White Paper: Emerging Frustration Among Citizens’ Collaborative Groups

Folks, I recently came across “WHITE PAPER: Understanding and Addressing Emerging Frustration Among Citizens’ Collaborative Groups Interacting with the USDA Forest Service.” The authors write that “the window of opportunity to accomplish meaningful restoration of large landscapes of our nation’s national forests through citizen collaboration may be closing, as evidenced by a recently published collective statement of 19 organizations indicting FS collaborative processes and pledging not to participate in such efforts.”

Can anyone point me to that collective statement?


Forest Service strategy offers candid look at system in disarray

Article from The Montana Standard:

U.S. Forest Service strategy offers candid look at system in disarray

A new strategy for managing public lands for recreation, heritage and wilderness paints a bleak picture of the U.S. Forest Service’s own ability to tackle the job.

“You could say this looks like a D-minus report card,” said George Bain, Forest Service Region 1 director of recreation, lands, minerals, heritage and wilderness. “To us, this is how it is. We wanted to take a good, hard look and develop a strategy for how to work in that world. We don’t have all the money we’d want. We don’t have all the workforce we’d want. We don’t have the ability to take care of everything the way we’d like. This is the landscape we’re working in. Let’s see how to address this.”


OREGON STANDOFF: Timber collapse fuels resentment of federal policy (Greenwire)

From Greenwire today. Mentions that “the Forest Service banned the cutting of old-growth ponderosa pine” in 1995. The ban was a prohibition on cutting trees larger than 21 inches DBH (the “Eastside Screens” — background here), so of course that didn’t ban all old-growth, just the ones bigger than 21 inches.

The article has a photo of the old Hines Lumber Co. mill, with part of the roof missing.




Timber collapse fuels resentment of federal policy

Debate reignites over Colo. roadless rule exception

From Greenwire today….


Debate reignites over Colo. roadless rule exception

More than 300,000 comments have flooded the Forest Service as the long-running battle over coal mining in remote Colorado forests continues to roil.

The Obama administration is trying to reinstate a section of the 2012 Colorado roadless rule — a joint effort between federal and state leaders — that set aside 4.2 million acres of Colorado national forest for conservation.

The so-called North Fork exception allows development in 20,000 acres of the Gunnison National Forest. The area is already home to the West Elk coal mine, which bankrupt Arch Coal Inc. is looking to expand.

Environmentalists have gathered more than 150,000 comments opposing the proposal, but Colorado Mining Association President Stuart Sanderson said the groups are just trying to stuff the ballot box against a compromise rule that has bipartisan support in Colorado, including from current Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration.

Environmental groups successfully blocked the exception in 2014 when a federal judge ruled the Forest Service had failed to properly account for its climate impacts (Greenwire, Nov. 12, 2014).

Instead of appealing, the Obama administration is now trying to answer the questions raised by the court in its bid to reinstate the North Fork provision (Greenwire, Nov. 19, 2015).

According to the Forest Service, expanded mining would produce roughly 1 million to 6 million tons of greenhouse gases annually and roughly 12 million to 36 million more during combustion and shipping if the full exemption was reinstated, the administration’s preferred option.

Environmentalists contend Arch mining an extra 170 million tons of coal represents 130 million extra tons of carbon dioxide — roughly equal to Colorado’s annual output.

“States are formulating efforts to comply with the Clean Power Plan,” said Anna McDevitt, lead organizer with Environment Colorado. “A mining project that will spew additional carbon pollution and displace 40,000 gigawatt-hours of renewable energy from the grid is counterproductive to both state and federal priorities.”

Earthjustice and the Sierra Club each gathered 50,000 comments opposing the North Fork exception. Friends of the Earth, the Climate Reality Project, WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity also gathered another 52,000 comments.

“The public has spoken loud and clear: The Forest Service’s plan threatens our children’s future on a livable planet,” said Earthjustice attorney Ted Zukoski.

Leasing moratorium, climate plan

Maintaining a contiguous roadless area not only protects wildlife, but WildEarth Guardians climate and energy advocate Jeremy Nichols argues it will not affect Arch, as the company already has 10 years’ worth of coal under lease.

“President Obama just announced a much-needed and long-overdue halt to new federal coal leasing in order to look seriously at the climate costs of the program,” said Michael Saul, senior public lands attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity (Greenwire, Jan. 15).

