Chief Moore Announces Prescribed Fire Pause and Review

Firefighters construct fireline on the Left Fork Fire in Utah which was caused by an escaped prescribed fire. Posted by the Dixie NF, May 12, 2022.

 

 

 

Thanks to Wildfire Today for posting thisHere’s a link to the Chief’s announcement.

FWIW this seems eminently sensible to me.  Here are some excerpts:

Today, because of the current extreme wildfire risk conditions in the field, I am initiating a pause on prescribed fire operations on National Forest System lands while we conduct a 90-day review of protocols, decision support tools and practices ahead of planned operations this fall.  …

In 99.84 percent of cases, prescribed fires go as planned. In rare circumstances, conditions change, and prescribed burns move outside the planned project area and become wildfires.

The review I am announcing today will task representatives from across the wildland fire and research community with conducting the national review and evaluating the prescribed fire program, from the best available science to on-the-ground implementation. Lessons learned and any resulting program improvements will be in place prior to resuming prescribed burning.   ..

The pause I am announcing today will have minimal impact on these objectives in the short- and long-term since the agency conducts more than 90 percent of its prescribed burn operations between September and May.

My broader question is that the Forest Service is not the only group that does prescribed burning and has them escape (see the North Fork Fire conducted by Colorado or the Bastrop Fire in Texas).  That may be why people (particularly those impacted by these fires) get an impression that it might be more than 99.84 percent, or that it can be a problem.  The distinctions that make so much difference to us in terms of “who is in charge”  may not make a difference at all in the mind of the public when they think about prescribed burns.

Personally I know evacuees from the North Fork Fire (not fire experts) who are very suspicious of burning at times when they themselves judge it to be too dangerous.

How can we increase public confidence in prescribed fire when the organizational responsibilities and requirements are so diffuse and unknown? NGO’s, States, Feds, private landowners and so on?  I am SO not a fan of national standards, but FAA does give the public confidence in the safety of air travel.

I don’t think it would be out of line to do a similar review on Wildfire With Resource Benefits, although it seems to me like it might have best been done over the winter.

 

 

Carole King: ‘America’s forests are a key climate solution’

We recently discussed Carole King’s congressional testimony. Now she’s written for The Hill. Excerpts:

The U.S. Forest Service has been facilitating taxpayer-subsidized commercial logging for decades under multiple presidents from both parties. Subsidies incentivize companies to log on public rather than private land. And an operator of heavy equipment is motivated to “harvest” (a euphemism for turning a living tree into a log) the biggest, most profitable trees as quickly as possible.

Another euphemism is “thinning.” In many areas out west, feller bunchers clearcut a forest by sawing down and stripping nearly all the trees, leaving “slash” — the unprofitable branches, needles, and leaves — to dry out. That’s not thinning.

Misinformation disseminated under the guise of euphemisms such as “thinning,” “treatment,” “fuel reduction,” “management,” and “restoration” by the timber industry and by government officials has convinced much of the public that commercial logging is necessary to control wildfires.

But peer-reviewed studies by independent scientists show that removal of trees from a forest causes fire to burn hotter and faster — and that the most effective way to protect communities is to harden homes

Biden forest plan stirs dispute over what counts as “old”: ABC News

We’ll all need a glass or two before this one is over..

A hearty thank you to Nick Smith, who always has something interesting in his daily update. Here’s this one.

I don’t think anyone will be surprised to learn that people (wait for this…!) don’t agree on what is an old forest. In fact, we’ve discussed at least two incarnations of the same issue, during spotted owl days (1994), and HFRA development days (2002).

I got a chuckle out of this on Google.. question “What is the Northwest Forest Plan 1994?”

In 1994, the comprehensive Northwest Forest Plan (‘the Plan’) was initiated to end the impasse over management of federal forest land in the Pacific Northwest within the range of the northern spotted owl.

As my song parody went during the HFRA days (to the tune of They Call the Wind Maria, from Paint Your Wagon)

But old trees die, and then fall down,
And we’ve got premonitions-
But we’ll do fine,
We’ll move the lines,
And change the definitions!
Reserves, Reserves, we call those areas Reserves.

Fortunately they asked a knowledgeable prof, Dr. Mark Ashton from Yale who said:

Any definitions for old-growth or mature trees adopted by the Biden’s administration are “going to be subjective,” said Mark Ashton, a forestry professor at the Yale School of the Environment.

