Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Communicating the Science of 'Salvage' Logging to the Public

The new issue of Conservation Biology contains a special section on "The Ecological Effects of Salvage Logging After Natural Disturbance," with a particular focus on the politically controversial topic of post-fire logging.

Section editors, scientists Reed Noss and Bruce Lindenmayer, point out that in modern industrial societies, waste and messiness, such as that perceived to be caused by forest fires, are seen as bad and in need of "cleaning up" (i.e., logging). They continue that the fundamental justification for postdisturbance ("salvage") logging is that "if by cleaning up dead and dying trees after a disturbance, some money can be made from the timber, so much the better."

But is logging a forest after it burns the best way to maintain a healthy productive forest that provides not just wood for lumber, but also ecosystem services such as protection against floods and landslides, recreational opportunities, and biodiversity?

Quite the contrary, conclude Noss and Lindenmayer.

They state that "in many cases, forest ecosystems are more strongly affected by postdisturbance logging than by the initial disturbance... Ecologically informed policies for postdisturbance management of forests need to be in place before major disturbances inevitably take place in order to avoid the ad hoc decisionmaking that often leads to poorly planned and ecologically damaging salvage operations."

Contributor, Richard Hutto, concludes that he is "hard pressed to find any other example in wildlife biology where the effect of a particular land-use activity is as close to 100% negative as typical salvage logging."

Noss and Linenmayer sum up the section:
'The papers in this special section provide a strong argument for increased research and monitoring on the effects of natural disturbances and postdisturbance logging on forests. A call for more research is not a call for business as usual and certainly not a call for increased levels of salvage logging. Quite the contrary, available evidence points to often severe long-lasting negative effects of postdisturbance logging on a wide variety of ecosystems and their biota. To log what is often the most biologically diverse and threatened forest condition in the landscape is fundamentally irrational."
"Finally", they note:

"we believe new terminology is needed. The word salvage implies that something is being saved or recovered, whereas from an ecological perspective this is rarely the case."
As a scientist, I found this section to be a fascinating and important contribution to the field of conservation biology. However, as a connector between conservation science the the public, I wish that it had addressed more explicitly how post-fire logging affects ecosystem services - what are the best post-fire management treatments for maintaining such forest ecosystem services as protection against dangerous floods and landslides, water filtration/safeguarding of drinking water supplies, and providing healthy fish and wildlife populations important to hunters, fishers and biodiversity alike? In other words, how do different post-fire treatment options influence the livelihoods, safety, and quality of life of surrounding human communities and users of the forests?

These are the types of questions whose answers will, in my view, resonate most strongly with the public and decisionmakers as they strive to understand why it is important that forest management, especially of recently burned habitats, is based on sound science.

Here at Conservation Value, we'll continue to come back to this topic - the types of wording and communication approaches that resonate most strongly with the public's support for conservation and sustainability - so check back often.

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