By Warren Cornwall, Oct. 5, 2017, for Science Magazine
WESTERN OREGON—Jerry Franklin has spent much of his life in the company of giants. From his childhood in the woods of Washington state to a scientific career that catapulted him to international prominence, the towering trees of the U.S. Pacific Northwest have shaped his world. In the 1980s, the forest ecologist became a hero to many conservationists thanks to research that helped lead to a controversial 1994 plan protecting millions of hectares of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest from logging.
Today, in the twilight of his life, the 80-year-old scientist has become a champion of this far different landscape, which he sees as vital to supporting a full range of forest species. That change has again thrust Franklin, a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, to the center of a debate over the future of the northwest’s forests—including a potential rewrite of that seminal 1990s Northwest Forest Plan. This time, Franklin is drawing the ire of conservationists for promoting forest management techniques—including targeted logging—designed to create more of the scraggly patches of protoforest that ecologists call “early seral” communities.
Forest ecologist Dominick DellaSala, president of the Ashland-based Geos Institute, is convinced that logging is a poor substitute for natural disturbances, which leave a complex jumble of live and dead trees. DellaSala was Franklin’s co-author on the 2011 paper about the importance of early seral habitat, but he has become Franklin’s chief scientific critic. Franklin, he says, “thinks you can recreate [seral habitat] from nothing. And I think you can’t recreate it from nothing. You’ve got to start with something and just not salvage log it.”