The burning debate — manage forest fires or suppress them?

By Char Miller
As western wildfires burn through millions of forested acres, they are igniting debates about our response that are almost as heated as the flames themselves.

The leaders of the U.S. Forest Service have known that fire begets discord since 1905, when Gifford Pinchot became the federal agency’s first chief. Randy Moore, who was sworn in as the 20th chief on July 26, is no stranger to the conflict, after his decade-long service as the agency’s regional forester for California. Since 2017, that fire-prone state — and its many national forests — have endured its eight largest fires ever.

Despite his extensive experience, Moore probably did not expect to be burned even before assuming his new post. But he was, courtesy of a lightning-struck, smoldering pine rooted in a granite-rough ridge in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in early July.

When the fire was spotted, Forest Service personnel determined there was no immediate danger of fire spread. They would monitor it. But for the health of the forest, where fire is regenerative, and for reasons of resource management and firefighter safety, this was the kind of fire they wouldn’t move immediately to put it out.

A week later, gusting winds fanned sparks outward, and what came to be known as the Tamarack fire has been burning ever since. Although the 68,000-acre blaze now is more than 80% contained, there has been no containing the resulting fight that erupted over the initial handling of the fire.

Angry California and Nevada politicians attacked the Forest Service’s decision not to extinguish the smoking tree. On July 20, Rep. Tom McClintock demanded that the outgoing chief retract the “current U.S. Forest Service direction that allows wildfires to burn and instruct all Regional Foresters that all wildfires should be suppressed as soon as possible.”

Moore responded with a memo Aug. 2. He conceded that in a “fire year different from any before” the Forest Service should stop managing fires for “resource benefit” — that is, to improve ecosystem health — and instead suppress them. “We are in a ‘triage mode,’” he wrote, and the agency’s focus now “must be on fires that threaten communities and infrastructure.” This was, he concluded, the most “prudent course of action now in a situation that is dynamic and fluid.”

Moore’s “prudent course … now” language, however, isn’t prudent enough for some. The National Wildfire Institute, a suppression-friendly bloc of retired Forest Service officials, said the initial Tamarack decision bore the “hallmarks of criminal negligence.” “It’s time,” they wrote in a letter to Moore, “to declare that all fires will be promptly and aggressively extinguished, period.”

But other Forest Service veterans disagree, urging the new chief to reverse his Aug. 2 directive.

Source: The burning debate — manage forest fires or suppress them? – pressofatlanticcity.com, 2021-09-01

The forest for the trees

By Brandon Barrett
Herb Hammond doesn’t quite fit the picture you probably have in mind of the typical forester.

A Dalai-Lama-quoting policy wonk, author and ecologist with 40 years experience in the industry, Hammond belies the clichéd image of forester as grizzled lumberman decked out in plaid.

But Hammond also defies the usual notion of forester in another significant way: He fervently believes B.C.’s forest management framework needs a complete overhaul—and urgently.

“Forestry causes the largest losses of biological diversity across this province, indeed virtually everywhere that it’s practised. It’s the primary cause of water degradation. It’s a major contributor to floods and droughts, and believe it or not, in B.C., it’s less than two-and-a-half per cent of the gross domestic product. That shows you the power of assumptions of convenience about what’s driving our economy. Certainly it’s not forestry,” he said. “Either we’re going to change this or we’re going to continue to down a path where Earth will change us.”

Hammond was the keynote speaker at an in-depth forestry webinar co-hosted last month by the Whistler Naturalists and the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment, where he picked apart B.C.’s current forestry system, and laid out his vision for a new way of managing the province’s most vital asset that puts ecological integrity over industry profitability.

One of the most common notions put forth by the timber lobby is that old-growth forest, typically defined in B.C. as trees over the age of 250 on the coast, and 140 in the Interior, as a renewable resource. Not so, says local forest ecologist and Whistler Naturalists co-founder Bob Brett.

“Logging removes old forest from the landscape, and I think for all intents and purposes, we can say forever,” he relayed. “If you take out a forest that’s 300, 500, over 1,000 years old and then plant it like it has been planted at the higher elevations up in the Soo Valley, it will never in reasonable terms recover to being the old-growth forest it used to be. It’s going to be simpler, it’s going to have fewer species that require this old-forest habitat, and it will have fewer underground fungal connections. There are many reasons why it will never be the same forest again.”

