Forest Service project on national radar

This article describes a project on the Lolo National Forest in Montana that is “a model of responsible, sustainable development of timber projects in national forests.” From what I gather from the article, the project involves harvesting a lot of dead a down material:

“The site is just south of Superior near Cedar Creek and encompasses hundreds of acres which will be harvested, not in a clear-cut slash and burn method, but instead using sophisticated techniques which will remove tons of dead debris that currently litters the forest floor, inhibiting the movement and migration of important animal species through the county.

“Brummett said the project will involve intermittent logging, road development and some burning of areas with particularly heavy debris load. She said the project has the unwavering support of Mineral County Commissioners and has been positively received by the communities it will affect.”

What are the odds of a lawsuit?

4 Comments

  1. Steve, The link to the article doesn’t work.

    We’ve discussed/debated the Lolo National Forest’s Cedar Thom’s project before on this blog, going back these comments in 2011.

    ——————
    From 2/9/11

    Next, a few thoughts on the Cedar-Thom project and collaborative group. This is not “kind of a ground breaking thing on the Lolo” National Forest as Derek referred to it. I’m pretty sure I’ve provided this basic timeline before, but starting back in 2003 conservation groups and the Forest Service tried to do a better job working together and understanding each other’s issues. Around that time a guy named Mike Wood started a project called “breaking new ground,” which not only brought conservationists and the agency together, but also local loggers, a few timber mills and other interested parties. Mike would later go on to become a sort of “collaboration liaison” between the agency and various other folks. A newspaper article during that time indicated that this was the only position of its kind within the USFS.

    During the following years a lot of work was put into various projects, some of which were official “collaborative groups” through either HFRA (DeBaugan HFRA) or Stewardship Contracting (Knox Brooks) and some projects (like the Upper Lolo Watershed Restoration Project) we just all decided to work together on, but not through some official collaborative group.

    All of these groups and projects met with various successes and drawbacks. For example, regarding the DeBaugan HFRA project, our group was not only involved deeply with that collaborative group from the beginning, but I also raised $25,000 over a two year period to hire a local fuel reduction crew to conduct fuel reduction activities on private land immediately adjacent to the homes of elderly, disabled and economically-challenged members of rural communities around DeBorgia. Even though there was not one official objection to the project and the project wasn’t appealed, it’s not like it’s been moving at record speed. I’m not even sure how much, if any, of the work has taken place on the DeBaugan project, even though a Record of Decision has likely been in place for 2 or 3 years now. Jim Burchfield was very involved with this DeBaugan Collaborative group too, so he might have some perspective to share. I thought it was a decent group, but I wonder how much the collaborative actually changed or influenced what the USFS was going to do anyway.

    It’s my understanding that the Knox Brooks collaborative group and effort was a bust. Basically, as soon as the logging started, the group folded and nobody wanted to do any of the monitoring. I remember back in about 2006, during a stewardship contracting workshop we organized here in Missoula, Len Broburg (with the Sierra Club and also a prof at the UM) described himself as “The last man standing” from the Knox Brooks collaborative.

    The Lolo NF has also been a main focus of the efforts that came out of the Montana Forest Restoration Committee (2006), as a specific restoration committee was formed for the Lolo NF. Currently they even have a committee for the Westside and the Eastside. WildWest Institute has been very active in these efforts over the years, with various people taking the lead on this (first Jeff Juel, then Cameron Naficy and now Jake Kreilick). The Lolo Committee received the USFS Chief’s “Breaking Gridlock” award for 2008 (may have been 2009). So again, it’s not correct to look at this Cedar-Thom project as “ground-breaking” in any sort of way, in my opinion. It’s really just the continuation of something that’s been going on now for about ten years. Of course, for the most part, all of this stuff has been completely ignored by the local media outlets. Apparently a conservation group filing a lawsuit here and there is more “news-worthy.” I mention this, because I believe the lack of attention much of these very real, on-going efforts to work together get in the media and from politicians, is a big problem and one of the reasons someone like a Tester is wrongly trying to have Congress just mandate logging. Funny, but Tester and the three conservation groups that actually support his bill (MWA, MT TU and NWF) haven’t been involved with any of the true “collaborative” stuff I’ve mentioned above concerning the Lolo NF. Or if they are now involved, it’s more as a Johnny Come Lately. As such, you can image our frustration when someone from Tester’s office or these groups criticize us for not working together. That claim is complete bull-crap!

    Specific to the Cedar-Thom collaborative groups. I’ve mentioned a few things above in a previous comment. Mainly our involvement with the group has been through Cam and Jake, although I did attend one field trip to the project area in Oct 2009. The Sierra Club and national TU has also been very much involved with this project. I believe it would be safe to say that WildWest and the Sierra Club and TU have had concerns and issues with how the USFS portrays the collaborative group and how basically the USFS claims in the DEIS that the entire project is the result of the desires of the collaborative group. That’s not the way we see it. In a previous comment I mentioned something about logging in old-growth and within IRA’s, as just a few examples of stuff we don’t agree with in this project. I know that some of the local people, including those with the Mineral Co Historical Society, aren’t real happy with some of the proposals regarding historic sites on the forest.

