Conservationists Claim Clearwater Basin Collaborative Tarnishes Wilderness Act on its 50th Anniversary

What follows is a press release from Friends of the Clearwater.

Moscow—In an ongoing effort to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act, Friends of the Clearwater released a report today that critically examines the Clearwater Basin Collaborative  (CBC)Agreement and Work Plan. If enacted by Congress, the agreement would put into place provisions that are incompatible with the Wilderness Act, potentially causing a ripple effect throughout the entire National Wilderness Preservation System, too. A copy of the analysis can be found at

“If passed in its current form, the legislation could have a detrimental effect on the entire National Wilderness Preservation System,” said Gary Macfarlane, Ecosystem Defense Director for Friends of the Clearwater. Citizens need to be aware that there is a group proposing legislation that would designate a minimal amount of supposedly new Wilderness in the Clearwater basin of Idaho, but that proposal contains provisions incompatible with the letter and spirit of Act. That would be “wilderness” in name only.

The Clearwater Basin Collaborative Agreement and Work Plan could give the Idaho Fish & Game Department motorized access to manage wildlife in newly designated Wilderness.

“The CBC Agreement and Work Plan could give the Idaho Fish & Game Department authority to land helicopters and use motorized equipment in newly designated Wilderness,” said Brett Haverstick, Education & Outreach Director. “This equates to the department running a game farm in what is supposed to be untrammeled and wild.”

Another red flag for conservationists is that the agreement contains language that would grant special rights to commercial outfitters in newly designated Wildernesses. These are rights not enjoyed by the general public or outfitters elsewhere in national forests, let alone Wilderness. Commercial enterprises are generally banned in Wilderness and only a narrow provision for outfitting is allowed so long as the outfitting is necessary and proper.

“As proposed, the potential legislation would grant special rights to outfitters, allowing them to maintain existing permanent structures in newly designated Wilderness, plus give them veto authority over the Forest Service if they are requested to relocate their camp due to resource damage or for any reason,” continued Brett Haverstick. “The Wilderness Act prohibits commercial services but makes a narrow exception for services like outfitting only as long as it is necessary and proper. Permanent structures, which are prohibited, and special rights for outfitters are neither necessary nor proper in Wilderness.

The Clearwater Basin contains 1.5-million acres of unprotected roadless wildlands. A study in 2001 (Carroll, et al.) noted that the basin contains the best overall habitat for large carnivores in the entire northern Rockies, including Yellowstone National Park and the Canadian Rockies. The group also claims that current management direction under the 1987 Clearwater National Forest Plan (as amended by the 1993 lawsuit agreement) provides far better protection than the proposed Agreement and Work Plan, even though the agreement also covers most of the Nez Perce National Forest.

“Out of 1.5-million acres of roadless wildlands, the CBC Agreement and Work Plan would designate 20% of the roadless base as Wilderness, or roughly 300,000-acres,” said Gary Macfarlane. “Areas such as Weitas Creek and Pot Mountain have been completely ignored for Wilderness. Current management direction on the Clearwater National Forest, as per the lawsuit settlement agreement, has over 500,000 acres managed as recommended wilderness.”

The CBC proposal also includes two special management areas, approximately 163,000 acres, with some protection, though one area would be open to some motorized use. Haverstick noted, “Ironically, the proposed western West Meadow Creek special management area on the Nez Perce National Forest, seems to have better overall protection than the proposed wildernesses because this proposal has provisions that would weaken wilderness protections.”

In addition, the Friends of the Clearwater report notes that the CBC proposed protection for wild and scenic rivers would be less than that proposed by the Forest Service and also the CBC agreement would lead to substantial increases in logging, even though many streams are not currently meeting water quality standards.

Gary Macfarlane concluded, “This agreement is a giant step backwards and a net loss for the roadless wildlands of the Clearwater Basin. On the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, this special place deserves much better.”

You say ‘HRV,’ I say ‘NRV’ …

Dave Skinner asked, “has anyone besides me noticed the change away from “historic range of variability” terminology to “NATURAL range of variability” in USFS planning processes?”

