A regulated forest

What makes for a regulated forest?

A “regulated forest” consists of tree sizes in approximately equal parts (and age classes that correspond to the size classes). As the trees in a stand grow into the harvestable age class, equal volumes may be harvested at roughly equal intervals.

This represents a regulated (sustained-yield) forest before and after a timber harvest. The zero square on the right will be restocked.

Meyer (1961) says, it is

“the organization and control of growing stock for a sustained yield of forest products from a specific forest area.”

Dr. Kenneth Davis of the University of Michigan wrote in his 1954 text American Forest Management,

“The essential requirement of a fully regulated forest is that age and size classes be represented in such proportion and be consistently growing at such rates that an approximately equal annual or periodic yield of products of desired size and quality may be obtained.” – Source: forestry.alaska.gov

The reasons to regulate forest yield

According to Dietmar Rose and Howard Hoganson (1989),

Economic, social, and administrative factors drive the need for sustained-yield. Regulated forests provide a:

  • Yearly cut of approximate equal volume, size, quality, and value of timber implies a stable business planning base ad workload continuity.
  • Current growth (harvested) and income not larger than necessary.
  • Balance between yearly expenditures and receipts (liquidity)
  • High degree of safety from fire, insects, and diseases.

For more, I have blogged about regulating forests here and here.


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Hot Air Cuts California Forests Out of Carbon Offset Program

In order for California’s proposed cap and trade system to be anything but a mockery we need to rip down the “Do Not Disturb” signs on much of California’s forests and commit ourselves to harvesting in California’s forests, even (gasp) clearcutting. Foresters and forest landowners aren’t the only ones who feel this way; the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) agrees.

Last month, an out-of-state special interest group derailed the forestry portion of a provisional carbon cap and trade system aimed at lowering California greenhouse gas emissions.  You might guess that an oil company that pressured the California Air Resources Board to fold, but it was in fact a Tucson-based environmental lobby, the “Center for Biological Diversity” (CBD).

“We commend the Air Resources Board for its commitment to addressing the critical environmental questions related to forest carbon credits,” crowed a CBD spokesperson. “It’s crucial that the state not give incentives to business-as-usual clearcutting and other destructive logging practices that hurt our forests and do nothing to address the immediate impacts of climate change.”

It’s a case of the wrongheaded politically spinning a regulator, who should know better. Once again, spin consumes science, and those putatively for a healthy environment have obfuscated for their own gains. “Crisis, real or not, is a commodity,” Tom Knudson wrote in his 2001 series, Environment, Inc., “And slogans and sound bites masquerade as scientific fact.”

For California to be part of the climate change solution, it must remove the “Do Not Disturb” sign currently on its forests. When we don’t cut here, we cut “over there,” contributing to deforestation and environmental degradation elsewhere while also increasing greenhouse emissions. (For more, see “The Illusion of Preservation.”) And it isn’t just foresters like me who think this way. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommends that we cut more wood, and use wood in place of concrete, steel, and other wood substitutes. By cutting forests, our forests, not someone else’s forest, we can contribute to saving the world.

For many of us the climate change debate borders on incomprehensible. I’m not saying I understand it all; but some context might be helpful for discerning how forests relate to global warming.

In 1895, Svante August Arrhenius, presented a paper to the Stockholm Physical Society titled, “On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground.” In it, he argued that thermal radiation from the sun warmed the earth’s surface during the day and as the surface cooler at night, certain gases which included CO2 and water vapor, acted as a blanket retarding the escape of heat. The idea of plates of glass in a greenhouse allowing sunlight in and trapping the heat inside worked as a metaphor for the process, hence the ‘greenhouse effect.’

The worry now is that through our use of coal, oil, gas, and other fossil fuels; we have added too much CO2 as a result could the earth may be over-heating.

In 1988, the United Nations created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to assess scientific information concerning human-induced climate change and the options for adaptation and minimizing its effects. In 1997, representatives from around the world met in Kyoto. They passed the Kyoto Protocol which sets binding targets for 63 industrialized countries to create five per cent less of their 1990 greenhouse gas (water vapor, methane, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and ozone) emissions.

In 2006, California passed a law similar to Kyoto, pegging our CO2 output to 1990 levels. Now I am skeptical that reducing our CO2 output will have any meaningful results. I think planting trees in urban settings and painting roads and rooftops white are better uses for our taxes. And we need to reduce tropical deforestation by cutting more trees in temperate forests such as California. All of these actions increase the albedo, the reflectivity of objects, which is part of the models used to predict global warming.

