21 Apr 2009, 12:25pm
Federal forest policy Politics and politicians
by admin

Manual Dyslexia and Wyden’s New Old-Growth Bill

The Federal Government, including Congress, famously suffers from manual dyslexia — that affliction wherein the right hand has no idea what the left hand is doing (and vice versa). A case in point is the new “Oregon Forest Restoration and Old Growth Protection Act of 2009″ [here] trotted out by its proud owner, Senator Ron Wyden, for a public showing last week.

OFROGPA, as Wyden’s bill is fondly known by intimates, is the left hand flailing away in complete isolation and disregard of the right hand, the Forest Landscape Restoration Act (FLRA) of 2009.

The latter was Title IV of the Omnibus Public Lands Act of 2009, passed last month by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the President. The Forest Landscape Restoration Act of 2009 is now the law of the land.

OFROGPA is a Johnny-come-lately-out-of-the-blue and conflicts, confuses, and creates cross-purposes with the now Law of the Land.

It is almost as if Sen. Wyden didn’t read the FLRA before he voted in favor of it last month. Neither did his staff, apparently. That can happen when the Senate is too lazy to hold hearings and fails to give due consideration to bills before they smash them through the Capitol like siege wagons.

What really happened was this: there were three restoration forestry bills introduced last year. In January 2008 Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced legislation he called the Pacific Northwest Forest Legacy Act [here]. In February Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) introduced S. 2593, the Forest Landscape Restoration Act of 2008 [here] which was co-sponsored by Sen. Wyden. In June Wyden introduced his own bill [here], which was a poor amalgamation of the other two, leaning heavily towards DeFazio’s.

No hearings were held on any of them although Bingaman’s bill came closest, with a hearing scheduled for July but cancelled at the last minute [here].

Then Barack Obama was elected, the Democrats took over both houses, and they began to pass sweeping legislation in ill-considered spasms. Among the avalanche debris that collapsed on America this winter is Bingaman’s S. 2593, The Forest Landscape Restoration Act of 2009 [here].

The conflicts between the new law (FLRA) and Wyden’s also-ran OFROGPA bill are numerous and significant.

1. FLRA (the new law) calls for restoration treatments within landscapes that are at least 50,000 acres in size. OFROGPA limits treatment landscapes to less than 25,000 acres [Sec. 5(e)(3)(B)] unless “collaborative certification” is not “issued” in which case projects are limited to less than 10,000 acres [Sec. 5(e)(4)(B)]. (Interestingly, OFROGPA also mentions less-than-50,000 acre projects in Sec.5(e)(6)(D), so it’s all over the map.)

This embarrassing shrinkage is unsupported by any argument. Megafires routinely burn 250,000 to 500,000 acres at a crack, from 5 to 10 times the minimum treatment area in the new law (FLRA). The dinky treatments envisioned in OFROGPA are a step backwards.

2. OFROGPA makes a big deal out of what they call a “collaborative certification group” including the make-up (what special interest groups are represented), their deliberations and evaluative criteria, and their voting rules. Yet OFROGPA then backtracks and says the current Resource Advisory Committees established under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act will work fine.

FLRA, on the other hand, established a single advisory panel made up of experts -

The advisory panel shall include experts in ecological restoration, fire ecology, fire management, rural economic development, strategies for ecological adaptation to climate change, fish and wildlife ecology, and woody biomass and small-diameter tree utilization. — FLRA Sec. 4003(e)

- without regard to political affiliation. OFROGPA ignores the FLRA advisory panel completely, despite the fact that FLRA is the law now. Manual dyslexia.

3. FLRA, the law, emphasizes “ecological restoration”. OFROGPA the Dyslexic Also-Ran, emphasizes logging. But not just any logging or restorative logging — no, OFROGPA would regulate every cutting prescription by statutory limits on basal area and size of tree removed.

Regardless of what might be the best restoration treatment on a given site, and regardless of what actual restoration experts recommend, OFROGPA dictates tree-by-tree which can be removed.

Congress is made up of ninnies when it comes to technical restoration forestry (and quite a few other fields as well). We don’t need or want prescriptive laws based on profound ignorance.

4. OFROGPA also inculcates some rotten forest science, Old Paradigm theories that are debunked and defunct. It defines “ecological forestry” as forest practices that:

… are based on principles of natural forest stand development, including the role of natural disturbances in the initiation, development, and maintenance of a forest ecosystem — OFROGPA Sec.(3)(7)(A)

That old canard is Clementsian eco-babble. The fact is that human beings have been manipulating our landscapes for thousands of years. It was anthropogenic fire and traditional pre-Columbian treatments that gave rise to our old-growth forests in the first place!

