Furnish: BHNF "a prime example of an ugly, out-of-control debacle in forestry gone wrong"

ip photo from 2015: the Jasper Fire in 2000 created landscapes that more closely resemble the pre-settlement southern Black Hills.

As many readers are aware the first US Forest Service timber sale took place in the Black Hills near Nemo but only after nearly all the old growth of every native tree species had already been cleared for mine timbers, railroad ties and construction. So, Republican South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem is correct when she said the Black Hills National Forest has been poorly managed. I maintain that has been happening since 1899 and Forest Service Case Number One.

A century and a half of domestic livestock grazing and care less land management practices created an unnatural overstory best controlled by the mountain pine beetle, prescribed fires and periodic wildfires. Native Douglas fir and lodgepole pine are virtually extirpated from the Hills but the BHNF is trying to restore native limber pine (Pinus flexilis) in the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve.

Jim Furnish was deputy chief of the US Forest Service from 1999 to 2002.
A shock to the eyes. That’s the only way to put it. I’ve just returned from a trip to my treasured Black Hills of South Dakota and found them stripped to the bone, the lovely ponderosa pines sent down the road to make boards, and lots of them. In my 35-year career with the U.S. Forest Service, including three years as deputy chief, I’ve been to almost all our 125 national forests and have rarely seen anything so unnecessary and damaging. And so heartbreaking. The Black Hills is a prime example of an ugly, out-of-control debacle in forestry gone wrong. [Furnish, Forest Service putting national forests in peril]
Sharon Friedman's A New Century of Forest Policy just ran three features on the Black Hills National Forest including one that mentions an interview with Furnish on Bill Janklow's idea of public radio. Dave Mertz, former Natural Resource Staff Officer on the BHNF, is a contributor.
There are no trees to salvage, that ended years ago. The dead trees have long since broken up and fallen down. Read the General Technical Report “A scenario-Based Assessment to Inform Sustainable Ponderosa Pine Timber Harvest on the Black Hills National Forest”. There are the facts for you. Furnish is not trying to gain attention, he is working hard to try and get the Forest Service to do the right thing. As retirees, we are trying to save their soul in spite of themselves. It will be a shameful chapter in the history of the Forest Service. [Mertz]
Mark Vander Meer is a principal at Watershed Consulting based in Missoula, Montana. 
In the summer of 2020 near Nemo South Dakota, on the Black Hills National Forest, I performed a post-harvest soil disturbance audit on a unit in the Merlin Timber Sale. The prescription for this unit was “overstory removal”. I also noted fire hazard issues & ecologic trends. We performed the survey using the Forest Service Monitoring Protocol. I have performed hundreds of these surveys as a contractor to the agency. Forest Service soil quality standards require work that does not exceed 15% detrimental soil disturbance within the activity area. Our findings document detrimental disturbance over twice the allowed coverage. Clearly no soil scientist or technician visited the described unit before the harvest. On this unit sensitive soils are easily observed just by noting the sedge beds, large spruce trees (now missing), and dark moist soils. 

Overstory removal in a ponderosa forest is nothing less than ridiculous. These trees are just old enough to survive a low severity fire. The dense stands of remaining small trees are a hazard. If you were a forest landowner, would you do this to your own forest? Of course not. The overstory trees are not worth the ecologic damage. 

The upshot, if this small unit we assessed is indicative of the type of work the Forest Service promotes, then expect the expense of restoration activities (including weed abatement) to add to the taxpayer’s burden far into the future as we the people attempt to fix this mess. Regarding bark beetles and Ips beetles, as stated by Mr. Kurtz, the bark beetle infestation are mostly behind us. Unfortunately, in the Black Hills, where pine slash is left in large landing piles for many months, logging increases bark beetle populations by providing brood habitat for ips bark beetles. Ips can produce 3 and even 4 broods per year when slash is piled high. These bugs fly to the nearest healthy pines, kill the tops, weaken the tree, and allow the more damaging bark beetles to attack. Take a flight over the Black Hills and note the red ring of dead trees around many of these slash piles. And there are many slash piles. [Vander Meer]

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