What the FS Should Do To Manage the Flood of Bucks re: Wildfire Resilience: Convened by Aspen Institute and TNC

 

Rumor has it that Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack and Chief Moore will make an announcement about the 10 year plan next Tuesday.  Meanwhile, the Aspen Institute and TNC convened a set of folks (would it be overreaching to say “many of the usual suspects”? you decide, guest list here).

Here’s a link to the report.

Earlier we received some inklings about the work of the WRRIT from Chief Moore at the SAF Convention as described in this “premonitions” post..  Here’s what the Aspen/TNC report says.

In September 2021, the Forest Service established an internal Wildfire Risk Reduction Infrastructure Team (WRRIT) to develop a ten-year strategic implementation plan to address wildfire resilience across the U.S.
WRRIT is working to:
1) clearly understand the funding and legislative requirements (including congressional direction), and how to prioritize hazardous fuels, prescribed fire, and workforce development projects;
2) identify the internal needs to operationalize the incoming surges in funds, specifically related to capacity, internal policy, infrastructure, technology, and business practices, among others;
3) develop strategic plans and designs to address wildfire resilience at scale while providing flexibility for geographic differences; and
4) socialize and communicate the science and scenario planning, as well as how to engage with employees, partners, and others to get their input and communicate the need for action.

I’m for any team who has an objective of socializing, but I’m not sure that we mean the same thing by the term..

As we talked about before, a key difficulty with national prioritization has been pushback from those who would receive less. Pluse there’s already many different prioritization processes in place.. for example Colorado has its own risk mapping to focus mitigation priorities. Here’s what this group had to say:

Forest Service leadership explained that firesheds will be a major component of the initial prioritization process, yet many participants expressed concern about using the fireshed model as the base map or as the only prioritization tool. For instance, congressional constraints may not align perfectly with fireshed model parameters. In addition, many states are neither familiar with nor using the “firesheds” concept and few have adopted the prioritization tool as part of their State Forest Action Plans. Workshop participants suggested that location in critical firesheds could be a criteria and a preference, but perhaps should not be a definitive requirement. Instead, participants offered that there could be multiple screens used to identify priority locations, and the agency should find ways to move between and sequence screens based on context. Additional prioritization screens could include watersheds and collaborative planning (e.g., Community Wildfire Protection Plans, shared stewardship agreements, forest action plans).

Equity Considerations
Advancing greater equity will also likely play into the criteria for selecting priority landscapes. For example, starting with projects that have collaborative history might make sense, but those are often places with a history of investment and an active partner environment (e.g., universities, NGOs, and other active stakeholders). Focusing solely on these high-capacity areas, despite being high risk, can leave behind certain places and communities, including those that have been historically underserved. Participants agreed that there must be a balance between projects that are ready to go (in places that have capacity, created by the existing system) and investments in those places that could benefit from increased capacity and outcomes. If criteria and prioritization screens do not explicitly include equity considerations, the need for expediency will likely lead to investment in the usual places, projects, and groups, and not result in the needed paradigm shift.

There has definitely been a sense of “them that has, gets” in terms of CFLRPs and other funding sources. However, it might be desirable to define more clearly what we mean by “underserved.” Ideally it would be desirable to bring each area up to “CFLRP level” in terms of interested universities, partners and so on. It might take other colors of dollars to support that capacity. In fact, building the underserved to CFLRP-like capacity would be a useful exercise far beyond wildfire resilience IMHO.

One way to plan for fuel management and fire response is to use Potential Operation Delineations (PODs). PODs are fire management planning units that are defined by boundaries like roads and ridge tops, within which risks can be quantified. While there is significant funding targeted for POD adoption, it is not yet a widely known practice. The agency is making strong investments into the development of PODs and those will likely have to be brought into the agency’s work in years 1-2.
Implementing the surge in funding will likely require recognizing local context and variation and PODs could be a way to increase the application of prescribed fire and sustaining investments

This group seems to like PODS, but hasn’t gone as far as I’ve suggested-  to put a time-out to NFMA planning and work on PODs and fire planning for each western forest until they are all designated and NEPAed.

There were apparently no techie people at this conference, so perhaps that’s the reason for this rather gloomy observation..

