Forest Service Awards One of Largest-ever Timber Contracts to Agency Insiders

From the Center for Biological Diversity:

Center for Biological Diversity ecologist Jay Lininger displays the core of 180-year-old ponderosa pine marked for logging at the Jacob Ryan timber sale. CBD photo.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— The U.S. Forest Service awarded one of the largest-ever tree-cutting contracts in the history of the national forest system today to a timber company represented by a retired Forest Service official. While he was a federal employee, the official was the agency’s liaison to that same company’s timber-sale inquiries in the same region. The contract calls for timber harvesting on approximately 300,000 acres of ponderosa pine in northern Arizona as part of the Four Forests Restoration Initiative, a showcase forest restoration project for the Obama administration under what’s known as “the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Act” and program.

Speaking of today’s contract award, Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director with the Center for Biological Diversity, which has led the charge to reform logging in the Southwest, said, “The decision stinks of cronyism.”

“Much of the Southwest’s last old growth was liquidated on Marlin Johnson’s watch during his years at the Forest Service—it was wrong then and it’s wrong now, and the fact that Mr. Johnson is wearing a different hat this time underlines that fact,” he continued.

During his tenure as the southwestern region’s silviculturist, Marlin Johnson was one of the agency’s liaisons for Pioneer Forest Products’ timber-sale inquiries; within a year of retirement, in 2008, Johnson began representing Pioneer’s inquiries to the same Forest Service office in which he had worked. Since then, representing Pioneer in Four Forest Restoration Initiative stakeholder meetings with the Forest Service, Johnson has openly pushed to log old-growth trees and forests.

As regional silviculturist Johnson presided over an attempt to loosen regional limits on logging mature and old trees and forests in Arizona and New Mexico without public or environmental review. Without officially changing the forest plans that guide management of the public’s forests, and over the concern of staff and other agencies about lawfulness and impacts to wildlife, the Forest Service’s southwestern regional office under Johnson tried to sharply reduce the amount of mature and old forest the agency is required to leave on the landscape after logging.

The southwestern region has tried to follow this guidance since Johnson’s retirement, and because logging intensities violate wildlife protections in forest plans, several of those timber sales have crumbled under internal review prompted by administrative objections from the Center. In its collaboration on the Four Forests initiative, which has suffered at the hands of regional micromanagement, the Center has warned the Forest Service not to deploy Johnson’s guidance; it’s unclear whether or not the Service will do so.  Last week the Center sued the Forest Service for using that guidance at the Jacob Ryan timber sale, which would log old growth trees near Grand Canyon’s north rim.

Pioneer Forest Products, a Montana corporation, was one of four bidders on the contract. Another, Arizona Forest Restoration Products, had advanced a plan solely focused on using small-diameter trees, and signed an historic memo of understanding with conservation groups committing to a common goal of ecological restoration as a step to restoring healthy, fire-maintained forests and native biological diversity.

“Today’s decision, among many other signs, suggests that the Forest Service’s leadership, after all these years and despite mountains of restoration rhetoric to the contrary, remains hopelessly mired in an antiquated age of agricultural forestry.”

16 thoughts on “Forest Service Awards One of Largest-ever Timber Contracts to Agency Insiders”

  1. Of course, AGAIN, no mention of nesting versus foraging habitats!! Goshawks use all sorts of forests for foraging, ranging far and wide to hunt as the top avian predator in thicker forests. Nesting habitat is much thicker, to protect their young from larger hawks. Generally, when an active nest is discovered, it is assumed that there are other nests in the vicinity, and a large off-limits circle is situated around the best habitat. I think those circles can be up to 5000 acres.

    Generally, it is best to keep good canopy closure in their foraging habitats but, that may not be that easy to do in the lower densities of Region 3. With fire suppression and overstocking, those forests might have many smaller, slower-growing trees than pre-European times. Of course, the CBD’s definition of old growth differs from the Forest Service’s version. That will never change. However, the public’s view of the CBD is certainly changing, over the last 5 years, or so. The CBD makes it sound like the Forest Service will cut every mature tree. If the timber industry cannot make a profit off 4FRI, they will bring it all crashing down. We have the same situation, here in California, except that SPI has their own ample lands, filled with cheaper trees of the same size offered by the Forest Service.

    Restoration must include matching tree densities with annual precipitation, AND restore historical species compositions. No one wants to talk about those issues, at the CBD.

  2. AND, let’s see all the e-mails sent to Forest Service “Ologists” by the CBD, “pushing” for more species protections. How many Forest Service “Ologists” now work for the CBD? I also find it “interesting” that the CBD claims there is so very little old growth left but, they somehow litigate every timber project, claiming old growth cutting.