“It makes no sense to undermine this bold step by rushing through a costly, unneeded and polluting loophole to allow more coal mining in Colorado’s roadless forests,” he said.

The move also “makes no sense” to Friends of the Earth campaigner Marissa Knodel following Arch’s filing for bankruptcy protection last week (Greenwire, Jan. 11).

“The time for keeping dirty fossil fuels like coal in the ground is now,” she said, repeating the slogan of a mounting environmental campaign (Greenwire, Jan. 20).

Companies point to the Forest Service estimating emissions from the North Fork area would amount to less than 1 percent of national emissions.

“Clearly, mining over the life of this operation will have no impact on climate,” according to the Colorado Mining Association, which has more than 900 members in Colorado and the West.

Environmentalists also have a long history of manufacturing comments thorough online petitions to misrepresent their level of support, Sanderson said.

Not only is mining allowed in a sliver of the massive roadless area, coal remains an important global energy source, something Hickenlooper’s administration has recognized.

In a Jan. 15 letter to the Forest Service, Colorado Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Mike King said the exception was fundamental to balancing conservation and coal mines that “provide critical jobs to Coloradans.”

According to the Colorado Mining Association, North Fork coal supports 723 jobs and generates $286 million in revenue.

“The destruction of these jobs and services, which anti-coal interests seek, would devastate and impoverish rural Colorado and deprive the state and the nation of a source of clean, affordable energy essential to meeting the requirements of the Clean Air Act,” the group wrote.

A-to-Z Timber Sale a bad idea, and a bad model

The following piece was written by Jeff Juel, National Forest Chair of the Upper Columbia River Group of the Sierra Club, which successfully objected to the Mill Creek A-to-Z timber sale, and appeared this weekend in the Spokesman Review.

What do folks on this blog think about the fact that the Forest Service contracted a private timber company, Vaagen Brothers Lumber, to run the NEPA process from start to finish on this public lands timber sale? Or that “an agency contract expert expressed concern about the objectivity of this new process, asking how the Forest Service rationalizes the ability of the contractor to invest upfront without any guarantee of compensation and ‘without artificially deflating the stumpage value or artificially inflating the costs of other service work.’”

If this is the path that ‘collaboration’ is taking on public lands what other significant red flags does this situation raise? – mk

Privatizing our national forests doesn’t mean ownership necessarily changes hands. It does, however, mean control is handed over to a private entity.

The concern about keeping public forests in public hands was one reason why, in August, conservationists objected to a major timber sale in the Mill Creek watershed northeast of Colville: the A-to-Z Timber Sale on the Colville National Forest. In October, the U.S. Forest Service did right by withdrawing the timber sale.

The Mill Creek watershed was heavily and unsustainably logged years ago. Only about 154 acres of ancient forest remain out of 12,802 acres of national forest in the project area. That’s about 1 percent.

Given prior damage to wildlife habitats and watershed values, should further logging occur? If so, how much? Answering these questions requires careful, thorough, and unbiased analysis. Indeed, that’s what the laws protecting our National Forests require; laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and laws informed by nearly two centuries of deforestation on the American continent.

NEPA requires an objective process be completed for every proposed project and decision affecting federally managed lands and resources. Various alternatives are to be explored, environmental impacts thoroughly analyzed and disclosed, and scientific controversies and public concerns fully aired. And it’s the federal agency’s job, in this case the U.S. Forest Service, to prepare the environmental analysis on our behalf.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, the Forest Service contracted a private timber company, Vaagen Brothers Lumber, to run the NEPA process from start to finish, or from “A to Z” as this pilot project is revealingly titled. According to Vaagen Brothers, they’ve already spent about a million dollars.

In an internal document found on the A-to-Z project website, an agency contract expert expressed concern about the objectivity of this new process, asking how the Forest Service rationalizes the ability of the contractor to invest upfront without any guarantee of compensation and “without artificially deflating the stumpage value or artificially inflating the costs of other service work.” The Forest Service replied that it was presented that way by Vaagen Brothers “and supported by the collaborative group… Contractor would recoup its costs by not having to competitively bid on the timber.”

Can the public really expect a logging company’s analysis of environmental risks and benefits to be objective and thorough? Or provide a balanced exploration of the scientific controversies say, over whether logging truly restores fire-dependent ecosystems when the logging company puts up $1 million to kick-start the project?

