“Federal Land Management Not a Good Deal for Americans”

This article, “Federal Land Management Not a Good Deal for Americans,” has a link to a study that comes to that conclusion.

“The states examined in this study earn an average of $14.51 for every dollar spent on state trust land management. The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management generate only 73 cents in return for every dollar spent on federal land management.”

Yosemite Visit

I recently spent three days in the Yosemite National Park area, shooting each day, in different locations. Yes, I did find a marvelous group of dispersed camping sites (free!) within the Rim Fire perimeter. Of course, they were there before the fire but, those spots still look great. Yes, there are also patches of high-intensity burn along Hardin Flat Road (the old highway) that have been salvage logged, too.

One of the places I went to, inside the park, was a large patch of high-intensity burn, all around Hodgdon Meadow. The campground wasn’t really impacted much by the fire. All around the fringe of the large meadow were green and healthy trees. They should be a good source of seeds, and it looks like most sugar pines had an excellent “cone year”. The problem will be the inevitable re-burns, with heavy fuels from trees like these:

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Yes, there are some tufts of green up there but, will the trees be able to fight off drought and bugs, with damaged cambium? Probably not. Yosemite has become a giant incubation “Motherland” for bark beetles, who don’t stay inside the lines on the map. However, I would recommend Hodgdon Meadow Campground (right near the Highway 120 Entrance Station) for your visit to Yosemite. There is something very primitive to camping under such giant trees (non-Sequoias).

Speaking of Giant Sequoias, I dropped into the Tuolumne Grove, to see how the Rim Fire impacted the area. I knew that firefighters had set up sprinklers, and I could tell by looking at the Google Maps view that there wasn’t much intensity there. This area was about as scorched as much as I could find, along the trails. Certainly, nothing to worry about. I’ll bet there is more insect mortality in the area than fire mortality. I’m sure that some will say they wished it had burned a little more intensely. Most of the grove didn’t burn nearly as well as in this picture.

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I went to Foresta, to view last year’s re-burn and the progress of “recovery” of the Yosemite side. Here is some views of that situation:

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Nine years after the re-burn, and 25 years after the original A-Rock Fire, this area remains desolate. Even brush is having a hard time growing, in soils with very little organic matter. The soils dry out and growth stops, during the hot summers.

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Looking westward, you can see last year’s re-burn, mostly on the Forest Service lands outside the Park. I worked on the original A-Rock salvage project, way back in 1991. I still have some Kodachrome slides from those days, up on that long ridge. The snags in this view probably survived the A-Rock Fire but not the Big Meadow Fire.

Yes, I did go into Yosemite Valley and found some uncrowded hiking along the Merced River.

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I did some some significant pine beetle patches, in Yosemite Valley. It seems like a “normal” level of bark beetles, considering the horrible drought, and all.

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There is a lot more to see over on my Facebook page www.facebook.com/LarryHarrellFotoware

Appeal of Big Thorne Sale?

Another on the Big Thorne Timber Sale by E&E News…

This seems to me a “clearcut” case of the Forest Service following the law, based on what the judge says. I agree with Senator Murkowski that protracted litigation and appeals are a suboptimal approach to forest policy. At the end of the day, many times, the FS just does more work (as per Colt Summit) and unsurprisingly, no ecosystems have unraveled yet.

Environmental groups are “very likely” to appeal a judge’s decision last Friday to uphold a Forest Service plan to allow more than 6,000 acres of old-growth logging in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, according to the groups’ attorney.

Tom Waldo of Earthjustice said plaintiffs are still evaluating whether to seek an emergency halt to the Big Thorne timber sale pending appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Earthjustice represented the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Alaska Wilderness League, Sierra Club, National Audubon Society and Natural Resources Defense Council in two lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska that were consolidated into one.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline ruled the Forest Service broke no laws in crafting its 2008 Tongass land-use plan and approving Big Thorne, which allows the harvest of about 150 million board feet of trees, most of them old growth, while also mandating significant restoration and recreation improvements (E&ENews PM, March 23).

The Forest Service and a local mill have previously said they will not start ground-disturbing activities until April 1 at the earliest.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has long supported the Big Thorne sale and cheered Beistline’s decision. But yesterday at an ENR hearing to discuss forestry reform, she warned that “the lawsuit isn’t necessarily over.”

She said she’s fearful that even if the Forest Service prevails on appeal, it could delay logging long enough to put southeast Alaska’s only remaining medium-sized timber mill out of business.

“Some would argue that that’s been the plan here all along,” she said. “Not to just cut it off, but to delay enough that those in the industry just give up. That’s not what forest policy should look like.”

