Thursday, February 18, 2010

National Forest Timber Management: Problems and Solutions

 Today's post is by a guest author who will expound upon my last post concerning the management of our National Forests. Mac McConnell is an "old time" forester who graduated from Penn State/Mont Alto back in 1943 (not a typo) and  spent the next 30 years with the U.S.Forest Service, working  in the southeast and specializing in timber management.  Following his retirement, Mac got a couple of advanced degrees (Urban and Regional Planning and Sociology) and spent time with the Peace Corps in South America.  As a consultant in Energy Biomass Management, he maintains his interest in Forest Service doings and considers himself a "constructive critic" of that organization. --Brian

National Forest Timber Management Problems and Solutions
W.V. (Mac) McConnell, U.S. Forest Service Ret.  (1943-’73) 

This website’s recent comments on the drastic decline in National Forest (NF) timber harvesting over the past 30 years has raised a few eyebrows and prompted some of us to look at what’s happening in our own backyards.  For those of you who missed that post, here’s the graphic showing the NF harvesting  record.

 My “home” forest, the Apalachicola NF, is the largest (576,000 ac.) of the three National Forests in Florida, and timber management problems are typical of those in the entire NF system.  They include insufficient funding and manpower, endangered species concerns, excessive environmental studies, and over-detailed environmental assessments.  Unlike many forests, they have a solid market for all products (including 2 operating biomass-fueled power plants), an extensive prescribed burning program (947,000 ac. in the past 10 years), and cordial relations with the environmental community.  With these favorable conditions, you’d expect at least modest timber production.  Not so!  Here’s what happened during the ten year planning period that just ended.

This failure to perform has had many of the expected social and economic impacts: stressed local governments and schools,   jobs lost, and families disrupted.  Silvicultural impacts have been significant; timber stand mortality has increased and quality growth has decreased.

One unexpected environmental effect has been the decline of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.  This bird requires open park-like stands of older pine trees.  The imbalance of growth and harvesting shown in the previous graphic has resulted in increasing stand density and an estimated decrease of some 67,000 acres of high-quality habitat.  Here’s what the record shows.

Other forests have had similar problems with endangered species and other valued wildlife.   On The Ocala NF, failure to harvest has resulted in a 10,000 acre decrease in early successional habitat in the sand pine type.  This habitat is critical to the nesting of the scrub jay, an endangered species found only in Florida and especially on the Ocala.  In North Carolina, on the Pisgah and Nantahala NFs, ruffed grouse populations have declined as habitat has dwindled, (see graphic).

What to do?  Here are some suggestions that could help solve the problem.

  • Simplify Environmental Impact Statements (EAs). (probability of success  - excellent)
  • Outsource field work and writing of EAs and sale prep. (prob. - good to high)
  • Reorder forest priorities and shift funds. (Prob. - unknown) 
  • Secure Congressional approval for NFs in Florida and other selected forests to test the feasibility of timber program self-financing as is now done on DOD land (Title 10, USC 2665.) (Prob. unknown) 
  • Secure adequate congressional funding. (prob. - zero to very low)

When all else fails: 

  • Transfer/sell manageable timber land to other federal, state, NGO, or private entities with restrictive covenants and convey the balance to the State or U.S. Park Service. 
  • In my opinion, the most promising long-term solution lies in the 4th bullet above: a system of self-financing for the timber sale program.  Here are some Pro and Con arguments that have been advanced.  Remember: These are arguments.  They may or may not be factual.  They may or may not be relevant.
    • Will provide the means, not now available, for the U.S. Forest Service to follow Congressional direction for resource management as expressed in the National Forest Management Act of 1976, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and related legislation.
    • Will help insure continued economic survival of N.F. dependent counties after the expiration, in the year 2011, of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000.
    • Will create jobs and stimulate the economy.
    • Will allow increased local participation in decision making through Resource Advisory Councils.
    • Will provide an incentive for efficient management and will be budget neutral or positive.
    • A trial run of the program on selected forests will allow an assessment of its impacts on the Federal budget and returns to the treasury, on the social and economic condition of counties, communities and forest industries, and on the quality of resource management.   
    • The concept is simple, easy to apply, and has been thoroughly tested on timberlands managed by the Department of Defense.
    • Will reduce Congressional oversight over National Forest management and control over the expenditure of federal monies. 
    • Will result in negative “scoring” in returns to the treasury and in an increase in the public debt.
    • Will encourage continued dependency of Forest Counties on the Federal Government and discourage self-sufficiency and problem-solving through private enterprise.
    • Will promote unrestrained, irresponsible logging and massive resource damage.  
    • The concept is non-traditional to and untested by the Forest Service. 

In conclusion: 
While conditions on the Apalachicola National Forest are representative of the National Forest System and the basic management principles involved are applicable nationwide, the adverse economic, social, and mortality (fire and insect) impacts of under-management on Western National Forests have been much greater than on those in the East.

