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The Art of Forest Restoration

By imrdkl in Science
Fri Oct 25, 2002 at 02:07:40 AM EST
Tags: Focus On... (all tags)
Focus On...

Forest restoration is a creative process. It's based on a scientific plan, but at its heart lies an artistic act. We sculpt the forest, from the raw beauty and abundance which it has, into a cleaner and healthier work. A work which we hope resembles, as closely as possible, the state in which it existed before we ever laid eyes upon it.

In this article, the third in a series (part I, part II), we'll see how forest restoration is performed. We'll look at the scientific basis, but we'll try not to lose sight of what really happens when a forest is restored. We'll try to remember that we're restoring works of art - art that may continue to be appreciated for hundreds of years, if we're very careful.


Last Friday, the US Senate was recessed without taking further action on the administrations forest initiative, Healthy Forests. Yet another devastating year of wildfires has come to a close, and the only thing we're left with is the memory of the terrifying destruction, and the desolation of the aftermath. The opposition to the Bush plan was simply too strong, and the plan was far too vague to calm the fears of a massive plundering of our greatest natural resource.

However, and as I mentioned previously, the Bush plan has merit. Not because of any political affiliation, but because it's based on the process of forest restoration. Granted, the Bush plan had some streamlining elements which were not widely well-regarded. It was also clearly oriented to benefit logging companies, although from his comments, GWB did seem to understand that there's more to restoration than big logging. What really scared the naturalists and conservationists however, is that forest restoration requires cutting a lot of trees. When applied to the overgrown and dense forests of the southwest, forest restoration can be a radical change, in fact. That's because at its core, forest restoration relies upon the simple conclusion that many dominant forest species naturally tend to grow in a clumped spatial pattern.

Now, that's not to say that forest restoration isn't also a very complex process. The sheer number of decisions and considerations involved in any forest restoration can be overwhelming, and tackling them is perhaps best accomplished as a community - especially when the community is surrounded by the forest which they want to restore. The community of Flagstaff, Arizona is one such place, which I also mentioned in the previous article. The Flagstaff plan for forest restoration is the one which the Bush administration claimed that Healthy Forests was based upon. The Flagstaff plan was developed based on research performed at Northern Arizona University (NAU), who's campus is located in right in the middle of Flagstaff. The research considers the many and various aspects of performing a forest restoration, from social to economic issues, to the monitoring of the old-growth trees, as well as monitoring birds, grass, insects, brush, and every other biological entity to be found in the forest, before, during, and after the restoration is completed.

While researchers are working to provide reasonable answers to the many open questions which remain about forest restoration, there are two basic questions which must be asked, and answered, before a single tree can be removed. Namely,

  • What to cut - Based on age, which trees should be removed, and which should remain.
  • How to cut it - What do we want the forest to look like, when finished?

As I alluded to in the first paragraph, the fundamental assertion beneath forest restoration is that the forests were better off before we ever touched them. Therefore, when answering these two questions, we must first establish a specific date for any given forest, before which there were only natural processes to affect them. After that's done, we simply need to establish what the forest looked like at that particular time in history, and cut accordingly, so it seems. However, since very few photographs exist of that time, the restoration artist must use other techniques to build our picture of the forests of old.

What a forest is supposed to to look like

The statistical analysis of spatial patterns of trees within the forest is most important when deciding how, why, and where the forest should be restored. Just as the artist studies previous works, the restorer of the forest must understand how it existed in it's natural state. Specifically, the first hypothesis which is tested is:

H0: Trees are naturally distributed with complete randomness in the forest.

Several techniques are utilized to study the species at question in this hypothesis, including examination of before and after photographs, and written/spoken historical accounts of the forests of old. The most important technique, however, involves going out into relatively undisturbed regions of forest, the so-called "true old growth" stands, and then laying out sample plots, and measuring distances between the trees, tree-stumps, snags and large ash-piles (remnants) of trees which pre-date(d) human disturbance and intervention. Using statistical analysis upon these distance-measurements, researchers extrapolate conclusions about the true spatial tendencies of a given species of tree.

Studying tree spacing: Theoretical and historical basis

This technique of measuring tree-to-tree distances was studied closely back in 1954, by two researchers named Clark and Evans1. They proposed a statistical measure for analyzing spatial growth patterns which is still widely cited today, and based on raw mathematical derivations from Paul Hertz back in 1909. Their statistical measure is called Nearest Neighbor analysis5. The technique employs a result which, when restated for the forestry context, hypothesizes that the distance from any given tree to it's nearest neighbor is a random variable, R, which is distributed according to the Poisson distribution, when the trees grow in a completely spatially random (CSR) pattern over the land. That is to say, that the probability of finding x trees in the circular area proscribed by the tree-to-tree distance, is

p(x) = (d πr2)x/x! * e-d π r2
Where d is the mean density of the trees per area, and r is the distance to nearest neighbor. . When considering nearest neighbor distance, we're letting x = 0 (e.g. - the probability of find no trees in the given area), so the discrete bits reduce to 1, and we're left with the cumulative distribution function of R in the form
R = 1 - e-d π r2
In this form, the Poisson distribution easily yields a probability density function (pdf), via differentiating with respect to r, which is
2dr e-dπr2
It's worth pointing out that this pdf is actually a form of the Weibull random variable, a widely used density in the fields of failure analysis and QA. The expected value, or mean of R, is
E(r) = 1/2 * sqrt(d)
with the variance and standard deviation:
σ2r = (4-π)/(4πNd), and σr = 0.26136/sqrt(Nd)
where N is the number of measurements taken. Now, that sort of makes sense. It says that the expected value of the distance to nearest neighbor in a CSR population is the inverse of twice the density's root. Thus, to test for differences in the actual value of R versus the expected value, Clark and Evans proposed the following ratio to be standard normal:
z = (rA - rE) / σrE
and submitted that rejection on the negative side implied aggregation, while rejection on the positive side implied evenly-spaced trees. They also showed that R is maximized at about 2.14, when the trees (or any other measured species) are spatially distributed in a perfectly hexagonal pattern, on a unit area.

