Merry Packers of Yesteryear

A good friend who worked in the Forest Service before the 1964 Wilderness Act asked me if I had heard of a Merry Packer. I had not heard of them. He then described this motorized contraption that ferried equipment up trails in remote areas. The full picture is here.

My friend Tom commented about their use:

I looked. It was hard not to. We had just broke camp and started down the trail when the morning fog boiling up out of the canyon burst a hole a couple of miles away across the gorge, and in that hole, perfectly framed in corpuscular rays, sparkled a waterfall. It was quite a sight… and possibly my last!
Landers stumbled on a raised root in the trail just as he pointed with his right hand at the waterfall. His left hand on the throttle squeezed involuntarily as he struggled for balance. The little engine revved, kicking the mechanical mule in the ass just as we came out of a switchback. We came WAY out. I was up front, leaning back on the handles, supposedly steering, hopping and tiptoeing over rocks and roots, my feet on the ground only now and then.
We were having way too much fun again with this thing, and, way out here in the Douglas fir forests of the Wind River District above the Columbia River Gorge, no one was looking….and we were getting paid, too! Without having to carry gear, we moved fast, almost effortlessly, and we cleared a lot of trail……until Landers spotted that waterfall. I was lifted in the air about two feet before going over the edge, followed by all of our stuff – chainsaws, axes, sleeping bags, raingear, food, canteens and mosquito nets. Only a sleeping bag landed on me as I tumbled. Thank God that machine missed me. Landers fell on his face in the trail, laughing.
 The adults in the Forest Service had declared us the Trail Crew, showed us how to start this thing, then sent us into the wilds. Its called a Merry Packer. They’re like those deer carriers, but motorized. Are they still around?”

I hadn’t seen one in all my years in the Forest Service. I’m sure they were used a lot, in trail construction, before the restrictions on “motorized use”. On a recent trip to Zion, I saw, maybe, its replacement, in this more modern world. I’m sure that they had to fly this machine up to this strategic spot on the East Rim Trail.



BLM’s O&C Land Plans

Greenwire has this item today:

BLM: Draft plans will dictate timber harvests on 2.6M acres in western Ore.

The new plans to be released by BLM will identify late-successional reserves designed to promote the old-growth forest ecosystem favored by owls, in addition to protected areas along streams and “harvest land base.”

The draft EIS tentatively adopts alternative “B,” which would split the harvest lands into zones for uneven-aged timber management as well as low- and moderate-intensity timber areas with regeneration harvest with varying levels of tree retention. The alternative would also designate 114 areas of critical environmental concern, where mineral development, off-highway vehicle use and other activities would be restricted.

Seeing the Forest


If you’re looking for something to watch on date night, you might enjoy “Seeing the Forest,” an FSEEE-produced 30-minute documentary released on-line today.

The movie chronicles the Siuslaw National Forest’s path to a fish and watershed restoration mission. It’s a sequel to “Torrents of Change,” which recounted how the 1996 flood helped galvanize and reinforce the Siuslaw’s on-going transformation. Now, 20 years later, “Seeing the Forest” picks up the story-line.

Why The State Approach Could Work Better for Sage Grouse

This is an oil and gas task force meeting with Governor Hickenlooper.  Another state policy experiment with people talking to each other.

This is an oil and gas task force meeting with Governor Hickenlooper. Another Colorado policy experiment, with people who disagree talking to each other.

Today there were a couple of articles on the sage grouse and Gardner’s bill that I think are worthy of interest. There is one in the Denver Post (may they live long and prosper!) here. Also a couple in E&E News here (I think you need a subscription for this one) and here .

So national groups tell us that ecosystems will unravel or at least grouse will die out, if states are allowed to pursue their own way (even for six years). I guess they think that states can’t be trusted with environmental policy. Of course, the Clean Air Act is an example of state responsibility with federal oversight and that seems to work. Do we have a reason to believe that states are “good on air and bad on critters?”. One of the reasons I’m not afraid is that I spent about six years working on the Colorado Roadless Rule. My experiences with the Colorado Roadless Rule involved all kinds of permutations (state-led and federal-led processes; different administration (3 state and 2 federal)) and so on.

It’s a well known fact that states are incubators for policy experiments. People have ideas and can carry them out without invoking The Big Players, and Partisanizing Everything. What happens in D.C. is that a simple policy idea quickly turns into something one party tries to bash the other party with. I don’t know why it didn’t happen in Colorado. It could be because we’re purple, or because Things Have To Get Done in a state.

