Tongass Timber Sale Update: How an endemic species can halt a timber sale

Earlier in September, a press release from the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community (GSACC) was shared with this blog. It opened with:

On August 16, GSACC and four other organizations filed an administrative appeal of the Tongass Forest Supervisor’s decision to proceed with the Big Thorne timber project. The appeal went to to the next highest level in the agency, Regional Forester Beth Pendleton. The appeal is known as Cascadia Wildlands et al. (2013), and other co-appellants are Greenpeace, Center for Biological Diversity and Tongass Conservation Society.

The project would log 148 million board feet of timber [enough to fill 29,600 log trucks], including over 6,000 acres of old-growth forest from heavily hammered Prince of Wales Island. 46 miles of new logging roads would be built and another 36 miles would be reconstructed.

Today, we get an update on the Big Thorne timber sale on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska in the form of this article, written by Dr. Natalie Dawson, one of GSACC’s board members.

Wolf

“When you spend much time on islands with naturalists you will tend to hear two words in particular an awful lot: ‘endemic’ and ‘exotic’. Three if you count ‘disaster’. An ‘endemic’ species of plant or animal is one that is native to an island or region and is found nowhere else at all.”
-From Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams, author of A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

by Natalie Dawson

On the Tongass National Forest, we hear mostly about trees – whether it be discussions about board feet, acres of old growth, percentage of forest converted to “second-growth” or “the matrix”[*], our conversations tend to focus on the dominant plant species group that defines the rare “coastal temperate rainforest” biome. However, the Tongass is more than a forest, it is a conglomerate of islands, islands of different sizes, islands of different geologic and cultural histories, islands with or without black bears, grizzly bears, or wolves, the iconic species of Alaska. Because of these islands, there are unique, or, endemic, species of various size, shape and color across the islands. Though they have played a minimal role in management throughout the course of Tongass history, they are now rightfully finding their place in the spotlight thanks to a recent decision by regional forester Beth Pendleton.

On Monday (Sept. 30), the US Forest Service announced its decision to reconsider the Big Thorne timber project. This project would have been the largest timber project on the Tongass National Forest in twenty years, taking 6,200 acres of old growth forest (trees up to 800 years old, 100 feet tall, and 12 feet in diameter) from Prince of Wales Island, an island that has suffered the most intense logging in the region over the past six decades. It is also an island that is home to endemic animals found nowhere else in the world.

Citizens of southeast Alaska and environmental organizations including GSACC jointly filed an administrative appeal on the Big Thorne timber project on August 16th of this year. Monday’s response comes directly from regional forester Beth Pendleton. In the appeal, Pendleton cited an expert declaration written by Dave Person, a former Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) biologist with over 22 years of experience studying endemic Alexander Archipelago wolves on Prince of Wales Island, with most of his research occurring within the Big Thorne project area. Pendleton cited Person’s conclusion that “the Big Thorne timber sale, if implemented, represents the final straw that will break the back of a sustainable wolf-deer predator-prey ecological community on Prince of Wales Island…” Her letter states, “This is new information that I cannot ignore.” The response to the appeal requires significant review of the timber project before it can move forward, including cooperative engagement between the Tongass National Forest and the Interagency Wolf Task Force to evaluate whether Dr. Person’s statement represents “significant new circumstances or information relevant to” cumulative effects on wolves (including both direct mortality and habitat).

As one of my students today in class asked me pointedly, “So what does all this mean?” Well, it means that the largest potential timber sale in recent history on our nation’s largest national forest, on the third largest island under U.S. ownership, is temporarily halted under administrative processes due to an endemic species. It does not mean that this area is protected. It does not mean, that our work is done. Pending the outcome from conversations between the Forest Supervisor and the Interagency Wolf Task Force, especially under the current political climate within the state of Alaska, we may have plenty to keep us busy in the near future. It does mean that, even if only briefly, the endemic mammals of the Tongass National Forest received a most deserving moment in the spotlight. This could result in a sea-change in how the Tongass National Forest is managed.

This also means that science is being given a chance to play an important role in an administrative decision on our nation’s public lands, and two endemic species, the Alexander Archipelago wolf, and its primary prey species, the Sitka Black-Tailed deer, are forcing federal and state agency personnel to reconsider their actions. Science must continue to play an important role in the future of all activities on Prince of Wales Island. It is home to many endemic animals found only on a small percentage of islands on the Tongass National Forest, and nowhere else in the world. This lineup includes the Prince of Wales Island flying squirrel, the spruce grouse, the Haida ermine, and potentially the Pacific marten, which was only recently discovered on nearby Dall Island. The future of the Tongass timber program and human development on these complex islands are inextricably tied to ensuring a future for all other species in one of the world’s only remaining coastal temperate rainforests.
____

Dr. Natalie Dawson has done years of field work on endemic mammals throughout much of Southeast Alaska, studying their population sizes and distributions through field and laboratory investigations, and has published peer-reviewed scientific papers on these topics. She presently is director of the Wilderness Institute at the University of Montana and a professor in the College of Forestry and Conservation.

[*] What is the matrix? The conservation strategy in the Tongass Forest Plan establishes streamside buffers (no logging) and designates minimal old growth reserves, in an attempt to ensure that wildlife species on the Tongass remain viable. (Whether the strategy is sufficient for this is at best questionable.) The matrix is the expanse of habitat that is allocated to development (such as logging) or that is already developed, and which surrounds those patches of protected habitat.

