FAST 41 and Adding Mining Projects

This shows the DOT Dashboard for the Chokecherry-Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project.
Leslie Watson wondered about the regulation that revised Fast-41 to include the mining industry.

She said “In reviewing Fast 41 requirements, it in not quite clear to me on how the Jan 8 2021 revised rule will be implemented and if a mining project (such as Stibnite Gold Project) are included under Fast 41, what changes for agency staff and applicants?”

Fast-41 Rule; revised to include mining industry
The origin of Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act was to “improve the timeliness, predictability, and transparency of the Federal environmental review and authorization process for covered infrastructure projects.” Eligible projects under the statute are those subject to NEPA, over a $200M investment and are not included under other abbreviated authorization or environmental review processes. The Jan 8 2021 rule includes the mining industry projects as defined by the permitting council and consistent with E.O. 13807, “Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure Projects,” and E.O. 13817, “A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals.”

Guidance for the Coordinated Project Plan from the permitting council (May 26, 2020 include the following:
The Coordinated Project Plan (CPP) is a tailored roadmap to the permitting process, developed by Federal agencies in partnership with the project sponsor. In developing the CPP, agencies collaborate to establish:
• Roles and responsibilities for all entities with permitting responsibilities
• A permitting schedule with interim and final milestones, with potential focus areas for additional interagency coordination noted
• Potential avoidance, minimization, and mitigation strategies
• Plans and a schedule for public and tribal outreach and coordination

She asks “Would mining project proposed for inclusion under the Fast 41 program develop a CCP to submit to the lead federal agency for the project along with a Plan of Operations?”

It sounds to me from a brief review that the developer would choose to opt in (here are the pros and cons according to one law firm). Then the Lead Agency would initiate the CPP. Possibly the FS would be the lead agency; I’m not clear when BLM is the lead on minerals.

Here’s a summary from DOT about FAST41.

It looks like while BLM has quite a few projects enrolled in Fast41, the FS only has one project (one was cancelled), the Kake to Petersburg Tranmission Line.

Here’s a roadmap of the coordination process. The Forest Service has its own website about FAST41 here.

This might sound pretty specialized, but with the Biden Administration potentially encouraging many new wind and solar installations plus the necessary transmission lines on federal lands, we may all become more familiar with FAST41 and using it for projects.

Forest Management Direction for Large Diameter Trees in Eastern Oregon and Southeastern Washington

One of the many things that went into the Trump dump the last couple of weeks was the amendment of the Forest Service Eastside Screens old growth protection standard:  “Forest Management Direction for Large Diameter Trees in Eastern Oregon and Southeastern Washington.”    We discussed that at length here.  The Forest Service documentation for the amendment is here. The standard prohibiting harvest of trees >21” dbh has been replaced by this guideline (“LOS” is late and old structure, and it refers to “multi-stratum with large trees” and “single-stratum with large trees”):

Outside of LOS, many types of timber sale activities are allowed. The intent is still to maintain and/or enhance a diverse array of LOS conditions in stands subject to timber harvest as much as possible, by adhering to the following plan components: Managers should retain and generally emphasize recruitment of old trees and large trees, including clumps of old trees. Management activities should first prioritize old trees for retention and recruitment. If there are not enough old trees to develop LOS conditions, large trees should be retained, favoring fire tolerant species where appropriate. Old trees are defined as having external morphological characteristics that suggest an age ≥ 150 years. Large trees are defined as grand fir or white fir ≥ 30 inches dbh or trees of any other species ≥ 21 inches dbh. Old and large trees will be identified through best available science. Management activities should consider appropriate species composition for biophysical environment, topographical position, stand density, historical diameter distributions, and Adapting the Wildlife Standard of the Eastside Screens 5 spatial arrangements within stands and across the landscape in order to develop stands that are resistant and resilient to disturbance.

The proper way to read a guideline is that its purpose is a standard: “Managers must maintain and/or enhance a diverse array of LOS conditions in stands subject to timber harvest as much as possible.”  It’s not clear to me how you maintain LOS “outside of LOS,” so maybe only “enhance” is applicable, but even that term assumes what you are enhancing is already there to a degree.  This is also weakened by the qualifier “as much as possible.”  This could be interpreted to allow timber harvest even if enhancing LOS conditions is not possible.

