Forests are Not Inventory

When forest management attempts to suppress the vital ecological dynamics of disturbance, death, and decay in pursuit of commercial productivity, they effectively sabotage the complexity of life-sustaining ecosystems. Furthermore, this take on forest management directly violates Indigenous ways of life, reducing living systems to their most simplified, marketable uses. Don’t take my word for it, read the works of Robin Wall Kimmerer, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Roxanne Dunbar-Oritz, Robert J. Miller, David Treuer, and many other Indigenous scholars and authors. Such is the ongoing impact of European colonization and the imposition of its domination and profit-oriented philosophies of land use. Even with the advent of “ecosystem-management” in the 1970s, the top-level goals remain the same: Achieve predictable, commercial-grade, industrial-scale production, forever and ever.

Take, for example, the US Forest Service operating within the Department of Agriculture. According to the agency’s 2015-2020 Strategic Plan, “The mission of the Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.” This is a broad and ideological statement that sounds somewhat like a beneficial approach. However, Congressional budget decisions and pressure from the timber industry have consistently centered the “productivity” goals, obligating the agency to focus the majority of its resources on the commercial production and extraction of “natural resources” through logging, mining, and grazing. Ecological health and diversity, and necessities such as drinking water, cultural and spiritual practice, and learning and recreation are considered desirable where/if they can be achieved as a byproduct of commercial harvest activities. The non-commercial values aren’t often sought after or prioritized in and of themselves, nor do they receive adequate resources toward their achievement. Why is that?

We’ll need to do a quick overview of a little piece of federal policy called a Land & Resource Management Plan, commonly called a Forest Plan, to answer this question. A Forest Plan lays out the goals & guidance that inform Forest Service staff when they design management actions (projects). It is the vision of how the forest should be managed and to what ends. Every National Forest has one and it shapes Forest Service actions in several key ways:

1. The Forest Plan designates specific areas of the forest for different uses by dividing the area into “land

allocations” such as “Wood Product Emphasis”, “Deer & Elk Winter range”, “Developed Recreation Area” and “Key Site Riparian Area”.

2. It establishes the “desired future condition” for each of the land allocations and describes the types of management actions needed to bring about those conditions.

3. It establishes Forest Wide management Standards and Guidelines that apply across all land allocations.

4. And it creates monitoring and evaluation requirements.

Written in the 1980s, the Mt. Hood Forest Plan’s designated uses of land (allocation) do not include much of what needs to be prioritized today. For example, you’ll notice there is no land allocation for the conservation of forest carbon or climate refugia for wildlife. In fact, climate change is not even mentioned in the Mt. Hood Forest Plan as currently written.

Remember, “The mission of the Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.” But, the guiding management intentions, goals, and practices for the Mt. Hood National Forest, now over 30-years old, are focused on producing marketable timber, not climate resiliency. The Forest Service needs to acknowledge that addressing climate change in the Mt. Hood National Forest plan (and all land management nationwide) is absolutely necessary to meet the needs of present and future generations.

Why does the Forest Service use Forest Plans in the first place?

Following recognition of the mounting ecological impacts of unchecked logging and out of concern that the harvest was outpacing the forest’s growth rate, the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) was enacted in 1976. The main objectives of NFMA require the U.S. Forest Service to develop and follow management plans for national forests, set standards for timber sales, and create policies to regulate timber harvesting (NFMA doesn't mention climate change either...). The purpose of the NFMA objectives is to protect forest productivity in the long term by limiting excessive logging and clear-cutting. A “conservation” strategy in the truest sense of the word, NFMA says the Forest Service needs to be strategic about the way forests are harvested in order to achieve the maximum sustainable harvests into the future.

NFMA changed forest management by requiring the US Forest Service to use a systematic and interdisciplinary approach. It also provided for public involvement in preparing and revising the National Forest Land and Resource Management Plans. NFMA is one of the most powerful environmental laws regarding the management of public land, and it cracks the door open a tiny bit for us to push federal land managers to properly address issues of environmental justice and climate change.

NFMA recognizes that time changes both values and ecosystems -- and so it requires that Forest Plans be revised “from time to time when conditions in a unit have significantly changed, but at least every fifteen years.” Now, the Mt. Hood Forest Plan has never been revised even once, and I’m pretty sure we can point to some significant changes in the values and ecosystem, can’t we? In the 1980s the primary value of Mt. Hood National Forest was the timber that could be harvested for commercial use. The Forest Plan, completed in 1990, lays out a road map for the conversion of mature forest into tree plantations by decreasing the amount of forest over 150 years old by over 50,000 acres and increasing the amount of forest under 50 years old by over 76,000 acres.  Mt. Hood National Forest Service is expected to produce 189 million board feet; with almost 75% of that coming from clearcuts; resulting in approximately 21,000 acres of “regeneration harvest” each year.

What course would a Forest Plan written in the next 5 years set us on, do you think? Should the course be the same? Seriously, let us know what you think!

Later this month, Bark will sit down with Forest Service leadership to outline our vision for a new forest plan and a climate justice future for Mt. Hood. I hope we can count on you to help elevate this issue and this opportunity in your communities. If you would like support in writing to local newspapers, speaking to your elected officials, or getting the word out to like-minded organizations and individuals contact the Free Mt. Hood Campaign Committee.

These thoughts assembled for your consideration by Courtney Rae, Bark's Associate Director.

Bark's Historical Accountability Statement and Land Acknowledgement

As an organization founded by white people in the lineage of settler-colonial environmentalism, Bark understands that "conservation” work is embedded in the white supremacist legacy of colonization: land theft, cultural erasure and genocide, and the systemic use of law to suppress Native sovereignty over their homelands. We understand that Bark’s dedication to protecting the stolen lands referred to now as the “public lands of Mt. Hood National Forest” carries with it this paradox which continues to be ignored by most conservation groups and which continues to harm Indigenous people, today. In our advocacy and policy work, Bark’s interactions with federal agencies often comply with the authority assumed by the U.S. federal government. This “authority” was assumed through the legalized displacement and genocide of Indigenous people and cultures, including through the legislative creation of “public lands”. These crimes and injustices have not been reconciled nor rectified. Today, all non-native people have the privilege of primary access to these “public lands” as a direct result of this strategy of legalized supremacy.

Bark recognizes that conservation organizations like ours are complicit in the ongoing displacement of native people and culture each time settlers and other non-Indigenous people claim the benefits of access to this land without acknowledging this context and by engaging in the paradox of protecting stolen land. We are working to change the vision, mission, and strategies of our organization.

Bark affirms that these are the rightful homelands of the Multnomah, Molala, Kalapuya, Chinook, Clackamas, Tenino, Wasco, Wishram, Paiute, and the many other Native people who live here and who have always lived here, who have always belonged to and cared for this land and whose bold resistance to colonial oppression should guide us all.