UPDATE: Readers may notice that in the comments section a claim is made that the Sitka black-tailed deer are not endemic, but were were introduced. The Sitka black-tailed deer (Odocdileus hemionus sitkensis) were not introduced to Southeast Alaska; the Sitka black-tailed deer is indeed an indigenous, endemic species there.

Also, another commenter suggested referring to the article on the GSACC website, as at the bottom of the article one can find much more information about the Big Thorne timber sale and also the declaration of Dr. David Person regarding Big Thorne deer, wolf impacts. Thanks.

36 Comments

  1. From what I understand, the deer were introduced to the islands and are not endemic. This topic exactly parallels the discussion in Botkin’s Chapter 3. Larry, I think you would like this book a lot — it provides good insights and vocabulary to many of the points and discussions on this blog. In any instance, I know that deer like clearcuts and wolves like deer. And neither one is particularly fond of dense conifer forests. Are the trees really that old, that short, and that broad?

    • Please cite your sources for your “understand(ing),” because it is not clear you understand the topic at hand at all. With a statement like, “I know that deer like clearcuts…” you may want to review coastal temperate rainforest ecology and the role of even age management logging and road building on the deer population of Mitkof Island.

      That island has suffered a 40 year long persistent decimation of a previously abundant deer population due primarily to clearcutting deer winter habitat.

      Also, the endemic at issue here is focused on the Alexander Archipelago wolf — not deer.

  2. David: Please read the article: ” . . . and two endemic species, the Alexander Archipelago wolf, and its primary prey species, the Sitka Black-Tailed deer.” If my source is correct, then the deer are not endemic, they are introduced. And they are the main diet of the wolves.

    I don’t know if you consider the Tillamook Forest in Oregon a “coastal temperate rainforest” or not, but I am very familiar with the relationships between deer and conifer forests of the Olympic peninsula and coastal Oregon. My “understanding” comes from the fact that I, and several generations of my family, have worked in and hunted these lands for deer for more than 150 years. They rarely venture into solid stands of conifer, and they really like to eat food available in clearcuts, burns, prairies, and pastures. It shouldn’t be difficult for you to locate numerous citations of that fact. I’d start with the Oregon doe seasons of the 1950s and the reasons they were implemented — and I start with the Tillamook Burn and its’ salvage logging units.

    Rather than waste my time researching a “topic I don’t understand at all,” I would rather challenge you to cite YOUR source for the statement that the “island has suffered a 40 year long persistent decimation of a previously abundant deer population due primarily to clearcutting deer winter habitat.” I find that very difficult to believe, no matter the differing weather conditions between Alaska and the Olympic Peninsula.

    PS David, I was actually hoping you would chime in on this post. You and Travis are our two Alaska experts here, so it’s good to get some local input.

  3. Bob, I think you are too fast on the trigger, and are extending your Pacific Northwest understandings too far north to where the ecological situation may superficially seem similar to what you have experienced in the PNW but is actually quite different in important respects.

    First, Sitka black-tailed deer (Odocdileus hemionus sitkensis) were not introduced to Southeast Alaska; this is indeed an indigenous, endemic species there. Your source may have been confused by the 1985 transplanation of 33 Roosevelt elk (Cervis elaphus roosevelti) and 17 Rocky Mountain elk (C. e. nelsoni) from Oregon to one island in the region.

    Second, as just indicated, all “coastal temperate rainforests” are not the same and this is particularly true for deer. O. h. sitkensis is short in stature, and is affected by snowfalls which are often more severe than in Oregon both in absolute terms and in relation to this deer’s small size. This is a matter both of mobility and coverage of forage. In winter, well-developed old growth structure is vital in both respects. Winter is the bottleneck for determining deer numbers, particularly regarding severe as opposed to average winters. The region has set snowfall records in recent years, as some climate studies expect with global warming causing generally moister marine air and that enriched air encountering cold continental air in winter. Despite warming, it does not need to be very cold to cause snowfall, and extreme events must be expected.

    Further, southeastern Alaska has naturally fragmented old growth forest, with patches of muskeg interspersed for example. As more and more good quality old growth habitat is lost, predation (by wolves and bears) becomes more efficient; a phenomenon called “the cafeteria effect,” as resident or migrating deer get funneled into (as logging progresses) ever diminishing corridors and patches. The effect is non-linear, with each increment of habitat loss having a greater impact on deer numbers that the increment before it.

    Finally, I suggest reading the article on the GSACC website since documentation linked at the end of it was not repeated in the copy of the article that was placed here by Matthew. In particular, read the expert declaration by Dr. David Person, which was an exhibit to the appeal that won the hiatus in the Big Thorne project. This man did 22 years of field research on wolves and deer on the same island as the project. The declaration lays out the current situation quite well. It is a statement that the Forest Service rightly has to reckon with.

    Bob, you ended with welcoming more input specific to Southeast Alaska, and thanks for that. I hope you will give the above and Dr. Person’s declaration careful consideration.

