Review of Ecological Forest Management by Dr. Jerry Franklin

Review of Ecological Forest Management by Dr. Jerry Franklin

Conservation Northwest / Nov 30, 2018 / Forestry

Forest ecologist Dr. Jerry Franklin, member of our Board of Advisers, has authored a new book offering insights on forest management for the greater good of biodiversity.

By Bert Loosmore, conservation northwest boardmember

It was a troubling summer for parts of Cascadia. We suffered from smoke blanketing the region, and then watched in horror as the news showed what appears to be another step toward the extinction of our southern resident killer whales. From the conditions that cause large fires to mountain tributaries home to the salmon whales need, forest management critically affects both issues.

Ecological Forest Management was published in July, 2018. Photo: Journal of Forestry

Fire is a natural and necessary process or “disturbance” in much of the Pacific Northwest, especially the dry forests east of the Cascades, but the combination of drier conditions as a result of climate change and past forest management practices have exacerbated the situation, leading many to call our smoky summers a “new normal”.

The decline in orca health has been tied to food supply. The impact of upland forest health on stream flows, temperature, sediment and spawning habitat, among other things, are critical components of restoring healthy salmon runs. So, could our forests to do more for us?

What if public and private forests were managed for the common good and consideration of the multiple benefits they could provide, instead of simply for profit and return on financial capital? What would the outcomes be? And who would benefit? Those are some of the questions discussed in the new 2018 book titled Ecological Forest Management by Franklin, Johnson and Johnson.

Full disclosure, Dr. Jerry Franklin, the lead author, sits on Conservation Northwest’s Board of Advisors. I did my graduate work at the University of Washington and had the pleasure of taking a class on old-growth forests and the Northwest Forest Plan from Dr. Franklin. The man knows his stuff.

Current forest management approaches depend on who owns the land (private vs. public vs. tribal, and industrial vs. non-industrial), but typically, forests in the Pacific Northwest are managed under an approach known as sustained yield. In summary, the general idea is to harvest forests when financial return is maximized, considering the growth of trees, the value of the land and the time value of money. This approach leads to 40-50-year rotations in the region, depending on the specifics of the site. It extracts as much wood as possible, subject to state and other restrictions on riparian (stream-side) buffers and such.

Sustained yield was developed in times when natural resources seemed unlimited and impacts from any harvest were thought to be self-contained. The additional services provided by forest lands (such as clean water, carbon sequestration and habitat) were not well understood. However, as we now know, regardless of ownership, the impacts of forest harvest affect us all and when done properly, forests can be managed to provide multiple benefits in addition to wood production and timber-related jobs, positively impacting more than just local landowners, or worse, non-local investors.

Ferns, Douglas Fir trees and other plants in an old-growth forest near the crest of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. Old-growth forests provide invaluable ecosystem services to people and wildlife. Photo: Rex Wholster

So maybe it’s time to rethink harvest approaches, and ask, as the book does, “How do we sustain forests and the myriad of benefits they provide into an uncertain and unbounded future?”

The tenets of Ecological Forest Management (EFM) as put forth by the authors are:

(i) restore and sustain the integrity of forest ecosystems including top predators,
(ii) develop policies and management practices that sustain a large array of ecosystem services,
(iii) be adaptive to new science and changes in societal priorities, concerns and goals, and
(iv) choose management approaches that reduce risks and increase future options.

EFM doesn’t mean no cutting on public and private lands. Harvest occurs with longer rotations, more legacies left standing and on the ground, less plantings after harvest to encourage early seral forests, and more coordination at the landscape level to ensure adequate representation of successional stages.

Traditional forest management approaches based on sustained yield are outdated and insufficient given today’s scientific knowledge of ecosystem function and the vital services forests provide. So maybe the real question is, what benefits and functions do we want from our forests?

The term “ecosystem services” describes the benefits people obtain from natural systems such as forests. The text details the ecosystem services available from forestlands, including provisioning services (e.g., timber and water), regulating services (e.g., climate), cultural services (e.g., recreation) and supporting services (e.g., soil formation). And that doesn’t include the intrinsic value of forests to the wildlife that live there.

Healthy forests and ecological forestry principles will be the most effective strategy to prepare for climate change, according to the book, Ecological Forest Management. Photo: WA DNR

Isn’t promoting these services beneficial to all, and in the common good? And isn’t such a holistic approach what we should be advocating for, regardless of ownership, particularly given that we now recognize the far-reaching impacts that forest management has?

And what about “cost”? The authors compare financial returns under traditional management and EFM. Encouragingly, the authors demonstrate how some modest tweaks to financial analysis could shift a decision about forest management from traditional approaches of sustained yield to an approach of ecological forest management by expanding the scope of financial analysis to consider things such as income over time, higher-value wood products and risk mitigation.

More generally, the book represents a thorough study of EFM, discussing a range of issues, including details and equations behind financial considerations, how social considerations impact forest practices, a review of the major environmental laws underpinning environmental policy, how forest policy gets developed, carbon markets, adaptive management, the role of forest planning models and much, much more.

Of course the book also addresses in detail two hot topics in forest management: fire and carbon sequestration, which are themselves strongly intertwined. Suffice it to say, evidence shows that managing forests under principles of ecological forest management, including considering historical fire regimes, implementing longer rotations and leaving higher levels of retention, makes forests less susceptible and more resilient to the effects of catastrophic fires, and leads to higher rates of carbon sequestration. In fact, as the authors state, “managing forests and landscapes based on ecological forestry principles will generally be the most effective strategy to prepare for climate change.”

Dr. Jerry Franklin is a professor of ecosystem analysis at the University of Washington, and is a member of Conservation Northwest’s Board of Advisers. Photo: University of Washington

To begin to solve the issues we face, such as the impacts from forest fires or declining orca populations, we need our forestlands to do more. EFM holds promise to provide effective and reasonable solutions to manage forest lands in a way that creates benefits across a range of objectives, be it financial return, providing income over time, creating timber-related jobs, producing a volume of renewable wood products, storing carbon, promoting fire resiliency or preserving habitat for biodiversity.

So now, the challenge we all face is how to make the compelling argument to the public, law makers and landowners that managing to current policy standards is inadequate for the future we face, particularly if we want to keep Cascadia wild, which I suspect is why many of us live here. Ecological Forest Management provides a well-written and critical resource that will hopefully catalyze the emergence of a new forest-management paradigm and enable it to occur on a grand scale, leading us to a future where forestlands reach their potential to provide for the common good.

Bert Loosmore serves as the current Treasurer on our Board of Directors. He’s a part-time professor of quantitative methods and finance at Pinchot University. Bert holds a Ph.D. in Quantitative Ecology and Resource Management from the University of Washington.

View of the Selkirk Mountains in the Colville National Forest, near Metaline Falls, Washington.