That's an elegant and generally well-understood bit of math, to back up the theory of nearest-neighbor statistical testing. Unfortunately, and despite the beauty of their result, it holds only when the area in question is unbounded. (infinite area). Additionally, in order to apply this measure, an estimate of the density must be had in advance.

When measuring nearest neighbor distances on a bounded sample plot, as is usually the case, a bias is introduced in the statistic which is called called "edge-effect". Edge effect leads to under-estimation of the true value of R, because the nearest neighbor for any given tree may well lie outside of the sample area. Obtaining a proper estimate of the true density for the species in question in advance can also be quite challenging.

Since Clark and Evan's paper, a cascade of other works has evolved which cite it, and then provide various techniques which compensate for edge-effect, and try to work around the density-requirement. Most researchers who utilize the nearest-neighbor statistic technique these days seem to have settled upon an estimator introduced in 1982, and called Ripley's K statistic, to answer H0 above. Ripley's tool examines neighbors out to the kth nearest neighbor, and uses powerful software to provide the result from the neighbor-distance measurements in a form that can be used to again reject the above hypothesis, and additionally provide a good estimate of the actual nature of the clumping tendency exhibited by the species in question.

Translating the theoretical result into a general rule for thinning

In the early research and testing phases of the Flagstaff plan, the scientists at NAU/Ecological Restoration Institute (ERI) used Ripley's K statistic to reject H0 (above) for the Ponderosa pine tree, and eventually propose an initial clump radius of 30 feet. Formally, the foresters (taggers) were told to find every existing old-growth tree, or remnant, mark it, and also mark any other old growth, as well as some "medium" growth replacement trees within a thirty foot (~10m) radius. The logging crews then came in and removed trees outside of the radius, via taking all unmarked trees, and a clumped (or aggregated) spatial pattern of trees was finally restored in the forest.

It's important to note, that every single old growth tree remained in the restoration area, along with it's new clump.

Since the early tests were concluded for the Flagstaff experiments back in the late 90's, the clump radius has been increased in length, first to 60 feet, and most recently to 90 feet. There were objections to the patchy look of the forest when the natural radius was used, even though the statistics are sound for that value. Increasing the radius, and thereby leaving less open space, gives us the feeling of protection and solitude that we crave from the forest. Increasing clump size also quite naturally implies easier spread of wildfire (crown fires), and limits the protection afforded for the long-term survival of the forest by establishing the relatively distant clumps, and low undergrowth which was prevalent long ago.

In any case, now we have a reasonable plan for how to thin the forest, but we still don't know exactly what to cut. We still need a guideline for deciding what actually is an old-growth remnant, around which we will reestablish the clumps.

How old is old-growth?

Old-growth is a very subjective term. It's thrown around by the media, and well-meaning conservationists as though it were some magical aura, exuding from every tree which stands taller than 10 meters or so. Granted, a tree takes a long time to grow, but old-growth as a purely scientific descriptor means something more than any given tree with a trunk thicker than your leg. To complicate matters further, there's the fact that it's impossible to positively determine the age of a tree, without cutting it down. So, once again, statistical analysis must be used to provide the forester with an estimator he needs to restore the forest. Before we take a look at how that's done, lets consider the seminal work of Swetnam and Brown13.

Swetnam and Brown produced their paper in 1992, which is also cited by the restoration researchers at NAU, and which analyzed the oldest stands of Ponderosa pine (among other conifers) in the southwest. While they allow for the claims that forest age may not be a discrete variable, they also emphasize several important points:

  • True old-growth trees have high scientific value.
  • True old-growth trees tend to grow in difficult-to-reach locations (or else they likely would not have lived this long).
  • True old growth trees are often affected by environmental conditions which cause a disparity in the relationship between their age and their diameter.
  • True old-growth trees in the Ponderosa pine forests of the southwest were typically around in Daniel Boone's time, and even earlier. (~ 1700AD).

Examination of Swetnam's paper will also show you a map which makes it easy to see that true old-growth stands really are frightfully rare. Perhaps they should be among the first, therefore, to be restored. In any case, when considering old-growth for the purpose of forest restoration, we define the term in a much broader sense.

Statistically speaking, defining the relative age of a particular stand of forest is more complex, and the techniques utilized do not have the clean and simple mathematics that we saw for R. For the purposes of forest restoration, we're primarily interested in a single minimum age requirement. As we've seen, any tree meeting that requirement, along with some of it's neighbors (who need not be as old), are left untouched by the restoration artist. In the southwest, the researchers at NAU have determined the minimum age requirement, also called the pre-settlement date, to be around 1880. That is, the date before which non-native settlers began affecting the forests in the southwest. The establishment of the pre-settlement date itself is relatively academic, and considers domesticated animal grazing disturbances, as well as aggressive harvesting of the early 1900s, mass replantings, and the interruption of natural fire.

As mentioned, the only completely reliable way to date a tree is to cut it down, the next most reliable technique is to drill a core sample, and count rings. In the process of forest restoration, and for the sake of simplicity and scalability for many workers, old-growth is defined by thickness of the trunk. Depending upon which plan is agreed upon and utilized, an old-growth Ponderosa pine tree in the southwest will have a trunk diameter of somewhere between 12-16" (30-40 cm), which corresponds to an age of somewhere between 80-120 years. When a tree, or remnant of this diameter or greater is found, it is treated as old-growth, and the agreed radius is proscribed about it to determine which trees should be retained to establish it's new "clump".

Since the chosen diameter specification is applied universally on a given restoration plot, it is also a mean value. It is a very mean value, in fact. There's typically more disagreement and contention about the chosen old-growth diameter than any other variable which is considered in forest restoration. The important point, when deciding minimum trunk diameter, is that it's not just a few bucks more (or less) for the lumber sale, it's about giving the forest the best chance to reestablish natural growth.


