Group Selection Logging

In 2014 the BLM implemented group selection logging in the Sterling Sweeper Timber Sale. This sale logged many large, old trees and created large openings that can only be described as clearcuts.

The BLM has proposed “group selection” logging in the Bear Grub Timber Sale. Group selection logging is a form of staggered or incremental clearcut logging that removes whole groves of mature, fire resistant trees. According to the BLM’s 2016 Resource Management Plan, these staggered clearcuts can be implemented in stands up to four acres in size and on up to 30% of a forested stand. The result is a heavily fragmented forest canopy, diminished habitat values and significantly increased fire risks.

The BLM will claim that group selection logging is not a form of clearcut logging, however, previously implemented group selection harvests have demonstrated otherwise. Unlike thinning that logs selected trees in a forested stand, —which can also be overapplied—group selection harvest targets whole groves of trees for complete or near complete removal. This often includes many large, healthy, overstory trees that dominate the upper canopy layer. The Bear Grub Timber Sale represents a turning point in local BLM forest management and a transition towards more industrial, clearcut or regeneration logging practices.

Following previous commercial logging treatments, and despite relatively minimal growth since that time, the BLM is proposing additional commercial harvest in previously logged mixed conifer stands. In an effort to meet unsustainable timber targets and squeeze timber from relatively unproductive forests, the BLM is proposing to log relatively spacious, closed canopy stands dominated by large, fire resistant trees with at least 60% canopy cover, using group selection methods. These stands currently maintain relatively fire resilient conditions and responsible fuel loads, while supporting Nesting, Roosting and Foraging habitat for the Northern spotted owl.

Why Group Selection Logging?

Group selection logging is being implemented in response to pressure from the timber industry to increase timber production on BLM lands and “get the cut out.” From an economic stand point, group selection logging is more convenient and cost effective for the industry than commercial thinning. It is cheaper and easier for private timber companies to take many trees in one location than it is for them to thin forests in many locations to get the same volume of timber. It is also more impactful to biological, recreational and local economic values.

A group selection logging unit in the 2014 Sterling Sweeper Timber Sale.

Although the Scoping Notice for the Bear Grub Timber Sale identifies timber production and contributions to the “allowable sale quantity,” as well as restoring resilience, and reducing fuel loading as project objectives, the decision to implement significant group selection logging demonstrates that timber production is being prioritized over all other values in this diverse and important landscape. In fact, the BLM has identified group selection logging units throughout the area, while they are only “considering” the implementation of fuel reduction treatments.

In recent years, many of the currently proposed Bear Grub Timber Sale units have already received non-commercial fuel reduction treatments focused on the removal of small understory trees and shrubs. Other areas have been commercially “thinned,” retaining various levels of forest canopy. Group selection logging has also taken place in the Bear Grub planning area, but not to the degree planned in the Bear Grub Timber Sale. These past examples provide valuable information and highlight the results of group selection logging previously implemented in the area.

Unfortunately, the trees previously retained in thinning operations for fire resilience, wildlife habitat, and to retain canopy cover are now being targeted for mass removal, logging off whole stands previously thinned to “increase forest health” and maintain “fire resilience.” Obviously, these objectives will not benefit from group selection logging and the removal of all or nearly all existing commercial sized trees.

Group Selection Logging & Wildlife

The large trees often targeted in group selection logging are disproportionately important for wildlife habitat values and have become increasingly rare throughout the landscape. Although somewhat dry and marginal, the low elevation forests of the Applegate Valley contain unusually intact forest habitats. Historically, these Applegate forests have suffered from far less even-aged, clearcut logging than the more productive forests to the north and west, where plantation forestry has consumed the majority of the landscape.

Low elevation, native forest habitats in the Applegate Watershed provide important thermal cover for a variety of wildlife species, as well as, nesting, roosting and foraging habitat for the Northern spotted owl and the Great gray owl, and denning habitat for the Pacific fisher.

Group Selection Logging & Climate

Low elevation forests are also increasingly important as carbon sinks and as fire and climate refugia. The forests of the Applegate sequester far more carbon as mature, closed canopy forests than the young forest stands created by group selection logging . Scientific research shows that the timber industry is currently the largest source of climate altering carbon emissions in the state of Oregon (Law. 2018). Group selection, regeneration and/or clearcut logging, which involves the removal of whole stands of mature trees, has a significant impact on both current emissions (Law. 2018) and future climate resilience by reducing forest cover and total carbon storage capacity.

Group selection logging also degrades cool, shaded climate refugia by removing groves of mature forest. Currently closed canopy, mature or late succcessional forest provides an important habitat niche, high quality thermal cover and microclimate refugia in a drying climate. If cool, moist habitat conditions are transformed through logging into a patchwork of small clearcuts, their values as climate refugia will be reduced.

Group Selection Logging & Wildfire

Dense understory growth has filled in previous group selection logging units on Deming Gulch in the Sterling Creek Watershed. Proposed logging treatments in the Bear Grub Timber Sale will increase both fuel loading and fire risks adjacent to numerous SW Oregon communities.

The opening of stands and the degradation of forest canopies will also significantly dry forest stands, increase shrubby understory fuel loads and reduce the amount of mature, fire resilient forest on the landscape. The result will be forests and nearby human communities less resilient to the effects of regional wildfires.

Group selection logging will remove many of the key components of fire resistance in southern Oregon forests. It will also create conditions conducive to fast moving, high severity fire effects. Although convenient and cost effective for the timber industry, group selection logging will threaten surrounding communities with increased fire risks.

References:

Law, Beverly E., Hudiburg, Tara., Berner, Jeffery., Buotte, Polly C., Harmon, Mark E. Land Use Strategies to mitigate climate change in carbon dense forests. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. April 2018, 115 (14) 3663-3668: DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1720064115