A Conspiracy of Optimism: Management of the National Forests since World War Two

By Paul W. Hirt | Go to book overview

6
Getting Out the Cut, 1953-1960

The key development in national forest management in the 1950s was the full maturing of intensive timber extraction and the contingent evolution of technical and ideological rationales for raising allowable cut levels, including the widespread adoption of clearcutting as an alternative to selective cutting. During the 1950s, timber production from the national forests shot up from 3.5 billion board feet to 9.3 billion board feet. At the same time, the percentage of national forest contributions to total U.S. timber harvests climbed from 10 percent to 15 percent. In the Pacific Northwest, national forest contributions to regional timber production in this decade jumped from 21 percent to 35 percent.1 Though the Forest Service expected the demand for and the supply of wood products to continue to rise at the same rapid rate in the following decades, in fact they both leveled off. For the following thirty years, the volume of timber removed from the national forests as a whole remained at decade averages of 10-12 billion board feet, although that level of production, which was based on optimistic assumptions, could not be sustained into the 1990s. National forest contributions to total U.S. cut and Pacific Northwest cut averaged 16 percent and 30 percent, respectively, for the 1960s-1980s.2 Due to the rapid acceleration of harvests in the 1950s, the problems of that decade were particularly acute. Under great pressure to "get out the cut," and lacking the experience, personnel, and funding to manage the high harvest levels with care, the Forest Service often caused or allowed irreversible damage to watersheds, streams, and wildlife habitat. The visual effects of the dramatic increase in logging also shocked forest visitors and rural residents. As Ed Cliff, Assistant Chief in

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