Multi-Objective Forest Service Projects: Does It All Get Done?

Lisa K. Anderson; Sandy Post' A Link Belt 3900 tears its way up an old gravel logging road. At the entrance contractors will build a berm.

Matthew Koehler raised this interesting point in our previous discussion, which was a bit off the main topic, but I think worthy of its own discussion. He said:

Also, please note that many of the “Land management activities in this decision” will not be accomplished at any point in the near future due to a lack of funding. Of course, all the logging will be completed, but most of the true restoration work (decommissioning of roads, culverts, etc) will only be completed as funding becomes available, which in our experience here in the N. Rockies might take a decade, if the work ever is completed at all. The public and the media would be wise to recognize the difference between simply signing a Decision Notice vs. actual completion of the work. Unfortunately, despite repeated requests to look into this matter, the media (and the Forest Service) continues to give the public the impression that all this work gets completed within a reasonable amount of time. That’s totally not true. In fact, I bet if someone did a comprehensive look at all the Stewardship Projects in USFS Region 1 over the last decade they’d be shocked at the amount of promised, yet unfinished, restoration work.

Knowing FS people, I know that their intention is to do the all the work in the project.

So I’ll start a series of questions of everyone.
1) Do you have an observation in your area, that the “other work” doesn’t get done?
2) If so, please ask the FS why not, and report their answer.
3) If you don’t agree with their answer or have other insights to share, please do.

7 Comments

  1. USFS has $100 million in projects ready to go
    By ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian | Posted: Friday, January 2, 2009

    SNIPS:

    “Montana’s forests could play a part in putting America back to work, according to a group of timber and wilderness advocates. The U.S. Forest Service has about $100 million in “shovel-ready” forest restoration projects on the shelf that could put loggers, scientists, heavy-equipment operators and other timber-related workers on the payroll, members of the Montana Forest Restoration Committee said. That backlog could be turned into 1,337 full- and part-time jobs, according to an analysis by the Wilderness Society, one of the committee’s partners…..While some projects would involve regular or salvage logging, many of the jobs would involve cleaning up streambeds, obliterating roads, reclaiming abandoned mines, noxious weed control and other cleanup work left unfinished from previous [stewardship contracting] timber operations….WildWest Institute director Matthew Koehler, an MFRC partner, said it was heartening to see how much work there was available to do.
    “We’re supportive of it,” Koehler said of the MFRC letter. “It’s important to realize we hear a lot about analysis paralysis and gridlock, but the Forest Service itself says there’s $100 million in work shovel-ready. This is just one example of the types of clean, green sustainable solutions people should be working toward. Congress is just not putting the money toward that common ground.”

    Entire article here: http://missoulian.com/news/local/article_89fd7073-1372-5822-a48e-bce556d0e5c0.html

  2. Here is another article related to this topic:

    Logging-for-watershed-restoration paradigm disingenuous, ineffective
    Posted by Jeff Juel
    Aug 21, 2006

    Responding to their own well-deserved bad PR following decades of unsustainable logging and road building on national forest lands in the Northern Rockies and elsewhere, the U.S. Forest Service has been attempting to redefine the terms of the debate so the public will accept more industrial logging and roadbuilding on our public forests.

    These days, as we pore over the governments’ environmental documents, rarely are timber sales offered up solely for economic purposes. In almost every proposal, we read that “vegetation restoration” (i.e., logging) is needed, ironically enough, in order to compensate for the negative consequences of earlier logging and fire suppression, the latter of which was often done at the behest of the logging industry.

    But whereas there is a vigorous scientific debate over whether industrial logging can actually restore our forests, there is simply no debate over the immediate need to restore watersheds – with stream ecosystems unraveling and native fish habitat choked by sediment following decades of road building and logging. The watershed restoration needs here in the Northern Rockies are immense with Forest Service estimates indicating that nearly 85% of the fish-passage culverts in our region are currently impassable to fish coupled with a road maintenance backlog of over $1.3 billion on the 67,000 miles of roads that crisscross our forests and watersheds.

    Unfortunately, Congress has yet to appropriately prioritize and adequately fund genuine watershed restoration for our national forests. Perhaps this is due to the fact that since 1990 the logging industry and their lobbyists have given members of Congress $39 million in campaign contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

    In recent years, the Forest Service has been displaying the disturbing tendency to utilize industrial logging as a way to raise funds for watershed restoration through something given the positive sounding name of “stewardship contracting.” One such example is the Fishtrap logging project located twenty miles north of Thompson Falls, within a remote corner of the forest. The Fishtrap project calls for 3 ½ square miles of industrial logging in unroaded wildlands, old-growth forests and important habitat for grizzly bears and bull trout.

    The Forest Service wanted to “…implement the Fishtrap project through stewardship contracting in order to accomplish as much of the identified restoration opportunities on the ground as possible. Stewardship contracting … facilitates land restoration and enhancement efforts by using value of the traded goods (timber) for important work on the ground…”

    In some ways, this seems almost like extortion, forcing the public to permit logging in what are usually heavily logged watersheds so that some watershed restoration can be achieved. Obviously, this begs the question: how many timber sales would the agency have to hold in any given watershed, in order to get the excessive roads removed, the sediment sources fixed, the streams and streamside zone fully functioning, the fish populations recovered and the weeds controlled?

