Managing High-Profile Adventure on Public Lands

Scott Jurek (photo from the Brooks Shoes website)

Scott Jurek (photo from the Brooks Shoes website)

While I’ve been away, the Denver Post has run a number of interesting original articles (kudos to them!) and I am very ..slowly..trying to catch up. This one is not about the Forest Service, but does talk about tensions rising over different uses, a familiar theme.

Here is the link (hint:turn your volume all the way down before you go to this link) and below is an excerpt.

Detractors come out

“Corporate events,” he wrote, “have no place in the park and are incongruous with the park’s mission of resource protection, the appreciation of nature and the respect of the experience of others in the park.”

The post spurred more than 800 comments from detractors.

Bissell’s response was in stark contrast to that of Yosemite National Park managers, who saw opportunity when Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson finished their record-setting climb of the Dawn Wall on El Capitan in January .

When the rock-climbing legends returned to the valley below El Capitan, a park-service-provided lectern stood ready before a phalanx of news cameras eager to catch the pair’s thoughts after their 19-day ascent.

“Forging a connection”

“So much of what we are doing is forging a connection between the parks and visitors so people understand why parks are here and people appreciate the environment we try to create,” Yosemite assistant superintendent Scott Gediman said.

The two parks’ reactions to internationally acknowledged athletic feats reveal divergent approaches to stewardship of public lands and highlight the increasing struggle for cash-strapped land managers dealing with inspiring, yet unpredictable, athleticism inside the country’s preserved wildlands.

“Most people are not going to do those things, but the value is that they are inspiring,” said Christian Beckwith, whose annual SHIFT Festival in Jackson, Wyo., gathers outdoor leaders to consider conservation alongside adventure and culture. “You might not be able to run the Appalachian Trail in 46 days. But you still might be able to go out for a run this evening and dig a little deeper because you are so fired up. The challenge is balancing that inspiration with the impact and long-term sustainability of our natural resources.”

When regulations for public lands were first etched into law decades ago, the rule-writers never suspected GoPro-strapped athletes would be leaping from quiet peaks with wingsuits or exploring remote backcountry on lightweight personal rafts.

DellaSala and Hanson vs. Objective Science

I recently received a copy of a book, “The Ecological Importance of Mixed-Severity Fires: Nature’s Phoenix,” edited by Dominick DellaSala and Chad Hanson. In the August edition of The Forestry Source, I write that the book is “advocacy first and science second.” You can get a sense of this in a NY Times op-ed by DellaSala and Hanson from last week, “More Logging Won’t Stop Wildfires,” in which they write:

“In the case of the Rim Fire, our research found that protected forest areas with no history of logging burned least intensely. There was a similar pattern in other large fires in recent years. Logging removes the mature, thick-barked, fire-resistant trees. The small trees planted in their place and the debris left behind by loggers act as kindling; in effect, the logged areas become combustible tree plantations that are poor wildlife habitat.”

I know Larry H. and others will have something to say about this.

Contrast the DellaSala/Hanson view with objective science in “Fuel and Vegetation Trends after Wildfire in Treated versus Untreated Forests, Forest Science, August 2015. The abstract:

“Increasing size and severity of wildfires have led to increased interest in managing forests for resiliency to future disturbances. Comparing and contrasting treated versus untreated stands through multiple growing seasons postfire provide an opportunity to understand processes driving responses and can guide management decisions regarding resiliency. In treated and untreated forests, we compared fire effects 2–10 growing seasons following fire on 3 different fires in New Mexico and Arizona. We estimated understory cover, standing crop, fuel loading, and basal area in (1) lop, pile, burn; (2) lop and scatter; (3) harvest and burn; and (4) untreated control stands. Untreated sites had persistent bare soil exposure and less litter cover up to 10 growing seasons after fire. However, there were few differences in standing crop among years and treatments. Falling rampikes contributed to greater coarse woody debris on untreated sites versus treated sites 6 –10 years postfire. However, there were few differences in fine fuel loading among treatments. Proactive management using the full range of silvicultural tools can reduce fire severity and create desired stand conditions, depending on management objectives.

I highlighted the last sentence for emphasis.

Three Links of Interest from Ron Roizen’s NWAF


Here are a couple items of interest from Ron Roizen..the links are in his post linked here. (Note, I tried to share it, but only WordPress-hosted blogs came up..) Thanks, Ron

Rep. Ken Ivory “What the BLM does NOT want you to Know!

Here is a link to a YouTube video of Rep. Ivory explaining the origins of federal land ownership in the American West. Linda Yergler was kind enough to forward this item to us.
Forest management: Real, collaborative models should be nurtured

Here’s a link to a Montana publication’s editorial advocating real collaborative efforts (over superficial ones, say?).

