Bob Conder’s “As I See It” on Aug. 20, titled “OSU’s Thoughtful Forest Stewardship,” directed the reader’s attention to the detailed McDonald-Dunn Forest Plan on OSU’s website, and noted “This is not a plan for destruction, rather a plan for renewal and a plan for preservation of old growth.”
We helped develop the 2005 Forest Plan for McDonald-Dunn Forest and are glad to see it praised. It is true that the 2005 McDonald-Dunn Forest Plan has extensive protection for mature and old-growth forests, including (1) a limited amount of old-growth reserves, (2) a commitment to maintain over 1,500 acres of mature and old-growth forests for nesting, roosting, and foraging (NRF) habitat for the northern spotted owl, and (3) an area where the forest is managed for structurally diverse, complex forest. Strong protections indeed.
When a citizen discovered the destruction of a portion of an old-growth stand on Baker Creek in the McDonald-Dunn Forest, we were surprised and dismayed. Dean Anthony Davis quickly released a statement that the College of Forestry “made a mistake in carrying out this recent harvest” and promised interim protection for trees that are over 160 years of age until a new plan is finished. We were impressed and said so.
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However, the dean’s statement of July 12 also said that the mistake occurred while they were “operating with the best of intentions and within the guidance of the 2005 Forest Plan” and that “The core themes identified in the 2005 Forest Plan still ring true today.” If only that were so.
On the contrary, we have found a systematic disregard for themes and guidance in the 2005 McDonald-Dunn Forest Plan that has resulted in hundreds of acres of forest being clear-cut in the “South Zone” of McDonald Forest. (See https://friendsofosuoldgrowth.org/latest-news/ for our analysis and photos.) Most of the areas cut contained mature and old-growth forest intended to provide nesting, roosting and foraging habitat for the northern spotted owl and to demonstrate how to help protect this habitat for late-successional species through active management. Light understory thinning might occur, but large and old trees would be retained. Clear-cutting would be prohibited. The commitment in the plan to maintain NRF did not depend on the presence of spotted owls. The Baker Creek old growth was one of the areas given that protection.
Also, areas outside of NRF in the South Zone that were cut were generally limited by the plan to one- to four-acre patches to help create complex forest. The recent clear-cuts were much larger.
These problems will not be solved by waiting for a new forest plan. The college first needs to prove that it can responsibly follow a forest plan — the one it now has. Toward that end, the college should take the following steps:
• Follow the 2005 McDonald-Dunn Forest Plan until a new plan is completed, augmented by Dean Davis’ important commitment to protect trees over 160 years of age during this period.
• Develop and use guidelines for identifying trees over 160 years of age, including Douglas fir, grand fir, oak, madrone, maple and yew.
• Add the candidate old-growth areas that were identified in 2004 to the reserves including the remaining portion of the Baker Creek old-growth stand.
• Have annual meetings and field trips to review recent and proposed harvests and explain how the harvests meet the themes and guidance in the forest plan.
The mission for the McDonald-Dunn Forest that was set 25 years ago in the 1994 forest plan rings true today: provide a biologically diverse and sustainable teaching, research and demonstration forest with a management focus. Until research forest managers demonstrate they understand that the many ecological resources of the McDonald-Dunn Forest have value too, and manage forests in ways that reflect this perspective, the College of Forestry will not regain public trust.
Debora L. Johnson is a consulting forester. She worked for the OSU Research Forests for 25 years on inventory, GIS, and forest planning. K. Norman Johnson is professor emeritus of the OSU College of Forestry where he specialized in forest planning and forest policy.