30 Nov 2009, 10:16pm
Federal forest policy
by admin

The Tidwell-Vilsack Forest Doctrine

Each Chief leaves his or her own stamp on the US Forest Service. Tom Tidwell was named Chief last June [here] and already he is making his mark. Most recently Chief Tidwell has asked for “landscape conservation action plans” to address climate change:

U.S. Forest Service to Adapt Woodland Management to Climate Change

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell has directed the agency’s regions and research stations to jointly produce draft “landscape conservation action plans” by March 1

By Noelle Straub, Greenwire, November 30, 2009 [here]

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell has directed the agency’s regions and research stations to jointly produce draft “landscape conservation action plans” by March 1 to guide its day-to-day response to climate change.

In a memo earlier this month requesting the plans, Tidwell said climate change is “dramatically reshaping” how the agency will deliver on its mission of sustaining the health and diversity of the nation’s forests. He focused particularly on water management.

“Responding to the challenges of climate change in providing water and water-related ecosystem services is one of the most urgent tasks facing us as an agency,” Tidwell wrote. “History will judge us by how well we respond to these challenges.” …

It would be easy to criticize this action by pointing out that global warming alarmism has just taken a headshot with Climategate [here, here]. By the best measures [here] the climate is not changing significantly, and by the best estimates a slight cooling in global temperatures is expected over the next 30 years [here].

Hence dramatically reshaping the USFS mission to “respond to climate change” is pretty useless for that purpose, but such criticism might distract from more substantive aspects of the Tidwell-Vilsack vision for the US Forest Service. There is more to the emerging policies than that.

And it is a vision, and was called such by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in his “New Direction and Vision for America’s Forests” speech in Seattle in August [here]. From the USDA press release:

“Our nation’s forestlands, both public and private, are environmental and economic assets that are in critical need of restoration and conservation,” said Vilsack. “By using a collaborative management approach with a heavy focus on restoring these natural resources, we can make our forests more resilient to climate change, protect water resources, and improve forest health while creating jobs and opportunities.”

“Declining forest health and the effects of our changing climate have resulted in an increasing number of catastrophic wildfires and insect outbreaks,” said Vilsack. “It is time for a change in the way we view and manage America’s forestlands with an eye towards the future. This will require a new approach that engages the American people and stakeholders in conserving and restoring both our National Forests and our privately-owned forests. It is essential that we reconnect Americans across the nation with the natural resources and landscapes that sustain us.”

In addition, the new approach to managing our forests aims to secure the nation’s water supply. Watersheds with a large proportion of forest cover are more likely to be associated with good water quality, with forests protecting soil, moderating streamflow, supporting healthy aquatic systems, and sustaining good water quality. …

Vilsack emphasized restoration and conservation, reducing the incidence of catastrophic wildfires and insect outbreaks, and improving water quality. He spoke of forest “resiliency” to fire, insects, and climate change. Although the latter is a chimera, the other two are not.

Useless or not, dealing with “climate change” is one aspect of the Tidwell-Vilsack Forest Doctrine.

In an interview with the Missoulian [here] shortly after the announcement of his appointment, Chief Tidwell reiterated Sec. Vilsack’s (the Obama Administration’s) climate change concerns with some scary pronouncements:

Tidwell: Definitely we’re seeing effects on snowpack and the effect that has on streamflow. We’re seeing places where there’s definitely an extension to our fire season. Even though it’s by a couple weeks, you get a bit longer fire season where things are drying out two weeks earlier, and it just adds to the potential for wildfire.

We’re also seeing areas where we have to factor in the species composition. (For example) for years we had conifer stands where, if we had fire or something go through there, we need to understand what is the potential for that site? Can we reforest that area, or do we need to look at some other options?

Tidwell was speaking of forest conversion to brush due to catastrophic fire. He hinted that the fault lies with a warming climate, and nothing can be done about that. He said we may have to abandon the notion of growing forests where they grow now.

But the climate is not warming. And we know from tree ring and pollen studies that conifers were present during the Medieval and the Roman Warm Periods. It is cooler today than it was then. Nor has snowpack changed in any detectable way over the last 75 years [here].

The fault lies elsewhere. Specifically the conversion of forests to brush by catastrophic fire is largely due to the elimination of historical anthropogenic fire, but that realization has not kicked in yet, generally speaking.

It’s the built-up fuels that are burning, not the climate — that realization is at least dawning in forestry circles.

In his November testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests [here] Chief Tidwell said:

In the uncertain environment of climate change, risk management will become critical. This is managing ecosystems for resiliency to prepare for uncertain future outcomes. I have spoken many times in the past about our desire to restore the health of the nation’s forests. When we use the term restoration, we do not mean returning a stand or forest to a previous condition but rather bringing back some of its previously lost ecosystem functions or returning its ability to withstand otherwise mild disturbance events. Our approach is to make forests and grasslands more resilient to disturbances under a range of future conditions.

