Analysis of Senator Barrasso’s “National Forest Ecosystem Improvement” Bill from TWS

A new summary and analysis of S. 879, the “National Forest Ecosystem Improvement Act” – which Senator Barrasso (R-WY) introduced on April 6 – is available here. It was put together by Mike Anderson at The Wilderness Society.

The text of S. 879 is available here.

Below is Mr. Anderson’s summary of the bill.

“S. 879 would greatly increase logging of national forest lands, while reducing environmental safeguards and opportunities for public involvement in national forest management. Annual acreage mandates for mechanical treatments would compel the Forest Service to prioritize logging over all other uses and resources. Large expanses of forest up to 15,000 acres in size could be logged with no consideration of the impacts to water quality, wildlife habitat, or recreational opportunities. The legality of Forest Service management activities would be essentially unchallengeable in court, removing an essential check on federal agency compliance with the law. Two bedrock environmental laws – NEPA and ESA – would be undermined. In sum, the bill poses a serious threat to environmental stewardship, public involvement, wildlife conservation, and the rule of law in the national forests.”

As Population Increases, More Wilderness is Needed?

Thanks to Earthjustice for this photo of the Sunset Roadless Area.

The Denver Post reports on efforts to get more wilderness in Colorado, and it’s picked up by the AP.. interesting to take a look at this article and compare it to the Gold Standard of Journalism here. I am a fan of interior West newspapers, but please Denver Post, don’t have annoying music and videos when we simply want to read a story!

Here’s an excerpt:

Population growth and the development boom in the West are propelling the efforts to establish wilderness protection while it’s still possible. Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials found, in a 2013 survey, that 70 percent of Coloradans consider wilderness or undeveloped open lands offering solitude very important or extremely important. And 72 percent ranked protection of more land as wilderness as “high-priority” or “essential” — an even higher proportion of residents than the high percentages favoring more forest campgrounds, community trails, urban greenways and parks.

But Congress consistently has failed to deliver on most wilderness proposals.

“We need to set aside land and protect it as much as we can,” said San Juan County Commissioner Scott Fetchenhier, who went to Washington recently as part of a delegation of elected officials.

The locals extolled “economic values” of preserving nature — fellow San Juan County Commissioner Ernie Kuhlman has said that, with the demise of mining, wilderness that enables recreation is Colorado’s new gold.

My question is what “development” is wilderness preserving “nature” from? I’d think, as a person who spent time making comparison tables of “things allowed in wilderness” and “things allowed in roadless areas,” that you could be more specific about the benefits of a wilderness designation. Perhaps your thinking would be “no mountain bikes”- it’s impossible to tell exactly from this article. But since the population in Colorado is growing, it’s likely to be more crowded in the backcountry whether it’s a designated wilderness or not. In fact, the CPW study cited in the story says “undeveloped open land” into which roadless areas, as well as other designations, would also fit.

Colorado ranks sixth among states for its amount of federally designated wilderness areas but has had few new designations recently. The state’s population is meanwhile growing at nearly twice the national rate.

What on earth does the state’s population growth have to do with designation of wilderness? This article seems to assume that these two concepts are related. It almost sounds as if the person who wrote this, or the group that spoke to them is thinking that houses will be built unless the area is designated wilderness. Maybe the lack of new designations means simply that enough was already designated? It seems to me like this article seems to simply accept the logic presented in (a press release? an interview with TWS?) without asking reasonable questions about the assertions made.

From the Gold Standard piece by Vince Byzdek here:

This method involves a kind of triangulation – seeking out multiple authoritative sources, vetting them thoroughly, disclosing as much as possible about the sources, and allowing people who are accused or challenged in our stories to have the chance to comment before we publish the stories. That means always including opposing views.<

Five Reasons Blog Posts are of Higher Scientific Quality than Journal Articles- by Daniel Lakens

In the press and here on this blog, folks sometimes talk about “the science says” in order to claim authority for a certain set of views. Given the not insignificant difference among fields (e.g., landscape ecology is not fire science is not medicine is not psychology) it is difficult to say very much about the science, or research biz, as a whole. Except that more funding is needed of course ;). Like journalism, or land management, there is the ideal of how science is conducted, and then there is the reality. In what contexts are scientific claims, or claims made by scientists (not the same) privileged? What do scientists choose to study and what do they not study? How do they value the findings of related fields? How do they place their findings in context and relate them to the real world? What studies are funded, by whom, and who decides? How are practitioners’ or policy makers’ views of importance or relevance, and practical knowledge, taken into account (if at all)?