This terminology is pretty important, but I don’t think the Forest Service has handled it very well. The best source of the Forest Service perspective on this is in the EIS for the planning rule, Chapter 3, pp. 88-91. It recognizes that shortcomings of HRV as a management objective (including the role of climate change), and concludes that, “HRV provides an informative benchmark or reference for understanding landscape change.”

On the other hand, NRV (natural range of variation) is a requirement of the planning rule. A plan must include plan components that maintain ecological integrity (36 CFR 219.8, 219.9). Ecological integrity occurs when “dominant ecological characteristics (for example, composition, structure, function, connectivity, and species composition and diversity) occur within the natural range of variation and can withstand and recover from most perturbations imposed by natural environmental dynamics or human influence” (36 CFR 219.19).

The draft planning directives say that there is no difference between HRV and NRV: “’Natural range of variation’(NRV) is a term used synonymously with historic range of variation or range of natural variation. The NRV is a tool for assessing ecological integrity, and does not necessarily constitute a management target or desired condition” (1909.12 FSH Zero Code definitions).   However, if NRV=HRV and NRV is required, then there is a mathematical principle that says plans must plan for historic conditions.

The draft directives then try to create exceptions to the requirement in the regulations that conditions occur within NRV. I think it would be more defensible if the directives define NRV as conditions that would allow an ecosystem or species to “recover from most perturbations imposed by natural environmental dynamics or human influence,” and require an explanation of the rationale (based on best available science) when this is different from historic conditions, or when information about historic conditions is not available.

(Glad you asked?)

The Rim Fire: Landscape View

Here is a view of the Granite Creek watershed, and a peek at the Tuolumne River canyon, too. The Rim Fire burned all the way to those most-distant ridgetops. For scale, you can see a vehicle in the middle of the picture. That road is the Cherry Oil Road, which connects Cherry Lake with Highway 120. That greenish tint is the vast growth of bearclover, easily reclaiming their “territory”. Bearclover is one of the reasons why clearcutting has been banned in Sierra Nevada National Forests since 1993.


New Forest Service Data: Spotted Owls Living in Rim Fire Area Slated for Massive Logging Project

Source: Here.

SAN FRANCISCO New data from California’s Rim fire area shows there are at least 37 occupied owl territories in burned forest that the U.S. Forest Service wants to substantially cut as part of a post-fire logging project. Government surveys conducted this spring and summer in the Stanislaus National Forest, where last year’s Rim fire burned, found 33 owl pairs as well as six single owls. The majority are in the area where the agency has proposed to cut more than 600 million board feet of timber.

In a letter today the Wild Nature Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity and the John Muir Project told the Forest Service that the owl detection rates in the Rim fire area indicate that spotted owls are using burned forest at rates that are significantly greater than their use of unburned forests in the Sierras.

“I’m not surprised that so many spotted owls are living in the Rim fire area,” said Monica Bond, principal scientist for the Wild Nature Institute. “Recent science and survey results like those from the Rim fire are repudiating the old, outdated assumption that fire is bad for owls. Logging has always been the real danger to spotted owls, not fire.”

Forest Service managers have long assumed that fire is the most prominent threat to spotted owls, but current scientific evidence shows these rare birds of prey not only use severely burned forests but prefer it when searching for food.

Burned forests that are adjacent or near to owl sites — such as nests or roosting areas — can be critical to owl survival; published literature has determined that in post-fire landscapes such as the Rim fire area, salvage logging should be prohibited within about a mile of owl sites. The Rim fire logging project has not incorporated such protection for owls despite the exceptional number of owls in the area, and despite the recent published findings showing that spotted owls are in serious decline on Forest Service and private lands in the Sierras.

“The Rim fire area is teeming with wildlife that thrives in burned forests, including these spotted owls living right in the same forests the government wants to cut down,” said Justin Augustine with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We hope the Forest Service heeds the new data and drastically changes its approach so these owls get the protections they need and deserve.”

