Industrial Forestry Paradigm drives Colville NF logging

The recent response to my editorial on the ecological value of dead trees by Russ Vaughn and Mike Peterson demonstrated exactly the problem I was attempting to address: that the Industrial Forestry Paradigm, not ecological understanding, drives forestry on the Colville National Forest.

Their last paragraph illustrates this industrial bias. Vaughn and Peterson wrote: “The logs delivered to area mills are simply the byproduct of creating healthy forests. On our public lands, the focus is no longer on resource extraction, but on creating a healthy, resilient forest that can be used and enjoyed for generations to come.”

The problem is that neither Vaughn or Peterson seem to understand what constitutes a “healthy” forest ecosystem.

And while it’s important to be exposed to all viewpoints, not all viewpoints are equally valid. What may seem intuitively obvious—like a forest with green trees is “healthy”—ignores ecological science. Just as one can argue that it’s “common sense” that the sun circles the earth because it rises in the east and sets in the west, but sciences tells us the earth circles the sun.  There is a similar problem with the “common sense” idea that “healthy” forests are ones largely free of bark beetles, wildfire, and other natural processes.

Many, many species live in mortal fear of green forests. They depend on wildfire, beetles, mistletoe, drought, etc. a periodic input of dead trees. Forest ecosystems have adapted to these episodic disturbances over millions of years of evolutionary time, but they are not adapted to logging.

Fully 2/3 of all wildlife depend on dead trees at some point in their life history. They live in mortal fear of green forests which is the Industrial Forestry idea of forest health. But it ignores the needs of so many plants and animals.

Logging sanitizes a forest and impoverishes it. It does not make it resilient or healthy. For instance, all trees have genetic variation and resistance to things like drought, fire, bark beetles, frost, and other ecological influences. But loggers remove trees based on size or species, not on the hidden genetics.

Forests store a lot of carbon. Indeed, recent economic studies conclude that the most valuable resource of our public forests is carbon storage, not wood. And studies confirm that thinning removes more carbon than even a wildfire.

Other excuses for logging, including it, can preclude wildfires is also bogus. Numerous studies have documented that under extreme fire weather, wildfires burn through fuel reduction fire breaks. Indeed, there is even evidence that fuel reductions can exacerbate wildfires. Though as I mention above, we actually need more wildfires due to the deficit of dead wood in our ecosystems.

Worse for taxpayers, nearly all timber sales on public lands are money losers. No wonder Russ Vaughn is an advocate of collaboratives because he gets to advocate for taxpayer subsidies to his company, while the public gets the impoverished forests in return.

The problem with collaboratives is most of the people involved have little knowledge of forest ecology and little understanding of forest ecosystem complexity. Some, like Russ Vaughn, have a vested financial interest in the outcome.






  1. Isabel Cohen Avatar
    Isabel Cohen

    We must stop the greed and leave our forests to regenerate at their own pace! How else can we save all the species that depend on fallen dead trees and other debris for their habitats?

  2. Tijolinho Avatar

    George Wuerthner,thank you for your blog post.Really thank you! Awesome.


George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

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George Wuerthner