Given recent discussion of 4FRI contractors and the difficulty of selling trees in Arizona despite years of efforts, this article talks about the Black Hills, which seems to be selling 20K acres per year and is asking for bucks for 30K.
I couldn’t reproduce the photo of the photogenic Forest Supervisor, Craig Bobzien, and Senator John Thune, due to copyright, but check it out in the article. Below is an excerpt:
Thom said last year that Forest Service sales in the Black Hills resulted in the removal of Ponderosa pines on about 20,000 acres. But the timber industry in the Black Hills can handle up to 30,000 acres if the funding were there to make it happen, Thom said.
Thune said effective timber management and cooperation by state and local government and private landowners working with and in addition to the Forest Service have proven the infestation can be slowed. Cooperation and effectiveness matter in the Washington, D.C., money hunt, he said.
More federal funding has come to the Black Hills in recent years and more might come again, Thune said.
“I think, for once, Washington, D.C., money seems to follow success, and we’ve seen success here in the Black Hills,” Thune said.
It’s unclear what that means for the coming year, with the effects of budget sequestration and debate over the federal debt.
“We don’t know at this point,” said Craig Bobzien, supervisor of the Black Hills National Forest.
Thune said it was “all very uncertain.” But he noted that Congress and the Forest Service have managed to streamline the process of getting timber-management projects in place. Forestry provisions of the federal farm bill could help strengthen that, he said.
“It doesn’t help with the funding issue, but it helps with authority and response to the problem,” he said.
Dennis Jaeger, deputy supervisor of the Black Hills National Forest, showed photographs of areas of forest where pine trees had been thinned ahead of the beetle spread. Few trees were infected.
Areas nearby that weren’t thinned showed heavy bug hits.
‘We can show successes on the forest,” Jaeger said.
Is it the fact that they have a decent longstanding traditional timber industry and not relying on new products or infrastructure? Is it something about political alignment? Are the Hills not (as desirable a) target for our litigious friends? There is litigation but not very successful.. why is that?
I would send folks from Neiman down to review the contracts and bidders on the 4FRI. Something is going right in the Black Hills.
Addition: Here is an interview with Jim Neiman VP of Neiman Enterprises.
Neiman Enterprises is a group of family-owned and operated sawmills manufacturing and re-manufacturing ponderosa pine lumber in a manner that is respectful of the environment, economy and communities. The company’s three production facilities produce a variety of primary and secondary wood products, including boards, dimension lumber, decking and wood shavings.
63 thoughts on “The Black Hills: They’ve Got It Figured Out”
Someday it’ll be an example of either what might be, or what might have been.
Thank you for the post, Sharon: the Black Hills pine monoculture is collapsing and no amount of political will can change that. Clear cutting with prescribed burns afterwards is restoring the aspen clones that are the historic habitat for the region.
The Neimans want the biggest trees because they are Pella contractors who spec knot-free lumber: they hire lobbyists to write legislation favorable to their enterprise even though it’s the second-growth pine infesting the greatest number of acres.
You mean you think that only aspen covered the Black Hills historically? I looked at some historic photos and there seems to be plenty of pines…
(others, this looks like an interesting site where a photographer shows the past compared to today; the photo I looked at was from the 1870’s and showed trees that must have gotten started at least 60 years or so earlier). This is by Paul Horsted, a photographer. Click on his slideshow in the upper right corner to see all of them full screen. It’s fascinating to see the changes through time.
The Black Hills has been managed by humans for thousands of years before settlement: there are at least 77 instances of fire set by tribes to clear pine for bison and wapiti including a nearly Hills-wide burn in the mid-1800s. Those early photos are not indicative of the entire region.
I thought some of the 1870s photos looked like there had been fires, with some (scraggly) post fire pines sticking up that you can see outlined on the ridge tops (say photo 12). So are you saying there was more aspen when the Tribes were burning? Or before they started burning?
Aspen, Rocky Mountain juniper, Black Hills spruce and bur oak were far more prolific in pre-settlement times. As you might be aware Forest Service Case No. 1 took place in the Hills but only after the old growth had been mostly cleared for mine timbers, railroad ties and construction. I logged and treated the bug some thirty years ago before understanding how completely futile the efforts would become.
When the wells for Ellsworth Air Force Base were dug many aquifer recharges were no longer able to keep up with demand robbing scant groundwater for the numbers of second-growth pine that overran the region. After a prescribed burn got away from the FS a moratorium on fuel treatments just exacerbated the problem.
