13 Jan 2009, 5:04pm
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin

Title IV — Forest Landscape Restoration

There may be silver lining to the dark cloud that is the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (S.22), passed Sunday by Harry Reid and the US Senate, their very first action of 2009.

Hidden amongst some terrible stuff (like guaranteed forest holocaust [here] and sweetheart land exchanges for multi-millionaires [here]) is Title IV — Forest Landscape Restoration.

Title IV has some admirable language and some not-so-admirable language, which we discuss below, but in concept it is a huge leap forward in saving forests. For the first time ever Congress has recognized that active restoration forestry, not mere fuels management, is necessary to protect, maintain, and perpetuate our heritage public forests.

Some background: in December 2007 Gang of Four forest scientists Drs. K. Norman Johnson and Jerry F. Franklin disavowed the 13-year-old Northwest Forest plan they were instrumental in creating (see The Paradigm Shifts!!!! [here]). In testimony before the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests (Chair Ron Wyden, OR), Johnson and Franklin said:

“We will lose these forests to catastrophic disturbance events unless we undertake aggressive active management programs… Without action, we are at high risk of losing these stands–and the residual old-growth trees that they contain–to fire and insects… Inaction is a much more risky option for a variety of ecological values, including preservation of Northern Spotted Owls and other old-growth related species. We need to learn as we go, but we need to take action now. Furthermore, it is critical for stakeholders to understand that active management is necessary in stands with existing old-growth trees in order to reduce the risk that those trees will be lost.”

That is, without active management designed to restore the open, park-like forests of pre-Contact eras, and without re-instituting the anthropogenic fire regimes of those times, our current old-growth forests will be destroyed in catastrophic, total mortality fires and replaced by fire-type brush. Unless and until our forests are restored, they teeter on oblivion. The historical development pathways must be re-instituted or new old-growth will not arise. Infrequent catastrophic fires are not conducive to the development of 600-year-old trees.

Following the Johnson-Franklin testimony, at a town hall meeting in Corvallis, OR, in January 2008, Sen. Ron Wyden made a commitment to “landscape-scale” restoration forestry [here].

Immediately thereafter, Congressman Peter DeFazio (D, OR) presented legislation he called the Pacific Northwest Forest Legacy Act [here]. That bill was fraught with inadequacies and poison pills. Sen. Jeff Bingaman gave it another try in February with his Forest Landscape Restoration Act of 2008 [here], to which W.I.S.E. offered improved language. Bingaman’s bill disappeared, however, after no hearings, although one was promised.

Then last June Sen. Wyden announced a new forest management bill to address federal forest management in Oregon, called the Oregon Forest Restoration and Old Growth Protection Act. It was a “compromise” between the DeFazio and Bingaman bills, and was burdened by much of the crappy language of both of those. We submitted our corrections again, but got no response. Possibly our pleas did not fall on deaf ears, though, because the Title IV — Forest Landscape Restoration incorporates some of our inclusion and exclusion suggestions.

Title IV — Forest Landscape Restoration, the version in the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (S.22) is [here].

The good points are these:

* The purpose is to encourage the collaborative, science-based ecosystem restoration of priority forest landscapes

* Title IV adopts a landscape restoration strategy that identifies and prioritizes ecological restoration treatments within landscapes that are least 50,000 acres in size

* It includes restoration of the structure and composition of old growth stands according to the pre-fire suppression old growth conditions characteristic of the forest type, maximizing the retention of large trees, as appropriate for the forest type, to the extent that the trees promote fire-resilient stands

* Treatments must be in accordance with the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (no poison pill “categorical exclusions”)

* It calls for reducing the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire, improving fish and wildlife habitat, including for endangered, threatened, and sensitive species, and maintaining or improving water quality and watershed function

* It benefits local economies by providing local employment and training opportunities and the production of forest products including biomass for energy generation

* It is collaborative and well-funded.

