Project could have lessened fire damage (?) Ruidoso News

Whether a project would have helped.
Here is a link to the article.
Below are some excerpts.

But Stewart, a participant in the thinning project from its inception in 2008, said Tuesday the group’s appeal relied on hazy technical details that nobody had a specific answer to. The reason the reversal was upheld was that there was not enough historic data for the area to establish natural conditions and allow the team to speak from a position of expertise, he said.

“It’s a lot about interpretation,” he said. “There’s not a set template for describing the effects of old growth as there is for goshawks and other endangered species. (The project) got turned back, more or less saying we did not analyze the effects enough to make a professional recommendation for treatment.”

Regulations and rulings clearly define what is required to maintain habitat for endangered species, but decisions on old growth typically relied on site-specific data, though the plan did have goals to encourage old growth, loosely defined as multi-age tree stands, to expand, he said.

Issues with erosion brought up by the environmental groups also were based on a lack of historical data, he said.

“We were in the process of beefing those (reports) up, gathering data on the soil and for the old growth to show a more in-depth analysis,” he said. “We expected to do treatments this year. To have it appealed put it on hold, and we were expecting a new decision by the end of this fiscal year, in September.”

With the new information, Stewart said the project was “at the door, waiting to go,” requiring no changes from the original draft. “We were getting more justification for what we had already proposed.”

Without an appeal, thinning treatments would have begun possibly as soon as spring of this year, continuing through the summer, he said. Timber contracts would have been issued during autumn, though few areas would be worth the expense of logging, he added.

It sounds like another project that is not about “logging” in the sense of the dictionary definition.

Lininger said that the thinning project would have harmed Bonito Lake by causing sediment to fall into the lake from the slopes where temporary roads were to have been cut.
Bird added that with the shift in typical conditions in the Southwest to a dryer, drought-ridden landscape, he questioned whether thinning would be effective, or feasible in the backcountry.
“The bottom line is that you can fire-proof a community, but you can’t fire-proof a forest,” he said.
According to the Wild Earth Guardian’s website, the group seeks to “transcend this paradigm of fear-driven fire policy,” and protect communities with “common-sense safety measures and financial incentives from state and federal governments.”
“Our forests were born of fire and, just as rainforests need rain, forests need fire’s rejuvenating properties to perpetuate and thrive,” the website states.

Specific directives to maintain old growth and the “largest, healthy green trees” per acre were included in the thinning plan, though the minimum number of trees could dip if there was an excess of mistletoe infesting the trees. Base levels of mistletoe would be maintained, according to the report.

A diverse landscape of mixed meadows and both light and heavy tree stands to “reduce crown fire potential,” “protect and enhance the watershed” and increase biodiversity and habitat was prescribed for the area, according to the report.
The groups also pushed for a 16-inch cap on tree removal, which was taken “under consideration” by Robert Trujillo, supervisor for the Lincoln National Forest.

“It’s hard to put a dollar cost on (appeals), because it’s people’s time,” Stewart said. “I think the cost is, more or less, what else could (Forest Service workers) be working on aside from this appeal?”
He added that thinning projects already were hampered by cost-cutting concerns. Hand crews cost upwards to $1,200 per acre, mechanical thinning ran at about $300 per acre and controlled burns typically cost $90 per acre, but could only be applied in areas without a significant concentration of ladder fuels, he said.

“(Thinning) has to take a more holistic approach, and I have to do this across the entire forest,” he said. “The Bonito (project), to me, was almost heartbreaking. We knew it was going to be important, we knew it was a municipal watershed for Alamogordo and we knew that if there was a fire, it was going to be devastating. And we got it, unfortunately.

Note from Sharon: I looked for a copy of the EIS or EA for this project on this site but couldn’t find it. I did look at the list of projects for the forest and noticed a bunch of CE’s and not many vegetation management projects. That adds to our database of “what projects do people use CE’s for, and is it good public policy to require notice comment and appeal for all CEs?”

Also, having spent most of my career working in western pine forests, it’s hard for me to believe that any FS project or a cumulative impact of FS projects could result in a dearth of mistletoe. Just sayin’

27 Comments

  1. I wonder how, if it would matter, the participants in the project had asked local knowledge or input. I ask this because i am often confused what is actually seen as science and what is observation. Is one better than the other?

    • Hipno: This is an excellent question. From my experience, the answer is yes. Local residents invariably are a lot more knowledgeable about local conditions than agency scientists or college professors. A lot more knowledgeable.

      When the knowledge of local people is integrated into a planning process, it is usually in some form of condition that can be studied (with recommendations) in a field such as Cultural Anthropology or Religious Studies; or maybe a newer field, such as Civic Science. The “science” is in the method and, hopefully, the findings and conclusions as well.

      Science used to be based on observation, but lately assumption, opinion, speculation, and prophecy have raised their ugly heads with claims of being both “science” AND “the best available.” Gore help us.

