Thinning in the Pacific Northwest?

Larry Harrell lhfotoware at
Mon Oct 7 19:54:56 EST 2002

October 6, 2002  The Register Guard

Forester touts thinning as solution to debate

MAPLETON - A lush trail near Cataract Creek in the Coast Range holds
the secret to the end of animosity over logging and environmental
protection in Northwest forests.

With a passion, Jim Furnish believes that's true. And he hopes his
former bosses will take a hard look.

A conservative who voted for President Bush, Furnish left his
Washington, D.C., post as a deputy chief of the U.S. Forest Service
last fall. After more than 30 years in the agency, he quit out of
frustration over what he calls the Bush administration's "reckless
pursuit" of old-growth logging.

His ideas certainly clashed with those of Bush's appointed heads of
the nation's natural resources. With notions that it's time to embrace
wholesale protection of the Northwest's remaining old growth and
switch to restoration forestry, Furnish was odd man out.

That's not to say national forests can't still support timber jobs,
said Furnish, now a consulting forester living in Maryland. Proof that
a sustainable balance can be achieved between ecological values and
economic needs can be found northeast of Florence in the Siuslaw
National Forest.

A 10-year-old research plot, established when Furnish was deputy
supervisor of the Siuslaw, shows that thinning can have profound
benefits to the health and vigor of young plantations - blocks of
forest that were clear-cut, burned and replanted.

The model is based on management that nurtures, rather than
eliminates, mature and old-growth forests and the habitat they provide
for fish and wildlife.

By shifting timber sale programs entirely to thinning second-growth
plantations and restoring watersheds, the government could move away
from logging what's left of the Northwest's old growth, Furnish said.

He said that new vision and strategy for managing federal forests
would improve the overall health of overcrowded stands, boost the
growth of trees that remain, reduce wildfire danger, create desirable
wildlife habitat and even give loggers decades of work in the woods.

Environmentalists would be pleased with the greater emphasis on saving
old growth, and the Forest Service would spend far less time and money
fighting appeals and lawsuits, he said.

Furnish, who served as supervisor of the Siuslaw forest from 1994 to
1999, recently returned for the first time to inspect the results of
the thinning experiment he helped launch.

"I think we can use this site as a springboard to make this our main
business," said Furnish, who noted that about a third of the
600,000-acre Siuslaw forest has been clear-cut and replanted.
"Opportunities for sites like this on the Siuslaw are everywhere. We
need to gear up and start doing it."

The concept has been endorsed by The Wilderness Society, which earlier
this year sponsored a report by Furnish, "From Despair to Hope," that
chronicles old-growth forest policy in the Pacific Northwest and
argues for replicating the Siuslaw model.

"This is the kind of forestry that potentially could receive a broader
range of public support," said Mike Anderson, senior analyst in The
Wilderness Society's regional office in Seattle.

Many Northwest residents - not just environmentalists - have a strong
distaste for clear-cut and old-growth logging, Anderson said. "We can
help show people that cutting a tree down isn't necessarily all bad,
and in fact can be good for the forest," he said.

The natural spacing of trees at the Cataract site is about 250 per
acre, making for a jungle-like density. Three stands were thinned - to
100, 60 and 30 trees per acre.

Bore samples taken from Douglas fir, hemlock and other trees left in
the thinned areas show they began growing faster after the competition
for sunlight, water and crown space was removed.

Eventually, ecologists say, such stands can be returned to an
old-growth state.

"This site really epitomizes to me the evidence of the future,"
Furnish said. "Back when we first did this project in the winter of
'92, when this actually was logged, this was very edgy stuff. There
weren't a whole lot of people doing this kind of thing."

There still isn't, for a variety of reasons. Bureaucratic inertia, a
lack of funding and pressure from the administration and Congress to
continue pursuing conventional timber practices partly explain why,
Furnish said.

"One of the huge challenges I had as a forest supervisor was to shift
the focus away from `How do we keep cutting the big trees?' to `How do
we assert the priority of young timber stands?' " he said. "Everything
about the Siuslaw National Forest was predicated on cutting big trees,
to the tune of about 350 million board feet a year."

In Coast Range forests, before sweeping protections for the northern
spotted owl and marbled murrelet were in place, plantations were
harvested on an increasingly faster rotation to meet the growing
demand for wood, Furnish said.

"When these trees would get a certain size, we'd clear-cut and start
over again," he said. "So the idea of coming in and actually thinning
these plantations was unique."

The project was met with skepticism from both timber interests and
environmental groups as well as resistance from within the Forest

"For decades, virtually everybody who worked here had grown up feeding
the timber machine," Furnish said. "Throughout my career I had never
encountered what we bumped into, which was an extremely divisive
internal debate of where do we go from here."

The Siuslaw project is not a template for all forests, cautioned Rob
Iwamoto, deputy supervisor of the neighboring Willamette National

A key distinction, Iwamoto said, is the forest zones created by the
1994 Northwest Forest Plan, which remains the commanding management
edict for westside forests in the region.

As a result of the plan, most of the Siuslaw is dominated by
old-growth reserves and riparian reserves - areas where commercial
timber harvests generally are forbidden.

Only about 6 percent of the forest landscape was left open to logging,
so thinning is a logical emphasis across most of the Siuslaw, Iwamoto

"They clearly have a different objective," he said. "We could sustain
a (thinning-only) program, but it's not anything like we've been
directed to do under the Northwest Forest Plan. I mean, it's not even

Oregon 4th District Rep. Peter DeFazio agreed. He said the Willamette
and other national forests along the Cascades were assigned under the
1994 forest plan to "harvest old growth."

"That was the way it was going to be, because that's the only way they
could reach the volumes," DeFazio said. "So that's been their
direction. They don't have the latitude or the budgets or anything to
begin to totally reorient and look at the kind of stuff going on with
the Siuslaw."

A thinning program in national forest plantations could be carried out
across millions of acres, he said, "but it would require rewriting
significant portions of the forest plan, it would require
appropriations from Congress, and it would require the president to
lead the way."

Comment by poster: Sounds good to me. Haven't I been saying this all


More information about the Ag-forst mailing list