While he acknowledges the legislation is by no means perfect. Hammond pointed to several landmark acts adopted south of the border as a potential example for B.C. to follow if we want to transform how forests are managed here.

In short, legislation like the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the National and Environmental Policy Act, which mandates ecological assessments “right down to individual cut blocks,” Hammond said, and the National Forest Management Act, which sets out clear standards for timber harvesting, as essential tools for the American public to keep industry accountable.

“I don’t think for a minute that forestry is perfect in the U.S.; trust me. But this provides a framework for accountability and communication,” he said.“We need to change the tenure system. What’s the rational for that? That public land was given to corporations because it was viewed by the government of the day to provide social benefits, and it was given and done quickly,” Hammond stressed. “We need to now quickly take back that public forest based on ecological and social needs.

“We better deploy our parachute or we’re not going to like how we land. As people, we need to reassume responsibility for the forest around us in socially and culturally responsible ways, based on ecosystem protection.”

Source: The forest for the trees – Pique Newsmagazine, 2021-04-15

Amid climate crisis, a proposal to save Washington state forests for carbon storage, not logging

by Lynda V. Mapes
CAPITOL STATE FOREST, Thurston County — Older than Washington state, the biggest Douglas firs on this patch of state forestland have stood through more than a century of logging.

Part of a 180-acre timber sale auctioned off for $4.2 million last November by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), their next stop was a plywood mill. Then, something unusual happened.

Hilary Franz, state commissioner of public lands, pulled back nearly 40 acres with most of the biggest, oldest trees from the sale.

Now, this timber sale named Smuggler (sales are often whimsically named by state foresters) also is swinging open a door to a broader conversation in Washington, home to the second largest lumber producer in the nation, to rethink the value of trees on state lands not as logs, but as trees to help address the twin crises of species extinction and climate warming.

Franz is kicking off an examination over the next three to four months of all older forests on DNR lands west of the Cascades not already in conservation status — about 10,000 acres.

But that is nothing compared to positions staked out by two of her predecessors: Jennifer Belcher, commissioner from 1993-2001, and Peter Goldmark, commissioner from 2009-2017. They have launched a proposal to gradually stop all commercial harvest of state forests west of the Cascades, for what they see as a higher purpose: combating the climate crisis.

Nothing we currently know of works better than allowing trees to suck carbon from the atmosphere when they are living, and store it in their branches, roots and the forest soil for centuries after their death. Trees — especially mature forests — are the cheapest, fastest, most reliable form of carbon storage.

So-called proforestation is the leading edge of new science that finds intentionally leaving forests to grow bigger helps blunt the worst effects of the climate catastrophe. Of course, fossil fuel emissions must also be drastically reduced.

Franz said she opposes her predecessors’ proposal. She is concerned about preserving local timber supplies, mills, jobs and payments made from timber revenue to state trust beneficiaries for school construction and local government needs. State trust lands contributed more than $155 million in net revenue to those beneficiaries in 2018, most of it from timber harvests.

But she does want to take a new look at older trees. Not the old growth the state already protects, sprouted before 1850, among other characteristics. The older trees that are the giants of tomorrow.

Franz sees an opportunity to take a broader, more holistic view and create meaningful change that extends beyond the Capitol State Forest, she said in an interview.

Source: Amid climate crisis, a proposal to save Washington state forests for carbon storage, not logging – The Seattle Times, 2021-03-21

Invasive Species in Forests and Rangelands of the United States: A Comprehensive Science Synthesis for the United States Forest Sector

Hayes, Deborah C.; Kerns, Becky K.; Patel-Weynand, Toral; Finch, Deborah M. . 2021. Introduction. In: Poland, Therese M.; Patel-Weynand, Toral; Finch, Deborah M.; Ford Miniat, Chelcy; Hayes, Deborah C.; Lopez, Vanessa M., eds. Invasive Species in Forests and Rangelands of the United States: A Comprehensive Science Synthesis for the United States Forest Sector. Heidelberg, Germany: Springer International Publishing: 1-4. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-45367-1_1.