  2. All too often, a project gets prepared, then litigated, then it burns before implemented. Is that a “victory” for the preservationists??? Some seem to think the incineration of endangered species habitat is an acceptable loss to “fight the paradigm of fear-based fire policy”.

  3. Larry, you wrote: “All too often, a project gets prepared, then litigated, then it burns before implemented.” Can you please provide evidence, including the actual names of proposed Forest Service logging projects, that were supposedly prepared, litigated and then burned by wildlife in the process. You make it seems like this supposed occurrence happens all the time, so I also you’ll easily be able to provide us with some factual information to back up your claim. Thanks.

      • I think it might be the tone of your postings, Matt, rather than the content. You can come across as fairly arrogant, dismissive, and condescending at times and maybe that has something to do with the “thumbs down” rating. Look at how you framed your “request” from Larry as an example. How would you like to be spoken to like that?

        Biscuit Fire is one excellent example of what you are looking for, assuming you meant “wildfire” rather than “wildlife” (unless you’re referring to the herd of Takelma Bipeds that regularly roam the valleys and foothills).

    • There are a great many examples of re-burns occurring in litigated salvage sales. The Silver Fire, in southern Oregon was burned again in the Biscuit. The unsalvaged part of the Silver Fire burned more intensely than the green portion of the Biscuit. I fully expect that there have been Bitterroot examples, as well.

  4. You’re about to get your wish Matt. The “Ash” fire, on the Custer National Forest near Ashland Montana, is about to burn through the USFS “Beaver Creek project” which was litigted by the usual suspects of Garrity and sara jane, and the sage judge Molloy just ruled against the USFS, oh what, a few months ago. Below is the Inci web map.

    http://www.inciweb.org/incident/2958/

    Here’s a link to the Beaver Creek project map.
    http://a123.g.akamai.net/7/123/11558/abc123/forestservic.download.akamai.com/11558/www/nepa/67188_FSPLT2_035424.pdf

    • How nice of you to bring you bat back and play with us Derek. Already great to hear from you. And Bob, it might be the tone of your postings or the tone of Larry’s postings too. This isn’t a one-way street. And I will not that Larry has failed to produce any factual evidence or documentation, which is pretty normal in these parts.

      • Hi Matt: Larry and I weren’t complaining about “thumb’s down” ratings, no matter how many you hand out. That was you. Notice how many of the “Most Liked Posts and Comments” focus on SE Alaska? Maybe that’s the easiest way for everyone to become more “likable.”

        And, contrary to your claims, I find excellent documentation on this blog all the time — including many of Larry’s fine photographs, links to the latest scientific articles, newspaper stories, and eyewitness observations. You’ve posted a lot of these things yourself, but so have many others.

        Framing a “honest request” in the form of a belittling challenge or demand isn’t a good way to get anyone to do research for you, especially for free. An honest request should be honestly and respectfully stated as such, shouldn’t it?

        Too, what did you think of Derek’s response to your request? Documented?

  5. Story in tomorows “Missoulian.” “Ash Creek Fire burns toward area proposed for logging to reduce fire hazard”
    creek-fire-burns-toward-area-proposed-for-logging-to/article_71bf2e18-c3fa-11e1-bc83-001a4bcf887a.html

  6. Ok Bob, I will try and be as nice as possible when asking people to document some of their assertions on this blog. I’m also not sure that a wildlife that has already burned through 160,000 acres of grass, trees, etc on various land ownerships that may at some point also burn through the Beaver Creek project area is very solid evidence of what Larry is asserting. Anyone have any idea why the US Forest Service can’t seem to produce a Beaver Creek project that is legal?

    • Thanks, Matt: Me, too, at least for a while (that seems to be the pattern). Here’s some polite responses:

      1) This is the second time during this discussion you have inadvertently written “wildlife” instead of “wildfire.” Maybe it’s the 10 thumbs, spellcheck, fading eyesight, there/their problem that keeps pissing me off; maybe it’s Freudian; or maybe that’s what you’re actually trying to type. You’re past outspoken support for the ESA and the organizations and lawyers that benefit by its wording in past posts supports the latter possibility. Lucky, lucky black-backed woodpeckers (and termites).

      2) The USFS can’t produce a project that is legal because: 1) most of its talent has retired and been replaced by a diminishing number of traveling bureaucrats and one-note Ologists; 2) idiot “preservationists” keep filing suit on anything and everything that moves out of an USFS office.

      What to do? At some point this nonsense needs to stop.

      • Bob, I’d say over the past ten years my most common typo (besides Brian and brain) is wildfire/wildlife. Not sure why I do it, but I’ll try and be more careful. Thanks for pointing it out. I’ve found that most Brian’s don’t mind being called Brain.

  7. Yes, Matt I do have an idea….I suspect you do too in this case (Beaver Creek), but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.

    The rules requiring stormwater permitting changed as a result of Northwest Environmental Defense Center v. Brown. That was why the decision was remanded. I’m not sure when the actual permitting process finally hit the ground, but I’m pretty sure they were not required during project development and during the time this project was in the NEPA phase.

