Lawsuit: “no material threat of wildfire”

A comment on opposition to another USFS project. I don’t know anything about this project except from the Decision Memo, here:

http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/ltbmu/landmanagement/projects/?cid=stelprdb5314648

This is a 100-acre fuels-reduction project. There are ~60 cabins and outbuildings within the project area.

Would this project affect the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog? I don’t know. However, having worked on the El Dorado, just over the hill from this project, and having fought fire in that area, including in the adjacent Desolation Wilderness, I disagree with the biologist’s opinion that “no material threat of wildfire exists at all.”

The DM says:

“In project treatment areas the landscape would shift from Fire Regime Condition Class 2 and 3, toward 1 and 2, improving the overall resiliency of the forest to large scale disturbances.”

Article below from Greenwire. A Sacramento Bee article, which mentions that the biologist’s family “has owned a cabin for three generations,” is here:

http://www.sacbee.com/2013/11/17/5919990/unr-prof-lawsuit-seeks-to-block.html

 

Nev. professor sues Forest Service over logging proposal

Published: Monday, November 18, 2013

A biologist has filed suit against the Forest Service for its plans to log above Lake Tahoe.

The agency is ignoring its own analysis of the wildfire risk in the high-altitude, old-growth forests near Echo Lakes, said Dennis Murphy, a biology professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. The region is located about 8 miles southwest of South Lake Tahoe, Calif.

“Cutting activities on the Pacific Crest Trail/Tahoe Rim Trail in the scenic Lake Tahoe Basin are occurring where no material threat of wildfire exists at all,” said Murphy, who has done research for the agency for more than a decade.

He argues that the logging threatens the survival of the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog, which is being considered for endangered species protections.

“In its zeal to implement the project, the Forest Service has disregarded these facts and is violating procedures of the National Environmental Policy Act by blazing ahead,” according to the lawsuit filed earlier this month.

Murphy’s lawyer, Paul Weiland, last week filed a motion seeking a temporary restraining order to suspend logging operations. But U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell denied the request, saying Murphy should have made a request earlier if it was an emergency (Scott Sonner, AP/Sacramento Bee, Nov. 17). — JE

6 Comments

  1. Here’s a comment that was posted to a large list-serve, so figure it was fair game here:

    Unbelievable irony. This is the same Murphy who has spent the last 15-20 years proposing and defending habitat conservation plans that jeopardize far more T&E species than the fire-logging near his property. He saw No Surprise as a necessary evil to protect HCPs and his buddies in the Dems. Maybe he has seen the light, or maybe he doesn’t like feller-bunchers in his viewshed.

  2. I worked on a large helicopter salvage project, just across the highway from this area. One main difference was that the whole project was outside of the Lake Tahoe Basin. When “logging” is planned in the LTBMU, people get caught up in that whole “pristine” thing, at Lake Tahoe. Tahoe has seen overgrazing and clearcutting in its history, and yet, people still cling to it being “pristine”. The true fir forests of Tahoe are overcrowded, unless you favor a forest without humans, and their impacts. (of course, a humanless forest, in Tahoe, is impossible, these days)

  3. You might also notice that the Bee article had a clearcut picture associated with it, despite the fact that clearcutting in Sierra Nevada National Forests has been banned for more than 20 years now. The Bee is well-known for its anti-forestry slant. In the 90’s, there were bumper stickers saying “Save a Tree, Cancel the Bee!”

  4. “Would this project affect the Sierra-Nevada yellow-legged frog? I don’t know.”

    And apparently neither does the Forest Service (it’s not mentioned in the DM). Now that it is proposed for listing and critical habitat, they are required to find out. Both NEPA and ESA have requirements for considering new information as long as the agency has the ability to stop and modify a project. Under NEPA, evaluating this new information may preclude use of a categorical exclusion since the statement in the DM about the absence of species proposed for listing under ESA is no longer true. Under ESA, the agency must at least document that the project will not jeopardize the species or adversely modify proposed critical habitat. If they haven’t done this, It’s a little hard to figure why the FS thought it could proceed without this information. (Of course it’s also hard to figure why anyone who cared about these frogs waited so long to sue.)

    An unrelated lawsuit was also just filed concerning related frogs: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2013/mountain-yellow-legged-frog-11-14-2013.html

    • Jon,

      True, the frog is not mentioned by name in the DM. However, it does mention Riparian Conservation Areas designed to “ensure that species composition and structural diversity of plant and animal communities in riparian areas provide desired habitat conditions and ecological functions … and (3) enhance or maintain physical and biological characteristics associated with aquatic-and riparian-dependent species.”

      On the frog’s habitat: Habitat: High mountain lakes, ponds, tarns and steams; rarely found more than 3 feet from water (http://www.nps.gov/yose/naturescience/frog.htm). I doubt that any habitat will be disturbed by project activities.

  5. Steve – You may well be right on the biology, but right now they seem to be proceeding before the paperwork is done where the decision-maker specifically addresses species and critical habitat proposed for listing. I’m just sayin’ that’s often not a good legal strategy.

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