Researcher laments lack of forest planning expertise
By TIM HEARDEN
ANDERSON, Calif. -- Jim Arney foresees a troubled time for the timber industry for reasons that have little to do with the economy or spotted owls.
In 2002, Arney helped form the Portland, Ore.-based Forest Biometrics Research Institute, which guides timber producers on the technical work of giving the detailed 50- to 100-year growth and site projections required by laws and regulations.
Arney laments that many of the scientists who created the models on which many of these projections are based are retired, university research laboratories have been closed because of budget cuts, and much of the data these researchers produced is becoming out of date.
So producers are having to essentially become scientists themselves to develop their own projections, and many of them don't have the time or the resources to do that.
"We have never been at the point where we need more quality data right now, and we've never been at the point where we've been funded so poorly to support that stuff," Arney told a room full of foresters on April 18.
The 40-year research forester headlined a day-long forest planning workshop at the Gaia Hotel here, sponsored by the University of California.
Quantitative forest planning has evolved over the years from general guidelines to location-specific treatment regimes that cover tree growth, other vegetation types, stream and watershed systems, and metrics that are supposed to accurately correspond to fish and wildlife populations, the UC explains on its Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources website.
In the last few decades, researchers from the UC and other universities have developed information models that foresters have used to complete everything from timber harvest plans in California to county tax forms in Idaho.
There are five major growth factors in forests, Arney said. They are the site capacity including soil and topography; the tree species capacity and resilience, genetic variability and range; competition for light, water and nutrients; and hindrances such as disease, pests, weather and fire.
When a forester makes plans for a plot of land, he or she must include such things as riparian buffers for wildlife habitat and spotted-owl nesting sites, which must be designated as permanent even though actual nests sometimes move, Arney said.
So in 40 acres, a forester might have 27 that are usable after accounting for roads and riparian zones, he said.
While the experimental unit traditionally has been the stand, now it is the individual tree, including such dimensions as diameter and height, Arney said. And timber producers don't have the resources to check each tree, he said.
"The trouble is it's asking too much of them," Arney said in an interview. "They don't have the skill sets or the time. They have to be public relations guys as well."
Forest Biometrics Research Institute: http://www.forestbiometrics.com/
UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources: http://ucanr.edu/