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Forest Restoration or Forest Degradation?

Forest Restoration or Forest Degradation?

These two images display a recent example of a forest “restoration” project designed to improve the “health” of a ponderosa pine forests. The area to the left of the path was recently (about a year ago) thinned and then burned. The area to the right of the trail shows what the “unhealthy” landscape was like before “restoration” occurred.

I would argue from a forest ecosystem health and biodiversity perspective, the managed landscape pictured here is degraded and less “healthy” than the right side of the pathway.

First, note that the forest left of the path is nearly uniform in species and tree size. You see little young age class trees. Other tree species that exist in the area and visible to the right side of the path like lodgepole pine and white fir are gone.

The “treated” side due to its more uniform species and age class is now much more vulnerable to future disease and insect outbreaks.

In addition to the loss of species diversity, there is almost no understory shrubs or other plant species on the left side (left) of the path. While the right side has a greater diversity of “habitat niches” that includes shrubs, flowers, grasses, and other plant species. All of this diversity supports a greater variety of insects, birds, small mammals, reptiles, and other wildlife.

There is a collective loss of dead wood, and even the potential for future snags and dead wood since the goal of these treatments is to preclude natural processes like bark beetles, wildfire and other natural disturbance processes from occurring.

The removal of trees by thinning has also reduced the carbon storage on the site, and as many papers extoll, this loss today is problematic and will take a long time to recover.[1]

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