Here are a couple of thoughts about why states can do things better. People who work for states know, and have databases with, a great deal of information that the feds do not. For example, when it was desired to restrict roads in roadless areas for undeveloped water rights, the state had the information on water rights. These kinds of issues could be accommodated in a state-specific rulemaking but would tend to get washed out at the national level. For one thing, water law is different in different states.

When our team met with representatives of national environmental groups it seemed like it was all about abstractions, and generalities and posturing and perhaps grandstanding. They would use words like PROTECTION and INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT and so on and weren’t really engaging at the scale of on the ground problems and issues. One national group said we had to “give them something” for them to support the rule. State and local environmental groups tended to want more specific changes.

As I recall, some wildlife people on the western slope wanted to cut down some trees or large brush for better habitat for some critter (a critter that wasn’t endangered) and their concerns were too small to be heard, because the goal was “words that please national groups.” Another example is that some people kept claiming “the science says” that you don’t need to cut down trees around communities (sound familiar?) and Mike King, State DNR Director, organized a meeting with elected officials from communities, fire people, and all the other interests in which each “side” selected three scientists to talk about fuel treatments. When I think about that meeting, I think 1) state people know the biophysical side of the issue and they know the people such that 2) people need to be more or less accountable for what they say. People are used to “gettin’ er’ done” in terms of policy. Grandstanding is not much tolerated in that kind of group. I think that the level of discourse at that meeting, was much higher than my experiences in D.C., where one side at a time tends to come in, and the Feds just listen and not question or disagree. Obviously I believe open discussions of scientific and other points of view should be valued and be a part of any public process.

So that is my experience. Better discourse, more knowledge, more transparency, and ultimately a better policy outcome.

Dave Freudenthal, the (Democrat) former Governor of Wyoming, made a similar point in a letter to Secretary Salazar in 2010 about oil and gas regulation:

In terms of development, I have always been a strong proponent of balance. In general, given the right information and proper motivation, we have usually found our way to a development array that meets the terms of those that understand the need for both production and protection. Frankly, we know that there will never be a meeting of the minds of those in the “drill here, drill now” crowd and the “not one blade of grass” crowd, mainly because neither side is willing to give toward the middle. Unfortunately, Washington, D.C. seems to go from pillar to post to placate what is perceived as a key constituency. I only half-heartedly joke with those in industry that, during the prior administration, their names were chiseled above the chairs outside the office of the Assistant Secretary for Lands and Minerals. With the changes announced yesterday, I fear that we are merely swapping the names above those same chairs to environmental interests, giving them a stranglehold on an already cumbersome process. Meanwhile in places like Cheyenne, Casper, Wamsutter and Cody, Wyoming, we in the middle simply want a good job, clean air, healthy watersheds and a place to hunt, fish and hike with our families.

As Governor Freudenthal said, who should be making decisions “in the middle”? A random mix of ideologues or the people who have to live there in open discussion with each other?

In my experience on the Colorado Roadless Rule, I saw better policy work actually being done when states and feds had to work together, as well as people with different perspectives, including political ones. I think the sage grouse and the people in Colorado deserve that quality of work.

Happy Earth Day!

P9193955-web P9193966-web P9193951-web

26 years after “protected” forests burned, in Yosemite National Park, this is what we now have. Chances are, it will burn again, before conifer trees can become established enough to resist the next inevitable wildfire. You might notice that even the manzanita is having trouble surviving. I doubt that John Muir intended this on public lands. This landscape is probably the future of parts of the Rim Fire, within Yosemite National Park.

Forest Service Litigation Weekly–April 20, 2015

Attached are the Weekly itself, and the court order related to the below:

Big Thorne │Forest Management │ Region 10

Circuit Court Denies Appellants’ Motion for Emergency Injunction of the Big Thorne Project on
the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska Conservation Council et al. v. U.S. Forest
Service et al
. On April 16, 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied
appellants, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council et al.’s motion for an emergency injunction
pending appeal in their challenge to the Big Thorne Project and the 2008 Tongass Forest Plan. The
Circuit’s order also granted the unopposed motion the consolidate the appeals and expedite briefing on
the merits. (15-35232, 9th Cir.)