    The WildWest Institute raised this question in the case of the Fishtrap project. The answer we got back was a tacit admission that the Forest Service’s logging-for-watershed-restoration paradigm won’t net nearly enough money to restore all the identified road and watershed problems in Fishtrap Creek. The Lolo National Forest stated, “Because road management and watershed restoration opportunities…far exceeded anticipated revenues, only the highest priority road treatments” were included in the decision, thus other watershed restoration needs were put on indefinite hold until funds might be found. However, the 3½ square miles of industrial logging are fully funded by the decision.

    Another, perhaps more insidious, form of extortion involves the Bitterroot National Forest, where the agency is resorting to a different sort of propaganda. In recognition of a legitimate need to reduce fire risk to a narrow stretch of private land along the East Fork of the Bitterroot River, the agency offered up the Middle East Fork logging project, under the auspices of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act.

    However, instead of focusing limited fuel reduction resources along the ownership boundary, the Bitterroot National Forest also proposed to log nearly 4,000 acres of unlogged, old-growth forests far from the community. In response to agency scientists and other researchers who indicate that fuel reduction must be more narrowly prioritized, and to counter the Forest Service’s unfounded claims that logging old-growth would “restore fire-adapted ecosystems,” the WildWest Institute and Friends of the Bitterroot – together with retired Forest Service rangers, loggers, hikers, hunters and local residents – proposed a smaller, more focused alternative that, according to the Forest Service, would have reduced fuels on 1,600 acres, created 45 jobs and pumped $1 million into the local economy.

    Our alternative was also in recognition that the Middle East Fork project area is still recovering from past Forest Service mismanagement including clearcutting, terracing and excessive roadbuilding, which was so egregious that it lead to Congress passing the National Forest Management Act in 1976. In fact, a third of the entire analysis area has already been logged and the roads in the project area are currently dumping over 150 tons of sediment into streams annually.

    We also requested that the Bitterroot National Forest create a list of all needed watershed restoration actions for the Middle East Fork project area, so that the Environmental Impact Statement would inform the public how much money it would take – and how many jobs would be available for local workers – to restore the badly damaged watersheds in the project area.

    Unfortunately, Bitterroot Supervisor David Bull refused to provide such information, saying, “The Healthy Forests Restoration Act … does not address or authorize such unrelated activities …for watershed improvement purposes.” If the HFRA is truly about restoring healthy forests, we wonder just how in the world that goal is accomplished without bona-fide, ecologically-based watershed restoration work. And what good is a “Healthy Forests Restoration Act” if the best that can be provided to the imperiled bull trout is an impaired status quo?

    In order bring to light our federal government’s disingenuous and ineffective logging-for-watershed-restoration paradigm – and due to other illegalities within both the Fishtrap and Middle East Fork logging projects – we have initiated the checks and balances provided by the third branch of government, by filing suit in U.S. District Court, in order to hold the Forest Service accountable and make sure that this government agency follows the law.

    As the old saying goes, “When there’s a will, there’s a way.” In the case of restoring our national forests, the WildWest Institute is working with diverse interests on many levels to find alternatives to the current, dysfunctional paradigm. We believe the opportunities are nearly endless and bona-fide restoration work could provide jobs for generations. Unfortunately, until Congress and the Forest Service demonstrate the same willingness to make watershed and ecologically-based restoration activities a top priority, our public watersheds, forests and wildlife will continue to be compromised.

    Jeff Juel is the WildWest Institute’s Ecosystem Defense Director

  3. When the Feds don’t do what they say, despite funding problems, that hurts the mission and breeds distrust. Hopefully, the FLAME Act will address some of those problems but, both timber sales and these stewardship projects need economic reality. We also need to use bonds to make sure the other required work gets done. Remember, though, that timber projects also include road maintenance, which otherwise, gets little budget money. There are numerous “stewardship” items packaged with modern timber sales, and paid for with logs. We’ve had nearly two decades to design beneficial multiple use projects that are economical and eco-friendly.

    In my career, a few times I was asked to do things that didn’t seem ethical to me. For example, on a fire salvage project, I was asked by my client/supervisor to mark potentially-dying trees that didn’t meet the marking guidelines. His argument was “you KNOW the’re going to die… might as well get them right now”. The guy was a caricature of the old school, Rush-is-right, church-going, Republican timber beast. While I knew there was a lot of truth in what he was telling me, I felt that getting caught going against the guidelines while the project was being litigated weren’t worth the risks to myself and the agency. Instead, the old, rickety fart went out there and marked a ton of them himself. Of course, he was right in his prediction that those trees were going to die, as the bark beetles bloomed, and did their dirtywork. If the eco’s were watching, it wasn’t going to be me taking the fall for it.

    I have seen other employees, from top to bottom, cave in under such pressure. One Forest Supervisor was afraid of a Ranger District Ologist. One Timber Management Officer wasn’t allowed to talk with the Wildlife Biologist, without a mediator. I know these kinds of things happened a lot more in the distant past but, today’s Ologist are rather protective of “their turf”. If the Forest Service starts winning more in court, I’d bet that they will face more ground-truthing, and I would welcome that, too.