The USFS is doing some neat “hardwood restoration” harvests now. 40 years ago they tied a chain between two bulldozers and tried to mow em down to get pine to grow. I’ve seen some good ones in both Aspen and Burr Oak. I was pointing out an Aspen unit to my sister yesterday…and she’s all like “oh, they cut way too much.” And I said, “But look at the Aspen…look at the Aspen…see how they cut all the pine around the grove too, Aspen in one of the biggest missing ecosystem components in the hills?”…the one thing that will thrive post MPB is Aspen and spruce, you can see it in the understory once the needles fall. (she was all like “thank God for the spruce, at least there’s some green in there.”
Viewed from afar (Florida) the Black Hills N.F. looks to be the best managed forest in the west. Their management plan is a model and implementation results in a balanced age classes, healthier forest stands, fewer beetles, and more jobs. They’re cutting about 45% of the gross annual growth on timberlands. Other forests in the west cut 2 – 10%. What do they have that the others don’t? You’d think that the F.S. leadership would be interested in finding out.
Sharon: The classic Repeat Photography book on Black Hills (so named in the 1830s or so by fur trappers because of the dark pine from a distance, if I remember right) is “Yellow Ore, Yellow Hair, Yellow Pine” :http://www.amazon.com/Yellow-Ore-Hair-Pine-Photographic/dp/B000PIF1EW (apparently a little rare at the current time).
Mac: I was in South Dakota 40 years ago, arriving for the summer with my family about 1 week before the Rapid City Flood and while local boy George McGovern was making his traumatic choice for a VP running mate during his stay nearby. I spent the summer on a break from my new reforestation business in Oregon (mostly still limited to tree planting at that time, which did not require crews in the summer), repairing flood damage and doing home construction work for my future father-in-law. My oldest son took his first steps and celebrated his first birthday there.
My former in-laws have lived in the Black Hills for several generations and one of their neighbors had done his grad research on the forests there. He told me very clearly that he expected the “whole area” to burn in a wildfire “one of these days” because of the proliferation of pine during his lifetime. I think he said it would be pushed by “winds from the east,” but my memory might be a little off in that regard. I think he died about 20 years ago, but I still have his thesis on file somewhere.
Sounds like forest managers may have taken things into their own hands before his prediction could take place.
Alright Sharon…I’ll bite.
The Black Hills NF is very similar to the Apache-Sitgreaves NF in Arizona. They’re both mostly ponderosa pine and they’re both around one million acres of “forested.” In the last 20 years, the BH’s has thinned around 350,000 acres and 100,000 acres has burned. In the last 20 years the ASNF has thinned around 60,000 acres and 500,000 acres has burned. I’m sure the local citizens of the ASNF are very thankful to the benevolent CBD for allowing their backyard playground and MSO habitat to be replaced by black backed woodpecker habitat.
I have to disagree with Larry. Only about 15-20% of harvest comes from “shelterwood or overstory removal” harvests. As with most of the West, the biggest missing ecosystem component is the “young forest” age class. Around 90% of the forest is classified as “mature sawtimber.” The rest is “commercial thinning,” and I’ve seen a lot of timber sales where 90% of the cut trees were under 12″ dbh. I agree with him that it’s good the USFS is doing a lot of “hardwood expansion” projects….specifically Aspen since they have been “over topped” and suppressed by P-pine.
The Black Hills is an “anomaly” in the P-pine world. The pre-settlement forest wasn’t characterized by frequent fire “low density large trees.” Early explorers like Colonel Dodge, and early USFS inventories done by Graves (like Leiberg did), found that 40% of the forest was classified as “scattered timber”(Dodge called it “without trees”), This was the “stand replacing” fire anomaly in the BH’s p-pine forest. 40% was classified as containing less than 2500 BF/acre(Dodge called it “small trees not fit for the sawmill), and only 10% contained more than 10,000 BF/acre…which would be classified today as dense old growth. The 2500 BF/acre could be categorized as the “frequent fire low density” that is found in the majority of P-pine forests. I want to interject here and mention that 10 years ago I had a bit of a debate in the newspaper with Mr. Baker, Thee Mr. Baker from the U of Wyoming who finds “high density” pre-settlement old growth where no one else does. He made the same claim about the BH’s. I pointed out to him the above figures…and noted that the 2500 BF/acre amounted to about 20-14″ DBH trees/acre or 5-24″ DBH/acre.