The rest of the boldface language should be interpreted as actions that would always be allowed because they would always promote the LOS purpose.  This means that a decision to NOT retain all old and large trees could only be made if it is demonstrated that LOS is enhanced.  “Generally emphasize” allows probably unlimited discretion regarding recruitment.  A decision to NOT prioritize old trees (i.e. to log any old tree before logging large trees) could also only be made if it is demonstrated that LOS is enhanced.  This could be reasonably effective, but it puts a significant burden on project analysis and documentation to deviate from the terms of the guideline.  This is as it should be.  The last part of the guideline lists things that “should be considered,” which shouldn’t be given much weight.

There are also changes in standards and guidelines for snags, green tree replacement and down logs.

The last part of the “decision” is to adopt an “Adaptive Management Strategy.”  This strategy proposes monitoring and thresholds intended to trigger additional restrictions on large tree removal:

  1. If large trees are not increasing in number with appropriate composition, the Regional Forester will impose the Age Standard Alternative across the whole analysis area or by national forest or potential vegetation zone.

  2. If effectiveness monitoring does not occur, the Regional Forester will impose the Age Standard Alternative across all six national forests.

However, under the Planning Rule, these are not plan components and are not mandatory.  While there are “requirements” for regional forester review every five years, this is not a plan component either.  Since none of this “strategy” is enforceable it is of much less benefit than if it had been included as plan components like standards.

(For those interested in how the “natural range of variation” (NRV) is used in forest planning, there is a desired condition for the amounts of LOS in different habitat groups and it is based on NRV.  These new amendments leave in place the desired conditions for LOS previously determined in accordance with the original amendments in 1995.   An appendix in the decision notice includes a “Table 3” that is “only an example” of NRV because, “The number and kind of biophysical environments and the historic and current distribution of structural conditions vary by landscape.”  In order to fully understand the effects of this amendment on a particular landscape, we would need to see the definitions of LOS and actual desired conditions for LOS incorporated into a plan for that landscape.  I didn’t find them in or see them referred to in the amendment documentation, I suppose because they are not changing).


The Surprising Ways American Wilderness Intersects with the COVID-19 Pandemic

FYI, Smokey Wire wilderness watchers….

The Forest History Society presents the “Unprecedented Seasons” virtual lecture series

The Surprising Ways American Wilderness Intersects with the COVID-19 Pandemic

with DJ Lee

Acclaimed author and historian DJ Lee will deliver a virtual talk on January 29, 2021. The talk is FREE but registration for this Zoom event is required.

DJ Lee spent significant portions of the last 15 years in the secluded mountains of Idaho and Montana conducting the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness History Project. Drawing on that and other wilderness experiences and research and wilderness-themed art work, Lee will discuss the ways American wilderness, as a concept and a physical place, intersects with some of the causes and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information about this event and to register, visit our website.

January 29, 2021
2:00 – 2:45 p.m. EDT

NFS Litigation Weekly January 08, 2021

The Forest Service summary is here:  Litigation Weekly January 08 2021 Email

The bullets here include links to court documents.


Cottonwood Environmental Law Center, v. Bernhardt (D. Montana) – On December 10, 2020, the District Court of Montana issued an order that directed the Department of Interior, National Park Service, and Forest Service to conduct an additional NEPA analysis of the Interagency Bison Management Plan for bison leaving Yellowstone National Park.

(Blogger’s note:  This plan and management of bison on the Custer-Gallatin National Forest has also been an issue during its forest plan revision.)

Western Watersheds Project v. USDA APHIS (D. Idaho.) – On December 11, 2020, the District Court of Idaho granted Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s request to dismiss the case against APHIS for failure to sufficiently analyze the environmental impacts of their predator control activities in Idaho and the operation of the Pocatello Supply Depot.

