Lake Tahoe Angora Project Wins Appeal

WatershedTour AngoraFire 2008

9th Circuit clears USFS logging at Lake Tahoe (here)

By SCOTT SONNER, Associated Press

A federal appeals court cleared the way Monday for the Forest Service to begin logging near Lake Tahoe, where a wildfire burned more than 250 homes four years ago.

In making its ruling, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco rejected claims that the project violates environmental laws and will jeopardize the survival of a rare woodpecker.

The panel issued a two-page ruling denying an emergency injunction sought by two environmental groups.

The panel, including Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, gave no reason for its decision.

They said they will give the Earth Island Institute and Center for Biological Diversity until Oct. 3 to submit formal briefs so the case can be considered on a normal schedule in November.

Chad Hanson, executive director of the institute’s Sierra-based John Muir Project, said the group would continue to challenge the logging even if it is completed by November because an important precedent is at stake.

He said the argument by the Forest Service that it has no legal requirement to maintain a viable population of the black-backed woodpecker in the national forest at Lake Tahoe contradicts every previous administration’s interpretation of the National Forest Management Act dating to 1982.

“”The black-backed woodpecker is one of the rarest bird species in the entire Sierra Nevada and the Forest Service is pushing it toward extinction with its post-fire logging program,” Hanson told The Associated Press.

The Forest Service says the logging of about half of the 3,000 acres that burned in June 2007 is part of an overall restoration project that will help speed regrowth of burned stands and reduce the threat of future catastrophic fires.

The $3 million project is not intended to produce any merchantable timber, only chips and scrap wood for biomass.

The opponents counter that they have no problem with cutting trees with a diameter of less than 10 inches, but the agency’s plan to log some trees nearly 2-feet thick and to remove dead standing trees that the woodpeckers thrive on will do nothing to reduce fire threats. They say the forest should be left to regenerate on its own.

“Their own fire analysis specifically concludes that this project will actually increase the fire hazard slightly relative to doing nothing,” Hanson said. “It will not protect the community, and they did not contest that in their reply briefs because they cannot.”

He said the project amounts to a $3 million subsidy for the biomass industry.

Forest Service officials did not immediately return telephone calls or emails seeking comment on Monday.

Lawyers for the agency said in legal briefs filed last week they don’t believe the woodpecker will be harmed by the logging.

They said U.S. District Court Judge Garland Burrell Jr. made it clear that he agreed with their interpretation in his July 13 ruling in Sacramento denying a similar injunction.

Read more:

Here’s the CBD press release. It includes a critique of the use of woody biomass.

Although I am not an expert, this appears to be the rationale for doing it the way the FS chose (from the EA here).

Reduced Removal of Snags: There were concerns that the proposed action would remove
snags that are not necessary to meet the purpose and need. The following alternative was considered: leaves all snags >16 inches in diameter except where they pose an imminent health and safety hazard to forest users and works. An analysis was conducted to compare the amounts of downed fuel that would accumulate in three time frames: immediately after project implementation, 20 years after project implementation, and 50 years1 after project implementation. These values were compared with the desired conditions that are described in Chapter 1. In summary, these desired conditions are: reducing wildland fire behavior under
high fire weather conditions (hot, dry summer days), including flame lengths of less than 4 feet at the head of a fire; reducing the rate of spread at the head of the fire; reducing hazards to firefighters by removing snags from locations likely to be used for fire suppression; and doubling fire line construction rates. To meet these desired conditions for defense zones, average fuel loading should be less than 10 tons per acre of various size and decay classes of woody debris (see discussion under Section 1.3, “Overview of the Existing Condition”). The desired conditions are responsive to the need to ensure that fuel loadings do not create potential wildfire behavior conditions such that fire severity is excessive or that fire suppression
activities are ineffective or compromised in protecting communities or wildlife and watershed values.
The analysis of residual fuel loadings if dead trees >16 inches dbh were left (Project Record Document E20) revealed that fuel loadings would not meet the desired conditions over time as all of the remaining dead trees fall after project implementation (36 tons per acre, weighted) and hence would not meet the desired conditions (10‐15 tons per acre) nor would this alternative meet the purpose and need of reducing long‐term fuel loadings (see discussion under Section 1.5.1, “Fire, Fuels, Vegetation, and Forest Health”). In addition, leaving dead trees
>16 inches dbh would leave approximately 31 downed logs per acre, which would reduce
fireline construction rates. This condition also would not meet the purpose and need. A study by Brown et al. (Project Record Document E179) acknowledges that leaving high amounts of coarse woody debris leads to high or even severe resistance‐to‐control. The predicted fuel loading if all trees >16 inches dbh were left at 36 tons per acre would lead to high or even extreme resistance‐to‐control, which would mean slow work for line construction by dozers and hand crews and difficulty in holding control lines. These conditions would not meet the desired conditions for defense zones immediately adjacent to communities.

Here’s a previous post on this project from this blog.

For those of you curious about black-backed woodpeckers, here is an interesting write-up from Region 1. It seems like it thrives on post-fire trees, which it seems like there should be plenty of in the Sierra other than this 1400 acres, just based on reports of fires in the Sierra. Also notice the range of the species here in a South Dakota entry.

Based on reports of climate change effects and more frequent fires, and bug attacks, seems like their habitat should be increasing across the west. But I’m not a bird person; am I missing something?

3 thoughts on “Lake Tahoe Angora Project Wins Appeal”

  1. Isn’t this the same CBD whose collaboration is supposed to attract investors to a 300 million dollar OSB mill in Az?

  2. With BILLIONS of dead trees on our public lands, and significant amounts of them “protected” in Wilderness, National Parks and other varied protected zones, there is NO lack of snags for the woodpeckers. I contend that populations are more stable than per-European populations, due to our currently snag-rich conditions. Hanson, ever the extremist EAJA addict, continues to push for an end to logging on all lands, to “save” his favorite bird. ALL forest within the Tahoe Basin is at extreme risk to catastrophic wildfire. Around a third of all trees died back in the early 90’s, and very little harvesting of those dead trees occurred, leaving the forest floor choked with massive fuels that will burn before it rots.

  3. Also, “logging” entails the removal of logs as a product. This project is more accurately a “snag thinning fuels reduction project”. Here’s a view of how bad the mortality was in the early 90’s, at Tahoe.

    A large amount of that mortality has fallen over, and will continue to wait for the next inevitable wildfire to consume this concentrated material. Imagine if we had biomass as a tool, back then.


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