For those wishing to research conditions on their local Forest, growth and mortality data for all National Forests are available on-line from the U.S.F.S. Forest Inventory and Analysis program.  Your local Forest Supervisor can provide information on planned and harvested volumes.

This post is a condensation of Timber Resource Management: A Look at the Record a presentation that can be downloaded here in Powerpoint format.


  1. It is amazing how easy it is to lie with numbers , Mr. McConnell uses half the data for making his comparisons and total ignores the other half of the forest where the pattern is completely different. This is a classic example of correlation does not equal causation. The bigger driver in the system is fire return interval, and Mr. McConnell does not even consider this is his analysis. The Apalachicola National Forest is one on the most important ecological areas in the country due to the numbers of rare and threatened species that exist on this forest. Mr. McConnell’s idea for a National Park instead of a National Forest may be appropriate

  2. Amazing how easy it is to lie with lies, Anonymous. Your alleged "fire return interval" is a chimera, a non-fact, just eco-babble.

    Mr. McConnell is absolutely correct in all his statements.

  3. If the Apalachicola becomes a National Park, what will happen to the RCW population?

  4. Mac McConnell illustrates that "active forest management" has been withdrawn from the National Forests. It is the same in Mississippi, The Northwest US - and I suppose most other NFs in the country.

    I see it as a national disgrace and a "black eye" to professional foresters and forestry organizations. If foresters will not defend active forest management for the health of the forest and the benefits to society... who needs foresters or forestry schools? No one.

    The other lesson is the deceit of the environmentalists. Note the difference between the "planned" cut level and the actual cut level. Environmentalists say they don't oppose timber harvesting.However, in the planning process they do all they can to depress the NF planned harvest levels, then oppose (with local lawsuits if needed and opposing timber budgets in DC) what was planned to depress the harvest further. Meanwhile, the health (mortality and fire danger, etc.)of the forest declines and there is no financial return to local governments and the US Treasury from these public lands.

    Rather than this kind of "management" I'd prefer the lands be sold to private owners with proceeds applied to the national debt.

    Bob Daniels, Ph.D.
    MS Registered Forester #1012

  5. Great Blog.

    Over on this side of the country (CA), our NF are equally stagnant. Even in the face of compelling evidence that catastrophic stand replacing fires are inevitable without intervention. The entropy of habitat quality and loss to mortality in these areas seems to correlate directly with the capability of our species to live up to our 'perceived' potential as a society. Better form a new committee to talk about this issue right away!

  6. Interesting statistics! Is current National Forest timber management making its optimum contribution to the “Greatest good for the greatest number in the long run”?

  7. A belated reply to"Anonymous". The timber harvest- RCW population graphic is not a deception. The only available record for timber cut is for the entire ANF and this is what is shown. The RCW population for the entire forest shows an identical trend but is less pronounced. I have not claimed that non-harvesting was completely responsible for the decline in the RCW population on the Apalachicola National Forest. I show the record for what it is worth and contend that the increasing stand densities (a matter of record) have contributed to the population decline. There may be other factors (e.g. the presence of a larger population on the adjoining Habitat Management Area has made that population more resistant to adversity) but there are no historical records (except the timber harvest) to support any of the various theories that have been advanced. The contention that fire entry is the main cause of differences between adjoining HMA is pure conjecture. I served as both timber and (intermittently) as fire staff on the NFs in Florida during the 60s-70s and to my remembrance the Apalach and Wakulla sides had similar prescribed fire treatments. I note that Anon. does not comment on the grouse decline in North Carolina or the scrub jay habitat loss on the Ocala, both associated with timber harvest declines. For a more complete understanding of the impact of timber harvesting on wildlife populations, I suggest he/she read the 8 peer-reviewed articles on this subject in the Summer 2000 issue of the Wildlife Society Bulletin.

  8. National forest timber management is the issue about which we all should do something.They are very important but as it can be seen with the graphs that they are reducing every year.This post give the problems and solutions to this issue.So take a look as its very important to save them.

  9. I look forward to seeing what other goodies you have here.

    Merbau Timber

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  11. I think that the solution that you outlined to address timber production yields is really interesting. This plan to take steps to simplify Environmental Impact Statements and outsource field work and writing of EAs could possibly work as long as you can secure adequate congressional funding. I can see why getting the right funding would be important for this to be a success. Hopefully, if funds are short, the plan to sell manageable timber land to federal, state, NGO, or private entities will be effective. Thanks for sharing this interesting information!

  12. I think that the solution that you outlined to address timber production yields is really interesting. This plan to take steps to simplify Environmental Impact Statements and outsource field work and writing of EAs could possibly work as long as you can secure adequate congressional funding. I can see why getting the right funding would be important for this to be a success. Hopefully, if funds are short, the plan to sell manageable timber land to federal, state, NGO, or private entities will be effective. Thanks for sharing this interesting information!