Oh.. and here’s a disclaimer, which is valuable for any reading of this extremely useful newsletter:

The NFS Litigation Weekly Newsletter is provided to Forest Service employees for internal, informational purposes and is not intended to provide a legal/policy opinion or interpretation of its subject matter. Information presented in the Litigation Weekly is publicly available via official court records. Official court records should be consulted for the most complete and accurate discussion of each case.

2015_04_20 NFS Litigation Weekly20150416CircuitOrderEmergInjSEAC_v_USFS_BigThorne

Update From the Yosemite “Laboratory”

Here is a stitched-together panorama from the Foresta area of Yosemite National Park. I’ll have to pair it up with my historical version, one of these days. Restoration processes seem to be minimal, as re-burns continue to ravage the landscape, killing more old growth forests and eliminating more seed sources. Even the brush is dying off, due to a lack of organic matter in some of those granitic soils. With the 200-400 year old trees gone, we have to remember that these stand replacement fires, in this elevational band of the Sierra Nevada, weren’t very common before the 1800’s.

Foresta-panorama-crop-webYes, it IS important that we learn our lessons from the “Whatever Happens” management style of the Park Service. Indeed, we should really be looking closely at the 40,000+ acres of old growth mortality from the Rim Fire, too! Re-burns could start impacting the Rim Fire area, beginning this fire season.

Swiss Dude with Outsized Policy Influence

swiss dude

A shout-out to E&E News, and to an unnamed blog reader for sending this in.. I think this piece is important just because as a person up to my gills in some of these controversies, I had never heard of this chap. As regular readers know, it makes me uncomfortable from a social justice perspective that our country has set up a governance system for public lands that enfranchises some (rich people who have foundations) at the expense of others (people who work at the mill or make their living from ranching). It makes me uncomfortable from a political perspective that the views of distant landowners (e.g, this Swiss dude) override the views of local people and their elected officials. It sounds a bit, well, colonialist. And I know that is the way it is currently set up, but it just doesn’t seem right to me. Below is the article and some of the groups mentioned in certain of my experience have pretty much dictated policy (as in, if this group doesn’t like the wording, the policy ain’t happening). Again, much thanks to E&E for publishing this piece.)

A Swiss billionaire is forging a conservation legacy across the western United States and having an outsized influence on federal policies.

His name: Hansjorg Wyss.

The media-shy 79-year-old built a $6 billion fortune manufacturing medical devices, and he’s pledged to give more than half of it away to preserve the American West, among other philanthropic pursuits.

Hansjorg Wyss (pronounced “Hans-yorg Wees”) and his nonprofit, the Wyss Foundation, have so far donated more than $350 million to acquire land and buoy dozens of green groups molding lands policy in Washington, D.C., and Western communities.

“Hansjorg Wyss is a godsend to the conservation community,” said Bill Meadows, former president of the Wilderness Society, which has received significant Wyss funding. “Without their funding, all of our organizations would be much less equipped to do serious research, serious policy analysis.”

Industry-aligned groups say Wyss promotes radical environmentalists who block energy development and destroy jobs on Western lands.

“Wyss’s foreign money — tens of millions of dollars of it — takes American natural resources out of productive uses,” according to a profile of Wyss by the Center for Organizational Research and Education. The center is run by Richard Berman, a D.C. public relations consultant who runs attack campaigns against green groups.

Love him or hate him, Wyss’ policy footprint on Western lands is growing.

In late 2013, Wyss signed the “Giving Pledge,” an initiative started by Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates that asks wealthy individuals to give at least half of their wealth to charity.

Among Wyss’ biggest gifts:

$4.25 million in 2013 to help buy back 58,000 acres of oil and gas leases in Wyoming’s Hoback Basin, a prized retreat for rafters, fishermen and hunters, and a major migration route for wildlife.

$2 million in 2013 to remove the century-old Veazie Dam and restore fish passage in Maine’s Penobscot River.

$35 million in 2010 to help purchase 310,000 acres of private timberlands to protect grizzly bear and wolverine habitat in northern Montana, stitching together a checkerboard of federal, state and private lands.

In 2013, the politically connected Wyss Foundation quietly donated roughly $19 million, much of it to conservation nonprofits that lobby for new wilderness and national monuments and curbs on drilling, mining and grazing on public lands, according to the foundation’s most recent 990 report to the Internal Revenue Service.

The foundation gets relatively little media exposure given its influence. Wyss gives few interviews and declined to speak for this article.

