Wildland Fire Metareview

Here’s the link.

After the 2015 Twisp Fire, agency leadership directed the learning team to look across multiple years of incidents and accidents to see what lessons could be learned by taking a “meta” approach to systematically reviewing past events. Looking across multiple incidents allows themes to be detected in ways that single accidents don’t allow. Their review examined accidents and incidents, including fatality incidents, in the Forest Service over a 10-year period (2007-2016). Chapter 3 of the metareview includes the quantitative and qualitative analysis of this data.

 From their analysis, five themes emerged. To dive deeper into the learning around these themes, in 2019 the learning team conducted five focus groups comprised of a cross-section of Forest Service employees who work in wildland fire management and academic subject matter experts. The focus group findings are detailed in chapters 4-12. The format is intentionally presented in an open way that is intended to facilitate discussion and individual and group learning. Each chapter highlights information from the meta-analysis and focus groups and then broadens the conversation by including learning challenges to prompt discussion among your local work group.

Out of the quantitative and qualitative work of the previous chapters, chapter 13 introduces an ongoing learning strategy.

As you work through the discussion tool and learning challenges, you will see the themes that emerged from the metareview effort:

Fatalities and injuries: Why are they continuing to occur?
Fiscal incentives: How does the current pay structure affect operational strategies and risk management?
Society: How do social and political pressures play into the wildland fire system?
Ecological soundness: How do ecological health and land management factors currently play into wildland fire decision making and strategy planning processes?
Communication/work environment: What do current successes and failures look like in the context of communication and the wildland fire work environment?
All these are great questions and ones that as an agency we continue to grapple with.

Obviously, the Forest Service did quite a bit of work on this. This isn’t an area of knowledge for me, so hoping TSW readers will look into this and give us your thoughts.

What Are Your Top Ten Famous/Infamous Court Decisions Affecting FS and BLM?

Professor Kass asks a fascinating question below. I’m sure other TSW readers, including me,  would be interested.  There are two options.. put your thoughts in the comments below, or email me and I can put each list as a separate post.  Of course, you can just email Professor Cass, but we’d miss your thoughts and the discussion?

 

Dear Smokey Wire Readers,

I am looking to develop a list of the most famous/infamous federal court decisions impacting federal lands, specifically the Forest Service and BLM. Today’s post noted the impact of Robbins Gulch Road litigation in passage of the National Forest Management Act. If you have thoughts on federal cases that have had similarly significant impacts — for good or for bad — I would be very interested in hearing your views. I can be reached directly at kassm@seattleu.edu.

I look forward to your thoughtful and enlightening responses! What cases would be on your top 10 list?

More on the Holland Lake Project, CEs and the Flathead Plan

 

Martin Nie helpfully pointed me to the text of his letter on the Holland Lake project. What’s interesting about this, to me, in light of the decision, is how this highlights the role of environmental analysis compared to public engagement.  Some folks seem to like to lump them together (not Martin).. “with a CE the public won’t be involved” but this particular CE had public meetings and obviously a comment period (evidence-  this letter, among others).  And whether the FS uses the CE when this decision comes back around, I would expect them to do the same kind of public involvement.

Here’s  a link to Martin’s letter , and here is a link to the scoping document.  Lots of interesting stuff in there, including upgrading water and sewer, and  clarifies the Forest Plan direction for the area.

Increased use is also occurring at the adjacent USFS East Holland Lake Connector Trailhead. This increase in use is creating a situation in which users park along the Holland Lake Road because there is no longer room in the existing trailhead parking area. Additionally, the existing vault toilet is no longer adequate to handle the amount of use it experiences. This situation may be causing additional resource concerns as users find alternative options*. Improvements at the Holland Lake Lodge and the East Holland Lake Connector Trailhead would offer the opportunity to satisfy some of the increased demand for outdoor recreation on public lands in the Swan and Flathead Valleys (Figure 2 & Figure 3). Holland Lake is identified by the Flathead National Forest Land Management Plan as a Management Area 7 – Focused Recreation (USDA 2018). The improvements proposed at Holland Lake Lodge align with recreation uses permitted in Management Area 7. Focused Recreation Areas typically include public recreation areas at or near a lake, large campground, developed ski area or year-round resort. Recreation in these areas is already occurring and is often enhanced by further development to increase public access and benefit local economies.