It’s ironic, that the biggest trees today are coming from the “scattered timber” category. They have had the full cycle of forest management…from pre-commercial thinning by the CCC in the 30’s, to pulpwood thinnings in the 70’s, to commercial thinning in the 90’s…to shelterwood today.The 10% old growth was logged off in the first half of the 1900’s, to build Deadwood’s charming historic district and the fabulous Homestake gold mine. The smallest trees today come from the 2500 BF/acre stuff which was managed much like Arizona’s…and most of that remaining overstory was removed in the 80’s to release the understory. It’s also the center of the MPB epidemic and where I’ve seen the 90% removed under 12″ DBH. I would only be lying to myself, if I didn’t tell you that very little is Old growth today….but then there wasn’t much to begin with. All timber harvest today comes from the “fire suppression generation” of trees…including the shelterwoods and removals. The average age of the forest is around 110 years. The BH’s timber industry transitioned to “small diameter logging” mechanical logging 20 years ago. I also want to reiterate what Mr. Nieman said in Sharon’s link above. In 1880, there was only 1.5 billion board foot of standing volume, while today there is 6.5 BBF…and that’s after 6 BBF was logged in the last 100 years. Another “hidden truth” that’s common on ALL national forests in the West.
And yes, the BH’s are a monoculture of even aged trees…as I’ve noted above 90% is classified as mature sawtimber. Of course, Mother Nature is a harsh mistress, and the BH’s too are going through a mountain pine beetle epidemic. However, the largest MPB epidemic was around 1910…when the bugs killed most of the trees on half the forest. I guess there must have been climate change then(sarcasm). In the name of “ecosystem management,” the USFS reduced harvest by 30% in the 1997 forest plan…and several mills closed. I think the idea was to grow more old growth, when the reality was it grew more bug trees. One has to speculate what effect another 150,000 acres of thinning would have had on the MPB problem. While impossible to stop the MPB epidemic, I have no doubt management has slowed the progression. The BH’s epidemic started the same time as Colorado’s…and in 6 short years their forest is dead now, while two thirds of the BH’s has pretty much been unaffected. And in those areas that have been thinned and “sanitized” amongst the beetle epidemic…hey…at least we still got a green forest. I also want to point out, that at the present rate of harvest, it will take 40 years to “re-enter” some of these stands. Because of the increased growth rate that comes with the “thinning release”, In 40 years, those 12″ DBH trees will be pushing >20″ DBH and flirting with old growth status. In 20 years, most of the forest will be >than 16″ DBh…except those areas that were clearcut with Mother Natures pine beetle axe…and of course, those areas that receive an overstory removal. The new buzz phrase amongst beetle killed forests in Colorado is “age diversity.”
Well, that’s the run down. Like I said in my first post. Someday, the Black Hills should be held up as an example of “what could be” for Arizona, and “what might have been” for the Apache Sitgreaves.
Derek, just to be clear..MPB operates differently in LPP and ponderosa; thinning works in ponderosa sometimes/most of the time.
But it wouldn’t work in LPP in LPP country (where that’s most of the stand). In fact, we used to open up LPP through thinning in Central Oregon (to increase cone production) and they seemed to be more attractive to the beetles.
To not have LPP trees die, you would have to have a mosaic of age classes, some not desirable to MPB. That could be done through unmanaged fire, or some form of human intervention, burning or mechanical removal so new stands can get established through time, and stands are of different age classes throughout the landscape. as in this photo from your 2010 post http://ncfp.wordpress.com/2010/10/23/impacts-of-fire-disturbance-on-anthropogenically-induced-vegetation-mosaics/
Yeah…I know Sharon. My point wasn’t that they should have thinned the LPP in Colorado, my point was that if they hadn’t thinned 120,000 acres since the epidemic began here, and most of that was in the epidemic area, that the MPB might have progressed as quickly here as It did in CO. What is it? every tree hatches enough MPB brood to infest 7-10 more trees? Real exponential stuff here.
In the area within the “Breckenridge timber sale” around Breck CO., 10 years ago the USFS proposed “thinning” the LPP for the beetle, but today it will be a clearcut(of course, the MPB has subsided in that area..and it may end up being a salvage/thinning…adaptive management). Basal area is everything. I’ve see the USFS here “re-enter” stands today that were thinned 15 years ago to the “15′ spacing max. stocking”, and thin em out now to 25′ spacing for the MPB.
I’ve been observing another MPB concept. It would appear that the beetle “leaves” some green mature trees. It’s like as the MPB keeps killing more and more trees in a stand, over a few years…that maybe there is a “self thinning” thing going on. Or maybe it’s natures way of keeping a few “seed” trees left. It ain’t many…maybe a few per acre. Might explain pre-settlement structure a bit. I’ve also observed that where the USFS leaves a dense stand for “thermal or hiding cover” amongst the thinned stuff, the MPB seeks it out and kills it. A lot of 40 acre Goshawk nest buffers have gone the way of the Dodo bird this way. A lot of the “scenic corridors” in the BH’s follow the canyon bottoms…stuff that was too steep to log, and it’s getting whacked…but above the canyon, where the ground mellows into a plateau…it’s thinned and green and out of sight. Good for the public to see it.
