Heartburn in the heartland forests.
The six national forests in the nation's solar plexus are the arena for a haymaker issue that has the potential to put the popular timber-harvesting method of clearcutting down for the count across the U.S. one of these days. The battle doesn't get as big an audience as the old-growth vs. spotted-owl slugfest, but the decision may have as big an impact on how our public forests are managed in the future.
Wherever there is clearcutting--in effect the scalping of all the trees from an area the size of a football field or larger--there is sure to be controversy. In the hardwoods country of mid-continent America, the trees do return, usually without human help, but the effect is ugly at first and the regrowth is slow. Some citizen forest-watchers have no patience for this; some find it so disturbing that they oppose all future logging on public lands.
The clearcutting controversy rages on in the Midwest, involving national forests in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Arkansas.
Consider the case of the Fairview timber sale on southern Illinois' Shawnee National Forest. As first authorized in 1988 by the forest supervisor, it was to involve several clearcuts of fairly mature hardwoods on 107 acres. A written appeal by several environmental groups was dismissed because of late filing. Nevertheless, Shawnee's supervisor put the decision on hold for reanalysis and later chose to have the harvesting done by "group selection," a method considered less unsightly than clearcutting. In group selection, logging is done on much smaller plots--each no more than two acres--but the overall sale area is enlarged to get the same boardfootage as originally planned under clearcutting.
When the Fairview timber-sale area was increased to several hundred acres, the protesters, mostly members of the Regional Association of Concerned Environmentalists (RACE), filed an appeal to stop all logging on the Fairview tract. That appeal was rejected by the regional forester in Milwaukee, and RACE then sought an injunction in U.S. District Court. By now two years had passed, and a logging contract had already been awarded to East Perry Lumber Company of Frohna, Missouri.
While legal manueverings dragged on, the Forest Service remained intent on honoring its contract with East Perry. That intent, as one forester put it, "goaded the anti-loggers into more action." That opposition grew into more than just demonstrators gathered at Fairview Church, across from the logging area's access road. East Perry workers bringing equipment to the site were harassed. Protesters camped all about: Some buried themselves across the access road, one chained himself to a log skidder, some spiked trees slated for harvest. The number of demonstrators at times swelled to more than 100, and that attracted media attention. Earth First! activists became increasingly involved; Greenpeace made an appearance. This uproar continued, on and off, from the summer of 1990 until East Perry Lumber completed its logging during autumn 1991, with the support of armed officers.
So why did this conflict come about on Shawnee National Forest? More specifically, why at the Fairview contract site?
In the words of environmental activist Jean Thomas of RACE: "Nobody in Illinois wants the little Shawnee (265,000 acres) all chopped up by logging." But Grover Webb of the Illinois Conservation Coalition sees it as "just a few people very much opposed to logging on the Shawnee." Why the Fairview area? Probably because it is only a dozen miles by paved road from Southern Illinois University, a home for many young environmental activists.
It may be that those who wish to halt all logging on the heartland national forests focused on the Shawnee because it is relatively small, supports no nearby major wood-products industries, and is easily accessible. Anti-logging demonstrations on the Shawnee have continued since the Fairview case. They are expected to continue.
The revised Forest Plan for Indiana's Hoosier National Forest, approved in April 1991, allows harvesting of nonnative stands of pine planted in the 1930s. This cutting will release native hardwoods growing under them. Environmental groups oppose this action as well as one on the Shawnee, where a similar conversion from plantation pines to hardwoods is a stated goal.
The Hoosier, Shawnee, and Ohio's Wayne are relatively small national forests; though each can boast an overall purchase boundary embracing more than a million acres, none contains more than 300,000 acres of federal ownership. They might be more coveted for non-timber values than other forests in the Midwest--and more fragmented--but they are not the only heartland national forests caught up in logging conflicts.
The Ouachita National Forest, which spread-eagles the Arkansas-Oklahoma border, contains some 1.6 million acres of mixed hardwoods and native pine (mostly southern yellow or shortleaf species). From the 1960s to 1986, its extensive second-growth timber had been clearcut in 40-acre blocks for conversion to pine. Criticism of this practice, latent at first, began to heat up after Ouachita National Forest planning became subject to public scrutiny under the National Forest Management Act of 1976.
Many people objected to the clearcutting, not simply because it was leading to pine monoculture (forests made up entirely of the same-aged pines), but also because of its negative effects on wildlife-habitat diversity. Some insisted that conversion to pine was devastating to interior forest species such as ovenbirds, thrushes, and vireos. ln another viewpoint, one Arkansas sportsman said, "Clearcutting might favor some game species on the Ouachita, but it sure has played havoc with my quail hunting."
Meanwhile, clearcutting stirred up another brouhaha. For years the Fred Dierks family of Arkansas had owned and conservatively managed--without clearcutting--nearly 300,000 acres of forestland interspersing the Ouachita National Forest. In 1969 they sold the land to Weyerhaeuser Lumber Company, which started converting to pine by clearcutting in 300-acre swaths. Critics confused boundaries between the company's land and public lands. One described in print what he viewed as a conspiracy involving both the private and public lands; he referred to it as the "Ouachita-Weyerhaeuser Tree Farm."
