Thoughts on Forestry Research:  who woulda thunk
  Jul 11, 2007 10:43 PDT 
Fellow ENTS:

As a forester I am somewhat embarrassed to believe that at this late stage
in the HWA invasion and attack on the hemlocks in the southern Appalachians
that the following could appear in the online Journal of Forestry as "news" I
just shudder to think how much money was spent coming up with such a profound
concept. Not because I disagree with the value of streamside hemlock
trees...especially along trout streams...but because the research article will
appear as "news" to so many foresters.

Russ Richardson

Loss of Hemlocks Will Affect Water Dynamics in Southern Appalachian Forests
Forest Service research has provided the first estimates on the impact the
loss of eastern hemlock will have on the water dynamics of the southern
Appalachian Mountains. In the June 2007 issue of Ecological Applications,
researchers Chelcy Ford and Jim Vose from the agency's Southern Research Station (SRS)
Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory present findings on eastern hemlock rates of
transpiration (the amount of soil water taken up by trees) from a 2-year study
in western North Carolina.
Thoughts on Forestry Research:  who woulda thunk
  Jul 11, 2007 12:27 PDT 

      I understand your feeling of embarrassment, but you, in no way, should feel responsible for what the rank and file of the forestry profession lack in ecological awareness. You and others like my forester friend Ehrhard Frost in Vermont are a different breed. You practice the profession in a far more Earth-friendly way than what commonly passes for forestry.

Thoughts on Forestry Research:  who woulda thunk   DON BERTOLETTE
  Jul 11, 2007 21:55 PDT 


Ah yes, "conventional wisdoms"...I expect the other Don B may have some comments about the narrow focus researchers are often faced with/forced to maintain...


Thoughts on Forestry Research:  who woulda thunk   Don Bragg
  Jul 12, 2007 07:24 PDT 

Bob, Russ, Don, & ENTS--

I wouldn't be too hard on the forestry profession--while there are many
who are willfully ignorant or indifferent to any species that may be
considered non-commercial, virtually every forester I know has a good to
excellent grasp of the ecology of at least the systems they work in.

Also keep in mind that forestry (actually, natural resource management
in general) is not free of the political systems that drive our
society--whether they are local, state, or national. What we would like
to do and what we have been funded to do (those of us in the public
sector) are often two very different things. Many of the priorities
that are set are set by people with little to no forestry/ecology
background. HWA, while a tragic event in eastern forests, is certainly
not the only one that must be faced. Emerald ash borer, sudden oak
decline, Asian longhorn beetles, exotic organisms (including
earthworms), southern pine beetle, fire, drought--the problems go on and

While it may seem like a lot of research is focused on confirming things
that should be obvious, remember that science REQUIRES the ability to
confirm hypotheses and validate results by testing what is already
"known". Science is replete with examples of "known" observations
eventually becoming repudiated by new observations. Not to sound too
dismissive, but the world was known to be flat because anybody could see
that it was... The medical profession is full of examples of how
medicines are thought safe, and then turn out not to be--ecology and
forestry are no different. If we don't test hypotheses in properly
controlled conditions, we don't necessarily know if the trend we're
observing is a spurious correlation or cause-and-effect.

The public no longer blindly trusts the forester as an infallible expert
on the forest, and rightly so--our focus on fiber production of a few
valuable species came at the expense of much of what the lands had to
offer. A science-based approach means that things have
changed--scientists are now asked to provide sound science to policy
makers and land managers to provide the basis for decisions. The study
by Ford and Vose provides one part of the defensible basis for actions
to be made that have serious and widespread political ramifications.
Almost inevitably, a decision one way or the other will dissatisfy many,
and the result is often legal action, whether or not the
person/organization has legal standing. In many cases (perhaps too
many), courts of law become the final evaluator of what constitutes good
science, and conventional wisdom does not tend to fair well in this

Don Bragg

Thoughts on Forestry Research:  Back to Don
  Jul 14, 2007 05:34 PDT 

           Exceedingly articulate and well thought out. Your points are ones that all of us need to hear to keep these forest-based issues in perspective.

