Collaboration and Fire Impacts in Northern Arizona- from Derek Weidensee

Derek wrote in to say:

Just wanted to share a couple links to a couple news stories in today’s “Arizona Daily” in Flagstaff AZ. The first is a flood resulting from the Schultz fire of a couple weeks ago. The second is an OP-ED by a member of the Greater Flagstaff forest partnership voicing his frustration at the lack of “collaboration” between moderate enviros (GFFP) and more radical enviros at the Center for Biological Diversity. The CBD appealed and stalled a collaborative effort between the GFFP and the USFS to thin 12,000 acres that covered the Schultz fire. It doesn’t have much to do with planning-but it does have a lot to do with the frustrations of collaborative planning. And I think its represents a schism that is developing, and may develop much more in the future, between moderate greens and radical greens.

19 thoughts on “Collaboration and Fire Impacts in Northern Arizona- from Derek Weidensee”

  1. The following came from the “comments” section of the Arizona Daily regarding the op-ed piece from the GFFP. In the next decade, you’re gonna be reading a lot of similar comments in newspapers from Arizona to Missoula.

    “It’s not a liberal/conservative issue. Many of my “liberal” friends are taking a hard 2nd look at CBD and consequences of their misguided political agenda.

    There’s a big difference between finger pointing and demanding accountability from NGOs whose legal challenges continue to derail sound forest restoration and management. As Mr. Wheeler noted, it’s time for CBD et al. to set aside the “timber war” mentality and support what’s right for our forest ecosystems and local communities”.

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  2. More and more, we are seeing battles between the “preservationists”, who specialize in idealitigious dogma drama, and the “conservationists”, who are seeing their forests die, rot and burn right before their eyes. As rural states (and some more populated ones, too) have to spend more and more scant local tax dollars on wildfires that roar off of Federal lands, I could definitely envision states banding together in a rebellion to “fix” Federal forests. I could also envision some states denying mutual aid to fight fires far from Federal property lines.

    Many preservationists have decided that collaboration and consensus always leads to compromise, and they seem to be severely averse to any kind of compromise, preferring to get court-ordered compromises more to their liking (and the profits that come along with it!)

    Until it becomes less profitable for the non-profits to litigate, they will continue to not be satisfied with every detail of every timber sale/restoration project. The Forest Service is, indeed, a fat and juicy target.

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  3. And logging is worse than wildfire how? It is not that wildfires are bad for the ecosystem. It is that if nature can recover from a wildfire, it sure can recover from logging.

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  4. There is good logging and there is good wildfire. There is bad logging and bad wildfire. Collaboration never seems to even agree on those basic principles and facts. Impacts from both can last a very long time. It’s pretty amazing how forests have recovered from the worst mankind can do, though. On my first timber sale, the average cut-tree diameter was 47″ dbh. My last timber sale had an average cut-tree diameter of 14″ dbh. Yes, many eco-groups still claim that “logging destroys eco-systems”.

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  5. The following guest opinion is from Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. It does a decent job setting the record straight regarding the Schultz fire, Jim Wheeler’s column and Derek Weidensee’s comments here.

    It’s a shame that this blog is just turning into yet another “blame the enviros” forum (despite the facts) for some people. I’m pretty sure that’s not what Dr. Martin Nie had in mind when he created the thing.

    It’s also kinda ironic that Derek Weidensee (who has posted anonymously as “Logger” on Montana news sites for over a year) is now going after the Center for Biological Diversity, especially considering that all winter long he praised the CBD for their collaborative thinning efforts throughout Arizona. Strange….

    THE ARIZONA DAILY SUN
    Guest opinion

    http://www.azdailysun.com/news/opinion/columnists/article_e58a5ffb-2e7a-562c-9d6a-3a5811a6bcfc.html

    Coconino Voices: Pointing fingers won’t fix forests
    By TAYLOR McKINNON | Tuesday, July 27, 2010

    After decades of working on complex forest issues in Arizona and across the West, we were dismayed to read Jim Wheeler’s divisive column blaming the Center for Biological Diversity for damage caused by the Schultz fire.

