Getting rid of the lynx problem

In case you missed this news a month ago, the Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to propose delisting Canada lynx.

The Canada lynx was listed as threatened in 2000 largely due to a lack of regulatory mechanisms on federal public lands, which is where a majority of the habitat for Canada lynx was believed to be located in the lower 48 states. Since receiving ESA protection, federal land managers throughout the lynx’s range have formally amended their management plans and implemented conservation measures to conserve the species. For example, all U.S. Forest Service land management plans in the Rocky Mountain region have been amended to include conservation measures for the Canada lynx.

The recommendation was informed by a recently completed, peer-reviewed Species Status Assessment for the lynx, which compiled and evaluated the best available scientific information on the historical, current and possible future conditions for the Canada lynx. Over a two-year process, the Service worked closely with federal, state and academic subject matter experts to evaluate relevant scientific information on snowshoe hare population dynamics, climate change, forest ecology and other issues. Although climate change remains an important factor for the conservation of the Canada lynx, neither the Service nor the experts we consulted conclude that the lynx is at risk of extinction from climate change within the foreseeable future.

That last sentence may be the most important.  The Trump Administration has been revisiting and redefining what “foreseeable future” means.  They basically seem to be saying that the main thing that has changed is that they no longer think extinction is predictable enough to worry about yet.  There is also this motivation:

Given the outcome of this analysis, the Service will not at this time be completing a recovery plan for the Canada lynx.

Which was due in January.  Here and here are some other concerns.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it took another 18 years to get this through court, but by then extinction may be close enough to count.  And much as the Forest Service would like it to, delisting doesn’t mean they could remove the regulatory mechanisms that contributed to delisting.  If delisting happens, it would be worth recognizing this as a payoff for good forest planning, and as a model for future plans involving listed or potentially listed species.

How the Outdoor Industry Could Really Help the Forest Service and BLM- Disruptive Innovation

I had an op-ed published in my local paper, the Colorado Springs Gazette, Saturday. My point is that we’ve been fighting about fees for recreation and federal budgets for (at least?) 30 years.. maybe it’s time to try something different? Below is an excerpt. Check out the whole thing here.

As veteran of federal public lands policy and politics over the last 40 years, I can tell you that the greatest threat to our federal public lands is not the Republicans or the Democrats. The “enemy” is us – the millions of people who hike, bike, ride, drive, hunt, fish, climb, camp, and everything else in the National Forests and BLM. The greatest problems have resisted solution by R administrations and D administration, R Congresses and D Congresses and all combinations thereof. Maybe it’s time to try something different.

The outdoor industry instead could choose, as Amazon, Buffett and JP Morgan are doing with health care, to just “do it,” as the shoe people say, instead.

What would disruptive innovation look like? Here in Colorado Springs, we can talk to a few people, and walk a few trails, and get a sense of the problem.

We all like to recreate on the Pike Forest. Some of us feel, like one colleague, “I don’t think it’s right for some taxpayer in New Jersey to pay to maintain trails where I walk my dog every day.” Others feel “Congress needs to provide what is needed, we shouldn’t have to pay to use our federal lands (except for National Parks).”

For decades there have been skirmishes between these different views, and the division is not at all along partisan lines. For decades, conditions have only become worse as more people flood the forests and the funding has not kept up. Agency employees do the best they can, but they are not getting the help they need. It seems to me that we the people need to step up and help them, and the outdoor industry could and should take a leading role. They have incredible assets and are in the right place at the right time. They have a network of local businesses, technological know-how, marketing and media skills, and unfettered creativity compared to agency employees (that’s in terms of fetters, not creativity).

So what if the outdoor industry put its financial, human and technical resources behind building nonprofit capacity to support Forest Service and BLM programs? They would be choosing a leadership role of uniting, not dividing, something our country greatly needs. What would this look like? Here’s one possibility. The outdoor industry could set aside some percentage of their profits to give back to public lands. The first step would be to support the development of nonprofit, nonpolitical (how countercultural is that?) Friends groups for each forest or unit of the BLM.


Whassup with That SUWA Commercial? Chaining, Planning and Trumpfoolery

I guess I have to say I was a little suspicious that the SUWA ad brought up the Trump Administration. As many of you know, the wheels of Federal project planning move very.. very… slowly. So, for there to be a difference between Trump and Obama administration policies, the rules in the Plan about where and what you can do would have had to have been changed. And you don’t have to follow this stuff very closely to know that that takes a while (writing one, public comment periods, litigation and so on). Well, as it turns out, this kind of project was OK under the Monument management plan (approved 2000). You can look it up yourself here.