Here’s an interesting piece by an experimental psychologist from the Netherlands. I excerpted each reason below. The comments are also interesting.

I think the topics he brings up are worth thinking about, and I hope we can incorporate them as we look at studies in the future.

1. Blogs have Open Data, Code, and Materials

When you want to evaluate scientific claims, you need access to the raw data, the code, and the materials. Most journals do not (yet) require authors to make their data publicly available (whenever possible).

2. Blogs have Open Peer Review

Scientific journal articles use peer review as quality control. The quality of the peer review process is as high as the quality of the peers that were involved in the review process. The peer review process was as biased as the biases of the peers that were involved in the review process. For most scientific journal articles, I can not see who reviewed a paper, or check the quality, or the presence of bias, because the reviews are not open.

3. Blogs have no Eminence Filter

Everyone can say anything they want on a blog, as long as it does not violate laws regarding freedom of speech. It is an egalitarian and democratic medium. This aligns with the norms in science. As Merton (1942) writes: “The acceptance or rejection of claims entering the lists of science is not to depend on the personal or social attributes of their protagonist; his race, nationality, religion, class, and personal qualities are as such irrelevant.” We see even Merton was a child of his times – he of course meant that his *or her* race, etcetera, is irrelevant.

4. Blogs have Better Error Correction

When I make an error in a blog post, I can go in and update it. I am pretty confident that I make approximately as many errors in my published articles as I make in my blog posts, but the latter are much easier to fix, and thus, I would consider my blogs more error-free, and of higher quality.

5. Blogs are Open Access (and might be read more).

It’s obvious that blogs are open access. This is a desirable property of high quality science. It makes the content more widely available, and I would not be surprised (but I have no data) that blog posts are *on average* read more than scientific articles because they are more accessible.

Something I would add to Lakens’ list, for fields with practitioners, like our own, is that blogs allow feedback from people in practice. If we think of a neurological study that says “at the molecular level, it appears that y is related to x so we hypothesize drug z might help” the neurologist practitioners might be able to say “yes, I had three patients that happened to be on that drug and they haven’t had symptoms, but only ones who also had condition q” possibly adding to our joint knowledge. It even goes to the patient, or in our case landowner, citizen, community member. It makes knowledge claims open to public discussion and while there are problems with this approach, if we are interested in finding out how things really work, it seems to me that open sources and discussion are the way to go.

Mixing Apples and Oranges

Today, Senate Energy Natural Resources Committee ranking member Maria Cantwell sent a letter to President Trump asking him to support more Forest Service wildfire spending. She says that the 10-year average spending amount of $2.4 billion Trump promises isn’t enough, which she illustrates with the following alarming statistic — “To date this year, wildfires have already burned 2.2 million acres: this level of activity is 400 percent above normal.”

She might just as well have cited the acres burned this year in Russia for how much relevance they have to Forest Service wildfire spending. Turns out that 1.3% (one point three percent) of the acres burned in 2017 are on national forest land. Private and state lands account for 96.9% of the acres, mostly grassland in Kansas and Oklahoma. And guess what? The U.S. Forest Service doesn’t pay the cost of fighting fires on private and state land.

Methinks the Trump administration, its OMB, the House Freedom Caucus, Heritage Foundation and other budget hawks have figured out that profligate wildfire spending is a Democratic Party-conceived federal jobs program that bears little, if any, relationship to actual on-the-ground needs. And, incidentally, does more ecological harm than good.

The Gold Standard for Journalism- by Vince Bzdek

Recently there has been much discussion of the wonderfulness of traditional media outlets, and the questionability of other sources of information. On this blog, we have reviewed articles in which the national news outlets have covered interior west and public lands issues poorly, or not at all. I like to think that everyone tries to do things right (good journalism, FS monitoring), but can fall short, due to a variety of pressures, more or less conscious biases, and so on.

