NFS Litigation Weekly November 20, 2020 and November 27, 2020

The Forest Service summaries are provided via these links:

Litigation Weekly November 20 2020 FINAL EMAIL (1)

Litigation Weekly November 27 2020 FINAL email

November 20

(Notice of Intent.)  On October 23, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies notified the Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service of their intent to sue regarding the effects on grizzly bears of the Soldier-Butler Project and compliance with the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem Forest Plan Amendment (for grizzly bears) biological opinion on the Lolo National Forest.  Two complaints have already been filed on this project.

  • Sierra Club v. United States Army Corps of Engineers

(Update – no detailed summary provided.)  On November 9, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to pause developers’ use of a streamlined water permit (issued by the U.S. Corps of Engineers) for the Mountain Valley pipeline. Construction may continue in upland areas of the pipeline’s route, except for those on the Jefferson National Forest affected by this prior injunction.

November 27

(New case.)  On November 19, 2020 the Center for Biological Diversity filed a complaint in the District Court of Nevada against the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, concerning implementation of the Lee Canyon Ski Area Master Development Plan on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest (and a related amendment to the forest plan), which would provide summer use infrastructure and affect the federally endangered Mt. Charleston Blue Butterfly.



(New case against USFWS.)  On November 3, 2020, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service published a final rule removing the gray wolf from the federal list of Endangered and Threatened Species in the lower 48 United States and Mexico.  The Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity have sent the Service a notice of intent to sue to overturn the rule.  (The link above includes the long, complicated history of wolves under ESA.)

(New case.)  In September, Paul and Cathy Donohoe, of Donohoe Outfitting, and five other family members filed suit in the Montana U.S. District Court seeking to prevent a trail from being built that would allegedly threaten grizzly bears. The Donohoes protested the work in part because it would increase traffic close to their ranch.

(Update.)  In Center for Biological Diversity v. U. S. Forest Service, the Arizona federal district court denied a government motion to dismiss claims against the Fish and Wildlife Service because that agency does have authority to initiate consultation under the Endangered Species Act.  Both it and the Forest Service have been sued for failing to consult on more than 30 grazing allotments on the Apache-Sitgreaves and Gila National Forests within the upper Gila River watershed.  Our previous discussion is here.

(Court decision.)  On November 17, the Montana Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision and rejected a key pollution permit for the proposed Montanore silver-copper mine in the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness in the Kootenai National Forest.  Previous litigation has included the Forest Service, and was discussed here.

(Update.)  The multistate coalition that is challenging the Trump Administration’s changes to the CEQ NEPA regulations has added a claim that the government violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to consult with the federal wildlife agencies when it issued the regulations.  We discussed the proposed rule here.

Pandemic crowds bring ‘Rivergeddon’ to Montana’s rivers: New York Times

A new house in The Lakes at Valley West, a new residential construction area in Bozeman. Credit…Janie Osborne for The New York Times
Note building material used

We’ve seen some of this around the west through time (think Moab), but there’s a unique GYE (Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem) twist. Here’s a link to the NY Times article; you can search on the title and find it elsewhere if you have a paywall. The story’s mostly focused on Bozeman but touches on West Yellowstone.

The phenomenon of gridlock in a natural paradise has been seen across the West for years. But in Montana it has accelerated markedly this year, fueled by urbanites fleeing the pandemic. Now, many residents are concerned that the state that calls itself the Last Best Place has bragged a little too loudly and too often.
Housing prices have soared, especially this year, driven by COVID refugees who sometimes buy a home without seeing it. In one month this summer, the median home price jumped by $88,000 to $584,000 — in a city where the average annual wage is about $48,000. Home prices jumped another $35,000 just last month. Even as the Tyvek and two-by-fours of new construction have become ubiquitous, many local residents say they are getting priced out of the market.

But the cramping of recreational pursuits is just one dimension. The Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, which takes in more than 34,000 square miles of wildland around Yellowstone National Park and includes the cities of Bozeman and Jackson, Wyoming, is considered the largest nearly intact temperate ecosystem in the world.

It is one of the few places in the continental United States where landscape-level ecological processes can play out, including wolf packs hunting elk and deer, long-distance wildlife migrations and wildfires that can be left to burn in order to rejuvenate the natural landscape.

