Settlement: opening roads to motorized use requires NEPA (take 2)

It’s the Pike-San Isabel this time.  The issue appears to be “unauthorized and unanalyzed” routes.  It’s not clear whether those are two different things, but I think the point is that when a Motor Vehicle Use Map allows motorized use on user-created (“unauthorized?”) roads, the map becomes an authorization that triggers NEPA, ESA, NFMA consistency and travel plan “minimization” requirements.  The MVUM is not just displaying an open road system that was authorized in a previous travel planning and NEPA process (as was envisioned by the Travel Management Rule).

Thanks to WildEarth Guardians, we can look at the settlement agreement.  In it the Forest Service agrees to conduct travel planning using the proper procedures (I’ll bet that was a hard thing for them to accept …), agrees to some specific aspects of the process, and will undertake some interim protection measures in specified areas.  That’s a pretty standard formula, I think – do/re-do the process, and meanwhile don’t take some actions (in this case that means interim closing and “unopening” some roads).

What I need someone to explain to me is this.  Some motorized user groups intervened as defendants, but their signature is not on the settlement agreement.  I thought intervention allowed the parties to contest a settlement in some way.  Can we assume that they didn’t in this case?

Montana Wilderness Association Goes Off-The-Rails

If anyone saw the Missoulian on  November 16th it was hard not to notice an epic, off-the-rails rant from the Montana Wilderness Association’s ‘communications manager’ Ted Brewer (entirely propped up by strawman arguments) against longtime environmental and public lands champion George Ochenski. Here’s how Ted Brewer’s Montana Wilderness Association piece opened up:

Recently the Missoulian published two columns on its Opinion page that were, topically speaking, quite different. Psychologically speaking, however, they were quite similar.

One column claimed the U.S. government is controlling the weather through commercial airliner exhaust, known as “chemtrails.” The other was George Ochenski’s column claiming the Forest Service is using tax dollars to “buy” the support of conservation groups for logging, grazing and other resource extraction projects.

A friend of mine who used to work at a daily newspaper calls the Opinion page a “fact-free zone,” but these two conspiracy theories, printed on the same day, turned the Missoulian’s Opinion page into a paranoia playground, where President Obama makes it rain and an extravagantly funded Forest Service slips bags of cash to conservation groups while dining on filet of bull trout and leg of Canada lynx.

I’m the communications manager at Montana Wilderness Association, certainly one of the top entries on Ochenski’s list of enemies and a longtime, routine target of his column. (If Ochenski goes a few months without blasting MWA, I start to wonder if his mind might be slipping.) I’ve also been a writer for the past 20-odd years. I’ve written a fair number of magazine stories that have required me to dig for the sources that back my claims. It’s part of the job and the fun of doing credible journalism.

But once you start making outrageous claims without providing proof, then you’ve joined the ranks of birthers, chemtrail conspiracy mongers, and other ideological zealots and crackpots with personal and political axes to grind. That’s where we find Ochenski these days, so desperate to smear his enemies that he compares them to Nazis (yes, he did that) or tries to embroil them in controversies of his own paranoid concoction.

In the opinion piece, the Montana Wilderness Association compares Ochenski to “birthers, chemtrail conspiracy mongers, and other ideological zealots and crackpots.” The Montana Wilderness Association also calls on the Missoulian to replace George Ochenski (their very popular, weekly progressive columnist).

Apparently, what caused the Montana Wilderness Association to go completely off the deep end was the following information Ochenski included in a recent opinion column, in which he highlighted the comments by Wilderness Legend Stewart Brandborg (the only living person who was responsible for passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964). Brandborg recently warned groups like MWA at a Wilderness Conference to “resist the fuzzy, fuzzy Neverland of collaboration,” because Brandborg believes that groups like MWA are giving up huge chunks of America’s public lands legacy in exchange for basically what amounts to some Wilderness crumbs.

What’s strange is that it’s absolutely no secret to anyone that for the past 10 years the Montana Wilderness Association has been ‘collaborating’ with the timber industry and others (sometimes in secret meetings, such as during the formation of the Beaverhead Partnership) to dramatically increase industrial logging on public National Forests in Montana through politicians simply mandating higher logging levels.

Not only this, but the Montana Wilderness Association has also gone to court to support more public lands logging in Montana. For example, just last month the Montana Wilderness Association took the incredible step of actually intervening in a timber sale lawsuit on the Kootenaa National Forest. The logging project MWA is in federal court supporting actually calls for nearly 9,000 acres of logging, including over 3,000 acres of clearcuts in critical lynx habitat.

