Should the Public Have a Seat at the Firefighting Table?

Today the Seattle Times reports on a lawsuit FSEEE filed challenging the Forest Service’s failure to comply with NEPA before logging old-growth forests during the Wolverine Fire.

Happy to answer questions readers may have. I recommend reading the complaint, especially Exhibit A, which is an affidavit by a recently-retired Forest Service employee who lives in the area affected by the Wolverine Fire logging.

As Homeless Find Refuge in Forests…

In the NY Times today, “As Homeless Find Refuge in Forests, ‘Anger Is Palpable’ in Nearby Towns.” Take a look at the video linked in the article of trash left on the woods in Colorado. I’ve seen similar trash heaps around encampments on the Mt. Hood National Forest, near my home. Some locals tell me that there are trails they no longer use, because they don’t feel safe. I have some sympathy for the folks who are homeless, but this kind of thing is getting out of hand.

Note that funding is an issue: “The service is spending more and more of its budget fighting wildfires, and has pared back on filling some law enforcement posts, said Chris Boehm, the agency’s acting deputy director for law enforcement and investigations.”

Burned: How a Wildfire Devastated Lives in Oregon

The Oregonian, Oregon’s largest daily newspaper, published a 20-page special section on Sunday, “Burned: How a Wildfire Devastated Lives in Oregon.” The online version includes several videos of the fire area. To its credit, The Oregonian allowed the USFS to respond to the article (page 15 or here).

The paper also has a “Fixes” section that addresses funding, forest restoration, and other factors. Under each of the “solutions” are the key folks who can make or influence change or reforms. For example, under forest restoration, several US senators, USFS Chief Tom Tidwell, and Oregon’s Gov. Brown are listed. In the online version, there are “Tweet” and Contact” links under each name.

The comments online are worth reading — 51, so far. One of them said, “I would suggest that these reporters spend a fire season out there so they might have some inkling of what they are talking about. Otherwise they are worse than arm chair quarter backs. They are dangerously uninformed and misinformed.”

I agree, to a point.

In the Fixes section, The paper suggest that “Congress also would need to hold the agency accountable for results, continue funding of collaborative groups and support “landscape level” projects that analyze restoration on 1 million acres, instead of 30,000-acre chunks. ” Here, too, I agree to a point: The agency should be held accountable, but so should the collaboratives and the groups that oppose forest management (not that Congress has any power to do so, except via funding, in the case of collaboratives).

Bottom line: The Oregonian deserves much credit for devoting to much time and effort to the issues.


Science consistency review on the southern Sierra national forests

The draft revised Sierra, Sequoia and Inyo national forest plans include aggressive restoration programs across the forest, including logging areas of existing old forest structure to protect old forests and associated wildlife species.  The Forest Service has asked (unidentified) reviewers to look at the draft forest plans and draft EIS and address these questions in the first science consistency review conducted under the 2012 planning rule (it is an optional process under associated agency policy):

1. Has applicable and available scientific information been considered?

2. Is the scientific information interpreted reasonably and accurately?

3. Are the uncertainties associated with the scientific information acknowledged and documented?

4. Have the relevant management consequences, including risks and uncertainties, been identified and documented?

Here are some of the topics being addressed:

• Vegetation: Forest Resilience, Seral stage distribution, Effects of post-disturbance harvest, and Impacts on native vegetation.

• Fire and Fuels: Fuels management and community protection, Current fuel loading, Current and future wildfire trends, Effectiveness of treatments for fuel reduction.

• Wildlife and Habitat: Impacts to wildlife and their habitats, terrestrial and aquatic, Protection of old forest and associated species, Threatened and endangered species habitat requirements and availability, Species of Conservation Concern habitat requirements and availability.

• Climate Change: Current and projected trends, Effects on wildlife habitats and populations, Effects on carbon sequestration and carrying capacity

Given the debate on this blog surrounding these issues, the results should be interesting.  However there is no commitment here to any public release or discussion of the results.  The comment period on the draft EIS closes August 25th.  The results of this review were scheduled to be available in August.  “The technical experts (on the planning team) will review the report, consult and address any concerns from the review team, and incorporate any recommendations that would benefit the final EIS.” 

Given the debate on this blog surrounding these issues, the results should be interesting.  However there is no commitment here to any public release or discussion of the results.  The comment period on the draft EIS closes August 25th.  The results of this review where scheduled to be done in August.  “The technical experts (on the planning team) will review the report, consult and address any concerns from the review team, and incorporate any recommendations that would benefit the final EIS.”

Here is the revision website.

Utah to sue to get federal lands

Or at least they’ve set aside the money to pay for it (the lawsuit, not the land).  So what are they waiting for?  Maybe they are hoping a Trump administration would make it unnecessary?