To correct any confusion, Ouachita officials clearly marked their general use maps to show how Ouachita properties (in green) were interspersed with those of Weyerhaeuser (in beige). But the opposition continued. Clearcutting on Ouachita National Forest was reduced 60 percent between 1987 and 1990 while its Forest Plan was being amended. Those wanting to see clearcutting reduced even further persuaded Arkansas Senator David Pryor to write Forest Service Chief Dale Robertson asking for a moratorium on all clearcutting on the Ouachita. This step led to the so-called "walk in the woods," a highly publicized field inspection involving Senator Pryor, Chief Robertson, and Ouachita Forest Supervisor John Curran.
Their discussion was private, but in the end Robertson imposed a moratorium on most Ouachita clearcutting. He excluded logging contracts already in progress. The timber industry argued that such a moratorium sidestepped all National Forest Management Act directives for amending the official Ouachita Forest Plan. Clearcutting opponents, led by the Ouachita Watch League and the Sierra Club, remained discreetly silent.
Robertson responded that this decision did not really sidestep any official process but was merely a modification that did not significantly amend the Ouachita Forest Plan. He also asked to have logging options studied further.
Opposition to clearcutting on the Ouachita did not mean there was overt opposition to all types of logging on federal lands. A similar controversy exists in Missouri's Mark Twain, where an effort was made recently to review clearcutting. This was in response to a request by Supervisor Eric Morse to the Conservation Federation of Missouri.
A committee was formed of forestry professors, professional foresters, citizen tree farmers, and a freelance writer (the author). The chairman was Donald P. Duncan, recently retired director of forestry education at the University of Missouri. The committee made site visits to observe clearcuts and single-tree and group-selection logging, and conducted interviews with loggers, environmental activists, and woods-products representatives. The goal was to see how various logging options affected the forest and wildlife and how they were viewed by the general public.
After a year, the committee recommended: reducing the size of clearcuts by 25 percent from the current average of 20 acres; doubling the ratio of uneven-aged logging (group-selection and single-tree-selection methods) to clearcutting from 15 to 30 percent over 10 years, and educating the public as to how different logging options serve various forest needs, including those of wildlife management.
The report, which received mixed reviews, ties in well with Chief Robertson's June 1992 announcement that the agency will adopt an "ecosystem-management approach on all national forests." The announcement is getting well-deserved attention on all heartland national forests. The approach, based on the agency's three-year-old New Perspectives program, means that these forests will be managed in more environmentally sensitive ways.
Traditional activities such as timber harvesting, hunting, fishing, and riding off-road vehicles (ORVs) will still be permitted under the agency's legislative mandate of multiple use, but greater attention will be given to protecting environmental values and maintaining healthy, sustainable ecosystems.
On heartland national forests it has become an accepted policy for logging to be used as a tool for wildlife-habitat enhancement. For example, it is well known that deer and wild turkey populations benefit from the temporary clearings left by clearcutting, and that ruffed grouse thrive during early regrowth stages. But according to some recent studies dealing with forest fragmentation, clearcutting is harmful to interior forest birds such as thrushes, vireos, warblers, and tanagers. The upshot is that hunters do not generally object to limited clearcutting but birdwatchers often do.
The Chief's June announcement also included a substantial reduction in the use of clearcutting. The new policy states that clearcutting will no longer be a standard way of harvesting national-forest timber. Instead, it will be limited to areas where it is essential to meet forest-plan objectives, such as establishing habitat for endangered wildlife species.
While the policy's direction pleases many, there is still considerable uncertainty about what it will mean on the ground. It will probably mean reduced timber harvests, greater use of selective harvesting and other lighter-handed harvesting methods, and perhaps cutting larger tracts on a larger land base. It might help reduce controversy about timber harvesting, but it won't stop it.
Today's Forest Service personnel walk a difficult, high-profile tightrope, one raised up mainly by the success of natural forest regeneration. Heartland national forests were created in the 1930s (except for Ouachita, which dates back to 1907) from private land that had been badly cutover and abused. Then they were lands nobody wanted. But in the 60 years since, and with a minimum of manipulation, they have grown back surprisingly well. Thanks to natural habitat renewal and enlightened wildlife management, scenic and recreational values have reasserted themselves. A number of sizable tracts have been designated as wilderness areas. In short, these forests are now treasures highly coveted by numerous public interests. As one forester put it, "Today we all live with controversy. It's just part of our work."
James Jackson of Marthasville, Missouri, is a conservation writer and a regional representative for AMERICAN FORESTS.
Trees larger than one or two inches in diameter are generally removed from a site at one time. Some trees will be left within the area to serve wildlife, soil, water, and visual needs. Examples are snags, den trees, and stream-course protection zones.