(Blogger’s note:  While the alleged actions of APHIS were not reviewable, there were also claims against the BLM and Forest Service, which authorized APHIS’s aerial gunning of coyotes and other wildlife on federal lands.  The summary does not mention the disposition of those claims or whether they remain pending.)

Cottonwood Law Center, v. Marten, et al. (D. Mont.) – On December 17, 2020, the District Court of Montana granted the Agency’s Motion to Dismiss regarding new information pertaining to the 1987 Custer Gallatin National Forest Plan and the Bozeman Municipal Watershed, North Hebgen, North Bridgers Projects on the Custer-Gallatin National Forest.

(Blogger’s note:  One of the claims rejected was that the announcement of forest plan revision constitutes new information that should be considered pursuant to NEPA with regard to the existing forest plan or proposed or ongoing projects.)

WildEarth Guardians v. U.S. Forest Service (D. Idaho) – On December 23, 2020, the District Court in Idaho denied the Forest Service motion to dismiss the case’s remaining claim for reinitiating consultation based on take of grizzly bear resulting from black bear baiting for hunting in national forests in Idaho and Wyoming.


Alliance for the Wild Rockies v. Marten (D. Mont.) – On December 11, 2020, AWR and Native Ecosystems Council filed a complaint in the District Court of Montana against the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service challenging the Stonewall Vegetation Project and Forest Plan Amendment #35 on the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest.  The plaintiffs’ claims relate to new information, including effects of the Park Creek Fire that affected the project area (which was discussed here).  (More on the plaintiffs’ perspective, especially on elk, may be found here.)

(Blogger’s note:  With regard to this project-specific amendment, plaintiffs challenge the “practice of issuing successive site specific amendments to evade the analysis of what is actually a significant Forest Plan amendment.”  While this issue of “cumulative amendments” has been raised under the 1982 planning regulations (unsuccessfully, as I remember it), under the (amended) 2012 Planning Rule a “significant amendment” under NFMA is now one that requires preparation of an EIS, which was the case for this project – “except for an amendment that applies only to one project or activity.”  And the 2012 Planning Rule adds no “analysis” requirements for such amendments, though NFMA may.)

Blue Mountain Biodiversity Project v. Shane Jeffries (D. Or.) – On December 11, 2020, the plaintiff filed a complaint in the District Court of Oregon against the Forest Service, concerning the Walton Lake Restoration Project on the Ochoco National Forest and associated project-specific amendment to the forest plan.  This project was previously enjoined but the contract for logging has remained in effect.  (More about the area and the project may be found here.)

(Blogger’s note:  This complaint also alleges that the project-specific amendment is significant under NFMA.  In contrast to the Stonewall project above, an EIS was not prepared here.  Under the agency Directives for the 1982 planning regulations there were criteria that determined an amendment’s significance, but those no longer exist.  Now the only criterion in the Planning Rule is the existence of significant environmental impacts requiring preparation of an EIS.)

Alliance for the Wild Rockies v. U.S. Forest Service (E.D. Idaho.) – On December 16, 2020, AWR, Yellowstone to Uintas Connection and Native Ecosystems Council filed a complaint in the Eastern District Court of Idaho against the Middle Henrys Aspen Enhancement Project on the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, which used the categorical exclusion for timber stand and wildlife habitat improvement.  It includes claims of failure to comply with the forest plan.

In addition, plaintiffs filed a notice of intent to sue the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service under ESA, dated December 14, 2021.  Issues include the need to reinitiate consultation on the forest plan because grizzly bears are newly present in the area.  (This article provides plaintiffs’ perspectives.)

Organized Village of Kake v. Perdue (D. Alaska) – On December 23, 2020, five Alaska native tribes, small businesses, and more than a dozen conservation organizations filed a complaint in the District Court of Alaska against the Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service concerning the 2020 Exception that exempts the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Area Conservation Rule.  (We have discussed this several times, including recently here, and more background is provided in this article.


  • Middle Henrys Project (see above)


The Forest Service, BLM and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received a 60 Day Notice of Intent to Sue, dated December 22, 2020 from the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council pursuant to the Endangered Species Act regarding the Castle Mountain Project on the Helena Lewis & Clark National Forest and its effects on whitebark pine.