RM-2 The use of machinery (e.g., roller chopping, chaining, plowing, discing) may be allowed in all zones except the Primitive Zone. Chaining has been used in the past to remove pinyon and juniper prior to reseeding with perennial grasses. Due to the potential for irreversible impacts to other Monument resources, such as archaeological sites and artifacts, and paleontological resources, this treatment method will not be used to remove pinyon and juniper. It may be allowed to cover rehabilitation seed mixes with soil after wildfires only where:
• noxious weeds and invasive non-native species are presenting a significant threat to Monument resources or watershed damage could occur if the burned area is
not reseeded,
• it can be demonstrated that Monument resources will not be detrimentally affected (i.e., completion of full archaeological, paleontological, threatened and
endangered species and other resource clearance and consultation),
• it is determined that seed cover is necessary for the growth of the native species proposed for seeding, and • other less surface disturbing measures of covering seed are not available or cannot be applied in a timely manner.
Visual impacts of chaining will also be minimized near routes and other points of concern by covering the native seed mix with harrows or light chains. The GSENM
Advisory Committee will be consulted before the use of machinery for treatments is permitted.

I used the bold about the pinyon and juniper because that’s what it showed in the SUWA commercial. So SUWA says the Trump Administration is doing a bad thing that is different from what used to happen, but it’s really not. Now I don’t know if that is a “lie,” or an “inaccuracy” or a “shading of the truth.” The point seems to be to get people worked up about something that’s been going on for a long time, but was presumably OK under the previous administration. I’m going to call this Trumpfoolery. It’s worth asking, what’s in for SUWA to do this? Don’t they lose more in credibility than they gain in…whatever?

The people of Utah were using these vegetation practices long before President Trump entered politics, and they are incorporated into a Clinton Administration Monument plan. More on the practices in the next post.

Has “energy dominance” lost a battle?

Opponents of fracking on the Wayne National Forest filed a lawsuit last spring alleging the failure of the BLM and Forest Service to comply with NEPA and the Endangered Species Act in authorizing oil and gas leasing.  They argued that when the forest plan was revised in 2006 it didn’t address the effects of fracking.  Plaintiffs suggest that is the reason why the Forest has now decided to again revise it forest plan.   (Which would make it one of a very few forests to re-revise, so it is noteworthy that the Wayne was put in the queue ahead of many forests that have not been revised at all.)

The Forest says this:

For years, the USDA Forest Service, Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) have been innovating ways to collaborate in the restoration of southeast Ohio’s oak and hickory forest ecosystems. The next step to realizing that objective is having compatible long-term management plans that allow the organizations to work together more efficiently. With ODNR’s intention of revising their State Action Plan by 2020, the Wayne National Forest decided the time is right to revise its Land Management Plan, to facilitate collaborative work efforts with the State.

That’s a worthy goal, but not one I would have expected to get it to the top of the Forest Service’s priority list for plan revisions.  Let’s see if they argue in court that starting revision would moot the lawsuit.  Regardless, “The public can now demand a plan that bans fracking in the Wayne.”

CFRP Technical Advisory Panel will meet April 30 – May 4 in Albuquerque

Anyone on this blog going? Note that “The meeting is open to the public and grant applicants are encouraged to attend.” Press release:

The 2018 Collaborative Forest Restoration Program (CFRP) Technical Advisory Panel will meet April 30 – May 4 at the Hyatt Place Albuquerque Uptown, 6901 Arvada Ave., NE. The final number of days the meeting will last will depend on the number of grant applications we received by February 27. An agenda for the meeting will be posted on the CFRP Website the first week of March. The purpose of the meeting will be to review the 2018 CFRP grant applications and make recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture on which ones best meet the program objectives. The meeting is open to the public and grant applicants are encouraged to attend.

For more information on the Collaborative Forest Restoration Program Technical Advisory Panel, please contact myself or Walter Dunn at 505-842-3425.

Amanda Montoya
Program Specialist
Forest Service
Southwestern Region
p: 505-842-3176
333 Broadway SE
Albuquerque, NM 87102

Groups File Objections to Protect Fish, Wildlife and Recommended Wilderness on the Flathead National Forest

The Swan View Coalition put together the following blog post, which includes links to a bunch of official objections filed on the Flathead National Forest’s revised forest plan (including one from my organization, the WildWest Institute).

Conservation groups wanting better protection for fish and wildlife in the Northern Rockies filed Objections to the revised Flathead Forest Plan and Amendments to four other Forest Plans in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.

The plan revision and amendments are intended to pave the way for delisting of threatened grizzly bear in the NCDE, which would remove their Endangered Species Act protection.

The groups launched a letter writing campaign in 2016. This resulted in 98% of the 33,744 comments the Forest Service received on its Draft Environmental Impact Statement calling for protection of all remaining roadless lands as wilderness and continuation of the road decommissioning program that agencies credit with improving grizzly bear security and helping restore critical bull trout watersheds.

The revised Flathead Forest Plan instead abandons its road decommissioning program and recommends for wilderness designation only 30% of the areas it found suitable for wilderness. The Kootenai, Lolo, Lewis and Clark, and Helena Forest Plans would similarly be amended to abandon road removal as a primary means to restore fish and wildlife habitat that has been damaged.