    A suppressed 180 year old crappy tree is still a crappy tree, overtopped by a better old growth tree. Thinning projects shouldn’t target just submerchantable trees, if the stand is also overstocked with “old growth”. Historically, each acre had just a handful of “old growth” trees. Picking and plucking merchantable trees, without adversely affecting the remaining stand, is a skill that takes a keen eye, and a wealth of experience. Sadly, the Forest Service doesn’t employ enough qualified people to accomplish such important work. All too often, they use “Temporary” employees right off the street to select which trees live and die.

    • “The CBD makes it sound like the Forest Service will cut every mature tree.”

      I have no great love for the CBD, but I do live in Flagstaff (heart of 4FRI country) and spend a lot of time out in the woods around here hiking and volunteering with the Forest Service. On a purely anecdotal basis I can tell you that in many of the areas I’ve been where the FS have completed thinning and restoration operations there is little “forest” as most people (and even former FS timber sale admins I know) would define it left. Log trucks leaving these “restored” areas are half full (or more) of the largest diameter 2nd and 3rd growth trees we have in these parts and when you walk through afterwards the scene has much in common with the good old industrial scale timber sales of yesteryear. Most of the largest “180 year old crappy” trees are gone, leaving broiling sun and little cover for wildlife, birds, or anything else. The degree of thinning seems extremely aggressive and, in fact, some of the sales done in the early 2000s are now growing bumper crops of invasive weeds, oak thickets, and even juniper, similar to what I’ve seen occurring in the former crown fire burns that the ERI and FS hold up as examples of the results of failed forest management.

      So perhaps the CBD has a point.

      • BUT, OF COURSE, I never advocated such practices. I am FIRMLY in favor of “thinning from below”, and including a sort of, “reverse highgrading” practice, taking a few of the worst old suppressed trees. AGAIN, I stress suppressed. It is the ladder fuels that lead to stand replacement fires. We need to retain SOME decent canopy closure, especially if we are expecting endangered birds to “recover”. Taking the overstory and leaving “thrifty-growing” young trees to take over is not the way to go. There are numerous reasons for taking so many trees. I feel that “restoring” tree densities to historical levels in “one fell swoop”, isn’t the way to go, either. There is nothing wrong with first thinning from below, while taking a few mature trees, to pay for the work, then going back much later, and plucking a few more, as needed. Taking too much, all at once, can lead to blowdown of most of the leave trees. The forests I saw on the Kaibab Plateau were overstocked in older trees, as well as in small ones. Taking just the small trees won’t mitigate the drought conditions caused by too many trees. Tiny trees don’t suck up much soil moisture but, large ones DO!….. And isn’t THAT at the root of the entire problem we have, in Arizona?

        • Larry, I wasn’t referring to you in the above-I was being sarcastic as usual. Just driving home the point that those who claim they support ecosystem science, can’t handle it when the science says restore it, whether now or eventually, to such a low density. It’s not about the science-it’s about their view. 25TPA is a shelterwood seed harvest-which, while has risks of windfall, has succesfully withstood windfall on many forests-we know. I would think the vast majority of treatments in Arizona would be “commercial thin”. After all-it was managed at one time. They did huge amounts of shelterwood seed and removals and PCT 30 years ago.Even then, the new “fireproof” thinning is 75 TPA, or every 25′, which still shocks many civilians when they see it. I’m more interested in the new “Mega EIS” that the 4FRI has pioneered.I have no doubt the CBD will litigate and try to kill this deal-which is great. Maybe some of the great legal minds on this site could tell me if this Mega EIS would be a good opportunity for a frustrated public to attach a type of “Wolf Rider”(as in Tester) that would make said EIS “not subject to judicial reveiw.” Awhile back I was reading the 9th circus affirmation of Molloy’s ruling. Seems rather iron clad to me. But I don’t know?

          • Derek – all sarcasm aside, it’s not about ecosystem science. It never was, not today and especially not the halcyon days of thirty years ago when things were “managed.” Fear of wildfires and the jobs mantra are driving things now, but fear will only keep people motivated for so long.

            The shocking nature of the more aggressive thinning treatments will ultimately be their undoing. If the end result doesn’t feel like a forest to the average visitor (meaning more than four or five big trees per acre and an intact canopy you can park a camper under) then it won’t be long before labels like “clear-cut”, “wholesale rape of the forest”, and “government give-away” start getting bandied about in the big city newspapers again. But this time it won’t be “radical” environmentalists writing those letters, it’ll be hikers like me, campers, hunters, and regular people who vote and care little about ecosystem science. It won’t matter how many “open and park-like” research papers Covington and his crew of apocalyptic jack-in-the-boxes wave around, if it doesn’t feel like a forest when the day is done then it won’t fly for very long. I would imagine that the CBD knows this.