(Blogger’s note:  Whitebark pine was proposed for listing as a threatened species on December 2, 2020.  The news release from the Fish and Wildlife Service is here, and states, “White pine blister rust, a non-native fungal disease, is harming native whitebark pine trees across the American West. Mountain pine beetles, altered wildfire patterns, and climate change are all negatively affecting the species’ health.”)


BLOGGER’S BONUS (links are to news articles)

(Update.)  This litigation concerns the Bridger-Teton National Forest’s decision to reauthorize cattle grazing on 170,000 acres of the Upper Green and Gros Ventre rivers, for which the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved incidental take of up to 72 grizzly bears over the following decade, as we discussed here.  The District of Columbia district court granted intervenors’ request to transfer the case to the district court in Wyoming, saying, “this case is decidedly a more local controversy than a national one.”

(Court decision.)  In its 2014 petition, the Center for Biological Diversity asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to update its recovery plan and add several new areas of historic grizzly bear range as potential recovery areas. In a 2011 status review, the wildlife service had said areas in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and southern Washington should be evaluated for their potential for grizzly bear recovery areas, but then the agency declined to include them.

Plaintiffs were denied standing to sue.  “A court may review a recovery plan to the extent that it is missing one of the required plan components,” the court order states, “but it may not entertain disagreements with the agency concerning the substance of those components.”

Former Forest Service Chief Dale Robertson on the Chief’s Job

I asked former Forest Service Chief Dale Robertson for his memory of the transition to the Clinton Administration, as previously discussed here, and his own views on the role of the Chief.

The Chief’s Job

First, maybe it would be helpful to clarify the nature of the Chief’s job. The Chief is the only FS employee who has a political boss, who in turn represents the Administration. The Under Secretary of USDA overseeing the FS is expected by the Administration to see that the FS is responsive and sensitive to the Administration’s philosophy, policies, and priorities in the management of the FS. The Chief is normally a career member of the Senior Executive Service (SES) with its own set of rules and procedures. Senior Executives have the same protection against being fired as other career employees. However, the big difference is that Senior Executives may be reassigned to any other SES position pretty much at the discretion of their boss with the concurrence of the Secretary. In my case, I was reassigned to a SES position in the Department of Interior with advance agreement that I would turn the offer down and opt for early retirement. I stayed on at USDA for a couple of months to wind up my work as Chair of the USDA-1890 Black Land Grant Universities Task Force.

I was always supportive of Jack Ward Thomas coming in as my successor and took no action to make it difficult for him as the incoming Chief. Chief Peterson did object to JWT for not being in the SES and was quite vocal about it. However, it was not an issue with me and I said so on occasion. I think the Forest Supervisor’s letter was probably prompted by Chief Peterson’s concerns. JWT was a world-class scientist and was probably the most knowledgeable person about ecosystem management and Spotted Owls at that time. Jack and I had known each other for several years going back to my time in R-6. At the height of Spotted Owl controversy, I asked Jack to lead a group of scientists to try to figure out how the FS could best deal with the issue. I had to personally persuade Jack that he was the best person to take on the job. He kept saying to me that “I’m an elk guy, not a Spotted Owl expert”. Further complicating the situation was that Jack wife was being treated for cancer. In the end, Jack agreed but neither of us knew that decision would eventually lead to him being the next Chief. The work of this group of scientists greatly expanded the FS knowledge and understanding of how the survival of endangered species is dependent on healthy ecosystems and protection of critical habitat requirements.

