Court Rules In Favor Of Rim Fire Logging

Coincidentally, this on the Rim Fire litigation..from a local paper..here is the link and below an excerpt. No need for photos, thanks to Larry!

Sonora, CA — Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals nixed an argument by a group of nonlocal environmentalists that Rim Fire recovery logging threatens spotted owl habitat, effectively removing a potential log-jam to current clean-up efforts.

According to Stanislaus National Forest spokesperson Rebecca Garcia, “The Ninth Circuit Court ruled in favor of the US Forest Service on the Rim Fire case, and so the U.S. Forest Service, the Stanislaus National Forest will continue forward on the Rim Fire recovery efforts.” She adds, as far as the work being done, “Nothing had never stopped. The litigants had appealed to the courts back in August to get a stay to try to halt the work…out on the landscape…while they were putting together their case. But that was not granted and work has continued…until weather did not allow it…and it started up again this spring…and will continue as long as the wood is good.”

The court’s decision, which was filed in San Francisco Tuesday, leaves the plaintiffs, the Center for Biological Diversity, Earth Island Institute and California Chaparral Institute a final option: to see if the Supreme Court will hear their case. That route is both uncertain and likely to take more months than the planned scope of recovery efforts. The Ninth Circuit judges indicated in their decision that the plaintiffs had not established a likelihood of success on the merits of their claims under the National Environmental Policy Act. Additionally, the judges indicated that the Forest Service had re-established six protected activity centers where surveys detected owl presence; and accurately addressed the scientific literature on owl occupancy in post-fire, high-severity burn habitat.

Here’s to all the folks who worked on this case!!!

Rim Fire Images

The media does like to sensationalize events like the Rim Fire, often implying that the lands have been “destroyed”. The Rim Fire is so huge and burned across so many differing kinds of vegetation that you cannot summarize too much. Even my own “sampling” from the access roads doesn’t cover very much of the impacts and effects of a 250,000 acre wildfire.

Much of the wildfire burned in plantations generated from previous wildfires. Here is an example of one of those plantations that wasn’t thinned. I can see why it wasn’t but, maybe a “pre-commercial thinning” kind of task could have been included into one of the other commercial plantation thinning projects that I worked on, back in 2000.

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In the same area were blocks of land that were left for “Mother Nature”, after the early 70’s Granite Fire. Here is what a 40 year old brushfield looks like. Those blocks are choked with deer brush, whitethorn and manzanita, with very few conifers, and fewer oaks than the “natural stands” (as they called the unburned portions).

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As you can see, sometimes there is a fine line between a total plantation loss and one that has survived a wildfire. This is one of the thinned plantations, near Cherry Lake.

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Here is another example of an “old growth” brushfield. While this one didn’t burn much, there are many examples of them burning at moderate to high intensities. Looking at Google Maps, I can find examples where the flames from the brushfields were pushed into the thinned plantations. The Forest Service should be treating those old brushfields with prescribed fire, instead of “whatever happens”.

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This unburned stand, within the fire perimeter, is a good example of the work we did back in 2000. I don’t really know of any other reason why this large patch, near Cherry Lake, didn’t burn

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The Clavey River, long-cherished by the local eco-community, acted like a conduit for the Rim Fire, as it burned so many acres in just one day. However, you can see that the intensity and damage is rather minimal. There is a fork in the river, down there, and the main fork of the fire went up that way, finding more conifers to burn. (It also found the big block of Sierra Pacific Industries lands.) I found it very interesting that the isolated pockets of Douglas-firs had very high mortality, but only a low-to-moderate intensity.P9206804-web

Here is one of those pockets, alongside the Clavey River. In the past, this kind of pocket would be thrown into a large helicopter salvage project.

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Vaagen Brothers Lumber on Adaptation and Collaboration

Worth a look: “ADAPTATION AND COLLABORATION: A Western Lumber Business Confronts Timber Withdrawal,” written by  Russ Vaagen, Vice President, Vaagen Brothers Lumber, on the Forest Resources Association’s web site.

I’ve seen Vaagen’s Colville mill. Amazing what they can do with small logs. A few years ago, they were selling chips to a power plant, Avista’s Kettle Falls Generating Station. At the time, biomass power from the plant was more expensive than power from “cheap” natural gas plants. However, the state’s renewable portfolio standard required the use of biomass and other renewable fuels. In effect, Avista’s rate payers were subsidizing the use of wood chips at the Kettle Falls Generating Station.

Interview with Mike Petersen on Collaboration

Thanks to a reader for finding this interview with Mike Petersen Executive Director of the Spokane-based Lands Council by Jim Petersen… on his group’s changing from a litigation strategy to a collaborative strategy.

Below is an excerpt:

Evergreen: When you set out to find common ground, what was your first area of agreement?

Petersen: Neither of us liked what the Forest Service was doing. By that I mean we did not feel that the agency was listening to us. It’s a huge bureaucracy, and one in which the only way to get promoted is to move from job to job. Staff is never in one place long enough to learn much about the forest or the community. It’s a terrible way to run a business.

