Hunting Season

This curious deer climbed to the top of the cliffs I was on, just to find out what was making the noise. As he came into view, I turned to see him scampering away, into the morning sun. Somehow, I got him to stop and pose for me, by making a little squeaky noise. I couldn’t see a thing but, I took the picture, anyway. Good luck, hunters!

I do have a new Instagram account at Enjoy!


Supreme Court on ESA Consultations

Excerpt from this article:

The Supreme Court let stand a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that allowed anyone to sue the Forest Service for Endangered Species Act consultations not just over specific actions such as timber harvests but over programmatic decisions, including decisions that already have been the focus of species consultations (U.S. Forest Serv. v. Cottonwood Envtl. Law Ct., U.S., No. 15-1387, 10/11/16).

The Forest Service argued the Cottonwood Environmental Law Center, concerned about the threatened Canada lynx, lacked standing to sue over programmatic policies rather than specific actions. The service also argued against being forced to reinitiate consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over completed forest plans — a precedent that could impose significant burdens on the agency in terms of multiple rounds of program consultations.

The Cottonwood Environmental Law Center sued for additional consultations after critical habitat was designated for the Canada lynx.


ICYMI – Federal court blocks logging in Wild and Scenic Selway canyon

In case you missed it, below is a joint press release from Idaho Rivers United, Friends of the Clearwater and Advocates for the West. Interested readers can also find a handy link toU.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale’s ruling to see what the clearcuts and roads planned by the U.S. Forest Service in the Selway and Middle Fork Clearwater Wild and Scenic Rivers didn’t hold up in a court of law. -mk

MAY 13, 2016 – A federal court order issued late yesterday protects the Selway and Middle Fork Clearwater Wild and Scenic rivers from clear cuts and roads planned by the U.S. Forest Service following the 2014 Johnson Bar Fire.

Two Idaho conservation groups – Idaho Rivers United and Friends of the Clearwater – argued that the Forest Service violated its duties to protect the Selway and Middle Fork Clearwater rivers under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and also failed to fully evaluate cumulative environmental impacts along with other private and state land logging and 2015 fires in the same area.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale agreed. She faulted the agency for failing to adopt a comprehensive river management plan as required by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act more than 20 years ago.

“Without objective, predetermined criteria, the public is left to trust the Forest Service’s ‘word’ that it considered all relevant factors necessary to protecting the Middle Fork Clearwater and Selway Rivers’ Wild and Scenic values and that the Project will not affect or have minimal impact upon the Wild and Scenic values,” she wrote.

The Court also agreed the Forest Service failed to fully assess how the Johnson Bar project may cause mass erosion and sedimentation into area streams, which are habitat for imperiled salmon, steelhead and bull trout. She found the agency’s sediment delivery estimates “do not appear to accurately represent the Project’s overall sedimentation delivery to the river system.”

IRU Conservation Director Kevin Lewis said the Selway, one of America’s eight original Wild and Scenic Rivers, is too precious a resource for such haphazard work.

“The Selway and Middle Fork Clearwater Rivers are among the crown jewels of our nation’s river systems, as Congress recognized back in 1968 when it protected them as the first rivers under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act,” Lewis said.  “This is an important court ruling enforcing Congressional direction that these are to be protected for present and future generations.”

Laird Lucas, executive director of Advocates for the West, was lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

“The Forest Service has not been candid with the public about this massive logging project that threatens harm to the Wild and Scenic rivers and their important fish populations,” Lucas said. “Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a federal court order to enforce the law and tell the Forest Service to do its job as Congress has directed.”

Friends of the Clearwater Ecosystem Defense Director Gary Macfarlane said the Forest Service has already damaged Wild and Scenic values along the Selway via state and private timber sales.

“We are pleased the federal court is willing to stand up and insist that the Wild and Scenic be protected,” he said.

Citing irreparable harm, the judge’s order blocks logging until the case is fully resolved.

Since May of 2015, IRU and allies have vigorously opposed two separate logging operations that would seriously degrade the Wild and Scenic values of the Selway River. To date, we’ve successfully blocked and won the first case and have won an emergency injunction on the second. Below is a chronology of the two cases.

