Ecological Problem Solving

"How many values can we identify with Forests?"

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Questions to answer and turn in.

You are a member of a technical advisory committee to the local Superintendent of the Olympic National Forest.

The citizens committee established by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to encourage participation in the decision making process of forestry policy has demanded that the Forest Service open more acreage to logging in order that the local mills have sufficient timber to operate throughout the Christmas season and into the new year. The last superintendent was transferred for saying that at current logging rates the equivalent of 129 football fields / day disappear. What will you do and how will you advise this superintendent to respond to these following issues?

Nurse log in the Columbia River watershed; the new tree is growing on the stump of the old remnant.

 The United States Forest Service, USFS is a federal land holding agency under the Department of Agriculture (USDA) with the duty under the Multiple Use Act of 1960 to provide a variety of people access to the resources of the forest lands including, hunters, fisherman, hikers, & lumber companies. Merrill K. Ridd, geographer and Forest Service employee, wrote, in 1965, that "The object of multiple use management is very simple. It is to manage the resource complex for the most beneficial combination of both the present and future uses." Under the 1960 Legislation Congress enacting Public Law 86-517 states in part: "The Secretary of Agriculture is authorized and directed to develop and administer the renewable surface resources of the national forests for multiple use and sustained yield of several products and services obtained thereof." As Ridd points out "While the doctrine of multiple use is widely accepted, there is still some misunderstanding of how it should be accomplished." And this is why the new superintendent has appointed you as a technical adviser to inform the Service on the best course of action.  

The forested area in question is 85% conifer and mixed deciduous hardwood stands covering steep slopes and some inaccessible back country canyons and mountain meadows. The area covered in aging trees includes Douglas Fir, Red Fir, Yew, Oregon Ash, Big Leaf Maple, Red Cedar, Sycamore, Sitka Spruce, Engleman Spruce, and other hardwoods. A large portion of the lands bordering the National Forest have been logged and replanted in immature lodge pole or ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. This has created a long and sinuous ecotone within the National Forest of mixed soft & hardwood conifers. The request of the citizen's advisory group would log the ecotone, an accessible swath of trees between two clusters of 500 - 1000 year old Spruce, Cedar, Yew or Fir trees, and clear an entire bank of the longest tributary stream in the National Forest.

[See the map below.]

Several economic, ecological, and political facts are relevant to your decision. Throughout the Pacific Northwest lumber operations employ over 109,000 people in logging, milling, and transport. The average wage of a mill worker or logger is $35,000 per year. The unemployment rate in the entire region is above the national average at about 9% and in your local area it is closer to 13%. It is estimated that 1 out of every 4 teenagers just out of high-school is looking for minimum-wage work.


Many products are derived from these forested lands. In addition to timber for construction and pulp for paper, wire grasses growing in the forests are used by Vietnamese & Cambodian refugees to weave baskets which they sell in flea markets. Ferns grow in dark forests and both mature ferns are sold to florists for decorative purposes or young fiddle neck ferns are bought by restaurants as a salad delicacy. Recently collectors have asked the Forest Service to grant permits to gather truffles -- a root-fungus -- that has become a lucrative trade item as gourmet ingredients in fine food. The sustained yield of these forests is also connected to the survival of salmon fishery stocks in the region.

The forested slopes, called watershed, act in three ways to moderate conditions in which salmon thrive. First the trees root systems retard soil erosion from destroying the clarity of the rivers. Second the trees retain water in the soil, acting as a sponge and slowly releasing water over a longer period of time extending into the dry seasons. The forest canopy shades the rivers keeping the temperatures cool in the dry, hot summer months.

Because salmon spawn, or give birth to their young, in fresh water streams, high above the ocean where mature salmon are caught, the conditions of the streams in forests are important to the healthy reproduction of five kinds of salmon. Salmon only lay their eggs in clear, cool water where the current moves over gravel bars, or beds. Temperature, clarity of the water and the lack of mud or silt cobering the gravel beds, are all important conditions which afford the salmon eggs from the female and milt from the male to fertilize one another in the mountain streams. The salmon fishery is a $1 billion sport and commercial enterprise employing 62,000 people in the Washington and Oregon region. Finally, four years ago, the Forest Service had to post armed guards to stop people from stripping the bark from Yew trees, taxus brevifolia, since the bark is a source of a cancer fighting agent now commonly synthesized in the laboratory as taxol.

Ecologically speaking the "growth of the conifers in 100 - 1000 year old forests depends on a mutualistic relationship between tree roots and a class of fungi, known as mycorrhizae, that infect their roots. Unable to carry out photosynthesis, these fungi attach themselves to the roots to obtain the sugars they need. The mycorrhizae absorb water, soil nutrients and oxygen, passing these on to the trees. Antibiotic compounds in the fungi protect the tree from root pathogens and act as a protective sheath around the roots to bar parasites. The fungi produce chemicals that speed up the growth of new root hairs and tips. These two mutualistic partners, the trees and their fungi are, in turn, dependent upon symbiotic relationships with a number of small forest rodents such as squirrels, voles, and mice. These creatures feed on the fleshy collection of fungal spores -- called truffles. Once consumed the spores remain undigested, passing back into the soil to grow another generation of root fungus."

Without the decaying logs & snags about 1/3 of the mammals would die.

Extensive canopy cuts down on runoff and filters the water that enters the streams fed by the forested slopes.

The endangered spotted owl feeds on these rodents and nests in older trees.

Print version of the above problem

Pacific Forest terms

Forest Service - a division of the Department of Agriculture

clearcut - the forestry practice of removing all the trees for timber

ecotone - that borderland between two distinct vegetational areas

fire break - an artificial or natural area devoid of tall trees

old growth - a diverse stand of trees 500 years old or more

Park Service - a division of the Department of Interior

riparian - vegetation that borders along stream or river

selective cutting - a recent practice of leaving certain tall trees for propagation

Dr. Siry; Ecological Problem Solving

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Last Updated on 2/12/12 & from 4/4/2001.

By Joseph Siry