          I'd like to briefly follow Russ's thread deeper into forestry and its role. Don, you carry a PhD and are knowledgeable about and very sensitive to biodiversity and the importance of retaining parts of the landscape in natural condition. You understand the threats to stands of trees and to individual speices that well-intentioned, but naive forest activists believe will somehow automatically be protected by Mother Nature. You are well qualified, to determine points of balance. You apparently are also be acquainted with plenty of kindred spirits, which is encouraging to me. However, there is a substantial part of the forestry profession that sees things differently from the way you do.

        From my own experience, some of the best environmentalists I have known are foresters. But then there are many who retain a strictly timber perspective - and then there also is the industrial arm. Here in Massachusetts, within the private sector, many foresters working in consulting positions where their financial survival is at stake do what they have to do to pay the bills. Others retain their principles, come what may, even at a big expense to their lifestyle. At the state government level in Massachusetts and elsewhere around New England in both state and federal, I have observed a wide range of sensitivities and should not paint with too broad of a brush - although I have been guilty of doing just that. The best course is for all of us to stay open-minded, but biases creep in, especially in response to one's personal experiences.

      In Russ's case, based on what I've understood from past discussions with him, he lives in a state where the timber mindset is simply overwhelming. Preservation, except of the most minimal type, is frowned upon. Russ is fighting an uphill battle to gain acceptance for a more flexible approach to forest management, but I think it can be very discouraging for him at times. More on the topic to come - with an upbeat flavor.

Thoughts on Forestry Research:  who woulda thunk
  Jul 14, 2007 11:53 PDT 

I think that there is often a certain security offered to researchers who
research the obvious rather than the complex issues surrounding why, how or


I do agree that most foresters are trained to be aware of different aspects
of ecology and some of the different environmental aspects of forest
management and I do not disagree in the least with your description of how the
forestry profession should work.

All of my work as a private consulting forester and a majority of my contact
with forestry professionals during my work with timber sales and timber
harvesting is with people that are not affiliated with any public agency unless
it is in a regulatory manner.

I really appreciate where the science forestry should be but at least in
Appalachia there is a significant disconnect between what an optimist could hope
for and what a realist must cope with.


RE: who woulda thunk   DON BERTOLETTE
  Jul 15, 2007 13:16 PDT 

Now that I'm retired from federal service, and occasionally in the 'retrospective' mode, it comes more and more to me that my dis-satisfaction with the Forestry Profession, whether it be USFS, BLM, NPS, or other large land management agencies, is that we could have done it so much better.  There could have been a system in place from the start that recorded the cause and effect of the prescriptions/actions we took in managing our forests.  It's my current thinking that outside of USFS research stations, a decade is about as long as records are kept...too much responsiveness to changing administrations, too little continuity of care.  It could have been a grand experiment, too bad we have wasted such a grand opportunity...
-DonBertolette (23 years with USFS, BLM, NPS; retired)
RE: who woulda thunk
  Jul 15, 2007 17:39 PDT 

    A retrospective look shared by you would be very valuable to ENTS and should be to others who really want an honest evaluation of how things were done. I don't think most Ents on the list realize the breadth of experience that you have as a government forester. Any insights that you would care to share for the ENTS record would be most appreciated and would become one of the most significat "forest views" that we seek. If you don't want to go through a long thought development process on the list, would you be open to questions from some of us?


RE: who woulda thunk    Don Bragg
   Jul 16, 2007 05:59 PDT 

Don Bertolette, Bob, Russ, ENTS;

Before I say anything else on this topic, let me join Bob and Ed in
plugging you to put something together as a retrospective of your
experiences. We could even offer it as a commentary in the Bulletin of
the ENTS (my shameless plug for new material...), including pictures and
editorial assistance, if you'd like. This offer stands for any ENTS
member who has something to say, and can make a coherent statement on

I agree with the other Don B. in that we should have done a much better
job of documenting what we've done, where, and why we did it.
Unfortunately, most companies, agencies, and individuals don't have the
resources to maintain those records, nor do they necessarily have the
mandate--this is remarkably important in ensuring these records are
retained. The Experimental Forests and Ranges of the USDA Forest
Service are an exception to this--we have records on these areas that
often go back decades (our Crossett Experimental Forest has records on
some studies and demonstrations that go back over 70 years). We have
embraced this as one of the big advantages to our research program
compared to many universities, whose data rarely transcends an
individual researcher's career.

