Here is a view of a temporary road used in a fire salvage portion of a green timber sale, on the Sequoia National Forest. The McNally Fire burned over 100,000 acres. Since this location is so remote, worries about vehicular entry are minimal. At the time, the logger and I thought these rocks would be adequate to block the road. I don’t think so, today. This was a temporary road before the fire, and there were some hydrological issues with re-using it. Of course, after a wildfire, the water table is recharged and new springs have popped up. It was very important that we laid out the restrictions and mitigations of its use. This is the result.
This view looks back down the road. You can see the waterbars and slash spread in between them. Even if the road is compacted, the water never gets a chance to gain erosive power. I’d bet that the road could be re-used again, when needed. The original road design wasn’t perfect but, I think there are very few impacts from us using it.
This is just a reminder that some of our forests are healthy, and need no management. This view from the Pass Creek area of the Salmon-Challis National Forest shows an idyllic scene that might be similar to the land of 400 years ago. This land is full of the kinds of wildlife people want to see returned to our National Forests. While I was there on assignment, I met a guy who wandered this rugged terrain, recording wildlife sightings. This thin and wiry guy was amazing in how he could gain and lose thousands feet of elevation, day after day.
Key findings from the synthesis were:
Efforts to promote resilience of socioecological systems increasingly consider the interaction of social values and ecological processes in pursuit of long-term mutual benefits and social learning for local communities and larger social networks.
Research indicates that strategic placement of treatments to reduce hazardous fuel accumulations and to restore fire as an ecosystem process within fire sheds can lower the risk for undesirable social and ecological outcomes associated with uncharacteristically large, severe, and dangerous fires, which include impacts to wildlife species of concern, such as the fisher and California spotted owl.
Science generally supports active treatment in some riparian and core wildlife zones to restore fire regimes. However, adaptive management, including experimentation at large landscape scales, is needed to evaluate which areas are priorities for treatment and what levels of treatment produce beneficial or neutral impacts to wildlife species and other socioecological values over long periods.
Yep, this is what we are already doing on my Ranger District. It is always important to focus on what we are leaving, rather than what is being removed. We still have longstanding limitations of protecting old growth and a ban on clearcutting. The picture is an example of salvage logging just six months after completion.
This picture is located within the Cedar Breaks National Monument, where conifer mortality is quite excessive. There is really not much that can be done with this situation, other than spending lots of money to fell, pile and burn. Within the Dixie National Forest, this mortality dominates the upper elevations. Even at this altitude of over 10,000 feet, the land is very dry for 9 months, except for seasonal lightning storms. Like some of our public lands, we need a triage system to deal with such overwhelming mortality and fuels build-ups. In this example, we are too late to employ a market-based solution, which would do more non-commercial work.
I have seen this area over many years, and have watched as forests die and rot, with catastrophic wildfire being the “end game”. Anyone venture a guess at what will grow here, in the future?
“Description: Current Sierra Nevada forest management is often focused on strategically reducing fuels without an explicit strategy for ecological restoration across the landscape matrix. Summarizing recent scientific literature, we suggest managers produce different stand structures and densities across the landscape using topographic variables (i.e., slope shape, aspect, and slope position) as a guide for varying treatments. Local cool or moist areas, where historically fire would have burned less frequently or at lower severity, would have higher density and canopy cover, providing habitat for sensitive species. In contrast upper, southern-aspect slopes would have low densities of large fire-resistant trees. For thinning, marking rules would be based on crown strata or age cohorts and species, rather than uniform diameter limits. Collectively, our management recommendations emphasize the ecological role of fire, changing climate conditions, sensitive wildlife habitat, and the importance of forest structure heterogeneity.”
This is a basic scientific reasoning for the marking prescriptions we are using in our current project. In scanning through some of it (it seems QUITE comprehensive!), I found this little gem.
