DURHAM, N.C. — The search for alternatives to fossil fuels has prompted growing interest in the use of wood, harvested directly from forests, as a carbon-neutral energy source.
But a new study by researchers at Duke and Oregon State universities finds that leaving forests intact so they can continue to store carbon dioxide and keep it from re-entering the atmosphere will do more to curb climate change over the next century than cutting and burning their wood as fuel.
“Substituting woody bioenergy for fossil fuels isn’t an effective method for climate change mitigation,” said Stephen R. Mitchell, a research scientist at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. Wood stores only about half the amount of carbon-created energy as an equivalent amount of fossil fuels, he explained, so you have to burn more of it to produce as much energy.
“In most cases, it would take more than 100 years for the amount of energy substituted to equal the amount of carbon storage achieved if we just let the forests grow and not harvest them at all,” he said.
Mitchell is lead author of the study published in the peer-reviewed journal Global Change Biology Bioenergy. Mark E. Harmon and Kari E. O’Connell of Oregon State University co-authored the study.
Using an ecosystem simulation model developed at Oregon State, the team calculated how long it would take to repay the carbon debt – the net reduction in carbon storage – incurred by harvesting forests for wood energy under a variety of different scenarios.
Their model accounted for a broad range of harvesting practices, ecosystem characteristics and land-use histories. It also took into account varying bioenergy conversion efficiencies, which measure the amount of energy that woody biomass gives off using different energy-generating technologies.
“Few of our combinations achieved carbon sequestration parity in less than 100 years, even when we set the bioenergy conversion factor at near-maximal levels,” Harmon said. Because wood stores less carbon-created energy than fossil fuels, you have to harvest, transport and burn more of it to produce as much energy. This extra activity produces additional carbon emissions.
“These emissions must be offset if forest bioenergy is to be used without adding to atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations in the near-term,” he said.
Performing partial harvests at a medium to low frequency – every 50 to 100 years or so – could be an effective strategy, O’Connell noted, but would generate less bioenergy.
“It’s a Catch-22,” she said. “Less intensive methods of harvesting release fewer emissions but yield less energy. The most intensive methods, such as clear-cutting, produce more energy but also release more carbon back into the atmosphere, prolonging the time required to achieve carbon sequestration parity.”
Given current economic realities and the increasing worldwide demand for forest products and land for agriculture, it’s unlikely that many forests will be managed in coming years solely for carbon storage, Mitchell said, but that makes it all the more critical that scientists, resource managers and policymakers work together to maximize the carbon storage potential of the remaining stands.
“The take-home message of our study is that managing forests for maximal carbon storage can yield appreciable, and highly predictable, carbon mitigation benefits within the coming century,” Mitchell said. “Harvesting forests for bioenergy production would require such a long time scale to yield net benefits that it is unlikely to be an effective avenue for climate-change mitigation.”
The research was funded by a NASA New Investigator Program grant to Kari O’Connell, by the H.J. Andrews Long-term Ecological Research Program, and by the Kay and Ward Richardson Endowment.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a founding member of the Four Forests Restoration Initiative. The Center co-founded, participates in and supports the Initiative as a vehicle for corrective ecological restoration treatments that lead to the re-establishment of climate-entrained fire regimes and native biological diversity across landscapes dominated by ponderosa pine forests in northern and eastern Arizona.
The Four Forests Restoration Initiative envisions deploying a patchwork of ecological restoration treatments in ponderosa pine forest landscapes to create conditions that reduce the potential for large-scale, stand-replacing fires, that sustain native biological diversity, and that, across much of the landscape, allow natural fire to safely resume its keystone role of regulating ecosystems structure and composition over time.
The viability of such an effort hinges in large part on the ability of a contractor to deploy a range of high-quality, cost-efficient treatments. That contractor must process small diameter trees in an economically viable way, and it must be financially and operationally capable of adjusting treatments to avoid unforeseen or undesirable ecological impacts, like population-scale losses of canopy-dependent species. The viability of ecological restoration also depends on the Forest Service’s ability, in cooperation with its collaborators, to detect, adjust to and avoid unforeseen, undesirable ecological effects. This requires a robust, transparent and responsive monitoring and adaptive management program that, despite legal requirements, has so far proven elusive in southwestern national forests.