Spotted owls are not the only forest animals that use burned areas. Species like woodpeckers, bluebirds, deer and bats flourish in post-fire forests. As explained in a recent scientific publication, intense fire in mature forest creates one of the most biologically diverse and ecologically important forest habitat types in the Sierras.

“If the Forest Service continues with its plans to log the Rim fire area, the many owls residing in the post-fire forest mosaic will be harmed,” said research ecologist Dr. Chad Hanson of the John Muir Project. “And let’s not forget that the Forest Service has a conflict of interest because it sells the burned trees to private commercial logging corporations and keeps the profits to enhance its budget.”

The Forest Service proposal in the Rim fire area is one of the largest industrial logging projects in the history of the national forest system. Much of the logging would be concentrated in occupied spotted owl territories. The Forest Service’s final decision on the project is expected to be released on Aug. 28.


Recovery after Severe Fire in the Klamath-Siskiyou: What Happens without Planting?

Download the entire article from Fire Science here.


The Klamath-Siskiyou forest of southern Oregon and northern California is home to a fire-adapted conifer ecosystem that historically experienced frequent, low-intensity fire. Often the management response to severe fire in the Klamath- Siskiyou includes planting—there is genuine and historical concern that without planting, the conifers will diminish. But David Hibbs and his colleagues at Oregon State University realized that there were very little data on whether these forests require management-based planting to recover. They wondered if natural recovery was possible, even after severe wildfire. The team found a series of severely burned, unmanaged plots, and measured conifer abundance, age, and live-crown ratio. They found that even in unplanted, unmanaged burned forest natural conifer regeneration is reliable and abundant. Recruitment is also ongoing well after the fire. Furthermore, there was little evidence that tree recruitment was affected by distances as great as 400 meters to source trees. Their results suggest that in many cases, planting may not be required to support conifer forest recovery in the Klamath-Siskiyou.

Key Findings

  • On most sites, natural regeneration of conifers was abundant 10 to 20 years after a fire.
  • Natural regeneration of conifers was usually abundant up to 400 meters from living trees. It was difficult to find places more than 400 meters from living trees.
  • Conifers continued regenerating 10 to 15 years after the fire.
  • Natural regeneration was most limited on the drier, hotter low elevation, southern slopes on the eastern Klamath Mountains.
  • Shrub cover was positively associated with seedling growth in the Douglas-fir/tanoak association and negatively in the white fire association.

Rim Fire Salvage Logging, by SPI

Bob Zybach and I went on a field trip to the Rim Fire. The first stop on the tour showed us the Sierra Pacific Industries’ salvage logging results. I’m posting a medium resolution panorama so, if you click on the picture, you can view it in its full size. You can see the planted surviving giant sequoias on their land which were left in place. You can also see some smaller diameter trees, bundled up on the hill, which turned out to be not mechantable as sawlogs. You might also notice the subsoiler ripping, meant to break up the hydrophobic layer. They appear to have done their homework on this practice, and it is surprising to see them spending money to do this. SPI says that their salvage logging is nearly complete, and that they will replant most of their 20,000 acre chunk next spring. They have to order and grow more stock to finish in 2016.


Throwback Thursday Hits NCFP!

After the “Siege of 1987″, and 43 wildfires on the Hat Creek Ranger District, in three days, the Lost Fire burned up this forest up on the Hat Creek Rim. Even without terrain effects, this fire raged through the forest incinerating everything in its path. There is an eerie beauty in this picture, reminiscent of an Ansel Adams monochrome image.


Today, those forests are growing back, after a big reforestation program, and it appears, a subsequent thinning. Here is a Google Maps view of that area today.,-121.4002792,862m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

Already this summer, there has been 3 large wildfires on this Ranger District. It is mostly a dry “eastside pine” forest, requiring trees to be thinned and crowns separated. It appears that the Forest Service is finally seeing that early thinning is key to restoring forests. In the past, it always appeared that they were “gambling” on waiting for the trees to get bigger (and more profitable), before managing their plantations.

