Dixie National Forest, Southwest Utah

Several years ago, I rolled into Cedar City after a long drive from California. Apparently, there were no rooms available, due to a Shakespeare Festival. So, I decided to drive up towards Cedar Breaks National Monument and Dixie National Forest, in the dark. I took a well-used gravel road and found some open space, under a bright moon. I didn’t sleep very well but, I woke up to these many hundreds of acres of golden and orangish aspen stands. The morning light’s “Golden Hour” was fully in force. Now, don’t think that the Dixie is uniform or monoculture. The diversity here is tremendous, often with rainshadows and geologic differences happening within only miles of each other.

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I wandered around a bit, greedily snagging all the colorful views, until I saw other campers starting to rise. I almost forgot that it was hunting season! Be careful, out there in the woods.

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OP-ed by David Allen, president and CEO of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

OP-ed by David Allen, president and CEO of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

Allow the Forest Service to do its job without frivilous lawsuits

The focus is on Michael Garrity and the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

“We must do something right now to allow the Forest Service and other federal land management agencies to do their jobs. If Mr. Garrity wants to do something to “secure the ecological integrity of the Wild Rockies Bioregion” as his website states—instead of filing lawsuits, he should think about mobilizing his members to get their hands dirty working on habitat enhancement projects like thousands of RMEF volunteers do every year. We have not filed a single lawsuit to get this done.”

Which again brings up the question I’d ask Garrity: If not these plans, then what? Do nothing? If not, then how would you manage the lands involved in the lawsuits you’ve lodged? “Do nothing” isn’t much of answer when so many in a collaborative have agreed on some form of active management.

The Forest Service and A Box of Frogs: Seven Years Later

A burned truck and smoldering ruins is all that is left of a garage near a house that burned on Cedar Drive in Oakhurst,  Calif., Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014, as two raging wildfires in the state forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said flames damaged or destroyed at least 21 structures. (AP Photo/The Fresno Bee, Mark Crosse)

A burned truck and smoldering ruins is all that is left of a garage near a house that burned on Cedar Drive in Oakhurst, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014, as two raging wildfires in the state forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said flames damaged or destroyed at least 21 structures. (AP Photo/The Fresno Bee, Mark Crosse)

Thanks to the reader who found this and thanks to Ron Roizen for posting on his blog! I think it’s great fodder for discussion on a sleepy late August day. Interesting that it was originally posted in 2008.. so a question might be “do you think some of these things were true or are true?” “how much have things changed since 2008?”.

Here’s an excerpt:

More realistically though, it has become nearly impossible to dismiss from service the incompetent, the lazy, the inordinately prejudiced, the foolish, the deranged… Unless they commit the most vile of bureaucratic sins: insubordination. To disagree or question any directive – no matter how senseless it may seem – is a cardinal violation of internal politics and will get you canned (or more likely re-assigned) in a week.

Their method tends to reward those who are lazy but compliant, to promote people who are incompetent but who object the least to performing nebulous tasks. Those who remain become entrenched Lemmings. When they retire or leave the FS (for any reason), they seldom find work in the private sector – unless the employer desperately needs a FS interpreter to fix government contracts – because they have no viable skill in the actual economy.

REASON 4: JOB SECURITY MOTIVATION

Forest Service employees do not spend sleepless nights worrying about the condition of the National Forests or the welfare of American citizens. They do not drive to work dreaming of ways to improve land management or cut costs.

What Sharon experienced: Yes, it can be difficult or impossible to remove those people. But people have stood up for their other employees and actually done it, at some risk to their own well-being and reputation, which can be pretty much a thankless job. I can’t argue with those who weigh the costs and benefits and give up.

And I would like to give a great big shout out to the Forest Service employee relations folks.. when I have had employees who needed a push, or more (!), and when people were trying to remove me, and did things that were not according to law and regulations, those folks had my back. Just sayin’, they are pretty much the backbone of the Forest Service, in my opinion.

I do think that sometimes employees who didn’t make waves were promoted, and then accused of “not having a vision” or the even more vague “not being leaders.” There were good ways of questioning and bad ways, and they were all in the eye of whichever beholder happens to be talking about you. It’s kind of like “Management by Innuendo” (I coined this term after one employee of mine who was great, had a bad rep in the Regional Office (because the regional guy had heard something bad once) so people listened to that and not to me, his supervisor and he couldn’t get promoted.

BUT Forest Service employees DO spend sleepless nights worrying about the condition of the National Forests or the welfare of American citizens. They DO drive to work dreaming of ways to improve land management or cut costs.” I’d say most of the employees I worked with did.

Forest plans may prevent listings under ESA

Succinctly put by WildEarth Guardians:  “If the plans fall short of halting population declines and habitat destruction, then clearly the Endangered Species Act will be needed.”

This story is about sage grouse, but the principle applies whenever public land management is an important contributor to an at risk species’ habitat.  That’s because one of the five factors that must be considered in listing a species is “the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms.”  Thus far courts have recognized only mandatory forest plan standards as being sufficiently regulatory in nature to address this ESA factor for federal lands.

The absence of such regulatory mechanisms in forest plans was a key factor in listing the Canada lynx, for example.   The addition of regulatory standards to forest plans is viewed as being necessary to de-list grizzly bears.  So what to make of the idea of reducing regulatory mechanisms in the Northwest Forest Plan?