*Hmm. I wonder about the exact nature of these “alternative options,”; perhaps not best left to the imagination.

Here’s what Martin said about the Plan:

So much time, energy and resources collectively spent on revising this Plan, one of the first to be revised under the 2012 Forest Planning Regulations-Regulations that require the use of best available scientific information, public participation, and an “all lands” approach to National Forest management. So much work and money spent on the Montana Legacy Project, so carefully done so to protect the ecological and rural community values so cherished in the region. So much effort to protect the ecological integrity and feel of a special place. And yet none of that work seems to have shaped or informed a proposal that would undermine it all.

The agency’s purpose and need for action statement references the revised Forest Plan’s desired conditions for Management Area 7, Focused Recreation. This vague and discretionary plan component calls for providing “sustainable recreational opportunities and settings that respond to increasing recreation demand.” But this provision does not call for generating greater demand for even more intensive recreation nor can it be understood in isolation from other relevant parts of the Revised Plan, including the plan components for the Swan Valley Geographic Area, and requirements under 36 C.F.R. §219.9 “to contribute to the recovery of federally listed threatened and endangered species, conserve proposed and candidate species, and to maintain a viable population of each species of conservation concern.”

The special use permit and proposed expansion of Holland Lake Lodge is clearly and directly related to forthcoming activities and an environmental footprint that will extend far beyond the 15 acre permitted area. The type of intensive year-round recreation associated with the POWDR corporation makes this clear and is entirely inappropriate in an area so ecologically significant. The NEPA case law forbids the segmentation of related actions and requires that the cumulative effects of related actions must be considered, usually in an EIS. The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) also states that “federal agencies must be sure the proposed [CE] captures the entire proposed action” and “should not be established or used for a segment or interdependent part of a larger proposed action.”

It seems to me that this argument could be made for any project that has a appropriate CE. Perhaps all fuel treatment projects on the Forest could be characterized as “related actions” despite the existence of legislated and regulatory CEs.  And it can be argued that anything is in some sense a “related action.”

I also question this claim :”The type of intensive year-round recreation associated with the POWDR corporation makes this clear and is entirely inappropriate in an area so ecologically significant.”  With my experience with ski area expansion, every area is “ecologically significant” to someone; and these ski areas have opened to year-round recreation.  To my mind, you’d have to tie a specific time of use to a specific environmental impact.

Since Martin is the Director of the Bolle Center (although he writes this letter in a personal capacity), I guess it was natural to bring up the Bolle Report from 1970 (52 years ago).  For non-Montanans who have dealt with other permitted recreation expansions (in my case, ski areas) it seems a bit of a stretch, but OK.

Here we are, decades after the Bitterroot controversy, only to find local citizens and the public once again treated as antagonists, with a proposal to exclude them from a fully informed, scientifically credible, and participatory NEPA process.

Of course, development at Holland Lake is no  Bitterroot controversy in terms of scope, scale and implications. But both cases signify something far bigger within the agency and Montanans clearly recognize something is once again amiss. Rarely have I been approached by so many citizens about a local project or proposal, all with deep concerns and lots of questions about the proposed expansion and the Forest Service’s misuse of NEPA. (my italics)

If you don’t agree with certain members of the public, are you “treating them as antagonists”? Despite public meetings, comment periods, etc.? And if the decision, as in this case, goes with those members of the public, are you still “treating them as antagonists”?  Is it the process, the feelings of some (which ones?) or the decision itself the location for these antagonistic expressions?

Now is where the letter gets interesting:

To categorically exclude some projects and activities from full environmental review is both reasonable and necessary. Doing so can help the agency focus on proposed actions most likely to actually have significant environmental effects. But the USFS is now using its growing list of “CE” authorities to an alarming degree. Roughly 84 percent of the agency’s NEPA work is now done using CE determinations. The Forest Service seems intent on excluding even more projects and actions from NEPA review in the future, using new exemptions provided in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), among several other new authorities granted by Congress, and more controversially by the agency itself.

