Life After the Timber Bust

Here’s a July 26, 2016, AP article about an Oregon town that has survived the federal timber bust: Prineville, which is home to several Facebook and Apple server farms, as well as the venerable Les Schwab Tire distribution center. There are lots of construction jobs now, but will server farms provide a level of employment comparable to the former timber industry? I doubt it.

Former Oregon lumber town rides digital wave to a comeback

For perspective, you might read these articles about other towns where things aren’t as rosy. Sweet Home, where “The patchwork that resulted — some people with money, many people without and few ways to earn a wage — now defines much of rural Oregon.”:

Town That Thrived on Logging Is Looking for a Second Growth

And Oakridge, where “About 1,600 people — nearly half the town’s population — come to the Oakridge food bank each month to pick up free supplies.”:

Former Oregon Lumber Town Tries To Reinvent Itself



Is There a Place for Legislating Place-Based Collaborative Forestry Proposals?

Homework assignment: Read “Is There a Place for Legislating Place-Based Collaborative Forestry Proposals?: Examining the Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery Act Pilot Project,” Journal of Forestry, July 2016.

Focuses on the Quincy Library Group. Was anyone on this blog involved with the group? I’d like to hear your comments on the paper.

Here’s the abstract:

In 1993, a group of national forest stakeholders, the Quincy Library Group, crafted a proposal that intended to reduce wildfire risk, protect the California spotted owl (Strix occidentalis occidentalis), restore watersheds, and enhance community stability by ensuring a predictable supply of timber for area sawmills and biomass for energy plants. The Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery Act of 1998 codified this proposal, directing the USDA Forest Service to conduct forest treatments on 40,000 – 60,000 acres per year by creating defensible fuel profile zones and logging by group- and individual tree-selection methods. The law also designated an Independent Science Panel to review monitoring studies, administrative studies, and research to assess efficacy of the implementation and achievement of goals. Although several goals were achieved, implementation fell short of treatment and volume goals, and evidence was lacking to make conclusive judgments about environmental impacts. Shortcomings were due to differing interpretations of the Act’s prescriptive intent, changes in management direction, compounding economic factors, appeals and litigation, variation in site-specific forest conditions, and variation in approaches among national forests and districts. Most notable was a lack of monitoring of the treatment effects on California spotted owl populations and other environmental concerns. These findings suggest that attempts to legislate prescriptive, collaboratively developed proposals may not account for the complex biophysical, management, social, and economic contexts within which national forest management occurs. These findings also suggest that current national forest policies and directives promoting collaboration should also be accompanied by a commitment to monitoring and adaptive management.

Firefighting Run Amok

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Today’s Seattle Times reports on a 5 million board foot timber sale conceived and consummated as a part of fighting the Wolverine Fire near Lake Chelan in Washington State. The sale, which cut a 50-mile long, 300-foot wide “community protection line” through spotted owl critical habitat and over streams, was logged primarily after rain had stopped the fire’s advance 8 miles from the Lake Wenatchee and Plains communities it was intended to protect. Contemporaneous Forest Service and FWS employees’ objections to the logging were overridden by the Wenatchee River district ranger.

Under normal circumstances, the National Environmental Policy Act would have required the Forest Service to assess this logging in an EA or EIS. But, Forest Service rules include an exception to NEPA analysis “[w]hen the responsible official determines that an emergency exists” and the actions are “urgently needed to mitigate harm to life, property, or important natural or cultural resources.” 36 CFR 220.4(b). In this instance, there is no written record of that determination having been made by “the responsible official,” or anyone else, for that matter. That’s the norm for Forest Service firefighting, which seeks to fly under NEPA’s radar using this regulation without ever following the regulation’s own terms itself. To the best of my knowledge, at no time does a Forest Service responsible official document that “an emergency exists” and that a particular action is “urgently needed.”

In the Wolverine Fire, the Forest Service’s behavior and facts on the ground belied any urgency to log this timber. If an urgent need to protect life or property had existed, the Forest Service would have warned the Lake Wenatchee and Plain communities to be prepared to evacuate. There are three levels of evacuation alert – Level 1 (Be Ready), Level 2 (Leave Soon) and Level 3 (Leave Immediately). At no time did the Forest Service put these communities on even the lowest level (Be Ready) evacuation alert. In contrast, Holden Village and Lucerne, which the Wolverine Fire actually threatened, received evacuation alerts and were evacuated.