Already disagreement is emerging between the timber industry and environmentalists over which trees to count. That’s likely to complicate Biden’s efforts to protect older forests as part of his climate change fight, with key pieces stalled in Congress.

“If you were looking at ecological and academic definitions of old growth, it’s going to be very different from what the White House is thinking about,” Ashton said. “Even the word ‘mature’ is difficult to define.”

Groves of aspen, for example, can mature within a half century. For Douglas fir stands, it could take 100 years. Wildfire frequency also factors in: Ponderosa pine forests are adapted to withstand blazes as often as once a decade, compared to lodgepole pine stands that might burn every few hundred years.

There’s wide consensus on the importance of preserving the oldest and largest trees — both symbolically as marvels of nature, and more practically because their trunks and branches store large amounts of carbon that can be released when forests burn, adding to climate change.

But what exactly is “mature”? My discipline (always the underdog in any disciplinary discussion) would say “reproductive maturity.” I can almost hear the buzz.. wrong answer. Yes, a lodgepole stand might burn every two hundred years, but bark beetles often get them earlier. Once again, it seems like it’s difficult to get the mesic mindset (leave them alone) and the dry forest reality (they’ll get eaten or burn up or both) to form a coherent set of talking points.

Yay! Bipartisan agreement.

Concerns that warming temperatures, fires and disease could doom the dwindling number of ancient trees on federal forests drew a bipartisan group of lawmakers to California this month. They touted planned legislation to preserve perhaps the most iconic old growth in the U.S.: stands of massive sequoias that can tower almost 300 feet (90 meters).

Somehow I don’t think Hayes knows more about this than Ashton. Clearly he is quoting Groups Important to this Administration:

White House adviser Hayes described old growth forests generally as undisturbed stands with well-established canopies and individual trees usually over 150 years old.

“Mature forests,” he added, “are generally 80 to 150 years old and have many of the same characteristics of old-growth forests or are on their way to developing those characteristics if left undisturbed.”

Yes, “on their way to being old” would pretty much cover a lot of territory. Somehow the 80 number seems to have taken on a life of its own.

But let’s look at Hayes’ background. He’s a climate advisor with a background in environmental law. Interestingly, he was also a senior fellow at the Hewlett Foundation, who have a rather colonialist attitude toward the American West.

The vision of the Hewlett Foundation is to conserve biodiversity and protect the ecological integrity of half of the North American West for wildlife and people. Our goal is to conserve 320 million acres of public and private land across the North American West by 2035.

The Hewlett Foundation’s Environment Director also joined the Biden Admin working for John Kerry on climate. They also fund the Center for Western Priorities which has a good daily roundup of news but is run by political operatives, definitely with a partisan twist.

Fortunately, the Forest Service folks are (back) on this. Probably all the folks from the previous old growth efforts have retired.

Officials were developing a “workable definition” that would be made public, Hayes said. “Then based on a good definition, there will be the opportunity to … get real and protect these stands and safeguard them to the greatest extent we can from the threats that they face.”

Threats could include fire, drought, competition with younger trees, insect infestation and timber harvests, agency officials said in a statement. How those rank won’t be known until after the inventory.

I think the FS already knows how to deal with fire, drought, and competition.. take out smaller trees. And has gotten large chunks of change to do that, and also to figure out ways to use the material. Funded in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and other places. Still, I’m not seeing many options, though, that will keep old lodgepoles from bark beetles.

Aside: one of the forests in Region 2 had a concern with Roadless that they wouldn’t be able to go in and get spruce beetle killed trees removed before they became an outbreak. I don’t think this made it into the Rule, though. Perhaps the FS will amend Roadless rules to enable more insect infestation prevention? Just kidding.

And from CBD:

They want the administration to adopt specific rules to protect those forests, rather than vague management plans that would be easier for a future Republican administration to reverse. Environmentalists also want to stop pending logging projects on federal lands in Oregon, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho and other states.

“This executive order clearly calls out the need for protections,” said Randi Spivak with the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity. “I’m concerned the Forest Service will slow walk this until the clock runs out.”

Spivak acknowledged that definitions of mature may vary among different tree species, but said complexity was no excuse to avoid acting.

“If you’re looking for one age, 80 years is a good cutoff,” she said.

No whiskey for you, Dave and Randi! It’s looking like some wine is questionable also.

Note that the FS is back to being the fall person (“slowly walk this out”) when the current Administration doesn’t do what ENGOs want.. under the Trump Admin it was all Trump’s fault. And so it goes.