The Spotted Owl situation was one of the most controversial issues ever faced by the FS, to the point that both President Bush and Clinton got directly involved. I was trying to change the management of the NF’s to better protect the Spotted Owl, but keep some lower sustainable level of timber sale program going in R-5 and R-6. The Bush Administration thought that I was being too protective of the owl and too supportive of the Thomas Report recommendations and not concerned enough about the timber sale program. At the request of the Department of Interior, the Bush Administration even activated the God’s Squad to exempt the Spotted owl from the requirements of ESA. Fortunately, the Secretary of Agriculture voted against the proposal. I came very close to being reassigned under the Bush Administration for being too concerned about the Spotted Owl. Then overnight, there was a change in Administration and I suddenly was too protective of the timber sale program and was not supportive enough of Spotted Owl. There simply was no easy solution to the Spotted Owl issue and I got caught up in a sudden change in philosophy and policies by changing Administrations. The Clinton Administration decided to put the most knowledgeable person with a scientific background, JWT, into the Chief’s job to see if he could bring about a reasonable solution. Jack was likely the only FS employee that would have been acceptable to the new Administration and may have saved the FS from having a “real political Chief”!

As far as I am concerned, things worked out as they are supposed to in Government. The Administration has the right to choose who they want as Chief. Fortunately so far, all Chiefs have been professionals with a strong background in land and resource management. All Chiefs go into the job knowing that they may be reassigned at any time when their political bosses would rather have someone else in the job that is more in line with their thinking.

I also asked former Chief Robertson “how did you convince the Secretary of Agriculture not to go along with the idea of a God Squad?” He answered “It was a combined effort by everyone at USDA with OGC playing a vital role in the final decision.” The Office of General Counsel usually has one or more political appointees and many career folks, and are always involved in any big decisions but their role often tends to be behind the scenes.

Dr. King and the Role of (Social) Scientists in the Civil Rights Movement

From the Honest Broker Newsletter.
In Roger Pielke, Jrs.’ , Honest Broker Newsletter, he talks about Dr. King’s encouragement for folks working in the behavioral sciences at a speech he gave to the American Psychological Association in 1967.

Dr. King observed, astutely, that the social sciences often deal in uncomfortable knowledge: “These are often difficult things to say but I have come to see more and more that it is necessary to utter the truth in order to deal with the great problems that we face in our society.”

In a clear understatement, he noted that there were many opportunities for social science research “to assist the civil rights movement.” Three examples he cited were research on leadership in the Black community, the effectiveness of political action of the civil rights movement, and psychological and ideological changes within the Black community as societal change occurs.

Ultimately, Dr. King asked social scientists to help gauge progress, including assessments of direction and pace: “Are we moving away, not from integration, but from the society which made it a problem in the first place? How deep and at what rate of speed is this process occurring? These are some vital questions to be answered if we are to have a clear sense of our direction.”

Roger adds “Such questions are fundamental to all policy research.”

If we thought that justice for disadvantaged communities is one of the most important needs of our country, what would that budget and research priorities look like? What would it take to make sure that research is co-designed and co-produced with representatives of those communities?”

It’s not that hard to imagine. When I worked on the Fund for Rural America, we gave a research grant to a rural community group to do exactly that. This was highly unpopular with the Science Establishment and the universities. Can we imagine, say 100 million to start, each for representatives of Black, Native American, Latino/Hispanic and Asian-Americans to co-design and co-produce social science research? I’d think we could afford it, simply by establishing coordinating groups for policy-relevant research that would ride herd on duplication across agencies and downright “not all that useful for policy but claim to be” proposals.

Fifty years ago, perhaps we thought “if we just hired more diverse people, the research would naturally change to their interests.” Well, it seems to have been harder than we had thought to hire more diverse people, and federal research priorities and budget have their own momentum and vested interests.

While the social sciences have diversified significantly since the 1960s in terms of both scholars and scholarship, the various disciplines that comprise the social sciences still have a long way still to go. For instance, top university social science departments continue to be overwhelmingly populated by white males, and Black and Latino students continue to be under-represented on our leading campuses.

And while we can look at the Forest Service and see that females are heavily represented among researchers and practicing social scientists, this study from 2019 says:

Most faculty are male, although there appear to be critical masses of women in political science and sociology. Blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented among faculty relative to their shares of the population. Within each racial-ethnic group examined, there are more male than female faculty members, with a smaller gender gap for Blacks than for other racial-ethnic groups. In general, the higher the rank, the greater the proportion of males than females, especially for Whites and Asians.

According to this January 16 AP Story, President Biden announced his appointment of a Science Advisor and others.