When a wildfire threatens national forest visitors, the Forest Service also closes the area to public visitation. But here, when logging began, the Forest Service began relaxing public closures in the Wolverine Fire area, including reopening the Pacific Crest Trail to hikers.

Unaddressed in the news article is whether this 50-mile fuel break would have prevented the fire from spotting over the line. Had weather conditions been such that Lake Wenatchee or other communities actually been threatened (which they were not), it’s a fair bet that the fire could have jumped the line readily. In fact, the Forest Service warned that the Wolverine Fire might even jump Lake Chelan, which is a lot wider and less flammable!

Bill to open Wilderness areas to mountain bikes – and chainsaws – introduced in Senate

The following press release is from Wilderness Watch. – mk

New Legislation is an Assault on the Very Idea of Wilderness and the Values of the Wilderness Act

The Sustainable Trails Coalition is attempting to amend and weaken the Wilderness Act

MISSOULA, MONTANA – Last week Utah Republican Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee introduced the so-called “Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Act,” a piece of legislation that would ride rough-shod over the Wilderness Act of 1964 by opening up America’s National Wilderness Preservation System to mountain bikes and other machines. The bill would also allow chainsaws and wheeled devices like carts and wheelbarrows in Wilderness.

For over 50 years the Wilderness Act has protected wilderness areas designated by Congress from mechanization and mechanical transport, even if no motors were involved with such activities. This has meant, as Congress intended, that Wilderness has been kept free from cars, trucks, ATVs, snowmobiles, bicycles, and all other types of motorized and mechanized transport.

“We see this for what it is—an assault on the very idea of Wilderness and the values of the Wilderness Act. Make no mistake, the goals of the Sustainable Trails Coalition are one of the biggest threats to the National Wilderness Preservation System,” said George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch. “At a time when wilderness and wildlife are under increasing pressures from increasing populations, growing mechanization, and a rapidly changing climate, the last thing Wilderness needs is to be invaded by mountain bikes and other machines. “

It’s noteworthy that the Sustainable Trails Coalition had to enlist the help of some of the most anti-environmental and anti-wilderness members of Congress to carry their legislation. According to the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), Senator Orrin Hatch and Senator Mike Lee each have a lifetime environmental voting score of just 10 percent, while the most recent LCV scorecard gave Senator Hatch a zero percent and Senator Lee four percent.

Earlier this year, over 110 conservation and Wilderness organizations from across America wrote all members of Congress urging them to oppose attempts to amend and weaken the Wilderness Act and Wilderness protections by allowing bicycles in designated Wilderness. A copy of that letter is here:

In the letter, the groups wrote: “These mountain bikers erroneously claim that mountain bikes were allowed in Wilderness until 1984, but then banned administratively by the U.S. Forest Service. This claim is simply not true.”

“Mountain bikes are exactly the kind of mechanical devices and mechanical transport that Congress intended to keep out of Wilderness in passing the Wilderness Act.  Bikes have their place, but that place is not inside Wilderness areas,” explained Kevin Proescholdt, Conservation Director of Wilderness Watch.

“We believe that this protection has served our nation well, and that the ‘benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness’ would be forever lost by allowing mechanized transport and other machines in these areas.”

# # #

Court holds up mining project after fire affects sensitive plant

On July 11, the Idaho federal district court reversed a Forest Service decision to approve a mining exploration project on the Boise National Forest. The legal issues arose when the Grimes Fire burned habitat for the Sacajawea bitterroot (abbreviated “LESA”), in an area supporting the largest population of a plant designated as a sensitive species by the Forest Service. The court found that the analysis of changed conditions was inadequate, leading to violations of both NEPA and NFMA (Idaho Conservation League v. U. S. Forest Service):

“The Forest Service recognizes the baseline data needs to be re-established following the 2014 Grimes Fire but instead of compiling and analyzing that data up front, the Forest Service has incorporated those NEPA steps into the Project itself. The selected Alternative B anticipates conducting a new baseline study during the Project and then monitoring and mitigating to protect the LESA species. (CU080344-51.) This approach puts the cart before the horse by prematurely asking for approval of the Project before the necessary baseline data and analysis are conducted. NEPA demands that the Forest Service analyze a project’s impacts before it is approved; not as part of the Project itself.

