By Francis Eartherington
When BLM logs our public lands, they determine how logging is done by using a “prescription.” The prescription might be thinning, or it might be clearcutting, or it could be hardwood conversion (e.g., clearcutting alder stands) or density management (thinning in a messier way), or something called Variable Retention Harvest (clearcutting in a messier way).
Variable Retention Harvesting (VRH) is the new “flavor of the month” that has become popular with the BLM in the last year, and will likely be a large part of their future timber sale prescriptions.
The theory behind VRH is that the BLM has not been doing enough clearcutting in the last decade. They have been thinning too much. VRH clearcuts about 70% of a forest, while retaining 30% in tree-islands. Because the clearcuts are smaller than traditional clearcuts, the BLM insists they are not clearcuts. They are Variable Retention Harvests, otherwise known as Ecoforestry.
The term Ecoforestry was coined by Drs. Norm Johnson and Jerry Franklin, two university professors who have been involved for decades in designing timber sale prescriptions for federal lands. In 1995 they helped design the Northwest Forest Plan, which allowed for the clearcutting of over a million acres of old growth forests in the range of the spotted owl. Those weren’t called clearcuts either, because the BLM had to leave 6 to 8 trees per acre. They were called “Regeneration Harvests”.
Luckily the federal agencies never accomplished cutting those million acres. Social unrest and new biological information turned the BLM toward less controversial timber sales instead.
For the past 10 years the BLM has been focusing on thinning some of the hundreds of thousands of acres of young tree-plantations that were created by clearcutting coastal rainforests in the middle of the last century. These old growth rainforests were converted to commercial tree-farms after World War II, and replanted with 400 to 500 Douglas fir trees per acre. If we want real forests to grow back, they need to be thinned to help restore the bio-diversity of the original rain forest. Thinning also helps restore spotted owl habitat. Many acres of Reserves (called Late Successional Reserves) had been set aside for the spotted owl in the 1995 Northwest Forest Plan, but 80% of these reserves had been clearcut before they were reserved, so they depend on thinning to help restore them.
While thinning has been providing almost as much wood to local mills as the clearcutting was supposed to do, it doesn’t return the same profits. Drs. Norm Johnson and Jerry Franklin stepped in with scientific justification for a return to clearcuts: federal lands don’t provide enough young forests for wildlife that depend on places with brush and hardwoods, like butterflies, moths, and other wildlife not specifically named.
BLM lands are checker boarded with private industrial forest lands – every other square mile (section) is publically owned and every other section is owned by industrial timber barons who keep their lands perpetually young and clearcut. So why can’t butterflies go live there? Drs. Johnson and Franklin say private timber companies spray so much herbicide, there is no brush for wildlife – none in the hundred of thousands of acres of industrial clearcuts. Since we can’t ask the timber barons to use less poisons, we must clearcut BLM lands instead.
The Wagon Road Pilot Project clearcuts 120 acres of a mature forest and “takes” (kills) four spotted owls, as well as harms marbled murrelets (another endangered bird dependent on old forests). Roseburg Forest Products won the right to log this public forest near Sitkum and Dora.
The White Castle Pilot Project clearcuts 190 acres of forests, most over 100 years old, in forests designated as critical habitat for the spotted owl. Roseburg Forest Products also won the right to log here, but currently tree protectors are occupying the trees in the middle of the logging road they need to build. This is up South Myrtle Creek.
The Buck Rising timber sale clearcut 60 acres on North Myrtle Creek, also in critical habitat. This is the first VRH sale to be clearcut. Does the above picture look like a clearcut? Swanson Group bought these trees to clearcut. Swanson also recently sued BLM claiming the BLM must offer even more clearcuts.
Meanwhile, back near the Wagon Road clearcut, meant to promote shrubs for wildlife that needs young forests… The BLM has proposed a new timber sale. The Lone Pine sale is west of the Wagon Road project, and here the BLM claims they need to clearcut alder stands, because if they don’t, the terrible alder stands will “revert to brush habitat.” The BLM claims we need to convert them to a Douglas fir tree-farm instead.
It is the ultimate irony to clearcut Wagon Road and kill 4 spotted owls because we need brush habitat and a few miles away clearcut alder because we must not have brush habitat. The BLM is clearly using whatever excuse they can find to clearcut, at the expense of continuing their successful and more job rich thinning program.