But the mounting human population, exacerbated by the pandemic but increasing over a period of years, has threatened all of those natural processes. “We are going to lose the greatest wildlife-rich ecosystem remaining unless we chart an alternative path,” said Todd Wilkinson, editor of Mountain Journal, an online magazine that has warned of poorly managed growth and the arrival of “Rivergeddon.”

“Other places like this no longer have wildlife because the landscape has been so fragmented,” Mr. Wilkinson said.

Snowmobiles and backcountry skiing are encroaching into the denning areas of wolverines. A recent study in British Columbia found that the presence of people in wildlife habitat, especially those on mountain bikes and off-road vehicles, can force animals to flee important feeding areas.

It almost sounds as if wildlife are happier on…large privately-held cattle ranches who can restrict recreation access. As has been talked about in other articles, if you want open space in the grassy parts of the west, you tend to have.. ranching.
This also raises another question. If, as we see, some deer, elk, mountain lions and coyotes seem to be acclimated to people in terms of living successfully around communities, can such wildlife also become acclimated to recreationists?

Mr. Glick, the advocate for sustainable planning, said that tourism and the growth of real estate, tech and service industries have been promoted as better alternatives to the damaging effects of mining and logging, Montana’s former mainstays. But they need to be studied and carefully managed, which is not now the case, he said.

“Conservationists touted recreation as the benign alternative to resource extractions,” he said. “It’s a tough pill to swallow that the alternative they have been promoting has become a significant environmental issue.”

Ms. Andrus, the Bozeman mayor, said it “may be time to dial down the tourism promotion” and reallocate some of the money to compensate for the impacts of a large number of visitors. But shutting the door is not the solution, she said.

“Closing the state down to visitors is not practical; even if it was, I don’t believe it is a good idea,” she said. “You cannot put that genie back in the bottle.”

Does anyone have examples of communities who have dealt successfully with these issues?

Lawsuit filed to protect half of Washington’s bighorn sheep at risk from non-native domestic sheep grazing

Below is the press release. Should rare and recovering native wildlife be given priority on federal public lands? Or should the demands of those who pay $1.35/month per 5 sheep to grazing their non-native domestic sheep destined for slaughter be given priority on public lands?

SPOKANE, WA—Two environmental groups filed a lawsuit in federal court Monday claiming the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest is placing bighorn sheep at high risk of disease outbreaks by authorizing domestic sheep grazing in the vicinity of bighorn herds. The suit, brought by WildEarth Guardians and Western Watersheds Project, asserts that the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest has known of the high risk that domestic sheep grazing poses to bighorn sheep for at least a decade, yet has authorized grazing anyway.

“The Forest Service has known about the high risk to bighorns in this area for over a decade and has refused to take action. We have pleaded with them for years to do something, yet they have just sat by as bighorns died. If the agency tasked with protecting this iconic species won’t do so, we’re here to make sure they do,” said Greg Dyson of WildEarth Guardians.

Domestic sheep carry a pathogen that, when transmitted to bighorn sheep, causes deadly pneumonia in bighorns and reduces lamb survival rates for years. The pathogen—known as Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae—is especially deadly because bighorns and domestic sheep are mutually attracted to each other. Once disease is in a bighorn herd, it can cause low lamb survival for a decade, and members of that herd can easily transmit the disease to nearby bighorn herds. There is no cure or vaccine.

“The science is overwhelmingly clear that the biggest risk to bighorn health is the diseases spread by domestic sheep grazing in and near bighorn habitat,” said Melissa Cain of Western Watersheds Project. “There have been two disease-related incidents in these bighorn herds in recent months. In October, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) killed 12 bighorns from the Quilomene herd due to a domestic ewe commingling with the herd. Less than 2 weeks later, WDFW reported Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae within the Cleman Mountain herd. It is not acceptable for the Forest Service to knowingly allow the high risk to continue.

See the WDFW website for details on the two recent incidents (herehere and here).