Having private, local collaborators cheer on the privatizing of our national forests should not be comforting, even if collaborators include environmental groups. This A-to-Z sale of the NEPA process to the highest bidder represents an ominous step towards privatizing our national forests.

To make ethical decisions about our national forests and the environment generally, actual or potential conflicts of interest must be disclosed and understood. For example, it’s not widely known that The Lands Council, one of the collaborating groups, takes annual contributions from Vaagen Brothers Lumber, one of its so-called “business partners.”

Decisions must be made by professionals, subject to strict codes of conduct, after the analysis is completed, not as a vaguely implied condition of the contract granting rights to prepare the NEPA documents. We must restore ethical integrity in our government’s decision-making process in order to restore ecological integrity in our forests.

The A-to-Z also teaches important lessons nationally because Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers has touted it as a pilot process in moving legislation (HR 2647), impacting the entire national forest system, through the U.S. House of Representatives. This deceptively named “Resilient Federal Forests Act” is, as noted by the Seattle Times, “an opportunistic remedy that doesn’t pass the smell test, and the Senate needs to douse it quickly.”

This bill would exempt national forest logging up to 15,000 acres from normal NEPA analysis. Citizens challenging illegal and damaging timber sales in court would be required to post a bond upfront, making the constitutional right of judicial redress unaffordable in most cases. The bill would prohibit important watershed improvement by requiring local county commissioners to agree to the decommissioning of unneeded roads on national forests. It would also severely weaken protections for ancient forests in eastern Oregon and Washington, such as on the Colville.

Our national forests help define the Inland Northwest. The A-to-Z Timber Sale and the shenanigans in Congress are a reminder that constant public vigilance is a price we pay to keep our forests standing.

You be the forest supervisor

This a quote from the Lolo National Forest Supervisor included in his decision on an administrative objection to a timber project near Missoula.  It’s not an obvious case of fuel treatments in the front country vs backcountry, but rarely does the Forest Service state its priorities more clearly:

In his Nov. 9 letter, Garcia wrote “I recognize the value of treating (national forest) lands adjacent to private property, however the primary intent of the Marshall Woods project is forest restoration.”

It’s been kind of an academic question before now, but I happen to live within range of a fire that might burn through this area.  On the other hand, I don’t like arguments based on “my back yard.”  But should it be the policy of the Forest Service to risk a little private property (and maybe a life or two) to meet its (presumably ecological) restoration targets?  How would you choose and why?

It seems to me that this is a question that every forest plan should be designed to help you answer.  And the public should probably demand the opportunity to influence that in the forest plan because the decision of “where to go” is typically made before a project decision, and is likely considered by the Forest Service to be outside the scope of the project decision (and therefore outside the scope of public comments and objections).  (Which I think is what this objection decision is really saying.)

Armed Militia in Oregon Part of Long-running, Right-wing Fight Against Public Lands

Militants watch from a watch tower at the National Wildlife headquarters in Burns. The group, which occupied the grounds Saturday, say they have enough supplies to stay for years. In interview Sunday, they would not say what weapons they're carrying or how many people are on the grounds. Photo by Mark Graves, The Oregonian/OregonLive.com

Militants watch from a watch tower at the National Wildlife headquarters in Burns. The group, which occupied the grounds Saturday, say they have enough supplies to stay for years. In interview Sunday, they would not say what weapons they’re carrying or how many people are on the grounds. Photo by Mark Graves, The Oregonian/OregonLive.com

Below is a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity.– mk

An armed militia has taken over a federal building in southeastern Oregon as part of a long-running campaign of violence, intimidation and right-wing paranoia that has festered for decades in the West, most recently with the standoff with Cliven Bundy in Nevada in 2014. Among the demands at the latest standoff is to shut down Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which provides crucial protections for wildlife, especially birds that migrate through the area.

“This is the latest in a long-string of armed, right-wing thugs attempting to seize America’s public lands and enact their paranoid, anti-government dream bought by guns and intimidation,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’ve seen it with pipebombs planted on wilderness trails and sent to the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. We saw in 2014 with Cliven Bundy and his racist and violent rhetoric in Nevada and now we’re seeing it with his sons in Oregon.”