Like any good creative process, forest restoration also makes a big mess. Some of the mess is reusable, but much of it is actually just fertilizer - fertilizer that is loaded with nitrogen, and loves to burn. This by-product of forest restoration is also called biomass. Biomass, essentially, is everything alive in the forest, except for the creatures. It includes the trees, brush and shrubs, grasses, roots, and other organisms and matter lying on the floor, including the remains of any of the above. Dealing with biomass is also a tenuous and difficult questions in the process of restoration. The first, and most fundamental question which is asked by restoration research about biomass is

How much biomass existed at the pre-settlement date?
This is an important question because it represents the amount which should remain in the forest when the process of restoration is complete. The various experiments in forest restoration which are taking place have little to report, in the way of statistical tools, for estimating this value. Fulé and Covington et. al. utilize "unpublished" figures to establish their target for pre-settlement biomass, and purport to acheive that target via several means in their implementation, including chipping and spreading (and compacting) of smaller trees and shrubs which must be cut. In spite of their best efforts to utilize the excess biomass from the restoration, they have a lot left over:
Thinning resulted in the removal of a total of 5,500 bd.ft./ac (3,700 bd.ft./ac of 9-16 in dbh trees, 1,800 bd.ft./ ac of 5-8.9 in dbh trees). Most of the smaller diameter trees (629 trees per acre in the 1-4.9 inch dbh class) were utilized as latillas for adobe home construction. A major problem in utilization was what to do with the 37 tons per acre of thinning slash. Because there was no market for this material, it was hauled (70-80,18-wheel dump truck loads) to a borrow pit and burned. - [Covington et al.]
In every case of restoration, the restorer should have a plan for what to do with the biomass which cannot remain in the forest, either due to exceeding the biomass target, or due to it's crown-fire enabling properties as a so-called ladder fuel. I pointed out in the previous article some of the alternatives being considered for this problem, including utilization as a power-generation fuel. There are many other ideas, and they seem to be open to new ideas, as well.

Biomass is, as one might guess, is also studied using statistical tools. Biomass is also hypothesized to be distributed spatially over the forest, just like tree-location, and age. It has averages and variance that may even be predictable, someday. Much important work in studying biomass is being done via satellite-based remote sensing4, which as we know, continues to improve. In fact, researchers seem quite confident that they can learn just about anything they want to know about the forest from satellite imagery. They're now able to analyze most visible and non-visible bands for information about the forest. It's unclear to me whether, or if, it will ever be possible to actually count trees, much less measure them, via satellite imagery. At least, not via any publicly available images...

Other Considerations in Forest Restoration

There are currently about a half-dozen large restoration areas around the city of Flagstaff, within the so-called Urban Interface of the Coconino forest. Another lies slightly north of town in an area called Mount Trumbull. The Mount Trumbull area is more situated in true wilderness than the other plots around town, and therefore provides a test of open-wilderness implementation. While the urban interface is considered a higher priority than open-wilderness for restoration projects, it's also important not to simply forget about the open wilderness, and the danger it faces, if action is not taken.

There are plenty of other interesting research projects going on in and around Flagstaff. While many experiments are still being actively carried out, some results are now becoming available. Of particular concern to many naturalists considering forest restoration is the affect which it may have upon wildlife. While researching this article, I had an exchange with a biologist who studied Western Bluebirds in and around the restored areas of Flagstaff. He gave me permission to repost this abstract:

We examined the effects of presettlement forest restoration treatments on the nesting success of Western Bluebirds in ponderosa pine forests of northwestern Arizona, U.S.A. From 1998 to 2001 we monitored 97 active Western Bluebird nests, 41 in current-condition untreated forest and 56 in restoration-treated forest. We found no effect of restoration treatments on clutch size and little effect on the number of nestlings per nest. However, in treated forest stands number of fledglings per nest averaged 1.6 times greater, and probability of a nest surviving to successfully fledge at least one young was up to 4.2 times greater than in untreated forest. Probability of a nest succeeding averaged 0.39 +/- 0.11 (SE) and 0.75 +/- 0.06 from 1999 to 2001 in untreated and treated forests, respectively. In addition, in treated forest, average number of nests infested with the blowfly parasite Protocalliphora sialia was up to 4.3 times greater, and number of parasites per fledgling was up to 10.7 times greater than in untreated forest. Overall, the data suggest that in treated forest Western Bluebirds have a higher probability of successfully fledging young, but they are at greater risk of parasitic infestations, of which the ultimate effects on post-fledging survival are unknown. - [Germaine and Germaine]
Insects in general, as indicated by their effect on the bluebirds, seem to thrive in the re-opened forest. One of the accomplishments reported by Covington, Fulé, Moore and the rest of the researchers in their Progress Report12 earlier this year is that butterfly population was increased in abundance and species-richness in restored areas, possibly due to the additional sunlight. Their entire report is worth reading, in fact. It gives synopsys of many of the ongoing experiments which are measuring everything from grazing effects on restored forest, to the human dimension of ecological restoration, even among the native Indian tribes of northern Arizona.

As mentioned previously, forest restoration in the southwest relies on the fact that the native tree species there tend to clump together. While this result holds for other conifers and tree species, it may not always be the case. If a species is found which demonstrates other spatial tendencies in its natural environment, then restoration for that forest might utilize a different marking/thinning technique. Calculation and study of each individual forest, along with the tendencies of its dominant (and lesser) species, should be a part of any good plan.

The cost to the public of any restoration is also a consideration. As mentioned in the first article in this series, some estimates for restoration go as high as $1600/acre (~$4000/ha). That figure, it seems to me, must be at the very high end of the scale. Fulé, et al.8 found that applying full restoration in a dense Ponderosa pine forest had an associated cost of about $300/acre ($748/ha), for example. Naturally, the final cost is dependent on many factors, including how many trees are taken, but also how high a price the Forest Service is able to get for those trees. There's also a significant cost associated with cleaning up the mess, as we've seen, at least until better ideas are put forward for managing slash.


