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White Pine News

Tower News March 1998

The Danger of Bad Science

by Jeff Forester

There is a very important distinction between science and bad science. Francis Bacon's underlying principle of the scientific method was that no conclusion is drawn before the data has been collected and analyzed. Good science, diligent, objective and removed from the pressure of economic or political pressure, can produce truth. Truth is the basis for freedom, for democracy, for justice and liberty.

Bad science begins with the conclusion and then seeks to prove as fact that conclusion. This is propaganda. The dissemination of bad science as fact by our government agencies is perhaps the greatest threat to the "American Way".
The Little Alfie Timber Sale and the controversy surrounding it, the intentional polarization of citizen against citizen, the labeling of all environmentalists who oppose this sale as extremists by legislator Doug Johnson, the lack of intelligent discourse fostered by the United States Forest Service. . . this is what bad, intentionally-propagandistic science can cause in a democracy.

What is needed now is intelligent discourse between all concerned citizens, discourse based in fact, not name calling.

Doug Johnson, suggested at a rally that Leslie Davis, of Earth Protector, Inc. should, "get a job." Davis, in response to the attack, said, "I think Doug Johnson should work to bring people together instead of dividing them. . . but being a political dinosaur, we can't expect anything else. I wish he would discuss my proposal to invest money in the northland and foster a transition from a resource extraction economy to one based in restoration and recreation."

On Wednesday, January 21, a group of some 400 citizens from the Iron Range came to Minneapolis for the federal hearing on the Little Alfie timber sale. Said Earnie Lund, who used to log but claims his profession now as "stumble bum" but appeared to be one of the organizers of the trip, "We are not here to protest. We're showing support for an important local industry. We're here to invite the people of Minneapolis to join us in protecting our way of life."

Literature distributed at the rally by the protestors stressed the importance of timber related jobs to the northern communities.

Much has been made of the "Zero Cut" call by Earth First! by the media and public officials. Bob Pollard, a botanist who once worked in the woods and is the Earth First! organizer who initiated direct action in the Little Alfie two years ago, DOES NOT support a "zero cut" policy on public lands. "What we need is intelligent forest management directed at promoting the recovery of our resources. Timber harvest is a tool in regenerative forestry," said Pollard.

So let's forget the name calling and ignore the propaganda. Let's look at Little Alfie.
Little Alfie is a 100 acre stand of 110 year old mixed red and white pine. It is in the center of heavily logged lands. The stand was thinned in the1980s. Since then it has been left to grow.

The stand is dominated by red pine trees, about the height and width of telephone poles. Some older white pine also grow in the site. Under this canopy of older trees is a veritable sea of white pine seedlings about three to six feet tall.

There are a few unusual things about the Little Alfie stand. The Little Alfie has naturally regenerated. Natural regeneration of pine stands is much healthier and more viable than plantations. It is also rather rare on Superior National Forest.

Naturally regenerated red pines of this size and structure are increasingly rare on Superior National Forest. In 1986 there were 38,000 acres of mixed red and white pine stands 70 years old or older growing on Superior National Forest. The total acreage of timberland on Superior National Forest in 1986 was 438,300. According to the USFS's projections, at current harvest rates there will only be 4,400 acres of mixed red and white pine stands older than 70 years by 2035. This is a PLANNED reduction of 89%.

The major threat to white pine regeneration in Minnesota is the White Pine Blister Rust disease, an alien disease imported to the forest early this century. Researchers discovered in the early 1940's that only 1% of the white pine in their study area (northeastern Minnesota) had escaped white pine infection. With breeding programs to increase resistance to the disease, and by pruning and other measures survival rates can be as high as 30%.

The natural regeneration of white pine seedlings is prodigious at Little Alfie. The infection rate is about a 4%. This is perhaps the lowest rate of blister rust infection on Superior National Forest. Harvesting the canopy will change this dynamic.

When the overstory is removed and the white pine seedlings are exposed to light, a few things will happen. White tailed deer, a species that was not historically prolific in northern Minnesota before white settlement, will move into the area to browse. Deer browse of white pine seedlings is perhaps the second greatest threat to white pine regeneration in Minnesota.

More sunlight also means that vigorous aspen, red willow and beak hazel brush will dominate the stand. These species will crowd out the white pine seedlings that are not destroyed by logging activity in the area. The USFS plans to deal with this problem by "hand releasing" the white pine from aspen growth. Anyone who has been in the woods knows that cutting back aspen saplings with shears or brush cutter is a year round job. The stems must be cut back repeatedly, often many times in a single summer for many years until the white pine are established enough to shade out the suckers. The USFS has little budget for this type of work. In an effort to control their money losing timber program, Superior National Forest has abandoned most white pine planting and regeneration efforts. It is doubtful they have a budget for this Sisyphean effort.

Given all of this, it would seem strange the USFS would target this stand for cutting. Bad science is the answer. The USFS sold the trees before they did an Environmental Assessment (which is required by law). They sold the trees BEFORE they knew the blister rust infection rate. In fact, Jay Strand, the first USFS timber manager who looked at this site recommended AGAINST cutting this stand. When activists threatened to sue the USFS, they backed off. Other Forest Service scientists (not the one who recommended against cutting) review the sale. But they never returned Tony Voukelich's money. (He was the unfortunate logger who originally bought the trees, mistakenly thinking that all was on the up and up.) Environmentalists offered to hire an independent firm, chosen by the Forest Service, to do an Environmental Impact Statement on this site. The USFS refused. Environmentalists offered to find Mr. Voukelich other trees for his mill. The USFS refused.

The outcome has been a boon to lawyers on both sides, huge expense to both timber workers and environmentalists and a divisiveness within communities in the northland. It is possible that the costs associated with untangling the web of deceit could well exceed the value of the trees many times over. All citizens who are involved in this debate should cease their finger wagging. This type of propaganda, thinly veiled as science, is a threat to all. The real villain here is not the environmentalist or the logger. It is a bloated agency run amok on fat federal subsidy, an agency that intentionally misleads the public it is supposed to serve. An agency whose actions threaten the corner stone of democracy. . . simple truth.

Pollard continued, "After Sen. Johnson's comments last week, I thought he was trying to turn this into a political event, that he was using the politics of divisiveness to further his own purposes. Earth First! welcomes his attempts at rational, fact based discussion."

Reprinted by permission of the Tower News