Siuslaw forestry practices offer great example for Tongass

By Dominick DellaSala, Catherine Mater, and Jim Furnish

For The Register-Guard, July 16, 2016

The recent release of the U.S. Forest Service’s old growth logging plans for Alaska’s Tongass National Forest stalls urgent climate change protections and relies on old school forestry.

What happens in the Tongass is important to Oregonians, and the nation, because this national forest absorbs about 8 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide pollution annually — far more than any other forest. And what is happening in the Siuslaw National Forest can inform the Tongass.

The Tongass plan calls for continued old growth logging, mostly over the next 16 years, threatening 43,000 acres of Tongass rainforest. This long time frame will unnecessarily release the equivalent emissions of 4 million vehicles annually over the next 100 years at a time when nations are looking to cut back on carbon pollution.

Scientific studies by Oregon-based organizations demonstrate that Tongass forests clearcut in the 1950s, which have since regrown as “second growth,” can meet timber demand while leaving old growth standing. In 2015, Mater Engineering Ltd. of Corvallis spearheaded the most intensive timber cruises ever conducted on the Tongass, focusing on 55-year-old second growth stands to meet timber targets of the Forest Service. The conclusion: By 2020, second growth levels reach wood supply levels not seen in southeast Alaska since the 1980s.

It makes dollars and sense to move quickly into second growth. The costs of carbon pollution from increased health and economic impacts would exceed timber revenues by a factor of at least 10 by mid-century. And second growth volume will come from low-controversy acres yielding much lower logging emissions than old growth logging while hastening logs to the mills.

This solution has been working in Oregon’s Siuslaw National Forest since the 1990s, when spotted owl protections prompted a quick transition to second growth not needed by the owl but necessary for an industrial transition. The Siuslaw’s exemplary vision is what’s needed now in Alaska.

But the Tongass logging plan blatantly contradicts U.S.-led efforts on the Paris Climate Change Agreement, which promotes measures to protect carbon stored in forests to help head off dangerous global temperature increases.

On the heels of news that global carbon dioxide levels have rapidly increased to levels that have not occurred for thousands of years, Oregon forest experts from the Geos Institute and Mater Engineering charge the Forest Service with relying on old school forestry that violates the Paris agreement. Nations are now working to store more carbon in trees while the Tongass leads by example with industrial clearcuts.

And just this month, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a joint statement with Norway’s environment minister: “The science is clear: conserving, restoring and sustainably managing the world’s natural forests is critical to achieving a safe, secure, and sustainable world.”

Fortunately, there is still time for the Tongass to embrace a swift transition that will benefit the timber industry while protecting the region’s world-class rainforests. President Obama needs to direct the Forest Service to speed up the transition as part of his climate change legacy. The Tongass needs to get with the climate change program, as other national forests already have, by following the Siuslaw example.

Dominick DellaSala is chief scientist of the Ashland-based Geos Institute and editor of Temperate and Boreal Rainforests of the World: Ecology and Conservation. Catherine Mater is president of Mater Engineering Ltd. Jim Furnish is retired deputy chief of the U.S. Forest Service and supervisor of the Siuslaw National Forest.

The Wildfire Conundrum

Geos Institute's Dominick DelsaSala is interviewed in The Wildfire Conundrum, an article published in the Jefferson Journal based on a three-part radio series by JPR reporter Liam Moriarty.

"The wildfire conundrum is made up of a complex set of interrelated factors. But it boils down to three main parts: forests out of ecological balance from decades of fire suppression; sprawling development in the woods that requires expanded firefighting efforts; and the mounting impacts of climate change." - Liam Moriarty

Tongass logging plan is an embarrassment to President Obama's climate change policies

The Tongass National Forest is the nation's carbon champion, storing about 8% of the nation's annual global warming emissions in its productive old-growth rainforests. The Forest Service proposes to clearcut 43,000 acres of old growth, mostly in the next 16 years. Logging emissions would release the equivalent emissions of 4 million vehicles annually while squandering one of the world's last relatively intact temperate rainforests.

Media Coverage


Analysis of proposed fire legislation by Geos Institute's Chief Scientist shows public lands at risk of increased logging

In comments submitted June 10, 2016 Geos Institute's Chief Scientist provides analysis of 6 specific pieces of the proposed fire legislation in the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee:

  1. Ecological role of wildland fire in resilient and fire-adapted ecosystems is missing from the draft
  2. Restricts provisions of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) by restricting forest planning to the “no action” vs. “action” alternative and allowing for expansive use of emergency “alternative arrangements” will harm the environment
  3. Allowing for long-term (20-year) federal “hazardous fuel reduction” contracts (d – Long-Term Contracts) in dry mixed conifer and ponderosa pine forests is a disincentive to ecologically based restoration
  4. Not excluding inventoried roadless areas and other ecological important lands recognized in forest plans (e.g., Wilderness Study Areas, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, Late-Successional Reserves, “high-value watersheds”) will cause harm to public lands with some of the highest ecological values
  5. Not addressing the risk of human-caused fire ignitions from an extensive and damaging road system on public lands misses an important contributing factor to uncharacteristic fires
  6. Reducing hazardous fuels in the backcountry diverts much needed attention away from homeowner safety

Read the full comments here

Geos Institute's Chief Scientist speaks out on draft fire legislation in Congress

Bipartisan Senate proposal eyes funding, promotes clearing

(Originally published in Environment & Energy Daily, Thursday, May 26, 2016) Marc Heller, E&E reporter

A bipartisan group of senators proposed draft legislation yesterday that would spare the Forest Service from borrowing money from forest management to fight wildfires while encouraging more forest clearing to remove potential fuel for fires.

The draft, called the "Wildfire Budgeting, Response and Forest Management Act," would allow the Forest Service and the Interior Department to tap a budget cap adjustment when the cost of fighting fires exceeds the 10-year average.

That provision is in line with requests Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has made repeatedly to Congress, culminating with his pledge this year to refuse to engage in any more budget borrowing for fires.

It also resembles the "Wildfire Disaster Funding Act" proposed by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) in 2013. Both of those senators joined in crafting of the new draft.

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