Vince Bzdek is the editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette, and wrote a thoughtful piece linked here comparing “real news” as opposed to fake news. I think the whole piece is worth reading, and provides us on this blog a handy list of criteria we can apply to news articles posted here. I’ll quote a few relevant paragraphs here:

Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect,” by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel:

Journalism’s first obligation is to tell the truth.

Journalism’s first loyalty is to its citizens.

The essence of journalism is a discipline of verification.

Journalists must maintain an independence from those they cover.

Journalists must serve as an independent monitor of power.

Journalism must provide a forum for public criticism and comment.

Journalists must make the significant interesting and relevant.

Journalists should keep the news in proportion and make it comprehensive.

Journalists have an obligation to personal conscience.

We at the Gazette try to adhere religiously to these principles. In fact, any enterprise that purports to do real news should adhere to these principles, and you should hold us and them to these

About how to get at the “truth”:

The whole idea of objective reporting was never based on an assumption of bias-free journalists. That’s impossible, right? Instead, the concept centered on the idea that there is a “consistent method of testing information – a transparent approach to evidence – precisely so that personal and cultural biases do not undermine the accuracy of their work. The method is objective; not the journalist,” according to the APA.

This method involves a kind of triangulation – seeking out multiple authoritative sources, vetting them thoroughly, disclosing as much as possible about the sources, and allowing people who are accused or challenged in our stories to have the chance to comment before we publish the stories. That means always including opposing views.

In addition, what stories an outlet chooses to cover, or not cover, is a judgment call of what is “significant, interesting and relevant” which can vary person by person. It’s not like that’s a bias, but as we see on this blog, different people find different things interesting.

One of the structural problems I’ve found is that with Forest Service stories, if it’s about litigation, the FS is not allowed to comment (of course this makes sense, but..). Even when it’s about a project not in litigation, when I was working, I found that many public affairs people were careful not to counter claims directly as that sounds “defensive.” So if what Bzdek says is true, and I do believe that having at least two points of view described in a story makes sense, then this structure actually may prevent journalists from doing their jobs well on these topics.

I’d be really especially interested to know what the journalists and public affairs folks who read this blog think about this.

The Future of Fighting Wildfires in the Era of Climate Change

You can read Bob Berwyn’s full article right here. The new study can be accessed here. Below are some highlights.

Thinning and suppression aren’t working, and fire scientists now say we need to let fires burn to help landscapes adapt to climate change  —  while controlling development in the red zone to limit damage….

The researchers behind the new study, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that, instead of trying to fight every fire or thin vast areas in futile prevention efforts, the Forest Service should focus on protecting communities and limiting new development in fire-prone areas, while letting some fires — even large — burn, which will help Western landscapes adapt to climate change in the decades ahead….

America has spent about $3 billion on cutting crowded trees and clearing brush on 17 million acres of forest since 2001. During that same span, wildfires continue to rise, and there’s no proof that thinning is working. Schoennagel says most of the thinning has been on federal lands, but the dangerous fires are on private lands.

“I wondered for years why a different PR message is not going out. We cannot change this equation through thinning,” Schoennagel says.

“We need to shift our view and keep in mind what the future variabilities might be, and how we can manage for that,” Schoennagel says. That requires perceiving landscapes and ecosystems in a new way. For example, long-lived forests in mountain areas established themselves when climate conditions were suitable. In the climate-changed future, those conditions will no longer exist. “We should allow those areas to burn and adapt for future conditions. I think we see fire as a consequence, but it can also be a tool to help us keep pace with climate change,” she says.

Equal Access to Justice Act often aids those who frustrate forest restoration

“in most Western legal systems other than the United States, the prevailing norm is the English rule. The “English Rule for Attorney’s fees” is also known as “Loser Pays” which is contrasted to the “American Rule” where each party to the suit is responsible for it’s own fees. I’m not really interested in discussing the pros and cons of the two contrasting approaches to settling legal disputes. Inevitably such discussions end up in a fierce political fight about as desperate as a discussion of the existence of God between people on opposite sides of the fence.