Forest restoration is a complex process. This note only considers two or three of the major issues, and there are hundreds more. Right now, in many ways, restoration scientists are still in the early phases of learning about these, but I believe that the scientific basis is sound. Naturally, it'll be at least a dozen years before we know if it truly is as good as it seems, although the early results look promising.

Forest restoration is not a clearcut by any means, neither is it a sustainable-forestry technique. Reducing the population (logging/thinning) is important in restoration, but only insofar as it leaves the forest in a state which shall not be altered further (protection). Ideally, after a forest is restored, only natural processes (along with controlled burning) should be required to maintain its new, and natural state. In practice this doesn't always hold, but as insight is gained to the craft of restoration, and the trees mature, the odds will improve.

Therefore, it's important to proceed with care, when restoring a forest. It's also important to proceed with some haste. You see, as I pointed out previously, many forests are facing a crisis larger than mismanagement, it's a crisis of drought. A crisis which we've brought upon ourselves, perhaps, or perhaps it is something worse. Whatever the reason, the forests of the western US are threatened by more than just greedy lumber companies, and politicians looking for votes. It's time to take action, and give our forests back a chance to fight for themselves, with their own natural defenses. It's not time to thin, it's time to restore.


  1. Clark and Evans. 1954. Distance to nearest neighbor as a measure of spatial relationships in populations. Ecology 35: 445-453
  2. Covington, Niering, Starkey, Walker. 1998. Ecosystem Restoration and Management: Scientific Principles and Concepts
  3. Covington, Fulé, Smith, Springer, Heinlein, Huisinga, and Moore 2001. Comparing ecological restoration alternatives: Grand Canyon, Arizona. Forest Ecology and Management 170:19-41.
  4. Davis, Melack, Day and Wang 1997. Biomass Modeling of the Ponderosa Pine Forests of Western North America with SIR-C/X-SAR for Input to Ecosystem Models
  5. Germaine and Germaine, 2002. Forest restoration treatment effects on the nesting success of Western Bluebirds RESTORATION ECOLOGY 10(2): 362-367
  6. Dixon, Phillip. 2001. Nearest Neighbor Methods
  7. Fulé and Covington. 1998. Spatial patterns of Mexican pine-oak forests under different recent fire regimes. Plant Ecology 134:197-209.
  8. Fulé, Covington, Smith, Springer, Heinlein, Huisinga, and Moore 2002. Testing ecological restoration alternatives: Grand Canyon, Arizona. Forest Ecology and Management 170:19-41.
  9. Fulé, Covington, Hart and Weaver 2001. Modeling ecological restoration effects on ponderosa pine forest structure Restoration Ecology 9(4): 421-431.
  10. Mast, Fulé, Moore, Covington, and Waltz. 1999. Restoration of presettlement age structure of an Arizona ponderosa pine forest. Ecological Applications 9(1):228-239.
  11. Research Guide for the Flagstaff Plan
  12. Southwest Fire Initiative Update 2002
  13. Swetnam, T. W., and P. M. Brown. 1992. Oldest known conifers in the Southwestern United States: Temporal and spatial patterns of maximum age. In: M. R. Kauffman, W. H. Moir, and R. L. Bassett, tech. coords., Old Growth Forests in the Southwest an Rocky Mountain Regions, Proceedings of a Workshop, March 9-13, 1992, Portal, Arizona. USDA Forest Service General Technical Report RM-213:24-38.
  14. Previous articles in this series: Part 1, and Part 2.


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Forest Restoration
o Will work 21%
o Should work 36%
o Might work 27%
o Won't work 15%

Votes: 33
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o part I
o part II
o forest restoration
o without taking further action
o Healthy Forests
o come to a close
o streamlini ng
o clumped spatial pattern
o previous article
o Flagstaff plan
o Northern Arizona University
o before and after
o snags
o Paul Hertz
o Poisson
o probabilit y density function
o Weibull
o expected value
o Ripley's K statistic
o NAU/Ecolog ical Restoration Institute
o Daniel Boone's time
o pre-settle ment date
o first article
o drought
o Ecosystem Restoration and Management: Scientific Principles and Concepts
o Comparing ecological restoration alternatives: Grand Canyon, Arizona.
o Biomass Modeling of the Ponderosa Pine Forests of Western North America with SIR-C/X-SAR for Input to Ecosystem Models
o Nearest Neighbor Methods
o Spatial patterns of Mexican pine-oak forests under different recent fire regimes.
o Testing ecological restoration alternatives: Grand Canyon, Arizona.
o Modeling ecological restoration effects on ponderosa pine forest structure
o Restoratio n of presettlement age structure of an Arizona ponderosa pine forest.
o Research Guide for the Flagstaff Plan
o Southwest Fire Initiative Update 2002
o Oldest known conifers in the Southwestern United States: Temporal and spatial patterns of maximum age
o Part 1
o Part 2
o Also by imrdkl

Display: Sort:
The Art of Forest Restoration | 67 comments (46 topical, 21 editorial, 0 hidden)
Land management (4.00 / 5) (#2)
by robroadie on Thu Oct 24, 2002 at 06:42:03 PM EST

My brother has just started a college course on Land management technolgies - not a lot of interest to me, but loads to him +1

Wow (4.40 / 5) (#3)
by exceed on Thu Oct 24, 2002 at 06:50:34 PM EST

I didn't know planting trees became so complicated.

void women (float money, time_t time);
It isn't (from a german point of view) (none / 0) (#67)
by K65 on Fri Nov 01, 2002 at 06:40:18 PM EST

Don't use formulars, just watch and decide.