That is fairly rational and pro-restoration, if Tidwell is implying some sort of active management to impart “resilience”, and I think he is. Both Vilsack and Tidwell used the word “restoration”. Restoration is part of the Tidwell-Vilsack Forest Doctrine.

Granted, there is some dancing around history. Returning a stand to it’s “previous condition” may well be the best way to impart resiliency. If they cared to look, USFS researchers might find that the historical cultural landscape with its anthropogenic mosaic was the normative fire and insect resilient condition during the Holocene — across the rising and falling temperatures over the last 10,000 years.

It’s not a good idea to rule out history in restoration. On the new USFS Ecological Restoration website [here], the question is grappled with legalistically (i.e. without clarity):

4. What are the major changes in ecological restoration that are different from previous policy?

This directive provides a foundational, comprehensive policy and definitions that previous policy lacks.

The new policy broadens the definition of ecological restoration beyond the traditional goal of reestablishing specific resource conditions that existed at some time in the past (such as those defined by historical range of variation, or HRV). The policy supports restoration of past conditions under certain circumstances (for example, by eradicating invasive species and reconnecting fragmented habitat of threatened or endangered species).

However, the objective of ecological restoration is to create a sustainable world for the future; so, it must also be forward-looking. To achieve this, the Forest Service definition of ecological restoration focuses on reestablishing the resilience or adaptive capacity of ecosystems. We believe this is the best approach for managing ecosystems in a world of changing and uncertain future environmental conditions, such as those driven by climate change and an increasing human population.

5. Is historic range of variation (HRV) no longer supposed to be considered in land management planning?

Forest Service Handbook 1909.12, section 43.13 (Range of Variation) provides direction for determining the context to evaluate current conditions and establish desired conditions. Historical conditions, or HRV, have great value in helping develop restoration goals and objectives. Scientists and ecologists from several Federal agencies and NGOs, including three members of the Interagency Panel on Climate Change, met in April, 2008, to build an understanding of the proper and scientifically sound use of historical ecological data in modern land management planning. Key conclusions from that workshop include:

* HRV is essential to understanding the past, especially in the face of climate change.

* HRV is information – not a target.

* Understanding historical ecosystem dynamics is critical to understanding potential future ecosystem behavior.

* HRV has proven to be essential to understanding fire ecology, watershed hydrologic function, and distribution of wildlife populations.

* HRV can tell us which ecosystems are more resilient or more vulnerable in the face of global climate change.

So history is important to restoration, sort of, in some respects, in the new view of the USFS. That new view, mushy as it is, is also a part of the Tidwell-Vilsack Forest Doctrine.

In his November testimony Tidwell also intimated that Let It Burn is still an option:

In many areas our forests contain overly-dense stands that are under stress and have become more susceptible to wildfire, insects, and disease. Management actions, designed to restore these forests and grasslands and protect communities, such as thinning or allowing fire to resume its natural role as a cleansing and regenerative force, can improve the ability of these ecosystems to adapt to the continually increasing stress of changing climate and may have the increased benefit of sequestering more carbon over the long-run through increased net growth.

Unfortunately, overly-dense stands cannot sequester more carbon. They can release it rapidly as CO2 through combustion, and then fix back the carbon over decades and centuries through photosynthesis, but they cannot add to the current sequestered total. Overly-dense stands have fixed as much carbon as they can, having developed to the point that net growth is zero or negative due to mortality and decay.

So “allowing fire to resume it’s natural role” does not sequester carbon over the long-run, but wildfires do emit formerly sequestered carbon as CO2. A true carbon capture forest program would strive to eliminate catastrophic fire and retain sequestered carbon in wood products. But that’s not the plan. The plan is to “allow fire to resume it’s natural role”.

Sidenote: I call that Let It Burn. There are some hurt feelings about that, because some people want the word “allow” to mean something other than “let”. I suppose I could alter my phrase to Allow It To Burn if I thought that would soothe feelings, but I don’t think that’s really the problem.

Tidwell admitted as much in his November testimony:

While healthy functioning forests may serve as a means to sequester carbon, under current practices, many of our western forests are at risk of turning from a carbon sink to a carbon source. Projections indicate that while these forests continue to sequester more carbon in the short-term, in 30 to 50 years, disturbances such as fire and insects and disease could dramatically change the role of forests, thereby emitting more carbon than currently sequestering.

So regardless of carbon sequestration issues, Allow It To Burn is also a part of the Tidwell-Vilsack Forest Doctrine (climate change mitigation is apparently mostly PC lip service).

