Analysis of Senator Barrasso’s “National Forest Ecosystem Improvement” Bill from TWS

A new summary and analysis of S. 879, the “National Forest Ecosystem Improvement Act” – which Senator Barrasso (R-WY) introduced on April 6 – is available here. It was put together by Mike Anderson at The Wilderness Society.

The text of S. 879 is available here.

Below is Mr. Anderson’s summary of the bill.

“S. 879 would greatly increase logging of national forest lands, while reducing environmental safeguards and opportunities for public involvement in national forest management. Annual acreage mandates for mechanical treatments would compel the Forest Service to prioritize logging over all other uses and resources. Large expanses of forest up to 15,000 acres in size could be logged with no consideration of the impacts to water quality, wildlife habitat, or recreational opportunities. The legality of Forest Service management activities would be essentially unchallengeable in court, removing an essential check on federal agency compliance with the law. Two bedrock environmental laws – NEPA and ESA – would be undermined. In sum, the bill poses a serious threat to environmental stewardship, public involvement, wildlife conservation, and the rule of law in the national forests.”

15 Comments

  1. Just read Mr. Anderson’s Chicken Little post filled with faux statements and supposition. Some of Anderson’s statements are given below in quotes with my reply indicated by an arrow as follows:

    1) “included in the objectives of ecosystem restoration projects are timber stand improvement and creating “early seral” habitat (i.e. clearcuts). These activities are not restoration , and may well undermine legitimate restoration activities.”
    –> This is pure ignorance. What about the species that need early seral habitat? The present low proportion of early seral habitat in our PNW federal forests is harming the NSO’s chances of survival by reducing the edge effect that provides abundant rodents which are a main staple of the NSO and many other species. The lack of early seral habitat is exactly what will finish off the NSO when its existing nesting habitat dies out and is replaced by the shade tolerant hemlocks growing underneath the present stand. Too bad the NSO doesn’t like hemlock forests. Too bad that lack of sufficient new stands to replace the old ones will create a habitat gap that will be the death knell to the NSO if it lasts that long.
    –> Too bad that the only place that the NSO is holding its own is in and around intensively managed industrial forest lands where it has access to an abundant supply of foraging thanks to regenerated clearcuts and nesting habitat thanks to older managed stands and adjoining old growth.

    2) “Section 104 is highly problematic because it would impose unrealistic logging mandates”
    –> If it is so problematic, why has Mr. Anderson gotten his bowls in an uproar? Oh! I forgot, enviros want a reduction in harvesting not an increase. The 85-90% decrease after 1990 wasn’t enough, enviros want it all. Their unwillingness to compromise is exactly why legislation like this will eventually fence them off. Let it burn, get eaten by insects or be decimated by disease to heck with the endangered species, to heck with damage to human life &/ health, to heck with … The enviros cry ‘just let me live in my own little dream world.’ After all, ignorance is bliss.

    3) “Finally, by requiring 60,000 acres of clearcuts every year, which can create significant future fire risks and increase treatment costs, the legislation would exacerbate the risks of catastrophic wildfire in the future.”
    –> False, clearcuts serve as firebreaks. Adding more height heterogeneity to adjoining stands helps to lower the odds of extensive acreages of crowning out by bringing the fire back to the ground or keeping it on the ground until many years in the future when the stand’s height approaches that of the surrounding trees and by then the surrounding stands can be thinned or receive an appropriate regeneration harvest. In addition, the clearcut can be planted at lower densities to postpone the need for future thinning to control density and reduce the risk of catastrophic loss.
    –> If clearcuts increased future risks, then what do overly dense forests do? Where is the logic? Why are overly dense forests presently at extreme risk of future catastrophic loss acceptable but lower risk clearcuts aren’t?
    –>–> I do have a problem with any legislation of 60,000 acres of clearcut acres/year. Such decisions should be left to the managers as dictated by desired species, site conditions and innumerable other factors in the long term landscape level integrated forest plan. This and other acreage dictates should be eliminated in committee.
    –>–> In addition, if a 500 year maximum age was normal for the sites and species suitable for clearcut a maximum of 30% of federal Timberlands (98 million acres as opposed to 145 million forest acres) would be clearcut but that is not reasonable since I seriously doubt that there is that much acreage suitable for the species suitable for clearcut as a regeneration method. Even if there is sufficient acreage, I doubt that we would want to intentionally convert existing shade tolerant stands to shade intolerant stands. At 250 years the maximum percent of federal forests clearcut would drop to 15%. Anyway, there is no way that any legislation should dictate acreages as a one size fits all solution. That is micromanagement and ignorance just as surely as what we have now.
    –>–> In addition, turning on the faucet full blast in a single year will not happen because, in places without infrastructure, buyers won’t bid because they don’t have facilities close enough to be economically profitable. And after the 1990 fiasco when the faucets were turned almost completely off they won’t even think about investing in infrastructure unless they have a long term contract with uncle sam which guarantees to pay for their losses plus penalties should the political winds revert to 1990. A staged increase should start with areas with existing processing infrastructure and then move to areas in dire need of reducing risk of catastrophic loss or threat to the WUI and then to federal lands with high traffic and finally to perimeter areas.

    4) “60,000 acres of even-aged management (i.e., clearcutting)”
    –> Wrong!!! Clearcutting is not the only way of regenerating a stand on an even aged basis.

