Threats to Mature and Old-Growth Timber: The Numbers

Nick Smith had a link to an article about this USFS/BLM report, “Mature and Old-Growth Forests: Analysis of Threats on Lands Managed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. From the executive summary (emphasis mine):

The initial threat analysis found that mature and old-growth forests have high exposure to a variety of threats—climate and disturbance projections show this exposure will likely increase. Currently, wildfire, exacerbated by climate change and fire exclusion, is the leading threat to mature and old-growth forests, followed by insects and disease in the West, while more varied disturbances threaten older forests in Alaska and in eastern regions. The analysis also found that two-thirds of mature forests and just over half of old-growth forests are vulnerable to these threats. Tree cutting (any removal of trees) is currently a relatively minor threat despite having been a major disturbance historically, as from 1950 to 1990 these practices were the primary reason for loss of old-growth forests.

Since 2000:

  • Wildfires were associated with a net decrease of 2.6 million acres of mature forest, and 700,000 acres of old-growth forest.
  • Insects and disease corresponded with a net decline of 1.9 million acres of mature forest and 182,000 acres of old-growth forest.
  • Tree cutting that resulted in 24 percent-or-more basal area loss by the Forest Service and BLM was associated with a net decrease of 214,000 acres of mature forest and 9,000 acres of old-growth forest.
  • Where no severe forest disturbances have occurred, mature forests had a net increase of 2.21 million acres and old-growth forests by 1.20 million acres.
  • Combined, there has been a 2.51-million-acre net decline of mature forests, with about a tenth of this becoming old growth (a 0.28 million acre net increase in old growth).

Projections over the next 50 years show growth of young and mature forests may result in an increase of older forests, despite increased disturbances. However, gains lessen with each passing decade and the expanding wildland-urban interface complicates mitigation of threats. Projections of increasing mature and old-growth forests are tempered by the reality that American forests are entering uncharted territory with climate change. Climate change has already increased threat levels and is altering where, and what types of, mature and older forest can persist.

13 thoughts on “Threats to Mature and Old-Growth Timber: The Numbers”

  1. Hmmm, the report title and exec summary refers to them as “Mature and Old-Growth Forests,” yet Steve substituted the word “Timber” for forests when he created a title for this post.
    I skimmed through the exec summary twice; pretty sure I didn’t see the word timber.
    Kind of significant to me that the terminology was altered.
    Old growth forests are a Helluva lot more than “timber!” Why are some folks still stuck in that old, world view?
    I was educated as a forester to grow trees but I’m really glad my perspective and understanding of forests have evolved since I earned my B.S. in 1973.

  2. “Where no severe forest disturbances have occurred …” trees grow older.
    Any idea what the point is they are trying to make with this?

  3. The Seattle Times headline for this story was….””Old-growth forest plan offers protections but no ban on cutting”.

    Looking at the summary, since 2000, on a percentage basis.

    Wildfires account for 72% of the decline in old growth acreage.

    Insect and Disease account for 18% of the decline.

    AND timber harvest accounts for a WHOPPING ONE PERCENT of the decline.

    The Biden Administration, environmental groups and the media are focused on solving the 1% problem!!!

    Pretty amazing stuff.

    It seems every article I write recently ends with variations on this sentence “Future generations will judge Chad Hanson and today’s environmental movement harshly for their important role in destroying our Giant Sequoia forests.” Not to mention the destruction of other old growth forests.

    When will the environmentalists be held accountable by the American people??

    • I’m with Vladimir. The Chad Hanson’s of the world have gained influence and income in the world of politics with their anti-logging lawsuits. The “protecting the old-growth” sales pitch has somehow remained effective for the past 30+ years despite its predicted and documented failure over millions of acres of public forestlands.

      The problem is ignorance. People actually fall for this stuff, and the modelers and lawyers that keep producing these stories get paid and get promoted. All at the cost of decimating our old-growth, killing our wildlife, polluting the air, and destroying rural families and communities.

      This was made possible by the lawyers in Congress colluding with other lawyers in DC to produce NEPA and the Environmental Law Institute on the same day in December, 1969. Then ESA and then the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), which had been originally promoted as a way for poor people, struggling businesses, and military vets to legally confront US wrongdoing.