            • It clearly doesn’t “feel like a forest” when the bugs chew through it and wildfires slick it ALL off, and they see all the worst results of high intensity wildfires. Yes, people even die from these fires and the attendant impacts of accelerated erosion. The people of Flaggstaff know this all too well. AND, we’ve seen the preservationist rhetoric before. Yes, “Healthy Forests” was labeled as “a giveaway to the timber industry”, yet, more mills have gone out of business, or are on the brink, since then. Yes, people STILL compare sensible forest management to rape. Yes, some people still are giddy about seeing Arizona burn, baby, burn, solely for political opportunism and punishment.

  3. I found out that Pioneer Forest Products is owned by a Herman Hauck of Missoula. Having lived in Missoula for sometime working on these issues, I’m sort of surprised I’ve never heard of either Pioneer Forest Products or Herman Hauck before. I’ll post below some news articles I’ve managed to find.

    Mr. Hauck’s company appears to have access to lots of investor money and wants to open up mills in Canada and the US. One of these articles mentions, “You have to understand that were talking about $120 million-plus investment here, and its not normal investment money. Its venture capitalists money coming from investors from the East, primarily, Hauck said.”

    I assume that’s East as in China, not East as in New Jersey.

    Also, it’s my understanding that Pioneer Forest Products wasn’t the highest bidder for this contract that’s part of the Four Forests Restoration Initiative. I was told that Pioneer Forest Products bid was actually $9 million less than the highest bid. If true, one has to wonder why in the world the Forest Service would basically leave $9 million at the table.

    SNIP: “The company making the most noise is Pioneer Forest Products of Montana. In a transparent attempt at corporate bullying, Herman Hauck took his case to the press last week.”

    SNIP: “The proposed project is being backed by unnamed venture capitalists from the East, and Pioneer is looking for a 10-year commitment from tribes.”

    • Keep Digging Matthew! I can’t find much about this company on the internet either. It’s like a ghost. And your question as to why the bid was selected needs a further look too. It will be interesting to see what this is about, and what the Center for Biological Diversity, you, and others can bring into the light of day. Maybe there is nothing amiss here, or maybe this will prove worth the effort to dig deeper into.

  4. Derek :I have no doubt the CBD will litigate and try to kill this deal-which is great. Maybe some of the great legal minds on this site could tell me if this Mega EIS would be a good opportunity for a frustrated public to attach a type of “Wolf Rider”(as in Tester) that would make said EIS “not subject to judicial reveiw.” Awhile back I was reading the 9th circus affirmation of Molloy’s ruling. Seems rather iron clad to me. But I don’t know?

    Public outcry (politics) does seem to override science doesn’t it? When the pendulum shifts the momentum is hard to overcome. The “wolf rider” is an extreme example of this….hopefuly we don’t see this “bull in the china shop” approach much more, but the courts are slow and things ({responsible} forest management) must/is going to go on.

    When the donors and financial supporters of the naysayers see that collaboratively developed (and widely supported – socially, ecologically, economically) projects are being shot down as a matter of course, the the donors and supporters may start to question their groups motives and their own affiliations….at least that should be how it works in theory. It’s a long term solution but Congress sure is buying in, as referenced to continued reference to CFLRP. (Mitch Frieman’s testimony )

    • I’m all for the collaborators JZ. I think collaboration gets us back to the local forest control that the USFS dumped in favor of Kow Towing to urbanites back in the 90’s. I do think it will be the way of the future. But as long as you have an aging rock star funding litigation at the Alliance for wild rockies,-well good luck.
      Tester’s Beaverhead Partnership, which I really liked, wasn’t killed by the fringe element the AWR represents, it was killed by those on the other end of the spectrum, led by Rehberg, who rightfully believe after 20 years of litigation, that no more timber would EVER be cut. It wasn’t killed by the radicals, it was killed by those adamantly opposed to the radicals. The irony is the radicals are in effect responsible for opposition at both ends. Of course it was also killed by Sen. Bingaman.

      Now, do you suppose a “Beaverhead Partnership rider” that included timber harvest mandates would placate those on the right such as Rehburg? Do you suppose it would make it through a Republican controlled House and Senate? You might get your chance.

      If I was a radical enviro, I would fear these “mega EIS’s.” It seems like a good strategy-one that I do believe was just proposed in Montana by an Obama Admin official-which I think does highlight your contention that “moderates Democrat enviros” are ready to cut ties with the radicals. The CBD gets one shot at this 4FRI EIS. They don’t get 30 shots at every EIS that would come down the pipeline for the next ten years, as is done now. And I might add-ONE rider to shove one EIS down their throat-is a lot easier than 30 riders isn’t it.

      I don’t know. I just speculate.

      Oh, by the way, is it true that 20 years ago, when the USFS was logging 10 billion board foot/year they had 30,000 employees, and today when they log 2 BBF they still have 30,000 employees?

