Voices from the Interior West: Missoulian and KTAR -Phoenix – (Media Watch #4)

Here’s the Missoulian:

missoulian.com

Obama administration releases new national forest management rules

By ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian | Posted: Friday, January 27, 2012 6:15 am

A proposed planning rule for managing national forests puts new emphasis on watershed health and recreation, but also strives to keep loggers in the woods, U.S. Forest Service officials said Thursday.

The national rule will guide local forest supervisors when they make their more specific forest management plans. Those plans govern where trees can be cut, the kinds of wildlife to watch out for, activities allowed in campgrounds and the backcountry, and how people can challenge forest decisions.

“The rule needs to take into consideration those multiple uses, be resilient to climate change over time, focus on restoration of forest health, reduce the threat of catastrophic fires and supply timber products to local mills,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said during a conference call Thursday.

The meeting unveiled the final environmental impact statement on the proposed plan. After it’s published in the Federal Register on Feb. 3, a final version of the rule will be selected by Vilsack within 30 days.

“We really appreciate that the agency is trying to get projects out more quickly and with less expense,” said Keith Olson of the Montana Logging Association. “That really seems to be what they think they’ve accomplished with this. Our biggest concern is whenever you have this expensive a document, what it turns out to be is a blueprint for those who like to litigate. It goes beyond the scope of any planning document ever designed. We focus on simplicity and clarity, and our big concern is this goes exactly the opposite direction.”

The new rule replaces guidelines the Forest Service has depended on since 1982. Many forests, including the Lolo National Forest based in Missoula, haven’t updated their management plans since the late 1980s. The Kootenai National Forest issued a new forest plan in January, but it’s based on the 1982 rule.

A Bush administration revision of the rule was struck down in court in 2009, one of three revisions that failed to pass court muster in the last decade.

The law firm Earthjustice helped overturn that Bush administration draft. Earthjustice attorney Kirsten Boyles said the new version has much better language for protecting national forest watersheds, which provide 20 percent of the nation’s drinking water. But she doesn’t like the planned changes in wildlife management.

“The rule puts a great deal of attention on species that are already threatened or endangered, but it does nothing for species that are doing all right,” Boyles said. “How do we help them to continue to be healthy so we don’t have a train wreck? Elk are generally healthy, and they’re not listed as threatened or endangered. But we think the Forest Service should pay more attention to make sure those populations stay healthy and viable.”

***

Rather than appeal the 2009 court decision, the Obama administration opted to restart the process. That involved numerous public scoping meetings, including one in Missoula. It also accepted almost 300,000 public comments.

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said the new rule will make it considerably easier to write, update and amend forest management plans.

“It cuts the time in half,” Tidwell said. “It took five to seven years to develop plans in the past. With the new rule, we should be able to do that in three to four years, or less. That will leave more time and money to get restoration done.”

Putting greater emphasis on watershed health and recreation will present challenges to the Forest Service budget. The agency intends to expand the use of stewardship contracts that essentially trade sawlogs for restoration work like stream rehab or trail construction.

“The Forest Service budget will have to pay for some of those things,” Acting Northern Region Forester Tom Schmidt said in Missoula. “Revenues from timber sales won’t be adequate to pay for all of that.”

But the Forest Service is experimenting with a new way of mixing budget lines together to get more landscape-wide projects done, according to the agency’s Leslie Weldon, director of national forest systems.

“We’re taking things like vegetation management, wildlife, fish, hazardous fuels, roads dollars, and put those into one budget line item,” said Weldon, who headed the Northern Region in Missoula before being promoted to Washington, D.C., in January. “We’re experimenting with that this year and will hope for permanent authority to use it. The goal is to use a suite of tools like timber sales and stewardship contracting to produce revenues that can be reinvested. Then we have a mixture of funds that contribute to restoration.”

That could also include more partnerships with volunteers, non-government organizations and businesses to maintain and expand campgrounds, trails and visitor centers, Weldon said.

“We’re experiencing an increasing emphasis on recreation,” she said. “That calls on us to find different avenues to leverage the dollars we are investing.”

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

Missoulian- why interview Kirsten Boyles from the Earthjustice Seattle office? Knowledgeable conservationists abound in Montana! Do elk really need more FS attention?

Here’s one from Phoenix.

Forest Service unveils new planning guidelines for national forest uses
by Salvador Rodriguez/Cronkite News (January 27th, 2012 @ 5:00am)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Forest Service unveiled new planning rules Thursday that it said will emphasize the protection of forest and watersheds while maintaining and creating forest-industry jobs.