Mr. Wyss

Wyss, 79, is an avid hiker and major supporter of Western land conservation. Photo courtesy of the Wyss Foundation.

Yet environmental leaders and former Interior Department officials say Wyss is in a pantheon of conservation luminaries that includes William Hewlett and David Packard.

“His foundation has become one of the pillars of philanthropy in the American West,” said David Hayes, who served as Interior deputy secretary during President Obama’s first term and was a senior fellow for the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, another major backer of land conservation.

Wyss’ foundation, which has more than $2 billion in assets, in the past several months has expanded its philanthropic work beyond the West. It gave $10 million to rebuild ocean fisheries in Peru and Canada, $6 million to combat illegal wildlife trafficking in eastern Africa, and $385,000 to support environmental journalism, including two new reporting jobs in D.C. and Denver.

Wyss’ work is filling a major funding gap as Republicans propose gutting federal conservation programs and as another major lands funder, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, is pulling back from the West.

Packard recently concluded a six-year, $122 million Western conservation program, leaving some of its grantees in a financial hole.

The program, which was led by Rhea Suh before she left in 2009 to head the Interior Department’s budget office, was “one of the largest environmental initiatives by philanthropy” in the West’s history, even though it fell well short of its $200 million funding goal, according to a report released this month by California Environmental Associates.

“Many organizations grew in size and sophistication during the subprogram, but some are finding it difficult to secure funding to replace the Packard Foundation investments,” the report concluded.

‘Abiding love’ for the West

Wyss, who splits his time between his native Switzerland and his home in Wilson, Wyo., at the foot of the Teton Range, is an avid outdoorsman who has hiked some of the most remote landscapes in the Lower 48.

“I know the West like my back pocket,” Wyss said in a 2010 interview with the Associated Press.

His love for the West began in 1958, when he took a summer job as a surveyor for the Colorado Highway Department. Wyss was impressed that public lands in the United States had been preserved from development and kept open to all its citizens.

In the Swiss Alps, there were already “too many ski lifts, too many resorts, too many hotels,” he told the AP. “In the United States, we have a chance to protect some of them, not only for Americans but for people all around the world to benefit.”

Wyss returned to the United States to attend the Harvard Business School, where he earned a Master of Business Administration in 1965.

Wyss built his fortune through medical device manufacturer Synthes USA, which he founded in 1974 and sold in 2012 to Johnson & Johnson for $20.2 billion cash and stock, according to Forbes.

His trips west to hike the Rocky Mountains and explore the Grand Canyon were catalysts for his later philanthropic work, according to people who know him. He still hikes, cross-country skis, climbs mountains and backpacks.

He is a “quietly philanthropic person” with “an abiding love affair with the West,” said Chris Wood, president of Trout Unlimited, which has received more than $6.5 million from Wyss over the past decade, Wood said.

“He is a guy who brings intellect, knowledge, passion and commitment together,” Meadows said.

Wyss’ hiking prowess belies his age, said Bill Hedden, executive director of the Grand Canyon Trust.

Hedden said he hiked with Wyss six years ago in the Grand Canyon along “the most difficult, treacherous route on the South Rim,” a multi-day trek that required scrambling down steep talus fields and skimming across razor-sharp Kaibab limestone.

More recently, Wyss and Hedden plumbed “the Maze,” a remote, sandstone labyrinth in Canyonlands National Park in southern Utah that requires experienced route finding and a high level of self-reliance. The expedition navigated a half-foot of snow and temperatures nearing single digits, Hedden said.

“You go out with Hansjorg, and you’re probably in for a real expedition,” Hedden said. “He connects to the place by loving the place.”

Wyss has a daughter, Amy, who lives in Wyoming and is also a billionaire, according to Forbes.

According to Wyss Foundation President Molly McUsic, Wyss spends little time in D.C. and rarely meets with policymakers. The foundation has 14 staff members in D.C. and Durango, Colo., but it does not lobby or take policy positions, she said.

Yet the foundation has deep connections to the Beltway.

McUsic was a counselor to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt during the Clinton administration, where she was involved in the designation of the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument and seven other national monuments under the Antiquities Act in 2000.

The Wyss Foundation’s vice chairman, John Leshy, served as Babbitt’s solicitor and was co-chairman of the Obama administration transition team for the Interior Department.

Past and current Wyss consultants have served in high levels of the Obama administration.

