Forest talk draws about 300
It wouldn’t hurt to cut down some trees in California. In fact, cutting trees could be a good and necessary thing.
That was a recurring theme Friday and Saturday at “A Conversation About the Forest,” 12 hours of talk from forestry experts at Nevada Union High School’s auditorium that attracted some 300 people.
Nine speakers, seven of whom have doctorates, spoke at the event, which was organized by a coalition that included timber company Sierra Pacific Industries and Nevada City-based environmental group the South Yuba River Citizens League.
Thomas Bonnicksen, a professor of forest science at Texas A&M University, takes issue with the Sierra Nevada Framework, a management plan for all of the Sierra Nevada’s national forests.
The framework, which was prompted in part by concern over the California spotted owl, aims to reduce logging and establish a dense forest of large trees – habitat owls are thought to favor.
But Friday, Bonnicksen challenged the idea that Sierra Nevada forests ever looked the way the framework aims for them to look.
“I think the Forest Service plan is trying to create this forest that never existed,” he said.
When Europeans first showed up here, the forest was open and patchy, thanks in part to campfires Bonnicksen said Indians left burning when they left camp.
“Fire was very important in these forests,” Bonnicksen said.
About 21 percent of this pre-European Sierran forest was old-growth, Bonnicksen said. There were large, old-growth trees, but they were spread out in patches, which made the forest fire-resistant, he said.
By contrast, if the framework achieves its goal of an unbroken forest of large trees, “we’re just creating a massive (amount) of continuous fuels from one end of the Sierra to the other,” he said.
Bonnicksen advocated timber harvesting as a solution, “timber harvesting serving an ecological purpose, a greater purpose, one of restoration.”
During a question-and-answer period, one audience member made a number of points defending the framework and called Bonnicksen “biased.”
“My bias, if I do have one, is that I love forests – I particularly like old forests,” Bonnicksen shot back.
Human population increases and the ever-increasing demand for wood products were topics raised by speakers Saturday.
Jim Bowyer, director of the Forest Products Management Department at the University of Minnesota, said the United States uses more wood than all metals combined.
“Wood is an absolutely key industrial material in the United States,” he said. “We are, each year, setting a new record for the use of wood.”
Some groups advocated reducing our reliance on wood in favor of other materials, such as steel, he said. But an “environmental life-cycle analysis” – a look at all the energy used in producing steel versus wood – showed that steel production requires three times as much energy as wood production, Bowyer said.
William Libby, professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley, said that California has the best forests in the world, yet we currently import most of our wood – including from tropical forests, which results in species extinction there.
“There is no other forest in the world that grows wood better than we do,” Libby said. Yet, in 2000, California imported 80 percent of its wood. “That’s pretty embarrassing for the best wood-growing land on earth.”
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