    The criticism comes at a particularly difficult time in the Flagstaff community with news earlier this week that a 12-year-old girl died in the floods in that area. We are deeply saddened and join the rest of the community in offering our condolences to her family and to all those who have been impacted by the fire and its floods.

    Civic discourse amidst tragedy requires a measure of care. Our purpose here is to correct Mr. Wheeler’s inaccurate assertions about the Schultz fire and the future we all seek of living safely with fire.

    The thinning originally proposed for the Jack Smith project was not, as Mr. Wheeler asserts, tried and true. The project was instead the trial run for a new Forest Service “implementation guide” for wildlife rules in Arizona and New Mexico national forests. The Forest Service’s regional office forced the guide onto local forests. That guide violated the rules it sought to implement. Such extensive, severe cutting would have been unique among past projects around Flagstaff. Indeed, it was more severe than any projects we’d seen proposed in any national forest in Arizona and New Mexico since the “timber wars” of the 1980s and 1990s. It would have wreaked needless havoc on mature forests that iconic owls and goshawks depend on.

    That’s why the original project didn’t enjoy the unequivocal support that Mr. Wheeler claims it did. Even members of the Greater Flagstaff Forests Partnership, including state and federal agencies, raised the very same concerns to the Forest Service that the Center ultimately brought forth in objection.

    The Forest Service’s own review validated that objection. The project violated the agency’s own rules. They fixed that part of the proposal. Notably, that review also prompted the agency to issue a memo directing national forests in Arizona and New Mexico not to rely on the new guide. There was nothing tried and true about it.

    Mr. Wheeler’s idea that this objection somehow impeded implementation after the Jack Smith project was approved is baseless. The objection came before the approval. The approval wasn’t challenged. The project sat for two years ready to implement and nothing happened — as is currently the case with tens of thousands of other acres in northern Arizona too. Short of public agencies funding that work, this is indeed a market problem. The solution to that problem is not, as Mr. Wheeler suggests, logging big trees to pay for thinning small ones. That approach puts economy before the needs of forests. It removes the big trees that are tomorrow’s old growth in a forest where only 5 percent of the original old growth remains. That’s the wrong approach, and it’s one that’s fallen short.

    The right approach is to attract industry specifically designed to use small trees. This doesn’t preclude removing larger, young trees where site-specific ecological need warrants, but it doesn’t predicate thinning small trees on logging big ones either. The Center has a long track record of success facilitating such industry in other parts of the Southwest and is dedicated to making that happen here.

    We’ve been working to do so in northern Arizona for a few years now. We’ve been engaged with appropriately scaled industry that has investors lined up to permit construction of a small diameter processing facility. And we’re working with others to translate up-front agreement into 2.4 million acres of ecosystem restoration through the Four Forests Restoration Initiative-which should enable correctly-scaled industry investment. Center staff was in Washington D.C. this week for that effort’s first major funding proposal through the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Act.

    Taylor McKinnon is the public lands campaigns director with the Center for Biological Diversity.

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  6. Matt- thanks for this post. This blog is intended to allow discussion among all types of people with all beliefs. However, we do not censor any comments except ones that are excessively snarky or personal. All are welcome to submit posts.

    We are very interested in facts and opinions. People are welcome to critique the Forest Service, industry groups, environmental groups and academia and those groups are welcome to respond. The idea is that we can learn from the debate, as long as it remains civil.

    On that note, could I ask what exactly the issue was with the implementation guide that CBD questioned? I do think it is interesting to know how people think in different parts of the ponderosa pine country, especially in the SW and Rocky Mountain west.

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  7. Shannon, Please let us know what further info you get directly from the Center for Biological Diversity. Thanks.

