Scientists ask Obama to protect old growth forest

Jun 25, 2014 by Dan Joling
This undated file photo provided by the U.S. Forest Service shows a section of the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska. More than 75 scientists are appealing to President Obama to create a policy for preserving old-growth forest, like Tongass. The U.S. and Canadian scientists sent a letter to the president Wednesday June 25, 2014, urging creation of a policy by the U.S. Forest Service. (AP Photo/U.S. Forest Service, File)

More than 75 U.S. and Canadian scientists have sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking for a policy to preserve what remains of America's old-growth forest.

The scientists include two former chiefs of the U.S. Forest Service, Jack Ward Thomas and Mike Dombeck. They say less than 10 percent of the old-growth forest before European settlement is still intact

Only fragments remain in the eastern United States and the largest trees in the Pacific Northwest were targeted more than a century ago. The largest extent of remaining old-growth forest is in southeast Alaska's Tongass National Forest but faces the threat of logging, the scientists said.

"As far as I know, the Tongass is the only national forest where they are still clear-cutting old growth," said John Schoen, a former state of Alaska research biologist.

Owen Graham, director of the Alaska Forest Association, said the Forest Service has been carefully planning appropriate timber sales and should be left to do its job.

"I presume those scientists' salaries don't rely on timber harvest or any other sort of resource development," he said.

Old-growth forests vary greatly but are distinguished by old trees, accumulations of dead woody material and diversity of plant life. In southeast Alaska, they range from scrub trees to magnificent tall hemlock and Sitka spruce, Schoen said.

Gordon Orians, professor of biology emeritus at the University of Washington, acknowledged that part of the motivation for protecting old growth is the powerful, emotional relationship with towering old trees.

"They're like cathedrals when you walk in them," he said.

However, the world has a major climate change problem and old-growth forests retain more carbon than any other ecosystem. They offer plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms found nowhere else and provide protection of salmon streams.

"There's a biodiversity element to this," he said.

A national policy would help re-establish old-growth forest in Lower 48 states, which can take 120 years or more, while balancing timber needs, he said.

Owens of the Alaska Forest Association said just 450,000 acres of the 5.5 million-acre Tongass have been logged and 100 percent has been replanted. Forty percent of the forest is in wilderness areas, he said, hand-picked for beauty, good stands of timber and high recreation value.

Limiting timber harvest to trees planted on previously logged areas makes no economic sense, he said, because those young trees have not stopped growing and are not high-value. Eliminating logging on remaining old-growth forest would mean hardships for Alaska communities.

"We can't all run grocery stores and book stores," he said. "Some people have to produce a product, and to do that, we need access to the resource."

Explore further: A new look at old forests

4 /5 (4 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A new look at old forests

Jun 03, 2014

As forests age, their ability to grow decreases, a new study by Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) scientists and colleagues has determined. Since most U.S. forests are maturing from regeneration that began ...

79 years of monitoring demonstrates dramatic forest change

Jan 06, 2014

Long-term changes to forests affect biodiversity and how future fires burn. A team of scientists led by Research Ecologist Dr. Eric Knapp, from the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Research Station, found dramatic ...

Forest harvesting intensity varies in Europe

Feb 05, 2014

Forests provide us with essential raw materials and the demand for these materials is increasing. To meet this increasing demand, forestry faces the challenge of how to intensify management of the existing production forests ...

Recommended for you

Underwater elephants

1 hour ago

In the high-tech world of science, researchers sometimes need to get back to basics. UC Santa Barbara's Douglas McCauley did just that to study the impacts of the bumphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum) on cor ...

Malaysia air quality 'unhealthy' as haze obscures skies

7 hours ago

Air quality around Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur and on Borneo island was "unhealthy" on Tuesday, with one town reaching "very unhealthy" levels as haze—mostly from forest fires in Indonesia—obscured skies.

User comments : 0