Forest Service Takes Heat on Timber Land Sales

  • The pine marten is a member of the weasel family that makes its home in yellow birch trees. (Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)

Environmentalists and the U-S Forest Service often fight over the best way to balance between cutting timber for lumber and paper, and preserving wildlife habitat. Lately, the battle is over whether government just looks at each tract of land where it sells timber or whether it looks at the cumulative impacts of logging on National Forests. The GLRC’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:


Environmentalists and the U.S. Forest Service often fight over the best
way to balance between cutting timber for lumber and paper, and
preserving wildlife habitat. Lately, the battle is over whether
government just looks at each tract of land where it sells timber or
whether it looks at the cumulative impacts of logging on National
Forests. The GLRC’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:

When some people look at a stand of trees they see lumber for a house or
wood for paper.

“Let’s go to the yellow birch.”

But when Ricardo Jomarron spots a stand of yellow
birch trees, he sees a valuable home for the pine marten – a member of
the weasel family. The marten is endangered in some states.

“The great thing about yellow birch is that it has a propensity to become
hollow while staying alive. So you have this wonderful den for pine
marten and other species to rear their young that isn’t going to blow over
in a windstorm.”

Jomarron is standing in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in
northern Wisconsin that’s near the border with Michigan. Last year,
Jomarron’s group, the Habitat Education Center won a federal court case
that has blocked timber sales on about 20-thousand acres in the million
and a half acre Chequamegon- Nicolet.

A judge ruled the Forest Service had violated the National
Environmental Policy Act by not considering the cumulative impact of
logging on other forest species. Logging not in just one place, but many
can have a larger impact on some wildlife that the judge said the Forest
Service didn’t consider.

But it’s not just the act of cutting down the trees that worries the
environmentalists. It’s the loss of shade that some plants need to survive
and new logging roads crossing streams where erosion damages trout

The Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center is representing the
Habitat Education Center. Attorney Howard Learner says the case is not
about banning logging in the national forests. He says it is about
restoring a system that he argues has gotten out of whack.

“In part because the Forest Service was looking at one timber sale and what the
impacts of that were, and then they’d look at another one and what the impacts of that were, and
they didn’t look at the overall impact – and what was the forest rather
than the trees.”

The Forest Service eventually decided not to appeal the judge’s rulings to
stop the disputed sales in this one forest. It’s taking another look at the
cumulative impact of the proposed deals, but the Forest Service says it
didn’t approve the timber sales without getting advice from state and
tribal experts on water and wildlife.

Chequemegon-Nicolet forest supervisor Anne Archie says her agency
has done a good job. She says if you really want to study the total effect
of forest management, look back a century when loggers cut everything
in sight.

“70 to 100 years ago there was no national forest. It was shrub land and
burnt over grassland. Now the National Forest is there that provides a
habitat for the species. So cumulatively in 70 to 100 years, we’ve been
growing the habitat for the species that Habitat Education Center…we’ll
we’re all concerned for those species.”

But Habitat Education Center and other environmental groups say the
Forest Service still isn’t doing a thorough job of determining the impact
that logging might have. The environmentalists and conservation groups
say the agency’s follow-up study on the Chequemegon-Nicolet is like
Swiss cheese with many more holes than substance. Depending what
happens at the end of the current comment period, the groups could ask
the judge to keep the lid on the timber sales.

Logging companies that cut and mill the trees from the forest are not
happy about the legal battles.

James Flannery runs the Great Lakes Timber Company. He says if you
want to look at the cumulative impact to the forest, you should look at
the cumulative impact to the economy of the area.

“Part of the money generated from forest sales comes back to
communities. If we have no forest sales and there’s thousands of acres of
forests land that we harvest I’m more worried about the income of these
communities, which will be zero.”

But the environmental groups argue the broad expanse of the forests
need to be protected from multiple timber sales that cumulatively could
cause wider ecological damage. They say ignoring the health of the
forest ignores another important industry of the area: the tourism that
brings a lot of money to the north woods.

For the GLRC, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.