Living in the home of industrial forestry, the southern US, has given me
some new perspectives on how my profession operates. In my years, I
have not met a professional forester who did not have a love for the
out-of-doors, and southern industrial foresters are no different. Their
perspective differs appreciably from most in that they have a very
utilitarian view of trees and forests, and this view tends to be quite
narrow. To them, the highest and best use of a tree is boards, fiber,
or some other practical, consumable product. A dead tree is a wasted
opportunity, not habitat, or carbon storage, or an important part of the
nutrient cycle. The loss of a non-commercial tree species simply means
that there is now more room for one that can make people money.

They probably understand, at least from an abstract perspective, the
value of functional ecosystems, non-commercial (or non-game) species,
and even concepts like ecosystems services. Those are the realm of
other property owners or land managers--not their concern. In my talks
to student groups, foresters, and even private landowners at our
experimental forests, I have become accustomed to the glazing over of
eyes when I mention the red-cockaded woodpecker, or something other than
loblolly pine. Rather than letting it discourage me, I continue onward,
hoping that at some point these foresters recognize that it is our job
to present all options and possibilities to our clients.

The part that frustrates me the most is how many of these individuals
approach public land management. So many have the view that there is
only one purpose for timberland--the production of timber. While this
industrial view is fine (although not entirely accurate) for industry
lands, public lands are a different matter. Timber production is only
one of many options, and all must be recognized, appreciated, and
possible. This means some areas must be set-aside as wildernesses or
otherwise protected from major human disturbances, others can be managed
for timber or game production, others for recreation, others for water
quality, etc. Many of these uses are compatible and can be done on the
same parcels of land simultaneously, some are not, but all should be
possible (even if not in the same place at the same time).

Anyhow, I'm starting to ramble. If anything, I'd like people to
appreciate that forestry is not a profession of things that are simply
black or white, but rather one with both extremes AND a full range of

Don Bragg

RE: who woulda thunk   Zachary Stewart
  Jul 16, 2007 11:50 PDT 

It seems to me that most people today have to see some sort of vivid
proof that something needs doing before they are willing to spend
money in getting it done, and must see it for themselves. As has
been said before about the war against HWA, those outside of ENTS or
other special organizations dedicated to the preservation of hemlocks
and other declining native species will generally 'wait and see'
what happens and will only begin to take action once it is too
late... and that idea is not just confined to this subject: it is
often seen in many if not most areas of society. This is no time
or place to debate politics, though; what the world needs, in situ-
ations such as this, is more people who will immediately take action
when they believe something needs doing instead of waiting for some-
one to prove it, and not wait until everything is too far gone to
make a difference.
- Zac
RE: who woulda thunk   Don Bragg
  Jul 17, 2007 11:24 PDT 


Some final thoughts, then I'm off the topic...

I agree that some people need to have an impossible threshold of proof
before they are willing to accept something as reality--the global
warming issue is a classic example of this. We'll never have all of the
answers, at least not to many peoples' satisfaction, and this will be
their excuse to maintain the status quo (usually to their benefit, if no
one else's). Note that some people in the 1970s were concerned that
global cooling was a crisis that needed to be addressed before it got
out of hand...

Having said that, rash actions based on instincts, gut feelings, or
limited data can also have unintended consequences that are significant,
and the results you may have to live with could be worse than the
original problem.

Don Bragg
Re: who woulda thunk
  Jul 17, 2007 11:34 PDT 

I really think that a lot of your points are incredibly insightful and
relevant to many of the short-comings of the forestry profession and the narrow
gauge management that is driven by a utilitarian mindset.