November 20, 2007

Forest Service and Sierra Club mark trees together

Maybe it's because of the wildfires, maybe the fear of global warming - whatever the reason, here is one example of a reconciliation taking place between two parties that are too often seen "at loggerheads" with each other.

The USDA/Forest Service at Black Butte Ranch in Oregon decided it was time to try a new tack in its attempt to create understanding between stakeholders in the environmental sustainability of forests. By inviting members of the local and environmental community (including the Sierra Club) the Forest Service succeeded in engaging stakeholders in the process of choosing which trees to save and which to harvest to enhance survival and the generation of new old growth forests.

Along similar lines, the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA) has just released a document titled Factors that Influence Successful Collaborations Between the Forest Products Industry and Environmental Organizations. It details a dozen geographically diverse projects from the U.S. and Canada. It offers eleven factors that appear to be crucial for the broadbase acceptance of any forest management projects.

There simply isn't time to waste on litigation anymore. Here are some excerpts on a story we need to see more examples of if we expect any headway in preserving the past for the future. Thanks to The Smallwood Utilization Network Forum for citing this and other relevant stories.

Field trip helps forge trust among diverse interests
By Kate Ramsayer / The Bulletin
Published: November 16. 2007 5:00AM PST

The 20 or so people — from the U.S. Forest Service, timber industry, conservation groups and some who just live nearby — stood in the ponderosa pine forest next to Black Butte Ranch.

Armed with 11 different colors and patterns of marking tape, they set out with a goal — to flag which trees they would save, with the other ones left to be cut, if they were making the decisions.

One objective point of the Glaze restoration project is to thin trees and do other management treatments to generate new old-growth forests, possibly creating an example for other areas to follow in the process, said Maret Pajutee, district ecologist for the Sisters Ranger District.

But the goal for the day was to have people see how decisions are made about which trees to cut, learn from each other and share ideas, and perhaps build trust between the different groups and the Forest Service, she said.

And putting in time on the ground with different groups at the beginning of the process, she said, could help avoid time-consuming appeals and lawsuits at the end.

The Glaze restoration project was actually first pitched to the Sisters Ranger District by Cal Mukumoto, manager of Warm Springs Biomass, on the timber industry side, and Tim Lillebo, with the conservation group Oregon Wild. While the district originally had other priorities, once Mukumoto and Lillebo built some community support for the project and raised money, the agency got on board. Now, a draft environmental assessment of the project is expected early next year.

“That has never really happened to us before,” said Pajutee. “It’s really an exciting and unique thing that’s happened here.”

With some work that the Forest Service does, the agency has trust from the public, said Bill Anthony, Sisters District ranger. In other areas, however, like salvaging fire-killed trees, there’s a very low level of trust.

But the hope for projects like this, he said, is to move that trust and understanding along.

“What’s unique about this project is the partnership … with the restoration not only being the outcome, but working together, building trust, working through (issues) constructively instead of with litigation,” said Bill Anthony, Sisters District ranger.

The district wants to avoid situations like with the Metolius Basin forest management plan, where some groups collaborated with the agency, but an appeal was still filed against the project.

“By being open, upfront, by being out on the ground with the different interests, that’s how I think this is going to be a success,” Lillebo said. But there will still be concerns, he said, and times when people don’t agree about whether a tree should be cut.

“The goal was to have an example as a potential model,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll have people say, ‘I can live with that.’”

But the overall goal, he said, is to generate old growth. Lillebo said he used to be totally against all cutting, a response to earlier Forest Service policies of cutting large areas of forests and growing them back just to cut them again as a sort of tree farm.

“People don’t trust what’s happened in the past, when the whole last 40, 50 years has mostly been cutting the big trees down,” he said.

But now, he said, the science is indicating that some forests are so different from their natural state that they need to be managed by people.

“Uh-oh, maybe we were wrong,” he said. “In a lot of cases, you can’t just leave it alone. Let’s protect the big trees, and come up with a system where you grow back this old growth.”

On Thursday, forestry consultant Darin Stringer explained the strategy that the Forest Service is considering to treat the Glaze project area, parts of which edge right up to houses at Black Butte Ranch.

The idea is to create a mosaic across the landscape, of clumps of trees that are of a specific age or size. While that may require taking out a lot of small trees in areas that already have old growth, it will also mean taking some of the medium-sized, commercial-value trees out of stands to let the remaining trees grow bigger.

To show people how this might be done on the ground, the project organizers hosted the tree-tagging experiment. The results won’t actually be used, but it was a way to let people see what goes into the process, Pajutee said.

“You have to look for a lot of things — health, lack of defects,” he said. “If you take this one down, it’ll give this one a better chance.”

Tim Clasen, who lives a few miles south of the area, had come to learn about the Glaze restoration project. He was using his yellow-and-black-striped tape to mark groups of trees, and looking for a good spot to put a clearing that would allow one tree to grow unhindered.

“I really like the idea that they’re trying to coordinate different groups,” he said.

John Morgan, resource manager with Ochoco Lumber Co., said he was tagging the trees with the healthiest, sharpest pointed crowns — the ones that have a better chance of growing big, which adds to the health of the forest but also provides good timber down the road.