For these reasons, the Center for Biological Diversity has long supported the economic model proposed by Arizona Forest Restoration Products (AZFRP). Grounded in proven technologies and markets, the AZFRP proposal was focused on the economically viable utilization of small-diameter trees and promised the financial capacity to deploy a full range of treatments, as ecologically appropriate. The strategic partnership developed by AZFRP with the most proven northern Arizona restoration thinning professionals promised high-quality woods work. AZFRP’s proposal included a substantial financial commitment for ecological monitoring and up to $500,000 per year for 10 years. AZFRP’s long-standing engagement in the collaborative process for more than six years has demonstrated a commitment to forging agreement, building new partnerships among traditional adversaries, and ensuring the overall success of the Four Forests Restoration Initiative’s ecological goals.
On Friday, May 18, the U.S. Forest Service announced that it had awarded to Montana-based Pioneer Associates a stewardship contract to cut mostly small-diameter trees across 300,000 acres of national forest land in northern Arizona. The tree-cutting is intended to implement part of the Four Forests Restoration Initiative. In light of the above-described rationale, and for reasons listed below, the Center for Biological Diversity believes the U.S. Forest Service made the wrong decision. Little is known about Pioneer Associates’ plan, but what little is known points to a strategy that, from economic, ecological, socio-political, and ethical standpoints, raises serious questions about its merits relative to competing bids.
A $9-million loss to taxpayers
The Forest Service walked away from $9 million in its award to Pioneer Associates. Pioneer offered the Forest Service $6.3 million; Arizona Forest Restoration Products (AZFRP) offered a total of $15 million. This $9 million loss to taxpayers comes at a time when many funding needs for Four Forests Restoration Initiative are likely to remain unmet. This may for example come at the cost of activities critical to biodiversity conservation, like ecological monitoring, and riparian and spring restoration that have traditionally been difficult to fund.
No money for monitoring
The Forest Service walked away from ecological monitoring funds. AZFRP specifically offered the Forest Service $5 million for monitoring across 10 years. Pioneer apparently didn’t even address monitoring funding. Concurrent with its rejection of AZFRP’s offer, the Forest Service continues to cite a lack of funding for its ongoing failure to monitor threatened and endangered species populations in Arizona national forests. Since the Mexican spotted owl’s recovery plan was issued in 1995, the Forest Service, despite clear legal obligations, has routinely refused to monitor owls to understand of population trends and responses to management. As regional forest cover losses accumulate with mega-fires and ecological restoration, the need for that knowledge is more important than ever; yet, consistent with its past behavior, the Forest Service in this case has squarely rejected an opportunity to finally begin collecting that critical information.
Unproven technology for the worst fire hazards
Pioneer’s strategy relies on being able to convert small trees, branches and tree tops into cellulosic bio-diesel. Cellulosic bio-diesel technology is experimental and unproven; we are aware of no examples where it has ever been shown to be feasible in commercial applications. Small trees, tree tops and branches are the least valuable and most flammable material to be removed from the woods, and the contract is expected to generate hundreds of thousands of tons of it annually. Failure to address this material will sharply increase fire hazard and saddle the public with resulting treatment or fire suppression costs; by betting on Pioneer’s unproven, experimental bio-diesel technology, the Forest Service is gambling with exactly that outcome.
Risky business, global markets
Pioneer’s strategy also relies on being able to compete in global markets against Asian furniture manufacturing that uses high-grade timber and third-world wages. The demise of America’s southeastern furniture industry, even with its reliance on plantation wood and minimum-wage labor, illustrates this challenge. We are skeptical that making products from high-cost, low-yield, small-diameter ponderosa pine with federally-mandated wages can compete against Asian imports or, as a business prospect, attract necessary investment. In contrast, competing bids relied on proven technologies in well-established markets. At stake is the ability to deploy restoration treatments; here, the Forest Service again bets on a risky utilization scheme rather than proven business models.
