Science sometimes missing from forest management policies
By Bob Berwyn
FRISCO — While politicians and policy makers continue to conflate a number of complex forest health and wildfire issues, a new study suggests there’s little evidence supporting the idea that logging helps to control or contain the spread of tree-killing pine beetles.
Nobody disputes the need to clear trees, brush and other fuels from around homes in fire-prone forest areas, but some lawmakers who should know better have been pushing for more logging under the guise of restoring forest health and as an antidote to insect infestations.
The idea that speedy approval of logging projects could help restore forest health was also used as a basis for short-cutting environmental reviews for logging projects, possibly resulting in negative long-term environmental impacts in forests.
But forest researchers in California and Montana said there isn’t much monitoring to assess the effectiveness of logging, and that failures often aren’t reported, probably because they don’t fit the popular narrative.
The study, published early February in the journal Forests, also found there is little information on how logging affect long-term forest function and structure, including the ability of forests to respond to climate change.
“Despite this, there is a widespread belief in the policy arena that timber harvesting is an effective and necessary tool to address beetle infestations. That belief has led to numerous proposals for, and enactment of, significant changes in federal environmental laws to encourage more timber harvests for beetle control,” the scientists wrote.
The gap between scientific evidence and misguided proclamations and policy may contribute to a trust deficit. More research could help restore public trust in agency decision-and help make sure that precious budget funds are used appropriately, the researcher said.
From the paper:
“Our survey of the relevant literature finds that there is significant uncertainty about whether the most commonly used beetle timber harvest treatments are, indeed, effective. Yet there has been little discussion of this uncertainty in the relevant policy debates. Politicians have instead latched on to beetle timber treatments as a cure-all for beetle infestations and have pushed to weaken or eliminate environmental laws that are perceived to be obstructing these treatments. Agencies such as the US Forest Service, to their credit, have been more nuanced in their support for bills that package beetle timber harvest treatments with weakened environmental laws; they have opposed several proposals to alter environmental laws to allow more treatments, but on the other hand, the agencies have at times also aggressively pushed for the implementation of treatments …
“The manner in which policy makers have accepted beetle timber harvest treatments as a panacea for responding to bark beetle outbreaks in North American forests raises a number of red flags. As ecosystems and places that have economic, social, and cultural value to human communities are altered by climate change, there is a risk that people will overreact because of a need to “do something” to respond to change, and to give themselves some sense of control over broader forces that appear to be out of control …
“Our argument here is not to forgo management, but rather that management should be led by science and informed by monitoring. Both direct and indirect management for bark beetles have their place. However, to manage our forests in a way that best ensures their long-term function while wisely using limited financial resources, policy makers and the public need a clearer understanding of current science and gaps.”
Read the full paper here.