Feds “seeking to eliminate key protections for watersheds, streams and salmon”

“The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management are seeking to eliminate key protections for watersheds, streams and salmon” — says this op-ed in the Eugene Register-Guard.

Forest Service should keep stream protections

“In 1994, the Northwest Forest Plan allowed federal forest management to free itself from court injunctions. The plan contains an aquatic conservation strategy, which provides protections for streams and critical support for threatened and endangered salmon. The BLM and Forest Service are revising all forest plans under the Northwest Forest Plan with a goal of increased timber harvests and lower standards for the aquatic conservation strategy.”

Maybe I’ve been living on another planet….

14 Comments

  1. This was a editorial written by the founder of “Native Forests” or something. Obviously he had never had to work with current riparian buffers. They are ridiculous. We know we are smart enough and careful enough that you could salvage log next to a class one stream and not effect it’s quality.
    But we could use more trees left on private lands in lower class intermittent waterways.

    • I didn’t read the Eugene article however USFS isn’t “smart enough”; it still takes a strong Fish Bio and Fish Program Mgr and a strong resource oriented DR to work near a fish bearing stream with effective prescriptive PDC that someone certainly gripped about. In my experience, pressure from enviros helped the IDT come to a better project. Frustrating and time consuming? Yes, but it’s my contention that a conservative and collaborative project from the get go is money well spent.

  2. I don’t believe it’s correct to determine what the purported goal is. Get the cut out – sure – that will never change but the rest? Either the writer or speaker needs to clarify how the conclusion was arrived at.

  3. FWIW: This oped wasn’t written by “the founder of ‘Native Forests’ or something,” as Bob Sproul claimed above. The names and brief backgrounds of the two authors of this oped is cleared posted on the oped. Personally, I also think it should’ve been clearly posted in the original post also, to avoid just this type of confusion among some.

    For example, does the statement posted on top of this post, “The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management are seeking to eliminate key protections for watersheds, streams and salmon” hold any more significance since it was written by a former federal agency fisheries biologist?

    Rowan Baker of Portland is an environmental consultant and former federal agency fisheries biologist. Chuck Willer of Corvallis is the executive director of the Coast Range Association. A review of the aquatic conservation strategy and the science that supports it is available at the Coast Range Association’s website: http://www.coastrange.org

  4. I’m not sure I get Steve’s planetary point. The Forest Service is revising its plans, and their aquatic strategies are part of that (including Pacfish and Infish in the inland andromous and non-anadromous streams). The FS is not exactly advertising these changes in aquatic strategies, though. It was never very happy about the consistent approach they had to take over large areas, commonly derided as “one-size fits all.” This happened because of newly ESA-listed fish species and regulatory agencies that wanted the predictability of a common approach, which was achieved when many forest plans were simultaneous amended with the same aquatic strategies.

    Now plans are being revised individually, and the Forest Service apparently senses it can move to “refine” these strategies with less interference. The first forests subject to one of these aquatic strategies that have revised their plans are the Idaho Panhandle and Kootenai National Forests (final decisions resolving objections are expected early next year). They include a different aquatic strategy, but at the last minute, the existing Infish strategy was also tacked on. The proposed revised plan recently released by the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest also includes a reworked aquatic strategy, with no explanation of what the differences are or why. The draft revised plans for the Blue Mountains in eastern Oregon include “an updated and enhanced version of the Forest Service’s existing aquatic strategy.”

    The proposed revised plan for the Okanogan-Wenatchee says this: “The current forest plans, as amended by the NWFP, PACFISH and INFISH, do not integrate restoration of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems or facilitate integrated management of aquatic resources with upslope terrestrial vegetation and hazardous fuels reduction and recreation management… Increasingly recognized is the need for management of vegetation and aquatic habitat to be viewed in an integrated fashion with the primary management constraint being the conservation and restoration of natural processes that create diverse and resilient ecosystems. This suggests a different paradigm for land management, moving from fish and wildlife being constraints to vegetation management to integrated management of the ecosystem. The revised forest plan will recognize the dynamic nature of aquatic environments and the role of disturbance in creating and maintaining habitat over time.”

    To understand what this really means, it would be good keep an eye on what provisions of the original strategies are being removed or changed, and how those changes might affect aquatic species.