In the latest report (by Noel Straub above) Chief Tidwell is quoted:

Tidwell said the agency’s task is to translate the overall strategic framework for responding to climate change, which was released last month, into its daily operations. He directed regional foresters and station directors to work together to prepare “aggressive and well-coordinated” area-specific action plans for landscape conservation. While most have already begun such work, he added, they should be expanded into “full-blown regions, stations and area action plans” that address water as a “fundamental outcome set.”

Again with the water. Water is by far the most valuable resource produced by our public forests, so it is good to see this emphasis. The best way to protect water quality is through restoration, which imparts watershed health as well as resiliency. It is difficult to see how they are going to do it, but watershed health and water quality are stated goals in the Tidwell-Vilsack Forest Doctrine.

Chief Tidwell has now requested “landscape conservation action plans”:

Tidwell suggested dividing the country into five planning regions and imposed a 20-page limit for the draft action plans.

The plans should include desired outcomes, strategies and specific actions for each goal laid out in the agencywide framework and a description of who will lead the partnership, including a point of contact for the Washington office, Tidwell said.

“The plans should seize opportunities to integrate activities and be innovative,” Tidwell wrote. “They should become blueprints for integrating climate change and watershed management. They should use climate change as a theme under which to integrate and streamline existing national and regional strategies for ecological restoration, fire and fuels, forest health, biomass utilization, and others.”

The plans also should address priority landscapes and consider the use of “model” watersheds or landscapes to create showcases for experimentation, collaboration and demonstration, Tidwell said. They should address how the partners work with other agencies and groups and articulate how “science and management will interact to adapt to changing conditions and apply newly created knowledge in the future.”

Tidwell also said he will soon name a “climate change executive” to guide the overall implementation of the framework through the landscape conservation plans.

It is difficult to see how 20-page “plans” will be of much value. In Bureaucratese 20 pages is barely a warm-up. The institutional capacity for gov-babble is enormous — in fact, much of what Tidwell said appears to be babble on it’s face. WTH is a “climate change executive” anyway? Who are these mysterious “partners”? What does “adapting” science to “changing conditions” mean? What is “newly created knowledge”?

There’s a lot of PoMo babble in all that, and the sinister “partners” hints at BINGOs, the UN, and other exotic power brokers. However, we graciously reserve judgment until we see the finished “landscape conservation action plans”.

The Tidwell-Vilsack Forest Doctrine is taking shape. So far it has consisted mostly of talk, but future actions are hinted at. Congress did pass and fund the Flame Act and the Forest Landscape Restoration Act (now the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program) [here] and appropriated $350 million more for “hazardous fuel reduction”.

Those monies open the door to active restoration. Tidwell and Vilsack have talked the talk. Now we await the walking the walk part, so as to see in what direction they are actually moving.

1 Dec 2009, 8:42am
by Larry H.

I can already see the eco-lawyer drool pooling up in the courts of America! Ya think a 20-page document is going to be completely legal and appropriate in the view of ignorant courts? Tidwell and Vilsack are dancing around, trying to satisfy widely opposing viewpoints. I think their real intention is to re-invent the forestry wheel, where they can make forests into whatever suits their political goals. Yeah, brushfields are “resilient” and “adaptable” but, are they desirable?

1 Dec 2009, 10:42am
by bear bait

The USFS water quality issue is meaningless pap. We must understand the whole of the Colorado River is appropriated and sent to canals for irrigation and greening desert golf courses, with no water of importance reaching the Sea of Cortez. The same now applies to the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers. They don’t send water to the sea except in times of excess flooding. The only watershed that continues to pump fresh water and nutrients into the sea is the Columbia/Snake River, with over 200 million acre feet of runoff passing Astoria, Oregon each year.

I wonder how all the water quality issues of Region 5, 4, 3, 2, with the Rio Grande pumped essentially dry, as well as the Colorado and the rivers of California, including the 2,500,000 acre feet taken out of the Klamath River watershed for Sacramento irrigation, mean anything. No water goes to the ocean, and the estuaries are too saline to transition salmon now, and California Fish and Wildlife is negotiating to have water for mitigation hatcheries with the Bureau of Reclamation, USDI, because the water is claimed by irrigation districts, leaving streams leading to hatcheries without water, and hatcheries themselves without water. ESA issues forcing water to be released to have 700cfs of running water in the San Joaquin River is now being litigated due to water “subbing”, infiltrating from the channel under the banks and “harming” crops, just shows what a zoo water issues are and will be as far as the eye can see and the mind can imagine. “Clean water” is just a red herring to regulate people. And God knows the USFS is about that. Maybe that is all they are now about.