Today’s suit centers on seven domestic sheep allotments near the eastern boundary of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. The Forest Service conducted a risk analysis in 2016 determining that these allotments place four bighorn herds at high risk: the Umtanum, Swakane, Cleman Mountain, and Chelan Butte herds.

The lawsuit alleges that the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest continued to authorize domestic sheep grazing despite knowing about the high risk to bighorns as far back as 2010. In addition, the four bighorn herds placed at high risk by the Forest Service’s actions are within 15 miles of each other and two other bighorn herds—the Quilomene and Manson herds—meaning that individual bighorns could easily foray between herds, further spreading disease picked up from the domestic sheep. Together, these bighorn herds make up over half of Washington’s total bighorn sheep population. Another bighorn herd, the Tieton herd, had occupied habitat that was adjacent to these domestic sheep allotments until it suffered a severe outbreak of pneumonia in 2013, which WDFW determined was caused by domestic sheep and led to all 200 of the bighorns in this herd being eradicated.

“The Forest Service is well aware of its legal duties—under the National Forest Management Act and the Wenatchee National Forest Plan—to prevent domestic sheep grazing on public lands from transmitting disease to bighorn sheep. For years, as problems mounted for bighorns, the agency has disregarded these legal duties by authorizing thousands of domestic sheep to graze on high-risk allotments each summer,” stated Lizzy Potter, lead attorney on the case. “We filed suit to hold the Forest Service accountable for these egregious legal violations and to protect half of the bighorn sheep in Washington state.”

Bighorn sheep were wiped out during the era of Western settlement, as Old World pathogens carried by domestic sheep were transmitted to native bighorn sheep. By the early 1900s, bighorns had vanished from several states, with only a few thousand remaining from an estimated historic population of 1.5 to 2 million. Following more than six decades of extensive and costly restoration efforts, bighorn sheep have now been recovered to approximately 5% of their historic population levels and roughly 10% of their historic range.

The groups are represented in the litigation by Lizzy Potter and Laurie Rule of Advocates for the West.

Let’s Discuss: The New Forest Service NEPA Regulations

Ya gotta love the Washington Post..or not. Here’s their story.

In a last minute change before leaving office, the Trump administration finalized a rule Wednesday that will allow the U.S. Forest Service to log and otherwise manage 2,800 acres of forest in the West without an environmental review.

I sometimes wonder if the people quoted in these stories even actually read the regulations.. of course, Sam Evans and Bill Imbergamo did, but ..

“Categorical exclusions are a “permission slip” for loggers to cut trees and developers to build roads without informing local communities of the work, Flint said. Forests are a source of drinking water for more than 150 million people..”

But… scoping requires informing local communities.. and there’s a requirement for collaboration, which I think would be difficult without informing people.. oh well.

We were working on comments on the proposal in August of 2019, so I also don’t think it was really “last minute.” I don’t know what held them up. Of course the new CE doesn’t just apply to the West, and there is environmental review in a CE.. it has to be documented that it fits the CE which, of course, requires some environmental review. I’ve seen 30 pages in Farm Bill CE documentation.

As a person who spent time discussing and preparing a joint comment letter, I was hoping not to have to read it again and figure out which changes fell in line with our comments. Fortunately, the Forest Service came out with this handy table that shows the old reg, the proposed reg and the final reg. What’s great about the table is that you can clearly see what has changed. Changes to scoping, for example, which had raised much concern, was left alone. Here’s a link to all the NEPA regs information.

But let’s focus on the changes from the current regulations:

Clarifies required elements from proposed rule. Clarifies that DNAs require inclusion on the SOPA, are subject to scoping, administrative review processes (including public notice and comment
periods) that were applicable to the prior decision, and include issuance of a new decision document.

RESTORATION CE Allows 2,800 acres of activities (which may include commercial/noncommercial timber harvest). Primary purpose of all activities must be achievement of restoration objectives.
Salvage harvest is not allowed under this category. Requires project development via a collaborative process.

ROADS CE Split into 2 CEs: Road management activities on up to 8 miles of NFS roads. Construction and realignment of up to 2 miles of NFS roads.

SPECIAL USE AUTHORIZATIONS CE: Retains the combined CE from proposed rule with minor modification. Expanded 5-acre CE to 20 acres and updates the list of examples.