Invasive species are a historical, long-term, and continually growing threat to the ecology, economy, and infrastructure of the United States. Widely recognized as one of the most serious threats to the health, sustainability, and productivity of native ecosystems, invasive species issues have commonly been viewed as problems specific to Federal, State, and private landowners. However, it is increasingly apparent that the impacts from these species are all encompassing, affecting ecosystem processes in addition to the economics of land management, public and private infrastructure, the energy sector, international trade, cultural practices, and many other sectors in the United States.

Source: Invasive Species in Forests and Rangelands of the United States: A Comprehensive Science Synthesis for the United States Forest Sector – U>S> Forest Service Treesearch

Austria’s ‘close-to-nature’ forests may hold secrets to fire prevention

By Amanda Peacher
In a region of Austria known as the wood quarter, a logger used a chainsaw to slice through the base of a 100-foot tall spruce tree on a recent foggy morning.

Herbert Schmid, a forester, watched from a distance as the big spruce dropped to the forest floor. Schmid handpicked that particular tree to be cut today. He manages this forest according to “close-to-nature” practices, or Pro Silva standards.

It’s an ancient technique of astute observation, low-intervention forestry that allows trees to grow and age before harvest. Forestry experts say it’s a valuable model as European forests face climate change and potentially more fires.

Source: Austria’s ‘close-to-nature’ forests may hold secrets to fire prevention – The World from PRX, 2021-01-06

Pennsylvanians hold the fate of the state’s woodlands in their hands

By Marylouise Sholly
Pennsylvanians hold the health of the state’s woodlands in their hands, literally.

Allyson Muth believes in educating people about the Commonwealth’s precious resource. Of the 60 percent of Pennsylvania woods that remain forested, 70% of them are privately owned.

“That is a tremendous number,” said Muth, director of Penn State University’s Center for Private Forests. “Our goal is to engage and educate people about their woodland.”

A key part of that education is learning how to be good stewards of the land. To ensure the continuing health of Pennsylvania’s forests, the Center focuses on outreach and education to agencies, landowners and the public.

A forest is defined as at least 1 acre of land that’s not maintained as lawn, with the primary vegetation being trees.

Privately owned forested land is owned by 738,000 landowners, according to the last survey, taken in 2010, Muth said. Interestingly, more than 60 percent of those landowners own less than 10 acres.

About one-fourth of the Commonwealth’s forests are owned by the state, including state parks and forests, state game lands and the Ft. Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania National Guard training facility.

Less than 5% is federally owned, including the Allegheny National Forest.

A recent survey conducted by the Center that asked folks what they liked about having their own forest brought some surprising answers, Muth said.

Using firewood or cutting timber was way down on the survey.

“We asked the owners what was important to them,” Muth said. ” The top two answers were ‘solitude’ and ‘enjoyment.’ We also had comments like, ‘it’s my little piece of paradise,’ and ‘it’s something I own that I can care for.’ ”

Source: Pennsylvanians hold the fate of the state’s woodlands in their hands – The Murcury, 2019-11-20

Montana hailed as national leader in forest collaboration, but frustrations persist

By Laura Lundquist
Federal and state leaders laud not only the ability of Montanans to hash out tough issues but also the way collaboration has gotten several timber projects into production.

That was evident from the speeches of Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney and Jim Hubbard, U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary, who kicked off the Montana Forest Collaboration Network’s annual two-day workshop in Missoula.

The two men praised the efforts of Montana’s collaborative groups, represented by the 120 participants in the audience, that have put many hours into finding agreement on which forest tracts have “the right acres in the right places” to sustain commercial timber projects.

“In an age where political polarization often threatens the progress of important policy, you all quietly keep coming back to the table, year after year,” Cooney said. “You find sensible paths forward by engaging diverse local perspectives, treating one another like neighbors in advancing plans that ultimately can achieve durable returns for our forests and our communities.”

Cooney said that kind of cooperation was one reason Gov. Steve Bullock was able to make Montana the first state to sign a stewardship agreement with the U.S. Forest Service, allowing the state to negotiate with federal, tribal and private partners to thin trees or use prescribed burns regardless of who manages the area. Thus, foresters can focus on any region that might be important for reducing wildfire risk near communities. Yet, only seven other states have signed shared stewardship agreements.

