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Plan B: What could be achieved without logging?

The leaflet CTPZ Optional Paths for Forest Restoration represents a major breakthrough: for the first time in any document presented to the membership by the advocates of logging, it acknowledges that there might be another realistic approach. (The note at the bottom that “A complete description of all alternatives considered is on page 75 of the NTMP” is misleading, since the straw-man alternatives described there do not include this alternative.)

Now that the alternative of doing required work without logging is finally being discussed, we hope to make some progress. The costs outlined in the “Plan B” column are clearly prohibitive, to the extent that they are quantified. But this is at least a starting point for discussion.

First, let's examine the column “Required Work.” Is this work really required, and are the solutions presented for Plan A and Plan B accurate?

  1. Thinning of densely overcrowded trees. Some thinning is probably required to reduce fire risks. (It is not required for forest development; this happens naturally, as we discuss in Time and the Forest Growing and in Forest Health.) Thinning to reduce fire risks would involve removing some of the trees that add to the fuel load: but saplings, not marketable trees. According to the raw data in the Tunheim report (data tables starting on p70), 77% of all trees and 59% of redwoods were of diameter less than 10 inches. Even if we also chose to perform thinning for the dubious purpose of “relieving overcrowding,” the overcrowding is clearly among the smaller trees.

    Accordingly this item is misleading: thinning the trees the NTMP proposes to harvest does not in itself achieve what is actually necessary, fuel-load reduction.

  2. Removal of dead, diseased, and dying trees. This item is doubly misleading: these trees are not marketable, and the 30%–40% harvest in the NTMP is a proportion of marketable trees. These trees may be removed as a side effect of the harvest, but these trees do not count towards the 30%.

    More worrying is the insistence on removing these trees at all. A few may present some danger to trails, but otherwise these snags and future snags should be retained as valuable habitat. Tunheim agreed in his 2009 report, which is supposed to be the Forest Management Plan ultimately governing the NTMP (emphasis added):

    In the future to increase the occurrence of snags, dead trees are left in the stand and large trees with high wildlife value are also left to be utilized and to develop into snags. Snags are only cut when necessary for fire prevention and to protect the safety of residents, forest workers and buildings. Many animals den in snags, raptors use them for perching, and woodpeckers feed on insects associated with them. Where snags are lacking they can be created by girdling hardwoods or cull softwoods. Large cull trees with big limbs are left in the stand for live habitat and to provide large snags in the future.
    Thus, this item largely does not represent necessary work.

  3. Snag retention for habitat. The claim that Plan B would require additional work for this is just bizarre. No work is required to leave non-dangerous snags alone.

  4. Traditional fuel load reduction. As a task, it is largely accurate that this work is required. But it is a gross exaggeration to imply that this work is needed throughout the entire forest, or that the intensity of the work is the same everywhere in the forest. This is a nuanced issue requiring attention to actual conditions. Moreover, most of the forest is more shaded than TSR roadsides, hence less prone to recruit fuel growth; the forest would thus require less work, not more, than the initial entry mentioned in this leaflet for work along roadsides.

  5. Additional slash removal and lopping.This may represent extra work for loggers, but it not a separate item for Plan B; it is part of the costs accounted for under fuel-load reduction.

  6. Erosion Repair and Prevention. None of this work is actually required in Plan B, as Plan B places little additional stress on the trails and roads in the forest, and they are not eroding at a worrisome rate.

  7. Regulatory and Permitting Compliance. What permits are currently required for TSRA's current vegetation management activities, including fuel-load reduction? We strongly suspect the answer is “none.” There is no reason (other than wishing to scare readers) to suggest that any additional permits would be required for extending these activities to one more piece of commons.

Now, let's consider whether the costs stated or implied are realistic.

  1. In Plan B, there is no need to remove large trees, thus no cost.
  2. Some (but very few) snags will have to be removed. This is an additional cost for Plan B, but a small one.
  3. As we have seen, there is no cost to leaving snags alone.
  4. Fuel-load reduction is where the costs for Plan B can really be found. But those costs have been grossly exggerated in the Optional Paths leaflet. Moreover, if the urgency of this work is not so great as to require the NTMP to perform it in a single pass, neither is a single pass required for the alternative. The cost becomes more manageable if the forest is divided into sections, and a single section is addressed at a time. It becomes even more manageable if (just like the NTMP) we wait a few years between working on one section and working on the next.
  5. As we have seen, Plan B requires no additional work (hence no additional cost) for slash removal and lopping. Plan B also generates far less slash in the first place, since this plan does not involve removing large, healthy trees.
  6. No work needed for erosion mitigation means no cost.
  7. No permits required means no cost.

Conclusion: Plan B, stripped of exaggerations and of unnecessary work, may well be a realistic alternative. In fact Plan B may represent a range of realistic options, as its major cost element—fuel-load reduction—must be further specified, and it is likely there would be multiple reasonable choices for that specification.