I think mass conflagration is a path to global cooling. It might increase runoff in the short term, but if we burn enough forests at once, maybe we get “global winter” like in a nuclear war event. Minus the canopy, much more snow will accumulate on the earth’s surface, not having been hung up on conifer needles only to sublimate and go to earth somewhere east of the West’s public lands. A much larger field of uniform white will insulate snow under it, and there will be a colder, longer lasting, ore water full snow field each spring. A quicker, more violent runoff will renew steam structure, and maybe make some housing uncomfortable until the furniture quits floating.

There are lots of issues with snow, water content, and diurnal cycles with a more barren component of land. There will be the north slope folks who think trees keep snow from melting, which has never been my observation. My observation has been that the road profile had 4 feet of snow with no drifting, and the adjacent forest floor had patches up to two feet deep and lots of bare ground. The old “thermal cover” concept for mature forest’s value to megafauna. It is warmer in the trees, and thus more open ground, more to eat. And the newer clearcuts were just like the road profile: snow still covering all the ground, even stumps. The reflective surface and the lack of living vegetation like tree boles and needles emitting heat and retaining solar energy. So you change the thermal qualities and the water potentials of the land by taking all the cover off, or in the case of aboriginal land managers, most of the trees off, leaving enough for survival thermal cover, heat source in wood slough, and a longer water year, and more natural irrigation of plants as they grew at the margins of retreating snow fields.

Perhaps burning the entirety of the USFS holdings is the second best idea, behind that of the native land management regimes that preceded Europeans, and are the secret of cooling the climate and initiating the next Ice Age. There has to be some sort of thermal inertia involved with having more snow cover begetting more snow cover, until it is all snow covered for a considerable part of the year, and in turn permanent snow fields. That is what glaciers are the result of, and heaven knows, we are losing our glaciers so why not burn the entirety of our forests to gain more surface and content of glaciers. That is the least we can do, you know. I wonder if there is a potentiometer kind of regulating switch we can use to stall climate at “perfect” and stable and static. But I imagine that before it ever could come to fruition, litigation by NGO interests would drain all the money that would have gone into research.

Which brings me back to the need for a viable retroactive vasectomy, which would solve most of our problems. And that is not the “Vilsack” I am talking about.

1 Dec 2009, 11:59am
by Mike

I don’t know about all that, bear, but I will say the Tidwell-Vilsack Doctrine is fraught with ambiguity.

1 Dec 2009, 3:18pm
by Larry H.

“Trust US!!!…We’re Democrat foresters!!….The good kind!!”

Yes, I’ve been saying all along that they’re going to try an “hijack” the restoration and conservation ideals….minus the science and the mills.

2 Dec 2009, 12:20pm
by Ned

Although, the “science” of global warming (climate change) is rapidly being discredited, if it resulted in active forest management, I would be for it. However, considering the current leaders in the Forest Service, I doubt the result will be active management.

I expect there is considerable confusion at all levels of the Forest Service over this direction. How can an “aggressive and well coordinated area specific twenty page draft action plan” be completed? Considering the use it or lose it annual leave taken in December, the time line is only sixty days. It has never been done before.

Will the plan be based on active management? Will the plan be continued preservation and inaction? What will be politically correct? How will NEPA and NFMA be satisfied? The result of this direction is going to be interesting to observe.

4 Dec 2009, 3:09pm
by Al B

This is Agenda 21. The sooner we get that out of our institutions the better.

7 Dec 2009, 9:04pm
by Mike N.

First, who am I to say? I am a forest ecologist who has spent the past 50 years in field and lab experiments studying what forests do and how they work. One of the main things trees do is take in carbon dioxide and eventually die, rot. and give it up.

On balance, forests are a zero-sum carbon sink. We can tweak them to gain carbon or lose it in the short run, but we can’t use forests to fix anything about the CO2 balance in the long run. And we in the Pacific Northwest cannot change the world’s carbon balance because we do not have the management handle on any but a tiny fraction of the carbon exchange systems, worldwide.

Now on the subject of climate. When dealing with the science of climate change, an objective scientist must deal not with climate warming exclusively, but with climate FLUCTUATION, in general. The records are very clear that climate fluctuates, and that Greenland was much warmer 800 years ago than it is now. We are by no means in a hot trap now or in the near future, but that isn’t my business. A phenomenon such as climate change can go both ways. We as scientists need to evaluate the consequences of both directions in order to be prepared for whatever climate does. As it works out, cooling would be a frightful mess for humanity if it were to go very far.

There are those who say the globe is warming, and those who say the warming trend has peaked, and that we are cooling. I don’t care who is right, I just hope to goodness someone is minding the store and remaining aware that global cooling is just as big an issue as warming.

In science and statistics, we call this kind of thinking a two-tailed test! We deal with both extremes of variance, and ignore this approach at the risk of losing our objectivity.



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