I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees.

It seems more and more there are fewer conservation organizations who speak for the forest, and more that speak for the timber industry. Witness several recent commentaries in Oregon papers which are by no means unique. I’ve seen similar themes from other conservation groups in the rest of the West.

Many conservation groups have uncritically adopted views that support more logging of our public lands based upon increasingly disputed ideas about forest health, fire ecology as well as age-old bias against natural processes like wildfire and beetles.

For instance, an article in the Oregonian paper quotes Oregon Wild’s executive director Sean Stevens bemoaning the closure of a timber mill in John Day Oregon. Stevens said: “Loss of the 29-year-old Malheur Lumber Co. mill would be “a sad turn of events,” he said.” Surprisingly, Oregon Wild is readily supporting federal subsidies to promote more logging on the Malheur National Forest to sustain the mill.

In the same article Susan Jane Brown, a staff attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center was quoted saying “Had you told me 10 years ago that I would be trying to keep a mill open in eastern Oregon, I would have said you’re crazy, but things change.”

George Sexton, the Conservation Director, for KS Wild in a separate editorial in the Medford Oregon Mail Tribune advocates more logging of our federal lands by writing in an editorial that “We can make forests healthier and communities safer from wildfire and provide a product to the mills. It is time to follow the lead of the local Forest Service and produce timber in a way that attempts to restore our forests rather than exploit them.”


I think what motivates such commentary from these organizations is the desire to defuse the timber issue. They hope that support of logging in less controversial areas such as tree plantations, heavily roaded and previously logged areas will keep agencies away from roadless areas and other critical habitat. It is part of an overall strategy to ultimately garner more protection for wildlands.

It’s important to note that all of these conservation groups I am critiquing here as well as throughout the West which are currently supporting more logging continue to fight the worse logging proposals in roadless areas and old growth, and are strong advocates for wilderness designation.

However, I tend to believe that their support for logging represents a failure to challenge many of the flawed assumptions that are guiding federal logging programs and in some cases even repeating many of the same pejorative language helps to undermine in the long term conservation efforts. After all if the public believes our forests are sick and unhealthy; that logging will cure them; that logging will preclude wildfires and eliminate beetle kill, and that rural economies are dependent on public lands logging to survive, than they are, in my view, contributing to the wrong message.

Bear in mind that these organizations do not unconditionally support all logging. Rather they have very specific criteria and limitations used to determine which logging operations they support and which they may oppose at times. Nevertheless, the public seldom hears these qualifiers.

For instance, it was standard practice in the not too distance past for conservation groups to point out that nearly all federal timber sales lost money. Today one seldom hears any of these organizations discussing the poor economics of federal logging—indeed, they are often supporting these money losing timber sales. They would also point out how logging harmed wildlife, fisheries, spread weeds, and the many other ecological impacts. Logging hasn’t changed. These impacts still exist—but in today’s world few are articulating these costs.

If there is going to be logging on public lands we need to consider all these costs and benefits fairly. Even if there is some benefit that can be ascribed to a logging proposal, the economic and environmental costs may still not justify this expense. Far too often these organizations are unwilling to critique or point out that the flawed premises used to justify logging.


Such comments as mentioned above and many more I could quote from other conservation organizations, tends to endorse a certain way of thinking which I call “Smart Resource Management (SRM)” The SRM paradigm is a direct descendent of Gifford Pinchot, founder of the Forest Service who advocated the “wise use” of natural resources. It assumes we know enough about ecosystems to manage them without unintended consequences and wise enough to do so judiciously—two assumptions I would challenge.

SRM is the antithesis of wildness or self willed nature. This notion that we can and should manage ecosystems as a giant garden is, in my view, the root cause of many of our environmental problems. I tend to believe that most of the people working for western conservation groups are not strong supporters of SRM school of thought. Unfortunately conservationists have adopted the language, analogies and “stories” that support and lend credibility to the SRM ideas which dominate land management decisions. We hear our forests are sick, unhealthy, will be improved with logging, and so on. These are the words and story of industry.

I personally feel there is a growing body of evidence that questions whether our forests are significantly altered from what one might expect given climatic and other conditions. These ideas challenge the assertion that we “need” to log our forests in the first place—assuming again that we are smart enough to manage forests to begin with.

However, if forests are not significantly altered if considered from a boarder set of criteria, this negates any requirement for “restoration”.

Even if one agreed that some forests have changed from recent historic conditions, it doesn’t automatically mean that logging is the best or only way to put these forests back on a more natural trajectory—natural processes like beetle kill, drought, wildfire, and other factors are currently doing a fine job of maintaining the health of millions of acres of our forests.

There may be legitimate rationales for logging, but it’s not the one usually given for logging public forests today. Indeed, the major justifications given for logging public lands is typically some social or ecological benefit—to reduce fires, clean up bug killed trees, fix watersheds, restore forest health or provide for “economic stability” to rural communities. In far too many cases, all of these are just cover to hide the main reason for logging—to maintain the local timber industry at the expense of our forest’s ecological integrity and taxpayer dollars.