RECREATION SITES AND ADMINISTRATIVE SITES: N/A Allowed construction, reconstruction, decommissioning, relocation, or disposal of buildings, infrastructure, or other improvements at recreation sites. Parallel CE for administrative sites

If you want more detail and don’t quite want to read the reg itself, here’s an analysis on JDSupra that talks in more detail about the CE’s, so you can see the ones you might be interested in and read that part of the reg.

It seems like the FS has stepped way back from the original proposal, based on public comment.

What I was thinking about the restoration CE is that we already have the Farm Bill CE with up to 3K acres, with restrictions like insect and disease and WUI or condition class. It would be interesting to see a side-by-side of the Farm Bill CE and this new one. The challenge would seem to be to be able to prove in court that “activities litigators don’t like” are really “restoration.”

Note that there’s an informational webinar listed on the home page.

Please post other analyses below.

Thanksgiving Gratitude in 2020

Wyoming Turkeys:
It all started in 1935, when the Wyoming Game and Fish Department swapped sage grouse with New Mexico for 15 Merriam’s turkeys – nine hens and six toms. Photo by Kirk Thornton


I missed posting this on Thanksgiving, but here are some TSW related people and things I’m thankful for..

  • Forest Service employees and partners, especially those  who have been dealing with the massive influx of recreators since Covid hit. Actually, I’m grateful for all Forest Service and BLM employees, even those doing the most tedious and mind-numbing tasks.
  • Wildland firefighters and folks who support them- both at work and their families.
  • The passage of the GAOA and the many infrastructure and conservation projects that are being funded.

I’m thankful for the people who contribute to The Smokey Wire, whether time, treasure or talent; who make it a safe place to learn and to disagree.

I’m thankful for the people who make The Smokey Wire possible.   Hillary, our web guru, and the folks at WordPress.  And behind the scenes, the people who produce, manufacture or build, and transport computers and other devices, internet connections, electricity, buildings, heat and food.

Please add your own if you feel inclined.

Forest Carbon and Options for Management: For Landowners

Jon’s carbon post, and Patrick’s question “how does it all fit together?” reminded me that I hadn’t yet posted the paper “Forest carbon: an essential natural solution for climate change“, although I had intended to almost a year ago. This is the first paper I would give to anyone trying to put the forest carbon pieces together from the standpoint of “what are the different ways forests can be managed for carbon and other goals?”

The authors are Paul Catanzaro and Tony D’Amato at the University of Massachusetts. I really liked the clarification of sequestration vs. storage, and forest level versus individual tree sequestration. Their explanation of the basic concepts is very clear. And the authors take into account other landowner goals such as wildlife and timber.

Of course, this all is based on wet forests that naturally grow old and don’t get eaten by bugs nor burned up. We can see that for dry Western pine forests where restoration of fire is important, that some of these ideas wouldn’t work. Perhaps there is a similar paper for dry Western forests

Below are some of their specific suggestions for how to manage under New England conditions:

Stand Structure

Size of Trees
Grow and maintain large-diameter trees, as they make up a disproportionate amount of the live aboveground carbon stored in a forest.
• Maximize a tree’s ability to store carbon by letting trees grow larger. For planned timber harvests, grow vigorous trees an extra 15–20 years past your harvest timeline, or 1″–2″ larger than your target diameter. Sometimes harvests are unplanned, triggered by events that do not allow the timber harvest to be delayed. In these cases, consider leaving additional retention trees on-site (see “retention tree” bullet below).
• When it is time to regenerate, use methods that maintain large trees across the forest. Example regeneration methods include irregular shelterwoods, selection methods, two-aged variants of clearcutting and seed-tree methods, variable-retention harvesting systems, and variable-density thinning.
• Designate large trees to permanently retain in your forest in the live aboveground pool, which will eventually be added to the deadwood pool. These “retention trees” can be individually scattered across the forest or in small groups of at least a quarter acre in size. In addition to the carbon-storage benefits, these large-diameter trees are excellent for providing wildlife with cavities and food, may be an important seed source for future trees, and have high aesthetic value. Groups of retention trees can be placed around areas of high ecological value, such as
vernal pools or other sensitive sites.