Also what to make of state objections to plan amendments for sage grouse?  It’s politically more difficult to get adequate regulatory mechanisms in place for private land, so I would think the states would be asking the feds to do whatever it takes to avoid listing.  Here’s another concise summary from a more objective source:  “A “not warranted” decision by the Service is possible — but they have made clear that it will only be possible if states, federal agencies, and private landowners put strong conservation measures in place.  (Neil Kornze, director of the Bureau of Land Management.)

Forest Service’s Fire Budget is 10 X’s larger per acre than National Park Service’s Fire Budget

According to this information complied by Michael Kellett of RESTORE: The North Woods, the U.S. Forest Service’s wildland fire budget is about 10 times larger per acre than the National Park Service fire budget.

Kellett writes: “There are some differences in the details of each agency’s budget. But the big-ticket items appear to correlate to each other. Regardless, it is clear that the Forest Service fire budget is magnitudes larger than the NPS fire budget. (And this does not include ‘restoration,’ much of which is supposedly for ‘fuel reduction,’ or post-fire ‘salvage’ logging, which together total more than $800 million of the USFS budget.)”

Anti-Logging Activists Cause Catastrophic Forest Fires . . .

Anti-Logging Protest

Today, NASA posted this image of forest fires burning around Siberia’s Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world. A drought has gripped the region throughout 2015. As in Alaska this year, these boreal forest fires are burning unchecked.

Question for our readers. Would fuels treatment, thinning or other logging have prevented these fires?

From the Mouths of Wilderness Advocates

wildAn alert reader found this piece, which I thought was well worth a read. Here is the link and below is an excerpt.

Politicians, environmental groups and laws don’t protect wilderness, voters do.

* If the voters of the political entity with jurisdiction over the wilderness area are educated to personally understand the wilderness values involved, then and only then, will their representatives support Wilderness proposals.

* Neither Democrats nor Republicans are intrinsically pro–wilderness or anti–wilderness.

* The citizens and legislators who happen to live near a wilderness area should have no more say about it than the neighbors of the statue of liberty would have a special voice on what happens to it.

* Most legislators, public and civic officials and people near a wilderness tend to favor its commercialization, commodification and development.

* Once you identify the legislators to target, you know the voters you must educate: the voters who elect the politicians who sit on or chair the legislative committees with jurisdiction over your issue.

* Administrative agencies do what their political overseers tell them, so focus your lobbying on their political leaders.

* Campaigns for Wilderness in rural counties are won in urban areas. Most of the energy, concern and money in a campaign come from large cities. The focus of any campaign should be where the population of the controlling political entity is, not where the resource happens to be located.

It’s an interesting, and inaccurate, characterization of folks around wilderness areas in the New West who want all kinds of things, including wilderness. and I find the idea that federal property rights trump local needs as a bit.. well… colonialist. If it quacks like a duck… (eek.. I think I’m channeling Dave Skinner (!))

However, as a person who looked at endless tables of “things not allowed” in roadless compared to wilderness, I’ve gotta wonder whether “wilderness acres” is a target for someone or some organizations regardless of how much they’ve moved the needle from “very restrictive roadless land allocation” to “wilderness.” I think it would be helpful for everyone involved in the discussion to be reading off the same table of comparative restrictions. One of my wonky former coworkers, who is way more knowledgeable than I, pointed out that a specific part of the Colorado roadless regulation was more restrictive than wilderness. But how many people actually know what’s in and what’s out, comparatively? In my experience, very few.

And if it is all about Congress placing a stamp of approval on it, and wilderness being “more permanent”, then probably place-based bills for other things are the way to go, equally. IMHO. One more thing.. I am in no way dissing The Wilderness Society.. the people there I have worked with have been respectful and reasoned.

Sierra Club article on “What do we owe … workers?”

This is about the coal industry and climate disruption, but it reminded me of the changing policies on national forest lands and their effects.  Not the same, but some common threads.

One is the idea that is hard to talk about solutions when there is still hope that the problem will go away.  Forest planning has an important role to play in establishing common, reasonable expectations.  I think it could do better than it’s done.

“Koch Brothers’ Mouthpiece” Slams Forest Service Firefighting Spending

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Every now and then, Cato Institute senior fellow Randal O’Toole returns to his public land policy roots. Today he plays a familiar riff on firefighting spending.

Twenty years ago, one could have imagined a congressional coalition of Blue Dog Democrats and sensible Republicans working together to come up with a new fire policy. No longer. The Blue Dogs are almost extinct, now numbering only 15 members and “sensible Republican” is an oxymoron. Which leaves the legislative arena to western senators of both parties who want the CNN air show to continue, welcome the federal dollars spent in their states, and are scared to death of offending heroic firefighters (they remember that Conrad Burns lost his Montana seat after dissing a firefighting crew).

Climate Change Update

I shot this picture from the top of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, along the Sierra Crest. At the end of July, there should be a lot more snow and ice (including small glaciers) in this view of north-facing slopes. The view behind me was obscured, for three afternoons, by a Fresno area wildfire, with smoke drifting up over the crest. I’m sure that the groundwater levels are extremely low, as well.

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Water levels at Mono Lake also continue to drop, exposing more of the famous Tufa formations, created by the fluctuating lake levels, over tens of thousands of years.

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