Management of Old Growth in the U.S. Northern Rocky Mountains:
Debasing the concept and subverting science to plunder national forests
Below: Nez Perce National Forest old growth (Jeff Juel)
This report chronicles the policy changes the U.S. Forest Service has made regarding old growth over recent decades in national forests of the Northern Rockies bioregion. The concept of “old growth” had only begun to emerge when the Forest Plans for the Clearwater and Nez Perce National Forests were being written in the 1980s. Although the Forest Service didn’t have a strictly hands-off policy back then, preserving much of the remaining old growth on these Forests aligned with other regulatory priorities such as saving viable populations of certain species of raptors, woodpeckers, and small carnivores.
Still, it took actions such as lawsuits to hold the timber beasts in the agency somewhat at bay. For example, when it became evident the Forest Service was probably lacking the minimum 10% of the Clearwater National Forest, Friends of the Clearwater got a Court injunction against some timber sales in the late 1990s to prevent more loss of old-growth habitat. However, the political pressure to log old growth has proved too much for the agency to withstand. This report examines some of the management rhetoric and distortions of science the Forest Service uses to justify logging old growth. It also examines scientific perspectives on how old-growth forests can be maintained, and some mechanisms with which that can be accomplished.