From the Missoulian here.. note to readers.. the U of M has allowed us to post the papers from this conference here on our blog. I am expecting to get them next week.
While the U.S. Forest Service grinds away at a new planning rule to manage its forests, the forests themselves face an entirely separate timetable of change.
“We’re approaching the no-analog future – we haven’t been here before,” Missoula attorney and law professor Jack Tuholske told the Friday session of the 34th annual Public Land Law Conference at the University of Montana. In a time when the calving of gigantic ice floes off Greenland glaciers could affect rainfall in the Rocky Mountains, we can’t rely on doing things the way we did before, he said.
That’s especially true in America’s forests. UM entomology professor Diana Six ran through recent research showing the progress of pests like mountain pine beetles, which are spreading across acres 10 times bigger than previous outbreaks.
“As things warm up, everything for the insects speeds up,” Six said. A 2-degree increase in average temperature doubles the rate bugs like the pine beetle reproduce and consume resources, she said. Similar bursts are happening in spruce, pinyon and fir forests in the United States, and many other tree species elsewhere on the planet.
“That means forest restoration may no longer be appropriate,” she said. “You can’t force something back to existing conditions when they no longer exist.”
That could pose big challenges to land managers who expect to harvest certain numbers of trees, support local communities and jobs, and depend on watersheds for drinking water.
University of California-Berkley law professor Eric Biber warned that intensive baseline monitoring of forest conditions needed to be in place before new policies had a chance of proving their effectiveness. But although the Forest Service has some of the world’s largest and best archives of forest data, even that is incomplete.
Furthermore, Biber warned that the monitors themselves must be carefully chosen and watched. For example, forestry biologists would have a good handle on the needs of tree species, but conservation biologists might know better how to serve the animals that depend on those trees.
And both could be vulnerable to the whims of political leaders, budget crunches and their own scientific disciplines, Biber said. He cited research on Forest Service fire policy in the early 20th century, in which the country wanted fires controlled and evidence of beneficial fire effects was overlooked.
“They didn’t want scientific information that made the political arguments more difficult,” Biber said.
Dan Kemmis, director of the Center for the Rocky Mountain West and former Missoula mayor, suggested looking beyond the local trees to see the worldwide forest.
“It’s just not possible to think seriously or clearly about managing forests without looking at the global economy,” Kemmis said. “The imperatives of debt reduction are faced by every country in the world. And that will affect land management in severe ways.”
To adapt to that, Kemmis advised agencies like the Forest Service to collaborate more with citizens who can guide it to the most needed and effective projects. That could also help avoid future lawsuits and “analysis paralysis” in decision-making, he said.
“The Forest Service needs to reduce its nonproductive activities,” Kemmis said. “I don’t know how to do that effectively without involving citizens in the problem-solving on the forest.”
Region 1 Forester Leslie Weldon echoed that idea, saying the Forest Service was trying to build the interests of local recreationists, businesses and groups into its planning. But she also warned that the Department of Agriculture (which oversees the Forest Service) expects at least 5 percent budget cuts in each of the next two years. Prioritizing projects and monitoring efforts will become harder as the money gets tighter, she said.
“Can public land law really function as a Swiss Army knife,” with individual blades for urban sprawl, job demands, species loss, climatic change and scientific incompleteness, UM law professor Ray Cross asked at the end of the gathering. Conference speakers were split, he said, with some believing policy could handle those challenges and others arguing that political tradeoffs, budget constraints and natural change would overwhelm any paper solution.
“Do we despair?” Cross asked. “We know nature will be here long after this.”