Even more amazing is the fact that the Montana Wilderness Association is being represented in court supporting this timber sale by timber industry lawyers from the American Forest Resource Council. That’s right! The very same timber industry lawyers at the American Forest Resource Council who sued to stop the Roadless Area Conservation Rule are now representing the Montana Wilderness Association in court to support 9,000 acres of logging, including over 3,000 acres of clearcuts in critical lynx habitat on the Kootenai National Forest.

Here’s the part of George Ochenski’s column (in his own words, not in the lies and twisted strawman arguments of the Montana Wilderness Association) that sent the Montana Wilderness Association over the cliff:

If one wants to see where millions of federal taxpayer dollars have gone to buy collaborative partners, check out this link from the Southwest Crown of the Continent laying out the Forest Service’s publicly funded largesse to groups such as Trout Unlimited, the Montana Wilderness Association, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and many more.

This scheme pays taxpayer funds to private groups that provide ‘in-kind services’ to collaborate with the federal agency’s goals, many of which are directly connected to increased logging, grazing and resource extraction from public lands under the rubric of ‘forest health’ or ‘restoration.’

Yes, the truth is that the Forest Service is actually giving ‘collaborators’ with multi-million non-profit groups like the Montana Wilderness Association, Trout Unlimited and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation millions of taxpayer dollars to help manage public lands! In the case of the Montana Wilderness Association, they collected $100,000 in taxpayer money from the U.S. Forest Service to do trail work on Forest Service lands. Isn’t that an incredibly slippery slope that threatens to compromise the “Keep It Public” mantra we so often hear from these groups? Wouldn’t it be better for taxpayer money to simply fund the U.S. Forest Service to do its job, rather than having the Forest Service give this taxpayer money to multi-million non-profit groups who ‘collaborate’ with the Forest Service?

Honestly, given the Montana Wilderness Association very well-documented love affair with ‘collaboration’ and given the Montana Wilderness Association’s very well-documented demands for more taxpayer-subsidized public lands logging on National Forests in Montana (despite terrible lumber markets, despite global economic realities, etc) it’s just bizarre why MWA would be so upset with George Ochenski for pointing out the fact that MWA and other groups have been able to collectively get millions of dollars to hire their own staff and get paid for their volunteers to manage our public lands.

As Keith Hammer with the Swan View Coalition recently pointed out:

While these funds on the one hand enable partners to do some monitoring and watershed restoration work by repairing or decommissioning roads, it also appears to silence public criticisms by partners of the more controversial timber sales being conducted under the guise of “forest restoration.” Moreover, some SWCC partners have collectively promoted“restoration” logging and asked Congress to work with collaborators and not with “organizations and individuals who oppose collaborative approaches to forest management.

If you love America’s National Forests and our tremendous public lands legacy please don’t be lulled to sleep by groups like the Montana Wilderness Association.

The bottom line is that some of these very well-funded, multi-million groups are using ‘collaboration’ in an attempt to greatly increase public lands logging (including MWA’s well-documented calls for politicians to simply mandate huge increases in National Forest logging levels), while at the same time they are using ‘collaboration’ to secure huge chunks of taxpayer funds (via the Forest Service) in order to increase their staff size and essential embark down that slippery slope where the management of America’s National Forests is essentially ‘out-sourced’ and ‘privatized.’

More forest plan non-collaborators

On the Blue Mountain forest plan revisions:

Several of those who testified said even if access is restricted, it doesn’t mean they’ll stop from using the forests.

“There’s more of us than there are of them, and we won’t comply,” one man commented. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

Another person voiced the opinion that the Forest Service doesn’t have the authority to restrict access.

“We don’t have to listen to them,” he said.

I wonder if these folks would be talking the same way (about trespassing) if this land had been privatized by their compatriots during the sage brush rebellion.

(Why is it that environmentalists who try to enforce the law are called “extremists,” and people who threaten to break the law are called “patriots?”)

Big Sale! 50% Off Wood Stoves!

[Image courtesy of USDA]

Would you like to buy a $1,000 pellet stove at half price? Last month, the Forest Service announced that it is happy to pay the other half to promote “leveraging the market for low value wood.”

To get in on this gravy train, find 100 people who want to buy a new pellet stove (a good use of social media). Call yourselves a “biomass consumer cooperative” with a $500 membership fee — half the stove’s cost. The Forest Service will then grant your “cooperative” $50,000 to pay for the other half. What a deal! Now you and your 99 new friends can enjoy a sweet new pellet stove to warm your house at half-price! If you’d prefer cash, just turn around and sell your new stove on eBay for $800, pocketing a cool $300 profit!

