This article appeared in The Economist and sums up the need and benefit of thinning the forests of the Sierra Nevada. I’ve added a few comments about it below.
I really appreciate the discussion regarding water generation through thinning. I believe this is one of the least discussed benefits of practicing forestry in the West, but in California it’s one of the biggest benefits with our constant water deficits. Thinning the Sierra forests would generate an enormous amount of water for California.
When comparing the cost of controlled burning to mechanized thinning (logging) you can’t ignored the cost incurred when controlled burns get out of control. The cost differences between doing controlled burn and fighting out of control fire is enormous. I’m not saying don’t use controlled burning, but fire suppression costs need to be included when controlled burns get out of control. Controlled burning is one tool available, but cannot come close to solving the problem of all the overstock forests.
Commercial thinning that includes merchantable (larger) trees is the only economically sustainable way to accomplish the massive level of thinning that needs to be done. The author points out 52 trees per acre was the historic density of trees in the Sierra. Research has shown that the proper density for optimal growth in fully stock mature timber stands to be between 43 and 64 trees per acre depending on the size of the trees. If we remove 236 trees per acre to reach 64 trees per acre, then some of those trees have to be big enough to make a 2 x 4. If there is enough value in the larger trees, a timber company will pay the federal government to thin the forest instead of the government paying a contractor to clean up and dispose of the unmerchantable trees.
What’s the upside? We get healthy resilient forests that are more fire resistant. Wildfires that do start are less severe, and safer and easier to control. There is more water available to the state. The wood isn’t left to rot. It is used in wood products and to generate electricity. People doing these forest related jobs see an economic benefit, particularly in the rural communities. The practice is sustainable and wood is our great renewable resource.
Lastly, some folks are going to fret over the impacts of logging at that scale. I want you to know this, timber harvests are studiously planned to mitigate the potential negative impacts they could cause. Secondly, just imagine the negative effects of these mega-fires. I’ve seen them and their effects are staggering. I’ve yet to see one large burn ever have it’s negative impacts fully mitigated.
“When you come to the fork in the road, take it.” Yogi Berra
“Then eat spaghetti!” Tim Livingston
I really did come across that fork in the road.
I just saw this op-ed from the opinion section of the Sacramento Bee. Once I finished banging my head against the wall, I decided it would make a good post. I don’t disagree with most of what is said here. In fact I’m heartened that this originated from the Lahotan Water Quality Control Board, one of the strictest WQCBs in the state. The problem has been that forestry professionals have been pushing solutions like this for decades and the WQCB has been one of the most resistant agencies regarding timber operations.
So many agencies including the United States Forest Service have been stuck in the purgatory of “analysis paralysis.” for so long that the problem of overgrown forest has grown into a crisis. Plus, environmental groups seeking to shut down all harvesting projects have piled on. Our California forests continued to increase in density until another drought comes along, as is prone to happen here. The forests become stressed. Beetle population spike and huge swaths of forest are killed. Wildfires during red flag conditions become unstoppable. The impacts of these fires are exponentially worse than the impacts of the forestry projects that could be creating healthy, fire resistant forests.
It’s good to see acceptance of a possible solution voiced in this article, but the damage is done. We closing the barn door after the horse got out. I wish we could have had this support twenty years ago before 102 million trees died. If the USFS follows its usual pattern of not aggressively salvaging dead and dying timber, only a fraction of a percent of the dead trees will be harvested. They will rot on the stump waiting for the next big fire. These trees are the property of the citizens of the United States. What a waste.
As a public service to my fellow foresters and any interested civilians I present this video. Watch and you will see how to tell if your vehicle is stuck in the snow.
It took about two hours to dig out.
When I write about forestry, I’m most often sharing what goes on in a working forest. A working forest is one that produces commodities, like timber, fiber and bark, as well as provides for environmental benefits such as recreation, clean water and wildlife habitat. I have spent my career on working forests.
Think of a working forest like a farm. Farms grow crops of food and other agricultural products. We need farms for our food. Working forests produce forest products and we need them for our shelter. An important difference between the two is that forestlands take years to produce a crop. Working forests spend years growing undisturbed in between intervals of harvesting. They function as an important source of clean water and as a home for wildlife every year.
One benefit of producing forest products from a working forest is that it creates income for the landowner. When the landowner has an economic return from managing trees the land will continue to be managed as a forest. There are real costs to owning forestland and if the owner can’t profit managing their forest, they may be forced to develope it into housing subdivisions or some other non-forest use. Then the wildlife habitat may be lost. In a sense the income from producing forest products protects these forests by making growing trees economically sustainable .
All of our forests are important as wildlife habitat. The conventional wisdom is that mature forest provide the best habitat. That is true for species of wildlife that prefer mature forests. However, many species have different habitat needs that include forest at every age.
Forests containing a greater diversity in habitats ranging from mature forest to freshly created openings will support a larger variety of species. Openings are created during harvesting. These openings are planted and then the seedlings begin to grow. Over time the forests develope a great diversity of trees in different age groups. This patchwork of different habitat is available to support many species of wildlife.
Working forests aren’t parks, but can still be available for recreation. Hikers, campers and hunters visit these forests year after year. I’m not saying that the working forests are better than the parks, but they each have unique purposes.
Forests are managed by different government agencies, private entities and individuals with a variety of goals. Forestland management is a topic I will explore more in the future. It warrants a full post.
This gallery contains 9 photos.
Fog makes everything look mysterious.
Mary gave me a new sketchbook for Christmas, so the other day I did a lunch sketch of a sweet, sleeping Bliss.