    Sorry that I can’t address several other problems with Mr. Anderson’s analysis as it’s night night time so I’ll stop here and conclude by saying that this proposal with some changes to edicts as to mandating silvicultural activity acreages, is superior to what we have now which is excessive destruction of our federal forests by ignorance or agendas counter to the health of people, adjoining property, watersheds and infrastructure and the health of our national forests.

    Finally, I would like like to see some sort of independent outside auditing on our federal forests to insure compliance with best management practices and SFI/other principles.

    • Gil- the Forest Service tried to do that once, tied to the 2005 planning rule, but when the 2005 Rule went down in litigation, those efforts went down too. Plus they did not fit in with FS culture. I’ll go back and see whether I’ve written about this before.

      • Sharon

        Re: “the Forest Service tried to do that once, tied to the 2005 planning rule, but when the 2005 Rule went down in litigation, those efforts went down too. Plus they did not fit in with FS culture”
        –> When you use “that” are you referring to “accreditation / 3rd party audits” or something else?

        • It’s a long story, and involved the FS developing its own (through public involvement) standards to which either (teams of internal auditors) or (third party auditors) would audit. You can imagine the discussion, internal is good because people get experience and knowledge exchange across Regions and it’s learning for employees. Downside is that bad internal vibes can result from criticism.. internal drama and possible long-term career impacts, plus costs.

          Third party costs more, and how objective are they anyway? FS could learn from the auditors but the thinking is that if you mostly audit private forests, you don’t know much that’s transferrable.
          Plus FS auditors would need to do oil and gas, range, coal mines, recreation, ski areas or other big environmental impact items and forestry auditors don’t do that.

          My own experience: the external auditors who worked with us did in fact know quiet a bit about linking statutes, regulations, policies and on the ground work.. and did come up with useful and new ways of thinking about things and making the “checking on things” process more efficient

          • Sharon

            I sure can identify with resistance in the USFS to more people looking over their shoulders. Your last paragraph is similar to my experience. 3rd party auditors trained by the SFI certification body were a group of well versed specialists who were well qualified in a broad sense and the certification requirements encompassed both plantations and natural forests with the focus being on regulatory compliance and environmental concerns because that is the only reason to hire an external auditor. Those aspects of forest audits are very transferable imho. Internal auditors are more appropriate for analyzing operational economies.

  2. Gil, since these claims keep showing up in your posts, it would be helpful to look at your sources:

    “The present low proportion of early seral habitat in our PNW federal forests is harming the NSO’s chances of survival by reducing the edge effect that provides abundant rodents which are a main staple of the NSO and many other species.”

    “Too bad that the only place that the NSO is holding its own is in and around intensively managed industrial forest lands where it has access to an abundant supply of foraging thanks to regenerated clearcuts and nesting habitat thanks to older managed stands and adjoining old growth.”

    How does the proportion of early seral habitat compare to the conditions that spotted owls evolved with? What scientists say forest edges are good for spotted owls or that foraging habitat is a limiting factor? Where is this mecca for spotted owls? Are they really nesting in plantations? If you’ve already provided these sources you could just provide the link. Thanks.

    • Jon

      Links already provided on this blog site years ago multiple times but I’ll dig them up again for you as soon as I can, but it is going to take some time. So be patient. Hopefully I’ll get to it this week or next.

        • So, Jon

          My motivation to disseminate the truth just went south. Why should I bother if you aren’t interested enough to commit to read it and provide your feedback? Obviously all of my past efforts to provide links didn’t mean a thing to the greatest number of subscribers to this blog site because it didn’t agree with the pablum that they make money from disseminating or that they swallow because it is what they want to believe – so I’m not in any hurry especially since you aren’t.

          As to your comment: ” If you’ve already provided these sources you could just provide the link.” It would take a bunch of work since there is no one link and most links are probably buried in comments somewhere so if I get around to it, I’ll pull it all together into a single post and update it for the latest information.

          There is no mecca for spotted owls. What I said was “holding its own” which translates to barely stable. The only place where the population growth rate is around zero instead of significantly negative is on the old Simpson Timber Company lands in NW California as best as I remember but, like I said, I’ll document that if I get around to it.

  3. I think the TWS analysis is from one perspective.. it would be good to hear from other perspectives. People are paid to provide these to interest groups, so it would be nice if we could post a variety of opinions. In the interest of open government and the public being able to see the work products produced with public funds, I’ve called the Forest Service public affairs folks to see if we can get a copy of the FS analysis of the bill.

  4. “…no consideration of the impacts…” Soooo, do they also intend to eliminate “Best Management Practices”, OSHA rules, the Clean Air and Water Acts and more?!?!? More propaganda and rhetoric. That being said, if we do need to install some clearcuts, shouldn’t those stands be unhealthy and low in volume per acre? I’m not a big fan of clearcuts, especially when they happen in healthy (edit: and profitable) old growth.

      • Yes, it appears to be a new ‘Golden Age’ of non-profits asking for more donations to fight the ‘Evil Empire’. Why not produce a ‘report card’ of which eco-groups are actually putting the extra money to good use, instead of merely offsetting the costs of continuing to keep already hired lawyers busier? Basically they all seem to be pointing at what might happen, based on speculation and partisan politics. It seems similar to people back in 2000, claiming that the Bush Administration would be “clearcutting the Roadless Areas”, even when most of them were devoid of worthwhile timber.

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