But to abuse this tool is to risk the agency’s credibility and social license. The intention to categorically exclude such a significant action sends a message that CEs are being used not as a way to do NEPA more efficiently, or to make better decisions-which is the whole point of NEPA-but rather a way to avoid the use of best available science and informed public participation in public lands management. The backlash is already evident and I’m afraid it will taint future good faith efforts aimed at actually improving the USFS’s implementation of NEPA.

In my old job in NEPA in DC, we’d see real CE abuse.. and this is not it. IMHO.

The Forest Service “seems intent” on following statutes legislated by Congress.. I certainly hope so! And why would the CEs in the BIL be less controversial than those developed by the agency (or Agency)?

I guess I just don’t see the logic path from “many people in the area and elsewhere don’t want more people at this 15 acre (based on Martin’s letter) permitted developed recreation site .” and (implied) the Forest Service “is intent on” “even more projects and actions from NEPA review”.

By the way, I took a brief scan of the Flathead Current and Recent Projects, specifically Under Analysis and Analysis Completed. It looks to me as if all the vegetation management and fuels projects are EISs or EAs. Perhaps the problem with CEs is the FS uses too many of them for common decisions like Ultra-Marathons? Or bike races (if Andy is reading this far).

We’ve also had a good discussion of CEs and their use in the previous post’s comments.

****************

And for the even more NEPA-nerdy..

As to the percentages of CE’s, it turns out that Martin used what is in this 2020 NEPA regulation :

The Agency devotes considerable financial and personnel resources to NEPA analyses and documentation, completing on average 1,588 categorical exclusion (CE) determinations, 266 environmental assessments (EAs), and 39 environmental impact statements (EISs) annually (based on Fiscal Years 2014-2019).

The  Fleischmann et al. (2020) estimate of CE% was  for 2005-2018 and came up with 82.3 % CEs, and the FS estimate 84%, is from 2014-2019.  We might expect that if the FS’s intention were to use more CEs, and it was busy generating administrative ones and the Congress was busy legislating CEs, since 2015 we would see more of an increase over that time period. The averages actually seem pretty invariant over those time periods.

 

 

Supreme Court Hears Echo from Bitterroot Clearcut/Terracing Controversy

The visual legacy of the Bitterroot’s terracing in Robbins Gulch can still be seen by satellite (click on image for full-size).

Tomorrow the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral argument in a property rights dispute between the Forest Service, which owns an easement through plaintiffs’ private property. Although the legal issue (how should courts treat the Quiet Title Act’s statute-of-limitations?) is arcane, it is the historic nature of the easement that intrigues me.

In 1962, the predecessor property owners conveyed to the United States a 60-foot road easement that plaintiffs assert is “for timber harvest” purposes only. In 2006, the Forest Service allegedly expanded the easement to include general public access by posting a sign to that effect, leading to trespassing on plaintiffs’ private property, “theft of their personal property, people shooting at their houses, people hunting both on and off the easement, and people traveling at dangerous speeds on and around Robbins Gulch Road.”

However, it is the Forest Service’s timber harvest accessed by the Robbins Gulch Road that has the more storied history. This was one of the places where the Forest Service terraced hillsides to encourage regeneration following clearcut logging. This controversial practice helped catalyze passage of the National Forest Management Act, the echoes of which continue to reverberate.

Let’s Ground-Truth EPA ‘s Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool

Rumor has it that the Forest Service is coming out with new maps for the 10 Year Wildfire Strategy (maybe I’m missing something, but like I said it’s a rumor).  Part of it is to prioritize environmental justice, or so I heard.  So naturally, inquiring minds would want to know how this fits with the EPA EJ Screen program, which was updated in October.  Will the FS use the same maps (base data) and criteria?

 How does the EPA use this tool?

EPA uses EJScreen as a preliminary step when considering environmental justice in certain situations. The agency uses it to screen for areas that may be candidates for additional consideration, analysis or outreach as EPA develops programs, policies and activities that may affect communities. In the past, the agency employed EJ screening tools in a wide variety of circumstances.