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  8. It’s good to hear from you again Mathew. We used to debate online. Several times I asked Mathew what he thought of the CBD’s Memorandum of Understanding they signed in 2009 that supported “thinning” 30,000 acres/year on a 2 million acre landbase when his group has opposed logging 7,000 acres/year on a two million acre forested land base on the Beaverhead Deerlodge forest.

    “Changing public values” was a phrase the USFS often used to justify reducing timber harvests. I’ve read a version of the phrase in every revised forest plan put out since the 90’s. Well, public values are changing back again. The MPB epidemic and fear of wildfire is driving the change.

    Another important shift is the public’s attitude towards the so called “radical” environmental groups (for lack of a better phrase). The public doesn’t see them as the underdogs taking on the timber barons anymore. To the contrary, the radical groups are now being perceived as the establishment. How could they not? They won the timber wars. The news is full of appeals and litigation. For all practical purposes the public perceives them as being in charge of USFS timber harvest levels. The CBD is now in the position of defending the new status quo they themselves created. Whether justified or not,in the coming decades, with every wildfire the public won’t be blaming the USFS, they won’t be blaming the loggers, they’ll be blaming the greens. They are now the controlling authority.
    I think the CBD sees the writing on the wall. After all, if there is no market, it is they who destroyed that market. The MOU was in support of a proposed OSB plant in Arizona. I hope I’m wrong, but do you think there’s a banker in the world that will loan 200 million dollars for 20 years to a mill dependent on National Forest timber? The MOU means nothing. Litigation is only a CBD leadership change away. The CBD “appealing” the schultz sale and a similar one a few weeks ago doesn’t reassure any banker does it. So now you have a future cycle of more fires, followed by more public demand to log to mitigate the fire hazard, followed by more public frustration because there’s no infrastructure to do it. Someday, it’ll all be followed by lawmakers guaranteeing the supply by exempting timber sales from NEPA litigation. Oh, it may take 20 years, but it is inevitable.
    P.S. According to USFS “cut and sold” reports, last year the Coconino “thinned” 2800 acres. At that rate it’ll take 50 years to treat 15% of the “forested acreage”. In the five years ending in 2008, the Beaverhead Deerlodge logged an average of 500 acres/year. At that rate it’ll take 50 years to log 1% of the forested acreage!!

    I’m just one man with a twisted spine who sits in the dark. I see no reason why someone would want to muzzle my words.

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  9. Derek: If you want to debate me…fine. But please refrain from making stuff up or glossing over important facts, ok? The fact of the matter is that my group doesn’t simply “oppose logging 7,000 acres/year on a two million acre forested land base on the Beaverhead Deerlodge forest.”

    What my group and dozens of groups around the country (as well as the US Forest Service and the Senate ENR Committee) oppose is the portion of Senator Jon Tester’s bill that has the US Congress (for the first time ever) MANDATE a MINIMUM (no maximum established) of 7,000 acres of logging on the bone-dry BHDL National Forest annually. We not only oppose this mandate, but we are in opposition to the profound budgetary implications that would result from such a mandate. I believe the word the head of the USFS used during the hearing was: “Balkinization.”

    Either you don’t understand the significance of this distinction Derek, or you just intentionally choose to ignore it to try and make your point.

    Also, your statement Derek that “The news is full of appeals and litigation” is again misleading and not backed up by the facts. How many of the USFS’s projects are actually appealed or litigated Derek? Do you have any facts to back up your statement?

    Well, how about this? In March 2010, the General Accounting Office (GAO) – the non-partisan investigative arm of Congress – issued a brand new report titled, “Information on Appeals, Objections, and Litigation Involving Fuel Reduction Activities, Fiscal Years 2006 through 2008.” (http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10337.pdf)

    According to the report, 98% of Forest Service fuel reduction projects (and more than 99% of the acreage) were implemented without any litigation.