Evergreen: How have you overcome the bureaucratic nature of the Forest Service?

Petersen: Personalities are key to forest collaborative success. We have a real pearl in Mary Farnsworth, who is the supervisor on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. She’s very supportive. We also got a lot of help from Rick Brazell, who was supervisor on the Colville National Forest when we were getting started. I don’t want to leave you with the impression that the Forest Service is an immovable object. That’s not the case, but it takes work and a willingness to try new things.

Evergreen: How many collaborative successes can you count since you started out?

Petersen: About three dozen over the last 12 years. Most have been on the Colville because that’s where we started, but I can count eight projects on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest and maybe five on the Kootenai in northwest Montana. In total, about 50,000 acres.

Evergreen: Apart from personalities, what drives success?

Petersen: All collaboratives are place-based, which is another way of saying that all politics are local. Collaboratives gain lots of strength from local knowledge, from the participation of people who have lived in a particular area long enough to develop an understanding of its social, economic and cultural idiosyncrasies. Some conservationists believe local people are a detriment because they believe their decisions are always based on preserving their economy at the expense of the environment. We haven’t found this to be true. What they seek is a more balanced consideration of local need. We agree.

Evergreen: But you still have to gain consensus with people who live a long way from rural timber communities and have little or no economic stake in your deliberations.

Petersen: That’s true, which is why the work we do on the ground has to speak for itself, and it has to be based on consensus among stakeholders who are involved in the collaborative.

Silverstone- Vietnam Memorial on the Rio Grande

Beckley chose the Rio Grande National Forest because of its proximity to the Continental Divide – and because it was a large forest that could easily hide his memorial. (Photo: Chris Hansen/9NEWs)

Beckley chose the Rio Grande National Forest because of its proximity to the Continental Divide – and because it was a large forest that could easily hide his memorial. (Photo: Chris Hansen/9NEWs)

Here’s what I thought was the best story about this…thank you, Kevin Torres (KUSA), here’s a link and below is an excerpt.

The Mountains of the Rio Grande National Forest conceal mystery. The sort of mystery that fills a field as it fills a void.

Hidden away in the 1.8-million-acre forest is a treasure few people are aware of. It was created nearly 20 years ago by a man who devoted the remaining years of his life to honoring soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War.

“He was really enchanted with it. It was his only goal in life for the last 30 years,” Phyllis Beckley Roy said.

Roy is referring to her brother, Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Allen Beckley. Beckley fought in Vietnam from 1962 through 1973. After the war, Roy said her brother was deeply impacted by Vietnam and wanted to do something for his fellow soldiers – as well as the other countries affected by the war.

“He just couldn’t believe that people could not know what was going on, and he decided he would take any penny he could scrape together to build a memorial to honor the people who were not honored,” Roy said.

Beckley’s idea to build a stone memorial on national forest land was initially denied. But when the forest supervisor for the Rio Grande National Forest, Jim Webb (now retired), discovered Beckley was dying of cancer, he changed his mind.

Beckley’s last mission in life was to establish a lasting tribute in memory of the soldiers of Vietnam and Laos. His dream eventually became reality. By the mid-90s, SOLDIERSTONE had been built.

“He designed it, and he bought everything that went into it,” Roy said.

Beckley didn’t have many connections to Colorado. He chose the Rio Grande National Forest because of its proximity to the Continental Divide – and because it was a large forest that could easily hide his memorial.

According to Roy, Beckley didn’t want many people to know about it. He never intended for large crowds to visit it and to take pictures of it.

“The idea was he wanted it to be secluded. He didn’t want people to vandalize it,” Roy said.

Here’ an excellent news video about the site and the history.

Feds to Update Endangered Species Act

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Here is an interesting post from Bob Berwyn’s blog. Thanks, Bob,  for finding this! I tried to simply “repost” it to this blog but had technical difficulties..

Below is an excerpt:

Details

The changes would provide greater clarity to the public and states on what information would best inform the evaluation of a species’ status and result in better coordination with state wildlife agencies, which often have unique information and insights on imperiled species.

As part of the Administration’s ongoing efforts, the Services will also be unveiling additional proposals over the coming year to achieve four broad goals:

Improving science and increasing transparency. To improve public understanding of and engagement in ESA listing processes, the Services will:
Strengthen procedures to ensure that all information that can be publicly disclosed related to proposed listing and critical habitat rule notices will be posted online; and

  • Adopt more rigorous procedures to ensure consistent, transparent, and objective peer-review of proposed decisions.
  • Incentivizing voluntary conservation efforts. Voluntary conservation programs, such as Safe Harbor agreements and Candidate Conservation Agreements, can improve conditions for listed and at-risk species, and conservation banking can make listed species and their habitats assets for landowners.

The Services will:

  • Update guidance on the use of these proactive tools to establish consistent standards; and
  • Adopt a policy promoting the expanded use of conservation banking and other advance mitigation tools.