A few examples of what EJScreen supports across the agency include:

  • Informing outreach and engagement practices
  • Implementing aspects of the following programs:
    • permitting
    • enforcement
    • compliance
    • voluntary
  • Developing retrospective reports of EPA work
  • Enhancing geographically based initiatives

EJScreen is not used by EPA staff for any of the following:

  • As a means to identify or label an area as an “EJ community”
  • To quantify specific risk values for a selected area
  • To measure cumulative impacts of multiple environmental factors
  • As the sole basis for agency decision-making or making a determination regarding the existence or absence of EJ concerns

EPA hopes to refine our uses of EJScreen as we build upon lessons learned and as we receive feedback from our stakeholders and governmental partner

The map also has “climate” risks, including wildfire risk.  If you happen to be a yellow box in the middle of orange boxes (see above) you might wonder how this fits with other wildfire risk maps.  Someone out there probably knows. But it’s always fun to ground truth these maps so take a look at your neighborhood.

Oregon Public Broadcasting has a lengthy story about the state wildfire risk mapping effort that met with public blowback. Apparently the second time around, Oregon will issue a draft and allow people to comment on it.

I wonder whether EPA did that.  It seems to me that for something as important as EJ, the public should have been involved in definitions, reviewing data and all that.  And perhaps we were, but I was not on the right mailing list.

I wonder how they considered wildfire smoke in this PM 2.5 listing?

Extraordinary Extraordinary Circumstances? The Flathead’s Holland Lake Project and Using a CE

Early TSW readers may remember that this blog was started in 2009 with me and Martin Nie,  a professor of the University of Montana, discussing forest planning, when the 2012 Planning Rule was beginning to be designed.  At the time, we called the blog “New Century of Forest Planning.” One of the reasons Martin was so fun to argue with is that we disagreed on many things about planning. My idea was that in the relatively arcane world of forest planning, students would learn from heating different perspectives.  I haven’t heard from Martin lately, but apparently we still disagree.

Yesterday it turned out that the Forest Service rejected the proposal, according to KPAX

They cite inaccuracies between the master development plan and the proposed plan.

Tammy MacKenzie, the public information officer for the Flathead National Forest, told MTN the plan to expand the lodge at the base of the Swan Mountain Range was bigger than what was originally asked for.

I thought this earlier article from the Daily Montanan “Flathead National Forest: Decision on Holland Lake likely coming this week or next”  was interesting in terms of  Martin’s more general comments on Forest Service public involvement, NEPA and the use of CEs, as reported.

In comments and at public meetings, many people have called on the Forest Service to do a thorough environmental review and not grant a categorical exclusion. Martin Nie, director of the Bolle Center for People and Forests at the University of Montana, is among those.

In his Oct. 5 letter, Nie talked about working for a center named after the late Arnold Bolle, named in the Gallery of Outstanding Montanans in the Capitol as the “Dean of Western Forests,” he said.

He said Bolle led an investigation of forest management in 1969 that resulted in a report that found the Forest Service’s culture didn’t involve the public “in any way but as antagonists,” and he said decades later, the same is true.

Wow, that’s quite a claim! All that work with collaborative groups, all that learning, all those requirements, it’s hard to believe he really said that. Perhaps in his experience. Not in mine. More likely there is literature around that, there certainly is around improving processes (e.g.this 2006 Leach paper).

“Rarely have I been approached by so many citizens about a local project or proposal, all with deep concerns and lots of questions about the proposed expansion and the Forest Service’s misuse of NEPA,” Nie wrote of the National Environmental Policy Act, which sets the standards for exceptions and reviews.

He said granting exceptions to some projects “is both reasonable and necessary,” but the Forest Service is using the NEPA exclusion “to an alarming degree,” some 84 percent of the time.