  4. I agree with Sharon that Mathew raises some very good questions that get at some of the more systemic issues involved in this on-going debate, issues that I believe underlie much of the distrust that persists between some within the environmental community and the agency. Thanks to Mathew for raising the question.

    Now I have no doubt that Mathew has tracked these issues much more closely than I have at least for the past few years, but I do think Mathew may have conflated a couple of things here.

    I do agree there are real problems with the level of funding the FS received to do both monitoring and restoration work in many cases. However, my understanding is that in stewardship contracting, the restoration work included within a decision becomes part of the contractual obligation of the “purchaser”, and must be completed before the contractor is “off-the -hook”. Part of my question here comes from my understanding that in most cases thus far, purchasers within stewardship contracts often make little money off the deal and may even loose money, which points to some other questions concerning our expectations for stewardship contracting, but runs contrary to the impression Mathew may have concerning restoration work within the stewardship contracting context.

    Having said all of this I am happy to be educated by those watching stewardship contracting more closely than I at this point. I also want to reiterate that I am speaking to the stewardship context only, and my impression is that in many other cases there are real, chronic, and systemic issues involving insufficient funding for watershed restoration work that requires an investment in the landscape.

    Here, however, I would also add that continuing to direct frustrations toward the agency apart from its larger political reality is misguided, even though it may be tempting at times. It has taken me some time to understand this, but as an executive branch organization, the USFS cannot lobby or advocate for a budget other than what it gets. As a result, although, the budgeting process is certainly political and far more complicated than I will ever fully understand, once the decision is made at the Departmental level, the agency sees its only option as moving forward as best it can, often to the point where it appears to be “satisfied” with the budget when in reality this may be far from the case.

    To affect systemic change from outside the agency, it is incumbent upon organizations and individuals first to create a more favorable political climate for the agency as a whole. In other words, in my view the agency needs many more zealous advocates for its mission and the importance of National Forests in general. There are many many good people within the agency that would gladly jump on the chance to do more to repair our National Forests, but they need a political climate that celebrates their agency and what they do or would like to do, now more than ever. Non-profits understand well that money follows success and thus highlight all the good stuff their organizations are doing each year in their annual reports. The same principle applies in politics. Funding follows the favor of the public. Bring the agency into more favor with the public and funding will improve for the good work that needs to be done, even in these hard economic times. Partnership opportunities would also likely improve, leading to a virtuous cycle each year.

    None of this is to suggest we ignore the systemic problems that have persisted for too long. It is simply to offer an alternative means for generating the systemic change I think we might all agree upon. My two cents here…

    Cheers, Mike

  5. Mike, If you could specifically point out what I have allegedly “conflated” here that would be super helpful. Thanks.

    The Missoulian article lays out pretty clearly that of the $100 million in shovel ready work in the USFS’s Region 1:

    “many of the jobs would involve cleaning up streambeds, obliterating roads, reclaiming abandoned mines, noxious weed control and other cleanup work left unfinished from previous timber operations.”

    When that article was written in January 2009, I remember that TWS and others were passing around a pretty detailed Forest Service-produced spreadsheet, which contained more detailed information about the unfinished, “shovel-ready” restoration work. That spreadsheet may have even included info about which timber sale or stewardship contract the unfinished work originated from. Unfortunately, I can’t locate that spreadsheet anymore, as I had a serious computer meltdown last winter. Perhaps someone at TWS still has it and could share it with us. Thanks.

  6. Hi Mathew,

    I was just referring to mixing together stewardship with other FS project. It is my understanding that in stewardship contracting, the restoration work is linked together with the commercial timber harvest, thereby holding the contractor liable restoration work listed in the contract. In more conventional contracting, the restoration work is run through a separate contract than that for the commercial timber harvest, and is therefore more easily left undone when budgets run short. “Conflation” just means mixing two things together that perhaps should not be mixed together…Otherwise, I think you’ve got some good points with regard to systemic problems, and I’m not taking issue with most of the other stuff you were saying….I’m not even arguing one way or another for stewardship contracting, as I think there’s a lot more to that story as well. I would be interested to know about how much net profit stewardship contracting actually ends up making for the purchasers. Are you aware of any such studies of late?

    Mike

    • Mike, I think that’s a great question. I think Martin Nie and Courtney Schultz have been studying stewardship contracts of late.

      I have to point out that where timber has little or negative value, stewardship contracts are not really a solution to getting desirable projects funded.

      I also think your point that we might get more progress with supporting and promoting watershed investments in the federal budget than other methods has a great deal to be said for it. Water and watersheds are part of our nation’s natural infrastructure and so it could be prioritized for any future jobs program.

      Seems like a bunch of groups could get together and lobby for this- they would have the support of most everyone, I think and it would perhaps be a better investment in the environment than, for example, litigation of 597 acres of commercial thinning (to go back to the previous post). You could couple it with a CCC like effort, and maybe a Senior Conservation Corp..

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