  5. I reckon that only on another planet could the agencies “eliminate key protections for watersheds, streams and salmon.” On this planet, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if the revised plans do actually promote “integrated management of the ecosystem.” That makes sense, and doesn’t necessarily entail abandoning “key protections.” It could mean strengthening them in some ways, by addressing up-slope issues in new and better ways.

  6. Whenever site-specific discretion is involved, eco-lawyers perk up their ears and sharpen their pencils. I sure hope that there will be full transparency in such trust-building activities, like this. I do know that sometimes, large stream buffers actually exceed the watershed boundaries. There should be one change that allows skid trails on ridgetops (despite stream buffer size), where appropriate, serving the land and meeting BMP’s.

    • I fully agree with Larry when he says “Whenever site-specific discretion is involved, eco-lawyers perk up their ears and sharpen their pencils.” And I am quite glad it’s true.

      The sad history of land manager discretion clearly indicates that discretion is too often exercised to the detriment of public values like clean water and habitat. The institutional mandate to “get the cut out” too often takes precedence over protecting public values. Strong and binding standards & guidelines, such as stream buffers, diameter limits, and reserves, help limit agency discretion and protect public values.

      All hail the eco-lawyers and their perky ears and sharp pencils.

        • Larry, that really isn’t correct (the second part of your post anyway, regarding agency discretion, as for the first part… whatever). Both PACFISH and INFISH contain standards and guidelines. As the FS itself notes about standards:

          “A forest plan standard is an absolute requirement to be met in the design of projects and activities. A project or activity is consistent with a standard when its design is in accord with the explicit provisions of the standard; variance from a standard in any way is not allowed. In sum, a project or activity may meet the spirit, if not the letter, of a guideline, but must meet the letter of a standard.”

          and,

          “Deviation from a plan standard or guideline as part of a project decision:
          • Standards: since standards are absolute requirements and variance from a standard is not allowed, you must amend your forest plan in order to have a project decision that deviates from a plan standard.”

          https://fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5270995.pdf

          • Many standards are based upon “Stream Class”, and those borderline decisions are made by people. I also have to question why it is assumed that today’s Forest Service folks will act like those “dead foresters”, if allowed to use “discretion”. That isn’t supported by recent history.

  7. I would be interested in hearing about recent history (examples) where discretion has been used to either promote more active management or to restrict it. I was mostly involved in situations where discretion to actively manage had be restricted because of legal requirements (mostly related to species at risk), so mostly I saw the agency resistance to losing its discretion to actively manage. On the other hand, the FS is still making some wilderness recommendations that they don’t have to make.

    I think a common theme of revised forest plans is going to be fewer standards (in aquatic strategies and elsewhere). That philosophy has made me wonder why it is so desirable to debate every project (with associated costs) instead of accepting a forest plan standard that might not fit exactly right.

    • Many Hydrologists have become very concerned about the increasing fuel loads within stream buffers. Some people would like to think that stream buffers should “protect” those areas from all of man’s activities. Others claim that stream buffers only deal with skids trails and road building. Decisions to thin stream buffers should include some conservative diameter limits, as much as I dislike them. Such decisions must be based upon site-specific conditions, and not blanket protections not based on site-specific science. Diameter limits are also problematic, having adverse impacts when smaller pines (20″-29″ dbh) are cut, leaving larger rotten and flammable firs and cedars (here in California), instead. Discretion can yield better forests than blindly following diameter limits.

      Related to those issues are the changes made to stream classes in burned areas. The protections for the different types of streams are critical parts of any salvage project. I’ve often seen stream classes changed, especially after even superficial erosion associated with hydrophobic soils.

      Of course, more management in such areas comes with risks, and more oversight. More funding for more oversight will not happen, though. Of course, some people associate discretion with overcutting, absolutely.

    • “I think a common theme of revised forest plans is going to be fewer standards (in aquatic strategies and elsewhere)”

      That’s probably a safe prediction! Reminds me, we’ve probably posted a link to this excellent article by a couple of your Missoula neighbors, Nie & Schembra, but worth posting again: “The Important Role of Standards in National Forest Planning, Law, and Management.” http://www.cas.umt.edu/facultydatabase/FILES_Faculty/1126/ELR_Standards_Article.pdf

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