- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
An assessment of the biological value and vulnerability of the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest.
Ancient Forests: Global Resource Global Concern
Rio de Janeiro, March 8—Brazil and seven other South American nations that form the Amazon Pact today denounced "foreign meddling" on the issue of preserving the rain forest they share.
The pact nations ... threw their full support behind Brazil, which has been accused by environmentalists and industrialized countries of failing to protect the world's largest rain forest....
... the general secretary of Brazil's Foreign Ministry, Paulo Tarso Flecha de Lima, described the environmentalist accusations as part of "a campaign to impede exploitation of natural resources in order to block [Brazil] from becoming a world power." "The developed countries are not the most prodigious examples when it comes to the environment," he added.
(Mac Margolis, "Amazon Nations Back Brazil on Rain Forest," Washington Post, March 9, 1989)
Picture the following: At the edge of the Asian, African, or Latin American rainforest, the birds have stopped singing, the mammals have fled as men armed with chainsaws fell the giant trees. Then they burn the land and plant intensively managed crops that cannot support sensitive forest species. In short order, a highly complex ecosystem, whose interacting parts had survived and evolved through eons of change, is gone.
Americans have heard a lot about tropical deforestation. We have learned that forest ecosystems moderate climate, create soils, protect water supplies, break down pollutants, generate new medicines, and provide homes for millions of kinds of living things. We have seen that cutting ancient forests benefits some people, but that the costs are longlasting, often permanent, and are paid by everyone. But many of us do not realize that the destruction of ancient forests is not confined to desperately poor tropical countries. Precisely the same thing is happening to the ancient forests of our own lush, green Pacific Northwest.
As Haiti, El Salvador, and Ethiopia have, our government is now eliminating the last sizable tracts of lowland virgin (uncut) forest in the contiguous United States: the ancient (old-growth) forests of western Washington, western Oregon, and northwestern California.
It is not hard to understand why ancient forests are cut. The giant trees are among the world's finest sources of timber. And although the timber market is plagued by sharp fluctuations, when prices are high, the timber industry brings hundreds of millions of dollars annually into the Northwest's economy. It provides jobs and a way of life for more than 100,000 workers. just as cotton shaped the environment, economy, sociology, and politics of the Deep South, timber shaped them in the Northwest. So important was the cotton culture to planters, mill owners, and workers that they fought the deadliest, most divisive war in our history to preserve it, and our nation still suffers from its effects more than a century later. But in the end, the cotton culture disappeared, a victim of new technology, substitute products, ecologically unsound land management, competition from other regions, and overwhelming political opposition to its practices.
The same problems now face the Northwest's timber industry. Like the cotton industry during its decline, the timber industry is fighting to maintain the old way of doing business. Its political influence is still enormous, but it is facing a mounting wave of public concern for the future of our ancient forests.
And for good reason. These crown jewels of America's forests are being destroyed and fragmented much faster than previously thought. About 87 percent are already gone, a loss far greater than that of the wetlands and tropical rainforests whose destruction has garnered far more attention. At current rates of logging, all unprotected ancient forest in western Washington and Oregon will be gone by the year 2023. The last stands in Olympic, Gifford Pinchot, and Siskiyou national forests will be gone by 2008 and could be irreparably fragmented by the early 1990s.
For sensitive species such as spotted owls, the fragments that remain uncut will likely be too small and isolated. Genetically distinct populations and species will face extinction.
One reason for this situation is that the scientific study of ancient forests was scant until the 1970s. Before then, what little study of ancient forests there was had just one objective: to find the best way to log them. Now scientists see ancient forests in a new light. We have come to understand that they are more than just timber, more than just trees: They are ecosystems, complex systems of living things whose interactions are intricate in ways that nonliving systems are not. Their values—not just as wood and pulp, but as homes for owls and elk, as providers of services essential to people in the Northwest, the nation, and the world—are just beginning to be understood.
Ancient forests provide gourmet foods and promising treatments for disease. They build rich soils and prevent their loss through erosion. They cleanse pollutants from the air. They forestall greenhouse warming by storing more carbon than any other terrestrial ecosystem. They prevent floods and provide clean water for young salmon and municipal water supplies. They harbor the genetic diversity needed to sustain timber production in a changing world.
No less important, ancient forests have a transcendent aesthetic and religious value in the inner landscapes of natives and newcomers alike. Their majesty inspires comparison with the great cathedrals. Their haunting beauty and solace attract growing numbers of Northwesterners and visitors who seek connection with a wild world that is everywhere gone or going fast. Ancient forests are a national and international resource of the highest value.
Ancient forests are disappearing because our friends, neighbors, customers, and constituents are logging them. Timber built the Northwest, and the timber industry has almost always had its way. A century ago it acquired the best forests and liquidated them. Most old- growth that remains is on lands managed by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), ostensibly to benefit all Americans. Unfortunately, although federal laws require these agencies to balance various uses, their actions show that they manage our forests mainly to benefit the timber industry.
