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Wyden's forest-protection bill has no regard for biology

Mickey Bellman May 24, 2009 Statesman Journal

Sen. Ron Wyden has resurrected his Oregon Forest Restoration Act and Old Growth Protection Act from 2008.
The new bill is nearly identical to the old proposal that was panned by the Society of American Foresters 12 months ago. If this bill becomes law, it will severely limit the scientific management of forests in Oregon.

The bill will prohibit cutting all trees more than 21 inches diameter in specific areas. That 21-inch limitation has no scientific basis. In fact, the 21-inch limit was magically created when a Metolius River group and the Forest Service agreed to this standard on one specific timber sale in Eastern Oregon.

Today, that 21-inch limit seems to be the management standard.

All clear cutting will be banned under Wyden's proposal. I am sorry, but forests do not grow based on man's desires or prejudices.

Douglas fir loves sunshine and does not grow well (or at all) in the shade of other trees. Given enough time, all our magnificent Douglas fir forests will be replaced by stands of Western Hemlock, Red Cedar and White Fir. As the older fir is crowded out, dies and topples over, the other species will be there to replace the big trees.

Douglas fir forests were created by catastrophic fires 70 to 300 years ago. Those burned areas were the perfect seed beds for the sun-loving Douglas fir seedlings. That is even-aged management: All the trees began life about the same time due to one natural event, similar to a man-caused clearcut.

Which leads to another important point wildlife forage. Deer and elk find little to eat in the dense shade of an old-growth forest. Only in the clearcuts do grass and brush proliferate, and that is where big game animals find their daily rations.

Several years ago, I saw a comparison of declining blacktail deer populations and a reduction of clearcut acres. As logging and clearcutting declined, so did the blacktail population. Today, the Forest Service plans clearcuts to create forest openings, but Wyden's bill prevents this.

No salvage logging will be allowed in late successional reserve areas. Here is a recipe for disaster. Suppose a windstorm levels a stand of timber. If the blown-down trees are not removed, the trees will become an incubator for an insect population that can explode to devour green trees in the adjacent forest. When a fire ignites in this dead and insect-infested timber, it will lead to uncontrollable carnage.

Remember the B&B Fire on Santiam Pass? Same song, second verse.

The age limitations imposed by the Wyden bill are similarly bogus. Depending on location, limits of 120, 150 and 160 years of age are totally artificial. No science has proved that a 151-year old tree is old-growth while a 149-year old tree is not. Old-growth is a forest type, a human perception we artificially impose on the forest. The age limits have no scientific basis in modern forestry.

The Wyden protection bill is simply touchy-feely forestry that gives the impression we are preserving the big, old trees even as they grow, decay and die. It is one-size-fits-all management that ignores the biology of the forest while hamstringing scientific forestry.

Mickey Bellman of Salem is a certified, consulting forester with 40 years' experience in the timber industry. He can be reached at bellman9647@msn.com.

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