Industry can play the role of removing material off the forest and utilizing products in innovative ways. However, too often the material is of low or no value. Participants noted that industry capacity takes time to build, and supply may need to be guaranteed. However, there needs to be more discussion about how to remove material that simply has no value and the investment needed to remove that material as a service rather than for profit.

Paying to remove it to me doesn’t really help to solve the problem of what to do with it. I think everyone agrees burning it in piles is suboptimal for climate. Then it’s a complicated question of how to use it in such a way as to reduce costs to the taxpayer, keep it out of the atmosphere, and make a profit if possible. Maybe that’s the next workshop…

Then there’s some of the usual partnership/EADM observations.. including the idea of a “partnership modernization effort” like the recent forest products modernization effort.

Complex Processes
Navigating the agency’s contracting system can be difficult. Contract administration, compliance, recordkeeping, reporting, accounting, and liability insurance are hard for potential partners, especially those with limited capacity. Some partners shared that it can be hard to advance local innovative approaches that end up getting stalled as they run through layers of bureaucracy. Other complex processes raised included wildfire liability insurance, cancellation and termination clauses in stewardship contracts, and reimbursements instead of upfront funding. Agency standards (e.g., multi-party stewardship agreements, revisions to template arrangements) and national level approval processes should be nimbler.

Personnel Transition Management
Inconsistent personnel can pose an additional challenge for partners. Detailees and personnel lost to fire assignments represent barriers to relationship building. Partnerships rely on building trusting relationships, which can be challenging when Forest Service employees move frequently.
As surges in funding materialize, participants agreed that the agency needs to assess its internal policies and systems to see where it can reduce hurdles to partnerships. There may be a need for partner liaisons — which could be inside or outside the agency — to help navigate partnership challenges. More broadly, the agency may need to pursue a partnership modernization effort, like the recent forest products modernization effort.

I’m a fan of Forest Products Modernization.  To me it’s partially an internal exchange of neat ideas and projects among FS people,  but it’s hard to develop a picture (from the outside) of changes to procedures and removing barriers.. maybe an annual summary of those kinds of changes would be helpful? Maybe they are there, but I haven’t seen them.

Anyway, if you’re interested, take a look at the recommendations and see if you find any surprising, or support or take issue with any.

Five wildfire recovery strategies for the Sierra Nevada

Five wildfire recovery strategies for the Sierra Nevada” is from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, a California state agency “that leads California’s efforts to restore and enhance the extraordinary natural resources and communities of the Sierra Nevada while protecting them from wildfire and a changing climate.” Its board of directors “is made up of state-appointed officials, local county supervisors, and federal land management representatives who provide strategic direction to our projects and programs.”

These 5 strategies might work well elsewhere in the western US:

1. Landscape-scale forest restoration
2. Water supply protection
3. Strategic reforestation
4. Rapid expansion of wood-utilization infrastructure
5. Support for community-led initiatives

 

 

Large Carnivore Reintroductions and Environmental Justice: Alex McInturff’s Research

 

 

 

Thanks to Som sai for this link of interest.. I do think that environmental justice or even plain old social justice has been somewhat overlooked with regard to many issues.   We need to think about it with regard to all the issues we face.  It seems to me that it’s like so many things in our world… there’s an abstraction.. biodiversity, climate change, environmental justice, social justice; but for some reason our thinking about them gets channelized (a thinking ditch) when if we arrayed all the choices, they would be more like a braided stream, multi-threaded and dynamic.

What unique challenges do large carnivore reintroductions pose that environmental justice can help address?

Large carnivores are a unique set of species for a lot of different reasons. They are involved in just about every kind of human-animal conflict you can imagine, so we thought they were a challenging but important place to start. Some of these challenges: People who make decisions about carnivore reintroductions sometimes don’t live near the places where the recovery efforts — and potential related animal-human conflicts — are occurring. Large carnivores themselves are wide-ranging and highly mobile. One animal’s erratic behavior can impact people’s view of the entire species. So, the challenges and the opportunities go hand in hand, and that makes this difficult, but also important, to tackle.

In the paper, you describe four components of environmental justice that are important to consider in conservation projects. Can you explain those in the context of large carnivore reintroductions? 