Illegal Use Of Road In Wild And Scenic Corridor

  • May 19, 2015: IRU and local property owners file a suit seeking to protect the Wild and Scenic values of the Selway River by focusing on federal road access to state land.
  • July 10, 2015: Citing irreparable harm, Federal District Judge B. Lynn Winmill sides with IRU and our allies and grants a preliminary injunction to block vehicle access across Forest Service land.
  • March 30, 2016: Winmill rules on behalf of IRU and local property owners.

Johnson Bar Lawsuit

  • March 11, 2016: IRU and Friends of the Clearwater file in federal district court in Boise to block clear-cut logging on federal land above Johnson Bar in the Wild and Scenic Selway canyon.
  • April 7, 2016: IRU and our allies file for a preliminary injunction to block the clear cut before its projected start date in mid-May.
  • May 13, 2016: Citing an inadequate Wild and Scenic management plan, among other reasons, Federal Judge Candy Dale grants a preliminary injunction blocking the Johnson Bar timber sale until the case is fully resolve.

Idaho Mill Closes – Lack of Logs

An Idaho Stateman/AP article, “Northern Idaho lumber mill closes, laying off 40“:

A lumber mill in northern Idaho has closed down, leaving about 40 people without work.

The Lewiston Tribune reports ( ) that Tri-Pro Forest Products closed its Orofino mill on Tuesday. Resource Manager Mike Boeck says a lack of cedar logs forced the company to curtail operations at the Clearwater County mill over the past few weeks.

Tri-Pro had purchased 3 million to 4 million board feet of cedar in 2014 after the Johnson Bar Fire along the lower Selway River, but litigation by Friends of the Clearwater and Idaho Rivers United against the U.S. Forest Service stopped the transaction.

Boeck says that purchase could have kept the Orofino mill running for another six months.

Friends of the Clearwater and Idaho Rivers United officials say the sale was illegal.

To the pleasure of Colorado’s outdoor industry, Forest Service promises simpler public lands access

Poplar Gulch Trail,  Salida RD PSICC NF Colorado

Poplar Gulch Trail, Salida RD PSICC NF Colorado

From the Colorado Springs Gazette here:

“We’re moving away from the approach of regulating, and toward an approach of enabling,” said Meryl Harrell, senior adviser to the undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, echoing a June letter of intent from the agriculture secretary and Forest Service chief.

Leading the meeting alongside Forest Service personnel were members of the Outdoor Access Working Group, formed in 2014 for the very purpose of pushing discussions like Wednesday’s – long overdue, outfitters and guides feel as they’ve grappled with a permit application process that they describe as paperwork-heavy, cumbersome and archaic. Last year, in his first months as the first governor-appointed head of Colorado’s Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry, Luis Benitez flew to D.C. four times to sit at a table with the Forest Service and the working group.

He considered Wednesday a day of victory.

“This is a big, big deal for Colorado,” he said. “Actually, it’s a big, big deal for the country.”

Benitez is especially giddy about the prospect for rural communities. He brought up the example of an entrepreneurial mountain biker in Kremmling wanting to use the surrounding forest for a guiding service.

“So you write a business plan,” Benitez said, “and you go to the Forest Service to apply for permits and user days, and that requires a NEPA study . and you wait and wait and wait to put your plan to action, and it could take anywhere from 12 months to five years to forever, and the plan never happens.

Ultimately what you’re talking about is limiting economic development.

(Sharon’s boldface 😉 ).

A test of the 2014 insect and disease categorical exclusion

The Center for Biological diversity is suing the Tahoe National Forest for its decision on the Sunny South timber sale. The sale is designed to “reduce the extent and risk of insect infestations, as well as to reduce the negative effects of those infestations on forest health and resilience.” Plaintiffs allege, “Six (California spotted) owl territories are slated to be logged …, all of which are important contributors to the overall owl population given the high degree of successful owl reproduction in these old forested areas.”

