The Vision Thing

The following excerpts in dark blue are from Massachusetts Senate Report Number 2060.  My comments on these excerpts are in bright blue.  I found this unannounced report on the Web while looking for something else on March 31, 2000.  These comments were made on April 12, 2000.  KD

REPORT of the SPECIAL COMMISSION
on FOREST MANAGEMENT PRACTICES
December 13, 1999

<snip>

Senator Stephen M. Brewer, Senate Chairman
Senator Andrea Nuciforo
Representative Stephen Kulik
Warren E. Archey, Chief Forester, Department of Environmental Management
David B. Kittredge, Extension Forester, University of Massachusetts
Richard S. Easton, D & L Lumber Company
Walter F. Hubbard, President, Hubbard Forest Industries, Inc.
Keith Ross, Director of Land Protection, New England Forestry Foundation, Groton, MA

<snip>

A COLLOQUY ON MASSACHUSETTS' FORESTS

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Forests Need to be Used 

Paradoxically, forests must be used, culled, cut and harvested to enable them to thrive.

Right.  But this should NOT INCLUDE HIGH-GRADING, ie, "cutting the best and leaving the rest," the type of cutting that occurs on an estimated 80% of the cutting operations in the state, and is FULLY APPROVED by the DEM "service foresters."  High-grading is in fact a very destructive practice and should be drastically curtailed, if not prohibited.  Interestingly, the words high-grading do not even appear in this report.  Why is it that these words are verboten?

For better or for worse, a great deal of Massachusetts' environmentally friendly activities are aimed at "preservation" of lands and wildlife as is. It is often considered anathema to "work" or to "use" or to "manage" natural resources. Thinning our state's exploding deer population — for the benefit of the surviving deer as well as farmers and homeowners — is an example of where emotion often confronts rational planning. The exponential growth of a weed (Purple Loosestrife) and of a long time bird resident (Canada Geese) are causing a problem with balanced species representation in wetlands on one hand, and a public health and recreational nuisance on the other. But efforts at control are often halted when emotional rhetoric is invoked.

Another "weed" species that is growing exponentially is red maple, a low-value tree species that typically gets left behind in high-grading operations.  Why is there no mention of this here?

As Foster & Foster point out in Thinking Forest Time, "To the average citizen, the prospect of harvesting trees triggers instant environmental concern notwithstanding the fact that carefully managed forests tend to provide more uses, values and benefits than those lacking responsible stewardship actions." (Thinking In Forest Time, p. 9. Emphasis by Commission.)

People whose views of forest conservation are limited to, for example, the worthy preservation of "old growth" forest parcels sometime fail to acknowledge that managing millions of acres of forests will necessarily mean the cutting and harvesting of trees, the construction of interior service roads, and similar "destructive" steps.

Who are the people referred to in this sleight?  I know many people who want to preserve old growth, but none of them "fail to acknowledge" any of the aspects of management cited here.  Nearly all the old growth advocates that I know are in fact STRONG advocates of silviculture--a word that does not even appear in this document, even though silviculture is the heart and soul of forest management practices (the supposed subject of this report and the "special commission").  Why is it that the word silviculture does not appear in this document?

The problem with simply saving and not managing forests, Foster & Foster conclude, "has been a Massachusetts landscape in which forest is quantitatively abundant but qualitatively deficient." (Thinking …, p. 9. Emphasis by Commission.)

OK, finally a HINT at the truth--the fact that the state's forests have been massively high-graded for generations.  Why is it that the commission cannot come right out and say the truth?  

The Cost of Improving Our Forest 

While we cannot afford NOT to save our forests, we might also not be able to afford TO save them unless we make the forests more valuable and a source of self-sustaining reinvestment income.

As noted in previous reports by this Commission, there is a need to remove low value wood or substandard wood from our forests to enable the healthier parts of the forest to thrive. It costs money to remove this wood. Thus, an economic incentive must be developed to "finance" the removal of inferior, lower quality wood by creating profit-making markets.