“People want us to have a planning process that takes less time, that it costs less, but at the same time provides the same level of protections or higher level of protections for our forests and our watersheds and for wildlife habitat,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “And I feel that this � does that.”

The new rules will take effect in March and have an immediate impact on two-thirds of the country’s 155 national forests and 20 national grasslands.

But in Arizona, officials said only the Tonto National Forest will be affected by the new rules as it revises its land management plan. All of the other national forests in the state are in the late stages of revising their plans and will be grandfathered in under current rules.

Plans for Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino, Coronado, Kaibab and Prescott national forests are expected to be complete within the next year, said Bob Davis, director of planning for the Forest Service’s Southwestern Region. They would only be affected by the new rules if they made subsequent revisions or amendments to those plans.

“At this point, what we will see is various national forests that are in the process of updating their forest plan that will be using these new guidelines,” said Matt Skroch, executive director of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition.

Current national forest management plans were developed under procedures that have been in place since 1982. The Bush administration tried to update the rules, but a federal court threw out that plan in 2009.

“Congress has provided pretty clear direction that management plans should be updated every 10 to 15 years, but unfortunately we’ve waited almost 30 years for many forest plans to be revised,” Skroch said.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he believes the new rules will help restore forests and leave them in better condition for future generations.

“We are hopeful and confident that there is support for this rule and that we can move forward to update our management plans,” Vilsack said as he announced the plan.

Businesses and timber and mining trade groups on Thursday guarded their reactions, saying they want to carefully examine the entire plan.

The American Forest Resource Council, a lumber trade group, said it hoped the Forest Service had listened to its comments and made changes “to avoid the mistakes of the past.”

“We hope that ecological, social and economic objectives are given equal weight in planning so that all of the needs of our citizens will be met by our federal forests,” said council President Tom Partin in a news release.

The group said it would review the new rules, talk with the agency and its members before deciding how to proceed.

Environmentalists and conservation groups generally approved of the new rules. Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, said Arizona will benefit from the plan’s emphasis on protecting national forest watersheds.

“We get a lot of our water from the national forest, their watersheds, for many of the people in Arizona,” she said. “If we want flowing rivers and clean drinking water, protecting those watersheds, keeping water from being contaminated, those are important benefits for all of us.”

Bahr also applauded the plan’s reliance on science, saying “we could use a lot more science and less politics in our decision-making” on forests.

Jim deVos, director of conservation affairs for the Arizona Elk Society, said he likes the plan because it invites public input on decisions.

“Organized groups have people that do things like read the Federal Register, and they become informed that way. But by using the Internet and other communication tools that are more modern, it allows the general public to become more informed,” he said. “It’s a step forward, in our view.”

The Forest Service said it received nearly 300,000 comments on the plan after issuing a proposed rule last February.

Skroch said the Arizona Wilderness Coalition likes the fact that the new rules could protect potential wilderness areas. But he thought they could have gone further, noting that the new rules retain criteria that exclude any such areas where “you may see or hear things outside of the wilderness area that are not compatible with that wilderness.”

He also said the new rules do not do enough to protect wild species.

But deVos said the Forest Service did a good job balancing social, cultural, ecological and economic conditions in many parts of the new rules. As a result, he believes they will likely satisfy most people.

“Certainly any document that serves the diverse American public and the diverse American forest has got to have some give and take,” deVos said. “It appears to me to be a nice workable plan that doesn’t side too heavily with any particular user group.”

Planning Rule Opinion Boxscore (cont’d)

8. Montana Logging Association concern over complexity of document
Earthjustice – Kirsten Bayles of Seattle- thumbs up watershed, wildlife concerns (repeat of #3-5)
American Forest Research Council triangle (repeat of #3-6)

9. Sierra Club water good, science good
10. Arizona Elk Society public involvement good, nice workable balanced
11. Arizona Wilderness wilderness, wildlife concern

Sharon’s notes: I italicized “environmental and conservation groups generally agreed with the new rules,” in this piece, which is completely opposite to the ENS piece (Media Watch #2) “Obama’s New Forest Planning Rule Fails to Satisfy Conservationists.” Depends on who you interview, doesn’t it?
My “local interviews yield different results” seems to be holding up.
And let’s give a special shoutout to newspapers who interview local folks, and to those groups who admitted that it would take them time to read it, talk about it, and understand it, before they comment.