No commitment to collaboration
Representatives of Pioneer have occasionally attended Four Forests Restoration Initiative monthly meetings, but have largely avoided engagement in difficult negotiations about key issues whose resolution has turned the Four Forests Restoration Initiative into an actual program. Pioneer’s actions suggest that they view the Four Forests Restoration Initiative as little more than a vehicle affording access to large-scale timber sales not previously offered by the USFS. Ecological restoration appears to be an afterthought and collaboration a procedural box to be checked on the way to a wood contract. By selecting Pioneer, the Forest Service undermines the social license that it demanded from members of the Four Forests Restoration Initiative and casts even more doubt on the agency’s willingness or ability to engage in collaborative ecological restoration.
A federal-industry revolving door
Pioneer is represented by Marlin Johnson, a retired regional silviculturalist for the Forest Service in Arizona and New Mexico. In his federal capacity Johnson was a liaison to Pioneer’s timber sale inquiries. Within a year of retirement, Johnson was representing Pioneer’s inquires to the same office in which he earlier worked. In his federal capacity Johnson was also privy to the business plans of bidders that Pioneer would later compete against. Finally, over the concerns of staff and other agencies, Johnson, during his time at the Forest Service, advanced a “reinterpretation” of regional wildlife rules that sharply increased the amount of mature and old forest that can be logged while in some cases reducing stand-scale forest cover to below 20 percent—a methodology that has since caused regional timber sales to crumble under internal review prompted by administrative objections from the Center. The Forest Service is now using that same “reinterpretation” to justify old-growth logging — logging that Johnson and Pioneer could profit from if awarded those timber sales. This revolving federal-industry door in the Forest Service’s southwestern region raises several additional ethical questions about the merits of the agency’s award to Pioneer.
In making its contract award decision, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the Forest Service did not adequately consider criteria relating to (1) cost, (2) technology reliability, (3) economic or market viability, (4) the ability to conduct ecological and endangered species monitoring, or (5) collaboration and a commitment to maintaining a social license. With so many obvious problems and ethical questions outstanding — and given the consequences of failure that may well attend the wrong contract award decision — not questioning the Forest Service’s contract award to Pioneer is, in our view, foolish. While we are keenly aware that “best value” tradeoffs allow the government to award to other-than best-priced or most technically advanced proposals, best value in this case appears to have been assigned to whichever proposal best insulated the Forest Service’s bureaucratic discretion from perceived threats arising from a “social license” forged at the request of the Forest Service between communities, environmental groups, local governments and locally-based industry. There are very real, rational and disturbing problems plaguing the award process. These problems inescapably point to the primacy of political motives in the Forest Service’s selection process and, given all that’s at stake, they demand immediate transparency, third-party investigation and corrective action.
I really liked this article and it is right up our discussion alley and also about the East. It might be worth getting a temporary subscription for those who don’t get Greenwire. Fundamentally the story is about fire in Eastern forests. I could have quoted any part and it would be interesting but here is the last section. The author is Paul Voosen, E&E reporter.
Here’s a quote from early in the piece:
On a hot spring morning, foresters and scientists tromped through the charred understory of a burned patch of the Ozark National Forest. They had recently wrapped their work, dripping fire this way and that beneath an open canopy of oaks. Soon, they hoped, a succession of grasses would bloom in blackened soil, bathing in restored light.
The site is an atonement for the Forest Service’s past sins.
I think it’s kind of funny to think of a prescribed burn as “atonement for sins”… maybe it would be cheaper for the taxpayer for the Chief to just sign a confession ..or we could have an atonement ceremony and be done…
If there’s a model for a restored Eastern forest in Arkansas, it’s Buck Ridge.