I’m hoping that the Forest Service uses both statutory and regulatory CEs as appropriate. For me, that’s kind of the point of being in a federal agency, do what Congress says, plus your own rulemaking. Suppose there is a new legislated CE for certain outfitter guide activities. Would that be even more “alarming” because the percentage of projects using CEs would increase? Also, if the number came from the 2020 Fleischmann et al. paper, it should probably be 82% (rounded from 82.3 in the abstract)*.

But federal regulations prohibit the exception where there are “extraordinary circumstances,” such as where threatened or endangered species might be affected, and he said the Flathead National Forest’s own plan identifies unique characteristics of the area.

“The ecological setting of Holland Lake provides a textbook example of extraordinary circumstances that warrant closer environmental analysis and full public participation,” Nie wrote.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with finding items of interest in the FS NEPA regulations here is a link. Extraordinary circumstances are at 31.2.

31.2 – Extraordinary Circumstances

Resource conditions that should be considered in determining whether extraordinary circumstances related to a proposed action warrant further analysis and documentation in an EA or an EIS are:
(1) Federally listed threatened or endangered species or designated critical habitat, species proposed for Federal listing or proposed critical habitat, or Forest Service sensitive species;
(2) Flood plains, wetlands, or municipal watersheds;
(3) Congressionally designated areas, such as wilderness, wilderness study areas, or national recreation areas;
(4) Inventoried roadless areas or potential wilderness areas;
(5) Research natural areas;
(6) American Indians and Alaska Native religious or cultural sites, and
(7) Archaeological sites, or historic properties or areas.
The mere presence of one or more of these resource conditions does not preclude use of a categorical exclusion (CE). It is the existence of a cause-effect relationship between a proposed action and the potential effect on these resource conditions and if such a relationship exists, the degree of the potential effect of a proposed action on these resource conditions that determine whether extraordinary circumstances exist. (36 CFR 220.6(b))

I actually don’t see “ecological setting” included.  I’m guessing the environmental docs on this project discuss this..

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Thanksgiving is a unique holiday because it’s about gratitude- well and food, of course.

It’s also about turkeys.. and interestingly on October 28th of this year, the National Wild Turkey Federation signed a Master Stewardship Agreement with the Forest Service for 20 years. Check it out here.

I’m thankful for… Forest Service (and BLM all this goes for both):

Forest Service partners.

Forest Service employees. I’ll call out a few here. Human Resources folks who are trying to get fire folks their back pay, as well as everyone else their regular pay. And people working on hiring. Those who fill in for the work missed when fire folks are on fires. Employee Relations folks who help people work together and get out of sticky work situations. And Forest Service engineers who do all kinds of helpful things without much press coverage. And NEPA and planning people, of course.

Forest Service families. Especially fire families.

Producers of things we use. Wood, food, minerals, chemicals and energy. Who enable us to gather, eat, heat, and write, as well as run servers.

Journalists. Especially the ones who take time to dig into a situation and present both sides.

ENGO folks. They can help keep the FS on track and are partners, in perhaps a different sense.

Researchers and university types

Professional societies in natural resources, their employees and volunteers

The WordPress people and Cloud Nine Web Design.

And most of all, I am thankful for The Smokey Wire community. It’s not necessarily a popular thing these days to engage with people who disagree. So I appreciate those of you who share your thoughts and experiences and information, and those who engage in civil exchange of views.

So thank you all!

GAO Report on Barriers to Recruitment and Retention of Federal Wildland Firefighters

Here’s a link to the report.

I don’t know how many TSW ites are involved in fire or fire hiring, but I’d be interested in your impressions of the report findings.

Also, I wonder which of these barriers are also barriers to other FS (and possibly BLM) hiring?
The FS retiree rumor network circulated that the FS was trying to hire 800 slots and at the end of the day would only get about 500 reporting (anyone with better info, please add). So it’s possible that there are barriers to hiring all kinds of folks; perhaps not the same barriers. Maybe it also depends on what the alternatives for employment are. I have heard that fewer folks want to work in the woods/brush/grass and more want to work in the office on computers, but I don’t know if that’s true.

But back to fire folks.. there’s an interesting discussion in the comments on Wildfire Today here.