Here we have an excellent and very succinct restatement of the famous "NO MARKET EXCUSE."  High-graders have been using this one for decades to justify their actions.  The fact is that most consulting foresters, and some conscientious loggers, DO manage to market low-grade wood at very little or no cost to landowners.  Some even make a profit at it for their clients.  Why is this fact so consistently ignored?  Why can't the techniques of these foresters be studied and encouraged?

The truth is that sound forest management is quite profitable--contrary to statements and publications by DEM bureaucrats and UMass extension foresters.  For decades they've been spreading disinformation about this subject, better known as the Great 3-5% Scam , in order to make legislators and landowners think that forestry needs subsidies in the form of state-funded forestry bureaucrats.

A natural impetus for creating a profit-incentive has come for years from within the state's private loggers, forest product companies, and wood industries. For a variety of reasons their efforts (especially when they act individually) have not been enough to solve the market problem.

The main reason the problem hasn't been solved is that they don't want to solve the problem.  It's simple: they make more money high-grading; they make less money low-grading.  High-grade markets are always going to be more profitable than low-grade markets.  The only way the situation will change is to create significant incentives for practicing silviculture (as in making loggers pay for service forester approval of cutting/SILVICULTURAL plans not written by licensed foresters).  Why is this so difficult to understand?

Creating new markets for low-grade material, in addition to the existing ones of fuelwood, pulpwood and pallet logs, will only help at the margins.  There is little need for this anyway because new markets for pulpwood from outside the state have recently expanded and will play an increasingly important role in the future.  Furthermore, if the price of fuel oil stays high, new markets for fuelwood will also expand.  The state should save its money instead of throwing even MORE money into useless marketing boondoggles.

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THINKING IN FOREST TIME

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"We have 25 specific recommendations in the following five highlighted areas.

"…First, the Commonwealth should identify priority regions of mixed private and public forests, to be termed Massachusetts Legacy forests, where research, databases, facilities, programs, and services could be concentrated. Such a statewide system of legacy forests would assure the Commonwealth of a permanent forest resource base, varied in composition, ownership, and distribution, that could be managed ecologically and sustainably for all time."

This sounds like a legacy chiefly for future armies of forestry orgocrats, bureaucrats and academics.  NEFF will get lots of money for putting the deals together.  DEM "management foresters" will get to expand their profligate practices (treating only about 5% of the land at costs in excess of 200% of returns).  UMass and Harvard faculty and students will get grants to study the "resource" in even greater and more useless detail.  Why not just create better incentives to practice good silviculture (along the lines of the one suggested above) for existing owners and leave it at that?

"Second, Massachusetts should explore a locally-based, self-sufficiency approach, Massachusetts would not only move to develop the largest available untapped market for forest and wood products — its own — but also help reduce the negative 'environmental footprint' caused elsewhere by less enlightened forest utilization practices."

Yes, clearcutting in the Amazon is less enlightened than high-grading in Massachusetts, but not by much.  Why not simply start with a concerted effort to end high-grading?  The resulting supply of low-grade material would create its own markets.  Why not do this by simply requiring that all cutting plans be called SILVICULTURAL PLANS instead, and that they be written by licensed foresters?  Too simple?  Too effective?  Too threatening to the interests of DEM bureaucrats and loggers who like to high-grade?

"Third, to advance public awareness of forests and forestry, the Harvard Forest report visualizes an expanded role for cities and towns, based on a modernization of the historic local forest warden structure and the existing mechanism of town forests. These and other state and local forests could serve as educational centers where school and community groups can see firsthand how these remarkable environments function and contribute."

This is a somewhat interesting idea.  Perhaps towns could take over some of the grossly mismanaged state forests within their jurisdictions.  If this were done right, it would be a huge step forward.  How about starting with the Town of Wendell?