      Weirdly, though, the EAJA let giant “nonprofits” including the Audubon Society, Sierra Club, and Center for Biological Diversity also file lawsuits under this act. And, beginning in the early 1990s they began to do so, with a vengeance. No old-growth have been saved, no spotted owls have benefitted, and the cost to taxpayers has been enormous.

      Vladimir asks when the environmentalists will be held accountable for this destruction. A great question that should have been addressed 20 years ago. This is modern-day Lysenkoism, but instead of starving to death, the peasants are made to move onto sidewalks and become dependent on the government for food stamps. While our forests and wildlife burn.

        • Hi Jon: I’m not certain that “disingenuous” was the word you were looking for, but as you say, that’s just your opinion. Are you also saying that logging (“timber harvest”) killed the owls in Canada? Or that they do better with wildfires than clearcuts? That they are worth putting thousands of people out of work and letting our forests burn and rot in their name?

          That all sounds like a lot of morbid speculation and I’m not sure there’s much factual evidence to back it up. And what to do about those darned barred owls? Bottom line is that I think active management of our forests — including logging — is a lot better for almost all species, including owls, no matter their plumage.

  4. “Lysenkoism”

    Now there’s a word I have not heard in decades!!

    My father had the misfortune to be born in the Ukraine. He became an orphan when the Holodomor was instigated by the Soviet government.

    The Soviets were much more interested in killing Ukrainians than educating their children. As a result my father never spent one day in a classroom in his entire life. As a orphan he lived by himself in the swamps around the Black Sea until the Germans invaded. After Ukraine, he survived being a slave laborer in Germany during WWII, then fled to Venezuela, and finally all of us arrived in the US in 1956.

    He never learned to read or write Ukrainian, German, Spanish, or English. I got a hell of of education translating and interpreting for him as a child.

    He was extremely intelligent. But all that potential was wasted because of a lack of education.

    At least without an education, my father was not a danger to society.

    I do remember the discussion on Lysenkoism with him. Even though he believed the Soviets on that one, he told me he would pay anything for my education, as it was the ONLY THING that no one could take away from me.

    Having grown up in the Soviet Union, he did add that the “only way they could take away my education was to shoot me”.

    And so I got to graduate from UC Berkeley.

    In a self-governing society, common sense and education is critical. I think everybody from Jefferson forward understood that. I think it really is the most important issue facing us today.

    Later in my career, I made the conscious decision that in arguments on forest issues with public’s, I would only use the same “level” of argument as the person confronting me. I never said “on the other hand” to these folks.

    I did make it a priority to focus on education when the person asking questions was willing to at least listen to the science.

  5. That is an interesting study.

    However, I think the simpler answer is the stress is passed down by the parents in their raising of the children.

    I have proof of this. One of my American girlfriends, just before she slammed the door and walked out of our apartment and my life saying the following…….

    “Your problem is you act like an American and think like a Ukrainian.”

    In Ukrainian words….my mother said “the acorn never falls far from the oak tree”.

    Jon said “I think it’s pretty disingenuous to talk about current levels of timber harvest not being a problem as an argument to support making it a problem again.”

    I don’t have any issue with going to zero on Forest Service or BLM lands, if that is what the American people want on their public lands. I also don’t have a problem with destroying the Giant Sequoia Groves so future generations never experience their wonder, IF that is what the American people want.

    I suspect though that the American people like their forests and Giant Sequoia’s and want them saved so their children’s children can see the Monarchs.

    However, I have a real issue with dealing with ONE PERCENT of the so-called problem with the other 99 percent is ignored. That is just a recipe for destroying the National Forests and Parks.

    • The 99% is not being “ignored.” Many fire mitigation projects are going forward, in particular those that don’t involve logging large trees.

  6. No…the 99% is being ignored.

    The Sierra Club and Chad Hanson are stopping the protection of Giant Sequoia’s in Yosemite National Park and in the Sequoia National Monument.

    The National Park Service, and I worked for them, is NOT A TOOL of the timber industry.

    • It wasn’t clear that you were limiting this discussion to SNM (since the next sentence is about “a recipe for destroying the National Forests and Parks”) – sorry.

      Here’s what the Google AI tells us: “The National Park Service has thinned giant sequoia woodlands in Giant Sequoia National Monument through manual thinning projects and prescribed burning… In 2022, the park conducted two manual thinning projects in the Big Stump area of the monument.” Here’s a likely source:

      Maybe all current proposals have been held up by litigation, but I think “ignored” would be an over-broad characterization.


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