A Pragmatist Looks at: Oil and Gas Industry Hate

Is Shell still bad if it buys lots of windfarms? https://www.shell.com/energy-and-innovation/new-energies/new-energies-media-releases/shell-partners-with-simply-blue-energy-to-develop-floating-wind-project.html

As promised, this is the next installment on trying to understand the sources of what I call “oil and gas industry hate”. There’s a relentless campaign in some quarters to publish stories about how bad the oil and gas industry is- it seems like several times a week. “Big oil” makes a nice target, but of course reasonable people might ask “what is small oil and what about those people and companies?” What about Teresa, the propane dealer, who has a fund for people who can’t pay their bills, and her workers? Or is it just extraction that produces the hate and moral judgment, and the rest of us can just use their products, and kick back in a hot tub of whirling moral rectitude?

Another thing that interests me about this topic is that we had/have a minor version of hate in some quarters (Oregon?)with the forest products industry. Similarly, the mining industry. But even the mining industry, including uranium, does not seem to release the 3Vs.. vituperous, vehement, vitriol in the public sphere that the oil and gas industry does. We could study this question by looking at the frequency of negative articles in various outlets.

Why is hate bad? You can perhaps argue that this isn’t hate, and that’s certainly worthy of discussion. Perhaps it’s really “righteous anger at a group.” Or something different.

I’ll start with the Buddha: “holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Buddha was making the point that it’s not good for us as human beings in general.
Of course, I’m more of a pragmatist, so I’ll move on to this Rob Bell podcast (Rob is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but he made the point) idea that when someone angers you or you think they are wrong, use that energy to build something positive. Maybe talking about negative energy seems woo-woo to you, but if we’re going to go about moralizing and hating, then perhaps it’s time to reflect on wisdom of the ages, and what our ancestors had to say about moralizing and hating.

With all the words of all the university folks and media spinning by our heads about how simple and cheap the transition will be.. we can look out our windows and see combines and snowplows and transportation supply chains that depend on oil and gas right now. They won’t be carbon free until a) someone develops the technology and b) farmers and counties can afford to switch. So are we planning on hating on our neighbors.. oil and gas workers..until then? That will probably be fine for them, as “hated industry” folks tend to build psychic barriers to hate. But what are we doing to ourselves if we do? “What are you planning to do for the next 20 years, Vijay?” “Oh, I’m planning on spending my time castigating the oil and gas industry.” “But don’t you need to follow what they are doing? That’s a lot of work. All those companies.. all those metrics.” “No, I’m just going to follow a media outlet and they will tell me precisely how much anger and outrage I need to have.”

And to channel Rob Bell, what if we focused on sending positive energy, money and media coverage to those working on alternatives?

Ah, but Big Oil is bad so it’s OK to hate on them. But do institutions really possess their own morality? And do we have ground rules for when the past has tainted the institution sufficiently that we need to keep bringing it up? This Guardian article is a good example. It basically describes industry efforts to question the science behind climate change.. the article talks mostly about the 1980’s. There are two problems with this line of reasoning (they’re bad because they used to be bad and they haven’t changed), in my view.

The first is that they are blaming current executives, employees, investors, and other members of the corporate ecosystem for the sins of the past. Human beings have moral failings, and institutions are composed of human beings.. which.. change over time. If we’re in the business of institutional stone-casting, then, who among us? Certainly not the US Government, nor the Catholic Church, nor other industries (just think of alcohol, marijuana, sugar, media and the tech industry). None of these have clean records. The energies definitely have a scape-goaty feel to them.

The second is that it absolves everyone else of blame or “accountability”. Like, for example, the people who dreamed up cap and trade, a white collar solution (or neoliberal or whatever) for what I would frame as essentially an engineering problem (decarbonizing). And right after the meltdown of the financial industry? Of course, we should trust those people with the environment, they did so well with the economy- not. So perhaps other institutions bear their share of the blame for betting on a losing horse. Easier to predict than the climate in 30 years is the fact that the system was prone to gaming of various kinds including the known fact that forests burn up. Did people not know this..? And so we have articles like “forest offsets don’t actually help the environment” like this story in HCN. Thank goodness for federalism and for California, so that we can all watch their efforts to decarbonize and learn what paths work best. Or (some key) folks decided to ignore the Hartwell Paper. As a pragmatist, I always liked their language

accepting that decarbonisation will only be achieved successfully as a benefit contingent upon other goals which are politically attractive and relentlessly pragmatic.

