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E-M:/ Forest Service Paints Blurry Picture of Sierra Nevada

This is something I received from truthout, and I thought it was well worth sharing.  Nothing more threatening than a dense, green beautiful forest.
~Monica Evans
Forest Service Paints Blurry Picture of Sierra Nevada
    By Scott Sonner
    Associated Press

    Sunday 11 April 2004

Recycling photos from Montana spurs questions about the credibility of the agency and its claims.

    RENO - Forest Service photographs appear to support the agency's argument that the Sierra Nevada must be more heavily logged to restore the historic conditions of a century ago, and thus ease the threat of wildfires. 

    Six small black-and-white photos spanning 80 years appear in a government pamphlet published in January beside descriptions of how the "forests of the past" had fewer trees and less underbrush, making them lower fire risks.

    The 1909 photo shows an open, park-like forest with large trees widely spaced. More trees and underbrush appear in each successive picture — 1948, '58, '68, '79, and finally a photograph thick with trees in 1989.

    "Today's forests, dense with green, may seem beautiful, but in fact are deadly," the pamphlet explains. " … Our old-growth forests are choking with brush, tinder-dry debris and dead trees which make the risk of catastrophic fire high."

    But the 1909 photo does not depict natural conditions. It was taken just after the forest had been logged.

    And the pictured forest is not anywhere near the Sierra Nevada. It's in Montana.

    "I was looking at the picture and I thought it looked awful familiar," said Chad Hanson, John Muir Project director in Cedar Ridge, Calif. "I started looking around and sure enough, the industry has used it before in Montana. It's from the Bitterroot Valley."

    Hanson found something else under magnification.

    "You can see huge slash piles and stumps in the background," he said. "They give the impression this represents natural, pre-settlement conditions, but the picture was taken after logging had occurred and most of the trees had been removed."

    Hanson wasn't the only person who had seen the photograph before.

    The same shot taken near Como Lake in the Bitterroot National Forest southwest of Hamilton, Mont., appeared in a report Forest Service researchers published in December 1983 titled "Fire and Vegetative Trends in the Northern Rockies: Interpretations from 1871 - 1982 photographs."

    The caption in that report said the 1909 photo shows "cleanup operations on the Lick Creek timber sale…. The number of stumps and slash piles suggests that this was an open ponderosa pine stand."

    The site appears on the cover of another Forest Service research paper in 1995, only this time a different photo depicts an old-growth ponderosa pine stand at Lick Creek in 1909 "immediately before partial cutting."

    That photo shows a forest three to four times more dense than the post-logging photo, and including numerous large old-growth trees.

    The agency has used the same photos — minus the pre-logging shot — to back logging in the Pacific Northwest too.

    "I can't believe they are still doing this," said Timothy Ingalsbee, director of the Western Fire Ecology Center in Eugene, Ore. In 1998, he said, "They used this same sequence of photos and misrepresented it to make it seem like it came from the forest just above Ashland, Ore."

     "It was in a Forest Service environmental assessment, and then I stumbled across the source photo and I said, 'Wait a minute, this is Montana! It's not southern Oregon.' "

     In that assessment, the agency also led the series of photos with the same 1909 shot in the new Sierra brochure, misidentifying it with a caption that read, "The natural conditions in this 1909 photo resemble a shaded fuel break."

     Forest Service officials confirmed the photographs in the Sierra brochure are from Montana. They were used because they were typical of pine stands across much of the West, including the Sierra, officials said.

     "It is difficult to find a good series of repeat photographs of the same place over almost 100 years," said Matt Mathes, Forest Service spokesman at regional headquarters in Vallejo, Calif.

     "We used this one because it is an accurate record of how stands — including those in the Sierra Nevada — become increasingly dense without active management or wildfire," he said.

     Although the photos in the color brochure have no caption, Hanson said, the Sierra is the only region discussed in the six-page brochure.

     "The clear implication is that this is in the Sierra Nevada. It is very misleading," Hanson said.

     "The rationale the Forest Service keeps using for more logging is that the forests used to be much more open and park-like. And it was true in some areas, even in the Sierra. But there are other parts of the forest that were very dense."

     The Forest Service plan would more than double logging efforts across 11.5 million acres of the Sierra, covering 11 national forests from south of Yosemite National Park to north of Lake Tahoe.

     The Forest Service spent $23,000 to produce and print 15,000 of the brochures as part of the "Forests for a Future" campaign that brought criticism from some members of Congress because the agency hired a private public relations firm.

     Reps. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) asked for an inspector general's investigation into whether the agency broke any laws by spending $90,000 on the contract with OneWorld Communications Inc. of San Francisco.

     The Forest Service defends using outside help and said the photos from Montana were not intended to mislead. Mathes said he did not know if most people would assume the photos were from the Sierra.

     Mathes also said the fact the forest was logged before the 1909 picture was taken doesn't matter.

     "The idea here was to show increasing density over time, which visibly did occur," Mathes said. "To make that point, it actually helps to have the stand be as open as possible — due to the partial cutting — in the first photo of the series."

     "Our goal here was to … increase the clarity and understandability of our message," he said. "Part of that was to try to come up with the most illustrative series of photos that we could. We needed to be accurate but not necessarily precise to the 99th degree."

     George E. Gruell, a retired Forest Service employee now living in Carson City, wrote the 1983 report on fire trends in the Northern Rockies that included the 1909 photo.

     A backer of more intensive logging to thin forests, Gruell said he's glad the agency is using the photos in the new campaign. He estimates only a half-dozen trees or so were cut from the Montana site before the 1909 photo was taken.

     "In my judgment, it is representative of the open stands in the Sierra and up at Lake Tahoe," said Gruell, who wrote the book "Fire in Sierra Nevada Forests, a Photographic Interpretation of Ecological Change Since 1849."

     His book published in 2001 is filled with before-and-after photographs that mostly show much more open space in the old photos, denser forests in modern times.

     "I am a wildlife biologist and I think things have gotten way out of whack with this objection to thinning and managing the forests. The canopy is too excessive out there," Gruell said.

     Chris West, vice president of the American Forest Resource Council based in Portland, Ore., said the Montana photos are representative of pine forests of the Sierra, where he grew up.

     "What we have here are people who are against the popular view that we need to address the forest fuels issue," West said. "It is a classic tactic … to take the focus off the real issue, which is the catastrophic situation facing the Sierra Nevada."

     Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, said the use of the Montana photos was "misleading" and "points to the Bush administration's credibility gap."


"Today, more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of Universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life."  ~Dalai Lama