The negatives are:

* It calls for the use of fire for ecological restoration and maintenance and reestablishing natural fire regimes

* It does not appear to fund directly historical landscape analysis

Those deficiencies are problematical because the “pre-fire suppression” conditions are more or less identical to the pre-Contact conditions, and as readers of W.I.S.E. Colloquia know, the pre-Contact fire regimes were anthropogenic, not “natural”. The First Residents set the frequent, seasonal fires that gave rise to our old-growth of today.

The term “natural fire regime” is a-historical, a-scientific, and arguably racist. For that matter, much of the language in the Wilderness Act and the new wilderness designations in other sections of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 are also based on a-historical, a-scientific, and arguably racist notions. There is a segment of the electorate (and Congress) that is way behind the learning curve, and fundamental ignorance is reflected the language of many Acts, including this one.

A good cure for that ignorance is historical landscape analysis. To “restore” something means to bring it back to its original condition. Restoration can be accomplished only if the original condition is specified and well-understood. Therefore, historical analysis is a pre-condition for effective restoration.

But it is possible that we can work around the negatives. The deeper that people get into actual restoration practices, the more they realize that understanding the historical conditions is of the utmost importance. Restoration cannot proceed without historical analysis, so it will have to be done, whether mentioned directly in Title IV or not.

Title IV is an undeniable advancement, despite being couched in a pile of backwardness. Sen. Ron Wyden deserves commendation and kudos, as well as a slap in the head for the dumb stuff in the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. Good for you, Ron, and take that (whap) for good measure.

13 Jan 2009, 6:15pm
by Bob Zybach


Excellent job on ferreting this out of the otherwise-ominous Omnibus Act. Your analysis is right on the mark, and your comments on past efforts have apparently borne fruit, whether they are publicly acknowledged or not.

You are more expert on the technicalities of restoration forestry than I, but I would quibble with one point: to me, “restoration” means returning to an identifiable “past” condition, rather than an “original” condition. There is an important distinction in these differences, unless a qualifier is added. For example: “as originally noted during historical time.”

Now that Congress is (finally) on the right path, we have to safeguard them from the nitwits who are going to start babbling nonsense about “natural fire regimes,” “riparian zones,” “natural functions,” and other pseudo-science constructs.

Keep up the good work. A wiser mind than mine has noted that “you can get a lot done, if you don’t mind who gets the credit.” Credit Wyden, Franklin, and Johnson for this step.

13 Jan 2009, 8:23pm
by Mike

Bob, Your point about past condition is exactly correct. Do we pick as our reference condition a hundred years ago, a thousand, a million?

That conundrum emphasizes the need for historical analysis. Title IV uses the language “pre-fire suppression” but the fact is suppression of the people who set the anthropogenic fires WAS the beginning of “fire suppression.”

The depopulation of the Americas began shortly after 1492 when smallpox and other European diseases were introduced. Various historians put the impact to Oregon in the early 1600’s, or the early 1700’s, or the late 1700’s. Certainly by the time Lewis and Clark came through in 1805 the impacts had already been significant as evidenced by the abandoned villages they encountered along the Columbia. By 1850 the depopulation of Native Americans from Oregon was 95%, although some anthropogenic burning continued in some areas as late as 1905.

As a rough rule of thumb, 1850 is a good reference target, but there could be a 50 year swing either way depending on the locale. More importantly, the forest conditions of the pre-Contact era are of paramount concern. What was the forest density and structure in those landscapes, how were different vegetation types distributed geographically, in what way were those landscapes fire-resilient, and what specific traditional ecological management practices were applied?

Those are key questions that inform restoration, that can be answered only by historical landscape analysis.

13 Jan 2009, 8:34pm
by Mike

And I can’t emphasize enough that “fire use” is a loaded term. Prescribed fires in forests that have been prepared to receive them are vastly different from Let It Burn mid-summer holocausts in unprepared thickets. “Restoring” catastrophic fire is NOT the purpose of Title IV; “reducing the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire” is.

14 Jan 2009, 1:21am
by Dave

Restoration is definitely loaded with imprecision but most of us will agree in it’s best form, it is an acknowledgment of colossal [prior] mismanagement.