I’m just a federal retiree with a WordPress account, but I’d like to see less stone-throwing, and more joint fact-finding and learning together about what works and doesn’t. I think we could do with less moralizing and more “relentless pragmatism.”

Many critiques involve oil and gas companies having well-paid executives.. well, every corporation does that, at least to some extent, including ones who run media outlets and internet apps and so forth. Not to speak of college athletic coaches, and celebrities.. that’s a much broader convo. As to influencing the government, the story is the same. I’m reminded of certain outdoor recreation interests (who depend on oil and gas products, of course) moving their trade show to Denver from Salt Lake City because of their views of the elected officials of Utah (they have since moved back). Personally, I think we should have special compassion for Utah because many people from a religious minority live there.. one that was persecuted by our own federal government. In all the coverage of the moves back and forth, though, I didn’t hear a critique of corporations trying to influence elected officials. So who is holding the bullhorn of rectitude and why do they point it at certain targets and not at others? That seems to be a key question.

When folks say “it’s morally wrong for you to do it, but it’s fine for me to do it”, we have a word for that- hypocrisy- which is also a moral judgment. But again, I’m a pragmatist so the problem with it for me is not morality. It’s simply that when you do it so obviously, people don’t trust you. Because as my wise forest economist friend once told me “you need to watch what people do, not what they say.” Lack of trust is the natural consequence of hypocrisy and lack of trust is ultimately a poison to our democracy. IMHO.

Colorado knows the steps to take that could reduce the destruction of wildfires. It just hasn’t taken them: CPR Story

Kathleen Gray, a U.S. Forest Service fuels planner, works a controlled burn outside of Frisco, Colorado., on May 2, 2022. Photo by Veronica Penney of CPR news.

Interesting article from Colorado Public Radio on Colorado and Denver metro-area fires, the difficulties of implementing state-wide regulations, how CWPPs aren’t doing the job, and how other states may have better policies. I’d be interested in hearing from folks in other states. There’s quite a bit of interest in the story, and I only include a brief excerpt below.

I also wonder if a lack of coordination among the different government levels (fed, state, country) and zones of influence (sheriff, fire, health) are problems elsewhere, and how they have been successfully dealt with. While building codes are important for structure loss, evacuation plans and testing are an even greater concern for those in relatively crowded forested areas. Does anyone do this (evacuation testing?). I know there are models, but…

Other states are better prepared for wildfire
In November 2021, Lisa McBee moved into her new home in Conifer. McBee, who moved to Colorado from Houston, knew there was some wildfire risk in her new neighborhood, but she did not realize how extreme it was.

McBee did not know her home was at risk for a simple reason: during the sale process, no one told her. In Colorado, Realtors are not required to disclose wildfire risk to properties during the sales process. She says she instead found out through discussions on Nextdoor, a neighborhood messaging app, where she also learned about resources through her local fire department. She later scheduled a FireWise inspection to learn how to make her home more resilient, which recommended she clear out vegetation on the property.

“Nobody wants to cut down 50 trees on their property, but then I also want to save my home,” said McBee.

Still, she said she would have appreciated more information about risk before moving in. “Would I have not moved here?” said McBee. “I don’t know. I mean, I love my house and I love our view and it’s beautiful, but, I don’t know if I would’ve not moved there because of that.”

After she finishes her property, McBee hopes to help her neighbors make their properties safer.

“The house next door, it’s like a thick forest to get to their house,” she said. “When we finish ours, I’d be happy to go over and help them, but you don’t know people’s circumstances — whether they can’t physically do it themselves, they don’t have the time to do it, they can’t afford to do it.”

Other states have also found answers to some of the obstacles to wildfire safety. In California, homeowners selling homes are required to bring their home up to code by making repairs or clearing defensible space prior to the sale. The home’s wildfire risk is also disclosed to the person purchasing the property, meaning a realtor wouldn’t risk losing a sale by telling potential buyers about wildfire risk if other realtors were not disclosing that information. Buyers like McBee in Conifer would always have wildfire risk information before the sale closed.

In Oregon and California, state agencies have mapped wildfire risk in the wildland-urban interfaces where homes and businesses meet forests and grasslands. Both states have also adopted statewide building codes in areas at risk of wildfire, understanding that even one home with flammable roofing or overgrown land in a community could spread flames to other properties.

“California and Oregon have been much more forward-thinking on this, in terms of implementing mandates and regulatory measures, than Colorado has,” said Brenkert-Smith.