Focusing resources to achieve more successes. The Services will work to focus limited resources on activities that will be most impactful. These actions include:

  • NOAA’s launch of a new initiative to focus resources on eight of the nation’s most vulnerable marine species with the goal of reducing, stabilizing, or reversing their rate of decline by 2020;
  • Proposed revisions to interagency consultation procedures to streamline the process for projects, such as habitat restoration activities, that result in a net conservation benefit for the species;
  • Updates to the Habitat Conservation Planning Handbook to make developing and permitting plans more efficient and timely.
  • Engaging the States. State fish and wildlife agencies, by virtue of their responsibilities and expertise, are essential partners in efforts to conserve threatened and endangered species. The Services will:
    Implement the aforementioned revised petition regulations to give states an opportunity to provide input prior to submission; and
  • Update policy regarding the role of state agencies to reflect advancements in collaboration between the Services and the States.

For more information on the proposed ESA petition regulations, go to http://www.fws.gov/home/feature/2015/proposed-revised-petition-regulations.pdf. Public comments on the proposed rule will be accepted on or before 60 days following its publication in the Federal Register.

Note from Sharon: These all sound like good ideas, and especially the science transparency one has oft been discussed on this blog. One wonders whether this would have been done without some pressure by Congress. I don’t believe in partisan enemizing, of course, but this does remind me of a quote from the Essays of James Vila Blake (the Unitarian minister):

Enemies make us watchful of ourselves and induce self-examination; for we must argue thus: our foe hates us with reason or without reason; if without reason, then he not really hates us, but some other sort of person for whom he mistakes us; but if with reason, then it is plain we should improve, and remove the reason.

Advice for the Tongass young-growth plan amendment

Though some doubted it could be done, the group of industry leaders, scientists, conservationists and government representatives has reached a consensus: the Tongass Advisory Committee has submitted its draft recommendations for managing timber harvests in the national forest that covers much of Southeast Alaska.

There are lots of interesting ideas here; maybe some becoming relevant beyond Alaska as the Forest Service gets out of the old-growth business everywhere.  Here’s one that surprised me:

It asks for changes in leadership, with more power given to regional foresters.  “This runs counter to the current culture in which District Rangers, in order to be safe and not take any risk, simply layer on Interdisciplinary Team suggestions for protection, without paying attention to redundancies,” the draft reads, “lead(ing) to a collision of restrictions that result in low volume and non-economic projects … or extinguishes projects altogether.”

It’s also counter the culture of decentralization.  It seems to be a proposal to take more risks, which I would expect to lead to more litigation.  On the other hand, I got the impression over the years that those at higher levels understood the risks better and were less likely to take them.  But then they are closer to the politicians, too.  (Maybe there’s some other perceptions out there.)

Forest plan stops ski area

It seems to be a little-known benefit of forest plans, but they can be used to support decisions to turn down requests for special use permits.  The high profile case of a proposed Lolo Peak ski resort near Missoula made it to district court, where Judge Molloy upheld the Forest Service decision to reject the proponent plaintiffs’ request.  The process for initial screening of a proposal requires a finding that it would be consistent with the forest plan.  In this case, the court reviewed the forest plan direction for the area proposed for development and found that the Forest Service was not arbitrary in finding that a ski area would not meet the goals and standards of the various management areas.  It didn’t help that the developer had already built ski runs on the private land, and photographs of them were used to demonstrate how the ski area would not meet visual quality requirements in the forest plan.   (This is what I see across the valley every time I drive into town.)

Service Contract Re-visited

In my last adventure, I decided to pass through an area of the Tahoe National Forest, where I worked in 1996 and 1997. During that time, I worked on fire salvage, blowdown salvage, insect salvage and roadside hazard tree projects. There was also this Service Contract, which reduced fuels without cutting trees over 9.9″ dbh. The logger had three varied types of cutting machines, each of them with their strengths and limitations. He was a crusty old guy, who didn’t like the Federal “oversight” of his work.

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I usually liked to change these loggers’ perception of what inspectors do. He wasn’t used to getting “written up” for doing good work but, he was still quite wary of me. I once caught him damaging the bark of a leave tree with his machine, then getting off it, and applying some dirt to the wound (to hide it). As he was getting back to his seat, he saw me. I gave him the “naughty, naughty” hand signal, and walked over there. I waited to see how he would react to getting caught. Surprisingly, he kind of hung his head, and was quiet, for once. So, I told him that there is an acceptable level of “damage” in this kind of work and he wasn’t anywhere near close to it, yet. I think our relationship changed, a little, after that agreement.

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One of the keys to success was the ability to do a cool prescribed burn. All too often, fuels are still too thick and the burn is a bit hotter than the residual trees can stand. In this case, the firefighters did well in achieving a nice, cool and effective burn. On the west-facing slopes, the brush has grown back, somewhat. That is to be expected, and will continue, until it is shaded out.

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As far as resilience to fire and drought, it is pretty clear that the spacing is very good. The brush looks like it can be burned safely, on a regular basis. The pines also seem to be quite healthy and vigorous. Keep in mind, this area along Highway 89, in the eastside pine zone, is in a rainshadow east of the Sierra Nevada Crest. There are some western junipers up on the ridgetop, and the Nevada desert is 15 miles away.

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