Section 603 of the amended Healthy Forests Restoration Act establishes a categorical exclusion for qualifying insect and disease projects in designated areas on National Forest System lands. An insect and disease project that may be categorically excluded under this authority is a project that is designed to reduce the risk or extent of, or increase the resilience to, insect or disease infestation in the areas.  The project must be located in an area designated pursuant to a Governor’s request for areas in their State that are experiencing, or at risk of, an insect or disease epidemic. The project must also meet other criteria, including these rather subjective ones:

  • The project was developed through a collaborative process that includes multiple interested persons representing diverse interests and is transparent and non-exclusive.
  • The best available scientific information must be considered to maintain or restore ecological integrity, including maintaining or restoring the structure, function, composition and connectivity.

We might find out a little more about what these things mean from this court.

There used to be a sort of rule of thumb that if a project looked controversial, the Forest Service wouldn’t pursue a categorical exclusion (in part because they may be difficult to defend in court). The new agency policy appears to be to thumb its nose.


Trees are dying in the Sierra but the forests aren’t

Occasional blog contributor Char Miller had the following OpEd appear in the LA Times this weekend, which should be of interest to regular blog readers and commenters. – mk

The trees are dying. The forests are not.

This distinction is getting lost in all the angst over the tree die-off in the central Sierra, coastal ranges and other forests of California. Players ranging from the Forest Service to CalFire to Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other public officials are ignoring this key fact in their rush to do something, anything, about the dying trees.

Feinstein, in a recent letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, urged him to transfer the tidy sum of $38 million to the Forest Service so that it could immediately harvest thousands of red-needled pine and other dead trees in “high hazard” areas in the Sequoia, Sierra and Stanislaus national forests. “After five years of historic drought,” she argued, “which has led to the death of an estimated 66 million trees in California alone, my state and its people face a heightened and potentially catastrophic risk of wildfire this year and for years to come.”

And that request is but a drop in the bucket, according to Feinstein. In a previous letter to the Office of Management and Budget, she said federal and state officials calculated that 5.5 million of California’s 66 million dead trees posed “a particular threat to public safety and must be removed as quickly as possible.” The Forest Service’s estimate to harvest just its portion of the threatening trees (3.7 million) was $562 million. There is no way the Obama administration is going to ask for, or that Congress would provide, half-a-billion dollars for such an effort in a single state.

Although the attention-getting figure of 66 million dead trees (or “snags”) — widely publicized this summer — seems like a lot, the figure shrinks when set in its wider, arboreal context. As Doug Bevington of Environment Now has reported, there are 33 million forested acres in the state, meaning that the recent pulse of tree mortality on average has increased the number of dead trees by a mere two snags per acre: “To put that number in perspective,” Bevington wrote, “forest animals that live in snags generally need at least four to eight snags per acre to provide sufficient habitat and some species require even more snags.” In short, viewed ecologically, California’s forests suffer from a deficit of dead trees, not a surfeit.

Besides, dead trees are not bereft of life. They are essential to the survival of such cavity-nesting species as the endangered California spotted owl and the increasingly rare black-backed woodpecker. Ditto for the little-seen Pacific fisher, a forest-dweller related to the weasel whose diet in part consists of small mammals that take advantage of snag ecosystems. A host of other organisms feast on dead trees upright or fallen, so that what on the surface might seem like a patch of ghost forest in fact is a biodiversity hot spot, a teeming terrain.

While countless living things thrive off the dead trees, fire does not. This seems counter-intuitive, especially when firefighters tell The Times “it’s going to be much harder for us to stop a fire in these dead forests, as opposed to when they were alive.” In fact, fire-ecology research has demonstrated that snags do not burn with a greater intensity than green trees, and their presence does not accelerate the spread of fire. Nor does it increase the chance of wildfire. Even the state’s firefighter-in-chief, CalFire Director Ken Pimlott,agrees with the “emerging body of science that has found dead trees don’t significantly increase the likelihood of wildfires.”

Don’t get me wrong: There are legitimate reasons to log some snags located in portions of the wildland-urban interface to ensure public safety and protect vital infrastructure. It’s entirely possible that Feinstein’s requested $38 million transfer for logging high hazard areas would be a good investment. But slicking off 5.5 million trees — or even just the 3.7 million proposed for harvest in the national forests — cannot be defended in terms of science or policy. And it would break the bank.

