Forest Practices Forum: Forest Restoration (2 of 4)
Each new innovation in forestry is said to address the carelessness and scourge of previous practices in forestry. Yet how often do we get far enough out in front of the long term cummulative impacts of industrial forest practices to truly understand what’s right and wrong about it?
This four part series seeks to better explain / reconcile new and improved forest practices with the lands fundamental need for hydrolgic recovery on a watershed scale.
It’s not industrial logging, it’s forest restoration! Or at least that’s what they say….
On federal lands this shenanigan under the Bush administration was based on faulty data that claimed that the mature forests, which are the most fireproof of all vegetation types, were actually catching on fire because they have were not “managed” enough. Bush proposed that to save these reserves of mature timber we were going to have to log them.
Of course last week these lies were exposed:
A new study challenges a basic justification about the threat of wildfires that the Bush administration used to make room for more logging in old growth forests that are home to the northern spotted owl. The study, appearing in the journal Conservation Biology, found no increasing threat of severe wildfires destroying old growth forests in the drier areas where the owl lives in Oregon, Washington and Northern California. “The argument used to justify a massive increase in logging under the (spotted owl) recovery program was not based on sound science,” said Chad T. Hanson, a fire and forest ecologist at the University of California, Davis, who was lead author of the study.
“The recovery plan took a leap-before-you-look approach and did it without sound data.” The plan blamed declining owl numbers on the barred owl, an aggressive East Coast cousin that has driven spotted owls from their territory, and on wildfires that have destroyed old growth forests. It eliminated habitat reserves in the Northwest Forest Plan and proposed aggressive thinning in the dry forests of the Klamath Mountains and the east side of the Cascades to reduce the threat of fire. The Obama administration told a federal court last April it would not defend the Bush administration’s plan because an inspector general’s report concluded it had been politically manipulated. The administration is negotiating over the scope and timing for a review with conservation groups that filed lawsuits. http://www.seattlepi.com/national/1110ap_us_spotted_owl_fire.html
To a forester it’s often mistakenly assumed that forests that regrow either naturally or are regrown as industrial timber plantations need management / restoring. Yet what do our forests need to be restored to? For the industry restoration is mostly based on an increase in wood volume, which is a calculation mostly based on every tree planted regardless of how fast or even if it grows at all… In the 1990′s these “phantom forests” grew rapidly on paper, yet when environmentalists went out to double check these “mature stands” of timber dead and stunted baby trees are what had really been grown.
To a wildlife biologist restoration of a forest has very little to do with wood volume and everything to do with a diversity of much more than just the generalists species that the timber industry ‘sustains’ via mono-crop tree plantations. It’s about having habitat for all the species native to the area, rather than just the generalists species that can survive amidst industrial tree farms.
In a complimentary way, hydrologists say restoration is all about the recruitment and stabilization of topsoil. Healthy topsoil means the soil has a significant ability to absorb and slowly release peak water flows during the stormy times, which in turn creates more abundant stream flows in drier times. This means that the forest soils are porous and free of harmful compaction which is caused by roads and log skidding trails. And when the soils are healthy and protected from scouring the streams in turn are free of sediments and aquatic habitat thrives, which in turn prevents the extinction of Salmon.
So what are we restoring and who’s in charge of restoring it? Of course government, under the authority of the people government have enacted laws to not only protect forests ecosystems, but to restore them as well. Yet the industry spends millions of dollars every year to thwart this process. In some ways they have gone so far as to take over conservation groups like the nature conservency (see: here and here ) In other ways they have sought to privatize the regulatory process by creating forest certification under the “highest” standards know as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Of course are the FSC and Nature Conservencey really “restoring” or even preventing degradation?
The FSC has long been one of the most trusted acronyms in the world of forestry. In fact, this not-for-profit was the first and remains the only logging certification program supported not only by industry but also by big-name environmental organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace around the world. However, in the last few years, its reputation has taken a bit of a beating. There are complaints that monitoring isn’t strong enough in the heart of South America’s and Asia’s rainforests. Rainforest Relief says the FSC actually allows old-growth wood to face the axe when it shouldn’t. And there were already rumblings that FSC labelling was too lax. (It was letting paper makers use the “mixed source” FSC label even if only 50 per cent of their pulp came from FSC forests.) Tension really started to mount when it came out that wood from one of the largest Asian forestry companies (responsible for devastating a tract of rainforest on Sumatra) was going to be sold under the FSC mixed-source label. After the Wall Street Journal covered the controversy, the FSC rescinded its approval. Since then, FSC rules have been tightened (to get the mixed-source label, for instance, 70 per cent must now be from FSC-certified wood), but critics remain skeptical. Take the Swedes, for instance. In early 08, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation pulled its support for the forestry org, saying FSC “functions badly in Sweden,” that too little monitoring is going on. http://www.nowtoronto.com/lifestyle/ecoholic.cfm?content=170341
So what is true restoration? Perhaps the restoration practices of California’s State parks system is best in that they don’t actively thin forests so much as they reduce erosion by removing / maintaining roads, as well as removing invasive species. The philosophy is that nature takes care of it’s own restoration and helping it along is best done in low impact ways.
Other excellent solutions to the practice of resotration are not done by the industry or the government but are done local citizenry like the oldest of Humboldt’s restoration groups: The Mattole Restoration Council.
Most of all we need to be humbled by our lack of restoration knowledge, as well as be willing to think critically about the success and failings of the latest in restoration practices. And as for our timber industry that always puts short-term gain ahead of long-term sustainability, we as citizen’s have much work to do to reclaim our regulatory process, let alone run out of town the loggers that don’t ever show an interest in being part of a healthy Humboldt community.
–Editor, Voices of Humboldt County
In the words of Wallace Stegner:
For somehow, against probability, some sort of indigenous recognizable culture has been growing… It is a product not of the boomers, but of the stickers, not of those who pillage and run but of those who settle, and love the life they have made and the place they have made it in. There are many of these, too, than there used to be, and they know a great deal more, and are better able to resist and sometimes prevent the extractive frenzy that periodically attacks them.