PORTLAND, Ore. November 6, 2008. Although the Northwest Forest
Plan (NWFP) significantly reduced cutting of old-growth forests
on federal land, forests in the driest regions are now at greater
risk of being lost to wildfire than to logging. A team of federal
and university scientists recently completed a study and analysis
of large-diameter forests and discovered that elevated fire levels
in the Pacific Northwest outweighed harvest reductions in the loss
of older forests.
“ Fire is a more important factor of loss to old-growth than
harvesting between 1993 and 2002,” says Tom Spies, a research
ecologist and co-author on a study on the dynamics of older forests.
The study, which was published in the journal, Ecosystems, concludes
that although the NWFP helped stabilize the number of large-diameter
forests in the Pacific Northwest, fire was the main reason for
loss of these forests.
The study, The Relative Impact of Harvest and
Fire Upon Landscape-Level Dynamics of Older Forests: Lessons From
the Northwest Forest Plan,
examines western Oregon and Washington and parts of the range of
the northern spotted owl. The team used a 30-year satellite record
to identify trends in the loss of large-diameter trees—on
private and public land—to harvest and fire. They hope their
findings may assist managers and policymakers who are trying to
conserve older forests and the species that depend on them.
who is with the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest
(PNW) Research Station, says the findings show that among other
things, harvesting of older forests on private lands did not increase
as some expected. “The protection of old-growth on federal
land didn’t result in increased rates of harvest of older
forest on non-federal land,” he explains. “Some had
thought that harvesting of older forests might increase on private
lands in response to reduction in harvest on federal lands. Even
if the [NWFP] had been implemented as intended, a considerable
amount of old growth would have been protected, even though some
would have been lost to harvest.”
Other conclusions listed
in the paper are:
Other studies indicate that warmer springs and
summers and earlier snowmelt contribute to the dry conditions
that produces more fires
in the West. These factors may have contributed to the fires
that burned up the old forests during the last decade.
Accounting Office says that money appropriated for fuel treatments
(1999 to 2003) has instead been used to fight
Comprehensive landscape-level plans will be needed to reduce
risk of loss of older forests to fire.
Federal managers should
consider increasing fire prevention and suppression treatments
in dry regions as climate change may lead
to more fire.
Other members of the research team are Sean Healey,
Rocky Mountain Research Station, Forest Service; Warren Cohen,
PNW Research Station,
Forest Service; Melinda Moeur, PNW Region, Forest Service; Dirk
Pflugmacher, Oregon State University; M. German Whitley, PNW
Research Station; and Michael Lefsky, Colorado State University.
contact: Tom Spies, firstname.lastname@example.org, (541) 750-7354
To read the
entire paper visit http://www.springerlink.com/content/027220017657k848.
PNW Research Station is headquartered in Portland, Oregon.
It has 11 laboratories and centers located in Alaska, Oregon, and
Washington and about 500 employees.