Hubbard said being able to work across multiple jurisdictions is necessary to do work at a large enough scale to be effective at slowing a potential wildfire. But when it comes to wildfire, thinning projects go only so far.

“There’s no way in the world we’re going to protect all the communities that are at risk of fire in the West. There’s no way in the world we’re going to treat all the acres that need treatment. So which ones are we going to go for? That’s the shared priority, to decide what we want to do together,” Hubbard said. “Also, the community has to be engaged, because if the community isn’t paying attention, all that land treatment is not necessarily going to reduce their risk very much.”

Bullock was also among the first to sign a Good Neighbor agreement. The 2014 Farm Bill created the Good Neighbor Authority to allow states to log timber on federal land adjacent to state or private land undergoing thinning operations. The 2018 Farm Bill broadened that authority.

Source: Montana hailed as national leader in forest collaboration, but frustrations persist – Missoula Current, 2019-11-08

Lost trees hugely overrated as environmental threat, study finds

Cutting down trees inevitably leads to more carbon in the environment, but deforestation’s contributions to climate change are vastly overestimated, according to a new study.

Deforestation for timber and farmland is responsible for about 92 billion tons of carbon emissions into the environment since 1900, found a study led by researchers at The Ohio State University and Yale University.

“Our estimate is about a fifth of what was found in previous work showing that deforestation has contributed 484 billion tons of carbon – a third of all manmade emissions – since 1900,” said Brent Sohngen, a professor of environmental and resource economics at Ohio State.He said that widely accepted estimate didn’t take into account the planting of new trees and other forest management techniques that lessen the environmental burden. The model used in this study did take those factors into account, which made a significant difference considering the intensive forest management happening in many parts of the world and the less-intensive, but not inconsequential, management that is happening elsewhere.

The study appears today (Nov. 4, 2019) in the Journal of Forest Economics.

“There was a significant shift toward treating forests as a renewable, rather than nonrenewable, resource in the last century, and we estimate that those reforestation and forest management efforts have led to a far smaller carbon burden on the environment,” Sohngen said, adding that the previous estimate was based on trees’ natural regrowth without any human intervention.

Source: Lost trees hugely overrated as environmental threat, study finds – Ohio State News, 2019-11-04

Kirtland’s warbler no longer needs Endangered Species Act protection

LANSING – Bird enthusiasts from around the world travel to northern Michigan in hopes of catching sight of a Kirtland’s warbler, a small songbird once poised on the brink of extinction, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Now the species is thriving thanks to decades of effort by a diverse group of dedicated partners. Due to the species’ remarkable recovery, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week announced that it no longer warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“The effort to recover the Kirtland’s warbler is a shining example of what it takes to save imperiled species,” said Margaret Everson, principal deputy director of the Service. “Truly dedicated partners have worked together for decades to recover this songbird. I thank them for their efforts and applaud this historic conservation success.”

“The Kirtland’s warbler was one of the first species in the United States to be put on the federal list of endangered and threatened species, and today’s action by the U.S. Department of the Interior marks the latest chapter in a remarkable wildlife success story,” said Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Dan Eichinger on Tuesday, Oct. 8. “The bird’s recovery provides dramatic testimony to what conservation organizations, governments and businesses can accomplish when they come together for the good of the resource.

“We are grateful for the partnership of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service in this effort. I sincerely believe conservation is a team sport, and today’s announcement is a big win for natural resources in Michigan and for all those involved.”

Historically, wildfires were the most important factor for establishing the natural jack pine forests that Kirtland’s warblers need for breeding habitat, according to the DNR. Modern wildfire suppression greatly diminished the natural disturbance that once generated Kirtland’s warbler breeding habitat. In the absence of wildfire, land managers had to take an active role in mimicking natural processes that regularly occurred within the jack pine ecosystem. This is primarily done through large-scale timber harvesting and human-assisted reforestation.