An upward-sloping 29-acre woodland tucked in state wildlife land north of the Ozark National Forest, Buck Ridge is a gateway to the past. About 250 species of plant can be found in its understory, an astounding diversity. Through the year, each wave of grasses flowers taller than the last, chasing light. By midsummer, they are waist high; by the end of the year, the big bluestem grasses reach 6 feet high.
“Everything is adapted to work well in this system,” said Witsell, the botanist.
Possessing the rare ability to identify nearly any plant on sight, Witsell scrambled around the ridge like Darwin first alighting on the Galapagos. He listed off rare species that could only be found in a sun-drenched forest: Chapman’s purple top; Nuttall’s pleat leaf; snakeroot; all kinds of legumes; four different violets since leaving the car.
Above the grasses, the “swee-swee-swee” call of a redheaded woodpecker rang out.
Managing smoke is a continual challenge for prescribed burns, even in rural Arkansas. Plumes like this column, from a 1,400-acre burn of the Big Piney Ranger District in 2001, must be carefully monitored for dispersal and escapes. Photo by Steve Osborne.
“Those redheads are woodland birds,” said Steve Osborne, a retired Forest Service officer from Ozark National Forest. “You hear them all over the place right now. They’re here because of this treatment. I can tell you in the years past, I could go for months without seeing one of them in the national forest.”
For all its success, Buck Ridge’s restoration was not easy. The state has burned the ridge seven times in the past 15 years. Even then, the restoration did not truly take hold until a second tool was added: targeted herbicides. The dense pack of young trees did not easily give way, and so, in 2008, the forest managers injected herbicides into all the woody stems measuring from 1 to 10 inches in diameter.
From an ecological standpoint, the herbicides are not a problem, Witsell said.
“It’s a surgical approach,” he said. “You’re not spraying this from an airplane. You’re injecting it into the tree trunks. And it’s obviously not hurting the flora on the ground.”
But the hard truth scientists have found is that fire is often not enough to restore the forest. Most often, prescribed burns have to be combined with logging and herbicides, an active type of management that makes some environmentalists queasy. But perhaps it’s no surprise that such drastic steps are needed. Keeping fire out of the forest was itself a massive management choice, if one belatedly known.
“It’s been many years since fire was an active agent on our landscape,” said Nowacki, the Forest Service ecologist. “We’re dealing with decades here. And so it shouldn’t be surprising it might take decades to rehabilitate the forests.”
Indeed, much of the Forest Service’s interest in the historical fire conditions of the Eastern forest has been driven by the notion that logging can be ecologically justified. It’s the subtext for much of its financial support, Duke’s Christensen said. Even Abrams is studying how well harvesting and herbicide injections can take the place of fire.
For Christensen, efforts like Buck Ridge bring together larger questions of restoration. If humanity created and maintained these open, Eastern forests in the first place — if these are the first forests of the Anthropocene — then shouldn’t foresters actively choose the woodland they want, rather than using an arbitrary, uncertain historical baseline?
“It puts the burden on defining a restoration target on the managers themselves,” Christensen said. “They say, ‘I get to decide what’s going to be here in the future.’ Justifiably, public agencies are really uncomfortable with that. Do they even have the social license to do that?”
Despite sounding the alarm for 25 years, Penn State’s Abrams has doubts that much can be done to get the Eastern forest back to where he’d like, especially with fire. There’s too much settlement and too much land in private hands. Liability is a huge concern for those rare escaped fires. Climate change could make it difficult for the trees to survive.
A threshold has been passed. The oak and pine forest will never be what it was.
“I would like to see increased used of burning in the East for these fire-adapted forest types,” Abrams said. “But I realize we’re never going to have the extent of burning that we [had] before European settlement.”
What will survive are pockets, traces of humanity’s original sway over nature.
Standing near the top of Buck Ridge, where the post oaks spread their limbs wide, their girth a sign of the savannah forest this was and is again, Anderson, the hustling fire coordinator, stopped to survey his team’s work. This is an ecosystem that hasn’t been seen since the American Indians hunted in Buck Ridge, since the early settlers, he said.