"Fourth, to ensure that legacy forests remain as managed woodland, the Harvard Forest specialists urged the Commonwealth to consider purchasing timber rights on prime forest tracts. They noted that "timber banking" could give current landowners an immediate source of income from their forests. It would also enable Massachusetts forests to be held to at least economic maturity (100 years) and, in some cases, allow new biologically-mature forests to complement the barely 1000 acres of existing old-growth forest remaining in the Commonwealth."

This would be a great supplement to the Massachusetts Legacy Forests, and would further enhance the careers of the forestry bureaucrats in particular, giving them even more land to mismanage (treating only about 5% of the land at costs in excess of 200% of returns).  Why not purchase development rights and/or HIGH-GRADING RIGHTS and leave the management to the owners and their consulting foresters (who do it for about 20% of returns, or a tenth of what the state "management foresters" cost)?

"Fifth, a new revenue base will be needed to support the state's expanded forest program initiatives, to capture and redirect a portion of the existing revenue stream from present corporate and retail forest products taxation, and the exploration of supplemental funding approaches such a "green certification", "Masswood" product eco-labeling, a special forest license plate, and even public sales of "green bonds" to raise additional forest-directed revenues."

Tax the public to feed an even larger and more wasteful bureaucracy?  Are you serious?  A MassWood or other similar label for forest products harvested from land under Massachusetts Chapter 61 would be a step forward, and would require little additional administration.  Why not start there? 

And while we're on the subject of revenue, what about revenues to landowners?  Why are we only concerned about revenues to the state here?  What about the fact that most landowners get RIPPED OFF by various methods of underscaling when they sell timber, and all with the full approval of the DEM "service foresters" when they sign off on underestimated tallies in cutting plans? 

What about the fact that these same landowners' forests are producing only about a third of the value that they could be producing with good management--due to the long-term effects of state-approved high-grading operations?   

"We urge those concerned with the forest to put our recommendations to work promptly. To do so will not only be an initiative of enduring value to Massachusetts, but an example worthy of emulation by the nation as a whole."

Who really wrote this stuff?  Was this a term paper by a UMass forestry student?  These PSYCHOTIC (ie, out of touch with reality) recommendations should be an example to the nation?  Good grief!  Well, at least they have served to start some dialog.  Let's keep the ball rolling. 

<snip, and back in report>

Quantitative Measurements 

Massachusetts, quite simply, does not have the available information as to specifically where its forests are arranged.

David B. Kittredge, Jr., the Extension Forester for the University of Massachusetts (UMASS), cogently summarized this in a presentation to the Commission.

Granted, but what's the need if the state has no intention of improving management on those forests?  Isn't this a case of putting the proverbial cart before the proverbial horse?

In commenting on the many favorable results of the state's newly ongoing and critically important Continuous Forest Inventory (CFI), Kittredge pointed out that "… this (the CFI) will not tell us how many acres there are in the forest in Massachusetts, nor how many we are losing annually, and where they are being lost." (Kittredge letter to Commission, 24 Jun 99.)

Similarly, he noted that a recently completed USDA Forest Service's "Forest Inventory and Analysis" (FIA) for Massachusetts "… likewise does not tell us where we have forestland in Massachusetts, and how it is arranged spatially."

Additionally, these FIA data are approximately 30-50% on the low side because the inexperienced, temporary personnel hired to do this inventory work didn't measure tree heights, but relied instead on diameter measurements and formulas, which resulted in gross miscalculations.  Why are these FIA numbers so blindly accepted?

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Continuous Forest Inventory (CFI)-Qualitative Measurement 

With recent strong support from the Special Commission, and the resulting allocation of badly needed funds by the Legislature and the Governor, Massachusetts is now in the midst of its first Continuous Forest Inventory (CFI) in twenty years. The CFI is a comparison of the "quality" of sample forest lots over succeeding surveys.

Right.  The state just spent $300,000 to hire consulting foresters to do work that the "management foresters" should have been doing all along themselves.  But they were (and are) so busy drinking coffee, eating donuts, and going to pointless meetings, that they couldn't quite find the time to do it.   Also, there was some question as to whether they would be able to FIND all the CFI plots on their own anyway.  Some of them have reputations for getting lost in the woods a lot.

