Carole King: Folk-singing forester

Carole King: Folk-singing forester

\[ photo courtesy of Francis Chung/E&E News \]

Folk singer and song writer Carole King was the star witness before the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis Subcommittee on Environment conducted March 16 in Washington, D.C.

The hearing - Fighting Fire with Fire: Evaluating the Role of Forest Management in Reducing Catastrophic Fire - did nothing to shed light on the underlying causes of the West’s wildfire pandemic. But it did provide the anti-forestry mob with the bully pulpit at a time when public opinion and congressional sentiment have turned against the idea that our national forests should be left to “nature.”

Ms. King has lived in Idaho’s remote Salmon River country since 1977. She has been advocating for the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act [NREPA] since 1990 and is a major funder of anti-forestry environmental causes.

Last time I looked, we still live in a free country, so Ms. King can do whatever she pleases with her time and money – including lending her name and reputation to the House Select Subcommittee on Environment. Not one of its seven majority members has a forestry background.

Select Committees are the exclusive domain of the majority political party. They are free to script their own political theater in hopes of making a strong showing in the news cycle. They do this by selecting witnesses who can draw media attention to the political case they hope to make.

If the goal in inviting Carole King to appear was to anger the West’s wood products manufacturers, the hearing was a failure. If it was to slow the political tide running against the anti-forestry mob, it failed. If it was to change minds about the need to thin dying trees from forests that hold too many trees for the carrying capacity of the land, it failed.

Committee Chairman, Ro Khanna, should have asked her to sing. She has perfect pitch. My favorite is Will You Love Me Tomorrow, a No. 1 Billboard hit she wrote in 1960 that was recorded by the Shirelles.

None of the six Democrats on Mr. Khanna’s Select Committee hails from a western state that is burning to the ground. But Mr. Khanna hails from California, which is burning to the ground, so he should know more than his orchestrated questioning suggested. If he knew more, his witness list would have been more balanced. There would have been a forest scientist whose peer reviewed research drills deeply into the multiple ecological benefits associated with thinning and prescribed fire in overstocked forests.

Instead, Select Committee members heard from Dominic Della Salla, president and chief scientist for the Geos Institute, an Ashland, Oregon climate advocacy group that believes logging is a major cause of climate change and our ever worsening wildfire pandemic.

In his written testimony, Della Salla declared that the Forest Service’s recently released wildfire strategy is a recipe for “doing more of the same thing it has been doing for the last three decades – scale up commercial thinning and other forms of logging and increase fire suppression. Doing more of the same thing is running in the wrong direction twice as fast.”

It's hard to know where to start to unwind Della Salla’s narrative, but his misuse of data is rivaled only by Ms. King’s claim that the Forest Service “takes the most profitable trees, which are the big ones. And they leave all the branches on the ground to dry out, which exacerbates fires.”

I believe the current diameter limit on federal timber is 18 inches dbh. That’s diameter breast high and it means that no tree larger than this can be harvested. This rule applies on the 26 percent of the 193 million acre federal forest land base that is open to harvesting. The remaining 74 percent is in land classifications that prohibit timber harvesting.

Contrary to Ms. King’s claim, the only “big” trees toppled in national forests today go down in fire storms. Millions of them over the three decade timeline that Della Salla references in his testimony.

To back her claim that only “big” trees are harvested, Ms. King submitted a promotional YouTube video showing a Tigercat feller buncher working on private land in western Oregon. Machines like this are commonly used in forest plantations in West and Southeast but we’ve never seen one on Forest Service ground. “Light on the land” machines like this one are frequently used in forest restoration work on federal lands. Note the difference in tree diameters.

"light on the land" machine performing forest restoration

In response to a question from Chairman Khanna concerning Forest Service climate research, Della Salla said, “The Forest Service has been in charge of a lot of this research. This would be like putting the coal industry in charge of climate change research. This would be like putting the tobacco industry in charge of lung cancer research.”