    New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman, the Chairman of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who along with House Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall commissioned the GAO report, had this to say about the GAO’s findings:

    “Nationwide, 98 percent of Forest Service decisions approving hazardous fuels reduction projects – covering more than 10 million acres – were implemented without litigation. Just 2 percent – involving 124,000 acres – were taken to court. Administrative appeal rates dropped by 69 percent compared to 2002-2003.”

    Let’s review those numbers again…98% of projects covering 10 million acres went forward without litigation and appeal rates have dropped almost 70% in 8 years…but yeah, Derek, the news is just SO FULL of all these appeals and litigation?

    Finally, it’s also quite telling that Derek failed to respond to any of the facts surrounding the Schultz fire, Jim Wheeler’s misleading and mistake-filled column and CBD’s efforts to set the record straight. Kinda reminds me of the whole situation with blogger Andrew Breitbart and Shirley Sherrod.

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  10. Even judges have been backpedaling, seeing that some “activist judges” have “bet on the wrong horses”. They have gone on record saying that Forest Service scientists SHOULD get more respect and trust than whatever the preservationists are bringing to court.

    I have seen this disparity up close, and personal. Example; I was working on a fire salvage project which Chad Hanson had set his sights on to litigate. Apparently, he hired a few people and they went wandering through the burned forest, sampling tree cambium, to see if trees were still actually viable. Most of the hundreds of trees I saw sampled were completely brown, and the samples were all at about dbh. It would have been funnier if they had actually found live cambium and brought that data to court. Of course, you MUST sample cambium down at ground level to find the most dead cambium. (On a side note, I wonder if ole Chad got the Forest Service to pay for that profoundly failed scientific study from someone who puts the 3 letters of PHD after his name, now. (How can the government continue to use Hanson’s non-peer-reviewed “studies” in testimony?!?)

    I’d bet that the CBD also uses flawed studies and pseudo-science to support their profitable enterprise, extracting cash at the expense of our forests.

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  11. Matt- with regard to the GAO study, we talked about this a bit in this blog before here.
    Certainly from where I sit there are appeals and litigation that can have a negative impact on speed and sometimes a positive impact on quality. But I for sure would not say that our projects are better than R-1 and that’s why we have fewer appeals. It would be interesting to explore possible other reasons, I think.

    Foto.. I think we are all interested in wise management of the national forests. We see things differently for a variety of reasons. Let’s try not to impugn negative motives to anyone (the FS is… the enviros do ….the oil and gas industry is ….) as it generally does not lead to fruitful discussion with the folks who are being stereotyped. We all care about the environment and people and good government and those are values that hold us together. We probably agree on many things; we should try to understand where others are coming from. To do that we need to move beyond the rhetoric and into the specifics.

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  12. Many of us have the same “desired future condition”. The differences are in how we get there and how long it will take. I choose to think that we can cut off hundreds of years off the “restoration” through active management instead of “letting nature take its course”, for centuries. Preservationists never plan for “unplanned ignitions”, and that is where their hands-off approach fails miserably. Yes, we’re past the tipping point with our forests, and what are we going to do about it, Matt?!? Prescribed fire is one of the least-preferred treatments, here in the west. Even those are being appealed, more and more. It sure seems that the Forest Service will continue to bank on using Let-Burn fires as their “go-to” treatment of choice.

    The GAO report needs to also include projects not identified specifically as “hazardous fuel reduction project” but, reduces fuels, amongst other benefits. The GAO report also fails to include fire salvage projects, which definitely fall under that label. They carefully danced around the issue to cherrypick the data.

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  13. Larry: Once again I believe you are presenting false information as fact. You state, “The GAO report needs to also include projects not identified specifically as “hazardous fuel reduction project” but, reduces fuels, amongst other benefits. The GAO report also fails to include fire salvage projects, which definitely fall under that label. They carefully danced around the issue to cherrypick the data.”

    Here are the facts, according to the actual language within the actual GAO report. It comes from “Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
    Methodology” on Page 30.