In the meantime, volunteers like Latham are still working to get residents prepared.

“We need to do something, you know, we can’t just sit on our hands and wait for it to happen,” said Latham. “But it shouldn’t be that way. It really shouldn’t.”

Wildfire risk rating now available for 145 million properties in the United States: from Wildfire Today

Bill Gabbert of Wildfire Today has an interesting post on a new Wildfire Risk map.  Some commenters were not too impressed based on their ground-truthing.  Wouldn’t it be wise to “ground-truth before touting the accuracy of maps” rather than putting them out and telling everyone they’re correct? Is that way crazy? So Wildfire Today did some testing and so did the commenters. The results were generally not good.

It seems like modelers are driving way beyond their headlights… and acting if their models are somehow.. real.. Here’s what it says.. “Past events, current risks, and future projections based on peer-reviewed research from the world’s leading flood, fire, and climate modelers.”

Who is working at First Street Foundation? Not one of the usual fire suspects. Check them out. Their model looks very impressive and incorporates many variables .. check those out here.

Here’s their argument for why they exist:

What makes First Street Foundation unique

  • Custom built models to calculate property-level climate risk statistics
  • Transparent, peer-reviewed methodology that’s proven against real environmental events
  • Validated by millions of users every day who continuously improve the data and science
  • Easy-to-understand experience that’s trusted by industry leaders
  • Building details and structure characteristics are used to customize information for your specific property

Institutional real estate investors and insurers have long had access to environmental risk data from for-profit oligopolies who use non-transparent methodologies that do not advance science and which limit access to risk information for the country. Because of this, the majority of Americans have relied on sources such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the United States Forest Service, and other public agencies to understand their risk. However, these agencies are not tasked with defining risk for individual properties, do not consider how environmental changes impact that risk in the near-term future, and are often unable to incorporate the latest science due to the bureaucratic and regulatory restrictions within which they operate, leaving millions of households and property owners unaware of their true risk.

There has long been an urgent need for accurate, property-level, publicly available environmental risk information in the United States based on open source, peer reviewed science. In a mission to fill that need, First Street Foundation has built a team of leading modelers, researchers, and data scientists to develop the first comprehensive, publicly available risk models in the United States. Beginning with flood and now wildfire, First Street works to correct the asymmetry of information in the market, empowering Americans to protect their most valuable asset–their home while working with industry and government entities to inform them of their risk.

It’s great that they’re not a “for-profit oligopoly” but who funds them and what are their interests? I can’t really tell based on this.. because 990 reading is not in my skill set.

My house for example, was always at risk of wildfire. Because we live in a dry climate and things.. dry out. That’s probably why my insurance company has contracted with a private structure protection outfit.   When fires start (mostly due to human ignition) the key variables are 1) wind, 2)  fuel (houses, grass grazed or not, trees?)   3) how fast suppression folks get there, 3) if it’s too windy for air suppression resources, 4) how much grazing reduced fuels, 5) wind (did I mention that?). So wind is a big deal.

What about wind and climate change?  That appears to be a can of worms, partially because it seems like researchers are interested in questions like “will changes in wind speed affect energy from wind turbines?” And also because.. it doesn’t seem like they know.  I did find a paper from 2019..by Jeong and Sushama.. “Projected Changes to Mean and Extreme Surface Wind Speeds for North America Based on Regional Climate Model Simulations.”

The IPCC [27], however, reported that projected changes to extreme wind speeds based on GCMs are more uncertain than those to mean wind speeds because of relatively fewer studies on extreme wind speeds and the difficulties in simulating these events with GCMs.

And yet, the folks at First Street Foundation tell me..that my house will go from .07 to .22 in 30 years.  But they haven’t actually modelled, nor can they, the most critical factors. As they say..

Risk Factor™️ is most powerful when used in conjunction with the FEMA flood maps, WildFire.org, and other available state and local risk resources. Risk Factor should be viewed as complementary to the federally adopted risk maps for a community, which need to be used for building and permitting purposes. Risk Factor™️ allows individuals to easily view risk information at the property level, and provides useful information on potential actions to mitigate risk. More information on each community’s risk maps and mitigation plans, however, can be best obtained by contacting the community’s floodplain manager or local fire department.

The question is does is add any value to federally adopted risk maps?  What does the map tell you about your house, and does it make sense?

They Seem Like Nice Ladies..But: The Logic of Producing Essential Things Elsewhere (For the Environment?)