Most of the trees are removed in one cut, leaving 12 to 15 well-spaced, good seed-producing trees over each acre. When needs of other resources are present, such as visuals or wildlife, the trees may be left for a longer period or permanently.
Typically, three cuts are made over a period of 10 years. The first cut is designed to remove over-mature and high-risk trees that may fall or be subject to disease or insect attack. The second cut is aimed at uniformly opening the canopy in order to afford sufficient light and warmth to stimulate germination, establishment, and survival of the seedlings springing from seed shed by the overhead trees. The second cut is normally made in a good seed year, and the trees reserved for this purpose are, of course, of seed-bearing size. Finally, one or more cuttings are made in which the remaining old trees are removed for the development of the new stand. As in the case of the seed tree method, these trees may be left for a longer period or permanently.
SELECTION METHODS (Aimed at establishing or maintaining an even distribution of trees of various age classes throughout the forest)
Single trees or groups of trees selected to be cut usually consist of those above a certain diameter limit. Decadent, suppressed, and insect-infested trees below the diameter limit are also removed.
Small groups of trees are cut in one-quarter to two-acre sizes. This creates larger openings for regeneration of trees that require partial sunlight.
Trees of various sizes, dispersed throughout the forest, are individually selected for cutting. The number of trees and their shade-producing canopy are reduced to a point where successful regeneration and establishment of seedlings can occur. These stands will be re-entered every 10 years to remove the growth.
On the Trail of ORVs
Logging may be the prime issue of contention on heartland national forests, but off-road vehicles are running a close second. ORVs, as they're called, include motorcycles, all-terrain three- and four-wheelers, standard 4WD vehicles, and "mudders" with oversize tires.
Many outdoors-minded people dislike their often high-decibel intrusions into quiet woodlands and their tendency to cause ruts and resulting erosion, but ORV enthusiasts argue that they should not in all fairness be excluded from the national forests. "ORVs don't mess up forest trails any more than horses do," one owner said.
A 1977 federal directive ordered that ORVs be accommodated as well as controlled on public forest lands. This left it up to forest administrators to decide where they could be used--primarily areas where conflicts with less-intrusive recreational pursuits such as hunting and hiking would be minimized. Each national forest manages ORV uses according to policies written into its publicly debated and then duly authorized Forest Plan.
What follows is a brief summary of how the heartland national forests manage ORVs.
Ohio's Wayne and Indiana's Hoosier national forests are administered from the same supervisor's office but manage ORVs quite differently. The Wayne has developed 100 miles of woodland trails for the motorized vehicles and plans to extend that to some 300 miles over the next 20 years. The Hoosier, in contrast, responding early to public opposition to ORVs, permits them only on well-established roads, and operators must have a state license.
Illinois' Shawnee National Forest did not include ORVs in its original Forest Plan but did in the 1992 revision. Its plans call for developing 286 miles of trails for off-road vehicles.
Missouri's Mark Twain National Forest tried to accommodate ORVs early on with 120 miles of trails within a controlled space of 12 square miles designated as the Chadwick Recreation Area. Missouri also allows ORVs on old mine-tailings areas within two state parks, but devotees want more trails within Mark Twain. Environmentalists and nearby landowners who oppose the idea have persuaded Mark Twain officials to do an environmental impact statement on a proposed second trail network similar to that of the Chadwick.
Arkansas' Ozark National Forest has not designated trails for ORVs but so far has avoided much of the conflict seen in Missouri. The Ozark's terrain is generally steep, heavily timbered, and not easily accessible, making it better suited to wilderness uses. It is also vulnerable to severe soil erosion.
Personnel at Arkansas' Ouachita National Forest recognize that some of its terrain is suitable for ORV trails, but many locals do not favor them. To date, it has developed only 48 miles of off-road-vehicle trails.
Public comments on the Mark Twain's management plan give an indication of the controversy surrounding ORV use in the heartland forests. A Missouri Audubon Council white paper states: "It is virtually impossible to keep the vehicles on designated trails. Unofficial trails in time become imbedded in the terrain. Illegal stream running has an adverse impact on fisheries and water quality. Private property is trespassed upon."
A landowner whose property adjoins the Mark Twain said, "The ATVers and dune-buggy people run across our property; they cut wire. I've got pictures you wouldn't believe of the damage they do to the river we float."
As with any sport, there are both proper users and abusers. A recent resolution by the Conservation Federation of Missouri requests that Mark Twain's ORV trails not be expanded unless or until illegal uses can be fully controlled.
That's a big order because ORV usage is growing. And, vehicle owners and sellers have a well-heeled organization, the Blue Ribbon Coalition, that speaks for them nationwide. It was an important lobbying force that, in 1991, helped persuade Congress to amend the Highway Trust Fund and authorize up to $30 million per year to develop recreational trails. This could mean sizable amounts spent for ORV trails in the national forests.
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|Title Annotation:||includes related article on the environmental impact of off-road vehicles on national forests; clearcutting controversy in national forests in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas|
|Author:||Jackson, James P.|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1993|
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