FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Problem With Chainsaw Medicine: the Forest Service’s Move to Cut Oregon’s Big Trees

The Forest Service is proposing to remove the prohibition against logging trees larger than 21 inches that grow in national forests on the eastside of the Cascades in Oregon. The probation was put into place when ecological studies demonstrated the critical importance of large-diameter old-growth trees to overall forest ecosystem function.

The Forest Service argues that it needs the flexibility to cut larger fir and other tree species competing with ponderosa pine to “restore” forest health. The agency suggests thinning the forests will enhance the resilience of the forest against the “ravages” of wildfire, bark beetles, and other sources of tree mortality.

The so-called need for “restoration” to what ails the forest by chainsaws medicine reflects the agency’s Industrial Forestry Paradigm. By happy coincidence, such “restoration” happens to provide wood fiber to the timber industry, and typically at a loss to taxpayers.

One might assume that green and fast-growing trees are more desirable than dead or slow-growing trees. What the agency doesn’t acknowledge due to its inherent Industrial Forestry bias is that healthy forest ecosystems require significant sources of tree mortality. The healthy forest that the Forest Service promotes is a degraded forest ecosystem.

Dead trees provide food and shelter to many plants and animals. By some estimates, more species depend on dead trees than live trees. These species live in mortal fear of “green” forests, which is the ultimate expression of the Industrial Forestry Paradigm.

Indeed, the second-highest biodiversity in forest ecosystems occurs after high severity wildfires kill most of all living trees.

However, due to the Industrial Forestry worldview bias of foresters and the Forest Service, that views any source of tree mortality as antithetical to forest “health.” Forest “health” is not the same as forest ecosystem health.

Logging does not “restore” forest ecosystems. It removes the snags and down wood that is critical wildlife habitat for many species of animals and plants. It removes carbon that is stored in those trees. It compacts soils and spread weeds. Logging roads fragment forest habitat and provide access for ORVs, hunters, and just more human disturbance for wildlife.

Worse for our forest ecosystems, thinning/logging can reduce the genetic diversity of our forest, eliminating, rather than enhancing, forest resilience. We know that some individual trees possess genetic traits that allow them to endure drought or resist bark beetles, and even some ability to survive some wildfires.

If foresters were concerned about forest ecosystem health, not just whether trees remained green until they were cut for lumber, they would welcome the wildfires, bark beetles, drought, and all the other sources of mortality that maintain healthy functioning forest ecosystems.

Yet the Forest Service continuously justifies timber cutting to “restore” forest health and resilience to the forest by trying to limit or exclude the very ecological processes like high severity wildfire, bark beetles, mistletoe, and other agents that sustain healthy forest ecosystems.

Allowing natural processes to thin the forest or select which trees have the best attributes to survive is how you preserve healthy forest ecosystems. Chainsaw medicine, the favored response of the timber industry for restoration, is not the solution; it is the problem.

More articles by:

George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy. He serves on the board of the Western Watersheds Project.

Weekend Edition
August 07, 2020
Friday - Sunday
John Davis
The COVID Interregnum
Louis Yako
20 Postcard Notes From Iraq: With Love in the Age of COVID-19
Patrick Cockburn
War and Pandemic Journalism: the Truth Can Disappear Fast
Eve Ottenberg
Fixing the COVID Numbers
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Every Which Way to Lose
Paul Street
Trump is Not Conceding: This is Happening Here
Robert Hunziker
The World on Fire
Rob Urie
Neoliberal Centrists and the American Left
John Laforge
USAF Vet Could Face ‘20 Days for 20 Bombs’ for Protest Against US H-Bombs Stationed in Germany
Andrew Levine
Clyburn’s Complaint
Kavaljit Singh
Revisiting the Idea of Pigou Wealth Tax in the Time of Covid-19
Paul Ryder
Here Come the 1968 Mistakes Again
T.J. Coles
Fighting Over Kashmir Could Blow Up the Planet
David Macaray
Haven’t We All Known Guys Who Were Exactly like Donald Trump?
Conn Hallinan
What’s Driving the Simmering Conflict Between India and China
Joseph Natoli
American Failures: August, 2020
Ramzy Baroud
Apartheid or One State: Has Jordan Broken a Political Taboo?
Bruce Hobson
The US Left Needs Humility to Understand Mexican Politics
David Rosen
Easy Targets: Trump’s Attacks on Transgendered People
Ben Debney
The Neoliberal Virus
Evelyn Leopold
Is Netanyahu Serious About Annexing Jordan Valley?
Nicky Reid
When the Chickens Came Home to Roost In Portlandistan
Irma A. Velásquez Nimatuj
The Power of the White Man and His Symbols is Being De-Mystified
Kathy Kelly
Reversal: Boeing’s Flow of Blood
Brian Kelly
Ireland and Slavery: Framing Irish Complicity in the Slave Trade
Ariela Ruiz Caro
South American Nations Adopt Different COVID-19 Stategies, With Different Results
Ron Jacobs
Exorcism at Boston’s Old West Church, All Hallows Eve 1971
J.P. Linstroth
Bolsonaro’s Continuous Follies
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
Right-Wing Populism and the End of Democracy
Dean Baker
Trump’s Real Record on Unemployment in Two Graphs
Michael Welton
Listening, Conflict and Citizenship
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump Is The Only One Who Should Be Going To School This Fall
John Feffer
America’s Multiple Infections
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Thinking Outside the Social Media Echo Chamber
Andrea Mazzarino
The Military is Sick
John Kendall Hawkins
How the Middle Half Lives
Graham Peebles
The Plight of Refugees and Migrant Workers under Covid
Robert P. Alvarez
The Next Coronavirus Bill Must Protect the 2020 Election
Greg Macdougall
Ottawa Bluesfest at Zib: Development at Sacred Site Poses Questions of Responsibility
CounterPunch News Service
Tensions Escalate as Logging Work Commences Near Active Treesits in a Redwood Rainforest
Louis Proyect
The Low Magic of Charles Bukowski
Gloria Oladipo
Rural America Deserves a Real COVID-19 Response
Binoy Kampmark
Crossing the Creepy Line: Google, Deception and the ACCC
Marc Norton
Giants and Warriors Give Their Workers the Boot
David Yearsley
Celebration of Change
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail