still many people who want to end the current thinning projects, in favor of ‘whatever happens’. Some others merely want to end all timber projects on public lands, while “clearing the underbrush”, instead.

    I’m sure we’ll see quite an array of disjointed objections that aren’t based in scientific facts. (From both sides, of course!)

  2. Y’all need to take a breath and read the fine print. ENGO’s are NOT arguing for cessation of logging. They are arguing that logging, particularly for fire risk reduction, focus on non-MOG trees; and within MOG forests, remove non-MOG trees unless absolutely essential that larger trees be cut. As to industrial logging, the FS still does plenty: Green Mtn, Black Hills, Willamette, Monongahela NFs and many others around the country.

    • Jim, Here are the words that they are using. If their position is more nuanced, they could ..say that in public somewhere. I wasn’t saying all ENGOs.. I was saying Climate Forests and apparently their partners.

      Here’s what Climate Forests says..
      “We are calling on the Biden Administration to enact a strong, lasting rule across federal public lands that protects mature and old-growth trees and forests from logging, allowing the recovery of old-growth forests that have been lost. ”

      This is from the form comment letter:
      “We urge you to include in any future administrative rules an end to ecologically harmful logging of mature and old growth forests and trees on federal land. ”

      I’d be pleased if you could find that nuanced “fine print” somewhere on the Climate Forest site.

      Also, can you please elaborate on what you mean by “industrial logging”? Is it practice based (a particular technique) or purpose and need based? We can pick specific projects and discuss purpose and need…we’ve already looked at some of the projects Climate Forests pointed out
      and found that reasonable people could disagree that these are projects that are bad for mature and old trees.

      • I was asked by the Climate Forests folks to submit two projects for their reports. Both are on the Black Hills National Forest. One is the Spruce Project and the other is the Black Hills Resilient Landscapes (BHRL) project. Both of these are wrong-headed in many ways. BHRL has been in implementation now for five years. It called for overstory removal on 180,000 acres. Tell me of any other forest that is implementing anything similar to that. The Spruce project is still in development, but the scoping called for cutting down half (25,000 acres) of the Forest’s spruce. It refers to the spruce as overmature. These kinds of projects are happening due to unrelenting pressure from the timber industry.

        I am not a member of any groups within Climate Forests. If they are calling for a ban on logging in MOG, I think that is also wrong-headed. My advice to them, for whatever it is worth, is that with proper management, MOG stands can be improved. Thinning from below and other methods can improve them and make them more resilient. Unfortunately, the Forest Service will need tight direction on this.

        Willie Sutton, a bank robber was asked “why do you rob banks?” He replied, “that’s where the money is.” Anyone who has been a GS-9 Forester has probably had the pressure to produce volume. I know I did. Why go for the units with big trees? That’s where the volume is. It is extremely difficult to find a yellow bark pine on the Black Hills NF. I don’t care what they came up with for their mapping exercise. They are nearly all gone due to the MPB and logging. Anyone who doesn’t believe me is welcome to come visit. I’ll show you around.

        • Dave, I am coming to the Hills for a Rocky Mountaineers Gathering in October. We could have our first “The Smokey Wire Field Trip” afterward.. invite everyone including someone from the Forest to give their perspective. Maybe even a video person so other TSW- ites can experience some of it?

          Also, I think the BH is fairly unusual, at least in R2, for timber production. Then there are places like the 4FRI folks where they don’t have enough industry and too many trees. I think that’s part of the problem of having a national policy that may not fit local situations.

          • That is an excellent idea! I plan to attend as well, at least some parts.

            I’ll start working on this and arrange a trip for those that might be interested. I look forward to meeting you in person.

  3. Could you remind me of your source for this: “For one thing, the bipartisan Congress has asked the Forest Service to cut some mature trees for fuels reduction …” ?

    Also, in your reply to Jim, I find the nuance in an end to “ecologically harmful” logging. That would allow ecologically neutral or beneficial logging (where “absolutely necessary,” in Jim’s words). (Unless I am misinterpreting, and what they meant to say is that all logging is ecologically harmful.)

