The New Approach to Forest Stewardship

An encouraging Guest Editorial appeared in the Dead Tree Press yesterday, written by Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council:

Beyond the spotted owl: It’s time for a new approach in our federal forests

By Tom Partin, Guest Columnist, the Oregonian, July 08, 2010 [here]

The Oregonian’s recent article commemorating the 20th anniversary of the listing of the northern spotted owl on the endangered species list exposed the personal, largely hidden agendas of those who have advocated for the owl over the years. …

Now, after 20 years, it’s evident that slashing the harvest from our federal lands has not only made our forests into tinder boxes ready to ignite and burn the very habitat the owl needs, but has not kept the owl’s numbers from continuing to decline. By listening to the questionable wisdom of self-interested scientists whose livelihoods depend on grants to study the bird, we have come to a place where the owl is in far greater danger from fire and barred owls than from the boogeyman fall guy, logging. It’s time for a new approach.

Unfortunately, the new recovery plan for the spotted owl now under development by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is unlikely to be that new approach. …

When are Oregonians and our society going to say enough is enough? Our state is on the brink of bankruptcy, unemployment is topping 20 percent in rural Oregon, county payments that are handouts in lieu of cutting timber will expire in 2012, and our forests are ready to burn. What we are doing and have been doing isn’t working. … [more]

We concur with Mr. Partin’s observation that what we have been doing isn’t working. Specifically, the The Northwest Forest Plan has been a catastrophic failure. The NWFP had (has) four fundamental goals. It has failed spectacularly to meet any of them.

1. The NWFP has failed to protect northern spotted owls

By most estimations, the northern spotted owl population has fallen 40 to 60 percent since inception of the NWFP.

2. The NWFP has failed to protect spotted owl habitat

Since inception, millions of acres of spotted owl habitat have been catastrophically incinerated. Millions more acres are poised to burn.

3. The NWFP has failed to preserve habitat continuity throughout the range of the northern spotted owl

The dozens of huge and catastrophic forest fires have left giant gaps in the range. The Biscuit Burn alone is 50 miles long and 20 miles wide.

4. The NWFP has failed to protect the regional economy

Since inception of the NWFP, Oregon has experienced 15 long years of the worst economy in the U.S., with the highest rates of unemployment, bankruptcy, home foreclosure, and hunger of any state. These are not just statistics, but indicators of real human suffering. Over 40,000 workers lost their jobs, and the rural economy has been crippled ever since.

The plan to save the owls has not saved anything; not owls, not old-growth, not the economy. The cost for nothing? $100,000 per job per year x 40,000 jobs x 17 years = $68 billion. That’s what Northwesterners have paid, for nothing. And the bills continue to mount.

Mr. Partin calls for a “new approach.” We concur. More significantly, here at W.I.S.E. we have laid out the strategy for that new approach: restoration forestry.

Restoration forestry is active management to bring back historical cultural landscapes, historical forest development pathways, and traditional ecological stewardship to achieve historical resiliency to fire and insects and to preclude and prevent a-historical catastrophic fires that decimate and destroy myriad resource values [here].

Those values include:

1. Heritage and history
2. Ecological functions including old-growth development
3. Fire resiliency and the reduction of catastrophic fires
4. Watershed functions
5. Wildlife habitat protection and enhancement (including spotted owl habitat)
6. Public health and safety
7. Jobs and the economy

Restoration forestry begins with the study and elucidation of forest history. Mr. Partin is correct in his assessment that establishment forest science has failed to provide the research and understanding needed. Forest history has not been a key component of establishment forest science in univesities and forest research centers.

Despite that deplorable state of affairs, in enclaves outside the Establishment a handful of intrepid forest scientists have been exploring forest histories. Their principal findings have been that human influences over thousands of years have played an enormous role in shaping our forests. Human influences — including frequent, seasonal, anthropogenic fire — provided the conditions whereby trees could reach old ages.

Human influences gave rise to our old-growth. That’s a stunning finding. It contradicts the old paradigm of forest development, which is based entirely on non-human factors. But the old paradigm is wrong. Too many anomalies exist in the real world, such as thickets of fir underneath ancient overstories of pine. The old paradigm cannot explain how natural forces alone created those (species-specific multicohort) forest conditions. The new paradigm, which accepts historical human influences as significant, does explain how our old-growth forests came to exist.

That’s an ecological issue. The old ecology is wrong. The new ecology is a vast improvement.

The Northwest Forest Plan is based on out-dated and incorrect assumptions about forest ecology. It is no wonder that the NWFP has failed; the scientists who crafted it were deficient in their understanding about how our forests developed.

Restoration forestry seeks to restore the actual, historical forest development pathways within the actual watersheds where that development took place. That is why restoration forestry stands a chance of succeeding where the NWFP and old paradigm ecology has failed so miserably and catastrophically.

We are encouraged by Mr. Partin’s call for a new approach, and in turn we encourage him to seek a greater understanding of what restoration forestry is, where its basis lies, and why it might succeed where the old approach has failed.

We encourage Mr. Partin, and all others, to review the papers in the W.I.S.E. Colloquia History of Western Landscapes [here], Restoration Forestry [here], Forest and Fire Sciences [here], and Wildlife Sciences [here].

Our Colloquia are works in progress. We have not gotten all the key papers up yet, but what we have posted so far should give readers a good introduction to new paradigm thinking.

We encourage Mr. Partin, and all others, to ask questions. That’s how learning occurs.

If more people begin to understand the new findings, the new ecology, and the new techniques of restoration forestry, then the “new approach” will become clearer. We won’t have to wonder what that new approach might be, nor be stuck any longer in the failed approaches of the past.

10 Jul 2010, 8:04pm
by Bob Zybach

Another nice essay, Mike. Your points are on-target and well stated. I’m going to be posting a link to this essay on OregonLive and on various Facebook sites open to discussion on forest science, catastrophic wildfires, and forest management issues.

Keep up the good work!



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