What GAO Found
The federal wildland firefighting workforce is composed of approximately 18,700 firefighters (including fire management and support staff) from the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service and from four agencies in the Department of the Interior. The Interior agencies are the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service. GAO identified seven barriers to recruitment and retention of federal wildland firefighters through analysis of interviews with agency officials and 16 nonfederal stakeholders and a review of documents (see fig.).

Low pay was the most commonly cited barrier to recruiting and retaining federal wildland firefighters. Officials and all 16 stakeholders stated that the pay, which starts at $15 per hour for entry-level positions, is low. Officials and eight stakeholders also noted that the pay does not reflect the risk or physical demands of the work. Moreover, officials and stakeholders said that in some cases, firefighters can earn more at nonfederal firefighting entities or for less dangerous work in other fields, such as food service. The Forest Service and Interior agencies have taken steps to help address this barrier. For example, in 2022, the agencies worked with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to address a provision of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act calling for the agencies to increase firefighter salaries by the lesser of $20,000 or 50 percent of base salary in locations where it is difficult to recruit or retain wildland firefighters. In June 2022, the agencies announced that the salary increase would apply to wildland firefighters in all geographic locations, as their analysis indicated that recruitment and retention challenges existed in all locations. The act authorized funding for the wildland firefighter provisions, including those related to salary increases, for fiscal years 2022 through 2026, and appropriated some funding toward those provisions.

The Forest Service and Interior are taking steps to address other barriers as well. For example, to help improve work-life balance for firefighters, the Forest Service increased the size of some firefighting crews, a change intended to allow crew members to more easily take time off for rest or personal reasons, according to Forest Service officials. In addition, in fiscal year 2021, 84 percent of federal firefighters identified as men and 72 percent identified as White. To increase diversity, the agencies have recruited women and underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, including through a wildland firefighter apprentice program. The agencies are also taking steps to improve mental health services and hiring practices

E&E News has an article on it, here’s an excerpt:

In a wildland fire review on the Forest Service website last Thursday, officials referenced the increased pay and new emphasis on mental health — a reflection of GAO’s finding that emotional strain remains one of the barriers to hiring and retention.

“We look forward to continuing this conversation with the wildland firefighter community as we work to build and solidify the well-supported, more permanent wildland firefighting force needed to address the wildfire crisis,” said Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry Jaelith Hall-Rivera and acting Deputy Chief for Research and Development Cynthia West.

The Forest Service and the Interior Department together have a firefighting force of about 18,700, including support staff. Some 84 percent of firefighters in 2021 were men, and 72 percent white, although the agencies have focused recent recruitment at women and underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, GAO said.

To make further improvements, the Forest Service may need to pay particular attention to the concerns of people in their 20s who want to be firefighters, or to remain firefighters. That’s a priority for a group called the FireGeneration Collaborative, which sent representatives to the nation’s capital last week.

“They’re failing to connect with our generation,” said Kyle Trefny, a student at the University of Oregon and one of the group’s organizers, who’s also a wildland firefighter in the summer.

Trefny and others who visited with Forest Service officials and lawmakers said they’re pushing the agency to adopt policies and approaches more in line with younger adults who want to pursue careers in firefighting. Those include more diversity in fire crews, an embrace of planned fire as a forest management tool and flexibility in certain hiring practices.

Grant Program Opens to Address National Forest System Challenges Through Innovative Finance

PR from the The U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities….

Grant Program Opens to Address National Forest System Challenges Through Innovative Finance
Deadline for proposal submission is March 6, 2023

U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, Greenville, SC
For IMMEDIATE RELEASE (November 21, 2022)

The Innovative Finance for National Forests (IFNF) grant program announces the opening of its next round of solicitations for program funding. The IFNF grant program supports the development and implementation of innovative finance models that leverage private and public capital other than U.S. Forest System (USFS) annual appropriations to enhance the resilience of the National Forest System (NFS). The grants are funded and administered by the USDA Forest Service National Partnership Office (NPO) and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities (Endowment).

