Silverstone- Vietnam Memorial on the Rio Grande

Beckley chose the Rio Grande National Forest because of its proximity to the Continental Divide – and because it was a large forest that could easily hide his memorial. (Photo: Chris Hansen/9NEWs)

Beckley chose the Rio Grande National Forest because of its proximity to the Continental Divide – and because it was a large forest that could easily hide his memorial. (Photo: Chris Hansen/9NEWs)

Here’s what I thought was the best story about this…thank you, Kevin Torres (KUSA), here’s a link and below is an excerpt.

The Mountains of the Rio Grande National Forest conceal mystery. The sort of mystery that fills a field as it fills a void.

Hidden away in the 1.8-million-acre forest is a treasure few people are aware of. It was created nearly 20 years ago by a man who devoted the remaining years of his life to honoring soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War.

“He was really enchanted with it. It was his only goal in life for the last 30 years,” Phyllis Beckley Roy said.

Roy is referring to her brother, Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Allen Beckley. Beckley fought in Vietnam from 1962 through 1973. After the war, Roy said her brother was deeply impacted by Vietnam and wanted to do something for his fellow soldiers – as well as the other countries affected by the war.

“He just couldn’t believe that people could not know what was going on, and he decided he would take any penny he could scrape together to build a memorial to honor the people who were not honored,” Roy said.

Beckley’s idea to build a stone memorial on national forest land was initially denied. But when the forest supervisor for the Rio Grande National Forest, Jim Webb (now retired), discovered Beckley was dying of cancer, he changed his mind.

Beckley’s last mission in life was to establish a lasting tribute in memory of the soldiers of Vietnam and Laos. His dream eventually became reality. By the mid-90s, SOLDIERSTONE had been built.

“He designed it, and he bought everything that went into it,” Roy said.

Beckley didn’t have many connections to Colorado. He chose the Rio Grande National Forest because of its proximity to the Continental Divide – and because it was a large forest that could easily hide his memorial.

According to Roy, Beckley didn’t want many people to know about it. He never intended for large crowds to visit it and to take pictures of it.

“The idea was he wanted it to be secluded. He didn’t want people to vandalize it,” Roy said.

Here’ an excellent news video about the site and the history.

Feds to Update Endangered Species Act

stakeholders-original

Here is an interesting post from Bob Berwyn’s blog. Thanks, Bob,  for finding this! I tried to simply “repost” it to this blog but had technical difficulties..

Below is an excerpt:

Details

The changes would provide greater clarity to the public and states on what information would best inform the evaluation of a species’ status and result in better coordination with state wildlife agencies, which often have unique information and insights on imperiled species.

As part of the Administration’s ongoing efforts, the Services will also be unveiling additional proposals over the coming year to achieve four broad goals:

Improving science and increasing transparency. To improve public understanding of and engagement in ESA listing processes, the Services will:
Strengthen procedures to ensure that all information that can be publicly disclosed related to proposed listing and critical habitat rule notices will be posted online; and

  • Adopt more rigorous procedures to ensure consistent, transparent, and objective peer-review of proposed decisions.
  • Incentivizing voluntary conservation efforts. Voluntary conservation programs, such as Safe Harbor agreements and Candidate Conservation Agreements, can improve conditions for listed and at-risk species, and conservation banking can make listed species and their habitats assets for landowners.

The Services will:

  • Update guidance on the use of these proactive tools to establish consistent standards; and
  • Adopt a policy promoting the expanded use of conservation banking and other advance mitigation tools.

Focusing resources to achieve more successes. The Services will work to focus limited resources on activities that will be most impactful. These actions include:

  • NOAA’s launch of a new initiative to focus resources on eight of the nation’s most vulnerable marine species with the goal of reducing, stabilizing, or reversing their rate of decline by 2020;
  • Proposed revisions to interagency consultation procedures to streamline the process for projects, such as habitat restoration activities, that result in a net conservation benefit for the species;
  • Updates to the Habitat Conservation Planning Handbook to make developing and permitting plans more efficient and timely.
  • Engaging the States. State fish and wildlife agencies, by virtue of their responsibilities and expertise, are essential partners in efforts to conserve threatened and endangered species. The Services will:
    Implement the aforementioned revised petition regulations to give states an opportunity to provide input prior to submission; and
  • Update policy regarding the role of state agencies to reflect advancements in collaboration between the Services and the States.

For more information on the proposed ESA petition regulations, go to http://www.fws.gov/home/feature/2015/proposed-revised-petition-regulations.pdf. Public comments on the proposed rule will be accepted on or before 60 days following its publication in the Federal Register.