[ Parent ]
another creative art (4.54 / 11) (#13)
by tps12 on Thu Oct 24, 2002 at 08:53:43 PM EST

I'd like to see a companion article on the art involved in turning a forest into, say, a factory or a strip mall. It's all based in architecture and urban planning, but it's more than just blueprints. You have to think about visibility in the parking lot, where to put restrooms, fire lanes, and a host of other complications.

In this, as in all else,—
Y'r obd't s'v't.
An interesting book... (5.00 / 3) (#22)
by MTremodian on Thu Oct 24, 2002 at 11:56:55 PM EST

You might want to check out a book called Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream. In it the authors talk about a number of interesting urban design issues, the most pertinant of which is their analysis of why a lot of people today are opposed to cities' growth. They posit that the probem is not growth per se, but rather bad growth. People like nature, and if they are going to destroy it to build something else, they want that something else to be both useful and beautiful. Well designed neighborhoods fulfill these requirements, while today's suburbs with their massive housing blocs connected to the shopping blocs connected to the workplace blocs by massive collector roads that are ugly and crowded do not. Unfortunately, this is the only type of environment being built today, which is why people are becoming opposed to growth.

Anyway, it's an interesting book which you might enjoy.

...speed overcomes the fear of death.
[ Parent ]

+1FP For you! (3.75 / 4) (#16)
by SideShow Ralph Wiggum on Thu Oct 24, 2002 at 09:28:27 PM EST

because that story was long, and had lots of footnotes.

--My cat's breath smells like cat food--

SideShow Ralph Wiggum
This year buy her English Muffins...Whatever you say Mr. Billboard -- H. Simpson

forest restoration is a MYTH!! (2.77 / 9) (#17)
by scatbubba on Thu Oct 24, 2002 at 09:30:28 PM EST

I don't even have to read the article. These re-grown forests are nothing but tree gardens, setup for rich white men to re-exploit. There is no bio-diversity, no animals, these are nothing but clear cuts with trees planted on them. HOW DARE YOU SUGGEST wait a minute, i'm not a hysterical, enviro-nazi. Please disregard what i said above.

I would rather have a lot of tree gardens (none / 0) (#51)
by imrdkl on Sun Oct 27, 2002 at 06:46:37 PM EST

than one big, black stump farm.

Besides, since the clump radius was extended to 90 feet, and the old-growth-diameter down to 16", things are getting back on schedule in Flagstaff.

[ Parent ]

Vote up! (4.80 / 5) (#19)
by tetsuwan on Thu Oct 24, 2002 at 10:34:31 PM EST

And when you have the tree density distribution you can just go from there to a percolation theory type of simulation of fires. Interesting, ambitious article. What about all the plants/animals dependent on dead tree trunks? Are they disregarded in favor of forest safety?

Snags are left untouched (4.50 / 2) (#27)
by imrdkl on Fri Oct 25, 2002 at 09:10:37 AM EST

if they are pre-settlement, just as any other remnant. Duff and ladder fuels around them are removed.

Even with the new pattern established, crown fires are still possible. Some of the early fire tests caused more damage than expected due to the dryness. They've since sought to utilize "cooler" controlled burning techniques. The Flagstaff Plan link has other links to the day-to-day actions, including minutes from the committee meetings which makes the decisions. They're very open about their successes and failures.

[ Parent ]

Pre-settlements snags? (4.50 / 2) (#30)
by thejeff on Fri Oct 25, 2002 at 11:01:05 AM EST

Snags being dead trees? What does pre-settlement mean in this case? It seems to me that a pre-settlement forest would have lots of dead trees, but that very few of them would be several hundred years old.

It also seems that it is being assumed that a pre-settlement forest is the least likely to burn. I'm not so sure those goals are compatible.

[ Parent ]

All of your questions (none / 0) (#41)
by imrdkl on Sat Oct 26, 2002 at 05:03:41 AM EST

are covered in the article. The pre-settlement date in the southwest is 1880, or thereabouts. If a tree is at least 120 years old, it is retained. The clumping structure of the pre-settlement forest is one reason why it is more resistent to wildfire.

[ Parent ]
How is "settlement" defined? (none / 0) (#50)
by sphealey on Sun Oct 27, 2002 at 05:29:44 PM EST

All your questions are covered in the article. The pre-settlement date in the southwest is 1880, or thereabouts
At which point, human beings had been living in, and effecting change to, the ecology of that region for at least 3000 years. Why exactly was 1880 chosen as the "pre-settlement" date? Why do the activities of the settlers of European descent (aggressive tree harvesting) count as "settlement" and the activities of the older settlers of Asian descent (which included selective tree farming and the use of fire as an agricultural tool) not count?


[ Parent ]

I'm not sure I can answer that (none / 0) (#52)
by imrdkl on Sun Oct 27, 2002 at 06:53:30 PM EST

Except to say that, perhaps the previous "maintainers" had a better system in place. Whatever the case, that date of "pre-settlement" was sometime at, or before the date of "post-disturbance", which may have been considered as a naming option, but I doubt it.

[ Parent ]
Seems this should be addressed (none / 0) (#58)
by sphealey on Mon Oct 28, 2002 at 06:15:15 PM EST

Well, I would humbly offer that it would be helpful to work through both my comment and porkchop's previous posting. I am not as familiar with the activities of the settlers of Asian descent (let's call them "Indians" for short) in the Southwest as I am in the Midwest (North America that is), but it is pretty clear from the physical evidence that the Indians here in the Midwest took deliberate actions to change the ecology of the regions where they lived. Who decided that this activity was more "balanced" than that of the whiteboys who came later?

Mind you, I don't oppose projects of the type you describe. But I think it is important to be upfront about what "balance" means and how the endpoint goals of the project were decided upon.


