Climate change, logging collide and forests shrink

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Overlooking a hillside with large stumps and few trees, two retired employees of the US Forest Office craft to address the two precursors of climate change: the pine beetle and the wildfire. I lamented the logging policy that I supported.

In the Black Hills National Forest along the South Dakota-Wyoming border, beetles devastated vast forests. A wildfire has turned my worries into a wildfire.

The beetles are gone, but the loggers are not. And now they are logging trees twice as fast as government scientists say they are sustainable. This means that the Black Hills forests are shrinking and there are fewer and fewer trees.

Timber sales from federal forests across the country have more than doubled in the last two decades, according to government data. In Washington, DC, Republicans and Democrats are likewise promoting more aggressive thinning to reduce wildfire-promoting vegetation.

But in their enthusiasm to do something about climate change, federal forest management critics have allowed authorities to remove too many old trees that can actually withstand the fire. Is called.

In the Black Hills, 100-year-old Ponderosa pine stands have been thinned in the last 20 years and then thinned again. In some areas, most of the remaining old, large trees have been logged and the hillsides are mostly exposed.

“Ultimately, there won’t be big trees in the entire forest,” said Dave Meltz, who worked as a government natural resources officer overseeing the logging of the Black Hills until his retirement in 2017. .. The Forest Department got lost. “


More trees are dying in the western United States due to climate change. Dramatically change the landscape Makes the forest more vulnerable. Wildfires, insects and illnesses are the biggest murderers, according to researchers.

A thorough government review of forest health surveys since 1993 showed that tree mortality increased during this century, and all eight states surveyed (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming). ) Outweighed the new growth. The number of timber harvested from the Forest Department’s land has also increased over the last two decades.

In the Black Hills, these two trends are in conflict. Government scientists say forests cannot grow fast enough to catch up, as more trees are being logged and more trees are being killed by beetles and fires in recent years. ..

The timber industry and parliamentary allies disagree with that conclusion. Representatives of timber companies predict the disastrous economic consequences if forest managers significantly reduce harvest levels. And they say wildfires and beetle outbreaks will get worse.

One of the region’s seven factories was closed in March, losing 120 jobs in Hill City, South Dakota. Owner Neiman Enterprises said the recent slowdown in timber sales meant that there weren’t enough logs.

“These companies are not tech start-ups. They are multi-generational family-owned companies that want to be there in the long run.” He is a board member of the Black Hills Forest Resources Association, a sawmill and logging company. Ben Utke said.

Fighting fire

To combat the turmoil of the western wildfires, the Biden administration wants to double the area of ​​logging or open-burning forests, which is larger than New Hampshire, to 6 million acres (2.4 million hectares) annually.

One way to reduce the risk of fire is to remove dense stands and thick understory vegetation of small trees that have accumulated for decades due to the suppression of wildfires (the natural part of the landscape).

It’s an expensive, labor-intensive job, and small trees have little market value. When sworn this summer, Forest Director Randy Moore said that fighting climate change would require making smaller trees worth harvesting, such as using vegetation as biomass for power generation. Said.

“It’s not profitable on its own, and no market seems to be growing fast enough,” he said.

Jim Furnish, a former deputy director of the service, has criticized authorities for over-focusing on timber production to damage forests and too late to respond to climate change.

Under President Joe Biden, there are signs of change, including the administration’s move to end the massive commercial logging of primeval forests last month. In the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.

However, other projects involving aging removal include Kootenai National Forest in Montana along the Canadian border, Kaibab National Forest just north of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and Nez Perce Clearwater National Forest in Idaho. Pending.

“The Forest Office’s approach so far has been to attack this as a management issue.” We need to cut more trees, “Furnish told The Associated Press. “I can’t get out of this problem.”

Agency chief Moore admitted that global warming has been forced to change, but is a “sweet spot” between the environment and industry, removing enough vegetation to reduce the risk of wildfires. Said I wanted to find. In the Black Hills, authorities said they would consider the latest science with economic implications to make logging sustainable.

“We need an industry to help us,” Moore said. Climate change.. “It’s not really about selling wood or cutting big trees.”


The Black Hills played a major role in the early formation of the country’s timber policy. In the 1890s, excessive logging to feed the timber demand of nearby gold mines spurred the construction of national forest systems. The first regulated logging sale in the history of the Forest Department took place there in 1899.

When artist and environmentalist Mary Zimmerman bought real estate in Black Hills in 1988, the nearby public land where the first lumber sale took place regrown so well that the giant branches overhead were “large.” It was like a cathedral. “

The site was thinned in 1990 and some large trees were removed, but many remained. It was further thinned in 2016. After that, logging workers returned last year and took out the remaining large trees. Cows are now grazing the area.

“It’s been overwhelmed by hell,” Zimmerman said.

Her account was confirmed by Braincook, a forest management scientist in the Black Hills, for over 20 years before retiring in 2019.

Early warning

Over the last decade, Cook has begun to show that forest growth has not kept pace with the aggressive logging that began in 1998 in response to the pine beetle outbreak. High yields continued after and even after the outbreak peaked in 2012. It ended in 2017.

Cook said his boss, faced with political pressure to provide a stable supply of logs to sawmills in South Dakota and Wyoming, rejected warnings that forests were being damaged.

In a report by scientists in the Forest Department’s research department in April this year, there was clear disagreement within the institution as to whether logging was too much. Black Hills logging needs to be reduced by at least half, and in some cases even more, to be sustainable.

The problem is that the forests have changed, but the logging rates haven’t changed, said Mike Battagria, one of the lead authors.

“In the late 90’s there were twice as many trees in the forest,” he said. “Now, I drink too much to get the same amount.”

A representative of the forest industry criticized the government’s multi-year investigation of including only part of the forest, saying it produced an imperfect picture of how many people. wood Can be harvested.

They estimated up to 80% of the area Wood industry Jobs will be lost if: Forestry Bureau Reduced logging to the recommended level. If that happened, they said it would be difficult to find a company that would be willing to do unprofitable thinning operations to protect wildfires.

“Someone needs to be around to do that,” he said. Woods Wudtke in the industry. “It is very important to keep these companies going.”

U.S. Ends Sale of Large Old-Growth Forests in Alaskan Forests

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Climate change, logging collide and forests shrink

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