Today, the sale of jack pine timber on sites where reforestation will occur is critical to managing Kirtland’s warbler breeding habitat. Timber receipts offset the cost of replanting jack pine needed to support a viable population of nesting Kirtland’s warblers that would not otherwise be feasible through conservation dollars.

“Private forest owners are proud partners in this major milestone and committed to the long-term health of the Kirtland’s warbler,” said Dave Tenny, founding president and CEO of the National Alliance of Forest Owners. “Private forest owners are an essential part of conservation success – 360 million acres of working forests across the country are privately owned. We proudly work with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and conservation partners to develop and implement smart management decisions that support a wide range of wildlife across the country.”

“Collaborative conservation is an effective way of protecting at-risk species and their habitat because it creates a common focus around a shared objective for government agencies, private landowners and the broader conservation community,” said Craig Seaman, senior investment forester, of Timberland Investment Resources, LLC, which manages working forest investments in Wisconsin. “This is another example of how conservation without conflict can produce positive outcomes and we congratulate all those involved, and especially the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for leading the effort.”

Kirtland’s warblers were among the first animals in the United States identified as being at risk of extinction. The species nests only in young jack pine stands in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario. It overwinters in the Bahamas. Populations dipped to a low of 167 pairs in 1974 and again in 1987 before starting a steady climb toward recovery.

Prompting the warbler’s slow but steady ascent were long-term efforts by partners such as the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Forest Service and conservation groups to conserve young jack pine habitat and control brown-headed cowbirds, a primary threat to the species. Cowbirds lay their eggs in warbler nests and larger cowbird chicks outcompete their warbler nest mates, causing the warbler chicks to die while the unwitting warbler parents raise the cowbird imposters.

Year after year, a stalwart group of partners ensured habitat was available and cowbirds were controlled. Due to their efforts, the Kirtland’s warbler population steadily rose. Numbers reached more than 1,000 pairs by 2001, expanding beyond the northern Lower Peninsula to areas in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Wisconsin and Ontario. Currently, the Kirtland’s warbler population is estimated to be more than 2,300 pairs, more than double the goal identified in the species’ recovery plan. The population has exceeded recovery goals for the past 17 years and continues to increase and expand its range.

The Kirtland’s Warbler Breeding Range Conservation Plan was developed in 2015 and is now the guiding management strategy for the species. Additionally, funding and other commitments to habitat management and cowbird control are in place to ensure continued conservation actions in the absence of ESA protections.

Source: Kirtland’s warbler no longer needs Endangered Species Act protection – iosconews.com, 2019-10-15

In Minnesota, a new push to fight climate change — and make money — from forests

By Dan Kraker
Programs that pay landowners to keep carbon sequestered in forests are beginning to spread, now that California has a cap and trade system designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Some say Minnesota should be a bigger player in the carbon offset market.

Money may not grow on trees — but the carbon that trees store could be worth millions, as consumers, companies and governments ramp up efforts to fight climate change.

Earlier this week, a group of land managers and scientists from around Minnesota came together in Duluth to start a conversation about how the state can join in the growing marketplace that pays to keep carbon sequestered in forests.

Minnesota’s climate change-fighting efforts so far have focused largely on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by moving away from coal power and towards cleaner energy like wind and solar.

But there’s been a lot less focus on the other side of the carbon equation: What to do with those greenhouse gases that continue to be emitted into the atmosphere, the heat-trapping culprits that cause global warming?

California is one of the few states that has taken the lead on incentivizing practices that lead to carbon sequestration, and established an official statewide cap and trade system in 2013. Dozens of forestry projects around the country are part of the program, including many on tribal lands.

But none of the carbon sequestration projects that are involved in California’s marketplace are based in Minnesota — at least, not yet. The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe is exploring the possibility of creating a forest carbon offset program on 14,000 acres of its reservation in northern Minnesota, and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is exploring a 9,000-acre program on its land near Cloquet.

The idea is that polluters in California or elsewhere could then purchase offsets from those programs, as a way to counterbalance their own greenhouse gas emissions.

In Minnesota, land managers and forestry experts are looking for ways to encourage landowners to manage their forests in such a way that sucks more carbon out of the atmosphere.

Source: In Minnesota, a new push to fight climate change — and make money — from forests – MPRNews, 2019-10-10