"Primary Forest"?

Robert G. Weinberger hr161 at cleveland.Freenet.Edu
Sat Feb 24 02:37:12 EST 1996

Dave Braun said:
>The term "primary forest", as I understand it, refers to forest which
>has not been cleared on a large scale by people.  I get this definition
>from the context of scientific articles and books that I have read on
>tropical and temperate forests.  I can't cite a particular definition,
>but there does seem to be agreement by the authors in whose work the
>term has been used, as to what it means.
I would submit that if there is not a standard scientific 
definition for a term such as this, its use can only lead to 
confusion and does not contribute to common understanding.  
For example, at what point does clearing become large scale 
- 1 acre, 40 acres, 100 acres ... ?   
>I don't mean to put indigenous people on a pedestal as perfect
>retainers of primary forests.  More or less, they have not had the 
>means to destroy large tracts of primary forests, nor the cultural
>basis for doing so. There are some exceptions.  The Maya in Central
>America cleared vast areas for farming to support there large
>population before the Spanish conquest; in New Guinea, the hill people
>also cleared large areas for farming in pre-contact times, as observed
>in the 1930's, when white explorers were quite surprised to find
>intensively managed farmland in the mountains. In addition, indigenous
>peoples have used forest burning in drier areas of North America,
>probably from their arrival from Asia at the close of the last glacial
>period (or perhaps earlier).  These fires probably contributed to
>lightning fires in producing the open forests that were once found in
>the interior west and southwest; however, the species in these forests
>had evolved with fire; the same can't be said for clear-cutting.
One need not go to Central America, New Guinea, or even the 
dry portions of the interior west and southwest to find 
examples of indigenous peoples clearing vast areas to suit 
their life style.  It has been well documented that much of 
the Willamette Valley of Oregon was maintained as Oak savannah 
through planned burning by the indigenous peoples.  
Additionally, there is very strong evidence that the prairie 
of Illinois, Indiana,etc. was likewise purposely maintained by 
pre-columbian people.   
>By the way, why do you use the usual put-down of assuming that a term
>used for forests refering to qualities that acrete over long periods of
>time is "emotional?" What's wrong with emotion, anyway? Do I lose all
>credibility as a scientist if I say that I simply like walking in
>primary forest because I feel good there?  Are not those that support 
>converting all primary forest to "vigorous young stands" being
>emotional as well, because of the lack of scientific evidence that
>this is a good idea in the long term, because of the many benefits
>from biological diversity which would be lost? 
The fact that you consider my use of the term "emotional" as a 
put down makes my point.  I see nothing wrong with emotion or 
the fact that a person may have strong feelings about 
qualities that are often difficult or even impossible to 
quantify.  Those feelings and emotions are valid and have 
value in and of themselves.  A scientist does not lose 
credibility by virtue of having those feelings.  However, when 
the scientist chooses to inject terms that are chosen 
primarily for their emotional appeal into what is cloaked as a   
scientific discussion, IMHO he definately loses scientific credibility.
As to the argument that the other side uses the same bogus 
tactic; I would have expected better of you based on the 
maturity your posts generally exhibit.
>Yes, the regenerating lodgepole-pine forests are primary forests.  The
>definition of primary forest does not rest on the numbers of green
>trees, but on its nature of being free from large scale human
>disturbance. A burned forest still has most of its biomass retained as necromass made up of the
>trunks and roots of daed trees.
I purposely picked the Yellowstone example because very large 
areas burned so hot that the levels of biomass that remained 
after the fires were less than or equal to those left after 
logging and slash burning.  The point I am trying to ascertain 
is - Is it the result of human caused disturbance that you 
object to or simply the fact that it is human caused?  My 
specific query was - how they (those heavily burned stands within
the park) are functionally different from regenerating lodgepole 
stands outside the park that happen to have been logged prior to 
being burned and naturally regenerated.  
>Yes, all of these areas disturbed by fire or volcanic eruption were
>still primary forest after these disturbances occurred; however, most
>of these areas were then salvage logged and have ceased to be primary
>forest. As for small scale uses, these do not change the forests in
>which they occurred to secondary forest.  
My question specifically excluded those areas that had been salvage
logged.  The second sentence again points out the need for 
objective quantifiable definitions. At what stage does a use 
cease to be small scale. This question has more than academic 
interest to me.  When I practice group selection, does the 
forest I leave behind still qualify as primary forest, or does 
the fact that I used a chain saw or feller buncher instead of 
a stone axe and fire automatically relegate it to secondary 
forest - which you seem to grant a considerably lower status. 
>Putting the word "fact" in quotations does not change the fact that
>a) when Pacific yew was first discovered as a source of taxol, it was
>only extracted from the bark, and the only sizeable trees grew in
>old-growth forest. Of course it was known, then and now, that shrubby
>yews grew elsewhere--- but try to emagine peeling enough bark from them.  
I don't need to try imagine peeling the bark from the Yews that grow on
the forestland I manage.  We removed hundreds of thousands of pounds of
Yew *bark*. Although, the Yew trees on this side of the Cascades do not
average as large as those on the west side, many of the trees 
harvested here were in the 8-9" DBH class.  Several of the 
largest Yew trees we harvested came from a stand that had received a 
shelterwood harvest 18 years ago, with the final overstory removal 
-following regeneration- occuring 8 years ago. I worked for a 
number of years on the west side, and while Yew could be found 
over a broader area over there, on the sites that it grows 
here it is much denser and common than over there. On that 
side of the mountains Yew was just as common - though 
considerably smaller in the older harvest units as in the 
virgin stands. It was however conspicuously absent from second 
growth stands that had been heavily burned. 
>While I don't doubt your figures, I wonder if these areas in northeast
>Oregon were managed as uneven-aged stands or even aged stands.
>Uneven-aged stands may provide the proper microclimate and patchy
>disturbance for retention of commercial sized trees, at least until the
>"third entry" as you put it. 
While many of the stands where we have heavy levels of Yew 
have uneven-aged structure many do not.  Our timberlands have 
recieved harvest prescriptions ranging from clearcut to 
economic selection (ie. high grading) to group selection to 
individual (vigor based) tree selection.  I would not characterize
their treatment prior to about 20-30 years ago as management 
so much as exploitation, yet through management IMNSHO we have 
a forest that has most if not all the functions that are generally 
desired for a forest.
When I said that all the land on which we had harvested Yew 
bark had been entered at least three times, I was not 
referring to some sort of management regime.  Some of the land 
has been entered 5 or 6 times.  Much of the land had been 
clearcut, high graded or even cleared for homesteads as early 
as the 1860's. There is some evidence that one of the stands 
was harvested to furnish wood for what was supposed to be the 
first sawmill west of the Mississippi - the Whitman Mission 
sawmill. Most of it was railroad logged between the turn of 
the century and about 1935. I would characterize this logging 
as either "messy clearcuts" or high grades. Numerous entries 
covering the gamut of silvicultural prescriptions have occured 
Regards - Bob Weinberger   

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