Art Partridge is walking through the tall firs of the Coeur d'Alene National Forest in northern Idaho. Pausing occasionally to keep tabs on his excited Chihuahua, E.T., he lobs a question - -do you get more timber fiber by growing a few big trees or lots of little ones?" - then drops to his knees to inspect a rotting stump, and points out nearby clearcuts - -The major forest health problem in Idaho."
The talk then turns to
"Right now, you've got mites crawling all
through your eyelids clipping off all the dead skin and you don't
even know it," he announces with the grin of a teacher who knows
how to get the attention of his students. The mites, he points out,
are a condition, not a disease. Root rot is similar: "Virtually
every tree we cut and dissect has some root disease if you want to
look at every little teeny root ... I'm not against logging, but
logging for root disease is nonsense. Logging for it doesn't
achieve anything. It causes it to be worse, if anything."
Death and decay are an integral part of the
forest's life cycle, says the 35-year veteran of the University of
Idaho College of Forestry, Wildlife and Range. Small openings in
the forest canopy capture and hold snow, which nourishes berry
patches which feed animals and birds. Dead trees in diseased areas
provide nest sites for woodpeckers that, in turn, are agents of
bark beetle control. The same trees are nesting, cache, den and
shelter sites for small birds, owls, squirrels, chipmunks and other
wildlife and open perches for rodent-controlling
But foresters, academics and now
politicians are saying that the forest is in terrible shape. It's
got beetle-kill and a fire-susceptible understory in southern
Idaho, and root rot here in the north. It's overcrowded, and hardy
pines are being replaced by more disease-prone firs. The
prescription signed into law in last summer's salvage rider is to
remove dead, dying or at-risk trees "to the maximum extent
feasible." It also allows 230 million board-feet to be taken out of
old-growth forests in Oregon and Washington (see Hotline page
Partridge concedes that some spots are
overcrowded and that disease and insects can periodically reach
crisis proportions in localized areas, but he maintains that the
loss of the best trees to logging has harmed the forest more than
anything else: "The superior genetic stock isn't here any more," he
says. "We simply don't have the good trees."
Partridge objects to any simple diagnosis of
something as complex as a forest. "Anything you say about a whole
forest is wrong," he says.
He's not alone. Says
Jerry Franklin, a pioneer of "new forestry" (see story page 16) and
a forest ecologist at the University of Washington: "I don't think
there's really a forest health crisis, I think the problem with
forest health is highly localized. It's not a generic kind of
problem. If we were really interested (in improving forest health)
we'd be focusing primarily on reducing densities of small- and
medium-diameter trees and increasing the overall vigor of the
stands, not taking out old trees."
calls the forest health crisis "a big fraud, a way to convince
people that they're doing everything right. My God, the Forest
Service has screwed up everything they've touched for 60 years. How
do we expect them to do anything right now?"
how does he think the forest should be
"I would say "Okay, the first thing
you've got to pay attention to is to protect the soil at all cost.
Because in the future we'll not have a forest if we don't." Then
I'd make sure you have all of the complexities and diversities in a
normal forest. I'm talking animals, birds, fungi, bacteria,
"As an educator I've done a
lousy job teaching these years. I should have started at the
bottom, with the soil. The first thing they learn is silviculture -
how to cut trees. Now (forestry students) can get through school
without (studying) soils, pathology or entomology. It's not just
our school. A lot of schools are that way."