Note from Sharon: These all sound like good ideas, and especially the science transparency one has oft been discussed on this blog. One wonders whether this would have been done without some pressure by Congress. I don’t believe in partisan enemizing, of course, but this does remind me of a quote from the Essays of James Vila Blake (the Unitarian minister):

Enemies make us watchful of ourselves and induce self-examination; for we must argue thus: our foe hates us with reason or without reason; if without reason, then he not really hates us, but some other sort of person for whom he mistakes us; but if with reason, then it is plain we should improve, and remove the reason.

Advice for the Tongass young-growth plan amendment

Though some doubted it could be done, the group of industry leaders, scientists, conservationists and government representatives has reached a consensus: the Tongass Advisory Committee has submitted its draft recommendations for managing timber harvests in the national forest that covers much of Southeast Alaska.

There are lots of interesting ideas here; maybe some becoming relevant beyond Alaska as the Forest Service gets out of the old-growth business everywhere.  Here’s one that surprised me:

It asks for changes in leadership, with more power given to regional foresters.  “This runs counter to the current culture in which District Rangers, in order to be safe and not take any risk, simply layer on Interdisciplinary Team suggestions for protection, without paying attention to redundancies,” the draft reads, “lead(ing) to a collision of restrictions that result in low volume and non-economic projects … or extinguishes projects altogether.”

It’s also counter the culture of decentralization.  It seems to be a proposal to take more risks, which I would expect to lead to more litigation.  On the other hand, I got the impression over the years that those at higher levels understood the risks better and were less likely to take them.  But then they are closer to the politicians, too.  (Maybe there’s some other perceptions out there.)

Forest plan stops ski area

It seems to be a little-known benefit of forest plans, but they can be used to support decisions to turn down requests for special use permits.  The high profile case of a proposed Lolo Peak ski resort near Missoula made it to district court, where Judge Molloy upheld the Forest Service decision to reject the proponent plaintiffs’ request.  The process for initial screening of a proposal requires a finding that it would be consistent with the forest plan.  In this case, the court reviewed the forest plan direction for the area proposed for development and found that the Forest Service was not arbitrary in finding that a ski area would not meet the goals and standards of the various management areas.  It didn’t help that the developer had already built ski runs on the private land, and photographs of them were used to demonstrate how the ski area would not meet visual quality requirements in the forest plan.   (This is what I see across the valley every time I drive into town.)

Service Contract Re-visited

In my last adventure, I decided to pass through an area of the Tahoe National Forest, where I worked in 1996 and 1997. During that time, I worked on fire salvage, blowdown salvage, insect salvage and roadside hazard tree projects. There was also this Service Contract, which reduced fuels without cutting trees over 9.9″ dbh. The logger had three varied types of cutting machines, each of them with their strengths and limitations. He was a crusty old guy, who didn’t like the Federal “oversight” of his work.

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I usually liked to change these loggers’ perception of what inspectors do. He wasn’t used to getting “written up” for doing good work but, he was still quite wary of me. I once caught him damaging the bark of a leave tree with his machine, then getting off it, and applying some dirt to the wound (to hide it). As he was getting back to his seat, he saw me. I gave him the “naughty, naughty” hand signal, and walked over there. I waited to see how he would react to getting caught. Surprisingly, he kind of hung his head, and was quiet, for once. So, I told him that there is an acceptable level of “damage” in this kind of work and he wasn’t anywhere near close to it, yet. I think our relationship changed, a little, after that agreement.

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One of the keys to success was the ability to do a cool prescribed burn. All too often, fuels are still too thick and the burn is a bit hotter than the residual trees can stand. In this case, the firefighters did well in achieving a nice, cool and effective burn. On the west-facing slopes, the brush has grown back, somewhat. That is to be expected, and will continue, until it is shaded out.

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As far as resilience to fire and drought, it is pretty clear that the spacing is very good. The brush looks like it can be burned safely, on a regular basis. The pines also seem to be quite healthy and vigorous. Keep in mind, this area along Highway 89, in the eastside pine zone, is in a rainshadow east of the Sierra Nevada Crest. There are some western junipers up on the ridgetop, and the Nevada desert is 15 miles away.

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Malmsheimer Testifies on Litigation Study

Dr. bob Malmsheimer in DC

Dr. bob Malmsheimer in DC

Thanks much to Joseph Smith of SAF, who posted this on the SAF Linked- in site.

SAF member and SUNY ESF professor Bob Malmsheimer testified before House Subcommittee about litigation’s impacts on managing fire-prone forests – http://goo.gl/JiQX18

Between 1989 and 2008, 1,125 lawsuits were filed challenging Forest Service land management decisions.

SAF members Chris Topik (The Nature Conservancy) and Dale Bosworth (former US Forest Service Chief) also testified.