Finally, here’s CBD’s press release; note that it was quoted directly in the ENS story here.

13 thoughts on “Voices from the Interior West: Missoulian and KTAR -Phoenix – (Media Watch #4)”

  1. Except for the loony bin of MSNBC, no one seems to be commenting on the new Planning Rule. Regular Americans don’t know what to think about it, and may be OK with the compromises, unlike the intolerant factions who avoid the “C-words” of collaboration, consensus and compromise. This seems to be another opportunity for those factions to, again, “move the goalposts” by increasing “protections”. Those preservationist groups are already threatening litigation, as expected! However, the pie-in-the-sky folks pushing for the new Rule seem to be in denial, clinging to the irrational hope that it will magically reduce litigation. I rather doubt that anything will be settled before the November election, and another field season of restoration will be lost. With the mild winter so far, does anyone believe that our forests will be “just fine”, for the long, hot summer?

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  2. All the rule changing in the world will not amount to a bowl of spit unless and until the political pressures (that started big-time with Reagan) are removed or softened. Also, without a decent budget to work with, the forests are unable to do the work quickly and efficiently, with full scientific input in a timely manner.
    I am not optimistic. Allowing local managers “more flexibility” to play with the new rules sounds good, but I know from experience that local district rangers can and do “go native”. That is, they assume the local values of their neighbors and friends. If they live in a largely logging community, many will be influenced by those interests to lean their decisions a bit.
    Human nature is to try to get along with those around you. Local managers will be hard pressed to resist local pressures. That is why regional and national oversight organizations are critical to keep the process clean.

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    • “Local Managers” will have to cite the science that is used, and how it affects the Forest Plans, Ed. Someone HAS to make those decisions, and it is standard procedure to consult with the staff on those kinds of decisions. Of course, we could make using “best available science” one of the “critical elements” of these decision maker’s evaluations and pay raises. Just WHO is better equipped to make those decisions?!?!? Fear of the past should not block the future, folks!

      It appears that the preservationists aren’t happy with the amount of loopholes….. errrr, “protections” they can use to litigate against as many projects that cut merchantable trees as possible. They don’t like seeing the pendulum inching towards the center. They don’t like having to explain why 39,000 square miles of American dead forests is a “good thing”. They don’t like to pretend to enjoy the choking smoke of a Let-Burn wildfire allowed to burn for weeks on end. This summer’s wildfires could cause Congress to act again, with another “Healthy Forests”-like law to bypass the Rule, the gridlock and the litigation.

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  3. Fotoware, your very distinct bias for timber cutting vs. other competing uses or values is so clear, that I doubt that any response of mine would be meaningful.
    I know of what I speak. I have been there, as the lead forest planner on a large Idaho forest during development of the first forest plans. I know how various rules or regs can be “interpreted” by managers and politicians. I recall very clearly how I and the IDT had to battle some of the local managers to develop real-world local criteria for suitable/unsuitable timber stands. The IDT scientists were trying to develop criteria and data that was objective and measurable. Some (not all) local managers worried only about how many acres of timberland might be removed from the allowable cut base.
    Again, my less than enthusiastic review of these new rules is based on experience, on the ground planning experience and my battles with blatant political intrusion into what should have been scientifically derived plans.
    In spite of having a different administration in the White House, the political influence has not gone away, it has just moderated a bit. I am not a person who supports a shutdown of timber harvesting on the national forests. In north Idaho i believe more timber could be harvested right now, and I would applaud more responsible harvesting. The forests need better and reliable funding, more professional staff before this can be achieved. But competition for dollars in the national budget make that unlikely. So blame the politics and the national economy, not the tree-huggers.

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    • Sorry, Ed, but I refuse to fit your stereotype. Any link I once had with the Forest Service has been severed since 2008. They simply don’t need people experienced with controlling loggers, anymore. My biggest concern now, is beautiful landscapes, living forests and ample wildlife. Dying and dead forests don’t make good photography subjects.

      I see no need for there to be “competing uses”. There ARE achievable balances but, that involves those awful “C-words”. With the full transparency and open collaboration, there is really no need to fret about your 80’s era example. Watchdogs and eco-groups will see to that. I really think the Forest Service AND the Obama Administration think the new Rule is the best they could do to reflect the will of the people, within the framework of existing law. My experience tells me that the preferred alternative will be selected, followed by litigation. The Rule will get thrown out, like the last ones and we’ll be back to square one.