What is interesting is that the article referred to in the title for this discussion thread points out that the 1980 Equal Access to Justice Act, or EAJA follows the English Rule if a small claimant or any non-profit claimant wins a case against the federal government but follows the American Rule if the claimant looses. This may not be news to many here but the article provides some interesting insights including:

1) “The act was passed in 1980 to help veterans with disabilities pursue claims against the federal government”

2) “Over the last five years the payments for legal challenges to the Forest Service have nearly doubled, costing the taxpayer over $38 million in 2015. EAJA is not benefiting average citizens as Congress had intended. Thirty-three-hundred lawsuits were filed by just 12 special interest groups from 2001 to 2011. During this time $37 million was awarded to special interest groups, including awards of attorney fees of $500-750 per hour, according to research by Wyoming attorney Karen Budd-Falen.” If I read that right the payments are rising exponentially with $37million paid out from 2001 through 2011 while 2015 alone cost $38million.

3) “No one counts the cost of jobs lost and families displaced after mills are forced to close due to lack of resources. Unfortunately, those folks do not have the same equal access to justice as these highly funded and financially motivated activist organizations.” I assume that the author is referring to the affected individuals not having the same access to the necessary up front money required to go to court on such a big issue as do the highly funded and financially motivated activist organizations.

4) “these EAJA payments come out of your Social Security Trust Fund”

FS Litigation Weekly, April 7, 2017

This was a long one, so I have excerpted the boldfaced section in the original (linked below) plus a sentence or two relevant to the decision, where there is one. The people who write this do a super job (IMHO) so it really is better to read their entire summaries if any of these pique your interest.

1. Wildlife I Region 4
The District Court for the District of Idaho found favorably for the Forest Service on a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) challenge claiming that the Forest Service was required to issue a special use permit for a “predator derby” to take place in the Salmon-Challis National Forest and other public or private lands near Salmon, Idaho in WildEarth Guardians et al. v. United States Forest Service et al. The predator derby was “a private competition involving the hunting of coyotes, wolves, and other wildlife.”

.. The court found that the major activity in the event, namely the awarding of prizes and the makings of donations, did not take place on the forest and that hunting was a legal activity that each of the derby’s participants could have pursued on forest land if they chose to do so independent of the derby.

2. Wildlife I Region 4
The District Court for the District of Nevada granted in part and denied in part the plaintiffs’, the Forest Service’s, and the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Motions for Summary Judgment challenges to the BLM’s and Forest Service’s decisions to amend their resource management plans to provide greater protection to the greater-sage grouse in Western Exploration, LLC et al. v. U.S. Department of the Interior et al.

However, the court did determine that the agencies violated NEPA by making substantial changes between the draft and final environmental impact statement by designating 2.8 million additional acres of sage-grouse focal areas in Nevada.

3. Land Use I Region 5
The District Court for the Eastern District of California vacated a prior decision and granted the Forest Service’s Motion for Summary Judgment on a National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) claim regarding the Coonrod Cultural Site in Winnemem Wintu Tribe et al. v. United States Forest Service.

The court in this case found that, as the plaintiffs were “a non-federally recognized Indian tribe” and as there was no indication of the plaintiffs’ requested consulting party status in writing, the Forest Service did not violate NHPA. (09-01072, E.D. Cal.).

Litigation Update

1. Wildlife I Region 4
Plaintiffs filed an amended NFMA complaint in the District Court for the District of Idaho against the Salmon-Challis National Forest for authorizing livestock grazing in the Copper Basin area of the Big Lost River watershed in Western Watersheds Project v. U.S. Forest Service.

New Cases
1. Grazing & Land Use I Region 5
Plaintiffs filed suit in the Eastern District of California challenging the authorization of cattle grazing on the Bell Meadow, Eagle Meadow, and Herring Creek allotments in the Stanislaus National Forest in Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center et al. v. Higgins et al. Plaintiffs claim theses authorizations violate the Clean Water Act, California’s Porter Cologne Act, the Rescissions Act, NEPA, and NFMA.