Despite his reference to carcinogens, Della Salla never mentioned the EPA’s determination that wood smoke is carcinogenic – a conclusion backed by research done by the Forest Service’s Fire Sciences Laboratory in Missoula, Montana. But he did tell Select Committee members that between 2006 and 2010 nationwide carbon emissions from logging were eight times greater than carbon emissions from wildfires and insect disturbances – and that the Oregon Global Warming Commission had reported in 2018 that “logging was recognized as one of Oregon’s top carbon polluters.”

Eight times? Says who? Show me the data.

I have read the Oregon Commission’s 84-page report twice and did not find his reference to logging being one of the state’s “top carbon polluters.”

But since Della Salla referenced the Commission’s 2018 report, I invite you to study it. Figure 1 on Page 5 quantifies past, present and projected greenhouse gas emissions [GHG] for Oregon. Combined industrial GHG emissions for 2017 were about 10 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Transportation was about 20 million and electricity use about 18 million.

Be sure to read the Forest Carbon Accounting discussion on Page 11, the Wildfire discussion on Pages 14-18 and the Public Health discussion on Pages 21-22. The report is long but it is well done. Lots of data that underscores the complexity of carbon-related problems and opportunities.

Della Salla cherry-picked negative impacts in hopes of generating sound bites for the news cycle. This is why he has more friends in the 117th Congress than he has in the world of forest scientists. They know him for who he is and they have no respect his effort to obfuscate issues that swirl around the forest health/forest restoration/carbon sequestration/climate change/wildfire discussion.

Fortunately, there were more reasoned voices in the room: Forest Service Chief Randy Moore, Jim Hubbard, a former Department of Agriculture Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Ali Meders-Knight, a basket weaver and mother of five who is also a Master Traditional Ecological Practitioner with California’s Mechoopda Indian Tribe.

And a colorful three-page booklet produced by the Agriculture Department’s Office of Sustainability and Climate is no doubt giving Della Salla some heartburn as well. Timber Harvest and Carbon illustrates how forest carbon cycling and wood use operate in a closed loop. Google "Life Cycle Analysis" if you want tons of information concerning the comparative environmental impacts of construction using wood, aluminum or concrete.

Back to Carole King. I respect her love for the Salmon River surroundings she described in her testimony because I have floated and fished long stretches of the river, but it bears little resemblance to the remarkably diverse Northern Rockies ecosystem she seeks to protect.

Many of the charismatic wildlife species that are her surrogates – grizzly bears for example – could be helped by the kinds of forest restoration work with which we are well acquainted. We soon expect to post a video on our website that explains how and why this is happening in grizzly country south of Troy, Montana.

Ms. King’s Northern Rockies project is part of the much larger 30X30 Project that seeks to “conserve” 30 percent of the nation’s 2.43 billion acre land base over the next 30 years. That’s 802 million acres – an area four times the size of the West’s 193 million acre federal forest estate. Never mind that more than half this estate is ready to burn or soon will be. What the hell is going on in this Congress and where will 30X30 supporters find the other 609 million acres they seek?

We first saw the 30X30 idea mapped as wildlife corridors by Earth First in the early 1980s. The goal is to end all forms of forest management on federal lands in the West as well as a good deal of farming in the Midwest.

Most conservation groups oppose it because they understand and support the role that active forest and rangeland management can play in conserving species.

Here is a March 7 letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland signed by 45 national groups that speaks directly to the profound differences between preservation and conservation. I’m sure Chairman Khanna has a copy of this letter and knows that he is fighting an uphill battle against millions of people who work and play in our national forests and don’t want them to burn to the ground for the sake of selfish ideologies that don’t consider human wants and need needs.

My old friend Alan Houston, a PhD wildlife biologist in middle Tennessee summarized this for me in an unforgettable 1997 observation:

“When we leave forests to nature, as so many people today seem to want to do, we get whatever Nature serves up, which can be pretty devastating at times, but with forestry we have options and a degree of predictability not found in Nature.”

So true Ms. King. So true.

Jim Petersen, Evergreen

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