Even if I were to agree that forest management has led to a deviation from historic conditions, I see no need to introduce logging into the forest to “fix” the situation. Forests are perfectly capable of “restoring” themselves. That is what beetle kill and wildfires are doing.

Dead trees are actually a sign of a healthy forest ecosystem that is functioning properly to readjust itself to the prevailing conditions.

What isn’t well known, and you won’t know it from listening to the advocates of logging, is that many of these assumptions and ideas that have guided forest management policies are being challenged. There is a growing body of research which suggests that dense forests, even in dry ponderosa/Douglas fir stands, may not be significantly out of historic condition. That fire suppression has been less effective than previously thought. That thinning doesn’t preclude large blazes and so on.

For example the alternative to the fire suppression has led to denser forest stands is countered by another paradigm that climatic conditions—namely moister, cooler conditions for decades in the last century–may have done more to create dense forest stands and limited fire spread than human fire fighting.

There are a growing number of people, myself included, who believe we don’t have enough dead and dying trees in the forest to sustain forest ecosystems—therefore we do not think that beetle kill and large fires are something to bemoan, rather they should be celebrated.

There is also conflicting opinion about whether logging can actually reduce or slow large fires under severe fire conditions. There is an abundance of evidence from large fires that logging has little effect on slowing blazes—which of course from an ecological perspective we need.

Even if thinning did appear to slow or halt small fires, historically speaking it is the very few, but exceptionally large fires that account for nearly all the acreage burned—and consequently do all the ecological work. If, as many conservation groups now acknowledge, wildfires are critical to ecosystem health—then we must do everything we can to facilitate large blazes—not prevent them.

So if the goal to promote healthy ecosystems, we need large blazes and major beetle kill. I hear few conservation groups, particularly partnering with logging advocates promoting non-invasive measures such as homeowner responsibility for reducing home flammability as well as zoning to reduce home construction in these areas that would reduce conflicts with large fires. Is this coincidence? I don’t think so.

It is not unlike groups that are livestock advocates that are unwilling to suggest that ranchers take greater responsibility for reducing predator conflicts by using guard dogs, removal of dead carcasses, calving and lambing sheds as well as other measures that would reduce or eliminate the presumed need for predator control.

All of these ideas and others are a challenge to the common discourse promoted by the timber industry and its lackeys in forestry schools, federal agencies, and now even far too many conservation groups.

Now I will be the first to grant that many of these new ideas and challenges to the old paradigm are preliminary and may, upon future review, be found to be overly simplistic as the original ideas they are replacing about fire suppression, forest health, fire ecology, and so forth.

But isn’t it the job of conservation groups to err on the side of caution? If there is dispute about whether logging is needed or not, shouldn’t conservation organizations err on the side of no active management rather than promoting policies that by happy coincidence just so happens to line the pockets of the timber industry?


Far too many conservation groups have gone well beyond advocating “wise use” to advocating exploitation. Much of it based on out of date ideas about wildfire ecology, forest health, and logging.

Take for instance George Sexton’s idea that we can log our way to “forest health”. The underlying presumption of such commentary is that our forests are no longer healthy. But new insights into how forest ecosystems work challenge the dominant paradigm. Increasingly we find that dead trees, whether due to beetle kill, diseases, drought or fires are a sign of a healthy forest, in much the same way that wolves killing elk indicates a healthy predator prey relationship.

Groups as diverse as Oregon Wild, the Wilderness Society, Montana Wilderness Association as well as others—all of whom I might add do a lot of good conservation work in other areas–are advocating thinning to preclude large wildfires and beetle kill. Not only is there a growing body of literature that suggests that thinning is not effective at stopping fires under extreme fire conditions, one has to ask why you would want to do this? Even if the motivation is forest “restoration” why not advocate restoration by natural processes like wildfire or beetles?

Forest ecosystems require periodic inputs of dead trees. Dead trees fill many critical roles and functions in forested ecosystems from homes to many bird species (45% of all birds rely on dead trees) to habitat for salamanders, ants, bees, lichens, fungi and a host of other species. Dead trees falling in streams are important for aquatic ecosystems, and rotting wood in the soil is critical to soil nutrients.

The natural background rate of tree mortality that occurs in the absence of large fires or beetle kill is not sufficient to provide the long term input of dead woody biomass essential for functioning forest ecosystems. Forests need occasional large scale mortality to provide for these dead wood needs.

Thinning forests, even if it worked to effectively thwart fires and beetles, would be undesirable because it would be short circuiting the long term flow of dead wood. Even if some old growth died as a consequence of fires or beetles, this does not represent a loss to the ecosystem since big dead trees are the most valuable to the ecosystem. So what if some old growth burns up—so long as we don’t remove those trees by logging, they will continue to full fill important functions in the forest ecosystem.


Beyond these problems, logging is not benign. Many of the real costs associated with logging remain unaccounted and often ignored.