And yet, in the soil, the seeds waited, returning in full bloom.
“It all says, ‘Yes, yes, yes. We want more of this,’” he said.
I wonder who is saying “we want more of this”; not sure there is a Nature, nor does She speak with one voice. Back to Christensen’s point, the future will bring tough decisions about what we (people) want or don’t want. Best discussed (dare I say it?) collaboratively, IMHO.
In my endless, and some may say quixotic, quest for “Things We Can All Agree On” I offer a link to David Bruggeman’s blog Pasco Phronesis) post on the Open Access Petition. Below is a quote, and here is a link to David’s post. I recommend David’s blog to all interested in science policy.
I’m still mildly bemused that the expansion of open access seems to have found some traction, or at least many more vocal proponents, over the last few months. Such enthusiasm has been met by actions in the U.K., internationally, and by many universities and funding groups to increase the incentives to publish scientific research under various forms of open access publishing.
Now we have a petition on the We The People portion of the White House website. The full text (there’s a limit of 800 characters, vagueness of goals and realism of promises is not necessarily an indication of intent):
“Require free access over the Internet to scientific journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research.
“We believe in the power of the Internet to foster innovation, research, and education. Requiring the published results of taxpayer-funded research to be posted on the Internet in human and machine readable form would provide access to patients and caregivers, students and their teachers, researchers, entrepreneurs, and other taxpayers who paid for the research. Expanding access would speed the research process and increase the return on our investment in scientific research.
“The highly successful Public Access Policy of the National Institutes of Health proves that this can be done without disrupting the research process, and we urge President Obama to act now to implement open access policies for all federal agencies that fund scientific research.”
Uploaded to the petition site on May 13, the petition hit the publicly searchable threshold this past weekend, and thanks to a concerted effort to publicize the petition, there are now over 17,000 signatures as of late on May 25. The petition will need 25,000 signatures by June 19 in order to get a response from the Administration. If the publicity keeps up, I suspect the goal will be met.
The petition was started by Access2Research, a personal campaign of a few open access advocates that has the support of many organizations sympathetic, if not outright supportive of the cause. The publicity campaign has been global, and there is no requirement that signers of We The People petitions be U.S. citizens (they do have to set up an account – no fair signing twice).
Thanks to Bob Zybach for this..
Here’s a link to the entire letter.
The original purpose of the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”) was to protect
individuals and small businesses from an overzealous application of law by
federal agencies. According to testimony offered by members of the
House of Representatives in support of EAJA, the purpose of the bill was to
“equal the playing field” when American citizens had to file litigation against the
federal government. For example, Congresswoman Chisholm (D-NY)
testified that the bill encouraged an “affirmative action approach” to bring in
those who had been “locked out of the decision making process by virtue of
their income, their race, their economic scale or their educational limitations.”
Representative Joseph McDade R-PA stated that the bill would help to
improve citizen’s perceptions of his relationships with the federal
government because it would require federal agencies to justify their actions
and to compensate the individual or small business owner when the
government is wrong. The intent of EAJA was to curb unreasonable and
excessive bureaucratic application of regulations. If that is the case, why does
the federal government pay a significantly greater amount per hour to
an attorney who is representing a bug than to one who is representing a
I have heard a lot of excitement about the recent FOX news story
Environmental groups collecting millions from federal agencies they sue,
studies show, as well as the Press Release from Congresswoman Lummis
and Senator Barrasso describing Two New Studies Identify Major Flaws in the
Equal Access to Justice Act: To support the nation’s veterans, seniors and small
business, Lummis and Barrasso call for swift passage of Government Litigation
Savings Act. These numbers support that premise. Call your Congressmen
and Senators. It is time to show our veterans and seniors that they are more
important to the federal government and the to tax paying citizens than bugs.
