"Primary Forest"?

Robert G. Weinberger hr161 at cleveland.Freenet.Edu
Fri Feb 23 00:12:49 EST 1996

In many of his posts, Dave Braun uses the term "primary 
forest".  Although, I think I have some concept of what this 
term is supposed to mean, I am curious as to whether there is 
a standard scientific definition for it.  Or is it simply 
another term such as " ancient forest" chosen more for its 
emotional appeal than for any other reason?
Do only those forests which have not been harvested by 
man qualify?  If so do those portions of the Tillamook Forest, the 
Yacoult burn, the 1910 fires of Western Montana and Northern 
Idaho, and the Mt. St. Helens blast zone that did not recieve 
salvage logging and had not been logged pre-event qualify? 
Or might some of them be disqualified because native americans 
may have harvested some trees for lodge poles or dugout canoes?
If there is some level of harvest that is the trigger between 
"primary" forest and any other type of forest, what is that 
level?  Is it objectively quantifiable?
Are the regenerating Lodgepole forests in Yellowstone 
"primary" forest?  If they are, please explain to me how they 
are functionally different from regenerating lodgepole stands 
outside the park that happen to have been logged prior to 
being burned and naturally regenerated.  I will concede that 
if they were logged improperly and soil compaction occured 
they are different, and roads obviously have impact, but I am 
asking about properly logged stands & the 98% of the ground that
is not in road beds. 
I am not trying to be snide, but I believe that if someone is 
going to use terms that they attach importance or significance 
to (at least if it is a discussion about biology and not about 
philosophy), those terms should have objective meaning.  
On another subject - I believe reference was made to the 
Pacific Yew (source of Taxol) as being primarily found in 
virgin, "primary", or old growth forests (unfortunately that 
post is no longer in my news reader).  This "fact" is often 
cited as a reason why such forests must be kept intact.  While 
there are may be many valid reasons for maintaining "old 
growth", this is not one of them.                                   

Over the last three years, we provided more pounds of Pacific 
Yew bark from the 300,000 acres of private forest land that I 
manage in northeast Oregon (the dry side of the state) than did
any National Forest or BLM district in Region 6 - WA & OR. All 
of it came from stands that had had no fewer than three 
harvest entries in the last 120 years and we still have lots of 
Pacific Yew.  Trying to crawl through a Yew thicket in an old
clearcut or burn in Northwest Montana or Northern Idaho can
likewise disabuse one of the notion that this is a species 
that does well only under closed canopy.             

Regards -  Bob Weinberger

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