    • Yes, the Sierra Club does continue to oppose the Forest Service Timber Sale program. They don’t (necessarily) oppose fuels reduction projects. I still think the Sierra Club opposition to timber sales is tied to donation potential. Since we now have 30 years of “thinning from below” in commercial timber sales in the Sierra Nevada, I challenge preservationists to show scientific proof of the terrible harm that has come from those projects over the last three decades.

      • Well, here’s what they say on their website.
        “In the U.S., the Sierra Club advocates for ending commercial logging on federal public lands. This will not only safeguard remaining primary forests, but also allow proforestation across wide areas.”

        So if I interpret this correctly the purpose doesn’t matter just whether any logs/material is sold. You may have to sign up to see this 🙁

    • Well, we don’t really know, do we? I could read it either way. My point was that if that is Climate Forest’s position, it should be easy to find it somewhere on their website.

      • That does not provide much support for the statement that “Congress has asked the Forest Service to cut some mature trees for fuels reduction,” since Congress didn’t actually ask for that (presumably in an appropriations bill). At best, maybe they assumed it because the Forest Service usually wants to do it, but you can’t say that refusing to cut mature trees would violate any Congressional directives.

        • So.. you’re saying that the FS can accomplish its fuel reduction goals (given by Congress) without cutting mature trees?

          • I think that is a reasonable question that underlies a lot of the debate over logging. Maybe also whether the fuel reduction goals are necessary/appropriate.

  4. Mmmm, ok. a few thoughts. I recall Sierra Club opposition to “commercial logging” as far back as early 1990s. Does that include stewardship contracting? I wonder if they’ve “refreshed” their policy.

    To start, I find many prof foresters view ENGOs through a lens clouded by cynicism and suspicion. But let’s take a look at what they say with a more charitable judgment.

    “…protects mature and old-growth trees and forests from logging, allowing the recovery of old-growth forests that have been lost.”
    This should be viewed as protecting (NOT prohibiting) from logging; here construed as commercial logging of large, old trees primarily for timber production. Thus, selective harvesting, thinning from below, relying on sub-MOG trees, focusing on sub-MOG stands, all in an effort to maintain and restore MOG trees and forests is a far cry from “not cutting trees in MOG”.

    “…an end to ecologically harmful logging of mature and old growth forests and trees”
    I’d argue here that the FS has been striving to do exactly this for decades… with little success. What about logging limitations in riparian reserves, on steep slopes, roadless areas, in T&E habitat etc?? Recall that Chiefs Thomas and Dombeck called for cessation of OG logging many years ago. But the issue NOW is climate change/forest carbon and the exceeding value of MOG in addressing the issue. Current logging activity either exacerbates the problem or ignores it entirely. This is why I support ENGO’s efforts to get the FS to wake up, step up, and improve MOG policies; ideally through regulation. Like recent court case for O&C Lands, FS can interpret legislation broadly to permit modernizing its approach to forest mgmt.

    • The Sierra Club continues to oppose “thinning from below” in those Sierra Nevada National Forests, even though clearcuts and large trees cutting are banned, voluntarily. It is almost amusing that ENGOs claim there is so little old growth left, but it is seemingly in every timber project area, too. Also, there is no mention of the massive non-logging mortality in the last 30+ years, too. Preserving bark beetle habitat is not a great idea.

  5. Not much room for interpretation in my book: “In the U.S., the Sierra Club advocates for ending commercial logging on federal public lands. This will not only safeguard remaining primary forests, but also allow proforestation across wide areas.” Enough said! The National Forest System is a conservation Agency; conservation defined as “wise use.” The impasse is to do nothing or manage effectively. To do nothing is called the Park Service; manage effectively is the Forest Service…..

  6. Sorry. my mistake… SC is included on the Climate Forests ANPR comment, which does NOT advocate no commercial logging of NFs. So I say again, maybe they need to refresh their decades-old policy to reflect today’s reality.

    • No problem, Jim! I just went by what was on the Climate Forests website.
      OK, thanks, Jim, can you send a copy of the Climate Forests ANPR comment? I’m not as technically capable of downloading and searching in Xcel as I probably should be. I’m curious as the FS had a webinar yesterday on it and I didn’t hear much nuance from the groups on the call.. like “no logging”. I asked in the chatbox for one person to define logging and he didn’t answer.

      Other folks.. here’s the list of groups.


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