More Logging Won’t Stop Wildfires

And, finally, a link to a NEW YORK TIMES op-ed arguing, in effect, that reducing the fuel in a forest does not reduce the burn when it burns. Nick Smith’s invaluable daily was the source of this link.

Book Review: “Toward a Natural Forest: The Forest Service in Transition” by Jim Furnish

toward a natural forest

Many thanks to Teri Cleland for her contribution!

Review by Teri Cleeland, who retired from the US Forest Service in 2013 after a nearly 30 year career with assignments in Arizona, Washington DC, and Florida.

After seven years working as a seasonal archeologist for the Forest Service and Park Service, I finally landed a permanent job in 1989 on the Kaibab National Forest in northern Arizona. The job only came about because of a consent decree the Forest Service had signed to settle a lawsuit based on careless destruction of significant southwestern cultural sites during logging operations. “Save the Jemez” brought together a coalition of Tribes, environmental groups, even the State of New Mexico, against the Forest Service. The Agency bowed to legal pressure and instituted reforms that were a boon to my career and began a sustained period of protection and interpretation of many archeological and historic sites, as well as improved relations with Tribal governments. I got a ground floor view of the beginning of change in the Forest Service, change that has come fitfully through the years and continues today.

So it was fascinating to read Jim Furnish’s memoir about his career in the Forest Service, “Toward a Natural Forest” (Oregon State University Press, 2015). Furnish started as a company man in the “timber is king” era of the 1960s and slowly evolved a new land ethic, ending his career at the pinnacle of the agency as an iconoclast—and outcast—for his unconventional ideas and style, pushing for the embrace of ecosystem management.

This is a personal account that traces Furnish’s career and how certain experiences through the years changed his view on Forest Service management practices and his own land ethic. Only 200 pages long, it is well-written and engaging, short on details but with an unflinching viewpoint. It focuses primarily on timber issues, which keeps the book at a manageable length; although I found myself wishing he had included more about other issues such as recreation and tribal relations.

Anyone who worked for the agency (or against the agency) in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s will be interested to read Furnish’s accounts of some of the great controversies of the times. I found myself reflecting on my own perspective as a field staff officer hearing the buzz about how politicized the agency had become. I wanted to find out how Washington ticked, and so became an idealistic newbie in the Washington Office, where I briefly worked with Furnish on the Recreation Fee Demonstration program. From the fights over unrealistic timber targets to the Spotted Owl controversy and Chief Dombeck’s race to institute a Planning Rule and Roadless Rule in the waning years of the Clinton administration, Furnish provides his unique perspective.

The book also includes frank acknowledgement of Furnish’s own shortcomings and a fascinating account of how he vaulted from the supervisor of a relatively small national forest (the Suislaw) to the Deputy Chief for the National Forest System. Many names in the book will be familiar Forest Service followers. Furnish heaps praise on some and scorn on others, but never gets too personal. And he doesn’t spare himself from scrutiny.

Of his first ranger job on the Tensleep District on the Bighorn National Forest, Furnish said “. . . I came to sense I hadn’t made the grade as a district ranger, certainly not in the eyes of many of my peers, nor, to a degree, in my own eyes.” Later, as acting Forest Supervisor on the Suislaw National Forest, a clash of viewpoints on logging brought many personnel changes. “When presented with opportunities to bring careers to an end, I seized each chance. I had been ruthless in ways I thought myself incapable of.” That statement might have come back to haunt Furnish when the end of his own career came with the Bush administration: “I clearly had no legitimacy . . . I was marginalized, irrelevant. . . . Though the treatment was not unexpected, the rapidity with which it happened surprised me.” For Furnish, the end came not with a bang but a whimper, eased out with little fanfare.

But he continued to advocate for change in the Forest Service, and felt “sweet vindication” when a court ruling in 2012 supported his Roadless Area Conservation Rule. And he approves the latest Planning Rule as an improvement on the 2001 version he helped craft. Although the Forest Service has left many of the old timber battles behind, according to Furnish, it has a long way to go toward both restoring trust in the agency and restoring the National Forests. I think Furnish might be underestimating how far the agency has advanced a restoration ethic in the 13 years since he left the agency. But there is no doubt in his assessment that bold leadership is needed to achieve the goal of restoring and sustaining our nation’s forests.

With an excellent forward by historian Char Miller, I recommend this book as a contribution toward understanding a tumultuous period of land management in the United States with unique insights into the Forest Service organization and some of its key players.

Some better things coming from the Blues (Mtns.)

Since I criticized the FS there in a couple of previous posts, here’s a couple of things I think they’ve done right.