The Forest Service as Noah

High-elevation headwater streams that provide refuge for native bull trout and cutthroat trout would remain cold enough even under the worst warming scenarios to protect and support them. These streams, in places like Central Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains, can carry these native trout through the global warming bottleneck – when many species will disappear – that scientists say the world faces even if nations are able to stop the rise in greenhouse gases. “They are like Noah’s ark for bull trout and cutthroat,” Isaak said.

In February, Isaak and Young briefed forest officials and others working collaboratively across Idaho to restore the health of forest ecosystems while providing jobs for rural communities. The briefing gave local land managers like those on the Boise National Forest a chance to see how their plans fit into these “climate shields.” “There were a few areas in the Lowman District and in the upper Boise,” said David Olson, a Boise National Forest spokesman.

Said Isaak: “The hope is that the information provides a strategic tool that can be used to make more efficient local investments in stream restoration and protection projects, so that the broadest possible distributions of cutthroat trout and bull trout remain later this century.”

Isaak’s Noah’s ark approach won’t just help aquatic species, but also can help managers determine what other habitat will remain viable as warmer winters, earlier runoff and increased wildfire accelerate with warming temperatures. Wolverine biologists are looking at many of the same areas, Young said. Pika, lynx and other mammals that depend on cool summers or good snowpack may find refuge in Idaho’s high country.

This story describes a concrete step towards being strategic about climate change by identifying areas that should be used to build the ‘ark.’  Unfortunately, it doesn’t make the connection to national forest plans, where strategic choices about management priorities need to be made.  It will be interesting to see how the Nez Perce-Clearwater forest plan revision incorporates this strategy.

To save the rainforest, let the locals take control

Image: Andrzej Krauze)

Image: Andrzej Krauze)

All, I am catching up with a backlog of posts, thanks to the end of spring quarter. It will probably take me a couple of weeks to work through the pile. FWIW, I now know many things about the New Testament and you can still expect any of my historical references to be from the first, second and third centuries.

Here’s an opinion piece by Fred Pearce in New Scientist. Below is an excerpt and here is a link.

Forest dwellers are typically seen as forest destroyers. But the opposite is often the case, says David Bray of Florida International University.

Bray has spent a lifetime studying Mexico, where rural communities have long-standing ownership of 60 per cent of the country’s forests, and have logged them for timber to sell. This may sound like a recipe for disaster, yet he says that deforestation rates in community-owned forests have been “generally lower than in regions dominated by protected areas”.

One example is in the Yucatan region, where communities outperformed the local Calakmul Biosphere Reserve 200-fold.

Why? Because, Bray says, “communities with rights to resources conserve those resources; communities without rights have no reason to conserve… and deforestation will ensue”. Andrew Steer, the head of the Washington DC-based environment group the World Resources Institute, agrees: “If you want to stop deforestation, give legal rights to communities.”

Some environmentalists pay lip service to this new conservation narrative. But too often, forest communities face growing efforts by outsiders to grab their land in the name of conservation.

Forest Service Litigation Weekly -March 23, 2015

Our favorite weekly document (thanks to the authors!) with attached documents.

Litigation Update

1. Preliminary Injunction │Region 5
Ninth Circuit Denies Appellant’s Motion for Injunction Pending Appeal in Conservation Congress v. USFS. On March 16, 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, citing Winter v. Natural Resource Defense Council, denied appellant, Conservation Congress’ motion for an injunction pending appeal of the Algoma Project on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. (14-16142, 14-17397, 9th Cir.)

2. NOI │Region 1
NOI Filed Regarding the Noisy Face Recreation Plan on the Flathead National Forest. On March 6, 2015, Swan View Coalition sent an NOI alleging that the Noisy Face Recreation Plan on the Flathead National Forest is in violation of sections 7 and 9 of the ESA due to impacts on grizzly bear. The NOI also alleges failure to consult on lynx critical habitat.