    “We examined (1) the number and type of Forest Service decisions involving hazardous fuel reduction activities signed in fiscal years 2006 through 2008; (2) the number of these decisions that were objected to, appealed, or litigated, and the acreage associated with those decisions; (3) the outcomes of these objections, appeals, and lawsuits, including whether they were processed within prescribed time frames, and the identities of the objectors, appellants, and plaintiffs; (4) the treatment methods and contract types associated with fuel reduction decisions, and how frequently the different methods and types were objected to, appealed, and litigated; and (5) the number of decisions involving hazardous fuel reduction activities in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) and inventoried roadless areas (IRA), and how frequently these decisions were objected to, appealed, and litigated. To address our objectives, we implemented a nationwide, Web-based survey of Forest Service officials, to collect information about all fuel reduction decisions signed in fiscal years 2006 through 2008 (See appendix XII for a copy of the survey). We supplemented the survey with a semistructured interview of officials in all nine Forest Service regions to gather additional details about time frames, outcomes and identities related to appeals and litigation of fuel reduction decisions. Details about this process are described below.

    To identify Forest Service decisions involving hazardous fuel reduction activities signed in fiscal years 2006 through 2008, we asked the agency’s Ecosystem Management Coordinator to query a Forest Service database designed to track decision planning, appeals, and litigation for all Forest
    Service decisions—-the Planning, Appeals, and Litigation System (PALS).

    This official queried the PALS database using the following criteria: (1) decisions signed in fiscal years 2006 through 2008, and (2) decisions that included fuels management as a purpose and/or one or more fuel treatment activities. This initial query identified 1,437 decisions in 108 national forest system units.”

    If anyone wants to read this whole section on the methodology it’s from Page 30 to 33 of this pdf document: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10337.pdf.

    But, suffice to say, the GAO report did in fact include post-fire salvage logging projects if “fuels management” was identified as a purpose of such a project (I for one am unaware of any post-fire salvage logging project on National Forests that hasn’t ID’d “fuels management/reduction” as a goal.)

    And Larry, according to the GAO report Methodology, the report also included any normal timber sales, which identified “fuels management” as a goal. (Again, I for one am aware of any normal Forest Service timber sale over the past decade that hasn’t included as one of it’s purposes “fuels management/reduction.”)

    So, seems to me Larry, that the GAO report did, in fact, include a look at the two types of projects you claim above weren’t included.

    Anyone can read through the GAO’s methodology themselves and see if they believe, as Larry pointed out above, that the GAO just “carefully danced around the issue to cherrypick the data.” If you are correct Larry, the GAO report may just be the most comprehensive, checked and triple checked, “cherrypicked” report in the history of reports!

    When will you guys just give up your rants against appeals and litigation and acknowledge the indisputable fact that appeals and litigation of Forest Service fuel reduction projects are on a significant downward trend? Apparently 98% of fuel reduction projects being litigation free and appeals down 70% in 8 years isn’t proof enough for you. So what’s your number/threshold?

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  14. If salvage was indeed included, surely it would have had its own category under one of those project sorts? In many Forests, salvage is the only real timber harvesting that they do.

    I DID read that section before I posted, and decided that the study didn’t have specific enough guidelines to include those numerous timber projects that slipped through the cracks. I don’t believe that there were only 63 timber sales in 3 fiscal years in all of Region 1. With all the salvage sales, including powerline and roadside hazard projects, a big Forest could have as many as 40 in one year. We had 13 in one season on one smaller Ranger District.

    I think if they broke out the statistics strictly for salvage sales, you’d see a very high litigation rate on those projects, which are carefully designed and state of the art.

    That study will continue to be suspect when they failed to control the data coming from so many individuals and groups. Does the GAO do “requests”?!?!….heh heh How about a survey of ALL “timber sales”. I think we could be relatively sure that none of them could fall through the cracks.