Some of you may remember that a few years ago the superintendent of Glacier National Park, Chas Cartwright, was very proactive in pushing for Wilderness designation. This is a snip from an article in the fall of 2009:
Cartwright said wilderness inside Glacier, and all national parks, is not a new idea. He said park managers were asked decades ago to identify possible wilderness areas within Glacier’s boundaries. “That went to President Nixon 35 years ago,” he said. Nixon recommended to the Congress to affirm those designations, but Congress has not acted on that recommendation in almost two generations. “Thirty-five years is a long time to wait,” he said. His comments were the second time in two days that Cartwright has publicly pushed for park wilderness.
Shortly after these statements supporting Wilderness designation for portions of Glacier National Park, all of a sudden, the effort just seemed to evaporate and Superintendent Cartwright stopped talking about the idea. Well, a forest scientist that I work very closely with might have found the reason why.
When this forest scientist talked with some Glacier National Park staff last year, this topic came up and their understanding was that Senator Tester had directly approached Superintendent Cartwright and “asked” him to stop pursuing the Wilderness idea because Senator Tester felt it would complicate his efforts to push the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act through Congress.
Is this perhaps yet another example of where politics – especially election-year politics – get in the way of good public lands policy? I mean, who could seriously be against Wilderness designation for the wildest, most spectacular parts of Glacier National Park?
Ecologist and former hunting guide George Wuerthner has a new piece on the Lolo National Forest’s Colt Summit Timber Sale over at The Wildlife News. Below is a snip, but make sure to give the entire article it a read. We’ve also debated the substantive issues related to this timber sale numerous times on this site.
The Colt Summit timber sale on the Seeley Lake Ranger District is the first logging proposal on the Lolo National Forest to be challenged in five years. It has become symbolic of a bigger fight over logging in the Northern Rockies. It is the proverbial line in the sand. It is actually typical of the may timber sales now being promoted by the Forest Service based on flawed assumptions about fire ecology and exaggerated public benefits, so in a sense is worthy of scrutiny since it is representative of what environmentalists around the West are encountering these days.
The Colt Summit Timber sale is being challenged by the Friends of the Wild Swan, Native Ecosystems Council, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, and Mountain Ecosystems Defense Council. They have filed a law suit to stop the timber sale arguing that the logging may jeopardize endangered grizzly bear, lynx and bull trout. Also, Wildwest Institute filed a brief in support of the plaintiffs (they are members of the Lolo Restoration committee).
Wuerthner also recently got some new pictures of the Colt Summit timber sale area from the air. You can also take a Google Earth tour here. As anyone can clearly see from the aerial images, the surrounding area (including the portions of the Lolo National Forest and private lands) have already been heavily logged and roaded, significantly compromising critical habitat for lynx, grizzly bears, bull trout and other critters. In fact, these images makes it pretty clear that the Colt Summit project area is smack dab in the middle of one of the only wildlife corridors in that part of the valley. Really, most of the valley has been clearcut, logged and roaded from the border of the Mission Mountain Wilderness on the west to the Bob Marshal Wilderness on the east. Yet, despite tremendous fragmentation of the landscape, The Wilderness Society, Montana Wilderness Association, National Wildlife Federation, Yaak Valley Forest Council and others joined up with the Montana Wood Products Association and Montana Logging Association to file a brief in support of more logging in the area.
COMMENTARY: It’s time to judge forest policy by its result, not by its intent- Rural Americans suffer while the Northwest Forest Plan fails to save owls
Thanks to Bob Zybach for this one.. an op-ed in the Register Guard here.
COMMENTARY: It’s time to judge forest policy by its result, not by its intent
Rural Americans suffer while the Northwest Forest Plan fails to save owls
Published: (Sunday, May 27, 2012 04:25AM) Midnight, May 27
By Rob DeHarpport
For The Register-Guard
Failed federal policies implemented by unelected agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management during the past 30 to 40 years remind me of a quote from the late economist Milton Friedman: “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.”
The Northwest Forest Plan enacted by President Clinton in 1994 may have had good intentions, but it has failed catastrophically.