If we are trying to decide whether to log a particular area or not, we need to fairly articulate the real costs as well as the benefits. In far too many cases, the benefits are imaginary or fleeing (as in the assumption that logging can reduce the spread of large blazes) and the negatives are ignored or glossed over.

For example, logging roads cutting across slopes severs the subsurface flow of water, diverting it on to the surface of the road, which in turn causes excessive sedimentation in streams. Logging equipment also compacts soils reducing infiltration. Both factors create greater erosion and sedimentation loading in streams.

Logging roads, equipment, and access created by logging roads is one of the major vectors for the spread of weeds. In the long run, the introduction of weeds may have more negative impacts on wildlife and the forest ecosystem than any effect from natural processes like fires.

Logging roads are also a major vector for hunters, poachers, trappers, ORVs, and other human activities that can disturb sensitive wildlife or reduce wildlife populations. For instance, grizzly bears avoid logging roads—and thus logging roads effectively reduces bear habitat. Elk also avoid roads. And even so-called closed roads and/temporary roads still provide access to hunters, and are often broached by illegal ORV use.

I have only mentioned a short list of the effects of logging—and I could add a much lengthier list here.

The point is that these negatives are seldom mentioned when decisions to log or not are discussed. And even if they are acknowledged agencies and supportive groups often advocate other “techno fixes” to correct the problem. For instance, it is common for the FS and their conservation group allies to acknowledge that logging can spread weeds, but then the response is that we have to spray herbicides to control the weeds. Even if herbicide spraying were implemented, an honest appraisal would admit that spraying is seldom a 100% effective. Does it make sense to risk the spread of weeds by logging forests on the assumption logging will preclude fires or restore the forest, when it may not be effective in reducing fires anyway and the forest is perfectly capable of self restoration?


What is problematic about conservation groups endorsement of logging is that they then become captured by the industry. They cease to be advocates for the forest. It is difficult to be in collaboration with industry or politicians while at the same articulating the many ways that logging impacts the land. Yet if conservation groups like NW Conservation, MWA, Oregon Wild, KS Wild, Idaho Conservation League, National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, and others will not articulate these problems to the public, who will?

All the public knows from the quotes in the paper or hearing a short radio spot is that our forests are “unhealthy”, logging “improves” forest health or that logging will reduce fires or beetles. And it is a natural conclusion that dead trees are a sign of an unhealthy forest ecosystem. They hear that conservation groups believe logging is the cure for a host of ailments that affects the forest– real or imaginary.

Instead of promoting logging, conservation groups ought to be articulating all the negatives associated with logging. If they support anything it should be the alternatives to logging—be a staunch supporter of more wildfire—and do not use qualifiers like “good fires” (low intensity) and “bad fires” (stand replacement). Tell the public why beetle kill is good for forests—how it creates a nice mosaic of age classes and is one of the main ways we get biomass into forest ecosystems. Why dead trees are needed for “healthy” forest ecosystems. These are the messages that conservation groups should be sending—because if they don’t, no one else will do it.


Furthermore, these groups could point out that there are alternatives to logging. Even if one agreed that our forests deviate from historic conditions, one could advocate allowing natural ecological processes to correct the situation.

Keep in mind that in our national parks and wilderness areas—the kinds of places that these groups with names like Montana Wilderness Association, Oregon Wild, KS Wild, and others believe is a desirable land status—are restoring themselves with wildfires, beetles, and other natural processes. They don’t need to be logged to be healthy.

Permitting fires and beetles to “restore” forests—if indeed they even need restoration–is akin to promoting wolves to “restore” healthy elk herds by reducing elk numbers. Wolves are far better at determining which elk should or should not survive than the indiscriminate killing by hunters just as wildfire, beetles, and so forth at better than any foresters in determining which trees should be killed.

Is it the role of conservation groups to be advocates for logging? If conservation groups abdicate their responsibility to speak for the forests—then who will? There are not enough loraxes around anymore.



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  1. Rancher Bob Avatar
    Rancher Bob

    Elk and grizzlies avoid logging roads?

  2. MAD Avatar

    it’s disappointing to see an organization like WELC, to whom I contribute every year, take this position. Compromise & negotiation is one thing, but making concessions of this magnitude nullify the goals that you are trying to achieve. I’m sorry, in life there needs to be a point where you draw the line in the sand and make a stand for your position and beliefs. For them to cave in for this crap is unwarranted and unforgivable. And that woman calls herself an Environmental lawyer, acquiescing to that crap? I am very thankful I’m a solo practitioner that can stand by my morals and beholden to none.

    1. Susan Jane Brown Avatar

      WELC has a proud tradition of using science, law, and policy to protect wild places across the West. Our collaborative work embraces many of the scientific principles Mr. Wuerthner describes to restore fire regimes, wildlife habitat, and aquatic systems on the Malheur National Forest and elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest. WELC welcomes the opportunity to show off our work, and we encourage our supporters – and especially our critics – to learn more about our engagement on public lands issues:

  3. Louise Kane Avatar

    Your writing is so eloquent!

