Two Forest Restoration Letters

Restoration forestry is the art and science of returning forests to heritage conditions of fire resilient, open and park-like structures [here]. Restoration forestry protects, maintains, and perpetuates forests, wildlife, water and air, public health and safety, heritage, and our economy.

Restoring forests is active management that takes place before forests burn. After a forest is destroyed by catastrophic fire, there may be attempts to rehabilitate it, but rehab is after-the-fact. Restoration is before-the-fact, preparing forests to receive fire and to be resilient to fire before they burn.

The term “restoration” has been injected into at least two important laws: The Healthy Forests Restoration Act (2003) and Title IV of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act Of 2009, aka the Forest Landscape Restoration Act of 2009 (FLRA).

In both cases “restoration” is used as I noted above, to describe (in general) forest treatments applied prior to catastrophic forest fires in order to make forests resilient to fire, i.e. to avoid the catastrophes of forest destruction by fire (and insect infestations).

The Society of American Foresters (SAF) has adopted a pro-active position regarding restoration forestry. They recognize that restoration is the best and possibly only way to protect, maintain, and perpetuate our public forests.

Last May the SAF promulgated two letters to Congress that expressed (in part) their support for real restoration forestry (and their opposition to ersatz restoration).

One of those letters (dated May 29) is to the U.S. House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee requesting that the Forest Landscape Restoration Act of 2009 (FLRA) be funded. That letter [here] is co-signed by 55 other organizations including the American Forest Resources Council, the National Association of Forest Service Retirees, The Nature Conservancy, the Washington Forest Protection Association, and the Western Governors Association.

I would have signed it too, had I been asked. But anyway, here are some highlights:

The undersigned organizations wish to express support for FY 2010 funding of the USDA Forest Service hazardous fuels reduction and forest landscape restoration programs. Our organizations are actively engaged in collaborative projects that restore forest health, support wood-using businesses, and provide local jobs. We are pleased that the President’s budget provides an overall funding increase for the Forest Service. However, we are disappointed that funding for hazardous fuels reduction is decreased and that no funding is provided for forest landscape restoration. We hope the House will make changes to provide funding for these important programs.

The escalating cost of wildfire suppression is one symptom of the poor health of the nation’s forests. Suppression costs routinely exceed $1 billion per year, leaving little funding for forest treatments that remove overgrown brush and trees. An increase in hazardous fuels reduction funding is an upfront investment in forest health that will save taxpayer expenditures on fire suppression in the long-run. …

The Forest Landscape Restoration Act was recently authorized for $40 million to be competitively awarded to large landscapes across the nation so they receive sustained funding for fuels treatments that implement a collaboratively developed and science-based ecological restoration plan. The selected projects will create jobs and provide forest byproducts and fiber for local business use while reducing catastrophic wildfire risks in fire-prone ecosystems. We urge the House to provide sufficient funding to initiate a credible national program in FY 2010 that can be increased to the authorized level in subsequent years.

The other letter is somewhat critical of ersatz “restoration,” the situation being that a Congressperson is misusing the term for political smokescreen purposes, and to which the SAF objects.

I would have signed that letter, too, had I been asked.

The latter letter [here] is addressed to Senator Ron Wyden and concerns his proposed “Oregon Restoration and Old Growth Protection Act.” Wyden’s OROGPA bill would not restore forests — in fact it would result in their catastrophic destruction. The SAF is not fooled. Some excerpts from their letter to Wyden:

On behalf of our more than 14,000 forestry professionals across the United States, including nearly 1,000 located in the State of Oregon, we thank you for the opportunity to comment on your draft bill for the Oregon Forest Health and Old Growth Protection Act, released April 16, 2009. …

As the professional, educational and scientific organization representing the forestry profession, SAF would like to help you assure your legislation will achieve its stated goals of restoring forest health and protecting old growth. Unfortunately, our review leads us to the conclusion that much of the legislative language in your draft would not achieve those goals.

Based on the review we have been able to make so far, your current draft raises the following concerns:

* The bill legislates silvicultural prescriptions, such as requiring the Secretaries to define a protocol for determining tree age at diameter breast height, and basing broad forest management on diameter measurement and tree age. This approach is not based on science. It disregards site-specific conditions and basic ecological principles of carrying capacity, tree growth, and forest succession. Prescribing silviculture through such simplistic means will not achieve the desired results. …

* The draft indirectly re-defines the purpose of federal lands and does this in a vague fashion that invites further litigation. …

* Legislating and defining “ecological forestry” would further restrict the focus of federal management, the discretion of agency professionals and limit the achievement of desired outcomes. …

* The draft uses the Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP), a 15-year old plan, as the basis for much of the bill, making some changes and then codifying it into law. …

* The legislative language grossly oversimplifies forests types (“moist forest site” and “dry forest site”) and old growth conditions…

* We would like to see objectives/outcome-based forestry that supplies foresters with goals. Then, with good science and the available technology, foresters can apply the most appropriate silvicultural prescriptions. This focuses on what is left on a particular site, rather than what is taken. This draft bill, however, emphasizes a detailed and highly prescriptive set of standards for land managers. These standards are likely not operationally feasible, scientifically credible, or suitable in the context of specific forest management settings.

In summary, this draft removes and/or restricts management tools that could help achieve environmental objectives. The unintended consequences of this could very well be counterproductive to what is sought. …

I concur in all those statements and have a few others to throw in the mix. Which I did in a post last April [here]. At the time Wyden’s bill had the word “Forests” in the title, making the acronym OFROGPA. Evidently the “frog” part was seen as poor marketing and so the word “Forests” was removed.

A better idea would be to flush the entire bill and get on board with the FLRA, which Wyden voted for, Obama signed, and is now the law of the land. It needs to be funded and implemented, though.

It is a little bit mysterious that a forest restoration act, voted and signed into law, would not be funded by this Congress and Administration. The price tag on the FLRA is $40 million. Our government throws that much away every second. The deficit is in the $trillions (a trillion is a million million). The FLRA would actually save money by reducing fire suppression outlays (now in the $billions per year). In fact, the FLRA would pay for itself from sale of excess biomass removed in the process of restoring forests.

Why would Congress and the Administration support an Act that they had no intention of funding? What kind of bait-and-switch game is that?

My reaction to the games that Congress and the Administration are playing is not all that diplomatic, which may be why I was not asked to sign either letter!

Be that as it may, the SAF is coming around to my point of view regarding restoration forestry, with some political graces that I lack, and I am glad to see it.



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