TEHRAN – Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh has issued an order, paving the way for women with high capabilities to boost presence in the oil industry

..this is what is wrong with the conservation movement. It has a clear conscience….To the conservation movement, it is only production that causes environmental degradation; the consumption that supports the production is rarely acknowledged to be at fault. The ideal of the run-of-the-mill conservationist is to impose restraints upon production without limiting consumption or burdening the consciences of consumers.
— Wendell Berry

This is a great gig.  You can use mega-amounts of fossil fuels in your products (like, say the Outdoor Recreation industry) and pretend you have the moral high ground if you are against production in our country.  You can make zillions of bucks of people offshoring manufacturing of your products- and then critique “greedy” producers of the material you use.  I still don’t get “domestic oil and gas hate”.. who’s behind it, and what it’s really about.  There seems to be a steady stream of “they are bad” articles coming out, especially from sources allied with a certain political party.  So yes, there seems to be some kind of organized campaign against these folks.  But just the domestic ones (seems equally true in Britain).  So a person has to wonder what the end game of this is really about.

I don’t want to be accused of listening to Fox News (the horror!) but I had read somewhere about the idea that Russia had been funding some ENGOs in Europe with the idea of making them more reliant on Russian sources of energy.  And Fox News had a story so here it is.

So I said to myself “how could I ever figure out the truth here? Did they or didn’t they?”  And then I had a revelation… it doesn’t matter who funds groups if their goals are the same. Keep it in the ground (here) is fundamentally the same as extract it (there).  Who wins? other countries of Questionable Human Rights and Environmental Records. Who loses? Our workers and communities.   Or is it just that if the environmental and human rights impacts occur elsewhere, we can ignore them more readily? I hope that is not the case.

On thing we learned from Covid is that some things are more essential than others. So let’s take a look at where the fundamentals of our economy (fossil fuels) are currently coming from.

In the every-handy EIA information, we can find a list of countries we import oil from. This Politico story from March talked about outreach to Venezuela, the Saudis and Iran (see the nice ladies in the photo above), due to the desire to stop Russian imports. As the story says,

“The U.S. has long had complicated and tense relationships with all three countries, which in recent years have been accused of everything from election fraud to human rights atrocities.”

Given all that, and the fact that imported oil has arguably a larger environmental impact, why wouldn’t we want to produce as much domestically as possible and import the rest from the most agreeable and socially and environmentally responsible countries? It seems logical to me.  We don’t seem to try to offshore other industries due to their impacts on the environment.. in fact, there is a Buy America push by the Biden Administration. So what did the oil and gas workers do to get left out?

For a long time, some groups have been pushing the Biden Admin to stop oil and gas leasing on federal lands.  In fact, he felt the need to commit to that during the campaign, despite the fact that many argue that it is illegal.  As part of that campaign, this  USGS study, often mischaracterized (even by an E&E News headline in Scientific American; I expect better from them) as “Fossil Fuel Extraction on Public Lands Produces One Quarter of U.S. Emissions” played a large role, so much so that it is frequently used in news stories as if it were a fact that everyone understands.

Whereas the study actually studies emissions not just from extraction but from use, see page 3 under introduction.

Emissions are produced through two processes: (1) the combustion of fuel for electricity generation, mechanical work, heating, or use as a feedstock and (2) the fugitive emission of gases during the processes of extracting and moving fuel.

Which we can imagine would have more or less the same effect (or possibly greater?) to the atmosphere from other countries, depending on the various attributes of the resource,  extraction technologies and regulations, and transportation to the US.  Because if it’s about carbon emissions, the atmosphere there is the same one as here.

One of the first symbolic actions in the new Administration was to stop the Keystone Pipeline from Canada (from whom we import oil and uranium).  It’s almost as if part of that symbolism was pledge of fealty to party investors by dissing a partner vital to our own energy security.

And what technologies exist to reduce climate change? Those requiring uranium (also imported) and other rare earths, often found on federal land in the US.  For example

Uranium originating in Kazakhstan, Russia, and Uzbekistan accounted for 47% of total uranium purchased by U.S. COOs in 2020. Canadian-origin uranium and Australian-originan uranium together accounted for 34% (Table 3).

Many of these minerals occur on western federal lands, potentially running into obstacles in the efforts to “conserve” them.   That means that it’s OK to encourage thousands of tourists to come to a new “protected” area, but not OK to mine, or have drill rigs. Personally, drill rigs don’t bother me when I recreate. Crowds are much worse in my opinion.  Unleashed dogs chasing wildlife and all that- seem to bother say, deer or antelope, more than drill rigs (which tend to stay in the same place over time), from what I’ve observed.