“The Defendants’ reliance on the Project’s design features, monitoring, and mitigation measures does not cure the failure to re-evaluate and analyze the Project’s impact on LESA following the Grimes Fire.  Without accurate baseline data before the Project begins, it is impossible to know whether and to what extent the Project’s activities will impact LESA even with the proposed design features, monitoring, and mitigation features. As thorough as these features of the Project appear to be, the Forest Service’s failure to re-evaluate LESA’s current baseline leaves too much unknown for the Forest Service to have concluded that the Project will not have a significant impact on the LESA population.

“Additionally, the Complaint alleges the Forest Service violated NFMA by failing to follow Guideline BTGU01 which requires it to conduct up-to-date surveys of Sacajawea’s bitterroot habitat and plant presence. (Dkt. 1 at ¶ 77.)  Consistent with its ruling on the NEPA claim, however, the Court finds the Forest Service failed to re-evaluate the baseline data for LESA following the Grimes Fire prior to approving the Project. Without an accurate baseline, the Project’s monitoring and mitigation measures will not be effective or accurate. Failing to obtain the necessary baseline is contrary to Guideline BTGU01 because the Forest Service did not determine the existing suitable habitat for and presence of LESA within or near the project area. (CU053833.) For these reasons, the Court finds the Forest Service was arbitrary and capricious and in violation of NFMA.”

Another way that fires make life hard for the Forest Service, and another example of how short-cutting the NEPA process makes it harder.  A “trust us” approach doesn’t sell well under NEPA or NFMA.

Read the Multiple-Use Act

It’s worthwhile to re-read the law every once in awhile.  This time, because of some recent discussions here, a couple of things stood out.  Here’s the definition of multiple-use:

‘‘Multiple use’’ means: The management of all the various renewable surface resources of the national forests so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the needs of the American people; making the most judicious use of the land for some or all of these resources or related services over areas large enough to provide sufficient latitude for periodic adjustments in use to conform to changing needs and conditions; that some land will be used for less than all of the resources; and harmonious and coordinated management of the various resources, each with the other, without impairment of the productivity of the land, with consideration being given to the relative values of the various resources, and not necessarily the combination of uses that will give the greatest dollar return or the greatest unit output.”

The first italicized phrase indicates that any supposed “commitments” (by Gifford Pinchot or otherwise) prior to this law to any particular uses in particular places have been overwritten by Congressional authorization to change land management to meet current needs (to be determined by a forest planning process).  (I guess that also makes the “high level” of sustained yield in that definition something that has to be determined in light of current needs.)

The second refutes the notion that there is any requirement in the law that national forests be managed for “things” that produce dollars (or jobs).

It’s probably also worth reiterating the part of the law that nullifies the “wilderness is not multiple-use” argument:  “The establishment and maintenance of areas of wilderness are consistent with the purposes and provisions of this Act.”

“Patriot” attack on public lands (and its users and employees)

Some members of Congress are trying to shine a spotlight on the threat to public land from armed militias.  They point out the direct threats, but also link them to the attempts to transfer federal lands to states:

“Anti-government extremists didn’t always direct their ire at public-lands agencies. That changed, in part, because a group of Western congressmen, state legislators and county sheriffs built their careers by advocating the transfer of millions of acres of federal land to states or counties, even though no state or county had ever owned the land in question or could afford to manage it now.”

They cite, in particular, a letter from 32 former employees of federal land management agencies (including three former Forest Service chiefs), which lists ten threats to public lands from anti-government extremism.


George Ochenski on the true freedom of wilderness

Happy 4th of July, everyone! George Ochenski, the Monday morning columnist for the Missoulian (and a tremendous mountaineer, backcountry adventurer, hunter and fisherman), has this piece in today’s paper.

There will be a lot of blustering about freedom by politicians today, but you can bet there won’t be any talking about one of the greatest opportunities for true freedom in the United States today. Namely, our incredible system of designated wilderness areas where anyone can roam free under the open sky and take in what’s left of nature “untrammeled” by mankind.

It’s been more than half a century since Congress passed the 1964 Wilderness Act and President Johnson signed it into law. Much like Yellowstone National Park, the preservation of large blocks of public land as wilderness is an American idea of which each and every American should be proud. These are not the king’s hunting reserves, these are public lands open to all to enjoy, but not destroy.