    Your statement below echoes what I think is a trend with some conservation groups. In their zeal to be “bipartisan” (like the first term of the Obama administration) they have lost sight of their conservation goals and thus do not pursue progressive agendas that might really affect change. I believe that Conservation Northwest did this in their jointly issued statement about the Wedge Pack.

    anyhow great writing again, as always

    “However, I tend to believe that their support for logging represents a failure to challenge many of the flawed assumptions that are guiding federal logging programs and in some cases even repeating many of the same pejorative language helps to undermine in the long term conservation efforts. “

  4. George Wuerthner Avatar

    Rancher Bob:

    Quite a bit of scientific literature supports the idea that many wildlife species, including bear and elk avoid roads.

    There is a good discussion about road impacts here:

    1. Rancher Bob Avatar
      Rancher Bob

      I’ve read the studies yet it appears the grizzlies and elk in my part of Montana have not read them.
      One problem with the studies is researchers use culvert traps to catch bears. Culvert traps are heavy, so they get put where you can drive. The bear is caught, drugged, collared, and released on a road. Who would guess that bear would avoid roads. Roads make easy travel routes burns less calories. Talk to people that spent time in logged areas bears and elk use roads.

      1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
        Ralph Maughan

        Rancher Bob,

        The Interagency Grizzly Bear team has released a lot of information on this, and grizzly bears do use roads, but they tend to avoid roads that are used more than once a day.

        Sure, if the road rarely has vehicles on it, bears will probably prefer it for speedy travel. However, wolves are much more like to use roads than bears. My unsystematic backcountry travels in Idaho have showed me more wolf tracks than bear tracks on dirt roads in places were there were packs.

        1. Rancher Bob Avatar
          Rancher Bob

          Have you noticed a drop in wolf road travel since hunting of wolves has been going on in the two states. I’ve noticed a large drop in road use by wolves but other factor have effected my pack.

          1. Louise Kane Avatar

            maybe the wolves are dead RB

  5. birdpond Avatar

    Thanks for a crucially important article. Dead standing wood (snags) are VITAL – I have one pine snag across from my home where no less than 3 species of woodpeckers, plus flickers,nuthatches, squirrels and who-knows-how-many other species are regularly vying for the cavities within – for nesting, roosting, feeding etc. It’s an amazing site (and sight!) Dead standing snags are so rare in residential areas that this ONE tree is prime real estate, fostering successive nests of Pileated, Red-Headed and other rare species.

    Imagine the bird wonderland if we left more standing timber for these wonderful creatures?

    We tend to forget that Nature functioned perfectly well before Man showed up, and that it can function perfectly well without us. We are no longer part of Nature, we are rogue creatures. There are too many of us, in too many places and we are too powerful and unthinking (despite our much-celebrated ‘intelligence’). We MUST stop trying to micro-manage an infinitely complex system which we are no where close to understanding – We MUST, instead,step back and ALLOW Nature and wilderness. Give Her room, freedom, to function as intended.

    I do have one correction: Hunters do not kill ‘indiscriminately’. Actually, it’s worse than that. Whereas wolves will target the easy prey (weak, old, sick, newborn, injured, scrawny), human hunters target the BEST, prettiest, healthiest and most genetically vibrant – The biggest racks, the hugest bodies, the best colors, etc. Human hunters are therefor selecting for scrawnier, sicker, smaller, weaker, even rackless herds (or slower-witted, duller, less alert flocks) by removing (killing) the best breeders and leaving – well, the dregs – to sire the next generation.

    It doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to see where this will end up.

    So it is the HUMAN element in all these things (logging, hunting etc) that is detrimental to sustaining a healthy environment.

    Why do conservation groups fall in line? It’s not ignorance I’m afraid – As I always maintain, FOLLOW THE MONEY. Who is making the biggest donations to them? Who is cutting back-room deals? Money trumps common sense and ethics. If someone (like a timber company, Gov hunting division, politician, oil driller etc) stands to make a profit, you can bet it’s the WRONG decision for the Earth, but that check under the table can change a lot of otherwise educated minds. If the conservation orgs begin to be influenced by the almighty dollars of the exploiters, they need to be called out.

    Greed does not make for good resource management or a healthy planet.

    1. Mark L Avatar
      Mark L

      “I do have one correction: Hunters do not kill ‘indiscriminately’. Actually, it’s worse than that. Whereas wolves will target the easy prey (weak, old, sick, newborn, injured, scrawny), human hunters target the BEST, prettiest, healthiest and most genetically vibrant – The biggest racks, the hugest bodies, the best colors, etc. Human hunters are therefor selecting for scrawnier, sicker, smaller, weaker, even rackless herds (or slower-witted, duller, less alert flocks) by removing (killing) the best breeders and leaving – well, the dregs – to sire the next generation.”
      On the mark, birdpond. Exactly.