Let’s hope such imprecision doesn’t result in giving up species to extinction.

My concern is normalizing a routine fire management scheme that may have been appropriate before the white hordes showed up, but is entirely inappropriate in the eleventh hour of climate change.

Also, beware the process of devolution and the collaborative model in the disposition of public resources and ecosystem services as assets. “Stakeholders” like shareholders, have inherent conflicts of interest when it comes to the best interests of present and future generations of the whole of America.

14 Jan 2009, 9:24am
by Larry H.

I’m not exactly encouraged by this new development. You KNOW what this will lead to, as the lawsuits will fly to determine definitions and wordings.

And we ALL know where that decision will be eventually made. The 9th Circuit.

Until the public is educated enough to demand ultra-specific laws on “Forest Restoration”, we’re stuck with the same old stuff.

14 Jan 2009, 10:49pm
by bear bait

Mike: I was running my troller out of Garibaldi in the ’70s, and one stormy southwest day in early fall, with big seas and the biters most likely all caught, I was in the cabin of another troller owned by Mutt and Phoenola Smith. Mutt was a Tillamook county guy with a hook for an arm who was an old time climber and hooktender, and was by then pretty old. He trolled for salmon and tuna in the summer, and built crab pots in the winter. His wife was Indian, from the Smith River Reservation in the far NW corner of Calleeeforneeeea. They had a big brass samovar in their galley, and she made Russian tea which had stuff like orange peel, nutmeg, cinnamon, in it with tea, I guess. Cranberries, too. No matter, she had inherited it from Indian relatives whose ancestors had bought it from the Russians long before us newcomers arrived.

In the general course of a day long bullshit session, she told about being raised in Portland, where her Dad had come to work in the shipyards. She spent the summer being an Indian on the Smith River with grandma. And just before she was to make the long journey back to Portland for school, in late summer, it clouded up, the wind swung to the SE, and the air got warmer, heavier. Grandma told her to come with her. They walked way up some creek, and Grandma broke out some big old matches and lit the brush on the hillside on fire. Phoenola said it scared the crap out of her, but Grandma assured her that the storm that night would put out the fire. If she did not burn the hillside, she would not have enough hazel shoots to gather in the spring to make the baskets she sold on Highway 101 that paid for much of their groceries. So, albeit word of mouth and anecdotal, that puts Indian burning clear up to during WWII. At least by one cantankerous Grandma.

Not three years after that fun afternoon waiting out the blow and drinking Russian tea, Phoenola was killed in a car wreck. Broke Mutt’s heart. He told me that when he died, he was going to be the only white man ever buried on the Smith River Reservation, alongside his wife. Someday I will stop and see if it were true.

And Bob: my Dane immigrant Grandfather told me and my brother when we were little kids that when he was a young carpenter working in Salem he used to see the last full blood Kalapuya grandmother (he said Kalapuya Princess for she was a Chief’s daughter) selling baskets in front of the Ladd and Bush Bank on Commercial street in Salem.

He would be 119 years old this coming Flag Day. ” What a country, dis America is. Dey fly da flag on my birt’day every year!!” I miss his face, his rough hands, his ever ready smile, and absolute patience with a headstrong grandson. I was his flounder fishing partner. All hand lines, thrown from the Eckman Slough bridge, or perhaps out of a rowboat on Yaquina Bay… no motor. He rented the boat by the tide. We rowed to Kings Slough with the incoming tide, and rowed back to Dutch’s Boat Rental with the ebb. Other times we walked the Coast Watchers plank trail along the south jetty at Newport and fling handlines into the boil along the incoming tide. Black sea bass, a ling cod once in a while, and flounder.

No flounder today. Sea lions and seals, with no Indians hunting them, have eaten them down to nothing. It is the wolf lesson played out on our coastal bays. Probably pretty politically incorrect, but he told me that when he was building summer homes at Waldport, the gillnetter and bay crabbers would dynamite the seals on their haulout grounds. He said that you would hear the explosion, and then every seagull in town and up the river would be headed for the spit for seal chunks and blubber splatters. I miss him every day.



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