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  15. The below is a longer quote from GAO from their report -to some extent they acknowledge the difficulties (I put that in italics). It would be possible to get all timber sales from the timber database and compare those with those appealed (which I think is now in the PALS database), if someone had the time and inclination. That is not to say that all the information is 100% complete and accurate.. it’s just the best we are likely to get.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if people were more likely to appeal a timber sale than a service contract to do fuels treatment due to maybe 1) taking bigger trees or 2) generalized distrust.

    “To identify Forest Service decisions involving hazardous fuel reduction activities signed in fiscal years 2006 through 2008, we asked the agency’s Ecosystem Management Coordinator to query a Forest Service database designed to track decision planning, appeals, and litigation for all Forest Service decisions—-the Planning, Appeals, and Litigation System (PALS). This official queried the PALS database using the following criteria: (1) decisions signed in fiscal years 2006 through 2008, and (2) decisions that included fuels management as a purpose and/or one or more fuel treatment activities. This initial query identified 1,437 decisions in 108 national forest system units.
    Because PALS was not designed to include all information we sought as part of our review—including information on the number of acres treated, treatment methods and contract types used, and decisions involving activities in the wildland-urban interface or in inventoried roadless areas—we determined that a nationwide survey would be necessary. We began our survey effort by ensuring that we had identified the correct universe of fuel reduction decisions. After reviewing the list of fuel reduction decisions from PALS and correcting for any obvious duplication and other errors, we sent a list of each national forest’s fuel reduction decisions to the corresponding forest supervisor’s office. We asked the supervisor or cognizant official to verify the accuracy of our list, removing any decisions that did not meet our criteria (i.e, that were not signed in fiscal years 2006 through 2008, or that did not involve any hazardous fuel reduction activities), and adding decisions that met our criteria but did not appear in PALS. At this time, we also asked the supervisor or cognizant official to identify Forest Service employees most knowledgeable about these decisions. A total of 1,415 decisions, issued by 108 national forests, were determined to fit our criteria. We gave recipients 3 weeks to respond to our request for information and granted extensions as needed. We obtained a 100 percent response rate from the national forests.

    To determine the characteristics of each fuel reduction decision, we subsequently administered a Web-based survey to those Forest Service employees identified by each forest supervisor or cognizant official as most knowledgeable about the decisions at all 108 national forests that issued decisions with hazardous fuel reduction activities in fiscal years 2006 through 2008. Appendix XII contains a copy of the survey used to gather these data. The survey asked respondents to provide information about each of the decisions, including the type of environmental analysis used, acres involved, treatment methods and contract types used, the extent to which the decisions included activities in the wildland-urban interface and inventoried roadless areas, and detailed information about the outcomes of those decisions subject to the predecisional objection process.

    The Forest Service does not have a uniform definition of a hazardous fuel reduction activity, a fact that could affect the information that forest managers reported to us. Many activities have the practical effect of reducing fuels, but their stated purpose may be for something other than, or in addition to, fuel reduction. For example, the cutting and gathering of firewood or forest products to provide a product to the public may have the additional benefit of reducing hazardous fuels. Some forest managers may have included such projects among the decisions they reported in their responses to our survey, while other forest managers with similar decisions may not have included them.”

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  16. I received a reply from Taylor McKinnon from CBD as he was leaving on a trip. He had a pretty substantive discussion and attached documents, but I don’t feel comfortable posting without his explicit approval, and also it would be better if he were back, if we raise additional questions.

    I’m also contacting some folks I know from the area so that (hopefully) those with experience on both “sides” can be represented in this future discussion.

    Stay tuned for a future post, and safe travels, Taylor.

    On this topic of what’s in what databases, there is such interesting information readily accessible to the public, but it’s hard to tell from the outside (and sometimes from the inside) what is where. As far as I know the PALS section on appeals and litigation was not as complete as it is today. If someone were interested in exploring this (compare timber sales appeals to fuels projects appeals), it would be of value for this discussion.

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