Since the inception of the Northwest Forest Plan in 1994 the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management in Western Oregon have limited their timber management paradigm to one of nearly exclusive thinning of young forest stands where post-harvest residual closed forest canopies make regeneration of Douglas-fir impossible. This is an ecological truth: Douglas-fir seedlings need at least partial, but preferably full sunlight to grow and thrive. AFRC has often clamored regarding the near-sighted nature of this management regime and questioned its long-term sustainability. In recent months some federal agencies have come to terms with the same truth that AFRC and most foresters who practice their trade in the Pacific Northwest know well: you can’t thin forever.
The Salem BLM District recently published an environmental assessment that considered just how long they could manage their timber resources with a young stand thinning-only approach. The results were disturbing but not surprising. The EA, dated April, 2016 read: At the current rate of harvest it is likely the Salem District will exhaust most commercial thinning options in 40-80-year-old stands in a little over a decade. In other words, the BLM timber program as we have come to know it, will expire in ten years on the Cascades Resource Area without a major shift in management practices. And really, this timeline is likely pretty similar on other BLM Resource Areas, give or take five years.
I for one was elated when I read this. It’s a gloomy outlook, but at least it’s realistic. It’s akin to the longtime addict finally accepting that they are indeed an addict: Until the BLM overcomes the state of denial and accepts that their past twenty-year thinning-only regime is ultimately unsustainable then the likelihood of altering the trend is grim. It appears that the Cascades Resource Area is on the path to recovery. Perhaps an intervention is warranted for other Resource Area’s, or the Forest Service for that matter. –Andy Geissler