In Idaho, Tracing What Remains After the Flames

Dick Boyd sent me this article featuring the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. The Stanley area is one of my favorite spots, with hot springs, jagged peaks, pristine lakes, spacious meadows and abundant wildlife.


As we neared Stanley, Idaho, a hamlet carved by creeks and framed by mountains with spiky peaks that reminded me of a punk rocker’s hair, the landscape surrounding the winding highway on which we’d climbed 7,000 feet gave way from rugged canyon to flat expanse of grass speckled by lodgepole pine and aspen. We were on the northern edges of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, three hours from Boise, when scars from an old fire came into view.

My daughter, Flora, and I had been playing a makeshift game in which we pointed out the nature surrounding us, the sort of mindless thing you do to entertain a 5-year-old on a road trip. I see a deer, I see a birdie, I see snow, I see a purple flower, we called out.

“I see trees,” I said, pointing to a cluster of an unrecognizable species to our left, their crooked branches denuded by flames that had torched them.

“Those are not trees,” Flora retorted. “Trees have leaves!”

This article reminded me of the time I spent working on the Boise National Forest, after the massive 1994 Rabbit Creek Fire took 2 months to burn before the Sawtooths and fall rains finally extinguished it. The public rarely sees any of the 150,000 burned acres, as it isn’t visible from the highways. I stumbled upon this vintage video that shows how devastating such fires can be, as storms deposit moderate rains upon highly hydrophobic soils.

It is not always easy to display the damages that occur when soils cannot absorb even moderate rainfall. As the storms and high winds came in, that day, Forest Service employees were called in, due to the danger. Oddly enough, they forgot about me. I weathered the storm, not knowing what was happening. The next day, I patrolled the roads, finding a plugged culvert, with excessive soil movement. I pulled out my trusty shovel and diverted all the water into the roadside ditch, getting it to flow down and through the next downhill culvert.

What causes old forests to burn?

Gil is right that we’ve had this discussion, and we agreed to disagree.  He reaffirmed his belief that acres burned is the result of  lower logging levels:

“Your wisdom is so infinitely better than mine, so I must be seeing things when I look at a graph that shows acres burned by year. Naturally, someone who doesn’t understand the scientific principles behind forest ecosystems would say that it is just coincidence that acres burned by year shows a very significant up turn since the 80% reduction in harvest levels.”

Here is the basis for a different belief.  This comparison of acres burned to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation cycle is taken from the Assessment for the revision of the Nez Perce-Clearwater Forest Plan in Idaho.  It led the planning team (who presumably understand scientific principles) to conclude:


“When PDO data are overlaid on the fire statistics an interesting correlation is seen. A period between 1940 until 1980 was in the cool wet phase, which would have limited wildfires while at the same time promoted tree growth, regeneration, and significant increases in forest density. Clearly cool wet trends resulted in lower wildfire occurrence regardless of the fuel loading across the region. Climate is the most controlling factor for wildfire and the one we can least influence.” (my emphasis)

Every scientist knows that correlation is not causation, and there are at least two opinions possible based on these facts.  I was, and am still, asking for some more definitive research results that would justify Gil’s confidence that more logging is the answer.



Repeat Photography: Part Deux

It’s kind of a challenge to assemble pictures shot in different years, from different spots, and from different cameras. This is an excellent way to view and monitor trends, showing the public what happens over time to our National Forests. Sometimes, you have to look hard to see the differences. In any future repeat photography projects, I will be using very high resolution, to be able to zoom in really far.


One of the reasons why you don’t see much “recovery” is that the Eldorado National Forest has finally completed their EIS for using herbicides in selected spots, almost 10 years since the fire burned. This is part of the East Bay’s water supply. Sierra Pacific replanted their ground in less than 2 years. So, the blackbacked woodpeckers should be long gone, as their preferred habitat only lasts for an average of 6 years. As these snags fall over, the risk of intense soil damages from re-burn rises dramatically. Somewhere, I have some earlier pictures of this area which may, or may not line up well with this angle. I’ll keep searching through my files to find more views to practice with.