Speaking of MPB treatments in LPP, ya know that 30 years ago I spent 5 years salvage logging MPB on Targhee and the Gallatin. I’ve visited it since many a time, and I was looking at Targhee the other night on Google Earth, and we wacked like 50% of the forest, but there was still a lot of standing mature in the uncut blocks. Oh they were thin from the MPB alright, but it still amazes me they never became windfall. I’d say it’s impossible to stop a MPB in endless forests of LPP, but I wonder if all the sanitizing and salvage in the cut units didn’t “reduce” the MPB in the uncut blocks? Either that or the MPB wasn’t gonna kill it all anyway? lol. 80% of the volume in our clearcuts was dead. Regardless, there’s a lot more standing green LPP there than what I’ve seen in Colorado…and it does stun me that they didn’t succumb to windfall as we’ve been warned. So you still have somewhat of an “age diversity” there. Young regen, and “mature low-medium density. (4A-4B)”
Btw: up until about forty years ago the Black Hills supported some lodge-pole and limber pine now extirpated.
What happened to the lodgepole and limber?
Fire suppression, grazing, the ponderosa pine monoculture, anthropogenic climate change (yes, it WAS occurring in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution and into the early 20th Century) have all contributed to declines in many species. I have hypothesized that antibiotics in cattle manure have altered fungal communities especially Pleurotus populinus: its relationship to aspen is essential for the overall health of the Black Hills ecosystem.
But there’s plenty of limber pine and lodgepole and aspen elsewhere with fire suppression and grazing. I don’t know that ranchers in the Hills use more or different antibiotics than in Colorado or Utah??
In other places MPB’s are getting lodgepole and limber pine. Which could be partially due to AGW but stopping thinning p pine trees is unlikely to help. In fact, drought from AGW might make it more important to thin p pine trees for them to survive.
What is the mechanism by which the “ponderosa pine monoculture” contributed to the declines in “many species”?
In many ways it’s a closed system in that it creates its own water supply: an island in the plains as Edward Raventon calls it or living rock, if you will.
The Black Hills is an anomaly as Derek stated above: it is among the most recent biomes to have experienced the stresses on its water supplies thrust upon her by a voracious inbound demographic comprised of retirees seeking inexpensive property fairly close to Denver. The concentrations of pharmaceuticals in septic tanks and cattle manure leaching into groundwater is being debated as I type this: E. coli warnings are currently in effect.
>Larry, that is so not unique to the Hills. In fact my LinkedIn National coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation group posted this..about the same problem in Central Oregon and how a community group approached it..
Comparing a blue state like Oregon to counties in a red state like South Dakota, where the GOP controls the dialogue is a bit disingenuous, Sharon. Coercion is not consensus.
It should be noted that Homestake owned the largest sawmill n the Hills logging under the 1872 Mining Law before Barrick acquired the company and Neiman Enterprises snagged it at a fire sale price.
Larry: Not sure what the purpose of dividing states into “blues” and “reds,” but I’d like to ask you to please Keep Oregon Green. (Oh, wait, the meaning of “green” has changed, too!)
Hmm…”disingenuous”: when I lived and worked in Central Oregon (1979-1988) the more rural parts were highly red… no I guess that hasn’t changed..based on whom they send to the state legislature. check it out!
Also here is the District of Greg Walden, R.
All of Central and Eastern Oregon.
In fact, an interesting side note is that Chuck Burley, who currently works for “timber industry,” was elected from Bend (near the areas in discussion)to the Oregon State House of Representatives. Elected from Bend, which is the urban hotspot of Central Oregon (does anyone from there think that’s not fair?). If I had to guess, I would think there would be a higher ratio of Ds to Rs in Bend than in Rapid. Maybe someone who knows how, ,could look it up? I thought I was doing pretty well finding the state legislators.
I can’t say that I think D senators or reps from other districts in in Congress are going to make a difference when a community discusses its septic problems; more likely local elected officials.
I know many Oregonians read this blog; I am only a former Oregonian (Lakeview and the greater Bend “metro” area) so feel free to correct me.
In the late ’70s Homestake employed a mostly union-supported workforce ending when Ronald Reagan came to office and declared war on organized labor to finance the Southern Strategy. Now, what is left die in the oil patch or West Virginia while the Neimans and Masseys plunder the remainder in the name of job creation.
Good for Oregon while South Dakota languishes under the shadow of the Yellowstone supervolcano awaiting redemption.
Larry, it’s interesting that you use the word “redemption.”