It’s important that the public understand the relationship between forest planning and travel management planning, and this explanation from the Wallowa-Whitman is reasonably clear.  I think it should work about as well as it can if the Subpart A (roads analysis) precedes forest plan revision, and Subpart B (designation of roads open to motorized vehicles) follows it.

A little further back, I faulted the FS for not being honest about the legality of the local ordinance that sought to regulate the federal government.  That came up again at this Malheur meeting, and the FS set the record straight: “Our attorneys do not believe the Grant County ordinance is legal,” Beverlin said.

Tidwell Endorses Arbitration

Text of an article from ClimateWire….

Forest Service seeks protection against lawsuits that delay management policies

Benjamin Hulac, E&E reporter

Published: Friday, July 17, 2015

Thomas Tidwell, the Forest Service chief, said yesterday that the agency would be open to a new arbitration system that would replace lawsuits meant to delay or derail federal forest management projects.

A May report for the Forest Service’s Northern Region, commissioned by the agency on regions of Montana, Idaho, Washington and the Dakotas, found that “in recent years, litigation has encumbered 40 to 50 percent of planned timber harvest and treatment acres” for the region (E&E Daily, May 11.

“I’m as frustrated as anybody when when we’ve done the work, we’ve done the job, we get litigated, a year later, the judge says ‘Yes you’re OK, go ahead,'” Tidwell told the Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining.

Subcommittee Chairman Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) introduced a bill in June, S. 1691, that would create two methods to resolve or impede litigation against the service — an arbitration program and a bond posting requirement from plaintiffs planning on suing the agency.

“I do think that it may get at the issue,” Tidwell said of the arbitration suggestion.

Asked by Barrasso for his opinion on litigation from “rogue, activist groups” blocking “consensus” forest projects, Tidwell said the legal delays are “frustrating at best.” Republican senators and industry witnesses also said legal snags are particularly irritating to logging operations and safe forest management.

Tidwell said the arbitration suggestion had merit, but said he was concerned that the bond mandate would prevent cash-strapped parties from voicing their concerns and could stir up more legal challenges.

“I’m worried that it will create more controversy and opposition,” he said of the bonding provision.

Lawmakers on the panel also considered a bill from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), S. 132, which the senator has said would provide stable business footing for the logging trade and local counties, and a proposal from Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) to raise so-called “cancellation ceilings.”

Fire suppression activities at risk

Under Flake’s measure, S. 326, the Forest Service could obligate a separate fund to cover the cancellation ceiling, the greatest amount a contractor can charge if its customer backs out of a contract. The current requirement on ceilings is “creating a reluctance around our workforce,” Tidwell said, adding that “the cost of fire suppression management” is the largest challenge facing the service.

The cost to fight fires in the United States has climbed sharply since the 1990s. So has the Forest Service’s budget to do so.

Of the agency’s 1995 appropriated budget, 16 percent went to firefighting activities, while 42 percent last year went to fight fires.

“That’s simply not sustainable,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said of the ramp-up. “Any solution is going to have to include fixing the forest budget.”

Since 1980, the average tally of wildfires on federal lands has roughly doubled and, after including non-federal lands, has approximately tripled. More than 40 percent of the National Forest System is in risky fire conditions and “in need of fuels and forest health treatments,” according to the Forest Service.

Compared with the preceding four decades, the 2000s were easily the most damaging 10-year period for fires, consuming just less than 7 million acres, according to Agriculture Department figures.

Bipartisan support from Western senators

Since 2000, at least 10 states have seen their largest recorded fires.

“You have a lightning strike in our part of the country, and all of a sudden, you have an inferno,” Wyden said.

Jim Neiman, chief executive of Neiman Enterprises, a timber company, said at the hearing that “activist litigation” and regulations, like the National Environmental Policy Act, slow forest management.

“Wildfires don’t wait for environmental reviews,” he said. “The current processes are an impediment to increasing the current pace and scale.”

Senators present yesterday broadly agreed that actively managing federal forests and culling overstocked stands are important to prevent fires, especially in drought and drought-like conditions.

Experts should focus on the healthy function and density of forests to prevent the some of the worst long-term tinderbox situations.

An overstocked forest, when “overlayed with climate change,” said Neiman, is particularly concerning.

Flake’s bill has 12 co-sponsors, all Western senators, including four Democrats and Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who said blocking litigation of forest projects would be welcome. Daines also said yesterday that he would back efforts to curb fire borrowing — when the Forest Service or another agency dips into other funds for fire-prevention programs.



Court takes an interest in habitat connectivity – so should the Forest Service

Connectivity is a new buzzword in the 2012 Planning Rule. It is part of the requirement for ecological integrity, but the Forest Service seems reluctant to fully embrace it in its early revision efforts under the new rule.