Big and small mills lobby for piece of the timber pie

An article from E&E News today, added to the NCFP library as a PDF….

Tucked deep in Congress’ bill to fund the government in 2015 was a request to the Forest Service: Get moving on a long-stalled rule that could aid the survival of America’s small timber mills.

The report language “strongly encouraged” the agency to write a directive that could ensure small mills are not bullied out of federal timber contracts by larger, better-capitalized corporations.


California spotted owl listing process

As Larry mentioned a month ago, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service has made a positive 90-day finding on a petition to list the California spotted owl under ESA.  This means that listing may be warranted, and the agency is soliciting additional comments by November 17.

The action was taken in response to a petition last December by the Wild Nature Institute and the John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute.  A second petition was submitted by Sierra Forest Legacy and Defenders of Wildlife in August.  The SFL website lists the new scientific information that supports listing, which among other things downplays the idea that fires are bad for owls.   The FWS response to the earlier petition states:  “Recent research has focused on use of burned forests by CSO and has concluded that unlogged burned areas may be important to reproductive success and continued occupancy.” 

The petition response also implicates national forest plans as another detrimental change that has occurred that must be considered in determining the adequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms for protecting the species:

  • 2004a USDA. This amendment to the 2001 US Forest Service Forest Plans
    (USDA 2001) allowed increased or new timber harvest, thinning. fuels
    reduction. post fire logging. etc. in areas previously managed for CSO.
  • USDA 2013b. Management in the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit
    allows clear cut timber harvest and removal of larger diameter trees (>30″
    dbh) in CSO habitat and previously occupied nest areas.

It is currently Forest Service policy to not contribute to listing under ESA.

Gypsum, CO Biomass Plant Update: Fires, ‘fraudulent transfers’ & ‘civil conspiracy’…Oh my!

Over the past few years this blog has covered a few articles related to the Gypsum biomass plant in Colorado.

In fact, back in August 2013 this blog shared an article in which “U.S. Sen. Mark Udall said the Gypsum biomass power plant is a “win-win-win” project when he and state Sen. Gail Schwartz toured the plant’s construction site on Friday afternoon.”

So what’s happened since that August 2013 proclamation of a “win-win-win?”

Well, according to an article written by Josh Schlossberg with the Biomass Monitor:

Eagle Valley Clean Energy, an 11.5-megawatt biomass power facility in Gypsum, Colorado started operating in December 2013, only to have its conveyor belt catch fire in December 2014. Spokespersons said the facility would be back online shortly, yet as of October, it’s still offline. There have been no further media reports investigating why the facility still isn’t operating, and multiple calls and emails to the facility from The Biomass Monitor were not returned.

Another thorn in Eagle Valley’s claw is a lawsuit filed against the company in U.S. District Court in June 2015 by Wellons, Inc., an Oregon-based corporation that designed and built the biomass facility.

Wellons is suing Eagle Valley Clean Energy for $11,799,864 for breach of contract, accusing the company of “fraudulent transfers” and “civil conspiracy,” involving the transferring of $18.5 million of federal subsidies to “insider” parties in an alleged effort to hide the money. The money was issued to the facility from the federal government under Section of 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known as the Stimulus, involving payments to reimburse companies building renewable energy facilities.

Wellons claims that, on top of the nearly twelve million dollars Eagle Valley must pay them, they are owed past due interest of $1,185,433.56, with debt accruing at $3254.90 per day.

Another bump in the road for Eagle Valley involves the Chapter 11 bankcruptcy of the logging contractor that provides them the trees to fuel the facility, West Range Reclamation. West Range has provided nearly all of the wood to the facility since it opened, mostly from beetle-killed lodgepole pine from the White River National Forest.

Ouch, eh? So essentially every single thing celebrated before the Gypsum Biomass Plant was built turned out – in reality (and in only a short 2 year timeframe) – to be a tremendous disaster. Hopefully the media in Colorado will do a follow up investigation, because as Schlossberg pointed out above, “There have been no further media reports investigating why the facility still isn’t operating, and multiple calls and emails to the facility from The Biomass Monitor were not returned.”

Make sure to check out the rest of Schlossberg’s article to read about more recent growing pains with other wood-burning biomass plants in Florida, Wisconsin, Texas and Hawaii.