According to Forest Service records, the volume of timber harvested on Forest Service lands declined from a peak in 1987 of 12.7 billion board feet to 4.8 billion board feet in 1994. That harvest further declined to 2.4 billion board feet in 2011. When the Northwest Forest Plan was adopted in 1994, harvest levels already had dropped by nearly two-thirds — and today are merely 19 percent of the peak harvest level of 1987.
Pacific Northwest forests in the spotted owl zone grow anywhere from 500 to 1,000 board feet per acre per year. The Northwest Forest Plan encompasses 23 million acres. Growth on those acres has been at least 16 billion board feet per year. During the past 18 years, the annual harvest has been only 3 percent of growth.
The resulting build-up of biomass in Northwest forests has led to catastrophic fires burning millions of acres. Spotted owl populations have crashed by 60 percent or more. The Northwest Forest Plan has failed to save owls and instead has caused the incineration of their habitat.
The Pacific Northwest is the premier timber-growing region in the world. Yet today, America is importing 40 percent of its softwoods from Canada.
Does this make any sense? We are in a prolonged period of high unemployment in America — and especially in Oregon, Washington and Northern California. Poverty in rural areas of the Northwest continues to fester.
More than 25 percent of rural Oregon families are on food stamps.
In Oakridge, 80 percent of our public school students qualify for free lunches based on family income.
The Oakridge School District now enrolls slightly more than 500 students, down from a high of nearly 1,200 just 30 years ago.
At least 44 businesses from the Oakridge-Westfir area have closed their doors since the late 1970s.
CEO Peter Pope of the shuttered Pope & Talbot mill in Oakridge said, “The spotted owl issue destroyed any chance to keep the Oakridge mill going.” Pope explained that a failed effort to save the species was the “death blow” to Oakridge.
These failed policies continue today. President Clinton promised that, “We must never forget the human element and local economies.” Guess what? Rural timber towns and their residents have been forgotten.
Local Forest Service officials are held hostage by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., and the policies they have created. Increased local control and stewardship is the logical answer, yet this solution is unattainable in the current top-down bureaucratic structure.
This wildfire, on the Amador Ranger District, of the Eldorado National Forest. was sparked by crews cutting hazard trees along powerlines. I was a Sale Administrator, detailed to help salvage timber and accomplish contract work over 55% of the burned area. New marking guidelines, ordered by the courts, were first used on this project. While the plans survived a lower court challenge, the infamous Ninth Circuit Court decided that the new guidelines were “confusing” and more analysis regarding the blackbacked woodpecker was needed.
Here is what one of the cutting units looks like today. Choked with deerbrush, with not much in the way of conifers established.
This picture shows the striking contrast of Forest Service, versus private timberlands. You can clearly see the property lines and the section corner. What you cannot see is the accelerated erosion that came off the private lands, impacting the road at the bottom of the picture. Between the deerbrush and the the thick bear clover, conifers have little chance to recover, and a re-burn might be in the future for this patch of Federal land. The upper tract of Federal land seems to have no standing snags left, due to blowdown. The rest of the area seems to be choked with snags that died since harvesting was completed. At least SOME of the fuels for a future wildfire have been significantly reduced.
This area has a history of Indian occupation, and the forest still shows it. The bear clover re-grew and covered the bare soil within 6 months. Today, people would be hard-pressed to find ANY logging damage, on this side of the fire area. What really amazed me is that this project has ALREADY suffered a re-burn. The fuels reduction definitely saved the remaining old growth from burning to a crisp. This forest has its resilience back, has a better species composition, and seems ready for a regular program of prescribed fire.
As you can see, the light and the weather didn’t cooperate. I’m sure I will be going back to capture some more images, and to compare them to the photos I took six years ago.
