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.
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.