      1. mikepost Avatar

        Mark, you are off base a bit here. Most hunting seasons are designed so that the hunt occurs after the rut (or other mating season). I am not a “trophy hunt” proponent but these animals get to pass on their genes.

        1. Mark L Avatar
          Mark L

          Most, yes. Just for fun, pick a predator species we hunt and see if it applies in your state.

        2. HAL 9000 Avatar
          HAL 9000

          The “biggest and best” are more than capable of avoiding all the but the best, most determined human hunters. Protests that humans are killing all the best animals ignore the fact that most hunters never even see a trophy sized buck or bull, much less get the opportunity to kill it.

    2. skyrim Avatar

      Good thoughts Birdpond. Thank you for articulating them so nicely.

    3. Louise Kane Avatar

      Excellent comment Birdpond

      “We tend to forget that Nature functioned perfectly well before Man showed up, and that it can function perfectly well without us. We are no longer part of Nature, we are rogue creatures. ”

      I’d love to see what would happen over several years if all “management” were suspended in wilderness areas . No logging, no trophy hunting, no grazing, no motorized vehicles, no impacts by humans other than say wildlife watching.

      1. HAL 9000 Avatar
        HAL 9000

        Louise, logging, motorized use and grazing aren’t allowed in designated wilderness areas.

        Also, one thing particularly amusing to me is the hysterical irony of all these statements decrying all things humanbeing made on computers over the Internet by people who most likely drive automobiles and, I’m guessing, are also more likely than not sitting in climate-controlled rooms while they type.

        1. Mal Adapted Avatar
          Mal Adapted

          HAL, grazing is allowed in many, although not all, federally-designated WAs. The federal WAs were created by multiple congressional acts, each the result of negotiation among interested parties; grazing interests won some and lost some. At least two of the acts allow motorized use for limited purposes. Try a quick google on something like “wilderness act grazing”.

      2. Barb Rupers Avatar
        Barb Rupers

        How about hiking, rivering, cross country skiing, mushroom hunting, camping, to name a few other activities one can do in designated wilderness areas besides wildlife watching?

        I do like fried trout but do not fish streams anymore where it is catch and release only. It isn’t fun for me and I am sure it is not for the trout. I never was a fan of lake fishing; on a creek or river there are other interesting activities to indulge in when the fishing is slow.

    4. HAL 9000 Avatar
      HAL 9000

      Your statement regarding hunting reads like a PETA press release, and reflects the typical ignorance.

      Also, if you’re so taken aback by human presence ruining everything, and so woefully unimpressed with human intelligence, then feel free to give up all your possessions and trappings of modern life, pack up your barely contained misanthropy and return to the African cradle of Homo Sapiens.

      Otherwise, by the simple virtue of even living a modern lifestyle in North America, You’re screwing things up as badly as any of the rest of us, and your statements reek of hypocrisy.

      1. Salle Avatar

        “… by the simple virtue of even living a modern lifestyle in North America, You’re screwing things up as badly as any of the rest of us, and your statements reek of hypocrisy.”

        Interestingly, I see such comments as an appeal to everyone to consider making changes that will result in our acting to collectively change these conditions, which requires willful adaptation to less damaging lifestyles. Some of us are already on that path, perhaps others might consider doing the same if they thought about it. Saying something about it is a start to inspiring that thought process.

        1. Barb Rupers Avatar
          Barb Rupers

          Salle, I agree we need to make a personal effort to diminish our impact on Earth. At 7 billion and growing humans are definitely a threat to ourselves and other species, plants and animals.

          I decided in the early 1950’s to have at most two children. With advancements in science and education, in those dark ages, I was able to achieve that goal.

          The government should take a more active role to encourage smaller families, like increasing the income tax on those having more children; currently it is being done backwards.

          As a high school science teacher I tried to point out to the students that it would be better for population control to begin with limiting the number of offspring rather than dispatching anyone later in their lives by such unpredictable means as wars and disease.

          Now some of those who say we are anti-human suggest that we eliminate ourselves. We are not for more killing but for not increasing the current population of the 7 billion here already. That is a big difference of philosophy.

          1. Salle Avatar


            I agree. I was just a few years behind you in those dark years but was able to avoid having any children, which was my intent from long before I was of the age to do so. The rest of my family reproduced enough to make up for it though.

            I agree that there needs to be an incentive to cut down on the “go forth and multiply in mass quantities” model. I see so many women having children, there seems to be a kind of boom around here, and it makes me cringe. I wonder what they must be thinking, if they are at all, about what kind of world they are bringing these children into. I never wanted to be responsible for that, glad I was able to make it out of that period of life unscathed, so to speak. I think we’ve passed out of the time of man where inadvertently having babies is some kind of inalienable right, and then there are all those who do the invitro and other desperate things just so they can make more people… (I’m thinking “octomom”) yikes.

            I guess that when all you know you learned from the TeeVee you just don’t notice that humans seem to have become second only to cockroaches in adaptability and pandemic-like proportion. I’m sure there are a few other species that fall into the same category, I just can’t think of any off hand.