‘How is ecological restoration defined in the GTR? In the face of changing
climate conditions, our focus is on increasing ecosystem resiliency. This focus
is consistent with that described in USDA Forest Service Manual 2020.5,
which defines ecological restoration as: “The process of assisting the recovery
of resilience and adaptive capacity of ecosystems that have been degraded,
damaged, or destroyed. Restoration focuses on establishing the composition,
structure, pattern, and ecological processes necessary to make terrestrial and
aquatic ecosystems sustainable, resilient, and healthy under current and future
Americans continue to struggle with the idea of a public good, a “res publica,” in their national forests. We struggle in terms of both purpose of the national forests and how to best manage them. Herein we will contrast two different views of ‘national forests: for whom and for what.’ The first view comes from Dave Skinner, in a recent op-ed titled Impossible Dreams at the Flathead Beacon. The second view is mine, as aired here at the New Century of Forest Planning.
As I read through Dave Skinner’s “Impossible Dreams,” I reminded myself of just how diverse our worldviews are. Skinner views the world in a crass form of utilitarianism where forests are to be used for products and human pleasures: logs to flow freely to mills to make things, but also to generate monies to be returned to the treasury. Other ‘multiple use’ products flow freely too: oil and gas, minerals, red meat, and more. Roads are for human travel and to ‘manage’ the forests, recreation is for fun and, incidentally to be free, in part subsidized by timber and other products from the forests. [Note: The "to be free" tidbit is not in Skinner's article, but is clearly what Skinner preaches elsewhere. Note further that I too share the idea of recreation for free outside certain improved sites. I also support commodity and service production from the national forests, but in a frame much more constrained than does Skinner.] Skinner makes no mention of environmental services, no mention of wildlife sanctuaries, no mention of sanctuaries for the human spirit. This is Skinner’s near-possible dream: that people might warm up to the idea that national forests ought to be managed for the version of multiple use embodied in the Multiple Use — Sustained Yield Act of 1960 (MUSY). MUSY predated the spate of environmental laws the were ushered in a mere decade later, following an upwelling of outrage at the wanton disregard for ‘caring for the earth’ that led to the passage of many US environmental laws and led to the celebration of Earth Day as a reminder of what damage we have done to our home—and as a reminder that we must now do better. These “US environmental laws” laws include the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the Clean Air and Water Acts, and more. Skinner’s “impossible dream” is that the national forests would be better managed in the tradition of state trust lands, echoing Robert Nelson’s similar push to Free America from Her Public Lands.
I too have an impossible dream. A dream that the Forest Service will finally take Aldo Leopold seriously, and move management toward the ideal that people become part of the “land community,” not overlords of the wild, neither zoo-keepers of the wildlife and garden-tenders of the forest. My dream is also that the Forest Service work up this dream hand in hand with the American people, through the Art and Promise of Adaptive Governance, helping lead America toward sustainability and ecological resilience/restoration. I suspect the Forest Service harbors a similar dream, although I don’t believe that they share my path toward that dream.
Here is a condensed version of Skinner’s Impossible Dreams, Flathead Beacon, 4/11/2012:
Golly gee, yet another U.S. Forest Service project has been blocked in court, [by environmental extremists]. …
Yet again, I found myself “thanking” Congress for writing laws enabling a handful of misanthropic kooks to utterly waste the labors of hundreds of professional, professionally paid public employees. ..
Um, what’s it called when you do the same things over and over and expect different results? Crazy!
Utah’s government is trying something different. On March 23, Utah passed House Bill 148 into law, demanding the Feds transfer title to public lands … by the end of 2014. … Arizona … passed a nearly identical bill (SB 1332) through their Senate, but it died (for now) in Arizona’s House Rules committee. The bill sponsor … told the Arizona Republic he spearheaded the legislation because “in the last 30 years, the radical environmental policies of these federal agencies have ground [resource] industries to a halt ….”
Now, it’s constitutionally impossible to force such a transfer. But — what if a bunch of states followed Utah’s lead, and Congress went along?
In attacking [the] bill, Arizona Sierra Clubber Sandy Bahr rhetorically asked, “How in the world do they [states] think they could manage these federal public lands?”