Instead, those kinds of harvest numbers sound disconcertingly like political logrolling. In this case, agencies and their allies may be spreading fear of imminent, ecosystemic collapse that can only be averted via a massive infusion of tax dollars that would also prop up the timber and biomass industries. (The latter turns board-feet into kilowatts, a process as inefficient and C02-spewing as coal, accelerating the planet’s warming. Not climate-smart.)

So let’s take nature seriously. Even those who mourn the loss of the iconic, pine-scented uninterrupted sweep of green trees in the Sierra should remember that the “death” we perceive in California’s forests presages their regeneration. John Muir, the troubadour of all things Sierra, said as much in 1878. After years of field research, he concluded that sequoia regrowth depended on natural disturbance. Erosion and floods, “some pawing of squirrel or bear,” and the “fall of old trees” cleared the way for successive generations to flourish. Even fire,“the great destroyer of tree life” prepares “bare virgin ground … one of the conditions essential for [sequoias’] growth from the seed.” Muir’s penetrating insight was controversial in the late 19th century, but it shouldn’t be today.

The trees are dying. The forests are not.

Char Miller is a professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College and is the author of the just-published “Not So Golden State: Sustainability vs. the California Dream.”

Should the Forest Service intervene on the side of environmental groups?

“Public interest groups filed a lawsuit Thursday, Sept. 15, challenging the city of Highland’s approval of the high-density Harmony development. The development sits at the confluence of Mill Creek and the Santa Ana River and is directly adjacent to San Bernardino National Forest lands and will bring more than 3,600 houses to 1,657 acres of land acquired by Orange County Flood Control in the Seven Oaks Dam project that are currently home to numerous endangered species, rare habitats, wetlands and crucial wildlife connectivity corridors, according to the suit.”

“The lawsuit was brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society and the Greenspot Residents Association, who are represented by the law firm Shute, Mihaly and Weinberger. It argues the city of Highland’s City Council’s August approval of the project violates the California Environmental Quality Act.”

It sounds like potentially illegal local government actions could adversely affect national forest resources.  Shouldn’t the Forest Service be trying to protect those resources?  (Not to mention what this would add to fire management costs.)

East Reservoir Timber Sale on Kootenai National Forest in Montana Halted by Injunction

At left is the project map from the Forest Service for the East Reservoir timber sale on the Kootenai National Forest. At right is a satellite image of the project area, showing the extent of past clearcuts and logging. The Forest Service is proposing to log 8,800 acres with this project, including about 3,600 acres of clearcuts. Nearly 8,000 logging trucks would be required to haul out the trees. According to a Notice of Intent filed by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the project area is home to bull trout, white sturgeon, Canada lynx and grizzly bears, among other wildlife species.

At left is the project map from the Forest Service for the East Reservoir timber sale on the Kootenai National Forest. At right is a satellite image of the project area, showing the extent of past clearcuts and logging. The Forest Service is proposing to log 8,845 acres with this project, including 3,458 acres of clearcuts. Nearly 8,000 logging trucks would be required to haul out the trees. The project area is home to bull trout, Canada lynx and grizzly bears, among other fish and wildlife species.

Regular readers of this blog will recall the numerous posts, comments and discussions concerning the East Reservoir timber sale on the Kootenai National Forest in Montana. Here’s a sampling of some those previous debates.

Well, earlier today, two federal judges at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (including one judge who was appointed by George W. Bush in 2003 and confirmed 99-0 by the GOP-controlled U.S. Senate in 2003) granted the Alliance for the Wild Rockies (AWR) an injunction pending appeal, which I’m told by lawyers-in-the-know, really just doesn’t happen anymore. Here’s a copy of the injunction.

It’s also worth pointing out that back in January, a coalition of 16 environmental groups from around the country – as well as 12 citizens – filed an amici brief in support of the AWR’s lawsuit. You can read that here.

There was also an amici brief filed in support of the U.S. Forest Service and the timber sale by the Montana Wilderness Association and some other collaborators. Incredibly, to me anyway, is the fact that the Montana Wilderness Association was represented in court by the timber industry’s American Forest Resource Council, an outfit that went to great lengths to sue (and sue some more) to try and prevent implementation of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule.

What follows is today’s press release from AWR.