Agency officials point out that Congress (under pressure from the industry) requires the sale of excessive amounts of timber. To hasten the removal of our remaining old-growth, Congress has lavishly funded an environmentally damaging system of logging roads. Sometimes reluctantly, but more often not, the agencies that comply with Congress's directives are "mining" the ancient forests, destroying them forever, rather than managing them as a renewable resource. Although something resembling ancient forests (to the untrained eye) might replace them, logging destroys them forever because the management agencies will not allow forestlands the many centuries needed to produce old-growth once more. Ancient forests are being cut as if there is no tomorrow.
Not surprisingly, their fate has generated intense controversy, and, as in most controversies, truth has often been a casualty. Some environmentalists have ignored the economic concerns of the timber industry that must be heard. Some have exaggerated numbers of species that depend on old-growth before scientific evidence can verify these estimates or have overused words such as "fragile" and "unique." This hyperbole is unnecessary and counterproductive. The reality is that ancient forests provide so many benefits to so many people besides fallers and mill workers—from deep spiritual values to promising anticancer medicines to growing nontimber economic benefits—that there is an increasingly powerful political argument for their conservation.
On the other side, the timber industry has never hesitated to use specious arguments to avoid its inevitable weaning from logging ancient forests. Some elements of the industry have portrayed the old-growth question as a simple choice between wasting decadent trees to please a handful of environmental radicals versus providing lumber, paper, and jobs for the good of all. The industry has disseminated blatant falsehoods about the benefits of logging to wildlife. It has painted an overly optimistic picture of its future, given that it depends so heavily on a fast-disappearing resource that is not being replaced. It has blamed mill closures on environmentalists to divert attention from its own management failures. And it has not justified the need to cut the last publicly owned old-growth when it could have provided an ample supply of second-growth on lands it cut decades ago. The industry's influence has long protected it, but now, as the imminent end of the old-growth approaches, it is time to reappraise the cost of its privileged position.
The dispute over the fate of ancient forests contrasts different values and views of the future. At one end are people who clamor for the fastest possible conversion of ancient forests to cash. At the other end are people who feel that ancient forests have intrinsic value that cannot adequately be expressed in dollars. In between are those who seek ways to maintain both timber production and the special benefits of ancient forests on a sustainable basis. But many Northwesterners do not fit the stereotypes. Not everyone in the industry favors liquidating the last old-growth; most environmentalists recognize the role of timber in the Northwest's changing economy, and the federal officials who make the decisions are not always in the middle.
The Northwest has a unique opportunity to preserve its diverse biota and forest ecosystems while maintaining a steady flow of timber. Most developed nations have forever lost the chance to maintain viable portions of their original forests. And Third World nations face such serious economic pressures and shortages of trained manpower that prospects for sustaining their ancient forests are slim.
In contrast, the Northwest still has some intact old-growth, and our country has sound laws that can balance the interests of various groups, present and future ones. At present, however, there is little semblance of balance: On lands owned by the American people, the timber industry is logging at a record rate, ancient forests are fast disappearing, and yet, ironically enough, industry jobs are declining.
To ensure that Americans derive maximum benefits from our ancient forests, the major players—timber companies, other forest users, conservationists, states, counties, large cities, local communities, Congress, the agencies that manage public lands—need to reexamine the values of public forestlands and our options for maintaining them.
Our decision-makers especially need to reexamine the tacit, all but universal assumption that all other values are subordinate to timber production. The National Forest Management Act of 1976 clearly states that timber is only one of the important products of our national forests, yet the current practice of equating timber management with forest management will eliminate all but 6 percent of the ancient forests in our lifetimes. Further, rushing to cut everything now not only guarantees loss of their extraordinary environmental values; it guarantees harm to the timber industry in the future as well.
The fate of the ancient forests is not just a local or regional issue, one in which only Northwesterners are affected. In a world where developments abroad increasingly influence what happens here, it is a national and global issue for at least four reasons.
First, the future of the Pacific Northwest is tied to the Pacific Rim. The Pacific Rim economy will continue to expand international trade and attract people who value the Northwest's combination of vibrant economy and superb quality of life. Economic growth will depend substantially on the region's ability to sustain amenities—the close proximity to nature, the beautiful vistas, the extraordinary air and water quality, the diverse, high-quality recreational opportunities—that give it an advantage over competing regions.
Second, the health of Northwest forests is intimately linked to climate, but climate is changing. Climatic change will affect coastal human and ecological communities, agriculture, tree plantations, and natural forests. And these forests play a unique role in preventing climatic change. Changing climate jeopardizes so many interests, especially those dependent on long-lived resources such as trees, that it could actually create a climate of cooperation between previously conflicting interests: the timber industry and environmentalists.