On Wednesday RY Timber, Pyramid Mountain Lumber, Roseburg Forest Products and Sun Mountain Lumber took out this full-page advertisement in at least six Montana newspapers, including the Helena Independent Record, Missoulian, Kalispell Daily Interlake, Great Falls Tribune, Montana Standard and Bozeman Chronicle. According to Ad reps, the retail cost of the advertisements likely ran between $27,000 and $31,000.
Among other things, the timber industry Ads called for 1) scrapping the entire Forest Service public appeals process and 2) exempting many timber sales in Montana from judicial review. These are the same timber companies pushing Senator Tester’s mandated logging bill, the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, which would require logging on over 156 square miles of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Kootenia National Forest over the next 15 years. More information on the timber industry Ads can be found here. Today, Mike Garrity – Alliance for the Wild Rockies executive director and a 5th generation Montanan – responds to the Ad with this guest column in the Montana Standard.
No ‘lawless logging’ in Montana
By Mike Garrity
A handful of timber corporations recently took out full-page ads statewide to criticize the Alliance for the Wild Rockies for doing what we do well — working to keep Montana “high, wide and handsome” as Joseph Kinsey Howard famously wrote.
We protect public land from corporations and government bureaucracies that want to log public lands without following the law. To put it simply, they want to return to the “good old days” before we had any environmental laws and corporations such as the Anaconda Company called all the shots.
As a fifth generation Montanan, I clearly recall the days when Silver Bow Creek ran red with mine waste and the Clark Fork River was a dead, sludge-filled industrial sewer. And it was not that long ago when you had to turn your car lights on in the middle of the day in Butte because the air was so polluted. These were also the days when our forests had little big game and native fish were beginning to vanish because of massive clearcutting.
Today Montana has some of the best hunting and fishing in the world. The state recently celebrated the return of native westslope cutthroat trout to Silver Bow Creek and Milltown Dam no longer holds millions of tons of toxic waste seeping into the groundwater.
Do we really want to go back to these good old days of cut-and-run where there are no environmental laws? Montanans love our national forests, which belong to the American people, not to the career bureaucrats in the Forest Service or the CEOs and stockholders of timber corporations.
Yet, in their ads, the timber corporations clearly laid out their goals for the conditions and laws they want applied to their personal profit-driven extraction of public resources. In their own words, the timber companies want to “scrap the entire Forest Service Administrative Appeals Process,” “exempt from judicial review those timber sales which deal with trees that have been killed or severely damaged by the Mountain Pine Beetle,” and “amend the Equal Access to Justice Act by requiring a cash bond in these types of administrative appeals and lawsuits.”
In plain language, what that means is that these corporations no longer want citizens to have a voice in how our public lands get used or abused. But that ignores both the history and intent of law and policy on public lands management.
Congress placed citizen suit provisions in virtually all federal environmental laws because citizens are often the only group willing to police the government. As the Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals famously wrote, citizens “stand in the shoes” of regulatory enforcement agencies to enforce the law — and to do so without any prospect of personal benefit. If someone throws a brick through a window, the police would enforce the law. But when the federal government breaks the law, citizens are often the only enforcers.
Unfortunately a disturbing trend has appeared as big environmental groups such as the Montana Wilderness Association and The Wilderness Society increasingly take foundation money to “collaborate” with timber corporations. And much like the Vichy French helped the Nazis occupy France during WWII; these collaborators now have to face the harsh and shameful legacy of what they have done and continue to do.
Behind it all is the very simple truth now revealed by the timber companies’ own damning ads: these corporations want access and the subsidy to extract timber resources from public lands unencumbered by environmental laws. Their profit, our loss, and a return to the bad old days of corporate domination of Montana’s lands and people. But Montanans don’t want to return to those days when corporations like the Anaconda Co. controlled public policy and the rivers ran red with mine waste. We want a sustainable supply of clean water, fish, wildlife and timber.
It’s time to tell these corporations and their collaborative partners that the days of rape and run in Montana are over. Montana is worth fighting for, which is exactly what the Alliance for the Wild Rockies intends to continue to do.
Mike Garrity is executive director Alliance for the Wild Rockies.