  4. Hello G. Gulo:

    Yes, I understand the temperate forests of Alaska are different than western Oregon and Washington, which was why I welcomed more input. And I will follow up on your suggestion — thanks! Also, I understand that Sitka black-tail are different from black-tail found in the lower 48. The “source” I was referring to was from another blog (one mostly devoted to wolves) and who seemed authoritative, yet was anonymous, unfortunately. He/she was where I got the surprising information that deer had been planted from the mainland to the islands in SE Alaska. I still don’t know if that is true or not, but I followed up on it and they (authoritatively) claimed it was. The discussion was on Isle Royale Moose/Wolf populations and in conjunction with the Chapter 3 post I was preparing for the Botkin book discussion blog.

    So far as being “fast on the trigger” — guilty! I try to keep up on the blog conversations while working on other computer-related projects by using the old Harvard LIFO method (“last in, first out”). I do read everything thoroughly before responding, but I don’t usually get time to reflect on what I’ve typed. Or even proof-read it most of the time!

    Can you provide any information on the island deer populations, or the size and age questions I asked regarding the old-growth trees in question?

    • Bob, some answers to your questions.

      Deer populations are difficult to determine (aerial methods don’t work because of the terrrain and vegetative cover) in this region. The indirect method of pellet transects is used, but has significant recognized problems. Number of deer harvested is also used, but is an indicator that can also be misleading for several reasons.

      An overview powerpoint about the game management unit that is the central portion of the southeastern Alaska (GMU3), presented to the Alaska Board of Game in January by Alaska Department of Fish and Game staff, gives some indication of the situation. See: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static-f/regulations/regprocess/gameboard/pdfs/2012-2013/southeast_1-11-13/tab_5_section_1_petersburg_overview.pdf

      Somes notes concerning some of the slides, though. 1) Slide 11 is deer harvest in the unit from 1982 to 2011. The low harvest in the earlier years is a consequence of a particularly hard winter in 1969/70 and the subsequent winter, from which there is still not a complete recovery. Hunting was ended entirely for many years (not shown). Although the winter of 2006/07 had record snowfall, the snow conditions (relative mobility of deer vs. wolves) were not as adverse, so the effect fortunately was less. 2) Habitat lost to logging is part of the problem (slides 17, 18, 22, 24). Consider too that on the maps (18 & 22), elevation and the great variance in habitat structure within the “productive old growth” category are not shown. Logging tends to focus on the best available winter habitat, and can compound natural fragmentation (e.g. 20 as an example, if logging were to occur there). Note that timberline is quite low (24 showing sea level to beyond timberline).

      This year the Board of Game cut deer hunting in a particularly heavily affected (and logged) portion of GMU3 to one buck during a two week season, and approved wolf control. The latter seems to be treating a symptom, in lieu of key causes (winter conditions and loss of winter habitat). Ironically, substantial logging is on-going right now on nattional forest in that very area, and is taking winter habitat of which much has already been lost over several decades.

      You also asked regarding your question in an earlier comment, “Are the trees really that old, that short, and that broad?”, regarding the article’s statement of “trees up to 800 years old, 100 feet tall, and 12 feet in diameter”. I think the first and last numbers are fair, as “up to” ones. The 100 foot one is more the low end of the scale for upper canopy trees for some stands, and usually those would be much taller. So I think the wording is a bit tangled there, and what was probably intended was “at least” 100 feet tall.

      • Thanks, G. Gulo: Much appreciated, and very interesting! We had a similar winter kill of deer in Oregon about the same time, although I don’t have the details at hand. It took several years for populations to recover (we didn’t have wolves or so many cougar at that time), but seemed to have permanently damaged the exotic chukar and Chinese pheasant populations. I also appreciate the tree data — those are very (very) old trees, and of course the dimensions didn’t add up.

        The remaining question has to do with the deer populations. Are they really endemic, as stated, or were they transported to the islands for hunting purposes, as I was told? And if imported, what could the wolves have survived on before their arrival?

        • Your “remaining” question was already asked and answered, but here is some documentation:

          1) From Schoen & Kirchhoff (2007), in Albert & Schoen (2007, A Conservation Assessment for the Coastal Forests and Mountains Ecoregion of Southeastern Alaska and the Tongass National Forest ): “The Sitka black-tailed deer – a subspecies of the mule deer – is endemic to and widely distributed along the narrow coastal band of northern British Columbia and Southeastern Alaska (Southeast) (Wallmo 1981). This subspecies occupies the northwestern-most extent of the natural range of mule and black-tailed deer and overlaps the occurrence of the temperate rainforest (Wallmo 1981). … These small, sturdy deer average about 120 lb (54 kg) for bucks and 80 lb (36 kg) for does.”

          2) From the authoritative MacDonald & Cook (2007, Mammals and amphibians of Southeast Alaska): “The Sitka black-tailed deer – a subspecies of the mule deer – is endemic to and widely distributed along the narrow coastal band of northern British Columbia and Southeastern Alaska (Southeast) (Wallmo 1981). This subspecies occupies the northwestern-most extent of the natural range of mule and black-tailed deer and overlaps the occurrence of the temperate rainforest (Wallmo 1981). … These small, sturdy deer average about 120 lb (54 kg) for bucks and 80 lb (36 kg) for does.”

          “TAXONOMY. Mule and black-tailed deer are considered a single species (Anderson and Wallmo 1984); however, Cronin (1991, 1992) surveyed mitochondrial variation in this species and reported a distinctive coastal form. From 8 to 11 subspecies have been proposed (Cowan, 1936, 1956; Hall, 1981; Wallmo, 1981); one occurs in Southeast Alaska.” (Id.)