  5. Derek,
    Not sure what the relevance of the historical comparisons of board feet/year by FS employee numbers is? As Larry has said many times, using the past to guide current/future management probably isn’t a proper yardstick.

    I also don’t know that “shoving down their throats” is quite the tact we need to be taking, but I think some degree of local control, as you mentioned, is and should one possible solution. Not “local control” (as in a bunch of local (special) interests) should have any greater say; rather they (those concerned, knowledgeable, interested, and willing to provide the oversight towards responsible land management) should help to speak for the “urbanites” (and greater public) as you put it. This is, in my belief and what I believe the collaborative model is suggesting. The alternative is the legislative model (iron fist), which we’ve seen doesn’t go over real well…although with enough public outcry (for better or worse) is a very real possibility. Reference the wolf delisting.

    In my dealings with the collaborative model, I can say that there is no chance of catering to any particular special interest (ostensibly timber) despite the spin the “not one stick” crowd has been putting forth. I do remain skeptical, however. The ownness is still on the Agency to produce a document that is bombproof and will withstand appeals and litigation, regardless of how well the project is designed and/or supported. Not an easy task considering the exceedingly complex tangle of environmental regulations and the army of lawyers on the CBD, WWP and AWR staff who are lined up to shoot projects down categorically. Again, they don’t argue the merits of a project, rather where the agency failed to do, blah, blah, blah…It can be disheartening, like trying to figure out how to do a Rubik’s cube while blindfolded. And while that admission is probably a small win for people like Matthew, it’s simply unacceptable to most folks that fully support responsible land management.

    The simple fact is that the pendulum has shifted. Congress, the majority, the public, etc. is giving the collaborative model a chance to prove itself and do MORE responsible public land management. Despite the allegations of the “big green” and “corporate sellout/suckups”, there are numerous reputable environmental groups willing to side with the collaborateurs.
    And while the “not one stick” crowd has their aging rockstars to fund them, “we” (siding with the collaborateurs) have the “big greens” to help influence our cause as well. Certainly must be a little unnerving for the naysayers, eh? The alternative to the collaborative model is the legislative model which works as little for the Agency as it does the naysayers. Something’s gotta give.

    So what can give? The great minds on this blog have spoken……Transparency….sure, you bet. Could absolutely be better. Better “framing”, Ok…to some extent I’d agree. But that’s where I grow “weary”…how can the Agency frame things different when the end result on the ground is the same? Is it a matter of semantics or truly intentions? I’m confused? The Agency has been given a set of “tools” (such as be “restoration”, reducing the risk of “catastrophic” fire, etc, etc…) that have us frame things in whatever is politically appetizing du jour.

    I’d challenge the folks on here that are smarter than me to craft a series of guidelines/criteria that, if satisfied, will result in a mutually acceptable (by all parties) and non-challengeable project (such as CFLRA – It’s certainly being tried and heavily criticized AND lauded). That piece of legislation has its benefits and shortcomings, but what is the alternative? Legislation is sure to follow if a group of concerned, knowledgeable, interested and willing to provide oversight citizens/groups can’t pull it off. I know our respective Congressional staffs follow closely and are engaged. If boards out of the woods are the only yardstick then maybe collaboration should fail…..

    • JZ says, “I’d challenge … folks … here … to craft a series of guidelines/criteria that, if satisfied, will result in a mutually acceptable (by all parties) and non-challengeable project ….”

      I am NOT convinced that the focus ought to be on “projects.” I’d rather see the focus on “process” first, projects second. Right process, would allow for projects but not “pitch” projects. Unfortunately, people’s eyes glaze over when we try to discuss process. If we could focus seriously on process, we might, for the first time since I’ve been watching/participating, see some projects but not the type that stem from ideological bias, e.g. David Clary’s Timber and the Forest Service bias (timbering as religion) , or the type bias the stems from an industry in search of reasons to justify its existence, whether that industry be timber, oil and gas, motorized recreation, etc.

    • Marginalizing the “not one stick” crowd might be the easiest part of “restoration”. Once that has been substantially completed, we’ll enter a more difficult process of deciding exactly which activities will fit the forest conditions. Scrutiny of projects must be transparent and objective, as we have seen some plans that really don’t meet “restoration” ideals, in favor of jobs. “Overstory removal” marking prescriptions should not ever be used again. The last time I’ve used one of those, here in California, was in 1988.

      I really like what you are saying, JZ, and a simple “thumbs up” isn’t an adequate response from me. The preservationists continue to demonize the collaborative process, and litigation will be expected. It seems that lawsuits are necessary to close the preservationist loopholes in future plans. Also, education is really important in describing the worst-case scenarios that come with gridlock. We still need more NEPA analysis to fully describe the bad impacts of all “No Treatment” alternatives. Judges need to know more about the science before they make their decisions. Sadly, Judges exercise their political leanings more than their scientific and judicial objectivity.


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