    I think it’s generally good that the Forest Service wants to get a representative group together to try and work through some issues during scoping and the NEPA analysis. However, what I think we are seeing is that, often, the USFS just ends up doing what they were going to do anyway, but now they can basically over-sell the role of the “collaborative” group to create the appearance that everyone is in agreement with their proposed projects. This has been our experience anyway. I hope this helped give some perspective.

    Let me just finish by again pointing out that I don’t believe it’s accurate to compare projects in the way that Derek is attempting to do. For example, I’ve posted a bunch of information in this thread which clearly highlights all of the various resource issues and proposed work in the Cedar-Thom project. To call that project a “4,500 acre” thinning project and then point out that the DEIS is 300 pages is just completely dishonest, in my view. As anyone can clearly see, the Cedar-Thom project basically includes almost any resource management activity (weeds, roads, culverts, mining restoration, trailhead facilities, ATV loop trails, hiking trails, etc). Sure, if the Cedar-Thom project was truly ONLY about thinning 4,500 acres, perhaps a 300 page DEIS would be too much. But that’s clearly not the case here. The DEIS is 300 pages long, because the fact of the matter is that the Cedar-Thom project is a huge project in terms of all the proposed work within the project area. Thanks.

    ——————–
    From 2/6/2011

    Derek, Ok, so we’re talking about the Cedar-Thom Draft EIS on the Lolo National Forest. I’m quite familiar with this project, as my organization (and others like the Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited) has been involved with in since its inception. I myself have only been on one of the official FS Field Trips, but we had Cameron very involved in the beginning and Jake’s been quite active on this project over the past year.

    Here is how Derek has previously described this Cedar-Thom project:

    “Last night I was looking at a 360 page DEIS for a timber sale(project)in Montana that would “thin”(and some regen)5,000 acres.” and “It thins 4500 acres and runs to 300 pages, not 360 as I stated above.”

    Unfortunately, Derek isn’t even close to giving the entire story here. He wants to make it seem like 300 pages is a lot for “only” a 4,500 acre “thinning” project, but that’s not even close to what this proposed project all entails.

    Again, I hate to keep harping on this issue with some of what Derek and Larry/Fotoware bring up in this blog, but if we are going to make comparisons, or use certain projects as an example of something, then we must ensure accuracy.

    Just so everyone can see it with their own eyes what follows below is how the US Forest Service, in its own official DEIS document, is describing the Cedar-Thom project, which Derek has only described as a “thinning” project for about 4,500 to 5,000 acres. As you can clearly see below, this project involved considerable more than just some “thinning.” The fact of the matter is that this project is as much about watershed restoration, recreation management, weed management, etc as it is about logging or “thinning.”

    So, Derek, perhaps some of this information below will help you realize why the DEIS is 300 pages. From where I’m sitting, 300 pages for the Forest Service to analysis all of this type of work really isn’t too much red-tape at all. Thanks.

    According to the Lolo National Forest’s own DEIS, Alternative 2 (the agency’s Modified proposed action) includes:

    • mechanical treatments on 6,808 acres;
    • prescribed burning on 10,733 acres;
    • aquatic restoration activities (Up-size 10 road culverts, stream rehabilitation, and riparian planting);
    • new road construction, some road decommissioning, storage and maintenance;
    • weed treatments along roadways; and
    • recreation enhancements, including development of an ATV route.
    • Some of the timber harvest would take place in Inventoried Roadless Areas,
    • Some of the timber harvest would take place within existing old growth stands.

    Below, the Forest Service talks about the four key issues that were brought up by the public:

    “Public involvement and internal scoping lead to the identification of four key issues that were considered in the design of alternatives.

    Water Quality and Fisheries
    Cedar Creek is identified as a priority bull trout watershed (INFISH 1995). Proposed activities, including timber harvest, road associated activities, and stream rehabilitation work, may affect water quality and aquatic habitat in both the short and long-term.

    Inventoried Roadless Area
    Approximately 47 percent of the National Forest System lands within the Cedar-Thom project area are within Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRAs). Some areas within the IRA have existing roads and have had past timber harvest and the rest is undeveloped. Management activities within Inventoried Roadless Areas are controversial with some members of the public regardless of the existing condition of the IRA. There is also a concern that management activities could affect the roadless character of the IRA and make the area less suitable for wilderness classification in the future.

    Old Growth
    Proposed timber harvest and prescribed burning could affect the quantity and quality of old growth forest and the habitat it provides for associated wildlife species.

    Wildlife Security
    There is a concern that proposed management activities including ATV route development, road construction and subsequent use, and timber harvest could reduce deer and elk security.”

    Next, this is more specific information about what the Cedar-Thom project would involved. The following work is common to all three of the Forest Service’s action-alternatives, with Alternative 2 also including timber harvest in IRA’s and within Old-Growth stands.

    Weed Treatments
    Herbicide treatment of weeds along roadsides where needed on up to 140 miles of haul routes, new road construction, and drivable road segments to be stored or decommissioned.

