Adopt-a-Project Opportunity: Blankenship Veg Project

Photo courtesy of Lewis and Clark national forest

Photo courtesy of Lewis and Clark national forest

UPDATE: One of our generous readers offered a copy of the complaint here.

Based on this coverage in the Great Falls Independent paper, I am curious how the FS should have surveyed according to Garrity, and what they actually did.

“First, this case is about the Forest Service’s failure to use ‘best available science’ and properly survey for Canada lynx and report those survey results, and the agencies’ use of improper and inadequate survey results in the finding of ‘no adverse effects’ for lynx, in violation of the National Forest Management Act, National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act,” the lawsuit says.

Dave Cunningham, a spokesman for Lewis and Clark National Forest, said the forest has received widespread support for the Blankenship fuels treatment project. The project had been scheduled to be implemented this spring.

“At this point in the process, when a suit is filed, we need to stand down for a moment, study the complaint that has been filed, confer with our Office of General Council attorneys, and then based on their advice, take the next appropriate steps,” Cunningham said.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Great Falls against the U.S. Forest Service, Faye Krueger, regional forester for the agency’s Region 1 and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Canada lynx, known for their distinctive facial ruff on each side of the snout, large round feet and black-tipped tails, are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The estimated population in Montana is 300, Garrity said.

The Forest Service issued a biological assessment in July concluding the project wasn’t likely to adversely impact lynx, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife concurred.

The Fish and Wildlife Service administers the Endangered Species Act.

If a listed or candidate species may be present, agencies must prepare a biological assessment to determine projects would harm them.

It is possible lynx move through the area, but the habitat isn’t considered occupied, according to the Forest Service, but the lawsuit disputes the methods used to reach that conclusion.

“Even the Forest Service previously determined that at least part of the forest is considered ‘occupied’ by lynx,” Garrity said. “So, from the best available present and past data, there is ample evidence to suggest that lynx may be present in the Little Belts and the Blankenship area.”

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks trapping records show 268 lynx were trapped in northcentral Montana, which includes the Little Belt Mountains, between 1959 and 1967, Garrity said.

It took me a while to find this site, which has everything you might possibly want to know, including appeal responses, which probably covered this topic.

Here’s what I picked up from a brief foray into Appendix II.

Canada Lynx
The project area is within secondary, unoccupied habitat (USDA Forest Service and USDI Fish and Wildlife Service 2006). There are historic sightings of lynx near the project area from 1979 to 1981, over 30 years ago. From 1981 to 1997 there are nine additional records in the Little Belt Mountains (see project file). These records do not meet the definition of a verified observation or record (USDA Forest Service 2007, pages 142 to 144). Telemetry data of lynx in Montana from Devineau (2010) is not presented at a scale conducive to determining exact locations, and the accuracy of the data varies widely (from 0.15 to 10.0 km). These records also do not meet the definition of a verified observation or record. There are no current sightings in the Little Belt Mountains. During fiscal year 2009, winter surveys were conducted in a portion of the Little Belt Mountains (including the Blankenship Project area). There were no lynx located during these surveys.

Informal consultation for the Blankenship Project was initiated by obtaining the THREATENED, ENDANGERED AND CANDIDATE SPECIES for the LEWIS AND CLARK NATIONAL FOREST 2/13/2012 species list from the Montana Field Office website at http://www.fws.gov/montanafieldoffice/Endangered_Species/Listed_Species/Forests/L&C_sp_list.pdf). Lynx is not included on the FWS species list for the Jefferson Division, nor is the Jefferson Division within designated critical habitat (USDI 2012). The effects of the Blankenship project on habitat for Canada lynx are disclosed in the Blankenship Vegetation Treatment Project Lynx Analysis Report, LAU LB4 (March 2012, project file). This project will have No Effect on lynx or designated critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act.

Would someone be willing to volunteer to learn about this project? (I assume we can’t talk directly to the FS folks due to litigation, as the story says). I’m sure someone here could get a copy of the complaint and the evidence Garrity cites, and we could figure out the two perspectives (plus add our own ;)).

Note: Any volunteers for Project Adoption don’t have to use their real names AND can contact me directly if they don’t feel comfortable announcing it to the world. Terraveritas at gmail.com.