There is a school of thought that once folks believed an angry God would destroy the world because of its sins. Some people think that there is a strain of current environmentalism that has the same underlying philosophy… humans are bad, if we don’t change our ways, we will be destroyed. The only way to avert destruction is to do as I say…
The problem is that for many of us, we know that often that (do as I say or you will go to hell/ the world will collapse, etc.) ,is an exercise directed at scaring people so they will do what the scarer wants. And my experience is that many, if not most, people have an intuitive sense to detect the intentions of the scarer, and just blow off the scarer and anything the scarer says.
I believe that we are all struggling to do what we think is right for people and the planet. Maybe we will succeed. Maybe we will fail. But I believe that each of us can only do what we can do.
There’s about 160 acres of lodgepole. It’s a remnant from the last ice age. Same with the “white” spruce” and Paper birch. The nearest stands of those are 400 miles north in Canada’s boreal. Since I don’t have a life (lol), I made a pilgrimidge and “finally” found the lodgepole. I used the “preffered alternative treatment map from the “Telegraph project”…where they showed the lodgepole units. The first stand was so mixed with spruce and p-pine…I couldn’t find them! Boy my freinds pilloried me for that. So I went back up the next weekend to another unit, which was an old shelterwood harvest, and found some nice 20′ tall lodgepole next to 20′ P-pine…THEN they stood out! So they had regenerated in that unit. I was hoping the USFS would would cledarcut the other unit…and promote the lodgepole…but…woulda been tough…it was so dense with shade tolerants.
There is no evidence that the Black Hills has ever been glaciated: one reason that human history in Hills is at least 11,700 years old.
But even if the Hills were not glaciated, I think the world was colder then. So being a “remnant” can mean that the species got established there when the climate was colder.
Not disagreeing: just that forests on this particular small isolated mountain range have a long history of anthropogenic manipulation. icymi: the ponderosa pine forest collapse was forecast at least a decade ago.
So you think the forest is “collapsing”?
Oh yeah: if you check your spam box you will find a very long comment with links.
Larry: You were correct! I checked the spam box and there was your list of links, along with a bunch of real spam. So I checked the box next to your entry and turned the menu to “not spam.” Apparently, I was then supposed to go to another box and click “Approve,” or something. When I then did a “permanent discard” for the remaining files, yours went with it! No explanation, no “undo” option.
Can you please send again? I obviously need more practice in my part-time “Admin” duties. Also — how did you know it went to the spam box? That sounds like a voice of experience.
Matthew Koehler and this interested party have a blog history: I am a fringe thought leader for the Democratic Party putting us in opposite corners in some policy discussions especially since it is my belief that the FS should come out of USDA and look more like the Bureau of Reclamation in Interior.
The Black Hills was my home for over 30 years and am in Rapid City visiting. I am exceedingly angry and frightened for what is happening to this unique hydrologic region: uranium, gold, sediment in the main stem dams, Republicans… all contribute to its ecological decline.
Larry.. thank you for your comments but, we don’t do Generalized Party Attacks on this blog; we try not to do generalized attacks on any kind of people but sometimes we slip up. GPA’s are pretty easy to recognize, though.
Just so you know plenty of other places in the west than the hills have historic mining and historic mining environmental problems.
Spent ten years in Montana facing those very issues, Sharon and am lving in Santa Fe now watching it: thanks for the satori.
No…it wasn’t glaciated…but the glaciers were 200 miles away. The Missouri river was formed carrying away the glacial outwash. At that time…what are prairies today were covered in spruce/birch boreal forests. Hard to imagine spruce/birch forests by Murdo eh! LOL. A really cool book Larry is “America’s Ancient Forests: from the ice age to the age of discovery” by Thomas Bonnicksen. A real eye opener for me…Ponderosa pine was pushed down to like Florida during the ice age.
I know of no logging of Lodgepole pine at any time in the hills…I’m sure some have been lost in the last 100 years due to encroachment. I got some pine cones from the stand I found…wouldn’t it be cool if the USFS “planted some Local stuff”…that’s what I was hoping they would do with the “LPP units on the sale.” Maybe they still will…but your gonna have to clearcut it and scarify and burn it…and let some sun in. Intriguing stuff.
Who is Thom?
Was the Natural Resources Staff Officer on the Hills. Now LinkedIn says he works for Black Hills Forest Stewards.
If the Black Hills have it figured out why is the Black-backed Woodpecker being petitioned for ESA protections there?
The BHNF has not figured it out: that is the blog author’s opinion. This forest’s budget is in the red every year because it is beholden to the Neimans and grazing interests.
Larry, I’m not sure what you are saying about the Hills’ budget . You will need to be more specific.
Further the forest is the only one I know of that has a formal FACA committee composed of folks of different kinds of interests that reviews its activities and makes recommendations.