DEM Forester William Rivers told the Commission that support and funding spearheaded by the Special Commission has brought the DEM's CFI program to a position where, "we may very well be the best equipped and most technologically advanced state forestry agencies in the northeast, if not the nation."

Yes, they did manage to buy some fancy equipment with all that money.  But what's the use of a hotrod car if you can't drive?

The contrast between the State's ability to measure the "quality" of sample woodlands on the ground, and its difficulty in assessing the spatial status or "quantity" of our forests from air and space, is a dramatic one.

What's the statistical accuracy of data from 1,400 plots on 280,000 acres?  That means ONE PLOT EVERY 200 ACRES.  Now how accurate can those data really be?  

CFI analysis is made of approximately 1,400 plots located throughout the Commonwealth, in a process that might be compared, essentially, to public opinion polling. These woodland "samples" are measured by on-the-ground personnel. The plots are located in state forest and parklands, in various growing conditions. The plots – each 1/5 of an acre in size and 105.4 feet in diameter – contain a total of some 65,000 trees. These plots were first laid out and measured in the 1950s. This will be the third measurement of the sample, which is roughly one percent of total state forest acreage, but which "provides a statistically valid sample for determining the condition of the entire forest" (What Is CFI? – DEM pamphlet 1998).

"Statistically valid" for what purposes?  This inventory is totally worthless for actual management of the state forests, and it's totally irrelevant regarding private land in the state.  Only about 5% of the state forest land (all of which comprises about 10% of the forest land in the state) receives any kind of active management, the rest being left to management by BENIGN NEGLECT.  Most of that state forest land is at high elevations in the western part of the state.  The other 90% of forest land in the state, mostly privately owned, is at lower elevations, and is periodically high-graded (managed by DETRIMENTAL NEGLECT), and all with the approval of the DEM "service foresters."  There is very little, if any relationship at all between these two statistical universes.

According to DEM guidelines, over thirty variables are measured for each lot, and eighteen for each tree on that lot. These lot data include the age of the stand, productivity, forest type, vegetation, past disturbances, and soil type, among others. Tree data include species, diameter, height, vigor, quality, biological damage, and wildlife potential.

Although limited to State property plots, the CFI provides DEM foresters with information on forest health, habitat distributions, financial maturity, potential economic yields, and criteria for the application of silvicultural treatments and the planning of sustainable harvests. This information about our 280,000 acres of State forests is equally representative of the 2.7 million acres of private forestlands in the state. The CFI data are shared with the academic and scientific community, as well as being in the public domain for use by private industry.

This statement can only be described as TOTALLY PSYCHOTIC, ie, out of touch with reality.  There is very little, if any similarity between the virtually UNMANAGED state forest lands and the mostly MISMANAGED private lands.  Is it possible that the people (or forestry student) who wrote this statement have any real familiarity with either state or private lands?

Forester Rivers' enthusiasm for the ability of the CFI teams to do their jobs is reflected in the fact that more than 54% of the lots had been remeasured by the time of the Commission meeting in May. A target for completion of the project was set for Dec. 31, 1999. And an additional several hundred CFI plots are expected to be established in the spring of 2000.

If the CFI teams had been working at any reasonable rate, they would have been entirely done with the job a year earlier.  What have they been doing all this time?  How many cups of coffee and donuts can a person consume in one day?

The "ground-level, high-tech" job of conducting the CFI has been enhanced during the present survey by the addition of such new tools as ruggedized Portable Data Recorders (PDRs) allowing on-site data entry into notebook computers. New laser technology enables field crews to measure horizontal angles, distances and tree heights with new and higher degrees of precision. Global Positioning System (GPS) units help locate the plots, some of which are located in remote areas more than a mile from roadways. Results from the CFI will be available in raw form early in 2000.

Another recently qualitative study involved the cooperation of the State DEM and the U.S. Forest Service, with results presented to the Society of American Foresters meeting at Mt. Wachusett Community College.