13 Comments

    • Richard: Are you commenting on this post, or just offering an advertisement for your own blog? I think most of us here have been thinking “21st century” for at least 14 years, some of us even longer.

        • Richard:

          Thanks for your honesty. However, please note that there are no advertisements on this blog. It is for people who are interested in, and want to discuss, forest management and planning issues. If you want to promote your “species forest” concept here, the best thing to do is to prepare a post and then ask Sharon or one of us co-moderators post it for you. It can be a post identical to something you have already done on your own blog, so long as it is on topic, and that is the appropriate place to put a link back to your original post or just to your blog in general. As you can see, you are likely to get some response to your post here, and it will be from a wide-range of knowledgeable and interested individuals.

    • So, what happens when your precious “species forest” burns to the ground, killing more than 90% of the trees? Do we pretend that “whatever happens” is “good”, as long as humans don’t intervene? What if that forest is perfect habitat for bark beetle “species”? Even “protected” forests don’t offer protections for all the species that live there. Remember, the Endangered Species Act doesn’t protect forests from catastrophic wildfires… or overzealous firefighters.

      • Looks like a hit and run to me.
        From his site, for those not linkeeeee:
        “A species forest is a forest of, by and for all the other species native to that forest. People do not manage a species forest. ”
        and
        “If you believe in the species’ forest you will never cut it down. Most foresters do not believe in the species’ forest. During this 21st century they will come to believe. Better late than never.”
        and
        “I donated all of my inherited land to be returned to the natural landscape in perpetuity. Over the years as these acres were restored to the sole control of native species it became clear that there might be more forests and other people wanting those forests similarly restored.”

        • It all depends on site-specific science. If we have a surplus of trees, beyond the forest’s annual rainfall, we cut some of them. Some species even benefit from having a thinned, long-lived forest, instead of one that “goes away” for a few decades. Since most American forests have some sort of undesirable human impact, shouldn’t we try to manage those impacts away? In today’s human-dominated world, we cannot restore forests by doing nothing.

          Here in the Sierra Nevada, we have banned clearcutting and high-grading for the last 20+ years. For many people, these actions removed the major roadblocks to true restoration, and a return to having less intense wildfires (which are the biggest threat to rare forest species, here).

          Finally, how can we create forests which accommodate all the rare species we want to save? One partial answer is that spotted owls and blackbacked woodpeckers cannot nest in the same stands. Their nesting habitats are about as opposite as they can be. It’s not as simple as doing nothing and hoping for the best. We can “craft” habitats with active forest management.

  1. I just updated the post and added a copy of the complaint above, so we are good to go as soon as someone volunteers.

    Encouraging Word:
    Ash Wednesday is coming up and, in some traditions, extra service to the community is considered to be a Lenten practice. Some might argue that reading these documents also contains elements of self-mortification ;)!

  2. I thought that lynx utilized showshoe hare habitat. So in my mind, if you think you need to offer lynx something, you do whatever is needed to modify or mitigate habitat to be snowshoe hare friendly. Somehow, in my mind, both species have physical adaptations to light snow, dry snow, somewhat deep, and who’s the fastest that day survives in the hare and lynx races around the cover sticking out of the snow. Also, the hares are winter white for camo, thus sitting very still is important. My only true ignorance is what makes for good snowshoe hare habitat. I have no idea. But they do eat at the top of the snow level, so it must be pretty open as opposed to a closed canopy forest. Is there a community name for the elevation, aspect, moisture regimes, latitudes, vegetative cover that produces the community in which the lynx is an apex predator? And if that just does not exist, wouldn’t that be reason enough to simply say lynx “pass through” which is a security cover issue at best.

    • When I worked on the Bitterroot NF, those areas were protected by an elevational line and termed as “Potential Lynx Habitat”. I guess that was their way of not having to actually survey for lynx. I’m sure there are also some differences in survey protocols, which would be subject to litigation, in themselves. Indeed, just how do you do scientifically-significant surveys for species that are rare to begin with, and do not want to be found? It looks like a no-win scenario, to me. So, all those dead forests above that elevational line were left “to recover on their own”.

      https://www.google.com/maps/@45.7409226,-113.9755986,1590m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

      That elevational line goes through this aerial view. When I worked there in 2004, this area was riddled with bug trees. One of our salvage units ended at that elevational line. Some of those “protected” areas don’t look like they are “recovering” very well, as you can see.

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