      “Best available science” is being seen as a double-edged sword, especially by the “serial litigators”. I would certainly welcome the opportunity to apply that science to millions of acres but, the courts won’t support “weakened protections”, despite the required up-to-date science. Public participation is ineffective if the public refuses to be educated. They would rather be told what to think, and I think that is why we are not seeing much discussion….. yet. More people need to read this blog to learn more about their forests, and the science which defines them. When we have eco-groups suing (and winning!) to stop roadside hazard tree projects, something is drastically wrong. The dead tree next to the road is NOT “habitat”.

      If the Forest Supervisor is “too low” to make decisions on his own Forest’s Plan, just who do you want to review the hundreds of pages, to make the decisions? More WO bureaucrat positions?!?

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  4. Fotoware, I am not trying to stereotype you. I don’t know you well enough to do that. My comments above just reflect what you stated in your first comment. Your experience with the USFS is foggy to me, but it does seem to reflect less than detailed knowledge of the planning processes. That said, I will keep my further comments as I see the issues and process, and not about your views.

    As far as competing uses, almost daily i read about individuals and/or groups who are protesting or complaining about losing some special use, or the threat of this loss, or they are upset that another user-group may be pushing their use aside. That is the real world up here. As I write the snowmobilers in north Idaho are going crazy over a USFWS proposal to identify critical habitat for woodland caribou in areas where they love to snowmobile during the peak of winter snowpack. This is also part of the caribou winter range. These are very clear competing uses for the same acres. Competition for uses on the forests is real and increasing along with the population, new equipment, new ideas.

    I applaud the Obama administration’s efforts to update the basterdized rules he inherited from President Bush. Right on! Just don’t try to soften the intent of NFMA because of global warming concerns, or pressures to remove more “biofuels”, or to fireproof the forests to the extent that no risks remain for forest-edge residents. If NFMA is out-of-date then it should be revised, not circumvented by rules that reflect political parties.

    Forest Supervisors are the right people to make these forest plan decisions. But these men and women are human and have bias, variable backgrounds and experience and can possibly be influenced by their local surroundings. That is all I am saying. Therefore it is critical that outside experts or groups or “special interests” look over the decision makers’ shoulders to ensure that these personal factors don’t influence any decision. That is the real world.

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    • I rather doubt that we are far apart in our views on how things should be. One difference is my dislike for ALL partisan politics, and your mention of “basterdized (sic) rules he inherited from President Bush” puzzles me. Can you offer specific examples of Forest Service rules from Bush that have been “basterdized”? Of course, that is an opinion, which you are entitled to but, you’re going to have to provide examples.

      The moral high ground on “competing uses” is that, clearly, we don’t have to apply the Multiple Use Act to every acre. We have almost 200 million acres to spread those multiple uses around, and not impact critical habitats severely. I’m happy that some areas are set aside from some invasive human impacts, like snowmobiling. Sure, its a fun sport but, it doesn’t have to have horrible impacts. I have extensive experience in coordinating with all of the Ologists, and I have embraced their knowledge and wisdom. They ARE experts on what they do.

      It appears we do agree completely on Forest Supervisors making these decisions, with plenty of public oversight. However, we will continue to see accusations of corruption when a decision doesn’t go the way preservationists want. Despite the public oversight. There will be ugly name-calling, and eventually, we’ll see the lawsuits. People have to see that this process will continue, hard choices will be made, based on scientific consensus, and trust will be hard-earned. Some people will never trust, though. This is the road put before us, and it won’t be easy to deal with. The lawsuits will be necessary to weed out the projects that don’t follow the law, and the new Rule will take time to reduce litigation, through the courts. The Rule was not meant to be a fix-all for our forest’s issues. Just as logging is not a fix-all for every acre. We need to be able to use all the tools in a forester’s toolbox for restoration, guided by the “best available science”.

      I believe we have already reached the “tipping point” for our forests, and we are now in “triage mode”, to save what can be saved, and to write off what can’t be saved. It’s time for the public to learn about restoration and step up to tell their government what they want in their local forests.

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    • Ed, I have a couple of thoughts on what you said.. First of all, for good or ill, the planning rules of 2005 and 8 happened during the Bush administration but were based on FS ideas. Certainly the administration had to approve them but don’t blame them for whatever faults those rules had.