          “Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis. ORIGINAL DESCRIPTION: 1898. Odocoileus columbianus sitkensis, Merriam, Proc. Biol. Soc. Washington, 12:100, April 30. TYPE LOCALITY: Sitka, Alaska. TYPE SPECIMEN: USNM 74383. RANGE: Southeast Alaska and northern coastal British Columbia. … DISTRIBUTION: Sitka Black-tailed Deer are found throughout most of Southeast Alaska and are most numerous on islands in the Alexander Archipelago. Deer seem to have little trouble crossing wide expanses of coastal waters. As a result, they occur on nearly every island in the archipelago except remote Forrester Island (MacDonald and Cook, 1996).” (Id.)

          The above pertains to the Alexander Archipelago (southeastern Alaska). Confusion may have arisen for the authors of the sources you mentioned about where O. h. sitkensis is endemic and where it is not, in that individuals of the subspecies were transplanted from the Alexander Archipelago to locations farther north in Alaska. “Deer from Southeast were also [in addition to Yakutat] successfully transplanted to the large islands of Prince William Sound in 1916 and the Kodiak Archipelago in 1924-34 (Burris and McNight 1973).” (Schoen & Kirchhoff 2007). Those places (except Yakutat) are far removed from southeastern Alaska.

          It bears further mention that while O. h. sitkensis is common (as suggested above) and its viability is not threatened, the difficulty is maintaining huntable populations (particularly for subsistence, which is highly important in the region) that are adequate in size to also assure the viability of the endemic Alexander Archipelago wolf. Thus, deer are the nexus of a forest management dilemma in the region (Alexander Archipelago, aka Southeast Alaska, aka (in large part) Tongass National Forest), as a result of the cumulative loss of deer winter range across six decades of industrial scale logging in a landscape which already had highly naturally fragmented habitat.

          • Thanks! I was reading “narrow coastal band” and assuming that excluded the islands, such as the one under discussion. Also, my knowledge of coastal Alaskan geography is not that good so I was having difficulty in visualizing where it had been transplanted, and where not. It’s that reading comprehension thing again!

            Appreciate the additional information, too, and the insights on viability. I remember being surprised when I was younger that people were allowed to kill more than one deer a season, and could even legally kill more than one deer in a day. At that time, of course, very few people were interested in maintaining wolf populations.

  5. I have been thinking lately about who gets paid to work on these topics and who doesn’t: and how the structure of our society inadvertently privileges certain points of view.

    So what I noticed is that an academic (U of Montana) appears to be serving on the board of an environmental organization that is suing the Forest Service. She seems to have an obvious perspective .

    “It does not mean, that our work is done. Pending the outcome from conversations between the Forest Supervisor and the Interagency Wolf Task Force, especially under the current political climate within the state of Alaska, we may have plenty to keep us busy in the near future. ”

    In contrast, I remember the hassle of the paperwork to get an employee able to serve on (a simple Montana) land trust. I also remember that once FS people were not allowed to serve on governing boards of professional societies (let alone groups with policy perspectives) due to government ethics thinking at the time. I think this may have gotten fixed (?). Once I was required to take vacation and depict myself as a non-Fed on the agenda to speak at an SAF meeting (only a couple of years ago)(this was internal agency silliness but still…)

    So I am not critiquing academic freedom or policies of the U of Montana, or trying to get someone “silenced” or anything like that.

    My structural question is that if all the NEPA practitioners, who are feds, are not allowed to be out and about giving their personal opinions and serving on boards of organizations who agree with them on policy issues, are we missing a voice from the public dialogue? NEPA practice is not forestry, where people are both in and out of the public sector. And academics are.. not practitioners.

    Whose voices do we hear, and whose are not heard? Just a thought.

    • hi Sharon, a couple thoughts: re: “I have been thinking lately about who gets paid to work on these topics and who doesn’t: and how the structure of our society inadvertently privileges certain points of view.” I would see society as a whole (esp. thru 1st Amendment) privileging all points of view. If the point of view of FS employees is being suppressed, it is only through USFS policy, and not inadvertent at all. And certainly, university faculty that hold conservative and/or even extremely resource-extractionist viewpoints share the same academic freedom that more enviro-oriented professors do.

      As for NEPA practice not being forestry, and/or academics not being practitioners, I think the distinction is unnecessarily narrow. Is a practitioner only the guy with a chainsaw or Biltmore stick in his hand? If forest management and decision-making and decision support aren’t forestry, and the research and quantitative basis for decision-making fall outside a (in my opinion) narrow definition of what constitutes “forestry”, I think that diminishes the discipline (I also think such insularity is an issue that has held SAF back as a professional society, but that’s another discussion topic). From another discipline: most of my academic work is in agriculture, and much of what we do directly translates to agricultural practices by growers (and is funded by them), and we spend a lot of time working with growers to put the science into application, including on-farm collaborative research, etc. It’s true that my family income doesn’t come directly from selling crops, but to arbitrarily draw a line and say that one side of what we all do is the practice of agriculture, and the other side is not, wouldn’t make much sense to me, and probably not to growers either. Anyway, that’s just a perspective form the “privileged” side 🙂 -Guy