Turns out the states (and tribes) already do a better job: Oregon State University forest engineering professor John Sessions has studied the comparative costs of forest management under various ownerships (federal, tribal, state, and private). Dr. Sessions found that, in post-spotted-owl Washington and Oregon, annual management budgets across ownerships were roughly comparable.
But when based on timber sold (which pays for management, imagine that), Indian forests harvested a thousand board feet for every $92 of budget. Private and state operators were in the $102-$107 range, with the Forest Service at a ridiculous $1,296. At the time (2001), wood stumpage in the region ran $150-$300 a thousand, putting USFS costs at four to eight times revenues — a loss carried by taxpayers. Other forests supported themselves.
Sessions’ pattern seems to hold for Montana, too. Both state and tribal forest management programs in Montana, operated under state or tribal laws and regulations, are fiscally self-supporting. More important, they are good, even excellent, forestry. …
If [the Flathead National Forest] could sell its plan maximum (50 million feet), meeting FNF expenses with revenues is an impossible dream — a dream doomed to remain impossible as long as these lands are “managed” by federal employees under federal law applied in federal courts.
So, while Greens like Ms. Bahr are doing everything possible to portray legislation such as Utah’s as impossible, even crazy – the current federal land management regime is no less crazy.
Congress should seriously consider allowing states (and tribes) so inclined to have a go at managing these lands — if they succeed, they keep the land. ….
For those not familiar with Skinner’s narrow, antiquated views and exhortations on this and other multiple use matters, neither with the legacy of plunder associated with both the Forest Service’s multiple use timber management of the 1960s and 1970s, I simply ask you to ponder a few good books, including Paul Hirt’s A Conspiracy of Optimism: Management of the National Forests since World War Two and Richard W. Behan’s Plundered Promise: Capitalism, Politics, and the Fate of the Federal Lands. David Clary’s Timber and the Forest Service is also useful to get a flavor of the religious zeal that drove Forest Service timber management back in the go-go years.
As to what Skinner calls “excellent forestry” on the state trust lands, all I can say is that ‘trusts’ are a good way to raise money from land. As to biodiversity conservation, ecosystems services for clean air and water, aesthetic considerations, wilderness, and other uses and values not amenable to commodification, I believe other avenues for forest management offer much better solutions to the res publica idea of national forests, parks, and monuments.
The jury is out as to what we want for our national forests in this emerging century. Somehow I don’t believe that “we,” the American people, really want to take the ‘forest land trust’ path, back toward those ‘thrilling days of yesteryear’. As for me, I’ll continue to support the Forest Service’s move toward Leopold’s philosophy/practice. And I’ll continue to champion public engagement in the process when done legally, and with and eye toward fairness.
Thanks to Sharon for posting the article about Peter Kareiva’s research and thoughts, which recently appeared on Greenwire, as well as linking to Conservation in the Anthropocene, written by Kareiva, together with Robert Lalasz and Michelle Marvier. The comments section quickly filled up with some great perspectives. Regular commenter “TreeC123″ highlighted the fact that the Breakthrough Journal invited Kierán Suckling, with the Center for Biological Diversity, to provide a response to the piece by Kareiva et al titled Conservation in the Real World. Below are snips:
Had the article been published a century ago, the author’s decision to frame the environmental movement through a critique of Emerson (1803-1882), Hawthorne (1804-1864), Thoreau (1817-1862) and Muir (1838-1914) might have made sense. But alleged weaknesses of these dead white men is an entirely inadequate anchor for an essay that bills itself as a rethinking of contemporary environmentalism. Indeed, the only 20th century environmentalist mentioned in the essay is the novelist and essayist Ed Abbey. It is frankly bizarre that Kareiva et al.’s depiction of environmentalists is not based on NRDC, the Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, Environment America, 350.org, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, or indeed, any environmental group at all.
Bizarre, but necessary: Kareiva et al.’s “conservationist” straw man would have fallen to pieces had they attempted to base it on the ongoing work of actual conservation groups.