John Podesta, who until last month was Obama’s top environmental adviser, was paid $87,000 for “consulting” by the HJW Foundation, another of Wyss’ foundations (now merged into the larger Wyss Foundation), according to Podesta’s financial disclosure statement.

Matt Lee-Ashley, who was a top Interior official during Obama’s first term and is now director of public lands for the Center for American Progress, is a part-time consultant for Wyss, whose foundations have donated millions of dollars to CAP.

In addition to his philanthropy, Wyss is on the governing council of the Wilderness Society and serves on boards of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Grand Canyon Trust and CAP — major movers and shakers in federal lands policy.

Who gets money

The foundation’s 2013 grant recipients are a who’s who of Western lands advocacy.

The largest grant was $2.9 million for the New Venture Fund, whose initiatives include the Western Energy Project and which supports the “responsible development of oil, gas, and oil shale on our federal public lands” in the Rocky Mountain West, according to NVF’s website.

Wyss gave nearly the same amount to Trout Unlimited; about $2.5 million to the Portland, Ore.-based Western Rivers Conservancy; and $1.5 million to the Durango-based Conservation Lands Foundation, which supports the Bureau of Land Management’s National Conservation Lands and the designation of new national monuments.

Smaller grants went to the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership ($750,000), Backcountry Hunters and Anglers ($300,000), the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance ($280,000), Great Old Broads for Wilderness ($90,000) and WildEarth Guardians ($53,000).

“We look at a wide range of organizations that are looking to expand public access” to Western lands, McUsic said. “We look for groups that are building support locally.”

Unlike its foundation peers, Wyss money is almost exclusively dedicated to land conservation. A big chunk of Wyss funding is for general support for nongovernmental organizations, rather than specific projects.

“They give grants to organizations that know their stuff and then they get out of the way,” Wood said. “They don’t micromanage.”

But foundations that receive Wyss money issue their own grants — often with discreet policy objectives like designating national monuments, bolstering conservation funding or lobbying lands agencies to set aside public lands from drilling.

Take the Denver-based Western Conservation Foundation, which received $1.6 million from Wyss in 2013. WCF that year issued dozens of grants to mobilize sportsmen, Hispanics, veterans and business owners to support conservation of public lands, according to its 990.

WCF gave $198,000 to the Portland-based Vet Voice Foundation to support designation of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico — which Obama declared a monument in March 2013 — and to “elevate veterans’ voices on conservation.”

WCF gave more than $100,000 to other nonprofits to support protections for Nevada’s Gold Butte and Idaho’s Boulder-White Clouds area, which are candidates for national monument designations, and New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Colorado’s Browns Canyon, which were recently designated by the president.

The WCF grants also supported direct advocacy with top Interior officials.

One $5,000 grant to Visit Mendocino County Inc. was for “thanking Sally Jewell for visiting Mendocino County” after the Interior secretary in late 2013 visited the county’s Stornetta Public Lands, which conservationists and business groups including Visit Mendocino were lobbying Obama to designate as a national monument.

In March 2014, Obama used the Antiquities Act to add 1,665 acres of the Stornetta public lands to the California Coastal National Monument.

WCF in 2013 also donated $46,000 to the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership for a “sportsmen reception for Sally Jewell & briefing for policy makers.”

The Wyss Foundation gave about $4.5 million from 2011 to 2013 to the Conservation Lands Foundation, where Wyss is a founding board member. CLF supports friends groups that help BLM maintain its national monu””We look at a wide range of organizations that are looking to expand public access” to Western lands, McUsic said. “We look for groups that are building support locally.”

A “Single Use Sustained Yield Act”?

An essay in Evergreen magazine by Barry Wynsma: The “Single Use Sustained Yield Act”: A Thoughtful Proposal.”

“I believe there is a better way to free the shackles of the Forest Service foresters and allow them to get busy managing a portion of our National Forests. I’d like to propose that Congress enact a new environmental law titled the “Single Use Sustained Yield” Act. “SUSY,” for short.

“SUSY” would designate 25 per cent of every National Forest for sustained yield timber management. These areas would be exempt from the project level NEPA process, and exempt from Endangered Species Act (ESA) and National Forest Management Act (NFMA) sensitive species considerations including critical habitat designations. The lands would be managed solely for sustained yield timber production, meaning harvest would never exceed annual growth.”