While many individuals and organizations were involved in the passage of the original Wilderness Act, Montana enjoys the distinction of being home to one of the main movers – Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg, who was the head of the Wilderness Society when the act was signed into law. Born and raised in Montana, his father the forest supervisor for the Bitterroot National Forest for 20 years, Brandy’s dedication to the preservation of wilderness for future generations has never flagged and continues to this day with tremendous energy, despite heading into his nineties while still living surrounded by the beauty of his beloved Bitterroot Valley.

What Brandborg and his cohorts understood then – and what is even more evident now – is the tendency of human beings to overrun the natural world in their seemingly never-ending quest for wealth and resources. But those very activities that have taken mankind to unheard of heights of civilization have not been kind to our fellow creatures on the planet.

Road-building, massive clearcuts, damming rivers and dewatering them for irrigation, mines, gas and oil wells, fencing, extensive overgrazing, and development have all seriously reduced the once continent-wide wildlands to a mere fraction of their former size. Now, thanks to mankind’s intrusion into the natural world, species hover on the brink of extinction, migratory routes used by wildlife for millennia have vanished under concrete and steel. Meanwhile, the spawning runs for anadromous fish such as salmon that provided vital streams of life to both man and wildlife are now disrupted by enormous dams that turn cold, clean, flowing waters into still, warm and often stagnant reservoirs.

These are are all very real, very well-documented impacts and easily observable to anyone who will take the time to look. The one place you will not find these harsh intrusions on the natural world is in wilderness, which is why it is the only true solution to the problems now facing so many species.

Unfortunately, although Brandborg and his fellow wilderness advocates stood strong and proud to support wilderness for wilderness’ sake, that’s not the case with many of today’s wilderness groups. Having largely abandoned championing wilderness as the last bastion of the world that once was, many of today’s large and well-funded wilderness groups have turned to justifying wilderness designation by lauding the economic benefits rather than the preservation of still-existing ecosystems and the plethora of natural life they contain.

But pandering to the interests of resource extractors under the rubric of collaboration is a losing game. Nothing illustrates that more clearly than the recent announcement by Weyerhaeuser to shut down the former Plum Creek mills in Columbia Falls and then plead a “log shortage” as the cause. That Montana’s highest elected officials bought that line without doing any research is shameful.

The truth is Weyerhaeuser hasn’t bid on timber sales since its takeover of Plum Creek. Instead, the mega-corporation found it more convenient to blame environmentalists for trying to preserve what’s left of Montana’s forest ecosystems. And if anyone doubts the condition in which Plum Creek left its lands, a quick trip up Gold Creek off the Blackfoot will reveal the miles of weed-infested stumpfields that remain as Plum Creek’s rapacious legacy.

On this Independence Day, we should be proud of the freedom wilderness provides us. Free to hike, camp, fish, hunt and wander in the mystery, beauty and silence of the natural world without intrusion from today’s hectic, mechanized society. Wilderness needs no justification – and it would do a world of good for our politicians and their collaborator pals to understand that. As wilderness hero Brandy Brandborg still espouses, we need more, not less, wilderness in which we can all be free for generations to come.

Two Perspectives: A Guest Post by “Mac” McConnell

Posts and comments in this and other forums reveal widespread misunderstanding of, and sometimes disrespect for, the viewpoint of others.  The graphic may help to make clear the difference between two world views, recognizing that both are strongly held and that both have merit.

Application of these opposing philosophies to land management results in totally different outcomes.  While short-term effects may be readily apparent, long-term impacts are often unpredictable. To make matters more complicated, the “goodness” of each outcome is dependent on the viewpoint of the observer, as the graphic’s text demonstrates.

The land on left side, of the photo, while controlled (but virtually unmanaged) by the U.S. Forest Service, belongs to you.  Study the photo and ask yourself “On how much of my land do I want Nature to take its course?”.    Al of it?   Some of it?  None of it?   If  “some”, what percentage?

two perspectives photo


two perspectives text snip

Your land managers (Congress and the Forest Service), and your fellow readers, await your decision.

Factoid:  National Forests contain 36 million acres of formally designated wilderness areas or ~19% of the land area.