            1. Nancy Avatar

              Barb, Salle – seems there is recent news re: “motherhood”

              Its in our Genes:


            2. Salle Avatar


              I think there’s a big difference between the instinct to be nurturing and what ever it is that prompts people to actually do the birthing thing. There are plenty of people who make babies but aren’t very attentive to the nurturing part. I do the nurturing thing a lot, have for most of my life. Glad I didn’t go through the “making more people” part, have no regrets about it.

      2. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        Otherwise, by the simple virtue of even living a modern lifestyle in North America, You’re screwing things up as badly as any of the rest of us, and your statements reek of hypocrisy.

        I don’t agree. Living a modern lifestyle by itself isn’t necessarily ruining the environment – it’s how much we take that is the deciding factor.

        Yes, our presence can’t help but have an impact, but some make more of an impact than others (greed). Hunting by itself isn’t wrong IMO, but trophy hunting has a negative impact on wildlife for the reasons stated in posts above – the biggest and best are taken. In a world where wildlife and the habitat to support them is shrinking, it has a definite impact. Using energy to heat/cool a home and run a computer is bound to have some impact – but being careless about energy use, getting the biggest and best computers, cell phones, driving an inefficient car, truck or SUV if you don’t need one. Overconsumption of goods you don’t need, careless disposal of trash, having society encouraged overly large families.

        Certainly, our legislators have the capacity to make the biggest impacts on the environment and wildlife by catering to special interest that would exploit them, businesses like oil, gas, timber, fisheries, factory farming. Family ranching and farming by contrast don’t have the biggest effect IMO and are beneficial with healthy agricultural techniques, and provide healthier food.

        Some of us don’t need everything and despite Madison Avenue, time has taught us that we can live very simply.

  6. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Yes, I love to see dead trees while I am out too, to see all the birds, and wildlife, mosses, etc. that they support in the environment.

  7. Larry Keeney Avatar
    Larry Keeney

    I lost the best dead snag at my place last winter during a heavy ice storm and it was like losing a pet. It was the best tree I had for so many cavity seeking birds AND animals. It is laying where it fell and is now beloved by salamanders and snakes.

    A great article and very needed. However, we live in a time of mitigation. I would draw the line in the forest where George would draw the line but the mitigation that might bring support to save a pristine area from logging is a strong incentive. My line is not negotiable on wolves!

  8. Idaho Jo Avatar
    Idaho Jo

    Does it have to be all or nothing? Can there not be areas where mechanical/industrial logging can be balanced with areas where natural processes prevail?
    It seems that as (some of) our elected leaders have embraced a collaborative approach to resource management and have signaled a willingness to help achieve ecological goals (i.e. land protection, wilderness, wild and scenic rivers, restoration, etc.) that the conservation community has an appropriate role to play in identifying areas where active management (i.e. thinning, logging, and Rx fire) CAN play a role in the already-roaded portions of our public lands. What’s more where historic mistakes (i.e. excessive road building, high-grading, fire suppression, etc.) can and should be corrected through collaboratively-developed resource planning.
    Does it have to be a strict either/or? After all, part of the problem in the broader political environment is a “line in the sand” mentality that is inhibiting progress toward finding solutions.
    The conservation community is diverse and that’s a good thing, but evolution of ideas, and approaches is also a good thing. If these new approaches turn out to be a failure after thorough monitoring and evaluation, that’s fine. Until then, I’d suggest giving some of these groups and efforts a chance to do their thing, AND to safeguar existing public involvement (NEPA, NFMA, FLPMA, etc.).

  9. Denise Boggs Avatar
    Denise Boggs

    Thanks George. Excellent piece that needs to be stated over and over again. Far too many groups are compromising on logging and making defense of our forests far more difficult. There are a few loraxes out there and I can count them on 2 hands. Keep up the great work.

  10. George Wuerthner Avatar

    Dear Idaho Jo

    No it is not all or nothing necessarily. I did say there may be legitimate reasons for logging in some places–so long as all the costs are balanced against the presumed benefits. Unfortunately that is not what is occurring today.

    And I am certainly not arguing against participation in public lands logging decisions. I encourage it.

    Indeed, it is my sincere wish that conservation groups involve themselves in determining where, when and how logging may occur–but part of this is articulating all the costs and full disclosure and examination of the validity of assumptions that underlie logging proposals.

    For instance, many timber sales are justified based on the assumption that dead trees will increase fire risk. Yet there is conflicting evidence on this–and thus a good point for conservation groups to make is that beetle kill might actually reduce fire spread, ot increase it as commonly assumed.

    Or, for instance, say the proposal is to thin forest stands on the presumption that it will preclude large fires.

    The first thing I would ask is “why do you want to preclude large fires?” Is this just a knee jerk bias against wildfires? Since it is only large blazes that do significant ecological work, do we really want to preclude such fires–assuming that thinning actually does stop or reduce them?

