Judge Molloy on Colt Summit- E&E News

Here’s a link.

Here’s an excerpt:

In a brief order that will be followed by a lengthier written opinion, Molloy granted the Forest Service’s motion for summary judgment on several points. Among other things, he concluded that the Forest Service had adequately reviewed the potential direct impact of the proposal on lynx and grizzly bears.

But he ruled that the analysis of the project’s cumulative impact on lynx as required by the National Environmental Policy Act was not sufficient.

The Forest Service will now have to conduct that analysis before the plan can go ahead.

Megan Birzell of the Wilderness Society, a supporter of the plan, said Molloy’s finding was not a major setback because of the judge’s concurrent finding that the project passed muster under the Endangered Species Act.

“The judge said it won’t have an impact on lynx, but the Forest Service needs to beef up their analysis to better document that,” she said.

It will be interesting to see exactly what the documentation didn’t have that the judge was looking for.

9 thoughts on “Judge Molloy on Colt Summit- E&E News”

  1. Howdy Sharon et al, Just checking in on this site after a time away. Yes, cumulative impacts have always been an Achilles heal in FS analysis, along with follow up monitoring to assess impacts from projects. Seems like a great opportunity to look more closely as to why the agency seems to have this problem so regularly. It might even be a chance for non-FS partners who support the project to advocate for improved funding for this aspect of project analysis and/or incentivizing the agency to leverage limited funds with willing partners to get this good analysis work done up front.

  2. It would be great if Malloy and the USFS would consider what the “cumulative effects” of passive management and Acronym Abuse on our National Forests has been during the past 30 years. Catastrophic-scale wildfires were the documented predictions of many in the early 1990s. And they’ve come true, just as predicted.

    Curious how the grizzlies and lynx respond to vaporization, gruesome maiming, or starvation when these things take place. Or the “cumulative effects” of fake science on rural jobs, forest health, government treasuries, and native wildlife populations. Plus lynx, too, of course.

    More “funding?” Mike — please!! That’s the last thing needed for this kind of costly charade. The taxpayers have been dinged enough as is. This isn’t an “Achilles tendon” problem, it’s a common sense and competency difficulty.

    How much were the lawyers paid? Maybe they need “more funding,” too.

  3. Hi Bob, I’m not sure if I understand most of your points (and I mean that sincerely, not as a disguised jab), but it sounds like we disagree with the competency question concerning the agency that you raised. Of course there are always individuals within any organization that are “less than stellar”, but I would argue that the issues facing the agency are far more a question of systemic problems in how the agency is funded and incentivized than it is a question of competency or common sense. Of course, we’re both just making assertions that are probably too generalized to be completely accurate, but in the past 15 years of interacting with the agency (at one point as an AWR employee) I have never heard an agency biologist suggest that further information wouldn’t be wonderful to have at almost every scale. Whether or not the agency is in compliance with the law is a different question than whether they are competent or have common sense, and so I’d like to see the conversation move in a more constructive direction. Afterall, if we’re really concerned about the land, water, plants and animals AND people (and I believe we truly are in our hearts) then we need to consider what kind of solutions will actually create long-lasting change. I don’t know of anyone that responds well to being accused of incompetence, but I know a lot of people that respond really well when treated with respect and an assumption of good intent (even if its tough to muster sometimes).

    Bob, I know you and many others on this blog are passionate about these issues and I’m right there with you, but I ask everyone to keep the eye on the longer term. Consider the “end” or goal you have in mind and work from that place, always remembering that its not about “you” or “me” or “us”. Its about the land and the what’s best for the whole. I know my view is not the same as others and I welcome other view points. Its takes all perspectives to create the whole.

    • Hi Mike: Thanks for the response. I think we are both mostly in agreement on what needs to be done and why. My issue is not with biologists who “need more information,” it is the quality of the information that they are already using.

      The idea that “cumulative effects” need to be determined for animals for which very little is known — and for such a tiny part of their possible range — is, to me, a fool’s errand. Or — in this case — a job for a legal team. Can lynx be bred in captivity? If so, what are its real constraints in a managed forest environment? I’m guessing available food and lack of predation (“trappers”) are the real “critical habitat” limitations and all of the other “information” in use is mostly biased conjecture and opinion. At least that’s the way it seems to be working in Oregon.

      Yes, it’s some kind of law. And, yes, this delay for some kind of semi-nonsensical requirement is both expensive and unnecessary. My bigger point is that the “cumulative effects” of management by courtroom were predictable years ago, which predictions have proven to be accurate: catastrophic-scale fires everywhere almost every year these days. Predictable and preventable. Wouldn’t a decrease in the number, extent, and severity of these fires be good for lynx, too? Cumulatively?