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Romancing the American Chestnut

  • American chestnuts (left) are smaller than Chinese and European chestnuts. The Chinese and European varieties are also resistant to the blight, making the imports more desirable to growers. (Photo by Lester Graham)

Food is always a big part of the holidays. But one
traditional food has – for the most part – disappeared from American tables. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


Food is always a big part of the holidays. But one traditional food has – for the most part – disapeared from American tables. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

(Sound of Nat King Cole singing, “Chestnuts roasing on an open fire…”)

That old chestnut of a song romanticizes roasting chestnuts as a part of the holidays. But a lot of us have never even seen chestnuts, let alone roasted them on an open fire. Chestnuts used to be a major part of the Eastern hardwood forest. There were millions of them. In fact, 25 percent of all the mature trees were chestnuts. But a blight, imported with some Chinese chestnut trees, slowly wiped out the American chestnuts. Now, they’re gone.

Well… almost. Much of the root stock is still alive. Sprouts grow until the blight knocks them back again. A blight only hurts the standing tree where it branches out.

And, in a few isolated pockets in the Midwest, the blight hasn’t reached the trees. A few American chestnuts are alive and growing and some of them are free of the blight. At Nash Nursuries in central Michigan, owner Bill Nash is guiding us through a rare sight… a grove of American chestnuts.

“These are 20 years old and as you can see, they’re fairly good sized. The American chestnut is quite a rapid growing tree. It’s well-suited for our climate, so it doesn’t have any of the problems that some of the hybrids do as far as growing and cultural care you have to take care of them. The Americans, you get them started and they’re pretty much on their own.”

In a few places in Michigan and Wisconsin there are small groves of chestnuts. They’re prized trees. They’re great for shade. The hardwood is rot resistant and makes great furniture and fence posts. And the chestnuts are eaten by humans and wildlife alike. Bill Nash says the tree will be popular again if it ever overcomes the blight that’s hit it so hard.

“The American chestnut will make another big comeback in this country as a yard tree, as a timber tree, as a wildlife tree.”

That part about a wildlife tree is more important than just worrying about the squirrels and bunnies. Chestnuts were an important food source for all kinds of animals.

Andrew Jarosz is a plant biologist at Michigan State University. He says the loss of chestnuts has been hard on wildlife populations.

“Chestnuts shed nuts in a more regular pattern than oaks, which will have what are called mast years – where they’ll have major crops, massive crops one year and very small crops in other years – which means it’s either feast or famine if you’re depending on oaks.”

Since the blight first began hitting American chestnuts about a century ago, researchers have been looking into all kinds of ways to stop it. One way is to cross it with the Chinese chestnut which has a couple of genes that resist the blight. But it takes a long time to breed out the Chinese characteristics from the American chestnuts and still keep the resistant genes.

Another approach is genetic manipulation. Genetically modifying the American chestnut tree to make it disease resistant. Again, work is underway, but it takes a long time. And even after success, it’s likely some people won’t like the idea of releasing a genetically modified organism into the wild.

The final approach worked in Europe when the blight hit there. It seems there’s a naturally occuring virus that kills the blight. It spread naturally in Europe. There are a few groves in Michigan that have naturally acquired the virus and it’s working to keep the blight at bay. Andrew Jarosz is working on the research. He says the trick is figuring out how to get the virus to spread to other trees short of manually spreading it on cankers infected by the blight.

“If we’re literally talking about millions of trees across probably, you know, the eastern third of the country, we obviously can’t treat every canker on every tree. And we need to be able to figure out a way to deploy the virus in a way that it can spread.”

Even with all that hopeful research, it’ll be ten years at least before some practical solutions end up in the forests, and Jarosz believes a couple of centuries before the American chestnut holds the place it once did in the forests.

Bill Nash knows it’ll be a while before there are major changes, but he is optimistic about the American chestnut.

“Oh, I would think the tree has a bright future. There’s enough people working on that, enough programs going on now… So, I would suspect that in the not-too-distant future we should have some of this progress made. You know, Robert Frost in his poem predicted the comeback of the American chestnut, that something would arise to offset that blight. And we’re starting to see that.”

Frost put it this way: “Will the blight end the chestnut? The farmers rather guess not, It keeps smoldering at the roots And sending up new shoots Till another parasite Shall come to end the blight.”

Seems Frost was an optimist too.

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

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