Nevertheless, because trees soak up CO2, the California Air Resources Board adopted a program that included allowing forest management activities for which CO2 emitters could buy carbon credits. The Center for Biological Diversity contends logging practices hurt our forests and do nothing to slow climate change. As I said before, the United Nations’ IPCC disagrees.

The IPCC says deforestation and severely degrading forests accounts for 20-25% of greenhouse gas emissions (IPCC is not talking about timber harvesting regarding deforestation and degradation). It also says the best strategies to prevent degradation and deforestation are: 1) “carbon conservation,” which includes both preventing forest conversion to agricultural uses, subdivisions or other non-forest uses, as well as controlling major fires; 2) “carbon sequestration and storage,” which means expanding forest area and/or biomass of natural and plantation forests; and 3) “carbon substitution,” which broadly means using wood products instead of non-wood products, all of which require more fossil fuel-based energy and materials. According to the IPCC, carbon substitution (wood products over cement, steel, aluminum, plastic, to name a few) has “the greatest mitigation potential in the long term.”

I’m a subject matter expert on growing wood; frankly it’s my passion. The growth and yield of forests is what forestry revolves around. Our California forests have the capacity to produce all the wood we need and export some as well, yet we import 75% of our wood. You can bet the wood we import wasn’t harvested under restrictions as comprehensive as those within California’s Forest Practice Rules requiring Timber Harvesting Plans that consider water, wildlife, and other concerns.

We need to stop trying to preserve everything and pretending that it doesn’t cause a mess elsewhere just because we can’t see it. The “not in my backyard” (Nimby) mentality outsources the mess: to Brazil, to Siberia, to countries not willing to enforce environmental regulations the way California can and will.

There has been a concerted effort to restrict logging by many environmental groups, from the Sierra Club to the Center for Biological Diversity. If green organizations truly cared about reducing CO2, they would embrace forest management in California. They would promote using California forests for the wood products that store carbon. They would demand that the national forests begin harvesting timber in greater quantities. And they would insist that we begin using wood instead of concrete, aluminum, steel, and other wood substitutes.

What can you do? Start buying sustainable California wood. At least, buy wood certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) or the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Write congress and tell them to push for harvesting in the national forests, rather than letting wildfires send more CO2 into the air (the California wildfires of 2001 – 2007 reportedly equaled 30 million cars on the road for a year).

Let’s stop pretending wood comes from the lumberyard.


Berlik, Mary M., David B. Kittredge, and David R. Foster. “The illusion of preservation: a global environmental argument for the local production of natural resources.” Journal of Biogeography, 29, 1557–1568

Center for Biological Diversity Media Release, “California Withdraws Harmful ‘Carbon Credits for Clearcuts’ Forest Policy.” (http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2010/logging-credits-02-25-2010.html accessed 14 March, 2010)

Dekker-Robertson, Donna L. and William J. Libby. “American Forest Policy: Some Global Ethical Tradeoffs.” BioScience, Volume 48 No. 6

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,  Technical Paper I: Forest Sector (http://www.gcrio.org/ipcc/techrepI/forest.html accessed 14 March, 2010)

McKillop, William. George Goldman, and Susanna Laaksonen-Craig. “Forestry, Forest Industry, and Forest Products Consumption in California.” UC Berkeley, Publication 8070  (http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/Forestry/8070.aspx accessed 14 March, 2010)

NASA, Earth Observatory Biography. Svante Arrhenius (http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Arrhenius/ accessed 14 March, 2010)

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Paper or Plastic, why ereaders are not the right choice

I have seen in posts, comments, and letters to the editor statements that ebook readers will save trees. On a APM Marketplace segment, Kevin Pereira of cable TV’s G4 network, called the Amazon Kindle, “the savior to many, many forests in the future.”

What an Ebook Reader is

These handy electronic devices can display text and graphics in full sunlight because they use electrophoretic screens, known as electronic paper. Energy moves pixels into place on the e-paper. Once in place, images do not need the refreshing a liquid crystal display (LCD) does, giving the device very low energy needs.

What an Ebook Reader Does: Libraries in the Palm of Your Hand

Imagine a bookstore and library resting in the palm of your hand. Amazon’s e-book reader is perhaps the best known. Amazon describes its product, the Kindle, as a lightweight “wireless reading device” that allows you to “find, buy, and read” text instantly. It holds up to two hundred books, and even more when it’s equipped with a memory card.

Dead Tree Technology or 21st Century Electronics?

Should you buy an e-book reader or stick with paper-based three dimensional random-access devices—books? Paper or plastic? If you were considering buying an e-book reader in order to save trees, would you still buy one if its manufacture and reclamation caused more irreversible pollution than one thousand trees saved from logging?