Tree Regeneration
Establish a new age class of trees.
• Ensure that tree regeneration goals are met by addressing interfering vegetation (invasive plants) and excessive herbivory (e.g., deer and moose browse). Timely regeneration of species well-suited to the site and future conditions will ensure that there are trees in place to sequester and store carbon into the future.

Distribution of Tree Ages
Identify the appropriate combination of young and old trees to meet your goals, and develop forest resiliency through diversity.
• As previously described, carbon sequestration rates peak when forests are young and then decline with age. Carbon storage is maximized in old forests. Maintaining forests with multiple age classes of trees will provide a balance of large, older trees for storage and younger, faster growing trees for sequestration. In addition, multi-aged forests increase a forest’s resiliency to natural disturbances (see “Forest Resiliency”).
• Trees of different ages often vary in height, which increases the vertical structure within the forest. Forests with multiple layers will store more carbon. Implementing strategies that allow for the development of a multi-aged, stratified forest will provide the opportunity to increase the levels of “carbon packing.”

Species Composition
Identify the appropriate mix of tree species to meet your goals, and foster forest resiliency through diversity.
• Establishing and promoting native, locally adapted tree species that have no known forest-health issues and that are predicted to be competitive in future climatic conditions— especially drought tolerant—will help achieve a vigorous forest.
• Promoting a diversity of species will increase the forest’s resilience to natural disturbances by ensuring that diseases or insects that kill one species will not kill an entire forest.
• Promoting trees such as red oak and white pine, which have the capacity to become dominant and grow very large, can increase forest carbon storage.
• Tree species have different wood densities. Promoting tree species with high-density wood that can grow to be dominant trees can increase carbon storage in a forest. For example, hardwood trees are denser than softwood trees. There are even differences among hardwood species. For example, red oak and sugar maple are denser than red maple.
• Promoting shade-tolerant trees (e.g., sugar maple), which can grow in the shade below the main canopy, can help increase the number of live trees growing in the forest, maximizing the opportunity for carbon packing by creating forests of multiple layers.

Deadwood Pool
Promote increases in the deadwood pool.
• Designating retention trees will ensure a future source of deadwood, as the trees are left on-site until they die.
• Work with a forester to establish utilization standards that maximize the amount of slash left on-site, and include these in your contract.
• Felling or girdling poor-quality trees will add to the deadwood pool while also providing habitat benefits and freeing up space and resources to increase the growth rates on adjacent trees.

Woodman spare that forest (the climate needs it)

Source: Biodiversity Sri Lanka

I’ve been wondering if there is a straightforward answer to the question of how to best manage forest lands to sequester carbon for the foreseeable future to reduce potential climate change impacts.  We’ve beaten around that bush a few times, such as here.

I thought such an answer might be found in the kind of forest management activities carbon offset programs are willing to pay for.  I recently ran across this example, which describes two new programs for small forest landowners.

“Forest carbon projects have historically faced skepticism around their additionality and potential for leakage — that is, the shifting of tree removals to nearby acreage. The concern is that despite paying a landowner to keep trees on one parcel, the same number will simply be removed elsewhere, resulting in a null offset with no net change in carbon storage. Yet SilviaTerra believes this problem can be addressed by creating a market in which all landowners are eligible to receive carbon payments as an alternative to timber revenues…  Payments are scaled to target the timeframe when forests have matured to a point of likely timber harvest… SilviaTerra believes that timber harvest deferrals hold the potential for removing over a billion tons of atmospheric carbon within the United States in the coming decade, or 4.3 billion tons globally.”

SilviaTerra is paying landowners to not harvest mature trees now, and presumably they would continue to do that indefinitely for a parcel because, (according to this article on the carbon value of old forests), “We now know that the concept of overmature forest stands, used by the timber industry in reference to forest products, does not apply to carbon.”   The Family Forest Carbon Program pays for “improved forest management practices,” “such as removal of invasive species or limiting thinning.”  Both seem to treat the answer to my question as obvious – the best management for carbon is “don’t cut down trees.”