    Big fires are responsible for the influx of large amounts of dead trees that are critical to long term forest ecosystem health. So the proposed timber sale might actually harm “forest health.”

    And I would also question whether the assumption that logging would reduce large fires is accurate anyway.

    In other words, are we (taxpayers) spending a lot of money thinning forests on the presumption that they will stop large fires, when thinning frequently does not accomplish this goal and there is even research that suggests in some cases, it can increase fire spread–so thinning doesn’t necessarily accomplish the stated goals.

    So conservation groups involved in these discussion should be raising such questions and challenging many of the preconceived assumptions that guide FS logging proposals.

    But that is not all.

    And if the logging also has other negative and well documented impacts (of course this would vary depending on where, when and how logging were proposed) impacts. We know that logging roads cause sedimentation in streams. We know they alter watershed flow. We know they can cause landslides. We know they improve hunter access. We know they spread weeds.

    I would want a conservation group to articulate these kinds of concerns, then ask whether the proposed logging proposal is really in the public interest? If we are losing money on the sale. If we are creating many other environmental impacts, and if we are not even achieving the desired goal of reducing fire spread or forest “health” than we should be asking such questions.

    If all these costs are fully disclosed and accounted, and the proposed timber sale still has more benefits than negatives, than conservation groups perhaps should not oppose the sale.

    For example, I could see where logging/thinning along existing roads immediately adjacent to a community might be a timber sale worthy of support–but only if the community recognizes that even thinning might not save their homes–and most of the responsibility for fire safe homes lies with them.

    However, I often see timber sales proposed miles from towns that are justified in the name of protecting the communities. I would hope that conservation groups would call the agency on these timber sales, and suggest that investing money in fire proofing homes and reducing flammability in the immediate (300 feet) of the homes is the least expensive and most proven means of safeguarding homes.

  11. Michael Kellett Avatar
    Michael Kellett

    George, you’re right on the mark. If we need to log forests for them to be healthy and to create jobs, why do conservationists more wilderness? Because there is ample evidence that land preservation is good, not only for forest health but also for jobs — better than logging and other resource extraction.

    I am not against all logging. It can be appropriate if it is done in an environmentally sensitive manner on private lands. But we should not be degrading our precious public lands with logging operations and other resource exploitation. We should be preserving them for other values.

    The only forests proven over time to be truly healthy are unlogged forests. Yellowstone National Park is a perfect example of why logging is not needed. The park has been protected from logging for 140 years. Yet it is one of the healthiest and most complete ecosystems in North America. It is a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site. It has done just fine with no logging.

    There is no place on a large scale anywhere on the planet where logging has proven to be ecologically sustainable for 140 years. No “working forest” has the same degree of ecological integrity as Yellowstone or our other national parks and wilderness areas.

    Logging advocates argued that the huge Yellowstone fire of 1988 showed that we need to thin forests to prevent this type of “devastating” fire. In reality, the forests of Yellowstone have rebounded since the fire and are healthier than ever. The fires not only proved that we do not need logging for healthy forests, but it also proved that unlogged forests are healthier forests.

    Another important point is that most national forest and BLM logging is subsidized by the American taxpayer. People need jobs, but below-cost logging only provides a handful of dangerous, low-paying jobs, it damages the forests, wildlife habitats, and watersheds, and it enriches private industry at the public’s expense.

    I am all for using public stimulus funds to help create jobs. Why don’t we establish a new CCC to employ people in real forest restoration projects? They could obliterate thousands of miles of unneeded logging roads and restore watersheds damaged by logging. They could build new trails and refurbish campgrounds. I wouldn’t mind my tax dollars going to that kind of positive jobs program. Instead, we are subsidizing more destructive and unnecessary logging programs.

  12. birdpond Avatar

    ps I linked your post to a story I just built around the ideas you brought up and credited you, as well – Thank you. This is an important issue more people need to be aware of.

  13. HAL 9000 Avatar
    HAL 9000

    Good thoughts regarding logging. My father spent much of his life fighting below-cost timber sales on public land.

  14. Dan Avatar

    Let’s do the math. Wood is by far the cheapest material we have for building. Producing a piece of dimension lumber uses far less energy than producing the building equivalent in brick or steel. If we give up wood to let the forest run it’s “natural course”(which is highly subjective completely ignoring man’s existence), what do we build with? Given that the world population is ever increasing and engineering is continually developing processes to use fiber more efficient, I don’t ever see “us” getting out of the wood business. Understanding the energy ramifications there is not a better solution than wood. Once you enter the “woods” you begin the management process. Sure there are areas we need to avoid because of poor soils, elevation, view sheds, etc. but generally if the elevation is less than 4000 feet it makes for a productive timber area. Identifying these areas and utilizing them is a responsible use of the world’s resources based on energy, carbon sinks and yes – forest health. Once the management process is started you can’t pull up lame. Which is exactly what we’ve done with much of our national forests. We’ve started the management process and stopped half way. We need to go back into the woods and continue utilizing it for our building needs. More thinning and more logging. We tried to turn back the clock and it plain does not work. Logging is the answer and the sooner we realize that the sooner we can get started returning the forest to a healthy productive state. People are on this planet in massive numbers and we can not afford to ignore the most efficient means to house them. Fighting to turn the woods into a stagnant resource is irresponsible and ignorant.