    The judge rejected the Plaintiff’s (AWR,NEC) usual litanany of claims that the project violated NEPA and ESA.

  8. It’s official. The “Ash Creek” fire has now burned off the “Beaver Creek Project.” Below is the link to the “inciweb” map that was flown last night.

    http://www.inciweb.org/incident/2958/

    I guess we now have evidence of a timber sale that was prepared, litigated, and then burned by wildfire. Just a bit of background on the “Beaver Creek project.” In 2008, a Decision on the “Whitetail Hazardous Fuels Project”, which proposed to thin around 3800 acres,or twice the Beaver Project,was litigated prompting the USFS to “withdraw” their decision. The Whitetail project covered the same area as the Beaver Project. In an attempt to appease the radicals, the USFS “modified” the Whitetail project by reducing the acreage in half, and the thinning treatments were mostly now “thinning small diameter trees” to enhance and keep from burning Goshawk “post fledgling habitat”(of course the 40 acres around nests would be left untouched). When will the USFS learn that the radicals don’t care about feeling “inclusive” to help “make the project better”, all they care about is stopping the project. It’s time to stop that dance and get real.

    Within the project were 5 Goshawk nests and two “Active” nesting territories. The Ashland Ranger district of the Custer Nat. Forest has had one third of it’s “Active nesting territories” burned off in the last decade. To give you perspective, there used to be 14, then 10, and now 8. I do believe that a large part of this fire “reburned” through a fire 8 years ago. The next step should be for the media to confirm with the Forest Service that the active territories have been cooked off, and then ask Dr. Sara Jane Johnson of the Native Ecosystem Council and Garrity how it feels to be responsible for destroying two “active” Goshawk territories. My definition of bungling is destroying that which you thought you were saving. But then, it’s not about pointing fingers, it’s about finding solutions…

    • Goshawk and spotted owl nesting habitats are extremely flammable, because no management has gone on in some of those for many decades, if at all. Just drawing a circle around habitat on a map doesn’t protect it from catastrophic loss….. YES, that is catastrophic, indeed!!! It is simply another failure of the ESA to protect essential nesting habitat, ensuring that those birds will stay listed. The birds are listed SOLELY because of their rare nesting habitats.

    • Once again Derek, so glad you came back to join us just a few weeks after swearing off any of your participation in this blog.

      Also, once again, I need to point out the ridiculousness of using, as an example, a 160,000 acre fire that already burned through grass, trees, etc on various land ownerships and then finally, after 160,000 acres, burned through a proposed USFS logging project area to somehow prove Larry’s assertion that it’s very common for wildfires to burn through USFS project areas that were prepared, litigated, and then burned by wildfire. But if that’s the project you guys want to hang your hat on, go right ahead.

      • Oh, I’ll pop in from time to time to highlight radical enviro bungling. But I have no desire for endless useless debate. It’s enough to know that this story will eventually be in every newspaper in the west. It’s enough to know that the above scenario will be repeated many times in the future.

  9. Oh, I did forget to mention, as JZ pointed out, that the “Beaver Project” was litigated, and a few months ago Judge molloy ruled the USFS hadn’t analized the “storm water runoff” from roads. I think maybe I’ll send him some photos of storm runoff from burned hillsides.If past science holds true, that’ll be about a 100 times that of some temp. roads.

  10. Bob, I agree with you that a critical factor in the USFS’s inability to develop projects that withstand a legal or administrative challenge is the current funding/staffing levels at the ranger district level. The federal outfit I joined and loved for many years is dead…gone, emasculated, on the defensive. And that lack of learning from their mistakes seems to go on and on.

    What has me scratching my head as I read and learn on this wonderful site (thanks to Sharon) is that most of the suggestions to “fix” the wildfire/overgrown forest issue (which largely dominates the discussion here) are demanding actions that the agency can’t deliver because of the staffing and funding deficits. These are political problems, not ecological or biological or fire science.

    Some of you are asking for things to be done that the districts just can’t do. They can’t prepare and prescribe burn hundreds of thousands of acres per year. Most districts in this part of the country don’t have the staff or funds. Not to mention the lack of “fire safe” weather slots to do prescribed burns without unacceptable risk to private property. Effective burn days in the spring are minimal, and carrying an effective ground fire is very iffy. Fall burns are much more effective but limited by high risks of escape and damage liability.

    What is needed is a national effort, backed by Congressional or Presidential mandates, with funding and staffing, that institutes a decade or two of focused attention to the needs on the ground. In bad fire-damage years like now, the pols wring their hands and point with alarm and demand that “someone do something”. Or the President prescribes more contracting of aerial retardant planes. Big friggen deal! Continue to ignore the real causes and real needs. Probably next year we won’t have hundreds of homes burned, and the cry of alarm will fade, and we will await another fire-buster year for more hand-wringing.

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