  • Distribution considers who is actually being harmed materially and who is benefiting
  • Participation asks who has a seat at the decision-making table
  • Recognition asks whose worldview is being recognized in the terms of the debate or in the discussion itself
  • And finally, affective (or emotional) justice considers how we appropriately account for people’s emotions — fear, anger, happiness, for example — toward the reintroduction of certain species

On this last point: On one hand, we should take emotions really seriously — fear can be life-changing and is very important to understand as a harm in and of itself. And at the same time, emotions can be difficult to estimate, and they can reorient power dynamics. In the case of large carnivores, we’ve often seen people who are not vulnerable or marginalized use emotions like fear to make themselves into victims. They wind up having an even bigger voice in the decision-making process than they might have had before.

So how can we use this environmental justice framework going forward in these reintroduction efforts?

Through a justice lens, we can ask questions about who is making decisions, and whether they are people who are in power, or people who are already marginalized. We can try to measure the ways in which material harm has been inflicted on different groups of people, or the ways in which impacts are unequally distributed. Social science, or humanistic, considerations tell us a bit about the bigger picture: What are the worldviews involved, how might those limit or enable discussions that weren’t possible before, and how are people’s emotional experiences shaping these conversations and the possible outcomes?

The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park happened in 1995 and has been hugely divisive ever since. People have spent millions of dollars trying to address the problems that arose. But, in fact, it might be that a different kind of framing — one around justice — could offer an important new step toward addressing these problems.

This isn’t something folks love to hear, but I think the truth is, if you expect a framework like this to give you a single, perfect answer to solve problems, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Large carnivore reintroductions include a complicated and challenging set of circumstances, so having a process in place is really important, especially one that’s informed by a good understanding of justice.

What’s next with this work?

Our goal is to walk through this framework using a possible California grizzly bear reintroduction as a case study to lay out what it would actually look like to do this while thinking about environmental justice from the very beginning.

Another option would be to study the Colorado reintroduction of wolves. Certainly it started not very well from an ej (environmental justice) .. decision made by a state-wide initiative vote and won by Coloradans who don’t live in the country of reintroduction.   Arguably it would be interesting to  begin to consider ej at this point.

Jerry Perez is New Director of Fire and Aviation Management for the Forest Service

Jerry Perez, new USFS National Director of Fire and Aviation Management. USFS photo.

Perhaps it will be of interest to TSW readers with a legal background that Jerry has a law degree, as well as having been the National Litigation Coordinator for the Forest Service.

Also that he has BLM experience as a State Director.  While I think it’s useful for anyone to have experience in both multiple use agencies,  I think it’s particularly important when Fire is run as an interagency effort.

“I welcome Jerry’s 32 years of experience and expertise as he leads our outstanding firefighters and guides the fire and aviation program to meet the challenge of preventing and managing wildfires,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. “He steps into this position as the agency focuses on significantly increasing the pace and scale of hazardous fuels treatments focused in areas that have the highest risks of wildfires and threats to vital infrastructure.”

Here’s a link to his bio. Jerry has over 32 years of federal service across the country in varying roles (and Chief Moore has (43!).
It’s hard to worry about the future of the Forest Service when it’s in such capable hands. If they make mistakes.. it won’t be through lack of experience.

Congratulations, Jerry!

NY Times: Forest management helped slow Bootleg Fire

In the NY Times on January 5 (I’m a subscriber). Excerpt:

When the Bootleg fire tore through a nature reserve in Oregon this summer, the destruction varied in different areas. Researchers say forest management methods, including controlled burns, were a big factor.

The Bootleg fire scorched some parts of the Sycan Marsh Preserve, left, while other areas that had been managed by foresters were spared the worst effects of the fire. Credit…Chona Kasinger for The New York Times

 

SILVER LAKE, Ore. — When a monster of a wildfire whipped into the Sycan Marsh Preserve here in south-central Oregon in July, Katie Sauerbrey feared the worst.

Ms. Sauerbrey, a fire manager for The Nature Conservancy, the conservation group that owns the 30,000-acre preserve, was in charge of a crew helping to fight the blaze — the Bootleg fire, one of the largest in a summer of extreme heat and dryness in the West — and protect a research station on the property.