(Some of you would probably also like Heartland’s take on forest fires.  “But now, the Department of the Interior misinforms us, ‘climate change is making it worse. Wildfire seasons are now hotter, drier and longer than in the past.’ Sure they are. Wanna buy a bridge?”)

Fuller Fire, AZ

This National Park Service story map of the Fuller Fire, near the Grand Canyon, shows part of the fire in a previously burned area, possibly the 2012 Range fire (see this map of the area’s fire history. On Inciweb, other photos show that the fire burned in a variety of fuel types. See also the fuel break, a cleared area, but likely without commercial timber harvesting.

Kudos to the Park Service for providing a wealth of info, photos, maps, and GIS story maps.

New Analysis Shows Exactly How the Utah Public Lands Initiative Act Guts Wilderness Protections

Wilderness Watch has just released a new, detailed analysis of the Wilderness provisions found in the so-called “Utah Public Lands Initiative Act,” which was introduced in Congress on July 14 by Utah Republican Reps Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz. The day before the bill was released, E & E Publishing wrote this story, which contains some more background information. What follows is the press release from Wilderness Watch. -mk


MISSOULA, MONTANA – Wilderness Watch has released a new, detailed analysis of the Wilderness provisions found in the “Utah Public Lands Initiative Act” (H.R. 5780), which was introduced in Congress on July 14, 2016 by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT).

Wilderness Watch’s full analysis is here.

“Despite designating 41 Wilderness areas in seven counties, H.R. 5780 contains numerous special provisions that depart from the Wilderness Act and severely compromise the protections that would normally be afforded to areas designated as Wilderness,” explained George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch and a long-time Utah wilderness advocate.

The analysis points to provisions making livestock grazing the dominant use of the Wildernesses, despite its impacts to wildlife, watersheds, or recreation values as well as provisions requiring the federal government to maintain ranchers’ fence lines and trails as just two examples of destructive provisions never before included in a wilderness bill. H.R. 5780 also includes provisions on wildlife management, motorized access, buffer zones, military overflights, and wildlife water development projects (“guzzlers” and dams) that would weaken wilderness protections and harm wilderness values.

“The sheer number and types of special provisions in H.R. 5780 are unprecedented and ensure the Wildernesses designed by the PLI would lack many of the protections afforded by the Wilderness Act. They would become what are referred to as WINOs—Wilderness In Name Only,” added Nickas.

“Some of those provisions have appeared previously in other Wilderness bills, but H.R. 5780 seems to take nearly every bad idea of the last 30 years as well as some new ones and combine them into one colossally bad bill,” said Kevin Proescholdt, Wilderness Watch’s conservation director.

“We should protect real, wild, authentic Wilderness in Utah,” added Proescholdt. “We shouldn’t be designating fake Wildernesses that rob the citizens of Utah and the nation of the real thing.”

“Unfortunately, the PLI mandates so many incompatible uses, and so compromises wilderness values, that in many ways the areas designated as Wilderness by the PLI can be better protected now with the status quo than if the PLI were to pass. There’s really nothing in this bill for those who love the wild,” Proescholdt concluded.

Wilderness Watch’s analysis also points out that H.R. 5780 also warrants concern with regard to where Wilderness boundaries are drawn, the size of proposed Wildernesses, cherry-stem boundaries that fragment the proposed areas and compromise their remoteness for humans and wildlife, the release of several wilderness study areas, and the potential for innumerable roads to penetrate or dissect the wildlands surrounding the Wildernesses as a result of RS-2477 claims. These concerns deserve much attention in the ensuing debate over H.R. 5780, but are not a part of Wilderness Watch’s analysis.

# # #

Wilderness Watch is a national wilderness conservation organization with offices in Missoula (MT), Moscow (ID), and Minneapolis (MN). The organization focuses on the protection and proper stewardship of Wildernesses in the National Wilderness Preservation System, and has developed extensive expertise with the implementation of the 1964 Wilderness Act. See

Seattle Times: Collateral Damage

This article in the Seattle Times, “Collateral Damage,” is subtitled, “Rushing to stop a fire that never came, Forest Service logged miles of big trees, critical habitat.” The story is about a “shaded fuel break” created as part of fighting the Wolverine Fire in 2015. As you scroll down, a series of maps appear — but keep scrolling, the story continues below that.

Lots to discuss here, including the fact that some trees larger than the 20-inch limit were cut. The article says “many” larger trees were cut. However, the photos of logs show that the vast majority of the logs are less than 20 inches.

I wish the article had included photos of the harvested area. I found these 2 images elsewhere, and the treated area looks like a shaded fuel break.

New national forest multiple use clears local permitting hurdle

The Deerfield wind energy project on the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont is a step closer to reality.  I wonder about the special use permit requirement that permits may be granted only if the proposed use cannot reasonably be accommodated on non-National Forest System lands.