[ Parent ]

Thanks (none / 0) (#63)
by imrdkl on Tue Oct 29, 2002 at 03:40:37 AM EST

I intend to address porkchop's comment separately, but I would like to point out my discussion with fhotg, below. You, and others, are getting too hung up on the pre-settlement date, imho. The most important difference, regardless of who was or was not responsible for it, between the 1880 forest and any that came after is the spatial pattern, and the density. Clumps survived since long before 1880.

[ Parent ]
This story (3.80 / 5) (#20)
by medham on Thu Oct 24, 2002 at 11:36:18 PM EST

Relies too much on tactics. Nowadays, positional play is the only thing that matters.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.

good article (4.16 / 6) (#28)
by ethereal on Fri Oct 25, 2002 at 09:38:10 AM EST

I'm still not entirely convinced on "restoration", since I can see the argument being made in the future that since we've already "restored" it with human intervention, we should feel free to continue to meddle. But this article did make me more hopeful, especially considering the kind of analysis of the clumping structure that was done.

I'm not surprised that environmentalists are nervous about any plans coming out of the Bush administration; they don't really have a great track record on producing sensible environmental plans as of yet. Really, any environmental plan that considers profit for some company or the government, rather than just the criteria of environmental and public health and welfare, is probably somewhat suspect. Corporate profit should really have no place in environmental protection decision making; the environment is a matter between Mother Nature and humanity as a whole. Yet another reason why I'll never be elected :)

One question: why exactly is taking a core sample less accurate than counting the rings? Is it because it's harder to aim at the center of the trunk? You would think that all the information found from cutting down the tree would also be in the core sample.


Stand up for your right to not believe: Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Environment vs Corporate profit (4.00 / 2) (#29)
by thejeff on Fri Oct 25, 2002 at 10:53:29 AM EST

That's my knee jerk response, too. Not that this plan is bad. It looks sound to me, but I don't have the background to check the assumptions.

More that, if this starts to be applied on a large scale, there's going to be a lot of money and lobbying thrown at trying to make it more profitable. Especially since this approach only works on old-growth forests, which by definition are not currently being logged.

[ Parent ]

Old growth (none / 0) (#46)
by imrdkl on Sat Oct 26, 2002 at 05:26:53 PM EST

which I went to some length to describe in my article, won't be logged under restoration, either. Making it profitable is a subjective term. It might be profitable for lumber companies, but only if the Forest service fails to get a good price for the usable portion of the thinning. In any case, I'm of the opinion that all monies from the lumber sale in a restoration must first be used to finish the job, minimally.

I don't think anyone has been able to perform restoration profitably, and correctly, at the same time. There will be a cost to do it right.

[ Parent ]

Semantics (none / 0) (#57)
by thejeff on Mon Oct 28, 2002 at 05:29:44 PM EST

You're referring to actual old growth trees. They and a certain radius around them will be left untouched. I was referring to protected forests, which contain a mixture of old growth trees and younger trees, as one assumes pre-settlement forests did.

I could be wrong, but my assumption is that most forests that contain old growth trees are currently protected from all logging, otherwise they probably would have been logged and there wouldn't be any old growth there. These forests will, under this plan, be opened to logging to thin them. Logging companies are willing to spend a lot of money lobbying to make this profitable for them and the Forest Service does not have a great track record of serving the public at the expense of logging interests.

[ Parent ]

Re: Core samples (4.66 / 3) (#32)
by imrdkl on Fri Oct 25, 2002 at 01:50:57 PM EST

A core sample actually is counting rings, or rather, cross-referencing them, but from my limited study, I understood there to be some variability based upon the height at which the core is taken.

Today I received a note from Dr. Fulé, who was kind enough to review this article, which confirms your contention. Core dating, properly performed, is considered quite accurate - at least for the species which they work with there at NAU.

It is not, however, possible to core sample every tree in a restoration, as anyone would probably guess. The sample must be handled delicately, sanded, straightened, and finally visually compared to reference cores, for accuracy. It's time-consuming, and requires a good deal of skill. Trunk diameter, for now, is the only way to estimate the age of a tree for the tagger. There are techniques which also take into account the crown-diameter, but measuring that accurately is also difficult.

[ Parent ]

and the goal is (3.50 / 2) (#33)
by fhotg on Fri Oct 25, 2002 at 06:00:18 PM EST

A work which we hope resembles, as closely as possible, the state in which it existed before we ever laid eyes upon it.
How is this restoration - target justified ? Sounds like a quasi-mythological belief that everything was better before humans were there. Science applied to achieve an irrational, artsy goal ?
Gitarren für die Mädchen -- Champagner für die Jungs

sort of like linux (3.00 / 2) (#34)
by turmeric on Fri Oct 25, 2002 at 06:34:21 PM EST

artsy, irraitonal. and it crashes alot. the diff is that a well managed forest is stable.

[ Parent ]
what do you mean with stable ? (none / 0) (#35)
by fhotg on Fri Oct 25, 2002 at 07:17:13 PM EST

I mean, wouldn't a badland not be stable as well, in terms of not dramatically changing ? What kind of stability is targeted ? Ecological diversity, sustained wood - output, what ?
Gitarren für die Mädchen -- Champagner für die Jungs

[ Parent ]
stable equilibrium (none / 0) (#37)
by turmeric on Fri Oct 25, 2002 at 08:34:10 PM EST

yes badland desert is stable i guess. but take a forest, x number of trees die ever year, y number are born, every z years it all burns down and the whole thing starts over, viewed over hundreds of years this is a stable 'steady state' equilibrium. relatively.

[ Parent ]
As a linux-head (none / 0) (#66)
by Cro Magnon on Thu Oct 31, 2002 at 10:29:50 AM EST

I want to point out that a well managed Linux is pretty stable too.
Information wants to be beer.
[ Parent ]
It's a starting point (none / 0) (#40)
by imrdkl on Sat Oct 26, 2002 at 05:01:04 AM EST

As far as I know, nobody has suggested a different date which makes more sense than the pre-settlement date. We want to believe that things were more "balanced" then. What other suggestions have you?