Watching the fire, which had already rapidly burned through thousands of acres of adjacent national forest, she saw a shocking sight: Flames 200 feet high were coming over a nearby ridge. “I said, OK, there’s nothing we can do,” she recalled.

But as the fire got closer, it changed dramatically, Ms. Sauerbrey said. “It had gone from the most extreme fire behavior I had ever seen in my career to seeing four-foot flame lengths moving through the stand.” While the fire kept burning through the forest, its lower intensity spared many trees, and the station survived.

Firefighters describe this kind of change in behavior as a fire “dropping down,” shifting from one with intense flames that spread quickly from tree crown to tree crown to a lower-level burn that is less dangerous. There are various reasons this can happen, including localized changes in winds, moisture, tree types and topography.

But for Ms. Sauerbrey and her colleagues with The Nature Conservancy, what she witnessed was most likely a real-life example of what they and others have been studying for years: how thinning of trees in overgrown forests, combined with prescribed, or controlled, burns of accumulated dead vegetation on the forest floor, can help achieve the goal of reducing the intensity of wildfires by removing much of the fuel that feeds them.

The “Grizzlies and Us” Series

Here’s a really interesting series in the Missoulian. It’s it’s a 10- part series comprised of more than 20 stories. Lots of stories and they seem to be visible to those without a Missoulian subscription (thank you, Missoulian! and Lee Enterprises!)

I picked this one as the bikes/grizzlies issue seems to be of interest to TSW readers, but there are many others.. feel free to discuss any.  Here’s one about livestock guardian dogs and technology protecting sheep, and the work of ranchers and the group People and Carnivores.

Grizzlies are expanding their range.. how are people getting along with them?

US Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Wayne Kasworm had just replaced Servheen as interim leader of the grizzly recovery effort. Treat’s death crystallized one of his top tasks: Getting people to agree on how much safety they all must give up to coexist with bears.

“They’re wild animals, and we are not controlling them,” Kasworm said. “What we attempt to do is provide information so people can make reasoned judgments about what is safe activity or not safe activity. We’re trying to get some conversation going, to get people thinking about what is going on out there in the woods.”

To deal with objective dangers in the outdoors, people already self-limit their recreation in many ways. Boaters avoid rivers during spring runoff, or accept the consequences of lost gear, wrecked boats, and possible death. Golfers voluntarily leave the links when a thunderstorm brings lightning over their metal clubs and spiked shoes. Snowmobilers and backcountry skiers check avalanche forecasts and weigh the risks of the day’s adventure.

“We’re trying to get folks to recognize and take on responsibility for their own safety when they walk into known grizzly bear habitat, when grizzly bear habitat is taking over more and more of Montana,” Kasworm told me. “When a bear results in a human safety issue, or it’s killing livestock repeatedly, we remove the bear. But if you’re tooling around on your mountain bike and you bump into the bear and you’re scared, that’s not necessarily a reason to remove the bear.”

Is it a reason to remove the bikes? And what about everything else humans like to do in bear country? Whose interests rule?

Three years to the day after Treat’s death, Flathead National Forest Supervisor Chip Weber declared his disagreement with Servheen’s report. New controversy had arisen over a commercial ultramarathon and a backcountry bike shuttle service in the national forest land around Whitefish, Montana, about twenty miles from Coram.

“I want to start by strongly repudiating the notion that as an agency, we ought not promote, foster or permit activities because engagement in those activities presents risk to the participants,” Weber told the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s summer 2019 gathering in Missoula. “The issues around this are much broader than trail use, and grizzly bears and both people and wildlife may suffer if the discussion isn’t expanded.”

As to Board of Review report, Weber told me he had great personal respect for Servheen but “his (Servheen’s) focus is grizzly bear recovery and solely grizzly bear recovery. Mine is serving the American public and the needs they want in the context of many wildlife species and an overall conservation mission that’s very, very broad.”

Individual sporting events like the Whitefish ultramarathon have such minimal impact on grizzly bears, Weber said, they fall under a categorical exclusion from in-depth environmental review. At the same time, those events endear increasing numbers of people to their public lands as the number of users grows year after year.