      • Guy

        Re: “Is a practitioner only the guy with a chainsaw or Biltmore stick in his hand? If forest management and decision-making and decision support aren’t forestry, and the research and quantitative basis for decision-making fall outside a (in my opinion) narrow definition of what constitutes “forestry”, I think that diminishes the discipline (I also think such insularity is an issue that has held SAF back as a professional society”

        –> I can’t speak for Sharon but from her collective posts, I don’t think that she, and I know that I don’t take an insular view of forestry. In fact, if I was to take such a view, I would declare that the guy with the “chainsaw or Biltmore stick” are at best aspiring foresters and only if they have a college degree in forestry. Otherwise they are non-professional forest technicians. On the other hand, forest management and decision-making and decision support research and quantitative basis for decision-making are the very essence of forestry if they have a broad forestry degree. However, a mycorrhizae researcher working for the USFS who doesn’t have a significant number of hours of general forestry coursework or training or experience is not a forester even if his lab work is exclusively on forest mycorrhizae.

        –> My opinion of the problem with the SAF is exactly the opposite of yours, not that that makes me right or you wrong. I feel that the SAF is primarily made up of Academia and USFS personnel. I contend that their not being willing to challenge some false environmental propaganda has cost them the support of the employers of professional non-public foresters. My personal experience over 38 years with various employer successions suggests that the lack of such support by non-public employers is exactly what has caused the drastic reduction SAF membership. The SAF is so insular that it no longer has significant members in nor does it represent much of anything to do with sound environmentally comprehensive commercial forestry. I don’t think that it nor many universities even believe that such an animal even exists. It is a confused organization which has lost its focus and is just as confused as the USFS.

        • Gil and Sharon, good points thanks. Admittedly I tend to think of “forestry” as having a broader scope than “forester”, and maybe that isn’t entirely consistent. Although I do have a college degree in forestry, and work (though by no means exclusively) on forestry-related issues from biology to natural resource law/policy, I don’t call myself a “forester” because that isn’t my day-to-day job description and it would sound pretentious. Gil, thanks for your perspective on SAF, I know you have a lot more experience with the organization than I do (I first joined in 1978 with my freshly-minted B.S.F. degree, then let my membership lapse for about 32 years before rejoining a couple years ago), so I’ll think about that one with your comments in mind.

      • Guy, thank you for being so civil when I am not clear exactly what I mean. This blog is a bit like the Writing Lab at school, except for free (good) and you can get attacked (not so good).

        Perhaps I shouldn’t have brought up forestry as an example, but I am a “broad field of forestry person” and we could probably talk about that elsewhere. So let me start over.

        I have never seen my lived experience of 7 years of watching projects go by, from NEPA to appeals to litigation, been reflected in the academic literature. The world looks different from there. So I spent these years talking to people on districts doing NEPA, people in the SO reviewing NEPA, people in the RO, etc. And when I try to talk to academics law folks (even ones whom I am in general agreement with) they just don’t get what it’s like. But I am beginning to think that that’s because no one has ever articulated it clearly. For example, Denise Keele at did a study that she presented at the SAF convention last year in Spokane that showed that the 9th Circuit does not rule against the FS more often than others (I don’t think the study is published yet, but check out her many interesting papers here). I said perhaps not but there are some that are annoying out of proportion to the final ruling. So the next step would be to ask people what is annoying to them and why. But who would fund such work?

        I think we would agree that the world looks different to a practicing doctor than to a medical researcher. Or to a pastor than an academic theologian. Why it it hard to think that people practicing NEPA may have a different worldview than academic folks? I think the work you and others do in the middle is important (I’m for applying the Extension model to home and business energy systems information, but that’s a different post).

        There are people that do things (farmers) people in the middle (extension) and people who study things (academics).

        What I was trying to say is that the people doing NEPA (since the FS doesn’t contract much) do not have a voice publicly on that subject due to rules. (escept when they are interviewed in academic studies, such as those done by NEPA for the 21st Century)

        Environmental law practitioners who are involved in the same thing from the other side (and as you know litigation is fundamentally adversarial) are able to speak publicly and do so frequently, as do their organizations.

        One of the things I noticed when I worked in DC in NEPA, that many of the lawyers (in this case, also practitioners of environmental law in the government) thought “everything would be fine if practitioners would just do things right” but practitioners did not agree, plus FS practitioners would often agree with practitioners from other agencies.

        There is a professional society for NEPA practitioners..http://www.naep.org/ but you wouldn’t find the environmental lawyers necessarily part of that.. So we have an adversarial system and only one side really has a voice, either in press or academia. No wonder many people think “things are working fine!”

  6. And now for a quick recap:

    Doctor Zybach has stated:
    “From what I understand, the deer were introduced to the islands and are not endemic.”

    He has been asked to cite his source.

    Doctor Zybach first refused, saying it’s a “waste of my time,” and then restated, ” If my source is correct, then the deer are not endemic, they are introduced.”

    ( With such a big “IF,” then how can it also be true, “This topic exactly parallels the discussion in Botkin’s Chapter 3.” ?)

    “IF” then, equals “exactly?”