Third, how we manage our forests sets a precedent for other nations. The United States is a world leader in conservation, and our government encourages other nations to conserve their forests in the face of pressures to liquidate them. just as other countries look to our achievements in science, technology, economics, and culture, they watch carefully how we treat our natural resources. If our nation wants Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia to save the ancient forests of the Amazon basin, we must demonstrate the will to conserve our own ancient forests. Prospects for convincing others depend on the example we set in our own Pacific Northwest.
And fourth, lest we forget, the national forests and BLM lands are owned by all the American people, not just the timber industry or the residents of timber-dependent communities. They need to be managed as the extraordinarily valuable resources they are, to benefit all Americans now and forever.
At a time of rapid change and uncertainty, our chances of having an economically vital, livable Pacific Northwest depend on preserving our options. Because Northwestern forests recover from disturbances so slowly compared with crops, livestock, fisheries, or game populations, the effects of today's decisions will be visible for many lifetimes. It is foolish to fritter away our options in hope that someone might be able to fix things someday. A more prudent way to provide enough timber, water, fisheries, wildlife, and recreation is to develop a sustainable strategy for preserving and managing our forestlands.
Sustainable forestry means more than ensuring a steady timber flow. It means protecting our forests and keeping them healthy to provide options for meeting our future needs. All of us—rangers and senate staffers, lawyers and citizen activists, loggers and backpackers—are shaping the world for generations to come. Undoubtedly they will judge us on how well we preserved their options.
... these forests of trees—so enchain the sense of the grand and so enchant the sense of the beautiful that I linger on the theme and am loth to depart ... such forests, containing firs, cedars, pine, spruce and hemlock, envelop Puget Sound and cover a large part of Washington Territory, surpassing the woods of all the rest of the globe in size, quantity and quality of the timber.
(Samuel Wilkeson, Notes on Puget Sound )
This book focuses on the forests of giant conifers of western Washington, western Oregon, and northwestern California, the region west of the crest of the Cascade Range. Foresters often call it the Douglas-fir region after its most important source of timber, but some of its forests are not dominated by Douglas-firs, and Douglas-firs also dominate some forests to the east and south. The term "Pacific Northwest" is not perfect either. The forests of Idaho, eastern Washington, and eastern Oregon are quite different; political boundaries seldom coincide with biogeographic ones. For lack of a better term, I am adopting the one used in Washington and Oregon: the "Westside."
Within the Westside, most lower elevation forest is dominated by Douglas-fir except for a coastal strip that is dominated by Sitka spruce. These forests are the subject of this book.
Similar Douglas-fir forests range northward into southern British Columbia, and similar Sitka spruce forests extend northward along the coast to southeast Alaska. From extreme southwest Oregon southward, coast redwoods dominate a thin coastal band. At higher elevations, Douglas-firs are replaced by firs (true firs belong to the genus Abies, while Douglas-firs belong to Pseudotsuga) and mountain hemlocks. And east of the Cascades are forests of Douglas-firs, ponderosa pines, firs, and other species (see the essay by Peter Morrison below). The similar ancient forest ecosystems of British Columbia and the various ancient forests to the south, east, and at higher elevations all deserve their own treatment—they are important and they too, are disappearing—but time and space do not permit it in this book. Nonetheless, both their similarities and differences provide some useful comparisons with lowland Westside forests.
Excerpted from Ancient Forests of the Pacific Northwest by Elliott A. Norse. Copyright © 1990 The Wilderness Society. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
List of Contributed Essays
List of Photographs
Chapter 1. Ancient Forests: Global Resource, Global Concern
-A Note to the Reader
Chapter 2. The Forests of the Pacific Northwest
-Human Impacts: A Historical Perspective
Chapter 3. The Keys to Understanding
-Succession: Forest Birth and Rebirth
-Dead Trees: The Life of the Forest
-The Definition of Old-Growth
Chapter 4. The Biological Values of Ancient Forests, Part 1
Chapter 5. The Biological Values of Ancient Forests, Part 2
-Tree Plantations and Ancient Forests
-Re-creating Ancient Forests
Chapter 6. Effects of Timber Operations
-Destruction, Fragmentation, and Simplification
-Phases of Timber Operations
-Cumulative Effects of Timber Operations
Chapter 7. External Threats to Ancient Forests
-Acidic Deposition and Tropospheric Ozone
-Stratospheric Ozone Depletion
-The Greenhouse Effect: Global Climatic Change
-Climatic Change and Ancient Forests
-Direct Carbon Dioxide Effects
-When Trends Collide: Timber Operations and External Threats
Chapter 8. Sustainable Forestry for the
-How Much Old-Growth Remains?
-Maintaining Our Options
-Prospects for Maintaining Nontimber Values
-The Two-Track Strategy for Sustainable Forestry
-Preserving Ancient Forests Is Not Enough
-Maintaining Biologocal Diversity in Managed Forests
-Attaining Environmental Maturity
Chapter 9. Conclusions and Recommendations