  4. Hi Bob, If I’m hearing you right, I think you are pointing out a real problem with the unintended consequences of well-intentioned legal requirements. That is to say that under the current system we’ve lost sight of the underlying values our environmental laws were designed to promote and instead the entire question has been narrowed to whether we are “in compliance” or not. Its seems an alternative to this “compliance culture” would be a return to some foundational goals that serve our underlying interests. These goals would be oriented around moving toward ever-greater ecosystem function and resilience (a very real challenge in the age of climate change). Endangered species ought to be a part of the equation for sure, but if instead of project level analysis we had adequate incentive (and funding) for long-term holistic monitoring, we could finally get a handle on whether we’re moving in the right direction or not.

    If then we had a system that incentivized constant adaptive management in a continuous shift toward improved resilience over time. Going back to my original response to your first post, this is where my sense is that the challenges are not only driven by legal requirements, but are also embedded in how the agency is incentivized and funded. Much of the internal fiscal structure of the organization is grounded in an outdated paradigm that is still driven by targets rather than ecosystem health and resilience. The agency appears to be making some changes in a positive direction through integrating some of its BLIs (budget line items) so as to gain greater flexibility in doing watershed restoration, but there is still a long way to go, and (in my view) the agency could really benefit from “outside” advocates that understand these internal dynamics and can lobby for reform on its behalf….

    • Mike: Yep, that is exactly what I’m trying to say, if not as clearly as you’ve stated. “Unintended consequences” and “cumulative effects” travel in the same boat; along with seers, prophets, scientific predictions, the opinions of some scientists, and best guesses. We need to get back to “original intent” and common sense and proven science and away from this failed direction of theoretical modeling, homogenous regulations, courtroom squabbling, and passive management.

      The “compliance culture,” as you call it (I think that’s about the same group as the “environmental industry” I refer to), is a proven failure. The evidence is everywhere you look in every one of our Nation’s forests and Wilderness areas. Neglect doesn’t work. Avoidance doesn’t work. And yet, unemployment is high and much work obviously needs to be done. Seems a little odd.

      When a lot of this acronym-based (I have a theory regarding DOS on this) NEPA, ESA, NFMA, EPA, ETC stuff got started, the environmental industry claimed the problem was “single species management” and targeted Douglas-fir in my region. Then they began trying to manage uncommon variations of very common species — spotted hoot owls in one area, murrelets occupying states south of Alaska in another, salmon almost everywhere else — instead. Now we’re doing lynx habitat with theoretical computer games and somehow still need a bunch of new acronyms, like we are still stuck in DOS. The lawyers get paid and the loggers are offered food stamps and community college job training classes.

      Still on the same page? I do disagree about the perceived climate change problem, though.

      • I was a DOS Master in another millennium. I wrote my own custom autoexec.bat and config.sys, to achieve 621K of free DOS memory. There were serious limitations to DOS, same with management of Federal forests. There are many parameters which we have little control over, when assembling plans. For now, the best we can do is to stay within those parameters, while pointing out the problems with them.

        • Larry: I’m a mac guy, since 1982. I had to pass a 3-hour DOS course in the late 80’s to get my forestry degree, and it is the only course I have ever cheated on in order to pass. (Much thanks still to the other OTA student who helped get me through.) It was like trying to learn fluent Greek in 10 weeks of spare time from work, school, and parenting, and knowing full well you would never ever use it again.

          I agree with Mike that we need to reexamine our goals and intent and stop managing our nation’s forests via technical “compliance ” issues; and with you that these types of problems do need pointing out, at the right times and with the right people — one of the values of this blog and others like it.

  5. I just can’t resist coming back on the cumulative impacts problem. Couple logger buddies just came back from looking at Northwest’s Shoshone project in the Dubois area, possibly to contract for some of the remaining work. They were both horrified at the mortalities — can you say a cumulative impact — not just there, but all along their 1800 mile extravaganza.
    It furthermore didn’t escape their notice that the project was not commercial, but “funded” with the hopes of recovering some cash — but nowhere near what the work actually cost to conduct.
    So the taxpayers are on the hook in order to avoid the inevitable costs or asset losses (and functional habitat is an asset) when fire manifests itself on the landscape in the worst possible form.
    We are getting at the Fram point in cumulative impacts from completely screwed up federal laws. It’s pay now, or pay more later — and we can’t afford it now! Worse, there are too many within the agencies who are happily settled in that same dysfunctional environment. There’s no direct liability to them, or any need for them to avoid loss through the cumulative impact of neglect. As long as their paychecks keep coming until their pensions vest, it’s all good — but not for those who really pay the freight.
    I would hope that any “cumulative impact” work done here addresses the “c-i” of inaction. Lynx like bunnies and bunnies like certain flammable habitats….if that flammable habitat is all a nice big “conservation biology connectivity” hunk, at some point there WILL be an impact that might be, um, conclusive for all time.


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