Little Bird, that’s a good question. We’ve had previous discussions about the black-backed woodpecker on this blog here http://ncfp.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/black-backed-woodpeckers-one-step-closer-to-esa-protection-in-ca-or-sd/
and other places, you can type in black-backed woodpecker on the search screen.
In previous discussion, we talked about 1) what is “enough” and what marker do you use of genetic variation to qualify as a Distinct Population Segment (the genetic discussions I’ve been in go around “which marker of genetic variation do you select? when they don’t agree with each other?”) and 2) how can there be a lack of snags if fire is everywhere and projections of climate change tell us there will be more fires?
Short answer: Anyone can petition anything, and CBD likes to petition lots of things. Some might argue that with the goals of CBD, it is precisely the obvious success of the Hills (healthy forest industry without “ecosystem unraveling”) that has them seeking additional legal hooks.
Species become threatened and endangered when ecosystems unravel. It will be interesting to see if the rare woodpecker becomes the spotted owl of the Black Hills. The timber industry will only be able to say it was obviously too successful in the past.
Hello: I’m posting the following comment on behalf of a reader that contacted me, but would like to remain anonymous. The views and info expressed are from this person, not from myself. Thanks. – mk
Sharon says the Black Hills N.F. have “got it figured out” and that on the Black Hills “there is litigation but not very successful…why is that?” It looks like there have been two lawsuits in the past 10 years on the Black Hills, one before the 8th Circuit regarding MPB treatments in the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, and one ongoing before the 10th Circuit regarding the last major amendment to the Black Hills forest plan, which was supposed to fix legal and scientific problems identified in the 1997 plan revision by the Chief of the Forest Service, but appears to have taken a turn away from those promises to focus instead on MPB and wildfire.
There are certainly concerned local citizens tracking the Forest Service’s actions on the Black Hills N.F. regarding wildlife habitat, botanical resources, and water quality. Yet despite objections from the public, the Forest Service recently authorized a 250,000-acre forest-wide Mountain Pine Beetle Response Project under HFRA following pressure from industry and the state of South Dakota and counties. The relatively small number of lawsuits on the Black Hills may be because litigation truly takes a lot of resources, time, and staff capacity, and larger environmental law groups with more paid staff and funds tend to focus on the Rockies, Cascades, Sierras, etc. Not to mention one of the last successful lawsuits on the Black Hills resulted in then-Sen. Daschle helping enact a legislative rider to get the Forest Service out of a settlement agreement not to log in a roadless area (one of only 2 IRAs over 5,000 acres on the Forest – there is one 13,000-acre wilderness) before fixing the deficient 1997 revised plan. Knowing a litigation win can be undone so quickly through legislation by powerful agency and industry lobbies has likely made a lot of folks who participate in public processes on the Black Hills wary of taking the Forest Service there to court.
Sharon mentions nothing of the devastating impacts 100-years plus of heavy-handed management and development have had on native species and hydrology in this “island in the plains.” The Black Hills N.F. has one of the highest road densities nationally (the highest in Region 2) and some of the most at-risk populations of species like black-backed woodpecker, American marten, American dipper, and northern goshawk due to its isolated nature and ongoing heavy logging in the name of MPB and wildfire hazard reduction. There are also other challenges, including a very high number of private inholdings making the WUI very large, a lot of hard-rock mining, etc.
Comments note that a ponderosa pine monoculture resulted from years of fire suppression and logging. This may be true, but that does not mean there are no adverse impacts from massive “MPB treatments” that continue to send Region 2 “sensitive species” on their downward spiral. Simple protections for snag-dependent species and goshawks that were in place in the past have been removed. In fact, the situation has become so alarming that the Black Hills population of the black-backed woodpecker is being reviewed for ESA protections by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. High-intensity wildfire, which produces the most valuable habitat for these woodpeckers, has historically not been allowed to occur and still isn’t. Prescribed fire produces fairly low-value habitat for black-backed woodpeckers, while MPB produces mediocre habitat for this species.
The Black Hills N.F. may be one of the last to revise its plan under the 2012 planning rule, because how could the Forest Service possibly meet obligations for “ecological integrity” or “ecological sustainability” when faced with such pressure from Neiman Enterprises and hostility toward conservation from a public that has been taught that “MPB = Public Enemy #1.” Neiman actually distributes such bumper stickers and pins. There are good folks working to educate the public on the real impacts of ongoing heavy logging on the fragile Black Hills ecosystem, but it’s an uphill battle as always when faced with industry’s financial resources. It’d be a shame if the Black Hills served as a model for other parts of the country. It’s quite a stretch to argue it is managed in a balanced way for the full spectrum of multiple uses, particularly wildlife and water quality values. It’s basically been turned into a sacrifice zone depleted of much of the unique biodiversity that accumulated over tens of thousands of years with relics from multiple climatic zones.