It seems to me that there are certain projects like the Keystone Pipeline, Bears Ears, and the idea of stopping oil and gas leasing on federal lands (I think mostly onshore, but who knows?)  that from my environmental perspective, have mostly symbolic value.  So.. who determined that these specific issues were so important?  And what does that portend for domestic production of necessary post-fossil fuel material? Is “protecting our landscapes” more important than national security, and whose interests does that calculation serve? Because I don’t remember being asked.

Next Post: Are (Domestic) Oil and Gas Folks Really That Bad?

Opponents of conservation invoke NEPA

Image: Scout Environmental

I have made several comments recently about situations that should not trigger NEPA procedures because they do not have adverse effects on the physical environment.  I became interested in this topic in 1986 when I noticed that development interests were arguing that forest plans adversely affected “community stability” (a euphemism for social and economic impacts), and this was being addressed as an “environmental” impact in NEPA documents.  Given that the goal of NEPA was better environmental protection, I could see how inferring that social and economic impacts of protecting the environment must be addressed through a NEPA process could lead to less environmental protection.

As an example of that actually happening, let’s talk about the proposal to conserve 30% of the nation’s lands (America the Beautiful/30 x 30).

Property rights advocate Margaret Byfield’s strategy for defeating the Biden administration’s aggressive conservation pledge comes with a twist: She wants landowners to embrace the nation’s bedrock environmental law.

Byfield, the executive director of American Stewards of Liberty — and daughter of the late E. Wayne Hage, an icon of the Sagebrush Rebellion II movement — sees the National Environmental Policy Act as a cudgel in her campaign to upend the “America the Beautiful” program.

But Byfield emphasized Friday that the strategy must also embrace NEPA, arguing the Biden administration has skirted its responsibility to execute “a programmatic” environmental review of its “America the Beautiful” plan.

“This is the environmentalists’ great law that they use as a weapon against productive agriculture and actually any kind of project,” Byfield said. “They use it to slow down and stop projects, they use it as a weapon.”

Byfield asserted that the Biden administration has skirted NEPA by moving forward without an environmental review.

“They also know if they do NEPA right, it’s going to take them three, maybe six, maybe nine, maybe 10 years to complete the study the way they make us do it. So why aren’t they living under the same laws they force us to follow?” she asked.

The obvious reason is that NEPA was not passed by Congress to protect “agriculture and actually any kind of project.”  The ASL seeks to turn NEPA on its head.  The interesting thing is that the Center for Biological Diversity did not mention this, instead stating that the President and executive orders are exempt from NEPA, and actually inferred that the future site-specific conservation actions could require NEPA procedures.

The law regarding application of NEPA to non-environmental consequences of environmental protection measures is less clear than it should be.  The Supreme Court framed this question in Metropolitan Edison Co. v. People Against Nuclear Energy in 1983

But we think the context of the statute shows that Congress was talking about the physical environment — the world around us, so to speak. NEPA was designed to promote human welfare by alerting governmental actors to the effect of their proposed actions on the physical environment.

But, here’s a confusing discussion by the Ninth Circuit in the 2000 case of Kootenai Tribe of Idaho v. Veneman, which challenged the procedures used to adopt the Forest Service’s Roadless Area Conservation Act (the “Roadless Rule”).  (Other plaintiffs in this case were Boise Cascade Corporation, motorized recreation groups, livestock companies, and two Idaho counties.)  The Forest Service did not appeal the district court’s injunction of the Roadless Rule, but an appeal was filed by environmental intervenors, who argued that the Rule did not alter the natural physical environment and require an EIS under NEPA.

Under NEPA, a federal agency is required to prepare an EIS for all “major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(C) (emphasis added). “Human environment,” in turn, is defined in NEPA’s implementing regulations as “the natural and physical environment and the relationship of people with that environment.” 40 C.F.R. § 1508.14. See also Wetlands, 222 F.3d at 1105. The dispositive issue here is whether the Roadless Rule sufficiently affected the quality of the human environment to trigger the procedural requirements of NEPA.