The president-elect noted the team’s diversity and repeated his promise that his administration’s science policy and investments would target historically disadvantaged and underserved communities.

I hope President-Elect Biden means “co-create” a new body of scientific information with underserved communities as full partners in funding, design, and production, with open peer review and open access to research results.

Vegetation Change and Vegetation Management: A Potential New National Forest Report Format

I remember Chris Iverson, noted expert in wildlife and forest planning, saying something once about forest plans like “if you don’t do much, you shouldn’t spend as much time planning.” As I recall, he was talking about the Chugach compared to the Tongass forest plans. But what exactly is “doing much”? What seems to be most controversial and widespread is vegetation management for forest management.

I thought it would be interesting to see where the Rio Grande (with a recent plan revision) fell on that scale, and many thanks to them for their help in collecting this information. I think it would be great to have this information available for all forests. First, the total acres of the Rio Grande is 1.83 million acres to give context. You could easily do this table with percentages and be able to compare the acres impacted by management across different National Forests, as well as vegetation changes due to human and other factors.

What we got from the Forest was total acres of all vegetation treatments, not duplicating the same acres with different treatments (double counting).

According to the forest, the average timber harvest has been around 3100 acres per year. All of that has been insect salvage except for 120 acres in 2017. So that’s about 2% of the forest per year. Of course, salvaging spruce beetle trees that are dead may have different impacts than green sales, but this table is about all acres impacted by vegetation management and other vegetation change.

After collecting this information, I realized that a 10 year timespan may have been better. In 2013, the West Fork Complex Fire burned 87,662 acres of the Rio Grande. Then there’s the spruce beetle outbreak itself over time, accumulating to 617,000 acres. I didn’t fill in that row in the table, but the information is available from the aerial survey folks.

It would be interesting to see at least 10 years with the acreage by type plotted over time, including large events like bug and fire acres, for each National Forest. I think it would be very informative to compare forests, both in total acres of different kinds of human and other vegetation changes, and percentages of the total acres impacted.

I’m not saying that this is the perfect formulation for people to get a grasp of “relative vegetation management” I’m just asking “doesn’t this way of looking at it tell us something of value”?

What would you add or change?

Also circling back to the forest planning question, if some forests, say in R5, have had up to 80 % of their forest affected by wildfires over the past 5 to 10 years, should everyone else stop planning so that they can go into revision? And if “fires are going to get larger due to some combination of fire suppression, increased ignitions and climate change” should then the amount of vegetation modeling done during plan revision be scaled back for fire-prone Forests as not a great investment? Perhaps less energy on modeling and more energy on responding to fire and other changes via amendment?

Can Addressing Cultural, Moral and Spiritual Dimensions Help With Protracted Conflicts (Yellowstone, Owl, Wilderness, etc.)?

Let’s start the discussion of Justin Farrell’s book The Battle for Yellowstone: Morality and the Sacred Roots of Environmental Conflict. It’s a long book, and is written with some academic-ese, and there are treasures throughout. I’ll start with a quote from the Introduction on page 9 in a section called “Toward a Theory of Morality and the Environment.” Thanks to the Princeton University Press and Justin Farrell for permission to reprint.

I’ll let Farrell speak for himself as to the purpose of his book.

Thus, environmental conflict in Yellowstone is not—as it would appear on the surface—ultimately all about scientific, economic, legal, or other technical evidence and arguments, but an underlying struggle over deeply held “faith” commitments, feelings, and desires that define what people find sacred, good, and meaningful in life at a most basic level. The current and allegedly most important resources relied upon by actors and observers of the conflict do not, and cannot, ultimately define for different people why one should care about Yellowstone
in the first place, why an intact ecosystem is better than a fragmented one, why aesthetic beauty should or should not be protected, why some animals should be venerated while others are considered pests, why some land is “too special” to drill while other land is drilled with indifference, or why people might view their old-west labor, recreation, and heritage as profoundly meaningful, perhaps even sacred. Answers to these questions are only possible and made meaningful in the context of larger moral orders and spiritual narratives that shared human cultures
are built upon.

