Patrick Higgins/for the Times-Standard

Greg King raised issues about the ecological sustainability of industrial forestry recently (”Green Diamond: Enemy of forests,” Times-Standard, Feb. 20, Page A4) and drew a vitriolic response from Eric Blair (”Anti-Green Diamond screed just silly,” Times-Standard, Feb. 21, Page A4). I would like to explore the topics raised less emotionally. I hope not to alienate the fine people who work for Green Diamond and recognize the importance of jobs the company supplies and its contributions to our economy. However, data show that industrial forestry practices such as theirs have not been ecologically sustainable. Additionally, in attempting to rebut King's arguments Mr. Blair invokes science, but since Green Diamond never shares data, there is no supporting evidence.

Asserting that Green Diamond engages in “some of the worst forestry on the planet” may be hyperbole, but industrial timber company harvest rates have taken a toll on stream health and wildlife all across the North Coast. Mr. Blair states that clear cuts elsewhere are much larger and that many small clear cuts can't be bad. Scientific data show that North Coast streams flowing from over-harvested industrial timberland become flat, wide, warm and open, resulting in poor salmon productivity. In the worst case scenario, associated sediment damage and change in flows in impacted watersheds cause stream reaches to go dry for several months a year. Streams affected this way by Green Diamond clear cuts include the lower North Fork and Canon Creek, in the Mad River watershed, and several lower Klamath River tributaries, including Terwer Creek.

clear cuts across the landscape in northwestern California over the last six decades are without precedent in the ecological history of our region. The change in stand structure leaves the spotted owl unable to compete with barred owls. Coho may seem abundant in the current cycle of good ocean productivity and relatively wet on-land conditions. However, according to predictions about the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, ocean productivity is expected to become less favorable for salmon and climatic conditions drier starting sometime between 2015 and 2025. Scientific experts predict coho salmon are likely to go extinct in much of their California range, if freshwater habitat is not improved by then.

Mr. Blair took top hyperbole honors when he said: “Fluoride-laden Arcata drinking water is more dangerous than water coming off Green Diamond land.” The body of scientific information shows that the synergistic action of multiple chemical stressors in our streams is disrupting fish behavior and killing them quietly. Many of these substances are also human mutagens and carcinogens. In the longer term, healthy forests shouldn't need herbicides or pesticides.

Mr. Blair's statement that “Green Diamond has more biodiversity than Redwood National Park!” does not pass the straight face test and lacks supporting data. He claims that Green Diamond scientists altering the genes of redwood tree chromosomes in a lab is the same as redwoods sprouting from the stump. The company and its scientists cannot predict how genetic alterations they make will affect the redwood forest's future ability to adapt to climate change, which the ecosystem has always done well without human intervention.

There is now a spectrum of forestry practices on the North Coast. Humboldt Redwood Company and the Mendocino Redwood Company maintain old growth trees and avoid clear cuts. The Redwood Forest Foundation is taking a forest health approach to managing more than 50,000 acres in northern Mendocino County. Their practices emphasize harvest of smaller trees from the understory, reducing road networks and avoiding use of herbicides. Timber companies also have different willingness to share data. Not sharing data allows companies to hide negative side effects from regulators and the public, which does not tend to foster protection of fish, wildlife or other public trust resources, like clean water.

We know that climate change will lead to more stress on our forests, our water supply and our fish. If forest health is poor, it will make us more susceptible to tree disease epidemics, forest fires, floods and drought. Improved forest health will buffer us from climate change, bring back the bounty of fish and wildlife, and ensure our region's quality of life. Our community needs a more rational, science-based dialog on forest health instead of resorting to propaganda and attacking one another.

Patrick Higgins is a consulting fisheries biologist who has studied the Klamath River for more than 20 years.