    1. Nancy Avatar

      “We need to go back into the woods and continue utilizing it for our building needs. More thinning and more logging.

      No….. we don’t Dan. There are more than a few alternatives out there when it comes to building materials and, given all the landfills & waste in this country – job opportunites as well.

      “Each production day we recycle (and keep out of landfills) up to 100 tons of recycled cellulose fiber. Every production year our unique manufacturing process helps conserve nearly 750,000 trees and eliminates more than 30 million pounds of solid waste that otherwise would go into landfills”

    2. Barb Rupers Avatar
      Barb Rupers

      I hope that you are advocating for no timber harvest above 4000 feet in elevation. That would be one step in the right direction.

  15. JB Avatar

    “The SRM paradigm is a direct descendent of Gifford Pinchot, founder of the Forest Service who advocated the “wise use” of natural resources. It assumes we know enough about ecosystems to manage them without unintended consequences and wise enough to do so judiciously—two assumptions I would challenge.”

    And you would not be the first–this refrain is all too common among those who challenge any consumptive resource use. The first law of ecology reminds us that everything is connected to everything else–you can’t pull a string (or harvest one resource) and expect the others to be unaffected. And yet people have been harvesting trees (or their parts) for resources for as long as there have been people. Moreover, today we get “smarter” (to adopt George’s terminology) by studying the impacts of various types of harvests to help us minimize unintended and deleterious consequences.

    “Wise use” gets a bad rap because its advocates used it as cover to do more of the same–some of it unwise by anyone’s standards. Despite this cynical beginning, the “smart” or “wise” use of resources remains a laudable goal–especially when we consider the alternatives. Total preservation (doing nothing at all) also has unintended consequences–not all positive, and would diminish a needed natural resource (hey there’s always plastic!). Privatization requires neither smarts nor wisdom, and under our current legal regime, private landowners are largely free to harvest what, where, and how they want.

    The more recent terminology that replaces “wise use” is “ecosystem management”. Its proponents argue that the goals of ecosystem management include ecological, social, and economic sustainability. Again, all laudable goals–but it isn’t always possible to achieve all three (and mathematicians will note that you can’t simultaneously maximize for three different variables).

    The reality is that wise/smart/ecosystem management will always have detractors because it isn’t possible to please everyone all the time (least of all timber companies and environmentalists). However, approaches that generally seek to “balance” the types of benefits society attains from forest resources are much preferable to the alternatives, in my opinion. Healthy skepticism is also important when approaching these issues. However, I think the broader suggestion (i.e., that advocating on behalf of timber harvest is the antithesis of conservation) is simply unrealistic, and doesn’t adequately consider the alternatives.

  16. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    The main problems with wood structures are fire risk and moisture-related problems. Wood is an aesthetically pleasing material that never goes out of trend completely, though the current popularity of composite and engineered materials are taking its place in many construction sites. Wikipedia

    With continuing climate change, increasing risks of wildfires, land beign taken up for wind and solar farms, and forested areas decreasing, some kind of new building material may be in order. Big, wasteful McMansions are hopefully a thing of the past.

  17. Mal Adapted Avatar
    Mal Adapted


    We need to go back into the woods and continue utilizing it for our building needs. More thinning and more logging. We tried to turn back the clock and it plain does not work. Logging is the answer and the sooner we realize that the sooner we can get started returning the forest to a healthy productive state. People are on this planet in massive numbers and we can not afford to ignore the most efficient means to house them. Fighting to turn the woods into a stagnant resource is irresponsible and ignorant.

    That may be your opinion, but I presume the majority of commenters here regard forests as more than vast warehouses for commodities.

    1. Nancy Avatar

      Agree Mal.

      And how fricken arrogant is that, to refer to whats left of nature (wildlife, habitat) as “stagnant resources”

  18. Monty Avatar

    It always comes down to: we need more & more of everything because the goal is to produce more “human tonnage”. Our irrational religions condone more & more human baby production without a thought to the earth’s carry capacity. The polcy of growth for growth sake is where Sika, Alaska is shipping water (via 82 million gallon tanker ships)12,500 miles to Mumbia, India. Mumbia will produce more human tonnage based on a water supply on the opposite side of the planet. Crazy!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. skyrim Avatar

      It is crazy, and if we (as a species) continue to bang out babies as we demonstrate we really know how to do (this according to the Maury Povich show)it will only get worse. As it does and the resources continue to dwindle accordingly, human life will become as meaningless as dead critters on the side of the highway.
      We only know how to make them, we don’t really know how to plan for/care for them…………..
      (yes, there are exceptions)


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George Wuerthner