To be clear, my sociological approach in this book focuses less on the individuals themselves, and more on the cultural, moral, and spiritual contexts in which stakeholders are embedded, shaping their beliefs and desires. Somewhat implicit in my argument is that, for a variety of reasons, these deeper moral and spiritual meanings are often ignored, muted, and misunderstood. But only as we engage these sorts of questions at a much deeper level can we begin to understand why the mountains of technical evidence marshaled in the Yellowstone conflict have done little to solve disputes that are, finally, not about the facts themselves, but about what make the facts meaningful. Further, this book shows that when we glimpse beneath the cultural context of the Yellowstone conflict, and bring these deeper moral and spiritual dimensions to the surface, we often learn what conflict is really about—and in some cases discover roadmaps leading beyond the thick pines of technorational policy stalemate.

To translate:(1) seeking more data and research cannot help if the disagreements are really about something deeper, cultural, moral or spiritual (I’ll abbreviate as CMS). This reflects the work of sts scholars (science and technology studies, or sociology of science) that at some point science doesn’t help, but becomes another weapon in a more fundamental disagreement. Off the top of my head, I can cite Roger Pielke, Jr.. (Here’s a summary of Roger’s distinction between “tornado” and “abortion” politics. There are many others in the sts field who have written on this.

(2) There is a possibility worth exploring, that going deeper into understanding the real differences would get us farther in conflict resolution than scientific or legal battles. I’d even add a possible corollary (3) we have thousands of years of experience with people disagreeing about ideas and moral values (religious history). Many of the early European settlers to this country had explicit ideas about how religion should or should not order society based on their recent religious warfare. Perhaps we could learn something from the ultimate resolution of these conflicts that could apply to our environmental disputes?

Of the many topics we discuss here, it seems like Wilderness might lend itself to this approach. Maybe if we started with moral values, and then built land use designations we might arrive in a place of agreement. It might be worth a try, and think how much money we could possibly save on studies of relative hiker, bike, horse, burro and llama environmental impacts in different parts of the country with different intensities, soil types and so on?

“Interior Strips Protections for Spotted Owl”.. How Worried Should We Be?

FWS Decision: It seems to me that for the owl to be hurt, the BLM or the FS would have to propose, and actually do something on the ground with owl impacts. How likely is that in a Biden Administration?

From the New York Times:

Trump Opens Habitat of a Threatened Owl to Timber Harvesting
Going far beyond expectations, the Trump administration eliminated protection from more than three million acres of northern spotted owl habitat in the Pacific Northwest.

The plan, issued by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, grew out of a legal settlement with a lumber association that had sued the government in 2013 over 9.5 million acres that the agency designated as essential to the survival of the northern spotted owl. The federal protections restricted much of the land from timber harvesting, which companies claimed would lead to calamitous economic losses.

But rather than trim about 200,000 acres of critical habitat in Oregon, as the agency initially proposed in August, the new plan will eliminate protections from 3.4 million acres across Washington, California and Oregon. What is left will mostly be land that is protected for reasons beyond the spotted owl.

“These common-sense revisions ensure we are continuing to recover the northern spotted owl while being a good neighbor to rural communities within the critical habitat,” Aurelia Skipwith, the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a statement.

Wildlife biologists expressed shock at the decision.

“I’ve gotten several calls from wildlife biologists who are in tears who said, ‘Did you know this is happening? The bird won’t survive this,’” said Susan Jane Brown, a staff attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center, a conservation group that advocates on behalf of the northern spotted owl.

From Roll Call:

The Interior Department said it will eliminate from federal protection more than 3 million acres of land in California, Oregon and Washington vital to the northern spotted owl, a species considered endangered under federal law.

In a draft rule published Wednesday as much of the nation was glued to impeachment proceedings, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a division of Interior, said it was excluding about 3.5 million acres of “critical habitat” established for the owls. Environmental groups warned that the move could spell the extinction of the species and immediately threatened lawsuits to block the action.

There’s a new Administration next week, whom we can imagine won’t want to “clearcut the last remaining fragments of old growth land.”