New Cases

1. Travel Management │Region 5
Plaintiffs Challenge the Plumas National Forest Motorized Travel Management ROD in Granat et al. v. USDA. On March 18, 2015, plaintiffs, Amy Granat (Managing Director of the California Off-Road Vehicle Association), Corky Lazzarino (Executive Director of Sierra Access Coalition), Sierra Access Coalition, California Off-Road Vehicle Association, The County of Plumas, and the County of Butte filed suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California challenging the Plumas National Forest Motorized Travel Management ROD. Plaintiffs raise twelve claims including: (1) the Forest Service did not employ a science-based roads analysis to designate routes under the Travel Management Rule according to the potential impacts to natural resources, soils, watersheds, or vegetation, (2) the Forest Service did not coordinate with local governments under the Travel Management Rule (including that the Forest Service’s decision did not reflect consideration of the connection between Plumas National Forest routes and the county road systems or consider the opportunities for county roads to serve as connectors), (3) the Forest Service failed to comply with NEPA requirements to cooperate and coordinate with local governments, (4) the Forest Service failed to identify, evaluate, and disclose the environmental impacts of motorized travel on thousands of unclassified but historically and lawfully used routes, (5) the Forest Service failed to consider an adequate range of alternatives as required by NEPA by failing to consider any alternatives that did not amount to a total ban or reasonable levels of closure for unclassified routes, (6) the Forest Service failed to provide a scientific basis for the Travel Management Decision (e.g. by using inaccurate and flawed data or no data), (7) the Forest Service failed to sufficiently analyze impacts to the human environment, (8) the Forest Service’s socio-economic impacts analysis was deficient, (9) the Forest Service failed to adequately respond to comments, (10) the Forest Service failed to complete a supplemental EIS between the draft and final decision, (11) the Forest Service failed to adequately consider the cumulative impacts of loss of recreational and trail access, and (12) the Forest Service violated FOIA by failing to respond within the statutory time limit. (15-00605, E.D. Cal.)

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Big Thorne Project Upheld

From E&E News

A federal judge in Alaska last Friday upheld the Forest Service’s controversial plan to allow more than 6,000 acres of old-growth trees to be logged in the Tongass National Forest, marking a major win for a local timber mill.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline clears the way for the Big Thorne project, which authorizes the sale of about 150 million board feet of timber, most of it old-growth. It is the largest-volume timber project approved in the 17-million-acre forest since 1993.

The project’s main timber contract has been awarded, and ground-disturbing activities could begin within weeks.

The 25-page ruling is a defeat for 10 environmental groups that filed three lawsuits late last summer challenging the logging project and the 2008 Tongass land-use plan. Groups warned that old-growth logging would ruin habitat for the Sitka black-tailed deer, which is a key food source for the imperiled Alexander Archipelago wolf and area hunters.

One coalition of plaintiffs included the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, the Alaska Wilderness League, the Sierra Club, the National Audubon Society and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The other consisted of Cascadia Wildlands, the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, Greenpeace, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Boat Co.

By targeting “most of the best remaining” mid- and low-elevation winter habitat for deer, the project will cause “irreparable harm” to hunters on Prince of Wales Island, said one of the lawsuits. All three suits were later consolidated.

Beistline rejected all of the groups’ claims.

He said the Forest Service had made a “reasonable” assessment of timber market demand, had properly explained why additional wolf population data was not necessary for the agency to make an informed decision, and had “appropriately exercised its discretion” on other issues.

He also found that the Forest Service’s review of its 2008 Tongass land-use plan “was ‘reasonably thorough’ and took the requisite hard look at the environmental consequence consistent with the requirements” of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Tom Waldo, an attorney for Earthjustice who represented a handful of the environmental plaintiffs in the case, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Alaska Forest Association, the state of Alaska, the city of Craig and Viking Lumber Co., which won the main logging contract, had each intervened in the case in defense of the Forest Service.

Clearwater travel plan remanded (again)

Environmental plaintiffs successfully overturned the Clearwater National Forest travel plan in district court (newspaper coverage here). There are some implications for forest planning.

The court found the travel plan to be inconsistent with the forest plan’s requirement for elk habitat effectiveness (EHE) because it used the same methodology to evaluate EHE that was used for the forest plan. The methodology currently used (that the Forest Service helped develop) had added trails with motorized use to its road density calculations. The court considered this to be the best available science, which must be used in determining consistency with the forest plan, even though that creates (as the Forest Service put it) a ‘moving target’ for NFMA consistency. That’s an interesting argument for the Forest Service to make because the trend is for forest plans to defer more determinations to the project level, instead of having more specific direction in a forest plan.

The court also explained what is needed to demonstrate that an action ‘minimizes’ some outcome. (This case was specifically about ‘minimization’ criteria in an Executive Order related to motorized use, but the term is commonly found in forest plans.) Project documentation must explain exactly how a project was designed to meet the minimization criteria. General discussion of the criteria was not sufficient in this case.

The court upheld the NEPA analysis for the travel plan. However, it may have given the Forest Service a break by basing that decision on the fact that the decision was for an ‘entire forest’ and that it was ‘programmatic.’ The idea that NEPA analysis can be less demanding for broad-scale or programmatic decisions stems from the existence of another NEPA decision prior to actual impacts. While that is true for decisions to close roads (closure orders), it is not true for decisions to open roads.

(Since the Clearwater previously settled with motorized users in a case before a different Idaho judge, who kept the travel plan in effect, I’m not sure where this remand leaves travel planning on the Clearwater – especially in the context of ongoing revision of the Nez Perce-Clearwater forest plan.)