Friday, August 12, 2011

Forest Restoration or Logging

Yesterday I went on a field trip with a group of students and professors from the University of Vermont. Here in New Mexico for a week as part of a graduate level natural resource management course, the students were intelligent, inquisitive and thoughtful. Eytan Krasivlovsky of the Forest Guild invited me to participate in a day of site visits and discussion of southwestern forest restoration and fire ecology.

We first visited a ponderosa pine savanna restoration site on the El Malpais National Monument where the fire management officer, Dave Dukart, explained his objectives and how he accomplished his restoration project. The "bad land" monument is a series of lava flows and cinder cones in central northern New Mexico with patches of ponderosa pine savanna and pinyon-juniper woodlands throughout. Dave's work was impressive taking mostly small trees, leaving the larger pines and piling the cut material for later burning.

We then drove the group up Zuni Canyon southwest of Grants and high into the Zuni Mountains of the Cibola National Forest. The Zunis are a small range but with a wide diversity of forest types and a deep cultural history and significance. As we parked the vehicles in a ponderosa pine restoration project, the sight was vastly different than what we had seen on the National Monument. See the photos above. Resembling a high-grade type timber sale, most of the larger trees had been cut and "decked" for sale and what was left standing were all small trees in the 5-12 inch diameter range. Both my colleagues and I were startled at the severity of this forest service restoration treatment and my experience simply reiterates that what the forest service may call restoration is often not much different than a good old fashioned timber sale and that we cannot give up our vigilance in monitoring the agency's proposals.

The particular stand we were viewing was marked by the U.S Forest Service and was based on the Ecological Restoration Institute's pre-settlement tree replacement model and the USFS regional goshawk guidelines. The ERI did not mark this particular stand. The pre-settlement model prescriptions for ponderosa pine forests have been criticized as too rigid and attempting to recreate a snapshot in time rather than a range of variability that can withstand natural disturbances such as wild fire. WildEarth Guardians prefers a more moderate approach to thinning in ponderosa pine that removes the very small trees first and creates clumps of larger trees with interlocking crowns for wildlife: nudging the system back into balance where fire can once again be the dominant force.

My day in the Cibola National Forest only reinforced my strong conviction that we have to continue to participate in these forest restoration projects to ensure that wildlife and other resources are given equal consideration to the production of timber commodities like biomass. Thanks again to Forest Guild and the University of Vermont for getting me out in the woods.

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