Logging Vital To Sustainability Of Ecosystem
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
While targeted logging, tree thinning, and other fuel reduction activities might be a short term detriment to forested habitats of the Western U.S., they are vital to maintaining the long-term sustainability of this ecosystem, said the team’s report, which was recently published in Forest Ecology and Management.
“For many years now, for species protection as well as other reasons, we’ve avoided almost all management on many public forest lands,” said co-author John Bailey, a professor in the Department of Forest Engineering, Resources and Management at Oregon State University.
“The problem is that fire doesn’t respect the boundaries we create for wildlife protection,” he noted. “Given the current condition of Pacific Northwest forests, the single biggest threat facing spotted owls and other species is probably stand-replacement wildfire.”
A stand-replacement wildfire kills or destroys the leafy tops of vegetation that is either consumed or dies as a result of the fire, according to the official definition from the U.S. Forest Service.
In the study, scientists used computer models to analyze what would happen to vulnerable forests if they were either managed or left unmolested. Based on these models, they determined that over the span of about 75 years, active management of sites with the greatest fire risk would be more favorable for preserving the overall habitat than no intervention at all. They also identified less than 9 percent of the landscape for treatment that would have the desired effect.
Leaving forests to the whims of nature would result in densely packed trees, increased insect and disease epidemics, and additional stress on forests that will have to cope with a warmer and drier climate. Fire levels will increase and the problem will only get worse, according to Bailey.
“Without active management to reduce risks, we never really put fire out, we just delay it,” he said. “We can keep kicking the can down the road, but sooner or later a stand-replacing fire will come that we can’t put out. Then the fires are enormous.”
Pacific Northwest forests have been subject to a higher frequency of fires in the past, resulting in fewer trees and healthy forest conditions at a lower tree density than today. Because of these lower densities—many of these fires did not climb into the tree canopies, resulting in stand-replacement fires that were limited in scale.
A return to these conditions would radically alter the shape of the region’s forests, but in the process produce more forest products as an additional benefit. There would also be less overall biomass and less sequestration of carbon, which could fuel global warming concerns. The more beneficial results of targeted logging, according to the study, would be forests that inherently protected a wide range of species and habitat.
Many areas of the country that are prone to devastating fires have began or are in the process of starting programs that cull trees for the sake of preventing large habitat-devastating fires. Earlier this month, the Forest Service began work on the South Shore Fuel Reduction and Healthy Forest Restoration Project, which includes thinning of trees and brush on more than 10,000 acres of federally-owned California land, from Cascade Lake to the Nevada border