Consider their take on wilderness. The straw man is constructed by telling us (without reference to an actual conservation group, of course) that “the wilderness ideal presupposes that there are parts of the world untouched by humankind.” Then the authors smugly knock it down with the shocking revelation that “The wilderness so beloved by conservationists — places ‘untrammeled by man’ — never existed.”
Do Kareiva et al. expect readers to believe that conservation groups are unaware that American Indians and native Alaskans lived in huge swaths of what are now designated wilderness areas? Or that they mysteriously failed to see the cows, sheep, bridges, fences, fire towers, fire suppression and/or mining claims within the majority of the proposed wilderness areas they have so painstakingly walked, mapped, camped in, photographed, and advocated for? It is not environmentalists who are naïve about wilderness; it is Kareiva et al. who are naïve about environmentalists. Environmental groups have little interest in the “wilderness ideal” because it has no legal, political or biological relevance when it comes to creating or managing wilderness areas. They simply want to bring the greatest protections possible to the lands which have been the least degraded….
At a time when conservationists need honest, hard-headed reassessment of what works and what needs changing, Kareiva et al. offer little more than exaggerations, straw-man arguments and a forced optimism that too often crosses the line into denial. There are plenty of real biodiversity recovery stories to tell, but to learn from them, we have to take off the blinders of sweeping generalizations and pay attention to the details and complexities of real-world conservation work. That’s the breakthrough we need to survive the Anthropocene.
Given the many discussions we’ve had on this blog concerning the top of restoration, this new research from Katharine N. Suding, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at the University of California, Berkeley should be of great interest to readers. The title of the paper is “Toward an Era of Restoration in Ecology: Successes, Failures, and Opportunities Ahead” (PDF copy here). Below is a teaser from the Abstract (emphasis added). – mk
As an inevitable consequence of increased environmental degradation and anticipated future environmental change, societal demand for ecosystem restoration is rapidly increasing. Here, I evaluate successes and failures in restoration, how science is informing these efforts, and ways to better address decision-making and policy needs. Despite the multitude of restoration projects and wide agreement that evaluation is a key to future progress, comprehensive evaluations are rare. Based on the limited available information, restoration outcomes vary widely. Cases of complete recovery are frequently characterized by the persistence of species and abiotic processes that permit natural regeneration. Incomplete recovery is often attributed to a mixture of local and landscape constraints, including shifts in species distributions and legacies of past land use. Lastly, strong species feedbacks and regional shifts in species pools and climate can result in little to no recovery. More forward-looking paradigms, such as enhancing ecosystem services and increasing resilience to future change, are exciting new directions that need more assessment. Increased evidence-based evaluation and cross-disciplinary knowledge transfer will better inform a wide range of critical restoration issues such as how to prioritize sites and interventions, include uncertainty in decision making, incorporate temporal and spatial dependencies, and standardize outcome assessments. As environmental policy increasingly embraces restoration, the opportunities have never been greater.
The following press release and article come from the Geos Insitute. – mk
Ashland, Oregon – Scientists released new findings today on the importance of mature and old-growth forests in preparing the Klamath-Siskiyou region of southwest Oregon and northern California for global climate disruptions. Published in the January edition of The Natural Areas Journal (Volume 32: 65-74) by the Natural Areas Association, the study calls on regional land managers to protect mature and old-growth forests as an insurance policy for fish and wildlife facing mounting climate change pressures from rising temperatures, declining snow levels, and reductions in fog along the coast. Click here to read the article.
The project was led by the Ashland-based Geos Institute who brought together scientists with back grounds in climate change science, Klamath-Siskiyou regional ecology, and conservation planning to comb through data on temperature and precipitation changes and to develop recommendations to help adapt ecosystems while the ecological and economic costs are relatively low.
According to Dominick DellaSala, Chief Scientist & President of Geos Institute, who led the project team, “for millennia our region’s mature and old-growth forests have been a wellspring for nature and they now hold the keys to sustaining the very ecosystem benefits we will increasingly depend on for fresh water, clean air, and viable fish and wildlife populations as global climate disruptions increasingly impact our area.”