All the jabber about natural disturbances, plant associations, natural succession, etc. in OFROGPA is scientifically invalid. The New Paradigm in forest science (belabored on this blog) acknowledges the significant historical human impacts and the actual forest development pathways that led to the forest structures of today. Ignoring those, discounting the facts, dehumanizing the First Residents, will neither protect nor recreate old-growth.

Ecology is a historical science. Theories about what ought to have happened can be tested against what really happened. The old Clementsian theories have been tested, and they failed. There are too many anomalies in the real world of forests for the Old Paradigm to survive.

Jerry, Norm — it’s over. The old theories are dead. They didn’t work. It’s time for new theories, based on empirical evidence, supported by the facts, in accord with reality. Hammering dead theories on the courthouse door will not make them valid. It will just muddy the water. Time to open the window and let the new theories fly free.

5. OFROGA would enshrine the Northwest Forest Plan as law. The NWFP is a judicial ruling (by a judge now deceased). It has never been authorized by Congress.

After 15 years the NWFP proven to be an abject failure. The NWFP has not protected spotted owls (their population has crashed), not protected owl habitat (megafires have ravaged millions of acres of owl forests), not maintained “continuity” between owl forests (megafires again), and not supported the rural economy (we have suffered the highest rates of unemployment in the nation).

Those were the four stated goals of the NWFP, and it has failed in all respects, making the situation worse, not better. It is absolutely unconscionable to take this failed judicial decree and make it law. If anything, the opposite should occur. Congress should bag the NWFP and consign it to the dustbin of history.

6. OFROGPA calls for “categorical exclusion” from NEPA [Sec.5(b)(1)]. FLRA, the existing new law, does not. FLRA requires each landscape-scale project to create an Environmental Impact Statement and follow NEPA procedures. OFROGPA throws NEPA in the trash.

The problem with that strategy is the courts don’t agree with it. NEPA is the law and it applies to all significant Federal actions, not just a select few. Federal judges sneer at categorical exclusion. Radical enviro groups sue every the time, and win, when the Feds try to circumvent NEPA.

If NEPA is a defective law, then Congress should modify it or repeal it. They can’t pick and choose which projects have to follow the law and which do not.

The categorical exclusion clause is a carry-over from DeFazio’s bill of a year ago January. It is a poison pill. No project without an EIS will survive legal challenge. OFROGPA is a full-employment-for-lawyers act and will result in zero implemented treatments.

If Wyden et al. want restoration forestry, then they should get with the FLRA program. They voted for it — they should fund and implement it. We don’t need another conflicting confusing law; we should go forth and restore forests under the existing laws.

Wyden could help to make that happen. He could call for appropriation of funds for FLRA. Undoubtedly Jeff Bingaman will do so, if he hasn’t already, and Wyden should get on board with that.

We don’t need revision of a law less than a month old. We don’t need endless palaver. We need to get started restoring forests on a landscape scale today. We have a vehicle, the Forest Landscape Restoration Act of 2009. Let’s give FLRA a chance.

Less talk, more action. Fire season approaches. Tragedy lurks. It’s time to do the necessary stewardship work to protect, maintain, and perpetuate forests and forest values.

It is not time to bog down in failed programs and fetid debate from 15 years ago.


Note: The American Forest Resource Council issued a press release last week that found flaws in Wyden’s bill. While I do not agree with all their points, their overall message is similar: this bill is a dog. The AFRC is preparing a more comprehensive analysis, but until then here is their initial press release on the matter:

Despite Good Intentions, Wyden Bill Fundamentally Flawed

Single tree management is unworkable and inconsistent with forest science

PORTLAND, OR - A bill designed to protect old growth forests and improve forest health on federal lands in Oregon would likely lead to the opposite result, according to forestry experts familiar with the issue. The draft bill, released by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden today would prohibit cutting any tree older than 120 years in moist, westside forests and older than 150 years in drier forests on federal lands. On eastside forests, trees larger than 21 inches in diameter would be off limits to harvesting.

“Senator Wyden deserves credit for trying to solve a difficult political issue,” said Tom Partin, President of the American Forest Resource Council. “Unfortunately, his proposal has a fundamental flaw: Forests can’t be managed based on the age of individual trees.”

Timber stands on Oregon’s diverse federal forests are made up of trees of varying ages. The older the stand, the more difficult it may be to determine the age of any single tree. Trees of the same age may have widely different diameters. Conversely, trees of similar diameter may differ greatly in age. A forest re-established after a fire that occurred 100 years ago may contain many trees well over 120 years old which were not burned in the fire. It will also contain trees younger than 100 years old that germinated years after the fire. It can be nearly impossible to differentiate between the two through observation alone.