“There’s a broad public out there with needs to be served and not just the needs of the few,” Weber said. “We think that greater good for the greatest number will be served. That fosters connectivity with wildlands and a united group of people that can support conservation. And the best conservation for bears is served by figuring out how to have these human activities in ways that are as safe as they can be, understanding you can never make anything perfectly safe.”

Upcoming public lands regulatory actions

On December 10, 2021, the Biden Administration released the Fall 2021 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, which is a semi-annual compilation of information concerning regulations and policy under development by federal agencies.  I’ve pulled out the Forest Service and BLM entries below.

This link was provided in this blog post focused primarily on the Endangered Species Act and “the regulated community” (and on undoing Trump administration regulatory changes).  The one individual species proposal that may affect (eastern) national forests concerns the northern long-eared bat, and possible critical habitat designation (it is currently listed as threatened).  It also notes proposed rules by the Council on Environmental Quality revising National Environmental Policy Act implementing regulations (targeting climate change).

USDA/FS Proposed Rule Stage Special Uses–Cost Recovery 0596-AD35
USDA/FS Proposed Rule Stage Communications Uses–Programmatic Administrative Fee 0596-AD44
USDA/FS Proposed Rule Stage Law Enforcement; Orders; Enforcement of Public Health and Safety Measures 0596-AD50
USDA/FS Proposed Rule Stage Alaska Roadless Rule Revision 0596-AD51
USDA/FS Proposed Rule Stage Chattooga Wild and Scenic River 0596-AD52
USDA/FS Proposed Rule Stage Weeks Act Reviews 0596-AD53
USDA/FS Final Rule Stage Range Management–Excess Use/Unauthorized Use 0596-AD45
DOI/BLM Proposed Rule Stage Rights-of-Way for Communications Including Broadband 1004-AE60
DOI/BLM Proposed Rule Stage Bonding 1004-AE68
DOI/BLM Proposed Rule Stage Rights-of-Way, Leasing and Operations for Renewable Energy and Transmission Lines 1004-AE78
DOI/BLM Proposed Rule Stage Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation 1004-AE79
DOI/BLM Proposed Rule Stage Revision of Existing Regulations Pertaining to Fossil Fuel Leases and Leasing Process 43 CFR Parts 3100 and 3400 1004-AE80
DOI/BLM Proposed Rule Stage Part 4100-Grazing Administration-Exclusive of Alaska 1004-AE82
DOI/BLM Proposed Rule Stage Regulations for the Protection, Management, and Control of Wild Horses and Burros 1004-AE83
DOI/BLM Proposed Rule Stage Regulations Pertaining to Leasing and Operations for Geothermal 1004-AE84
DOI/BLM Final Rule Stage Minerals Management: Adjustment of Cost Recovery Fees 1004-AE81
DOI/BLM Final Rule Stage Onshore Oil and Gas Operations-Annual Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustments 1004-AE85

Practice of Science Friday: Mind the Model/Adaptation Gap

Scientist Neil Carter of Michigan State University sets a motion-activated camera with a colleague in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park. Tigers in southern Nepal appear to be changing their habits so they can operate under cover of darkness and avoid coming into contact with humans, scientists said.

There seems to be a disciplinary adaptation gap between some climate scientists and “biodiversity” scientists on the one hand, and the disciplines involved in adaptation…fire science, plants, wildlife biologists and so on, on the other hand.  One of the gaps is that organisms adapt.  Critters and plants adapt, human beings adapt and we jointly adapt to each other.

There is the traditional genetic form of adaptation within species, and there are all kinds of adaptations beyond classical genetics.. behavioral, cultural, epigenetic.  And since these adaptations can’t be modeled (since most of them are unknown) to climate and biodiversity modelers, they don’t exist.  And yet.. in real life, and to certain disciplines, they do exist and are important.

Not to speak of humans.. so we have gaps like reading about crop improvement via new techniques like CRISPR, while at the same time climate modelers are predicting wheat yields in 2070.  GAP! Yet among science institutions, it doesn’t seem to be anyone’s job to notice gaps and attempt to fill them.  I think because while the CRISPR people would easily say “hey we have no clue what’s going to happen by then”, climate scientists seem to spend a great deal of time making predictions and mostly get published if the outcomes are bad… seemingly completely regardless of any characterization of the many uncertainties at the level the CRISPR people and farmers deal with.