National Forests provide social, environmental, and economic benefits to communities across the United States including clean drinking water, recreational opportunities, forest products, rural jobs, and more. However, with increased wildfires, impacts of climate change, and deferred maintenance backlogs, USFS is experiencing stewardship needs that exceed the agency’s annual appropriations. To address this need, the IFNF grant program provides grants for the development and implementation of innovative financing projects in the areas of wildfire resilience and recovery, watershed health, and sustainable recreation infrastructure and access. Feasibility, pilot, and scaling projects will be considered for IFNF funds.

“Through the Innovative Finance for National Forests program the Forest Service is investing in creative, locally-driven public-private partnership models to address landscape-scale challenges around wildfire risk, forest and watershed health, and recreation infrastructure. The program offers an exciting opportunity for partners and communities to work with the Forest Service to explore, pilot, and scale new ways of leveraging agency funds to take on our biggest stewardship needs at a quicker pace and larger scale,” said Chris French, Deputy Chief at the U.S. Forest Service.

“The Innovative Finance for National Forests grant program supports development of new and effective sources of funding for pressing natural resource challenges such as forest health. Tapping into the creativity of local partners will give us another tool to finance the work required to keep our forests and forest rich communities healthy and resilient. We are grateful to the Forest Service for their leadership on this program,” said Pete Madden, President and CEO at the Endowment.

The IFNF team will be hosting informational webinars on November 30th at 3p EST/Noon PST and December 7th at 1p EST/10a PST. For more information on the program and to review the Request for Proposal (RFP), please visit www.usendowment.org/ifnf.

###

For more information contact:

Sophie Beavin, sophie.beavin@usdsa.gov and Nathalie Woolworth, nathalie.woolworth@usda.gov
The USDA Forest Service National Partnership Office (NPO) Conservation Finance Program leads the way in positioning the Forest Service to leverage sources of capital other than agency appropriations to support priority projects through public-private partnership models.

Brandon Walters, brandon@usendowment.org, and Peter Stangel, peter@usendowment.org
The U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities (the Endowment) is a not-for-profit public charity working collaboratively with partners in the public and private sectors to advance systemic, transformative, and sustainable change for the health and vitality of the nation’s working forests and forest-reliant communities.

Public lands litigation update – end of October, 2022

 

On October 11, the widow of a volunteer who died preparing for the 2021 Bighorn Sheep Count in California’s Anza-Borrego Desert State Park filed a wrongful death lawsuit this week against state parks officials, alleging the event was unsafe due to triple-digit temperatures in the region.  The suit alleges state parks employees should have known high heat (which reached 116 degrees) would endanger volunteers, including 68-year-old Donald White Jr., who died of environmental hypothermia.  The complaint alleges “negligent and reckless conduct” by the state.  (California’s Tort Claims Act may be different from federal law.)

New lawsuit:  Preserve Wild Santee v. City of Santee (California Superior Court)

On October 14, four conservation groups sued a city in San Diego County (again) for approving the Fanita Ranch Project in a state-designated Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone.  The Project would include 2,900 to 3,000 residential units, commercial structures, a road network, and other infrastructure.  One claim involves the California state version of NEPA (CEQA) and failure to analyze effects on, among other things, special status wildlife and plant species, and wildfire and wildfire safety.  The news release from the Center for Biological Diversity includes a link to the complaint.

On October 19, the Center for Biological Diversity notified the State of Arizona that it would sue to force the state to remove shipping containers it is placing on the Mexican border, which plaintiff alleges violate the Endangered Species Act because they obstruct “one of the last established endangered jaguars and ocelot movement corridors between Mexico and the United States.”  On October 7, the Coronado National Forest had notified the State that the containers on national forest lands are an unauthorized use, and that they require a special use permit.  On October 13, the U. S. Department of Interior also advised that containers were trespassing on Bureau of Reclamation lands and an Indian reservation.  Arizona then sued the Forest Service and Bureau of Reclamation.  On November 2, the Center for Biological Diversity asked to intervene in this lawsuit on the side of the United States.

On October 19, WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project, and Caldera Action filed a notice of intent to sue the National Park Service over Endangered Species Act violations related to illegal livestock grazing in the Valles Caldera National Preserve in the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico. They allege cattle have illegally entered the Preserve from neighboring Forest Service grazing allotments.  The press release includes a link to the Notice.