The Alliance for the Wild Rockies announced today that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has granted its request for an injunction halting a massive clearcut and logging project affecting tens of thousands of acres of national forest and five major tributaries to the Kootenai River and Lake Koocanusa.

A lawsuit was filed by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies in federal court in May 2015 challenging the U.S. Forest Service’s decision to authorize a large logging, burning, and road-building project in habitat for threatened lynx, bull trout, and grizzly bears in the Kootenai National Forest in northwest Montana. Federal District Court Judge Christensen ruled the logging could go forward in July and the Alliance immediately appealed resulting in the injunction today to halt the project based on the Court’s finding that the Alliance is likely to succeed on the merits of its appeal.

“The Forest Service’s plans to clearcut lynx critical habitat were in direct violation of a binding Ninth Circuit precedent on this issue, so we are pleased but not surprised that the appellate court stopped this massive timber sale,” said Garrity.

“The East Reservoir Project area is huge,” Garrity continued. “But there are already over 22,000 acres of clearcuts within its boundaries. Add to that the 8,845 acres of proposed commercial logging, of which 3,458 acres will be new clearcuts, and the additional impacts to this already heavily-logged area are simply unacceptable.

“Additionally, the timber sale is a huge money-loser which, by the Forest Service’s own estimate, will cost taxpayers $2,589,535 to subsidize further degradation of an already-degraded landscape,” Garrity explained. “Much of that cost will be to rebuild and maintain an astounding 175 miles of logging roads, construct nine miles of new permanent logging roads, allow an additional 13 miles of illegal, user-created roads to be added to the legal road system, and open nine miles of previously closed motorized trails. When all the existing science shows more roads directly lead to more grizzly bear deaths and more sedimentation of bull trout spawning streams this project simply ignored the legal mandate for the Forest Service to maintain existing species of fish and wildlife when conducting timber sales.”

“That the Forest Service could possibly even consider such a massive logging project in an area in which only one percent of the remaining old growth exists in small, isolated stands defies law and logic,” Garrity continued. “For old-growth dependent wildlife such as lynx, this project is basically a death sentence to a species that is already in severe decline due to road-building and logging. That the Forest Service allows this timber sale to log federally-designated lynx critical habitat isn’t just sloppy work, it’s inexcusable and illegal.”

Garrity said his group has been involved with the project since it was first proposed and throughout the planning and Environmental Impact Statement processes. “The Alliance raised all the objections long before notifying the Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that it planned to take the agencies to court to halt the project,” Garrity continued. “Our point was simple: The agencies had to change the project to comply with federal laws including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Forest Management Act, and the Administrative Policy Act.”

“As most Montanans know, there is incredible political pressure to ‘get out the cut’ on National Forests,” Garrity explained. “But the bottom line is that federal laws require retention of functioning ecosystems and maintaining the diverse wildlife and fisheries that rely on healthy forests – not just treating our publicly-owned forests as commercial logging lots to benefit a single industry’s profit margin. In this instance, the agencies have simply side-stepped those requirements, as well as the Endangered Species Act, by judging their own actions to have ‘no adverse impacts’ despite the massive scale of this project in bull trout, grizzly bear, and lynx habitat, all of which are threatened species.”

“What’s astounding is that so-called conservation groups are among those who intervened in the lawsuit to support these massive new clearcuts and were represented by none other than the industry’s American Forest Resource Council” Garrity said. “Montanans should know that the Montana Wilderness Association, the Yaak Valley Forest Council, Lincoln County, The Lands Council, Troy Snowmobile Club, Cabinet Resource Group, F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Company, Idaho Forest Group, and the Troy School District all think logging is more important than restoring this already over-logged area and recovering the lynx, grizzly bears, and bull trout as required by the Endangered Species Act.”

“The Alliance for the Wild Rockies exists as a watchdog organization that concentrates on activities occurring on our National Forests, which are owned by all Americans and exist not simply to supply local timber mills, Garrity concluded. “When faced with federal agencies literally exempting themselves from the law with the blessing of collaborator groups, we have no recourse but to challenge those decisions in federal court. That is exactly what we did on the East Reservoir Project to protect our irreplaceable forests and wildlife resources for present and future generations.”