Our friends at E&E News had a piece on it. What was interesting to me is the framing.
The Forest Service’s approach has rankled opponents of old-growth logging and those who say even forests that aren’t quite that old shouldn’t be heavily harvested. But the timber industry and its allies in Congress say the findings underscore a point they’ve made for years: that cutting down trees for wood products from time to time is a part of keeping forests healthy.
Coming from what we might call the areas with much need for fuel treatments and little timber industry (like much of the interior west), it seems like our voices aren’t heard in this debate. I don’t think the timber industry is looking for “heavy” harvests.. I think they are saying that they can use some of this stuff that is removed. This is the old dichotomy.. “logging” supported by “timber industry” and leaving things alone. I feel like the discussion could be back in the 80’s. The other people that aren’t heard in this framing are all those collaborative folks working on zones of agreement and trying to find common ground.
I’m going to quote from the E&E news summary which I think is good (but haven’t double-checked numbers).
1. Logging for timber is not as big a threat to old growth and mature forests as are wildfires, insects and disease.
In slides shared with forest industry representatives and provided to E&E News, the Forest Service said wildfires have eliminated 2.6 million acres of mature forest and 689,000 acres of old growth since 2000 on lands managed by that agency and the Bureau of Land Management. The agency defines old growth as areas that haven’t been logged, for instance, and mature forest as areas that may have been logged in the past and have grown back substantially on the way to becoming old growth again.
In the same period, 1.9 million acres of mature forest was lost to insects and disease, while 134,000 acres of old growth suffered that fate.
“Tree cutting,” which the agency said includes logging but might include other actions, took 214,000 acres of mature forest and 10,000 acres of old growth on Forest Service and BLM lands, the agency said. “Currently, wildfire exacerbated by climate change and fire exclusion is the leading threat, followed by insects/disease,” the Forest Service said in the slides. “Tree
cutting (any removal of trees) is a third relatively minor threat.”
But is, say thinning, a “threat” or is it “protection” from climate-change exacerbated drought or wildfires?
Meanwhile, this was not explicitly stated by anyone, but reminds me of an argument I’ve heard in different contexts.
Even if certain activities have only a little impact, those are the ones we can control, so we should further reduce them. Something like bats and white-nosed syndrome, or or many species and climate. It tends to be the same old activities that need to be reduced, based on this argument.
The wildfires, though, could force the EPA’s hand. They could compel the agency to bump Chicago and East St. Louis to a higher nonattainment level and, as a result, trigger tougher remedial actions.
But obviously the remedial actions wouldn’t involve stopping the Canadian wildfires, it would involve ratcheting down the usual PM 2.5 suspects in that state.
2. Back to the E&E news article:
In total, the inventory shows the 193 million-acre national forest system has about 25 million acres of old growth, 70 million acres of mature forest and a little more than 50 million acres of younger forest. The system includes grasslands and other landscapes.
Older forest is likely to increase over time as younger areas age, the Forest Service said. The increase, estimated at 5.5 percent by 2070 on Forest Service and BLM lands, will slow after that point, officials said, based on agency modeling.
3. Timber Wars Redux…
To logging critics, the Forest Service’s analysis doesn’t offer much relief. “Current rates of logging are not the only indicator of the precarious state of older forests in the nation,” said Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist at Wild Heritage, a Berkeley, Calif., project of the nonprofit Earth Island Institute.
DellaSala said less old growth is being lost recently because harvests in decades past “nearly liquidated the entire ecosystem.”
Barely a quarter of the nation’s old forests are in protected areas, as in designated wilderness, said DellaSala, who’s called for a halt to logging in old-growth areas. The U.S. needs a “national rulemaking process that protects all remaining older forests and large trees from logging as they are not safe from ongoing or future threats,” he said.
But about 30% are in Roadless, which are not apparently protected to DellaSala. Some people say this because they are not “permanent”. To my mind, as a person who has worked on a tediously litigated (no offense to readers who litigated) Roadless Rule, this is not a meaningful distinction. And 18% of NFS is Wilderness. So that adds up to 48%.
4. “As much as 81 percent of mature and old growth is in areas with little logging capacity, according to the agency.”
This is an interesting number. It could be interpreted as:
1. The timber industry wouldn’t have that much of an impact if we let them have at the 20 percent (not a popular interpretation, I grant you).
2. Folks who want to thin for mature and old growth protection (either fuel reduction or increasing drought resistance) are going to need megabucks, because currently there are not markets and viable substitutes for burning into the atmosphere. (We know this)
3. Maybe this isn’t really about logging? So maybe the controversy is between dry forest folks who want thinning (even with no industry available) and wet forest folks who don’t? It’s interesting that the article mentions the Tongass and not the millions of acres of MOG pinyon juniper from this fact sheet.
Pinyon and juniper woodlands are the most abundant forest type in the federal inventory of mature and old-growth forests, with 9 million acres of old-growth pinyon-juniper across BLM and Forest Service lands and an additional 14 million acres of mature pinyon-juniper.
4. Another framing than the aged and decrepit Timber Wars would possibly that Some Mesic/Coastal ENGOs exert an outsized influence over dry forest policy in their quest for a national MOG rule.
Other interpretations welcome.