The groups rallied around the principles of the Citizen reVision alternative Swan View Coalition and Friends of the Wild Swan asked the Forest Service to include in its DEIS. The DEIS included some of these principles in its Alternative C, which it then assigned the highest marks for maintaining water quality and wildlife habitat connectivity. The FEIS and revised Flathead Forest Plan, however, select Alternative B-modified even though it is assigned “the highest risk of impact to aquatic species” and “is likely to adversely affect” already threatened grizzly bear, bull trout, and Canada lynx!

The Objections were due at Forest Service Region One headquarters in Missoula on February 12. The Region now has ten days to “publish a notice of all objections in the applicable newspaper of record and post the notice online.” The Region’s responses to the Objections are due within 90 days, unless it grants itself extensions.

Below are links to some of the Objections filed by groups supporting the principles of the Citizen reVision:

Swan View Coalition Objection and Supplemental Objection.

Friends of the Wild Swan Objection.

Independent Wildlife Consultant Brian Peck Objection.

WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project and Sierra Club Objection.

Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Montana Ecosystems Defense Council, Friends of the Wild Swan Objection.

Flathead-Lolo-Bitterroot Citizen Task Force, Wilderness Watch, WildWest Institute, Friends of the Bitterroot, Friends of the Rattlesnake, Friends of the Clearwater, Independent Consultant Mike Bader Objection.
Citizens’ Objection filed by WildEarth Guardians on behalf of 4,000+ signors.

Montana Chapter Sierra Club Objection.

The 3,000 pages of FEIS, Forest Plan and Forest Plan amendments can be found here.

California national monuments pay off, and are intact so far, but not DRECP

Here’s some anecdotal evidence supporting the economic arguments for national monument designation.

Two years ago today, President Barack Obama created three new national monuments in the California desert: called Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and Castle Mountains. Supporters held a community event to celebrate, noting that tourism to the area has increased significantly, as people come to see Joshua Tree National Park and then, go on to explore the new monuments.

Then there’s the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan.

Under Zinke, the Bureau of Land Management recently filed a notice of intent to reopen the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, which sets aside land for conservation, recreation and energy development.  “Lands that were set aside for conservation may now be open to inappropriate uses like mining and renewable-energy development, when there was already a consensus on areas where those sorts of uses would be appropriate,”

Another example of Trumpling the interests of locals in favor of reducing the “burdens on all domestic energy development.”  Another case where the recreation industry (and others) will have to battle the resources of the energy industry (instead of working with the industry as they did in DRECP).  Who is your money on?

Flathead forest plan revision nears finish line

I’ve been looking at the second final forest plan and EIS prepared under the 2012 Planning Rule, the Flathead. I want to commend them for some of the things they’ve done.

They have done a very good job of describing desired conditions for many vegetation characteristics based on their natural range of variation. I can tell you that this is the kind of “specific” desired conditions the drafters of the Planning Rule had in mind for providing ecological integrity. They also conducted an analysis of how vegetation conditions would change over time as a result of the plan, while factoring in expected fire regimes, and they were able to use this for some of their analysis of effects on viability of wildlife species that are closely tied to vegetation. I pretty much only looked at the wildlife parts of the EIS, but I thought the terrestrial part was well organized, and included some thoughtful discussion of what plan components actually do. One of my interests is habitat connectivity, and they have given it a more serious look than most, including actually considering and identifying specific areas to be managed for connectivity.

I was looking for problems related to at-risk species, and there are some. Regarding fire, even though they don’t call the wildland-urban interface a “management area,” it is one because a lot of plan components apply differently there.

I’ve also seen how big of a job it is to review and understand something this massive within 60 days, even with only a limited focus – and I’m someone with probably as much experience at this as anyone. It helped to have followed this process off and on from the beginning, but I have some sympathy for organizations trying to promote changes at this point in the process.   (There’s much more time to prepare for forest plan litigation.)

Next up? The Inyo is on track for “this spring.”

Firefighters and Cops Win In FY’19 Budget

You know the authoritarians are in charge when firefighters and cops get more money and everyone else gets less. That’s the bottom-line in Trump’s FY 2019 Forest Service budget.

Many dismiss the administration’s annual budget exercise because Congress makes the final appropriations decision. But, the budget reflects the administration’s philosophy and priorities. It guides how political appointees view public lands and the role of government in their management. In this respect, the proposed Forest Service budget is a caricature of the Trump Administration.

Firefighting, already enjoying the lion’s share of spending, gets an 8% boost, which would move it from 41% to 53% of Forest Service discretionary spending. With the entire FS discretionary budget slated for a 16% cut, something else has got to give . . . and give and give and give. The biggest losers are Capital Improvement and Maintenance, i.e., taking care of roads, bridges, buildings and campgrounds, which drops 74%, from $362 to $95 million. State and Private Forestry gets a 43%19% (two funds are shifted to Fire) haircut and Research is slashed by 15%. Timber, which drops 6%, isn’t exempt from the chopping block either. Perennial poor mouth Recreation & Wilderness is cut 9%.

What else goes up? Law enforcement by 2%. Marijuana growers beware!