Here’s an example of the kind of study I’m talking about..with regard to biodiversity predictions:

A new study by University of Arizona researchers presents detailed estimates of global extinction from climate change by 2070. By combining information on recent extinctions from climate change, rates of species movement and different projections of future climate, they estimate that one in three species of plants and animals may face extinction.

So here are a few papers that talk about wildlife adaptation:

First, mammals are becoming more active at night to avoid us. Here’s a link to an article by Michael Page, and here’s a link to the Science study.

Gaynor and her colleagues noticed animals were becoming more active at night to avoid human disturbances. They have now done a meta-analysis of 76 studies of 62 mammals all around the world. Almost all are shifting to the night to avoid us…
On the other hand, the shift is helping animals survive alongside humans. In Chitwan in Nepal, lots of tigers are able to live near people by being more active at night.

In this sense, the shift to the night may be good. “It’s a way to share space on an increasingly crowded planet,” says Gaynor. “We take the day and they take the night.” Thanks to their nocturnal ancestors, many mammals still have plenty of the characteristics needed to be more active at night, she says. And they are likely to be evolving to be even better at it.

“I would expect that this is an incredibly strong selective force,” says Kate Jones of University College London, who has shown that mammals only became active during the daytime after dinosaurs vanished.

Second, we’re finding out that habitats where critters are currently found might not be the only ones they can live in, maybe not even their preferred. This is in New Scientist by Isabelle Groc. Hopefully, there isn’t a paywall, it’s from 2018.

The story of California’s sea otters is not a one-off. Earlier this year, Silliman and his colleagues revealed a wider trend in a paper aptly titled “Are the ghosts of nature’s past haunting ecology today?“. As a result of conservation efforts, a variety of predators are reappearing in ecosystems they were pushed out of by hunting and development. “It is an exciting time for ecologists,” says Carswell, “because these species are coming back to these ecosystems from which they have been absent for many human generations and they are putting their house back in order.”

Mountain lions are another example. Unsurprisingly, we tend to associate them with mountains. But historical records show that in Patagonia they once lived in open grasslands. As sheep farming became established in South America, they were persecuted – along with their prey, a kind of llama called a guanaco. As a result, mountain lions survived only in the remote Andes away from humans. But in the past 20 years, sheep ranching has declined. “We started to see a change,” says Mark Elbroch from conservation society Panthera. “The mountain lions that had been removed from the open grassland began to come back out of the mountains at the same time as the guanaco was beginning to move back into the grassland.”

Third, critters are moving to places where they didn’t formerly live as far as we know. In this case, apparently without direct human assistance. This story is from Wudan Yan in High Country News (also 2018)

Otters were once unheard of in the Beartooths. In fact, there’s no evidence they’re native to this high alpine environment at all; their arrival appears to be part of the sweeping changes humans have brought to the plateau. In the 1960s, zoologists Donald Pattie and Nicolaas Verbeek spent years surveying the various mammals found in the Beartooths. They found creatures as small as dwarf shrews and as large as grizzly bears and mountain goats, but no otters. Continued but sporadic surveys done by field technicians and researchers at the Yellowstone Ecological Research Center in the 1990s yielded no sign of river otters, either. But for the last decade or so, there have been a few anecdotal reports from Cross, his colleagues, and some of the locals who frequent the plateau.

This of course raises philosophical issues as on this Yellowstone Ecological Research Center website

Are they “invasive species” in this alpine environment, impacting native carnivores like red foxes and American martens, or adaptive survivors seeking a climate refugium (not to mention food bonanza) at higher elevations?

I’m not suggesting we blow through wildlife habitat and ignore their needs. But when we hear predictions about the future, especially the distant future, even by scientists, I think we need to acknowledge that no one actually knows what will happen. And the people working at the interface of people and wildlife are actually the most knowledgeable about them, and how to work toward our continuing coexistence.