[ Parent ]
my suggestion (2.00 / 1) (#43)
by fhotg on Sat Oct 26, 2002 at 11:39:21 AM EST

is a target specification. A description of how you want it to look and why, based on human values.

All restoration projects I know of (river and wetland) have something like this. If you don't have it, it's also rather difficult to sell it to sponsors or the public. In other words, the justification for the stated goal is missing.

No doubt that often the target actually is at or close to 'undisturbed' conditions. However, setting 'pre-human' conditions as a goal in its own right makes neither sense to me, nor to sponsors nor the public. If ,in this case, a reasonable target spec. is indeed missing, then I assume this is mainly a politician driven publicity stunt which does not require more than a vague 'we care for the environment back to the nature' proposal.
Gitarren für die Mädchen -- Champagner für die Jungs

[ Parent ]

I don't know much (none / 0) (#45)
by imrdkl on Sat Oct 26, 2002 at 04:47:07 PM EST

about those types of restorations, but allow me to make some observations, if I may.

First, rivers and wetlands do not exhibit the same sorts of dynamic growth patterns that forests do. Perhaps this is dunderheaded of me, but it seems to me that, geographically, a river has very little choice where it naturally flows. That does not say that we should, therefore, restore wetlands to the lowest point. Neither does it say that the rivers were always better before we started utilizing them.

Forests, conversely, have been managed to the point where they are no longer able to demonstrate their primary tendency, to clump together with significant open space between the clumps. At the pre-settlement date, that's what they did. They survived droughts, according to the rings, which were even worse than the one they're fighting today, but they had the correct spatial pattern back then, to do so.

The date isn't the critical thing here, the lack of rainfall is. The only natural (and time-honored) way to get them through the drought is to put them back in groups, and let fire take care of the lower stuff much more often.

Make the date much later than 1880 in the southwest, and you wind up with trees too close together to tolerate the occasional (and necessary) low fire. All the statistical proof aside, that's the upshot.

[ Parent ]

closer (none / 0) (#47)
by fhotg on Sat Oct 26, 2002 at 07:55:23 PM EST

Ok, now from what your're saying, I get that the objective for the forest restoration is to make them more tolerant of droughts and fires than they are now. That's ok, it's easy to see how a dead forest is worse for us than a living one.

The only natural (and time-honored) way to get them through the drought is to put them back in groups, and let fire take care of the lower stuff much more often.
This is the link to the main thrust of your article I was looking for. Now I'm genuinely interested how we know this. Do you have any references to the relationship spatial tree pattern - drought resistance ? That looks like a quite sophisticated hydrological problem to me. I'd really appreciate any pointers to publications about that.

As for the river restoration, their problems (flooding, water-quality ....) we want to remedy are intrinsically linked to human influences, which you can't get rid of, normally, like you can control a forest. Compare telling a lumber company versus telling the x*10^3 farmers in the watershed. Therefore, any restoration needs a sophisticated analysis of how the whole system works, before anything can be planned. Often, different interest-groups already start bitching at each other at this stage.
Gitarren für die Mädchen -- Champagner für die Jungs

[ Parent ]

It's more than just drought protection (5.00 / 1) (#49)
by imrdkl on Sun Oct 27, 2002 at 03:25:07 PM EST

I predict that as the research comes in, more and more species will seem to appreciate the opened canopy.

Several of the linked articles above consider the relative effect of fire on various treatments, including minimal thinning, medium thinning, and full restoration. I'm not sure what you mean by drought protection, beyond that consideration. I don't believe any ground or watershed modifications, for example, are being made intentionally, except for the extensive removal of duff. Perhaps they do make an attempt to avoid potential erosion problems in the complete plan, of course. As mentioned, this note could only consider a few of the details.

Fulé's page is under the faculty link at the ERI, linked above. You will likely have access to their article from the Journal of Forestry as well, which is one of the one which he does not provide a local pdf file for. That paper (1997) seems to be the foundation of their work together.

[ Parent ]

"Balance" is a myth. (4.00 / 1) (#55)
by porkchop_d_clown on Mon Oct 28, 2002 at 09:13:21 AM EST

Humans change the environment, it's true, and usually for the worse, but there was no magic time when the environment was in perfect balance. Why pick the 19th century as our goal? Why not pick what the land looked like during the last ice age, or should we recreate the inland sea that used to fill most of the midwest and west?

Once one sock is sucked, the other sock will remain forever unsucked.

[ Parent ]

A reason for 1880 (none / 0) (#59)
by cdyer on Mon Oct 28, 2002 at 09:53:51 PM EST

I'll tell you why:

We can make an approximate guess as to what forests looked like in 1880, based on the distribution of older trees in present day forests, and extrapolate to account for trees that would have died between then and now. We can supplement this with stuff written by early settlers where necessary and helpful, and get some sense of what thing might have looked like.

Our best approximate guess of what it would have been like at the end of the last ice age is "about like it was in 1880 (about the last time we can really make an intelligent statement about) but colder.

You work with what you know.


[ Parent ]
Extrapolation (none / 0) (#65)
by imrdkl on Tue Oct 29, 2002 at 12:07:59 PM EST

is improved by the the fact that they find remnants of dead pre-settlement trees. Everything from snags and stumps, to large ash-piles is considered. It's not an exact science, but it's a damn good guess, imho.

[ Parent ]
Balance is a subjective term (none / 0) (#64)
by imrdkl on Tue Oct 29, 2002 at 10:43:41 AM EST

That's true. As cdyer points out, the 1880 date is about making a good guess as to the state of the forest before the changes we've made. The process of making this guess, as I've described it above, makes a lot of sense to me. I would not call it "commonsensical", but neither is it a stab in the dark.