One of the authors of the study, Reed Noss, Professor of Conservation Biology at the University of Central Florida, underscored the importance of the studies findings for land managers. “Climate change, combined with habitat loss and fragmentation, is the greatest threat we face to nature. This study shows that land managers can reduce impacts of climate change by protecting older forests in a region whose biological diversity has been recognized globally as among the top ten coniferous forests on earth.”
The study used computer mapping and extensive data sets on regional climate and wildlife distributions to determine what areas are most likely to hang on to their local climatic conditions for wildlife seeking refuge from rising temperatures and changes to precipitation caused by climate change disruption. Old growth and mature forests, with their closed canopies and moist environments, are predicted to remain cooler for longer periods of time, therefore providing refuge for species that depend on these conditions.
• Based on related studies undertaken by Geos Institute and partners, climate disruptions in the Rogue basin, for instance, will likely include: (1) an increase in average annual temperatures from 1 to 3° F by around 2040 and 4 to 8° F by around 2080; (2) substantial increases in summer temperatures of 7 to 15° F by 2080; and (3) snow turning more often to rain in lower elevations with a decrease in average January snowpack and corresponding decline in spring runoff and stream flows. Other studies document significant reductions in fog along the coast, which pose risks to coastal redwoods.
• While all of the regions’ older forests are important, those on north-facing slopes and in canyon bottoms, lower- and middle-elevations, and wetter coastal mountains will provide for cooler, moister conditions as the rest of the region heats up.
• Several areas deserve immediate conservation attention because they contain high concentrations of older forests with preferred climatic conditions, including along the southern bend of the Klamath River Northern in California; lower slopes of the Klamath River from around China Point eastwards to Hamburg in California; northern slope of the Scott Bar Mountains and along the lower Scott River in California; coastal areas in Oregon and in the foothills behind the redwood belt in northwestern California; the Middle Smith River in California; areas west of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, southwest Oregon; southeastern watersheds of the Siskiyou Mountains (e.g., Dillon and Rock Creek area, California); and the northern Siskiyou Mountains to western Siskiyou Crest region, California. These areas are likely to serve as wellsprings of nature as the climate increasingly shifts.
• BLM landholdings in western Oregon are noteworthy as they contain over 1.6 million acres of mature and old-growth forests, which are critical for threatened species like the spotted owl and marbled murrelet, and 1.8 million acres of habitat critical to coho salmon recovery. These are some of the last low-elevation forests in the region that can still function as a climate refuge but are at the biggest risk from logging proposals being championed by Congress.
• Reducing non-climate stressors from logging, roads, and other land uses is the single most important adaptation measure that land managers can take now to reduce climate related impacts.
Much government policy and some law resides in a realm philosopher Henry Frankfurt labels “bullshit”—in earlier times called humbug or balderdash. Much US Forest Service policy falls here too: regulation, manual and handbook directives. At least that’s the way I’ve seen it for a very long time.
Early in my Forest Service career, a colleague and I were conscripted into a week-long Forest Service Manual/Handbook writing exercise, specifically focused on the Forest Planning sections. A quick survey of the materials led us to conclude that our week had to be spent making sure that there was nothing in the FS planning manual that could possibly harm anyone. We knew that we could not ‘fix’ the manual, so we spent our week in a second-best endeavor.
A few years later a FS Planning Director asked a group of us for policy ideas at an economists conference. I suggested a bold move: Throw the Forest Service Manual and Handbook in the Potomac. I made the recommendation in the main because both the FS Planning and Economics Manual/Handbook materials were pretty much bullshit. Note that I immediately added that people should be able to swim out and retrieve portions of the policy manuals they deemed useful, and then upgrade them as necessary to help advise program development, project design and work generally. The point was to decommission the whole mess, and free the agency of both the manuals/handbooks and the mini-bureaucracy that oversaw them. Of course I didn’t believe that the FS would act on my suggestion, at least not then. But one can always hope. [Note: I wish there were electronic copies of earlier FS Manual/Handbook materials to point to for historical (hysterical?) purposes. ]
I suggested “tossing” the FS manual and handbook to both Chief Dombeck (via Chris Wood) and Chief Bosworth. Both were somewhat warm to the idea, but nothing happened. I’ve once again raised that issue with FS top brass, suggesting that collaborative adaptive governance can’t work if everybody shows up with several yards worth of “holy writ” that must be followed.