    Recreation Enhancements
    Construct new Thompson Creek trailhead about a mile down the road from the existing trailhead.
    There is insufficient stock trailer parking at the existing trailhead and trail-users have been parking
    on private land. Change the travel management designation on approximately 18.4 miles of the following trails to non-motorized use only:
    o LostLakeTrail#112
    o IllinoisPeakTrail#169
    o OregonLakesTrail#109
    o BonanzaLakeTrail#616
    o ThompsonCreekTrail#173
    o MontrealGulchTrail#163
    o CedarCreekDrivewayTrail#170

    These trails are currently designated as open to motorcycle use for a portion of their length and then are closed to motorized use on the remainder of their length because they enter or provide access to an area where motorized use is prohibited by the Lolo National Forest Plan. This situation causes confusion for the public and the Forest Service, which makes management very difficult.

    Construct new non-motorized trail from Mink Peak to Lost Lake (1 mile). There currently is a user-created motorized trail in this area where the Forest Plan prohibits motorized use. The new trail would be relocated to avoid riparian and other sensitive areas and the user-created trail would be closed and rehabilitated.

    Improve the Oregon Lakes trailhead to accommodate vehicle parking and turn-around needs.

    Watershed Restoration Projects
    • Up-size 10 road culverts to improve stream flow and/or fish passage

    • Replace ford on Snowshoe Gulch (Road 388) with appropriate structure (either a culvert or bridge –
    final determination of specific structure would be made at the time of engineering design)

    • Rehabilitate selected stream segments on California Gulch, Lost Creek, and Oregon Gulch that
    have been affected by past placer mining to accelerate the recovery process.

    o CaliforniaGulch:The purpose of this project is to rehabilitate several areas of California Gulch that have been impacted by an old mining road and historic mining activities in the stream. The
    stream currently runs down the existing road/trail in several locations and an old log crib dam has caused stream aggradation and loss of complex fish habitat. The project would involve removal of a wooden box culvert that is failing, along with rehabilitation of the stream for approximately 100 feet, installation of waterbars along the road/trail, and removal of a log crib dam and rehabilitation of the stream at this site.

    o Lost Creek: The purpose of this project is to rehabilitate approximately 1000 feet of Lost Creek that has been historically affected by placer mining activities. The stream channel has been moved over to one side of the valley bottom and channelized, leaving no connection to the floodplain. Lower in the affected reach, rock piles from placer mining located in the floodplain also constrict the channel. The reach is lacking large woody debris to create pools and overstory vegetation to provide shading and hiding cover for fish. This rehabilitation would involve the removal of placer mining rock piles that constrict the channel and floodplains, realignment of the channel where it has historically been moved to allow for floodplain connectivity, reestablishment of natural channel and floodplain dimensions, installation of large woody debris structures to allow for fish habitat, as well as stability, and planting of coniferous and other riparian vegetation.

    o Oregon Gulch (Big Flat Area): The purpose of this project is to reestablish a floodplain and plant riparian vegetation along approximately 200 feet of Oregon Gulch where placer mining rock piles are constricting the natural channel and floodplain. The project would move the rock piles away from the stream channel to construct a small floodplain for approximately 200-300 feet. Riparian vegetation would then be planted along the newly constructed floodplain to help stabilize the area. Several large trees from the area would be placed strategically in Oregon Gulch in the area of disturbance to help create fish habitat through this reach.

    • Remove about a 100-foot segment of the historic Amador railroad grade that infringes on Cedar Creek. The purpose of this project is to remove a portion of the railroad grade that is currently eroding and at risk of failure into the creek. The project would use an excavator to remove approximately 100 feet of the grade, establish a floodplain bench, install several rootwads or a woody debris jam to deflect water away from the bank and plant riparian vegetation to promote bank stability and overhead cover for fish.

    • Plant riparian vegetation along the Cedar Creek road (#320) where the road is located near the stream. The purpose of this project is to provide stability at several rip-rapped bank locations along the Cedar Creek road. A stinger (a long pointed attachment to an excavator) would be used to plant riparian vegetation such as alder, willow, wild rose, etc. in between the pieces of rip-rap to promote plant growth in these areas. Once plants begin to grow, their roots would provide stability and the plants would provide shade and overhead cover for fish.

    • Remove a failing culvert on a non-system road in Mary Ann Gulch.
    • Rehabilitate the ford crossing on Cedar Creek in association with the decommissioning of Road
    37237 (Cayuse Saddle road).

    Road Management
    Install a gate on Road 7823 (Mary Ann Gulch) at the junction with the Cedar Creek road (#320).
    This action would close the entire Mary Ann Gulch road (1.9 miles) to wheeled motorized vehicle traffic yearlong and would restrict snowmobiles to travel from October 15 to December 1 (Forest Travel Plan map designation would be a “B” restriction). Currently, the Lolo National Forest Travel Plan map code changes from OPEN to a B restriction at milepost 0.8. However, there is no physical closure device in place and the road functions as an open road. This closure is proposed to maintain elk security.

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