I have written before about ereaders. Now here’s a parable to illustrate the consequences.

The Parable Of The Tree And The Swimming Pool

There once was a man who owned a fine house with beautiful yard and swimming pool. A stately tree shaded the swimming pool from the afternoon sun. The owner loved this tree, yet it dropped leaves into the pool that the man had to scoop out to keep the pool’s filter clean. He asked the local craftsman for help.

“Let me cut the tree down,” the craftsman said, “and use its wood to build a gazebo to shade you.”

The owner shook his head. “No. I love that tree.”

“I can plant another tree. It will grow but its leaves won’t fall into the pool because of the gazebo.”

“No,” the man said. “Do something else.”

“Very well, I’ll make the gazebo from metal and plastic.”

“That sounds wonderful. My family and I are going on a two-week vacation.”

“Your gazebo will be here when you return.”

When the man and his family returned from their vacation, there was a gleaming gazebo with posts of anodized aluminum and the roof the finest plastic. Beneath, the pool sparkled a refreshing blue. But, their landscaping was ruined: plants had been run over, ruts marred the ground, and oily pools reeked. Nearby was a large hole with a giant pile of rocks next to it.

The man found the craftsman standing near the pit. “What have you done to my yard?” he asked.

The craftsman wiped his hands on a rag. “It’s a beautiful gazebo don’t you think?”

“Well, yes, but my yard has oil puddles, ruts from heavy equipment—”

The owner’s son and daughter tugged at his shirt. “Dad, we’re going swimming in the pool. Okay?”

“Oh,” said the craftsman. “That’s not a good idea.”

“Why not?”

“Cyanide.” The craftsman shrugged. “Metal is leached from rock with cyanide, then it’s put into pools for storage. You can’t let it get back into the water table, you know.”

“Father, why did you let this happen?” asked the man’s daughter.

“I had no idea this would happen.”

“Oh you knew,” said the craftsman. “If it’s not grown, it has to be mined. Substitutes to wood they leave their mark too. That’s the tradeoff.”


“But, it just hadn’t happened in your backyard before.”

If it is not grown; it has to be mined

If you think timber harvesting is ugly, imagine an open-pit mine two miles across and three-quarters of a mile deep. Within ten years, the cutover forest area will be covered with new growth, whereas Kennecott Copper’s Bennington Mine in Utah will still be visible from outer space one hundred years from today and everything in the periodic table will be in the waste tailings.

Amazon’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, has become successful by recognizing what people want to buy. After all, Amazon.com is one of the few dotcoms to make money and survive the Internet business bubble. Since Kindle debuted, Amazon is selling more books. Bezos told attendees at BookExpo America, an annual bookseller’s tradeshow, “After purchasing Kindle, customers continue to purchase the same number of physical books that they bought before buying their Kindle, but altogether…their [Kindle plus physical] book purchases on Amazon increased by a factor of 2.6.”

What is to be done? Here are my thoughts.

A Five-Step Program

  1. Recognize: everything comes from somewhere and (when obsolete) everything goes somewhere.
    Everything we do, buy, use, and own carries consequences, not only from its use but its manufacture and disposal. If you decide to buy a digital e-book reader like Amazon’s Kindle, do it because it is a cool piece of technology, not because you are under the illusion that you are saving the environment. Bits and bytes may not fill up landfills, but out-dated consumer electronics can.
  2. Hang on to it longer.
    On average, Americans discard three cellular phones and more than one computer every second. The EPA says that a cellular phone’s life before discard is 18 months. We can save materials by increasing the average to 24 months.
  3. Buy and use products made from renewable sources.
    Use wood and other renewables whenever possible instead of plastics, metals, and other non-renewables. I know this also has consequences. Using corn and oil palm for ethanol and bio-diesel has caused problems. But consider gold, (just one of the metals needed for electronics) it generates nearly eighty tons of toxic waste for each refined ounce.
  4. Buy less packaging and/or product.
    Use products that have reduced the quantity and/or the toxicity of the material.
  5. Buy products easier to reuse.
    Some companies are making products with recycling and reusing in mind. An item’s price needs to include the cost of mining reclamation and First-World-quality recycling. Economists call the production of problems that everyone ends up dealing with due to another’s using a product, externalities. My thought (I’m no economist) is to incorporate the cost of disposal into the price of the item.

Those are my thoughts, what are yours?

To learn more about the Life Cycle Assessments of the things we buy, go to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website – http://www.epa.gov.


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