Later I called bullshit on the Forest Service’s initiative to tie planning (and pretty much all else) to environmental management systems—chronicled in my Forest Environmental Management Systems blog (Oct. 2005 – April 2007). That particular mess went away, with EMS rightfully retreating to a minor place (facilities and fleet management) in Forest Service administration. I’m sure my blogging did not influence the outcome. But at least I left a record, so that we might learn from the mistake.
Common wisdom says, “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” Let’s pause a moment and explore special characteristics of what we are digging through.
What is ‘bullshit’?
Before anyone gets too upset with my BS terminology, maybe we ought to delve into Frankfurt’s little book On Bullshit—an essay really, which you can read online. Frankfurt’s little book adorned a special shelf in my FS office bookshelves, accompanied by Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and Something Happened, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and some other classics. Frankfurt begins On Bullshit with,
One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. … In consequence we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves.
Frankfurt attempts to tease out a ‘theory of bullshit’ for us. I’ll not bore you with all Frankfurt’s building blocks, but I at least we need to know that he distinguishes bullshit from lying, in part as follows:
The essence of bullshit is not that it is false, but that it is phony. … The bullshitter is faking things. But this does not mean that he necessarily gets them wrong. [But it does mean that they don't quite ring true.]
How much FS policy falls in this realm? Politicians tend to create bullshit to pander—to curry favor. Bureaucrats create bullshit for very different reasons. Frankfurt says,
Bullshit is unavoidable when circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. … [This is] common in public life, where people are frequently impelled—whether by their own propensities or by the demands of others—to speak extensively about matters of which they are to some degree ignorant.
Think about how Forest Service teams are put together, often without asking for volunteers and without too much regard for seeking out the most knowledgeable team members. It always seemed to my jaundiced eye that team members were selected to construct manual and handbook materials in the main because they were ‘good soldiers’, and particularly not ‘radicals’ who might rock the boat too much.
Why I’ve tried to stop the BS
I know that it is pretty much a fool’s quest, but I’ve always tried to get the Forest Service bureaucracy to ‘swing for the fences’ and pull itself up from the morass of its own policy, manuals and handbooks. But, like many American institutions the Forest Service will not take a hard look at itself. Maybe it’s due of fear. Maybe it is due to ennui—stuckness, lack of hope. Maybe it is something else. Maybe it is just because they don’t realize that bullshit might be outright harmful, even toxic to the organization.
This proves especially true when bullshit policy is brought into court, “for the record,” when people challenge federal actions, which must be based on federal policy. At the point federal policy bullshit makes an appearance in court, federal judges are not pleased to have to wade through it—so we too often get strongly-worded federal decisions against the Forest Service.
In any case, meaningful links between process and outcome in the Forest Service often simply don’t exist in any practical sense. They are too encumbered by bullshit. For example, we often hear that if the Forest Service can’t fix the Forest Planning process (for example) in ‘rulemaking’ then we’ll fix it in forest plan implementation—as if that can happen. Isn’t such talk just administrative governance denial?
I keep the pressure on, hoping against fate that a miracle will occur, as it did with General Electric not too long ago, just before GE was to fall in to a bureaucratic quagmire from which it would not, could not escape. Make no mistake, the GE rebirth was brutal. But the company is arguably much better today than before—now that fierce conversations are standard practice innovation is center stage, and people are required to challenge each other to do better, and to be better. Maybe someday the same will happen in a government agency, even perchance to the Forest Service. But I’m not holding my breath.