Additional information about the hearing is available at http://goo.gl/9zCYok.

Here’s a link to Bob’s testimony care of David South. And here’s a news story in the Sacto Bee with excerpts below.

Hanvelt, in his written testimony, elaborated that even if lawsuits based on the National Environmental Policy Act or other laws ultimately fail, forest projects “can be stopped or at least delayed indefinitely while additional analyses are completed.”

The subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts, countered the hearing’s GOP-dominated theme by stressing that “bedrock environmental laws are making sure our public voice is heard” in the management of federal lands.

Between 1989 and 2008, according to a study presented Thursday, 1,125 lawsuits were filed challenging Forest Service land management decisions. The agency settled about one-quarter of the cases and won nearly 54 percent of them, study co-author Robert W. Malmsheimer testified.

More than 40 percent of the cases challenged the Forest Service’s “vegetative management” decisions, meaning logging and salvage programs, and these were also the lawsuits the agency was “most likely to settle,” the analysts found.

“Legal factors are now as important as biological factors and economic factors in the management of our national forests,” said Malmsheimer, a professor at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

During the last Congress, McClintock wrote a bill to speed the salvage logging from forests damaged during the Yosemite Rim fire. The measure passed the Republican-controlled House of Representatives on a largely party line vote but did not advance in the Senate.

Sharon’s observation: I would argue that the public’s voice is not being heard when cases are settled in a room with attorneys ;), And don’t county commissioners represent the public? I think it’s sad that something that people can agree on (in Colorado), they can’t in D.C., where arguably the stakes for public policy are higher.

In fact, I’m looking for a liberal/conservative equivalent of a “coexist” bumper sticker for religions.. if anyone knows where I can find one, please let me know.

University of Montana Litigation Cost Case Study

Help

Here is a link to a case study by Todd Morgan and John Baldridge of BBER. I have to thank them for at least attempting to quantify the bucks that we spent when I worked for the Forest Service.

But what I think is really interesting is the reporting of this study in the Missoulian here.

First of all, the source of funding is in the title. Now that’s an interesting approach, and I think that it’s pretty unusual. But the Forest Service funds lots of research and other kinds of studies.. it even funded an administrative study on place-based efforts by Martin Nie of University of Montana.. and about a zillion other projects. In an organization as diverse as the Forest Service, I don’t know if “funded by the Forest Service” carries any meaning.

However, we also know that some studies are funded by environmental organization, folks like Headwaters and even Pew has funded studies that focus on one point of view. Yet most of the news stories I’ve found do not spend the first two paragraphs talking about the inclinations of the groups funding the study. I don’t think it’s a bad idea.just think that if folks are going to do it, they should do it consistently.

The reporter also interviewed Michael Garrity who made a series of claims. Now I think that perhaps every news article about a study should include someone who disagrees with it. There are a couple of problems though, with that. The first is that academics seldom question each other in print, which decreases the pool of available people. Then you could get people like me but if I were critiquing something my tone would be too civilized to make good press. I don’t know what the answer is ..

Michael Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, a Helena-based organization that has sued to stop many timber sales in the state, didn’t put much stock in the report.

“The Forest Service loses money on almost all of their timber sales, almost $1,400 per acre, so it never makes sense to me how stopping the government from losing money costs money,” he said. “I can’t be any more straightforward than that. The (BBER) gets a lot of money from the timber industry, so I guess they are just doing what they are getting paid to do. This report is not in any published research journal or anything. They’re making their funders happy. There is no academic credibility behind that report at all.”

Sharon’s comments: EEK…ghosts of the below-cost timber sale controversy! Maybe someone out there can quote some published figures on that? I would bet different people include different things and come up with different numbers. However, my point is that everything the Forest Service does costs money.. duh.. so if you increase the costs above what they would otherwise spend, then it costs them more. (A + B)>A.

Let’s take an example- a ski area expansion. If you litigate it and the litigation costs are rolled into the cost of administering the permit, then it costs more. Or perhaps a campground or recreation road. I don’t get this logic.

Also, if “not published in a research journal” means “no credibility” well then…some topics are not popular in “research journals”, and some points of view are not popular. I would love to think that editors and reviewers are open-minded, interested in a wide range of topics and practical things that are useful to people, and objective, but peer-reviewed articles have shown that this is not the case ;).

Garrity, who says he is an economist by training, said the report makes no mention of the negative environmental effects of timber sales or the positive effects to taxpayers of stopping a timber sale.

Thanks to the High Country News for being more specific about Mr. Garrity’s economics pedigree here. I’m not critiquing his background, shoot- he has more than I do (note: some of my favorite people to work with and clearest thinkers have been forest economists).