Here is what the Forest Service has had to say about the best available science.  This 2017 General Technical Report covers a lot of the pros and cons and questions and considerations and reservations that we have previously discussed, such as wood products, wood energy and fire risk, but if the goal is to “maintain and increase carbon stocks,” the best answer appears to be “decrease carbon loss:”

“Decreasing the intensity of forest harvest is one way to decrease carbon losses to the atmosphere (McKinley et al. 2011, Ryan et al. 2010). Across diverse forest systems, the “no harvest” option commonly produces the highest forest carbon stocks (Creutzburg et al. 2015, Nunery and Keeton 2010, Perez-Garcia et al. 2007).”

The Report was written for a broad audience of landowners and managers, so it also discusses options for managed stands:

“Managed stands typically have lower levels of forest biomass than unmanaged stands, even though the annual rate of sequestration may be higher in a younger forest. In managed forests, reducing harvest intensity, lengthening harvest rotations, and increasing stocking or retention levels will generally increase the amount of carbon stored within forest ecosystem carbon pools in the absence of severe disturbance (D’Amato et al. 2011, Harmon 2001, Harmon and Marks 2002, McKinley et al. 2011, Taylor et al. 2008b).”

However, they also provide caveats and qualifiers associated with obtaining overall carbon benefits from any strategy that removes trees, which make it clear this would likely be a second-best strategy for carbon sequestration.

With regard to national forests, the Report recognizes the role of NFMA and forest plan revisions:

“Assuming carbon is one of these key ecosystem services, the plan should describe the desired conditions for carbon in the plan area that may vary by management or geographic area. In developing plan objectives, the interdisciplinary team should consider the linkage between carbon and how plan objectives would contribute to carbon storage or sequestration. Standards and guidelines may also be needed to achieve desired outcomes for carbon.”

We shouldn’t have to just assume the importance of carbon sequestration, since that is a decision a forest plan could make.  With an incoming administration that has said it would integrate climate change into everything it does, a good question to ask them would be why should the Forest Service not establish in its forest plans the desired outcome to “maintain and increase carbon stocks.”  This should create a presumption or default that trees should not be removed unless the Forest Service can demonstrate scientifically that it would improve carbon sequestration (apparently difficult to do), or if it would meet some other goal that the planning process has determined is a higher priority than climate change (such as public safety).  Climate change mitigation has typically been diverted to a side-channel during forest planning, but there doesn’t seem to be any excuse now for why at least managing for carbon sequestration isn’t mainstream.

USFS Research: Thinning and prescribed fire treatments reduce tree mortality

This press release from October 2020 are relevant to our discussions of forest management — variable-density thinning and Rx fire — in the Sierras and perhaps elsewhere. The study was is Conservation Biology.

An overview, here, provides key findings:

Results – highlights

  • Both thinning treatments resulted in densities of >10” trees and species composition similar to what old-growth forests in this area historically contained.
  • The board foot volume removed to establish the HighV and LowV treatments averaged about 14,000 ft per acre and allowed the thinning to pay for itself. Had a 30” diameter cap been used, volume would not have differed between the two thinning strategies.
  • Prior to treatment, the study site had a high density of Northern flying squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus), which are an important food source for raptors including spotted owls. While numbers caught in live traps declined in thinned units following treatment, the overall population size in the study area did not change, illustrating the potential benefits of habitat heterogeneity.
  • Thinning treatments suffered far less tree mortality during and after the 2012-2015 drought than the unthinned controls. Basal area (the cross sectional area of live tree stems) declined 23% between 2014 and 2018 in the unthinned controls, while the basal area did not change in the thinned units, with mortality balanced by tree growth.
  • Between 10-20% more snow accumulated in the thinned units compared with the unthinned controls in the 2013 and 2014 water years. Differences in snow melt out date among treatments were inconclusive, in part because both years were unusually warm and dry.
  • Many understory plant species are responding most favorably to the combination of either type of thinning plus prescribed fire. Some shrubs, including Ceanothus – an important browse for deer – show the largest increase in the HighV thinning plus prescribed fire treatment. Germination of Ceanothus seeds is stimulated by fire and the presence of gaps provides suitable high-light environments.