    Doctor Zybach has now admitted the source for such exactitude is derived from, “… another blog (one mostly devoted to wolves) and who seemed authoritative, yet was anonymous, unfortunately.” Also, he has stated, ” I still don’t know if that is true or not, but I followed up on it and they (authoritatively) claimed it was. ”

    (Doctor Zybach is suggesting the document record is still a secret because the source is anonymous?)

    Sorry, Doctor, but you’re proving “your understand(ing) the deer were introduced to the islands and are not endemic,” to not only be ” a waste” of your time but a waste of our time as well.)

    ~~~~~~~~~~~
    THEN,

    Sharon’s comment has called into question, ” who gets paid to work on these topics and who doesn’t: and how the structure of our society inadvertently privileges certain points of view.”
    (Sharon continues)
    “My structural question is that if all the NEPA practitioners, who are feds, are not allowed to be out and about giving their personal opinions… are we missing a voice from the public dialogue? NEPA practice is not forestry, where people are both in and out of the public sector.”

    (Nice try at fishing for retribution possibilities against our board member Sharon, AND an Interesting Question about federal employees.)

    The Petersburg Ranger District (PRD) has been conducting, with its District Ranger illegally “directing” according to FACA guidelines, the “Collaborative Stewardship Working Group.” (The District Ranger, of course, signs-off on the Stewardship Contract.) The workshop is routinely attended by PRD timber staff members (sometimes exceeding the attendance numbers of the public) as this KFSK Public Radio newscast documents:

    “Forest Service Silviculturist Ben Case said he was attending the meeting as a private citizen and he acknowledged that young growth stands don’t provide a lot of deer winter range in heavy snow. However, Case said that with some management, second growth can eventually provide some habitat again after reaching a certain age.

    Case maintained that there was value in having a variety of different logging prescriptions and land use designations on the tongass, “It’s not just a woodpile on the chopping block and a lot of those young growth stands are coming back……These stands are not deserts out there, biologically. Yeah there’s places that will improve and will need improvement through treatments but I think we’re kind of missing that. That’s what I’m hearing is this lack of credit for a diversity on the landscape.”

    (http://www.kfsk.org/2013/03/25/mitkof-small-timber-sale-program-considered/)

    Mr. Case, formerly the IDT Leader for the Tonka Timber Sale has gone out of his way in the Stewardship workshops as a “private citizen” to refute statements of dramatic declines in the deer population of Lindenberg Peninsula, where the Tonka timber sale is currently being executed.

    As deer winter habitat on the Lindenberg Peninsula was being felled and yarded, the Federal Subsistence Board took special action this summer [Special Action No: (13-BD-05-13)]
    (excerpted)
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    “This Special Action reduces the Federal subsistence deer season from four months to two weeks and changes the harvest limit from two bucks to one buck in the Lindenberg Peninsula portion of Kupreanof Island near Petersburg, Alaska. This action is necessary for the conservation of deer…” The State of Alaska Board of Game has closed this area to deer hunting by non-residents and approved a similar reduction to the deer season and harvest limit for resident hunters.”

    JUSTIFICATION:
    “Above average snowfall and late spring melt during the winter of 2006-07, 2007-08 and 2008-09 resulted in significant deer mortality for much of Kupreanof Island, including the Lindenberg Peninsula. There has not been recovery in the deer population. Deer harvest on the Lindenberg Peninsula spiked for a three year period following the liberalization of the harvest limit in 2003. Total deer harvest from this area has declined from a high of 205 in 2004 to around 50 in 2011. Deer pellet-group surveys show deer abundance at very low levels with a continuing downward trend.”
    (…)

    “There may be a disproportionate effect of timber harvest on critical deer winter range for areas accessible to Petersburg residents.”
    (…)

    “Implementing this action would return the season and harvest limit to rules, which were in effect from 1993-2003, and align the State and Federal deer season length and bag limit on Lindenberg Peninsula with those on neighboring Mitkof, Woewodski and Butterworth islands for the 2013 season.”

    ~~~~~~~~~~~

    A separate KFSK news report documented the emergency subsistence hearing proceedings:
    (excerpt) http://www.kfsk.org/2013/07/08/another-deer-season-change-sought-for-lindenberg-peninsula/

    “At a video conferenced hearing at ranger district offices in Petersburg and Wrangell this month, Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist Rich Lowell, explained that the Federal Subsistence Board would not normally be able to address the state request until next year.” ( …)

    “ So we felt that the situation was critical enough that we felt that we needed to take action immediately rather than wait for the federal regulatory process to catch up.”

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    All of the public testimony coming from the Wrangell District, it was later revealed, was actually USFS employees speaking as “private citizens.” They all testified against the need for an emergency closure on Lindenberg Peninsula.

    So there you have it Sharon.

    You are either correct about the legal restrictions on NEPA practitioners and this is violation of federal law, or quite mistaken about “… all the NEPA practitioners, who are feds, are not allowed to be out and about giving their personal opinions…”

    Indeed NEPA practitioners have been ROUTINELY giving their personal opinions, refuting the consequences imposed by their employers and as USFS NEPA practioners, (fortunately, unsuccessfully) attempting to influence the outcome of Federal emergency actions arising from the consequences of their day jobs–

    ARE we still “missing a voice from the public dialogue”? You bet we are, but it certainly isn’t what you’re implying.

    The State of Alaska’s policy role in the successful suppression of science is precisely why Beth Pendleton regards Person’s Declaration as “new information.”

