Senate Committee Hearing: Challenges and opportunities for improving forest management on federal lands

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A reader sent me this link: here’s his review:

Bill Imbergamo’s hit it out of the park with his oral and written testimony. I wanted to give him a hug.

Norm Johnson was awesome about the variable retention and science, children’s books, etc

Risch was spot-on also.

If you haven’t watched, I highly recommend it. VERY worthwhile investment of time.

So far I managed to get to a part where Wyden notes that NEPA “requires a strong stomach” or something equivalent, somehow I couldn’t find it when I went back..

There’s a great deal to think about here.. I am not as sanguine as the Chief about large landscape NEPA. If someone wants to, couldn’t they go to court after a big blow down or fire (or new climate models or ???) and ask for a redo on the basis of new information and changed conditions? Fundamentally, it would require a change with some folks giving up power, which people usually don’t do voluntarily. Especially those who really believe that they have the right perspective.

The Black Hills doesn’t have any of those ESA animals which are involved in all the Montana and other lawsuits.. is that a coincidence? Perhaps not as applicable as a person might think. I feel like the Administration likes to think things will be fine if collaboration is done and they do huge NEPA. I am a fairly optimistic person but I don’t see that changing, say, Mr. Garrity’s view on the couple of R-1 timber sales because the NEPA is at a larger scale.

The pilots have a great deal of attention and support, in terms of getting various barriers out of the way. Even if the pilots are successful, this does not necessarily predict that everyday kinds of work will be equally successful. My optimism tells me that we would get further by determining what the real barriers to active forest management are.

Anyway, there’s a lot here. What’s your favorite quote? Did you want to hug anyone?

8 Comments

  1. Sharon, There is only one real barrier to active forest management – the land is federally owned and managed by a impotent bureaucracy whose leadership lacks the guts to tell the truth.

    The 5 National Forests in Utah are a harbinger of the conditions we can expect nationwide in the absence of major revisions in our public land policies. In 2011 these forests collectively experienced a negative timber growth rate. More timber died than was grown, with an estimated net annual growth of –13.6 million cubic feet on the 1.1 million acres of land classified in the Forest Plans as “suitable” for harvesting timber.

    In response to this and other similar challenges, in 2014 the USDA Forest Service proposes to reduce the volume of timber sold by 15%. The agency will sell about 7% of the total timber grown on its non-reserved timberlands, while ~7 times that volume (nearly half of the growth) will die.

    Removal of selected lands from federal oversight and transferal to local autonomous authority, similar to state trust lands, would seem to be the most direct and efficient way – perhaps the only way – to secure reliable, adequate funding and cut through the tangle of shifting, restrictive, and often conflicting laws, regulations, executive orders, litigation, and judicial mandates that make federal management a hopeless cause.

  2. Sharon, we need to be realistic and understand the real barriers to active forest management are ideological. Reference wicked problems. Dr. Johnson touched on it a little in regards to “making your case”. Not something Congress can help with.

    Regardless, that was the first hearing I’ve seen in a long time that actually left me a little inspired. One Congressional Rep. I talked to today said their office felt the same. Almost like the change is palpable. I have high hopes. If something better doesn’t come out of this then I’ll go learn how to drive truck. There was the usual canned fodder put out by Tidwell and a few others, but overall the flavor was upbeat and solution oriented.

    The trust-pilot is by all accounts the lowest hanging of the fruits, something that will face unrelenting opposition, but so did wolf delisting. NEPA reforms, ESA reforms, etc…those are a much harder lift and not likely to see meaningful progress anytime soon.

    The NEPA and implementing regs are actually very straightforward. As pointed out in the testimony, it’s the mountain of interpretive case law that keeps the bar very high and projects easy to challenge, requiring the FS to do a rediculous amount of paperwork. I fail to see where a “hard look” at the NEPA is going to bring about change or make things easier. The Chief was off-the-mark in citing the new objections process as saving time, when the process as played out according to the rules will take about the same amount of time as apeals.

    I think the Chief also took a too broad-brush approach to fixing the problems, i.e. large scale NEPA analysis. As you pointed out Sharon, not all landscapes are the same. The chief was also off-the-mark when he spoke of efficiencies gained by analyzing only one or a reduced number of alternatives in HFRA-like style. The HFRA is very limited in scope to communites-at-risk, etc, etc. What about the other millions of acres of “roaded front” country that aren’t adjacent to a community-at-risk? The NEPA regs do not require a specific number of alternatives, but case law once again disagrees.

    Large scale analysis and/or less alternatives? Hmmm…..In my experience an that of my colleagues, a number of modest proposals with a modest amount of alternatives has produced as much volume as trying to “shoot the moon” and do it all in one fell swoop. A large NEPA analysis produces large numbers, to which the sticker shock is spun all out of proportion. Interestingly, where I work, three “old school” EA’s created about the same amount of temp road and logged about as many acres in one drainage as one EIS is proposing to do in an adjacent drainage. We are trying the larger scale approach, but the acres and mileage numbers in the proposed project are not ready to be digested by a lot of folks, even though it is in alignment with the Chief’s direction. There seems to be a disconnect between the ideology and what is happening on the ground.

    I don’t think I could have written Bill Imbergamo’s testimony any better. There’s a lot of shell games being played to make certain programs look good, but some of us know different. So yeah, I wanted to give him a hug. Norm Johnson too…I think somewhere between the two of them there is a solution. I hope Wyden and his folks can make it happen.

    • Yes, I agree that the barriers are ideological. So here’s what I think we do with other ideological issues… some are constitutional and ultimately decided through the court system. Others are decide by …. Congress… where deals are made by however good or bad public servants through a painful and inefficient process.

      Administrations have to follow laws (ultimately) or otherwise people can take them to court. I don’t think anyone has argued that vegetation management is constitutional issue.. O Where are the political scientists when you need them?

      Also, it has been my experience that CEQ says “the regs are fine” but don’t consider the case law’s contribution to the ultimate lack of “fine-ness” . As in “documents should be short”, etc. The only way to change case law is through Congress.

      But when Congress gets concerned about this, the Administration trots out the same old “if only the FS were more collaborative and efficient”, which most of us recognize to be 1) inaccurate and 2) blaming the victim. Of course, in many cases the FS can be more collaborative and efficient, but that does not solve the issue of the case law.

  3. I still think we need better analysis of the “No Action” alternatives. If we are going to lose via litigation, we need to make sure that the public and the Judges know very well what is at stake. We need to document the impacts so that when the prediction happens, we can point to the NEPA and say “I told you so!”

  4. Check this out… Please let me know if your have a specific story–Nez Perce person from Idaho testified….I’m contacting a NYT/Huffington report (who knows me) on this one.I’ve been corresponding with Jack Ward Thomas–carefully and gently, the environmentalists gave him as much grief as the industrialists!!

    BE WELL

    Nancy Freeman http://www.savethesantacruzaquifer.info http://www.mining-law-reform.info http://www.g-a-l.info 520/398-4340 (home)

    Date: Wed, 26 Jun 2013 21:53:19 +0000 To: nanfree24@hotmail.com

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