Q Methodology: Hearing Every Voice in the Room

The Rocky Mountain Research Station has a brief paper of interest here: “Hearing Every Voice in the Room: Social Science for Public Engagement During Forest Planning.” Anyone here familiar with the Q methodology? It sounds similar to the methodology used by Region 6 folks in NW Forest Plan revision “listening sessions” a few years ago.

“At the Gila National Forest and elsewhere, Armatas and his coworkers have implemented a public engagement protocol based on a social science information-gathering approach known as Q methodology. Invented in 1935 but recently adapted and peer-reviewed for Forest Service use, Q methodology is a structured analysis of personal opinions on a given topic. It requires participants to complete something called a Q sort, where tradeoffs are elicited and natural resource benefits are prioritized. Participants also identify drivers of change—such as management actions and climate change impacts—that are most concerning to them. Information can be collected in less than an hour, participants generally find the hands-on process to be thought-provoking and fun, and the final results include an understandable and engaging representation of a diverse range of perspectives.”

Climate Change, Water, and Population Growth in Colorado: Homestake Creek Geotechnical Proposal

Field scientist Delia Malone stands by a beaver pond near Homestake Creek, at the edge of Colorado’s Holy Cross Wilderness, on Friday, Aug. 21, 2020. (Daniel Brenner, Special to The Denver Post)

Here’s an interesting article from the Denver Post with the Forest Service in the middle of a larger issue. There is a tension between climate change adaptation (may need more water due to drought) and not building (and removing current) dams. There is a bit of a mantra that “leaving things alone is necessary to stave off the worst impacts of climate change” but examples such as this tell us it may not be that simple (and fuel treatments and prescribed burns, and probably a host of others).

A few things that might be misleading in the article.. thanks to the FS folks for helping me find more accurate information.

(1) Delia Malone is not working with or on behalf of the Forest Service as stated in the article. She’s a member of a local Sierra Club chapter.

(2) There is a categorical exclusion on the geotechnical proposal, which is available here Note: there aren’t “categorical exemptions.”

(3) There is currently no proposal for a dam or a reservoir, just the current proposal to investigate whether the site would be suitable geologically. The White River would, of course do an extensive NEPA analysis with multiple opportunities for public review if they were to receive a proposal for a reservoir.

Excerpts from the story..

Three decades after the federal government killed the proposed $1 billion Two Forks Dam project along the South Platte River southwest of Denver, Front Range cities again are taking first steps toward moving more water across mountains. Their reservoir partially inside the Holy Cross Wilderness, between Leadville and Minturn, would sacrifice natural processes for the purpose of sustaining population growth and a development boom — harnessing nature to slake human thirsts.


Over the past decade, the economy has shifted away from resources extraction toward high-tech innovation and a booming recreation and tourism industry — built by touting pristine unaltered nature.

Does this remind anyone of Governor Tom McCall’s comment about Oregon in 1971 (50 years ago now) “come to visit, but for heaven’s sakes don’t stay?”

Tapping wilderness water

When Congress in 1980 established the Holy Cross Wilderness, lawmakers included provisions allowing Colorado Springs, Aurora, the Climax Mine, Vail Resorts, Eagle Valley authorities and others in western Colorado to tap a total of 30,000 acre-feet of water a year. A first dam on Homestake Creek, built in 1968, already had reduced flows and natural fluctuations.

Now U.S. Forest Service officials must decide whether to grant a special-use permit allowing Aurora and Colorado Springs to conduct geologic testing along Homestake Creek — a first step, without the participation of Vail and Eagle Valley water suppliers. Forest managers decided against a full environmental review for this proposed testing, saying bore holes drilled in forests qualify for a “categorical exemption” of the sort frequently granted for fossil fuel drilling and road work in forests.

American Rivers and Trout Unlimited raised concerns about the lack of scrutiny.

“The Front Range municipalities need to realize that there’s no more reliable water supply available from the West Slope and Colorado River Basin. And that was true before the impacts on water from climate change were really incorporated in our thinking,” American Rivers’ Colorado projects director Ken Neubecker said. “A large new reservoir would be pretty devastating.”

Anyway, I’m agnostic on this particular dam (which may not be geologically feasible anyway) but it’s reflective of a water/climate/population conundrum.