In order to avoid cutting trees older than the age limit set in the bill, foresters would have to determine the age of each tree that might be in that age range. Foresters do this by drilling a core to the center of the tree and counting annual growth rings. For a tree that has grown slowly in the shade, counting tiny growth rings can be very difficult. In order to determine the tree’s actual age under the legislation, the core would have to be taken at ground level. This can only be done while lying on the ground. Taking core samples and counting the rings of trees on a single acre of can take 4 hours or more.

The age of an individual tree is not a particularly helpful way to define old growth. Forest scientists generally rely on definitions of old growth that include many attributes of a forest stand, such as the number, size, and species of trees, canopy condition, snags, understory species and the condition of the forest floor. Examples are USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station Note 447 [here] and the definition used by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources for its northern spotted owl habitat conservation plan [here]


http://www.dnr.wa.gov/Publications/lm_ess_westside_oldgrowth_rpt.pdf .

“If Senator Wyden wants to protect old growth, a one-size-fits-all approach prohibiting harvesting a single tree above a certain age isn’t the way to do it. We believe it will result in more gridlock, litigation and less work accomplished on the ground. With over 8.5 million acres of Oregon’s federal lands in poor forest health we must get serious about managing these forests,” said Partin.

Appearing before Senator Wyden’s Energy and Natural Resources Public Lands and Forests Subcommittee on March 13, 2008 to discuss “Late-Successional and Old Growth Forests in the Pacific Northwest,” leading experts agreed tree age alone does not characterize old growth.

“Age is not likely to provide a useful description of OG [old growth]. It is difficult to determine the ages of OG trees (especially large trees). Large trees growing on productive sites with few trees around them can be quite young. Small trees growing on poor sites and in stands can be quite old. OG stands often contain large trees with a wide range of ages. Thus the average tree age does not adequately describe the stand. Localized definitions of stand structure (numbers of trees of different species and sizes per unit of land) are likely to provide the most useful guidelines,” according to Dr. John Tappeiner, Oregon State University Professor Emeritus.

“Both old-growth (OG) and mature are best defined by their structure (which may vary with forest type),” said Dr. David Perry, Oregon State University Professor Emeritus.

Marvin Brown, Oregon State Forester, appearing on behalf of Governor Ted Kulongoski, testified that “a management regime that leads to sustained re-entry for thinning, general improvement of forest health and for creating an appropriate distribution of size classes can successfully maintain old growth benefits.”

“Senator Wyden understands the status quo of inaction is harming our forests and communities. We look forward to working with him and his staff to develop a better way to assure the benefits of old growth forests are always abundant on our federal lands,” said Partin.

The American Forest Resource Council represents forest product manufacturers and landowners throughout the west and is based in Portland, Oregon.

21 Apr 2009, 4:04pm
by John M.

Mike’s analysis and comments pretty well express my thinking about this “April Fool’s” legislation. I would like to be charitable and cut our good Senator some slack given the number of chaotic legislative proposals flying around the Hill, but I can’t.

Senator Wyden represents one of the top tree growing areas in the world, and has access to
World Class foresters and forest researchers. But somehow he can’t bring himself to listen to these experts and discuss forest management issues with them. He apparently would rather listen to people spouting forest management mythology picked off a web site somewhere, and their tales of impending doom for the forests if the art and science of forestry is practiced. The doom and gloom part is right, but it won’t be caused by the forestry profession and community.

Senator Wyden, in my opinion, owes the people of Oregon an accounting for allowing this sorry piece of legislation to leave his office. He also needs to get his forestry advice from people who know the forests, the forests importance to the nation and the state, and how to sustain them for future generations.

21 Apr 2009, 9:18pm
by Larry H.

Sadly, anyone with a shred of forestry knowledge or experience is automatically tainted by the powers that be. Even my fine art photographer disguise is inadequate when I display the benefits and logic of forest science. This is their automatic signal to close their minds, as they fear “greenwashing” worse than losing their forests to permanent brushfields and snagpatches to infinity.

I agree that any attempt to circumvent NEPA is a poison pill that judges will uphold every time. NEPA requirements aren’t all that hard to come by, as templates are now available to streamline the process. The key is to not make so many changes in the laws, rules and policies of forest management.

22 Apr 2009, 9:06am
by bear bait

Wyden is about political theater. That is all. His persona, his being, is about being in the spotlight, with cameras rolling. It is about him. Not Oregon. Not forests. Not jobs. Wyden. Senator Wyden. He is Al Franken without prior exposure. Vaudeville Politics. The Big Joke.