“Knowing a litigation win can be undone so quickly through legislation by powerful agency and industry lobbies has likely made a lot of folks who participate in public processes on the Black Hills wary of taking the Forest Service there to court.”
Ah yes…legislative riders. Pesky little things. Lot of eyes and expectations on some of the various initiatives these days. I often wonder what happens when/if those fall short, particularly due to litigation. Subject of a lot of discussion last week with some of the top dogs and “stakeholders”. I was comforted to know that not everyone is going blindly down the primrose path (of the various initatives) and some practical legislative solutions are being explored as well.
Hmm. I’d like to see those “powerful agency lobbies”. I think it’s called the Administration. And I don’t think anyone will be surprised to find out that my experience suggests that they are friendlier with the environmental types than the industry types.
Really? Neiman is a “powerful industry lobby” vis a vis national legislation?
It seems to me you gotta pick a lane.. either there is a large Spectre. “The Timber Industry Writ Large,” who can influence national legislation and then would have a national rider.
Or we have a tiny company in one state (or three now, but Coloradans are very happy to get the mill out of receivership) that can influence one tiny rider for one tiny forest.
I have to say this rhetoric sounds like it’s leftover from the 80’s Timber Wars in Oregon. Plenty of regular people who are not beholden to timber interests (OK, Chuck bought me a beer once).. feel that litigation is not the best way to resolve resource conflicts, for the reasons outlined on this blog (only some people can play, the discussion moves from physical reality to legal reality, etc.)
Which is substantially different that being beholden to the timber or grazing “industries.” Any more than the “climate modeling industry” or the “environmental law industry”.
Congress, despite its many irritating proclivities, remains the group that makes laws. And riders are just as legitimate, in this respect, as ESA or NEPA. Checks and balances, a la the Founders, in action.
The Neimans have been contributors to GOP candidates for decades in both Wyoming and South Dakota: http://www.city-data.com/elec2/elec-HULETT-WY.html
The Neimans contributed to SD’s At-large Representative, too:
And riders are just as legitimate, in this respect, as ESA or NEPA. Checks and balances, a la the Founders, in action.
Of course riders are laws, but they are not as legitimate as the ESA or NEPA. Those statutes had a specific enviro purpose that was debated by members of Congress.
When the Black Hills lost on one of the only timber sales that was litigated in the early 2000s a U.S. Senator decided the sale should bypass the judicial system by tagging it on to an appropriations bill whose main purpose was to combat terrorism. What U.S. Senator is going to withhold money for the war on terror because of a timber sale in South Dakota? It was a cheap move.
See Supplemental Appropriations Act for Further Recovery From and Response to Terrorist Acts on the United States, Pub.L. No. 107-206, § 706, 116 Stat. 820, 864 (2002)
Weaponized wildfire and pyroterrorism are real considerations on this particular forest: it’s no surprise that Sen. Daschle acted on the recommendations presented to him by this interested party; but it is frustrating that logging is being done under the false flag of mountain pine beetle infestation when ponderosa pine and climate change are the real threats.
You said “was supposed to fix legal and scientific problems identified by the Chief of the Forest Service but focused instead on MPB and wildfire.” You point out a problem with lengthy planning efforts, that by the time you get done conditions can change. The 1997 plan revision is now 16 years old.. remember forest planning was required by the 1982 regulations to be done every 10-15 years. The legal deficiencies of the 1997 are water under the bridge or bark beetles blown downwind, whatever your preferred analogy is.
I wonder why, given that they had to fix their plan and there was a massive MPB attack and view from the scientific community that climate change is driving increased wildfire, that they would have focused on MPB and wildfire???
You claim “Yet despite objections from the public, the Forest Service recently authorized a 250,000-acre forest-wide Mountain Pine Beetle Response Project under HFRA following pressure from industry and the state of South Dakota and counties”
Was that “pressure from the industry?” or “broad public concern expressed to their elected officials”? Counties and states are elected officials presumably sensitive to their constituents which include others, as well as timber industry.
You said “The relatively small number of lawsuits on the Black Hills may be because litigation truly takes a lot of resources, time, and staff capacity, and larger environmental law groups with more paid staff and funds tend to focus on the Rockies, Cascades, Sierras, etc.”
I agree with you, it is a mystery why 600 acre thinning projects in Montana are worthy of lawsuits but 250,000 acre ones in South Dakota are not. It is because some groups, funded by some individuals, prioritize that they will help local groups with some projects and not with others. But the public knows neither who is (ultimately) funding this litigation, nor why they are picking some projects over others. That’s why some people don’t feel comfortable with the litigation approach to natural resource policy.