    That policy role is called Alaska’s governor’s “One Voice” policy.

    • Matthew, you said:

      “You are either correct about the legal restrictions on NEPA practitioners and this is violation of federal law, or quite mistaken about “… all the NEPA practitioners, who are feds, are not allowed to be out and about giving their personal opinions…”

      Indeed NEPA practitioners have been ROUTINELY giving their personal opinions, refuting the consequences imposed by their employers and as USFS NEPA practioners, (fortunately, unsuccessfully) attempting to influence the outcome of Federal emergency actions arising from the consequences of their day jobs–

      ARE we still “missing a voice from the public dialogue”? You bet we are, but it certainly isn’t what you’re implying.”

      1) if there is a public comment process, FS employees can comment as a member of the public.
      2) A silviculturist is not a NEPA practitioners in the way I meant, but perhaps I am meaning it too narrowly. NEPA is supposed to be about (broadly) disclosure of environmental effects and public involvement and I meant the people running the process. Now people on some districts just take turns so everyone is, then. But I meant “people hired with a primary task of facilitating NEPA processes.”

      so..
      3) there is no public involvement process on the question of “how is the NEPA process working on federal lands (including documentation of following laws) and does the process need to be improved?” If there were, we could get their opinions, as private citizens.
      But say if someone wrote an op-ed that suggested some fixes, that did not follow the Administration’s point of view, it would be inappropriate.

      So thanks for helping me clarify…1) all things can improve including public land management decisionmaking NEPA appeals and litigation processes
      2) this problem has gotten partisanized (tweaks to NEPA)
      3) once something is partisanized, feds can’t be involved in public debates except to say the party line (which is appropriate)
      4) but unfortunately, therefore a voice is missing.

        • Sharon,
          (I said it of course.)

          So a USFS District forester can be the leader on an Interdisciplinary team executing a NEPA EIS and still not be a “NEPA Practitioner?”

          And there is “nothing wrong” with that same IDT Leader laying out timber cutting units in crucial deer winter habitat during the day, and then publicly claiming in the evening that there is no problem with the existing deer populations, while later those deer populations are determined to be imperiled to the extent the season and bag limit are drastically curtailed due to the clear cutting of winter habitat? And then as a result of that intensive mismanagement, the State initiates an “intensive (mis)management” of the wolf population on the island too?

          I disagree. There is something VERY wrong with that cascading series of mismanagement practices and deliberate public deception by a USFS NEPA Practitioner.

  7. David: Speaking of wasted time, how much time did you spend putting this together? If you would improve your reading comprehension skills you would notice that I was quoting from the post, which I suggested you read. You ought to read the post, David, before spending so much time making a spectacle of yourself. Read, then write, is my advice. The “understanding” part had to do with deer, wolves, and browse, not whether the deer were endemic or not. Nice spin, though. Don’t get too dizzy.

  8. I find it rather interesting that while we have gotten lots of comments on this blog post not one person has offered their opinion if they think, in the year 2013, it’s a great idea for the US Forest Service to spend US Taxpayer Money on:

    This project would have been the largest timber project on the Tongass National Forest in twenty years, taking 6,200 acres of old growth forest (trees up to 800 years old, 100 feet tall, and 12 feet in diameter) from Prince of Wales Island, an island that has suffered the most intense logging in the region over the past six decades. It is also an island that is home to endemic animals found nowhere else in the world.

    • Matt: There was peripheral comment. The 100-foot number is an error, while the 800-year and 12-foot numbers are extremes, likely being a very miniscule fraction of a percent of the total volume. Twenty-years is a fairly long time, and the woods have been largely shut-down and there has been major regeneration during those years. “Intense logging” is a type of logging I am completely unaware of, but I’m guessing there’s lots of wiggle room for maintaining old-growth trees, snags, and patches of trees across the landscape. 6,200-acres sounds like a lot, until compared with a large fire, major windstorm, or volcanic eruption. Over a twenty-year period, it is likely a very small portion of the total landscape. And whenever the word “suffered” is used in context to logging, intense or otherwise, I have to wonder what kind of house the writer lives in, what kind of furniture they have, and if they ever use toilet paper or sing around a campfire. Mostly your quotation sounds like a number of misleading numbers with a strong personal bias against active management of the landscape. So, in sum, and without knowing the exact details of the sale, I’m guessing it probably IS a “great idea” for the USFS to spend taxpayer money on this project — if that’s what they are really doing. Couldn’t they design such a sale to actually make a profit for taxpayers? I’m assuming your perspective is different than mine. Was that interesting enough?

  9. Rest assured Matthew, the outrageous agency claims around “economics” of the Big Thorne Project are designed to assuage taxpayer outrage through sophisticated obfuscation and messaging employing the usual shell game tactics.

    Whenever a timber sale of this scale is marketed to the public in the name of “jobs” and half the volume of the sale can be exported in the round to China and beyond, the only question is why didn’t the agency come out and just say, “the American taxpayer is subsidizing jobs alright: jobs in Pacific Rim countries with half the volume of the sale.”

  10. Bob: I’d just like to point out that the author does, in fact, give the 800 year old and 12 foot diameter figures as “extremes” by stating:

    “….taking 6,200 acres of old growth forest (trees up to 800 years old, 100 feet tall, and 12 feet in diameter).”

