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E-M:/ Forests more complex than we can think



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Enviro-Mich message from anne.woiwode@sfsierra.sierraclub.org
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Frank Ambrose wrote:
>On the Hiawatha, there was recently a notice for comment on a project to
>improve the visual characteristics of the Indian River. The tool - Logging.
>they plan to log some 2-300 acres of forest. I can not say I have ever been
>to a logging operation anywhere that looked good. In fact, they all have
>looked awful.

Just to correct a misinterpretation of this proposal on the Hiawatha National
Forest in the eastern UP: Visual Quality Objectives (VQO's) are one of the
parameters set by the Forest Service in managing its land.  There are
standards for VQO's that usually correlate with the intensity of management
proposed.  In the Interior Wetlands Project (which I think is what this refers
to) the area has a VQO set in the Forest Plan of retention or preservation (I
don't have it in front of me).  The proposed change is not to improve its
appearance, but to change the VQO to a lower standard, which would allow
the Forest Service to cause larger visual disturbance and disruption of the
area.

Visual Quality Objectives are increasingly suspect.  In the 1980's when the
current plans were being written these were offered up to address aesthetic
concerns.  Unfortunately, these often end up shielding from view the most
problematic treatments, with "beauty strips" along roadways and trails.  Some
of us have suggested only slightly in jest that all clearcuts should be
required to start at the side of a road, which, after all, is a blight on the
landscape already. So far the agencies have tended to dismiss such
suggestions.

With regard to the rest of the discussion on this train of thought, I think it
is far too easy to make sweeping generalizations that grossly oversimplify the
issues.  Michigan's forests suffered one of the worst ecological disasters in
history when we cleared the forests from lake to lake to lake, but in many
ways what came next was worse.  Farmers moved in, failed and moved out.  Fires
swept the land and sterilized the soil in areas.  We planted 400 million trees
in monocultural plantations in this state under the CCC, and when the native
forests began to reemerge we suppressed natural disturbances and imposed our
own, at a time and spatial scale to maximize game instead of native diversity.

We lost our ancient forests, but even more importantly lost the natural
patterns of life, death, recovery, change and restoration that once swept
across our state.  And we will be constrained in seeing those patterns
reemerge because people have built roads, houses, utility corridors, golf
courses, and every imaginable bit of human detritus across the land.  This is
an enormously complex puzzle, and we don't have a clue if we even have enough
pieces still remaining to make it work.  E.O. Wilson said nature is not only
more complex than we think, it is more complex than we can think.  There is
lots that is done poorly in managing Michigan's forests today, but in the
highly disturbed forests of today there is no single answer to how best to
manage the woods everywhere in the state, whether it is to say never use
evenaged management or to say never cut anything.

The most critical thing that I believe we must do is insist that the best and
most complete scientific information be gathered when decisions are made, that
the decisions that are made must reflect what is best for the forests and the
future, not the logger, ORVer, hunter or vacationer, and that we insist that
our managers be judged by the health and biodiversity of the forest, not the
number of deer, board feet or miles of trail. We are a long way from doing
any of that today.

Anne Woiwode



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