This study is 30-50% on the low side for volumes and growth rates.  It will be interesting to see whether the state CFI data is any more accurate.

The inventory indicated that there was a 2.6% drop in the area of forested land between 1985 and 1998. Forests now make up 62% of the Commonwealth's land area – some 3.1 million acres of 5 million total land acres are forests (this inventory also mirrored earlier findings that Worcester County had seen a severe decrease in forests during the period).

Timberland – defined as forestland that is capable of growing at least 20 cubic feet a year of industrial wood, and is not withdrawn from timber production – makes up 85% of the state's forestland. Timberland was formerly called "commercial forest land."

According to William Rivers, DEM Forester, the size of trees in Massachusetts continues to increase. Saw timber stands now cover 66% of timberland, up from 44% in 1985. Critically important seeding and sapling stands continue to decline, from 6% of timberland in 1985 to just 5% in 1998.

The inventory revealed a 19% increase in the volume of growing stock trees compared to their 1985 volume. However, Rivers termed it "disheartening" that some species are being removed faster than they are being regrown.

What?  Another HINT at the existence of high-grading in Massachusetts?  Oh, and what a shame, how "disheartening"--as if the policies of the DEM had nothing to do with all this (unmentionable) high-grading. 

Particularly significant is the "negative growth" of highly prized Northern Red Oak, one of our most valuable species. Its growth deficit is .8 to 1.

Red Maple, a lesser-prized wood, is growing three times faster than it is being utilized; Hemlock is growing twelve times as fast as it is being used.

Wow!  Another HINT that we may have a high-grading problem in Massachusetts.  What does that make so far?  A grand total of three?

"It doesn't take a genius to predict what the forest of the future will be like if our current methods of exploiting the forest continue," Rivers observes. Not only does Red Oak have great commercial value, but its value to wildlife is extraordinary." Noting that one Red Oak, American Chestnut and American Beech were producing great quantities of mast timbers a century ago, Rivers notes that Red Oak today is "the last of the significant mass producers in the Massachusetts forest that is not beset by disease, and it is declining in numbers. We should be gravely concerned about this" (Rivers' data from Testimony May 21, 1999 to Commission).

Thanks for that testimony, Bill.  We should all be "gravely concerned," but we shouldn't do a thing about it, right?  Especially if this means questioning any of the policies or practices of the DEM, whose "service foresters" sign off on every (unmentionable) high-grading job.

"Mast" refers to nuts, seeds and fruits of woody plants that provide food for wildlife. This food is critical to certain birds and mammals to carry them through the winter. Hard mast (from American beech, hickory and red, white and black oak) are important dietary components for white-tailed deer, black bear, wild turkey, ruffled grouse, wood duck and various other mammals and birds. Soft mast (from Black Cherry, pin and choke cherries, wild apples, mountain ash and such) is important to bears, small mammals and 28 bird species. (Good Forestry in the Granite State P.55 (c) 1997.)

According to preliminary work on the CFI, and by the completed work of the DEM-USDA Inventory, it would appear that Massachusetts woodland – public and private – may be suffering from a decline of valuable species and a proliferation of less-valuable species.

Yikes!  That makes four HINTS at the fact, the reality of (unmentionable) high-grading, all without saying the word itself.  Why is this?  Why is this so-called commission so afraid to write the word?  And why are they so afraid to write the "S" word too?  And why is there no mention of consulting foresters, the only people who actually PRACTICE silviculture on private land?  Is the notion of silviculture so revolutionary in the context of FOREST MANAGEMENT PRACTICES?  Or was this report really written by a forestry student who either skipped or flunked all his/her classes?

Or...is this really a purely political document designed to obfuscate the issues, protect the perpetrators of the destruction of our forests, reinforce and expand the roles of state forestry bureaucrats, garner more money for certain non-profit orgs, garner grant money for certain forest researchers, and generally further entrench all the forces of the corrupt STATUS QUO?  Is this really just a paid political announcement on behalf of these interests?