One point I didn't discuss in depth regards density. The 1880 forests, as best as the scientists can tell, had something like 20-60 trees per acre (50-150/ha), while today's forests of the southwest can contain, literally, thousands. thousands.. Although the average is several hundred.

The end result of full restoration is not, by any means, 20-60 trees/acre. It's more. However, with the spatial pattern restored, the density can fluctuate a bit, without significant risk. The removal of the "white-mans" influence, as I hope you'll see, is much more about restoring the correct spatial pattern, than it is about trees per acre. However, there is solid evidence that, during the last 120 years, the number of trees has increased un-naturally.

That's not just blowing smoke, either. The amount of real data, including cores, plots, records, and historical accounts which are available for the forests of the southwest is unmatched for any other region in the US, and even the world. Ecosystem monitoring has been in place since 1908, for the area.

[ Parent ]

could you use hexadecimal? (1.40 / 5) (#36)
by Fen on Fri Oct 25, 2002 at 08:16:27 PM EST

Like in counting years? It's easy. Say stuff like 40h-4bh years.
Bah (2.00 / 1) (#38)
by kraant on Fri Oct 25, 2002 at 09:00:57 PM EST

Forests tend to burn off and turn into other kinds of land.

It's quite natural and happened quite a lot before the first human ever existed.
"kraant, open source guru" -- tumeric
Never In Our Names...

Prairie Restoration (none / 0) (#56)
by SEWilco on Mon Oct 28, 2002 at 04:53:12 PM EST

Should we burn off the forests around Minneapolis and restore the "prairie as far as the eye can see" which was reported by Fort Snelling settlers?

[ Parent ]
Well, (none / 0) (#60)
by kraant on Mon Oct 28, 2002 at 09:56:33 PM EST

I don't see why not.
"kraant, open source guru" -- tumeric
Never In Our Names...
[ Parent ]
Prairie Restoration (5.00 / 1) (#61)
by cdyer on Mon Oct 28, 2002 at 10:08:19 PM EST

Actually, a lot of people are working on prairie restoration, not so much in the forests, but in old abandoned lots around Chicago. The reasons are that prairies support a wide range of wildlife which are becoming scarce in the midwest, due to the proliferation of megafarms.

Why would people get involved in this? Some for sentimental reasons, I suppose. Others just to have something to do on weekends, something that they can point to as a way of making their communities more pleasant to live in. Some because prairie grasses are very effective at erosion prevention than most ground covers. And while an acre here and there in Chicago isn't going to make a major difference in the silting of the Mississipi, it will provide a test area which can be studied for clues as to how to apply the wisdom of the grasses (I don't mean to anthropomorphize the grass, I just can't think of another way to put it) to the rest of the midwest, which is being eroded at alarming rates due in large part to the practices of megafarms.

These little projects actually have a great potential for causing great changes worldwide. The dust problems in Beijing, for example, have gotten so serious that most people wear surgical masks when they ride their bicycles to work. And yes it's because of dust, not smog or pollution.

There's an essay about this in a book called The New Agrarianism. I can't remember the editor's name, but it's an anthology of various authors.

I suppose you weren't really looking for a reply, but you reminded me of this, and I thought this might be of interest to somebody.


[ Parent ]
This is one of them articles (5.00 / 1) (#39)
by kholmes on Sat Oct 26, 2002 at 02:23:07 AM EST

that I really want to spend time trying to understand, so will probably put in my hotlist for later.

But this kind of stuff is important where I live, central Arizona. We get forest fires as often as some parts get hurricanes. The last series of forest fires really hurt a lot of people's property.

And yes, its one of the few things that gets NAU nation-wide recognition(AFAIK), I've seen a professor there on C-SPAN talking to some of the senators.

I just never knew how involved cutting a bunch of trees down could be. Especially with Arizona's abundant lack of wild life or ecology whatsoever.

So I guess thats my question: why all the worrying in a state where fields of desert shrubs get off being called a National Forest?

If you treat people as most people treat things and treat things as most people treat people, you might be a Randian.

Respect the desert (none / 0) (#42)
by imrdkl on Sat Oct 26, 2002 at 05:11:26 AM EST

It's even more fragile than forest, although it doesn't burn with the same ferocity. Arizona, besides having the largest ponderosa pine forest in the world, also has some of the finest deserts, and the Tonto forest "shrubland" that you may be talking about. Not as pretty as the heavy forest, or the stark desert, but definitely unique on it's own.

Arizona has, within it's borders, 6 of the 7 climactic zones, from hi-arctic on some mountain peaks, to the dryest deserts. The only one it lacks is rain-forest. If you think Arizona lacks ecology or wildlife, you should get out and explore a bit.

[ Parent ]

I know this may sound simplistic. . . (5.00 / 1) (#53)
by kfg on Sun Oct 27, 2002 at 11:58:17 PM EST

but, I've always found the best way to "restore" a forest was to *leave it the hell alone* for a couple of thousand years.

Of course it's hard to get control of the funding if you take that approach and you can't run a reelection campaign based on the fact that you were "doing something."

Plus the fact that the end result would be somewhat random, and we don't want *that* in a forest, do we?


Exactly (none / 0) (#54)
by imrdkl on Mon Oct 28, 2002 at 01:57:29 AM EST

They hypothesis of randomness was rejected. That's the whole point of the story.

[ Parent ]
Great for the forest... (none / 0) (#62)
by cdyer on Mon Oct 28, 2002 at 10:15:43 PM EST

That might do the trick as far as the forest is concerned, but in the meantime, you've got forest fires raging out of control, potentially destroying homes, farms, property, cities, people, and anything else that gets in their way. If your goals are purely naturalist, that's a fine solution. As far as I'm concerned, though, land stewardship in all its forms will always and should always have the human in mind as well, and for that, we need to find a way to keep the forests healthy while we still use them to make furniture, houses,and books out of them.


[ Parent ]
The Art of Forest Restoration | 67 comments (46 topical, 21 editorial, 0 hidden)
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