So it is Earth Day. Plant a tree. Just another part of the insanity. We are up to our collective ass in planted trees incinerating by the tens of millions due to ineffective governance and no viable forest policy, and the word of the day is to plant another frigging tree. Jeez… as if we don’t have too many trees already. And not just here. Across the US… in the dark of the night, out of observation by the urban horde, the whole of the New England forest grew back from lumbering and then farming. When growing spuds between rocks petered out, and people left to build guns and tools and ships and machinery in the towns and cities, the land was abandoned to fend for itself. So it did what it does in place of disturbance or following disturbance, it re-grew itself. And now it needs tending in a serious way. Learned biologists and foresters are telling the New England urbanites that it is time to log some, burn some, tend the wild. And are being met with the same crap we in the West have endured for years.

Deaf ears. Propaganda believers. Kids brainwashed from birth. Plant a tree. And then what? Does anyone answer that question: “And then what?”? That should be the Earth Day focus. “And then what?”

22 Apr 2009, 9:17am
by Tim B.

Four hours to age an acre’s worth of trees? I guess I’m a lazy bum; that would take me days in the 120 year old stand with 150 TPA that I am familiar with, even if I had an 18 year old to pull out the corer while I sat, with bifocals, counting rings.

I wonder where the magic 120 year age came from. Not only does it seem totally arbitrary, it appears to have been chosen with absolutely no thought whatsoever; If the Native cultures collapsed around 1850 (and some say a 100 years earlier than that) due to disease and settlement “encroachment”, then the trees which have grown up since their prescribed burning operations were significantly reduced would be about… 150 to 160 years old! So I guess those forests would not get restored. In which case there would be preciously little authorized restoration west of the Cascade Crest, save for maybe for some of the valley fringe oak types. What a crock of…

22 Apr 2009, 11:10am
by Larry H.

If the age limit on trees were at 120 years old, I think they surely wouldn’t like us huge 100 year old trees. Last year, I worked in the Powers area of southwestern Oregon and cored one redcedar that was 64 years old. The diameter was 32″. What will probably happen is that superior trees that are between 100 and 120 years old will be the ones that get cut. Placing age and diameter limits on forests just doesn’t result in “eco-forestry”. A gifted eye can pick out the slow-growing, genetically-inferior and “surplus” trees in our forests, regardless of age and diameter.

22 Apr 2009, 11:49am
by Mike

It is fascinating that the politicians who wish to “save” old-growth are clueless (or else in utter denial) about what it is and how old-growth develops.

22 Apr 2009, 1:03pm
by Forrest Grump

Mike pretty much hits it. The “natural” stuff is more delusion, complete intellectual dishonesty. I remember going on the Colville rez and their forester told me they rotate their PP at 120 because from 80 to 120 it fools the animals somehow and they use it as “old-growth.” The tribe COULD go to 240, but the hang time for revenue and the fact that shorter rotations still provide EFFECTIVE HABITAT is why they do what they do.
Now, as to why Jerry and Norm do what they do…that’s beyond explaining.

22 Apr 2009, 5:13pm
by Bob Z.

Come on, Mr. Grump.

We all know why Jerry and Norm (and Wyden and Algore) do what they do: egos and silk.

So they can get their names in the paper, and tenure, and votes, and get to flirt with pretty coeds without being arrested, and paid to eat dinner, cushy jobs, major benefits, exotic vacations, “peer” recognition and notoriety, etc., etc.

It’s certainly not about facts, or science, or rural poverty — and definitely not about forestry or old-growth!

But I think you already know all that — you were just baiting someone else to say it for you.

26 Apr 2009, 10:02am
by YPmule

We live in a county that is a recipient of the old Craig-Wyndon PILT pork (Payment in Lieu of Taxes.) We have no jobs, the mills and mines are shut down, but we sure have a lot of timber that is burning up and salmon streams silting up as a result. I guess 600,000 acres burned in 2007 wasn’t enough, now the forest service wants to come and and burn up what didn’t burn before, and close more roads so there is no access for future harvesting.

At first look the Secure Rural Schools and Roads Act (PILT) looked good to us as our county did not have the funds for maintaining winter road access. But now we are locked into begging the feds every few years to renew this bill.

To top it off the FS is busy decommissioning old logging and mining roads as fast as they can erase them off the map, and proposing a huge wilderness study area to preclude any future harvesting of natural resources.

I don’t know what we can do to stop this insane “lock it up and let it burn” mentality, except to keep pounding away at trying to educate people.

What I find ironic is the attitude that forest communities are suppose to turn to tourism to replace forest jobs, yet they have documented a decline in visitors. Season long fires, roads closed, blackened forests, silted streams and too many wolves are not encouraging tourists to spend dollars around here!



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