    And as G. Gulo pointed out to you previously (above):

    I think the first and last numbers are fair, as “up to” ones. The 100 foot one is more the low end of the scale for upper canopy trees for some stands, and usually those would be much taller. So I think the wording is a bit tangled there, and what was probably intended was “at least” 100 feet tall.

    Also, Bob, congratulations for wondering these things about Dr. Natalie Dawson:

    I have to wonder what kind of house the writer lives in, what kind of furniture they have, and if they ever use toilet paper or sing around a campfire.

    • You’re welcome, Matthew. And I was responding to your selected quote — you are the one that turned it into an attack on Dr. Dawson. And I read Wolverine’s quote just fine without your help. Lot of time on your hands today?

      • Really, Bob? I’m “are the one that turned it into an attack on Dr. Dawson?” Anyone can read this blog post and all the comments here and draw their own conclusions. I’m sure this is all very entertaining to the readers of this blog who just observe, but don’t comment. No wonder overall readership is tanking.

        • Really, Matt: It started with your posting a paragraph and wondering why no one was interested. Maybe people just have better things to do than wading through a bunch of quibbling and snarky innuendos. Gotcha games get tiring pretty fast. And by “tanking” I’m assuming that’s your definition of 200 to 400 viewers a day. Maybe the problem is the new format, which makes it really difficult to follow specific discussions, so people are stuck wading through a bunch of irritating or irrelevant stuff that has no interest to them. I would say the Tongass logging and buffer strip posts have both got a lot of meaningful commentary in the past few days — way more than most anything happening here one and two years ago.

          • Bob, Help me understand this again. By highlighting the paragraph written by Dr. Natalie Dawson about the Big Thorne Timber Sale I’m “the one that turned it into an attack on Dr. Dawson” how exactly? In comparison you wondering if Dr. Natalie Dawson “ever use[s] toilet paper” is what exactly?

            • Matt: You’re the English teacher. I’m tired of this nonsense, and I’m sure others must be, too. I was speaking in generalities, obviously. You’re the one that invoked Dr. Dawson’s name, and you were the one that selected her paragraph to critique. It’s called “out of context” in the legal and scientific worlds. Stop trying to pick silly fights — maybe that’s why readership is “tanking.” Thought of that possibility?

              • I’m also a certified history teacher, Bob.

                Is this not a comment section based on an article written by Dr. Dawson about the Thorne Timber Sale on the Tongass NF? Does the paragraph from Dr. Dawson’s article which I highlighted in the comment section offer some information about the Big Thorne?

                Are these not your words, as written above Bob?:

                “I have to wonder what kind of house the writer lives in, what kind of furniture they have, and if they ever use toilet paper or sing around a campfire.”

                Sorry, Bob, but your claim that you were “speaking in generalities” is not so obvious to me, and likely others. What else is not so obvious to me, Bob, and likely others, is just how you manage to claim that I’m “the one that turned it into an attack on Dr. Dawson.”

                Regardless, I’ll move on for the sake of the blog readers.

                • Matt: You “conveniently” left out the preceding phrase to this cherry-picked excerpt: “And whenever the word “suffered” is used in context to logging, intense or otherwise, I have to wonder what kind of house the writer lives in, what kind of furniture they have, and if they ever use toilet paper or sing around a campfire.” I think that “whenever” qualifies as a “generality,” doesn’t it? I don’t think I’ve singled out Dr. Dawson — that was your choice.

                  Then my following sentence clearly begins: “Mostly your quotation . . .” YOUR, in this instance, is YOU, Matt, not Dr. Dawson. See a pattern here?

                  I think it must be nap time, Matthew. You’re not playing nice today. Please, really do stop.

                  • I love the insulting “nap time” comment, Dr. Bob. You are sure being “civil” and raising the level of discussions on this blog to new heights.

                    Oh, and Bob, only problem was it wasn’t my quotation, it was Dr. Dawson’s quotation which I highlighted, to which you added that Dr. Dawson’s “quotation sounds like a number of misleading numbers with a strong personal bias against active management of the landscape.”

  11. I highly recommend readers access this paper for informed comment — http://www.seawead.org/richard/s.340carstensen.pdf for an overview on the effects of past logging activities on Prince of Wales Island (POW) — where the Big Thorne Timber Sale is being planned. The Paper addresses (through groundtruthing) pending special interest legislation to privatize over 68,000 acres of the Tongass.

    More specifically to this discussion, the paper expertly helps to inform the public on actual on the ground realities of POW.

  12. Sharon – This is the language of yours I referred to in the science thread.

    “I have been thinking lately about who gets paid to work on these topics and who doesn’t: and how the structure of our society inadvertently privileges certain points of view.”

    You later said this:

    “Environmental law practitioners who are involved in the same thing from the other side (and as you know litigation is fundamentally adversarial) are able to speak publicly and do so frequently, as do their organizations.”

    And your point seems to be:

    “So we have an adversarial system and only one side really has a voice,”

    I see three sides. The agency practitioners are required to put their opinions in the administrative record. Those for and against the agency decision have equal opportunities to agree or disagree.

    So I think I still agree with myself: you must feel that the non-environmental side is handicapped in doing this.

    (You ended up talking about whether federal employees should be able to or encouraged to offer their opinions about NEPA practice. That seems like a different topic to me.)

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