On June 25th, the Arizona District Court invalidated a Forest Service grazing permit on the Coconino National Forest because the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to consider effects on habitat connectivity in areas designated as critical habitat for the Chiricahua leopard frog. The judge held (in Center for Biological Diversity v. Branton):

Viable dispersal corridors are needed to ensure that the Buckskin Hills can sustain a functioning metapopulation: without them, CLFs would be unable to spread from one stock tank to another, and would be unable to recolonize a stock tank should its local population die out (record citations omitted). Accordingly, adverse modification of the dispersal corridors would “appreciably diminish the value” of (the critical habitat unit). In short, the 2013 BiOp’s failure to account for the maleffects of livestock grazing in dispersal corridors renders its conclusion that the Proposed Action “should not significantly reduce or modify” PCE 2b (record citation omitted) arbitrary and capricious.

This was a project decision involving a listed species and critical habitat. However, the principles of metapopulation dynamics it recognizes should be equally applicable to NFMA requirements that forest plan components provide ecological conditions necessary for viable populations.   This opinion suggests that, where connectivity is necessary for an at-risk species, and where information about the connectivity value of specific areas is available, their locations should be identified in the planning process and probably given special protection by plan components.

In this case, a requirement in the forest plan to apply specific conservation measures to dispersal corridors might have saved this project. Moreover, fixing this project would not prevent the same thing from happening on other projects. This suggests that the Forest Service should amend the plan (which would be subject to the 2012 Planning Rule requirements for viability), or at least reinitiate consultation on the forest plan on critical habitat for this species (based on new information about effects – but wait – this is the 10th Circuit, where that is not required.) What should the Forest Service do?

FYI – Here’s what Defenders of Wildlife thinks the Forest Service should do about connectivity in its forest plans.  (I suppose I should explain that I did the work on this document on a contract, and that I contribute to this blog on my own time, so that I am not intending to represent the views of Defenders of Wildlife here.)

Blue Mountains revision restart – FS stumbles out of the gate

The three forest supervisors for the national forests in the Blue Mountains published a guest column with an invitation to meet with any and all interested parties as part of a “re-engagement strategy for the communities in the Blue Mountains.”  Unfortunately they also chose to make an off-script policy statement:

We want Forest Plans that provide resiliency for our communities in Eastern Oregon and Washington; Plans that support the local economy and the social values of the people who use and depend on them. We also want resiliency in ecosystems that can withstand: drought, floods, wildfire, invasive species, human impacts and have the strength to return to healthy ecosystems in the long run.

These plans are being developed under the 1982 planning regulations, but that does not excuse them from the agency policy on “resilience” (which I’m fairly sure is not found in the 1982 regulations).  In the 2012 Planning Rule, the term resilient/resilience is used only in the definitions of “restoration” and “viable population,” and the concept of “resilient ecosystems” (or “healthy ecosystems”) was replaced by “ecological integrity.”

Most importantly, the Planning Rule never uses the term “resiliency” in connection with social or economic factors.  It recognizes that forest plans can NOT “provide resiliency” for communities, and that this should not be used as a justification to support any particular local business or values.  Under the 2012 Rule, forest plans must “guide the plan area’s contribution to social and economic sustainability.”  And this is not limited to local interests, but instead explicitly extends to “the area influenced by the plan” and regional and national economies.

When you start by over-promising, there is a good chance you’re going to under-deliver (again).

Critique of forest collaboratives in Oregon

The latest informal assessment gives them mixed reviews.

It lead me to take a quick look at the CEQ guidance for collaboration during NEPA (2007).  I don’t find that it makes a great case for collaboration between federal agencies and the public.  It is more directly aimed at interagency collaboration, where the authorities are more clear and positions more equal than those for the general public.

While the guidance suggests that the same principles could apply to the general public, its warnings for when to not collaborate seem likely to apply in the cases where we want to think of it as an alternative to litigation:

Parties have little motivation to collaborate if they believe they have better ways to achieve their interests. If a party believes it can achieve its goals through unilateral action, the courts, or the legislature, it might not be motivated to collaborate with others.

The specific situation the CEQ guidance applies to is “where an agency engages other governmental entities and/or a balanced set of affected and interested parties…”  Who gets to determine “balance” and based on what criteria?

I’d like to make a distinction (that CEQ didn’t make) between ‘collaborative groups’ and collaboration with such groups by the government.  The former would always be a good thing, and it would be reasonable for an agency to pay more attention in the NEPA process to (what it perceives as) a balanced collaborative group’s recommendations (for purpose and need, proposed action, alternatives that respond to environmental impacts, and even the preferred alternative) than for single-interest groups.  But for agency to give them preferential treatment, by collaborating with them, and not others, is asking for trouble (from NEPA and FACA at least). Some of the forest plan collaboration going on seems more like that.