(Note: this is the case mentioned here on this blog- of interest is that there is not a new decision being challenged but the fact that the authorization is continuing without a new NEPA decision (the Rescissions Act said that everyone was on a timetable to complete their grazing NEPA)

2. Wildlife I Region 9
Challenging the NorthMet Mining Project and Land Exchange (NorthMet Mine) on the Superior National Forest, Plaintiffs filed Endangered Species Act (ESA) claims against the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in Center for Biological Diversity et al. v. Zinke et al. The project would involve the exchange of federal land with PolyMet Mining Inc. to be used for an open-pit mine.

3. Land Use I Region 9
Alleging FLPMA violations for appraising federal lands for their timber value instead of for mining, plaintiffs filed a complaint against the NorthMet Mining Project and Land Exchange on the Superior National Forest in the District Court of the District of Minnesota in Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy et al. v. Tidwell et al.

4 Land Use I Region 9
Plaintiffs filed Weeks Act and NEPA claims challenging the issuance of the NorthMet Mining Project and Land Exchange Decision by the Forest Service on the Superior National Forest in Save Our Sky Blue Waters et al. v. United States Forest Service et al

Attached is the whole Litigation Report plus the other documents.SaveOurSky v Forest ServiceWinnemen Wintu Tribe v Forest ServiceWildEarth Guardians v Forest ServiceW Watersheds Project v Forest ServiceLitigation Weekly 04072017

“Inside the Forest Service” Replaces “People Places and Things”

Thanks to the Rocky Mountaineers for this one:

Welcome to the launch of my new, modernized communication product, “Inside the Forest Service.” I’m excited to bring this product to you in a new format aligned with our Strategic Plan. Explore “Inside the Forest Service” today and check back often — content is now updated daily.

Chief Tom Tidwell

The inaugural edition of “Inside the Forest Service,” is an employee-focused publication designed to highlight the outstanding work taking place throughout the agency. This publication replaces “The Chief’s Desk” or as it was commonly known, “People, Places and Things,” with a product that increases accessibility to feature stories stressing agency-wide interests and priorities.

“Inside the Forest Service” is a modernized approach to share information with employees and retirees. The publication is online and reachable with any device that connects to the internet. “Inside the Forest Service” will be updated regularly to provide timely stories, photographs and videos depicting the work we do to improve lives.

One of the more popular sections of “People, Places and Things” has been On the Move. For now, that portion will not be included in “Inside the Forest Service.” I know how important that section is to many, so don’t worry, it is not going away. We will still announce personnel moves in a weekly email most Friday afternoons.

Grazing Lawsuit on the Stanislaus National Forest

Photo of Bluff Meadow courtesy of CSERC

Julie Stevens of CSERC sent me this link and said that they would be willing to answer any questions about this lawsuit.
Here’s the link:

I’m working on trying to get the FS side of the story.

Relevant to our discussion of the concept of multiple use, I thought this quote was interesting:

The goal of this litigation is to protect water quality, public health, and at-risk resources — not to halt livestock grazing on national forest land,” Buckley noted. “But federal agencies such as the Forest Service need to comply with the Clean Water Act and appropriately protect water quality the same as anyone else. Laboratory results frequently detect fecal coliform pollution at levels above safe thresholds for recreational contact in streams affected by livestock. One laboratory test of a stream sample in 2016 showed stream pollution more than 100 times the threshold level. In contrast, tested streams without any permitted livestock presence routinely show acceptable water quality results. When it comes to water quality in mountain streams, pollution by livestock matters.”

The conservation groups are open to discussion with USFS officials about steps that could settle this lawsuit. Key to any settlement would be agreement from the Forest Service to abide by its own resource regulations, to comply with environmental policies, to reduce livestock contamination of water, and to protect critical wildlife habitat when evidence of resource damage is documented.

“We support balanced public land management,” emphasized Dr. Britting of SFL. “That means that one commercial use (such as livestock grazing) should only be permitted to the degree that it does not cause significant harm to water quality, public health, threatened plants and wildlife, recreation, and scenic values on public land.”

I like how they laid out what they are looking for in a settlement (although probably not as specific enough as blog readers might prefer). However, it’s interesting that recreation seems to be seen more as a value than a use.