American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas

Just received this from the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University:

NESP members may be interested in this call for comments on developing environmental policy.
The Department of the Interior, on behalf of an interagency working group co-led with the Council on Environmental Quality, Department of Agriculture, and Department of Commerce through National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is soliciting comments to inform how the American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas (Atlas) can best serve as a useful tool for the public and how it should reflect a continuum of conservation actions in the America the Beautiful initiative, recognizing that many uses of lands and waters can be consistent with the long-term health of natural systems and contribute to addressing climate change and environmental injustices. The input received will be used to develop the Atlas.
DATES:
Interested persons are invited to submit comments by 11:59 p.m. on March 7, 2022.
The interagency group will host virtual public listening sessions at the dates and times below.
  • Thursday, January 13, 2022, 2:00–3:30 p.m. ET
  • Wednesday, January 19, 2022, 6:00–7:30 p.m. ET
  • Friday, January 21, 2022, 11:00 a.m.–12:30 p.m. ET
Specific details will be posted on the Department of the Interior’s America the Beautiful web page on January 4, 2022. Listening sessions may end before the time noted above if all those participating have completed their oral comments.
To submit comments:
Comments must be submitted through https://www.regulations.gov and will be available for public viewing and inspection. In the Search box, enter the docket number presented above in the document headings. For best results, do not copy and paste the number; instead, type the docket number into the Search box using hyphens. Then, click on the Search button. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment.”

 

 

 

Corner Crossing Lawsuit in Wyoming: Wyofile Story

A photograph purporting to show the corner in question. (GoFundMe) via Wyofile

Another good story by Angus Thuermer of Wyofile.
Here’s the issue.

The conflict grows out of the Western checkerboard land-ownership pattern set during the territorial settlement and railroad building days of the 1800s. At issue in Wyoming is whether hunters and others are trespassing if they step from one parcel of public land to another over a four-corner intersection with two private parcels — without touching private land.

In Wyoming 404,000 public acres are “landlocked” by the checkerboard pattern under any convention that views corner crossing as illegal. Many say the issue remains unsettled with no Wyoming statute explicitly addressing corner crossing.

But if the issue turns on federal law or is settled in a federal court, a decision could impact almost 1.6 million acres when also counting Utah, Idaho, Montana, Colorado and New Mexico, according to an assessment by the Center for Western Priorities.

The citations spurred the nonprofit Wyoming Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and others to launch a GoFundMe campaign to pay legal fees, assembling 1,400 supporters who have donated $63,265 to the legal fight.

“These four hunters took every precaution to make certain private land was not touched,” the GoFundMe page, launched on Nov. 19, states. “We believe this act does not violate law or cause any negative impacts to private landowners and their use of their property.”

Here’s the map in the story for those of you not familiar with checkerboards:

And some of the legal context:

“We see the corner crossing as a violation of private property rights,” Magagna said. Property owners have “a certain amount of space above the land,” that makes it physically impossible to corner-cross without violating that space, he said.

Even though there may be no physical damage, “it’s still a violation,” he said.

But Squillace said the defendants may find protection in the federal Unlawful Inclosure of Public Lands Act of 1885. That law, in short, prohibits fencing on private property from obstructing “any person” from peaceably entering public land. Penalties for a violation can reach $1,000 and a maximum of one year imprisonment.

Private property or public access

Attorneys can argue different interpretations of the UIA, but Squillace said “it absolutely applies,” to the corner crossing case. Blocking public access is a “clear violation of the Unlawful Inclosure Act.”

“The whole point,” he said, “is that you can’t prevent the public’s access to public lands.”

Further, if the photograph in question is an accurate depiction of the corner, “I think what the ranchers have done here should be stopped,” he said. “They should not be allowed to fence off public land.”

Magagna said the UIA does not apply to corner crossing. “I don’t see that’s a relevant issue,” he said, “because fencing your private land is not under that unlawful enclosure of public land.”

Both sides can point to precedents in Wyoming. Magagna references Leo Sheep Co. v. the United States, in which the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the BLM did not have a right to a corner-crossing road.

Although the Leo case was about a road, “our position is the principle is the same,” Magagna said. “The physical damage would be different, but the principle would be the same.”

Squillace references the Taylor Lawrence case of the late 1980s, in which the Wyoming rancher built a 28-mile-long fence across checkerboard corners that kept pronghorn antelope from migrating to winter habitat near the Red Desert. Courts decided the UIA applied to the fence and that it was illegal.”