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.

 

Wisdom of One Elder (or Not): And a Link to My Yale School of the Environment Award Video

Last month, I rode the train into Union Station, New Haven, Connecticut for the first time in fifty years.  That was 1972, two years after Earth Day, three years after NEPA, and NFMA was not yet a twinkle in the eye of Congress.  So let’s just say that much has changed since then.  Fifty  years  before I took the train in 1972 was 1922, right after World War I and before the Dust Bowl, which remains the US’s worst environmental disaster.  And fifty years from now will be 2072, which seems like a long ways away. If you think about a fifty-year span of time, you may be able to see patterns- what is a trend and what is a blip

I was in New Haven to receive an award from the Yale School of the Environment Alumni Association.  As I told the students, if you work on the same thing for 50 years, chances are, somewhere along the way, someone will appreciate it (even if you have to wait a long time :)) .  I was hoping to give a seminar (challenging the Coastal Elite in the hold of their Mothership, what fun!) but post-Covid they decided to move to video.  This was a bit challenging for me, as they were looking for video of me doing interesting things, but I was lucky to find black and white photos. Most of my work has been not visually interesting, think Data General or later terminals, or rooms with people and flipcharts- or even piles of paper, or conference calls (pre-Zoom). I spent weeks digging through old files, remembering people, and thinking about my story and all the different ways of telling it. I am very grateful to the talented editor and producer Alana DeJoseph for spinning gold from a mess of straw.

I would never have dug into all this without the prompt from Yale, but it has been a meaningful exercise for me.  I reached out in gratitude with many colleagues from the past. And it was interesting to find what bits of history are available on the internet and which are not. The human brain is all about story-telling and sense-making, and what could be more human than telling your own story?

So I’m making a request, for any of you who are so inclined, I’d be interested in posting reflective historic pieces; what did you experience? what did you learn? what is your current perspective on your experiences? what advice would you give to younger folks?

Here is a link to award write-up and the video. 

Themes from Forest Service/NFF Wildfire Crisis Roundtables’ Recommendations

I received this email yesterday..

Thank you for your interest in the webinar “Wildfire Crisis Strategy Roundtables: Recommendations and Next Steps,” hosted on November 14, 2022, by the National Forest Foundation (NFF) in coordination with the USDA Forest Service.

A recording of the webinar and associated presentation is available on NFF’s Wildfire Crisis Strategy Roundtable webpage.

In addition, the Forest Service released a new ArcGIS StoryMap, “Confronting the Wildfire Crisis,” which provides context and shows the ten initial priority landscapes.

Here are the recommendations.

Some of these sound familiar from the EADM dialogues.  It looks like forest resilience is an important management objective (thank Gaia they got away from the unnecessary “resiliency”).  Which I’m sure will cause some to wonder “is that the same as integrity, or does the planning rule need to be revised?” Can integrity be redefined (and NRV) in the planning handbook to be the same as resilience?  Or are these abstractions headed for a showdown somewhere and sometime?

If I were asked how climate is incorporated into this list, I would say resilience includes climate, and the “tradeoffs and benefits” in 10 include carbon benefits.

Looking at these from the 10,000 foot level, I wonder if characterizing federal land management as responding to the “wildfire crisis” or the “climate crisis” leaves recreation, probably the #1 interest of the US public, once again sitting in the wings of important FS activities.  What do you think?

Does Anyone Have Analysis of “Recreation Not Red Tape” Bill?

For those who don’t follow the comments, Greg Beardslee brought up and Steve Wilent posted a summary of this bill. It appears to have two D and two R cosponsors.

Update: I heard from a knowledgeable person that:

This has been merged into the current Outdoor Recreation Act S3266.   It passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.  There is an effort to get it added to the National Defense Authorization Act.  Here’s a link to that bill, known as American’s Outdoor Recreation Act.

I was interested in finding analyses of the bill.  There was testimony at a hearing, including by the Forest Service, but I couldn’t find it. Hopefully someone has a link and can put it in the comments.

 

Shout Out to Blue Mountain Eagle for Burn Boss Arrest Coverage

A firefighter uses a drip torch as part of the Starr 6 prescribed burn in Bear Valley on October 22, 2022. Tony Chiotti/Blue Mountain Eagle.

 

Thanks to the Hotshot Wakeup Person (HWP), I ran across what appeared to be excellent reporting on the Arrested Burn Boss incident in Oregon from the Blue Mountain Eagle. In the spirit of “catching people doing something right”,  check out their story.

A Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations officer had been requested for the Oct. 19 burn. This was not a standard arrangement, according to current and retired Forest Service officials. The request was made directly in response to verbal harassment and perceived threats the crews had reported on the previous day of burn operations on Oct. 13. That law enforcement officer was not able to be on the scene due to an injury, but the burn went ahead.

Because that officer was not on scene, there was no law enforcement authority on the federal side when the sheriff arrived.

Ludwig describes a scenario in which federal and local law enforcement authorities could have “concurrent jurisdiction,” meaning both could arrest individuals if they had probable cause to believe a crime had been committed. She sees nothing that could prevent a sheriff from arresting a federal employee, which is exactly what happened. But given that the confrontation between McKinley and Snodgrass happened while both were in the process of carrying out their lawful duties, it could have gone the other way, with the sheriff being placed under arrest.

“If somebody interferes or obstructs (a federal officer), in general, that could lead to a federal charge,” Ludwig said.

HWP wondered how the situation might have changed had the FS been able to fill the requested FS LEO slot.  Some people think perhaps both sides would have arrested each other; I think the two law enforcement folks would have communicated in their own shared verbal and nonverbal language, from their shared understandings of their work, and worked it out with no arrests.   Who knows?

Also I wonder how necessary it is to do prescribed fire in those specific locations (where it is felt necessary to have LEO support),  Maybe people with a wildfire background can add their perspective.