Court decision in Cascade Forest Conservancy v. U. S. Forest Service (9th Cir.)

On October 19, the circuit court affirmed the district court’s holding that the Forest Service did not violate NEPA in approving construction of a temporary road across a pumice plain in Mount St. Helens National Monument on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest to repair a drainage structure on Spirit Lake.  The court also allowed a project-specific amendment to the forest plan, and approved the Forest Service’s application of 2012 Planning Rule requirements to that amendment.  The opinion is here.

Court decision in Rocky Mountain Wild v. Dallas (D. Colo.)

On October 20, the district court found that the Forest Service decision to approve an access road to an inholding of private land slated for a mountaintop resort was based on inadequate NEPA analysis.  This was the third court reversal for different versions of the proposal to develop the Wolf Creek Pass area within the Rio Grande National Forest.  The article includes a link to the opinion.  Plaintiffs’ account is here.

Court decision in Missouri v. Biden (8th Cir.)

On October 21, the circuit court affirmed a district court holding that dismissed an attempt by several states to enjoin the Biden Administration’s executive order to identify the social cost of greenhouse gases and consider those estimates in evaluating agency proposals.  Plaintiffs failed to establish standing to sue because they would not be harmed unless unknown future decisions are based on the results of this order.

New lawsuit:  Aland v. U. S. Department of the Interior (N.D. Ill.)

On October 21, Robert H. Aland, a retired lawyer residing in Illlinois, who has been involved in grizzly bear litigation, filed a lawsuit seeking to have the Director of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Martha Williams removed because she does not meet the statutory qualifications for that position:  “scientific education and experience.”  She is an attorney who has experience in government administration of wildlife programs.  He believes her participation in agency decisions would “contaminate” them and risk reversal under judicial review.  (It brings to mind a recent controversy regarding the BLM Director.)

Settlement in Center for Biological Diversity v. U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (D. Ariz.)

On October 24, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to a deadline of December 2024 to determine whether Suckley’s cuckoo bumblebees warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act.  These parasitic bees were once common in prairies, meadows and grasslands across the western United States but have now been lost across more than 50% of their historic range.  The FWS had found that they “may be warranted’ for listing in May, 2021, and should have made a final determination within 12 months.  The press release includes a link to the stipulated settlement.

Settlement of administrative objections

Bighorn Audubon Society, Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, Western Watersheds Project, Council for the Bighorn Range and Bighorn Native Plant Society, have agreed to drop their administrative objections to a proposal by the Bighorn National Forest to kill “invasive” rangeland species, including up to 76,000 acres of native sagebrush and several hundred acres of native larkspur.  This was the result of the Forest Service agreeing that, “all sagebrush treatments, as well treatments of other native plants, to include duncecap larkspur” would be dropped from the plan.

Notice of intent to sue

On October 25, the Center for Biological Diversity notified the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service of its intent to sue (again) for failing to publish a final listing determination for Tiehm’s buckwheat.  The species is threatened by a proposed lithium mine on BLM land between Reno and Las Vegas, and the FWS had proposed listing it more than a year ago.  The press release includes a link to the notice.  Here is additional background, and we discussed this here.

Intervenors in Center for Biological Diversity v. U. S. Forest Service (D. Mont.)

On October 28, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho was granted intervention as a defendant in this lawsuit against the Black Ram Project on the Kootenai National Forest.  According to the court, “The Tribe’s interest in the Project stems from the Tribe’s ancestral and ongoing relationship with the land and natural resources in the Project area  … the Tribe also supports the Project …”

New lawsuit:  State of Alaska v. U.S.A. (D. Alaska)

On November 1, the state filed a quiet title action claiming ownership of submerged land underlying Mendenhall Lake and the Mendenhall River at the base of Mendenhall Glacier within the Tongass National Forest.  The case is expected to hinge on the definition of “navigable” waters, and success is expected to lead to use of motorboats on the lake.  This is part of larger strategy being pursued by the state.  The article includes a link to the complaint.