“Here in southern Oregon this is a death sentence for owls,” said George Sexton, conservation director for Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “This decision is intended to speed the clearcutting of the last remaining fragments of old-growth forests on Bureau of Land Management public lands.”

In the spirit of journalism analysis, I note that the Times story has a paragraph about the timber industry, and the Roll Call story has none. And yet, any projects proposed will be in a Biden administration or thereafter. I understand that writers can’t understand all the steps before a project is approved, but they could interview people who do.

Study: Wildfires produced up to half of pollution in US West

Hayman Fire 2002 from Colorado Springs. Wildfire smoke isn’t new, but measuring it has definitely ramped up in the last 20 years.

I like how this the author of this AP story sought out different scientific points of view. Thanks for sending, Rebecca!

Some scientists say: Wildfires are all about climate change, study in PNAS:

The findings underscore the growing public health threat posed by climate change as it contributes to catastrophic wildfires such as those that charred huge areas of California and the Pacific Northwest in 2020. Nationwide, wildfires were the source of up to 25% of small particle pollution in some years, the researchers said.

“From a climate perspective, wildfires should be the first things on our minds for many of us in the U.S.,” said Marshall Burke, an associate professor of earth system science at Stanford and lead author of the study.

“Most people do not see sea-level rise. Most people do not ever see hurricanes. Many, many people will see wildfire smoke from climate change,” Burke added. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Other scientists say: Wildfires are not ALL about climate change, and why pick 10 years if you have satellite data?

There’s little doubt air quality regulations helped decrease other sources of pollution even as wildfire smoke increased, said Loretta Mickley, an atmospheric chemist at Harvard University. But it’s difficult to separate how much of the increase in smoke pollution is driven by climate change versus the forest fuel buildup, she added.

Mickley and researchers from Colorado State University also cautioned that fires can vary significantly from year to year because of weather changes, making it hard to identify trends over relatively short periods such as the decade examined in the new study.

Yet other scientists say:

The new study matches up with previous research documenting the increasing proportion of pollution that comes from wildfire smoke, said Dan Jaffe, a wildfire pollution expert at the University of Washington. Jaffe added that it also raises significant questions about how to better manage forests and the role that prescribed burns might play.

“We have been making tremendous progress on improving pollution in this country, but at the same time we have this other part of the puzzle that has not been under control,” Jaffe said. “We’re now at the point where we have to think about how to manage the planet a whole lot more carefully than we’ve done.”

While looking at some historic documents about air quality, I ran across this:

On 28 July 1994, dry-lightning storms started multiple wildfires across the Eastern Cascades of central Washington State. Conditions were extremely dry in the national forests. The 1994 water year was the third in a row in which annual streamflow had been well below average at various long-term gaging stations (USGS 2004; Robison 2004). Water years 1993 and 1994 were more than one standard deviation below period of record average values for the Wenatchee, Stehekin and Methow Rivers. The largest of the fires burned 185,000 acres (74,867 ha) on the Wenatchee National Forest. At that time, it was the largest wildfire complex within a single national forest in the history of the Forest Service (FS). The fires caused many weeks of impaired air quality in all five cities of Chelan County. This paper discusses the evolution of two resource management programs, the Healthy Forests Initiative, relying heavily on prescribed fire, and the Air Quality Management Program, both of which have evolved since the fires of 1994. The subject area is the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests (Forests) of central Washington State (Figure 1).

Folks have obviously been trying to ramp up prescribed fire since the mid-90’s- even before climate change developed as the umbrella issue.

Will framing it as a climate issue instead (as promoted by some scientists) help or hurt these efforts that have struggled for at least thirty years to get attention and support? Not to pick on Jaffe but the quote says “we have to think about how to manage the planet a whole lot more carefully than we’ve done.” I think there’s been quite a bit of thinking, since Biswell in the 40’s. The problem to me is about actually doing something that’s been adequately thought out, but has a host of well-documented difficulties in implementation. Will the energy of defining it as a climate issue bring it more attention and push us over the hill of difficulty? Or just more words and studies?