Bundy stopped paying the federal government for the privilege of grazing his cows on public lands in Nevada and owes about $1 million to taxpayers. Bundy, who was quoted in an interview with The New York Times wondering whether black people were better off as slaves, was the center of an armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management in April 2014 that ended with the BLM backing away and Bundy’s continued trespass on federal land. Among the anti-federal government militia who were defending Bundy at his ranch was Jared Miller who just three months after the standoff at the ranch went on a shooting spree with his wife that included the ambush-murder of two Las Vegas police officers as they ate at a restaurant. They draped the officers with a Gadsden flag — a symbol of liberty used by both the antigovernment “Patriot” movement and members of the Tea Party movement.

The latest standoff near Burns, Ore. followed a judge’s call for additional prison time for a father and son – 73-year-old Dwight Hammond and 46-year-old Steven Hammond – who prosecutors say lit a fire on federal land in 2001 to cover up the illegal slaughter of a deer herd. Both were convicted of arson and are scheduled to report to federal prison on Monday.

The wildlife refuge’s headquarters was seized by Bundy’s sons and others on Saturday. The men are armed and say they are willing to occupy the building for years if needed. According to the Oregonian, Ryan Bundy said that they’re willing to kill and be killed if necessary. Also among the armed occupiers of the wildlife fefuge building is Jon Ritzheimer, an infamous anti-Muslim activist who has repeatedly threatened violence.

“Despite their flags and patriotic overtures, don’t mistake this standoff for anything than what it is: An attempt to use guns to seize control over what taxpayers own and bully the government into acquiescing to their demands,” Suckling said. “But there’s a larger context here. What’s happening in Oregon is a logical outgrowth of right-wing rhetoric that demonizes even the concept of federal land – places like national parks and forests — and villianizes those who believe that publicly owned land should be more than just a source of profit for ranchers and corporations.”

There’s been a growing movement among politicians in the West to seize control of federal lands and hand them over to state and local government, where they’re more likely to be logged, mined and drilled for profit.

“These are special places that deserve protection for values that we all hold dear: clean air, water and refuge for wildlife,” Suckling said. “Americans, collectively, have decided that these public lands need and deserve protection. That shouldn’t be undone at the behest of men with guns and a dangerous view of how a government should be run.”

Tales of two trees

Whitebark pine is a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act (meaning that listing is warranted).  The U. S. Fish and Wildlife (and tree) Service has recently downgraded its priority for listing from 2nd priority to 8th.

The primary threat to the species is from disease in the form of the nonnative white pine blister rust and its interaction with other threats…  However, the overall magnitude of threat to whitebark pine is somewhat diminished given the current absence of epidemic levels of mountain pine beetle, and because of this, individuals with genetic resistance to white pine blister rust likely have a higher probability of survival… Overall, the threats to the species are ongoing, and therefore imminent, and are now moderate in magnitude.

White ash is not a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act.  However, it is threatened with extinction as result of the introduced emerald ash borer.  The Forest Service is applying euthanasia treatments to the Allegheny National Forest.

The Emerald Ash Borer Remediation project would regenerate stands that have been or will be affected by non-native invasive insects. The purpose of this project is to manage the proposed treatment areas on the Bradford Ranger District to achieve a diversity of desired forest trees, a healthy and resilient ecosystem, and diminish the risks and consequences of forest health threats.

Desired tree seedling species do not develop in sufficient quantities on the Allegheny National Forest without intensive forest management. Interfering understory vegetation generally outcompetes tree seedlings. It is a result of decades of selective deer browsing (Horsley, Stout, deCalesta 2003). Unless management actions create suitable conditions for the establishment and development of desired tree seedlings, important ecological structure, function and processes will not be maintained in stands where white ash, American beech and Eastern hemlock individually or collectively make up the majority of the community.

Managing and regenerating declining stands now will promote natural regeneration of desired trees. It will sustain healthy, well-stocked forested stands over the long-term. This project is designed to address project area forest health concerns by regenerating stands before natural regeneration opportunities are lost.

Projected mortality is 99% of the affected trees without treatment (presumably it’s 100% with the treatment).  They don’t say what “desired trees” they are regenerating, and I can’t make much sense out of “natural regeneration” from the trees that would be “lost” (since they will be logged).  It looks to me like they are making sure there are no survivors, and if this is practiced across the range of the white ash, it would obviously become a candidate for listing.  Is there a better way?  Especially in the two old growth management areas where some of this project would occur, where making money off of timber harvest is not part of the purpose?  (Maybe killing deer would help – how about reintroducing wolves?)

Here’s the story that got my attention.  It mentions the need for a forest plan amendment, but the Forest Service documents do not mention this (and it would have to be part of the scoping package).