      I agree with both of you that we need to de-partisanize planning rules. I think the FACA committee is the best way to do this. My dream FACA committee is composed of a Wyoming county commissioner, a Colorado law school professor, and so on, so that folks of different persuasions whom the FS has to deal with- now have to deal with each other.

      I think that personal factors influence any decision. If we didn’t want that we could write a computer program for decisions. My question is why being influenced by their local surroundings is bad; some could argue that environmental organizations headquartered in DC are also influenced by their local surroundings.

      My theme question for this year is: “what if these were forests in a developing country?” would we say that “local people are unduly influencing decisions” or “indigenous people have a right to continue their traditional uses”? Local people have more knowledge of the details of a given situation. When you mentioned “going native” above, I’m thinking that we never say that people who move to DC due to elections and become more partisan are “going native” in DC.

      This idea that the thoughts of local people about forests are questionable compared to nonlocal peoples’ thoughts carries certain assumptions that I think need to be examined.

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      • Sharon, you do raise an interesting question that is very difficult to answer clearly. So first, I will give you a very clear, real-world example of an extreme “going native” situation. Remember, this is real, not make-believe. A district ranger on a district with extensive grazing allotments in western Montana spent most of his afternoons running his district from the local stockman’s bar. Where he was known (and seen) drinking and visiting with permittees who grazed cattle on his district. His decisions on grazing issues were clearly being compromised, not to mention the appearance of undo influence. Admittedly this is an extreme example, but situations like this existed, and likely still do.

        I do not feel that local folks should be ignored, or given unequal status in decisions. I never said that or implied that. What I do not accept is the common stance by local county commissioners that any forestland in their county is THEIR forest. Thereby their opinions should have much greater weight in decision-making, and concurrently the input of individuals from more distant cities (those city tree-huggers that often use the forest more than the locals) should be minimized. My experience was that local pressures usually did get more attention, even if the decisions went the other way. That is the real world, so it is a positive thing that “outside” influences have been added.

        As you have read, I do have extensive experience with forest planning, albeit quite a few years back. I witnessed and watched and sometimes lead the process; I know what I am talking about! People don’t change that much, but i have watched the forest culture and staff and funding change drastically since my tenure. Most of this change has not been good change, but some from the outside has added opinions and scientific review that did not exist during the first forest plan efforts.

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        • It is also those “outside influences” which publish things like “Stop the Forest Service from clearcutting our Roadless Areas”, or “Don’t Let the Forest Service cut down ancient Giant Sequoias!” These are also “real world” accusations I have seen, personally.

          Also, Federal law says that US Government employees can be fired for the mere appearance of corruption or illegal activity. Yes, there are still some “dinosaurs” in the Agency, who long for the old days of relative freedom to do what they want. The last one I ran into is now retired but, we did butt heads, and I showed him that following the rules is certainly better than getting caught cutting timber not meeting the salvage guidelines.

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        • Ed, I too have seen egregious violations of the federal employee code of ethics (actually, I remember signing one when I joined up in 1979, but couldn’t find one easily on the web- maybe there are too many now?) http://www.ehow.com/about_6324026_federal-code-ethics.html

          Believe me, I know how irritating local CCs can be. Also irritating are the local people who elect them and then say “they don’t really represent me on forest issues, I voted for them due to their views on education.”

          If feds aren’t living up to their code of ethics, you should be able to locate their supervisor and tell them your observations.

          I do think the New West has many local watchdogs and the need for national watching is reduced. But I’d be interested in what others think.

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  5. My last comment was cut short due to a low battery so I want to close with this.
    My example of a “gone native” DFR was only intended to show that local managers are not always the best judges or decisionmakers. An extreme example to be sure, but people are people then and now. Corruption and taking the easy way are much too common in the world. Just look at D.C these days.

    I don’t agree that politics today are less intrusive in forest management. Unfortunately both parties have now decided that national forest management is too important to leave to the professionals. Reagan in 1960 kicked the door open and took the reins out of the hands of the Chief. Before that the Chief was selected with much less, if any, serious political meddling. That is no longer the case. So in spite of how well written and “professional” the new rules might be, the intent can and will be adjusted or twisted or ingored by a few, on both sides of the issues.

    I certainly don’t agree with many of the lawsuits filed by the various environmental groups. Many seem to enjoy just taking on the agency to show them up. But the reality is this…too many of the lawsuits are being won by these groups. The agency should be well educated by now as to the details of NEPA and NFMA so as to prevent the same mistakes being made over and over. Please God that they don’t end up needing an attorney on each district!

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