We have explained that NEPA procedures do not apply to federal actions that maintain the environmental status quo. See Burbank Anti-Noise Group v. Goldschmidt, 623 F.2d 115, 116-17 (9th Cir.1981) (NEPA does not apply when an agency financed the purchase of an airport already built); Nat’l Wildlife Fed’n v. Espy, 45 F.3d 1337, 1343-1344 (9th Cir. 1995) (NEPA does not apply when agency transferred title to wetlands already used for grazing); Bicycle Trails Council of Marin v. Babbitt, 82 F.3d 1445, 1446 (9th Cir.1996) (closure of bicycle trails does not trigger EIS). In other words, “an EIS is not required in order to leave nature alone.” Douglas County, 48 F.3d at 1505 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The touchstone of the EIS requirement is whether the change in the status quo is “effected by humans.” Id. at 1506.

Because human intervention, in the form of forest management, has been part of the fabric of our national forests for so long, we conclude that, in the context of this unusual case, the reduction in human intervention that would result from the Roadless Rule actually does alter the environmental status quo.

This perverse rationale (for this “unusual” case) has no citations, and I think it is only justified by a desire to decide the case on the merits of the EIS (which it upheld) rather than on a procedural question.  Moreover, it ignores the additional requirement that the environmental status quo must be adversely affected (the term “adverse” is used many times in the CEQ NEPA regulations).  Here is a 2012 paper on “beneficial effects” under NEPA.  Its conclusion echoes my concern from 35 years ago (which has become a reality).

Third, the policies underlying NEPA are in tension with a Beneficial Impact EIS requirement. Such a requirement would produce unnecessary cost and delay for environmentally beneficial projects and create perverse incentives for federal agencies without any compensating informational benefits.

Agencies that are using NEPA to justify delaying environmental protection are probably not violating the words of NEPA, but clearly violate its spirit.  Moreover, anti-environmental plaintiffs should not be able use the courts to facilitate this violation.

Permanentizing Roadless? House Bill 279

I’m working on getting a subscription to Bloomberg Law for TSW so all I could get was this snippet.

Permanent roadless area protection is vital to preserving drinking water supplies, cutting wildfire risk, and saving Alaska’s oldest forests, Democrats said during a House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on Wednesday.

Debate centered on a bill (H.R. 279) that would codify an existing US Forest Service rule prohibiting road building across swaths of national forests nationwide—Democrats’ backlash to a Trump administration decision to lift roadless protections in Alaska. That decisions allowed logging or development across 9.3 million acres of southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.

Perhaps someone could post the rest of the story?  I happen to have spent a great deal of time working on Roadless  here in Colorado, and my experience tells me that the relationship between cutting wildfire risk and roadless is fairly complex.    In fact, that’s why after years of laborious work and public involvement, the Colorado Rule deals specifically with hazardous fuel treatments (because, yes, roadless areas can be close to communities and occur in wildfire-prone areas).  From the Key Elements summary of the final Rule allowed temp roads and specified that hazardous fuel treatments were allowed (otherwise you had to argue about uncharacteristic-ness):

Community Wildfire Protection
Provides for hazardous fuel treatment by allowing tree cutting and temporary road construction in a defined area of ½ mile from the boundary of an at-risk community, called a community protection zone (CPZ) in the final Rule.

If specific ground conditions are met, and a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) is in place, that boundary may be extended to 1 ½ miles, but temporary roads are prohibited in this additional mile.

Now the Colorado Roadless Rule was signed under the administrations of Governor Hickenlooper (of Colorado, currently Senator) and President Obama.  So it’s interesting that current House Dems would say that codifying the 2001 Rule is vital to “cutting wildfire risk.”  It may sound plausible but it’s not actually true.

Yes, perhaps the bill is performative virtue-signalling to certain groups and will never get anywhere, but I think it’s important to query the ideas behind it and the marketing thereof.

 

USFS: 2.87 billion BF in 2021

From an article in Timber Harvesting magazine….

U.S. Forest Service reported it sold 2.87 billion BF of timber sales (compared to the agency target of 4 billion BF) in fiscal 2021, a decrease from 3.2 billion BF in FY 2020, according to the agency’s Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Justification document. The sold volume was valued at $197 million.

The decrease in sales was primarily due to limited staff capacity and no-bid sales, according to the agency, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic limited the mobility of timber crews, and field work continued to be difficult to accomplish due to the large fire activity across the Western U.S. Many employees that usually work to prepare timber sales were assigned to wildfire suppression and support. Recovery efforts after large fires, including stabilization work and hazard tree removal, necessitated the involvement of the staff who would typically work on preparing and administering timber sales, the agency stated.