If this project is done correctly, it could be a model for future projects, said Miller, who added that she has high hopes that it will be done correctly. She said she had lots of reservations when Lillebo first told her of it, and still has some concerns about things like riparian areas and cutting too much in certain areas.

But if it works, the Glaze restoration project would be something that she could hold up as an example of acceptable ways to do forest management, she said.

“I think it’s kind of exciting,” Miller said, “because you wouldn’t see this five years ago, the Sierra Club and the Forest Service in the forest marking trees.”

Kate Ramsayer can be reached at 617-7811 or

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November 17, 2007

Hurricane Katrina's greenhouse gas legacy

Hurricane Katrina's legacy is not just the flooding of New Orleans and the destruction of coastal Mississippi. It is also responsible for damaging five million acres of forests - an area the size of the state of Massachusetts. For comparison, the destructive power the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens wiped out 150,000 acres of forests (less than 4% of the forest destruction reach of Katrina).

In a front page article of the Los Angeles Times, Thomas Maugh II and Karen Kaplan reported on new research results by Tulane's Dr. Jeffrey Q. Chambers that has appeared in Science magazine. By using spectral analysis comparisons of before (2003) and after (2006) imagery of the region made by NASA's Landsat V satellite (click to enlarge image above), Chambers and his research team has made a number of alarming findings about the carbon footprint of this very destructive hurricane.

What is the greenhouse gas consequence of all that wasted biomass rotting and decaying?

Left in place without removal, the carbon of the trees will continue to decay for decades. Roughly 50% of the content of trees is carbon. The emissions from decay will contain methane and carbon dioxide. According to Dr. Chambers' analysis, 367 million tons of carbon dioxide will be emitted - which is about the same amount as is absorbed by all U.S. forests in a year. It is also a total that exceeds the combined emissions of national forest fires for an entire year.

What is the time frame for removal?

As it decays, the woody biomass becomes harder to access and harder to remove. Even with modern equipment, it is easier to assess, plan, and harvest standing trees than those lying on the ground at some progression of decay. Besides the remaining obstruction of hurricane-damaged logging roads in the area, foliage regrowth has already begun which makes logging access more difficult.

Should the drought conditions of the South persist, the dead biomass represents a significant fire threat which would add significant amounts of new greenhouse gas and particulate matter emissions to the atmosphere and further complicate restoration.

What will the new forests look like if left to natural regeneration?

According to the Times article, "Chambers and his colleagues said the deforested land, once covered with native species such as longleaf pine, oak and cypress, is being taken over by invasive species that are change the ecology of the area. One of the most prolific, the Chinese tallow, oozes a milky, toxic sap that creates an inhospitable environment for insects, birds and small animals."

How can we pay for forest restoration?

According to Dr. Thomas Bonnicksen of The Forest Foundation, the a privately financed restoration of the forests is straightforward. "Sell the logs to sawmills to be turned into wood products, and use the revenue generated to pay for removing the slash left behind and replanting the forest. Replant native trees in a patchy mosaic so the forest develops naturally. This includes leaving enough snags and logs for wildlife habitat, and returning a few years after planting to remove competing brush so trees grow quickly and are protected against future wildfires."

Who would administer the forest restoration program?

There is a federal committee called the Woody Biomass Utilization Group that includes forestry, energy, and wildlife experts from several departments of government - the Departments of Energy, Agriculture/Forest Service, and Interior. They also have a subgroup studying Disaster Debris that works with FEMA and Homeland Security in an effort to establish and coordinate federal remedial response to environmental disasters like Katrina, floods, tornadoes, and megafires throughout the country.

When asked what the biggest hurdle was to the implementation of harvesting and reforestation programs, Ron Vineyard of the Forest Service responded "infrastructure." By that he meant that there needs to be more sawmills, power plants, forest products companies, and biorefineries who can take possession of the woody biomass harvested from the disaster zones. The carbon would be sequestered in forest products like lumber, paper, and biochar while carbon-neutral bioproducts like ethanol, alcohols, chemicals, and bioplastics could be cleanly produced to reduce the use of carbon-positive petroleum byproducts.

Unfortunately, many of companies of the pre-existing infrastructure have been damaged from the hurricane, too, and the timberland owners of the region are likely to sell their lands to developers rather than pay to reforest their lost inventories. That will not make environmentalist groups happy who recognize the need to keep our forests large and healthy as carbon sinks to mitigate global warming.

Government action is needed now

There is no possible way that the federal agencies - who are already coping with fire-fighting, humanitarian rescue efforts, and capital restitution from each year's mounting ecological catastrophes - can pay for the scope of immediate remedial action needed. Political leadership and coordination with utilities and private industry is required - and the nation will be stronger for it.

Now is the time for federal, state, and local governments to pass policies that reduce regulatory hurdles and create incentives to utilities and private industry to establish new infrastructure. Passage of bioenergy friendly amendments to the stagnating Energy and Farm Bills would be a very timely response demonstrating Congress' recognition of the long-term consequences of the problem while supporting green business and career opportunities for their constituencies.

Emerging technology companies can convert the woody biomass much more cleanly than their predecessors. This will create the economic means to address the gargantuan and urgent task of harvesting and replanting Katrina's catastrophic biomass legacy.

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