Overcutting is turning fragile, transitional forests in five Western states into brush fields that will no longer grow timber, a study by an environmental group says.
Keeping the cutover lands in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s timber base perpetuates a cycle of too much logging in the Northwest, the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility said Tuesday.
“Industrial logging of these scrub forests is an ecological disaster,” said Jeff DeBonis, a former U.S. Forest Service timber sale planner who is the founder and executive director of PEER.
In its study of logging on mildly productive BLM lands in the five states, PEER reviewed resource management plans, manuals and directives, memos, environmental documents, and timber sale records.
The BLM’s most productive forests, in Western Oregon, weren’t included. The report is titled “Where the Timber Beasts Rule the Earth.”
BLM spokesman Tom Gorey in Washington, D.C., disputed the report’s conclusions.
“The BLM conducts timber harvesting in an environmentally sound manner, based on input from an interdisciplinary team of specialists,” Gorey said.
“Most of our harvesting is directed at recovering some diseased and dying timber,” and at thinning overstocked stands, he said.
An Oregon State University forest sciences professor said he found much to agree with in the PEER study. But thoughtful logging can benefit unhealthy forests, said Steve Radosevich. “It’s a site-by-site call.”
The report covers logging policies on land known as Public Domain Forests. The forests cover 5.5 million of the 270 million acres of Western lands managed by the BLM. They tend to be in dry transitional areas between forests and rangelands and don’t produce much timber.
From his office in Hood River, DeBonis said he hoped the BLM would stop or sharply cut back timber production from the transitional forests in favor of promoting wildlife habitat and healthy watersheds.
The amount of timber BLM figures it can sell from its lands has been inflated due to forest inventories that are 20 to 30 years old, the report says. The inventories include lands that have never been successfully replanted after harvest, PEER found.
For example, the study found the BLM’s Spokane district timber target of 40 million board feet a year, set in 1976, has not been reduced, while the amount of forest open to logging was reduced by 15 percent in 1983. Annual timber targets are frequently based on unrealistic expectations for techniques such as thinning young stands of trees to increase growth, the report said.
PEER concluded the BLM pays lip service to the concept of ecosystem management, which puts the health of the ecosystem first, while adhering to a traditional policy of getting out the timber cut.
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