My critique of his comment is that I thought the question the study was addressing was ” how does litigation affect the costs?”. Not “should we have timber sales based on a cost-benefit (social, economic, environmental) analysis?”
. He says “the positive effects of stopping a timber sale”. But many (most?) aren’t actually stopped, just dragged out and analyzed more over time. You would have to examine the probability of winning (according to some FS colleagues it’s a “crapshoot”) times the amount of money saved or spent. It would be kind of nice to have a table for the public posted that showed for the last 10 years, key characteristics of the project, was it collaborative? who sued, if they appealed and the ultimate date and size of project finished. Ah.. the People’s Database.

“Obviously, I have my biases, but Congress appropriates money (to the Forest Service for logging), it’s very clearly a subsidy, so anything that reduces that subsidy is a good thing,” he said. “There’s also a lot of timber sales that keep getting delayed because there isn’t a demand.

Congress appropriates money for recreation also, so if we have fewer campgrounds that must be a good thing..

“I checked yesterday, and the price of lumber is down 26 percent for the year. The housing industry really hasn’t recovered yet from the recession. To say delaying a timber sale costs money, it’s hard to take that seriously because there’s a lot of timber sales sitting out there they haven’t cut because there’s not a market for the timber.”

I’m not an expert on trends in Montana today (would appreciate input from some). And logically people still need wood for things, regardless of how the needs compare to before the recession.

Again, I think it’s a great idea to have an open discussion whenever a study comes out. The opener the better!

Northwest Forest Plan successes (Geos)

Under the 2012 Planning Rule, the best available scientific information must be used to inform the assessment, which is then to be used to determine the need to change a forest plan.  The Geos Institute has gotten out ahead of the pack with its ‘assessment.’  I’m most interested in this:

“Scientists involved in the Northwest Forest Plan recognized that even with the Plan’s protective standards it would take at least a century to restore the late-successional (mature and old growth) forest ecosystem reduced by logging to a fraction (<20%) of its historical extent. While it is premature to judge the efficacy of a 100-year plan in just two decades, scientific assessments have shown that it has achieved many of its ecosystem management targets.”

The Planning Rule specifically requires that forest plans “include plan components, including standards or guidelines, to maintain or restore the ecological integrity of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and watersheds in the plan area …”  Ecological integrity requires that ecological characteristics like composition and structure “occur within the natural range of variation.”  With regard to wide-ranging at-risk species (such as spotted owls), the Planning Rule requires “plan components, including standards or guidelines, to maintain or restore ecological conditions within the plan area to contribute to maintaining a viable population of the species within its range.”

Assuming that “<20% of its historical extent” is at least in the ballpark, what is the rationale (and the supporting best available scientific information) for changing forest plans to allow increased levels of logging of late-successional forest ecosystems?  (Has the ‘bare minimum’ changed, or has the science behind how to achieve it?)

The Rim Fire Salvage Seems Done

My last expedition included another trip to Yosemite, and the Rim Fire. I DO think that there are enough dead trees for the owls to “enjoy” in their respite from breeding. Then again, maybe this new “Circle of Life” will provide more food, in the form of baby owls, to larger predators?

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You might also notice the ongoing beetle kills, which will increase when spring and summer come into play. This next picture shows the little bit of harvesting that was done along Highway 120. You can see the drainage where the Highway sits, and you can also see how wide the hazard tree units are. The barren area in the foreground is/was chaparral.

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I am glad that the Forest Service “took my advice” about getting the work done before there was any chance to appeal to a more liberal….errr….. higher court. However, is THIS what we want our salvaged wildfires to look like? This area should be ready for re-burn in a few short years. Also, be reminded that two of the plantation salvage projects did not sell, despite the prompt action by the Forest Service. My guess is that SPI was low-balling the Forest Service to get those smaller trees at less than “base rates”. That means that the prices remain the same (rock bottom) but, some of the non-commercial treatments would be dropped. It appears that the Forest Service wasn’t willing to go as low as SPI wanted. So, those perfectly good salvage trees will be left, “for wildlife”, it appears.

National monuments as an incentive for place-based planning

The Bears Ears proposal comes amid Rep. Rob Bishop’s regional land-use planning initiative and a growing sense that if Utah doesn’t do something to protect threatened public lands such as Cedar Mesa, President Barack Obama could be persuaded to declare another national monument in the state before he leaves office.”

A connection I hadn’t made before.

This also got me to look at Rep. Bishop’s website on his “Public Lands Initiative,” which describes a county-based approach to negotiating some land use decisions.  Pretty thorough, with lots of partners, but does this process include any kind of effects analysis (especially where it’s not obvious that wildlife concerns are well-represented).