Not to mention one of the last successful lawsuits on the Black Hills resulted in then-Sen. Daschle helping enact a legislative rider to get the Forest Service out of a settlement agreement not to log in a roadless area (one of only 2 IRAs over 5,000 acres on the Forest – there is one 13,000-acre wilderness) before fixing the deficient 1997 revised plan.
It’s OK to have a private settlement agreement; it’s not OK for a Senator to do a rider (very publicly, that could have been rejected by his peers) that he thinks will benefit his constituents? I already discussed what I think about “powerful agency lobbies” in this comment:
You said: Sharon mentions nothing of the devastating impacts 100-years plus of heavy-handed management and development have had on native species and hydrology in this “island in the plains.” The Black Hills N.F. has one of the highest road densities nationally (the highest in Region 2) and some of the most at-risk populations of species like black-backed woodpecker, American marten, American dipper, and northern goshawk due to its isolated nature and ongoing heavy logging in the name of MPB and wildfire hazard reduction. There are also other challenges, including a very high number of private inholdings making the WUI very large, a lot of hard-rock mining, etc.
Many forests have a bad mining history (try San Juan). Many forests have large WUIs (try Arapaho-Roosevelt). The question that we must look at is “can thinning help or hurt further?” It seems like it’s not related to hard rock mining. Thinning will help with fire suppression efforts in the WUI. Saying the road density is higher than others does not mean anything unless the roads are having a specific environmental impact. And wouldn’t that naturally be the case (there would be a large number of roads) if there are “a large number of private inholdings?.” How can “not thinning” help with that?
You said:. This may be true, but that does not mean there are no adverse impacts from massive “MPB treatments” that continue to send Region 2 “sensitive species” on their downward spiral. Simple protections for snag-dependent species and goshawks that were in place in the past have been removed.
What specifically was removed? From what documents?
You said :
We know that FWS is reviewing it because of a lawsuit by CBD, not because of the alarm of FWS.
The problem is that the FS isn’t allowing the fires to become intense enough to be “the most valuable habitat”? Possibly due to “numerous inholdings”? This does sound like a problem. But not something related to thinning.
You say the Hills is a “fragile ecosystem”; I guess I can look around there and not see that. If it were “fragile”, extremely bad things would have happened with all the mining and house building and tourists and logging and grazing. Some individual bad things have happened but whatever the “ecosystem” is, it seems to be doing fine. Elements are cycling.
You said that it has been depleted of “much of the biodiversity that accumulated over tens of thousands of years.” But you can’t (or didn’t) say specifically what has been “depleted.” And since the climate has been warming since the last ice age, then you would expect that there has been a shift, not that all species would continue to be there and “biodiversity” would “accumulate.”
Again I say, there may be specific things that are bad, so let’s talk about them. I mean specific protections on specific timber projects that you think aren’t protective enough. Because I don’t know how “not-thinning” will help with inholdings or abandoned mines.
Sharon: The Forest Service manages about 1.25 million acres in the Hills, most of the other 5.5 million acres of the Black Hills hydrologic region are privately held lands whose owners largely blame forest failures on Federal or State mismanagement.
The Forest Service manages about 1.25 million acres in the Hills, most of the other 5.5 million acres of the Black Hills hydrologic region are privately held lands whose owners largely blame forest failures on Federal or State mismanagement.
A broad blog post title of “The Black Hills: They’ve Got It Figured Out” implies the Forest Service has all the problems associated with mines, inholdings, road density, wildlife habitat, botanical values, water quality, and everything else “figured out.” Many disagree. This post should really be titled “The Black Hills: The Forest Service and the Timber Industry Have Figured Out How to Expedite Timber Sale Contracts,” since you’re contrasting it with 4FRI.
CBD has not filed a lawsuit regarding the black-backed woodpecker; it and other groups have submitted a petition to FWS that is being further reviewed because it raised significant questions about the species’ need for protection.
NFMA itself calls for forest plan revision at least every 15 years (Section 6(f)(5)). So it looks like it’s been 16 years and the Black Hills is overdue under a strict statutory interpretation, would you agree? It will be interesting to see how the 2012 regulations get applied on this forest.
Wildfire and beetles did not exercise some surprise attack. They have always been part of the Black Hills. While I don’t dispute the Forest Service should include wildfire and beetle considerations in forest planning, their emphasis in the amendment development coincides with a change in presidential administrations and an appropriations rider to get out of other aspects of the settlement agreement. One chief says the plan is flawed, the next says those flaws don’t matter. Enough to cause feelings of distrust toward an agency. Do all legal flaws, even if unfixed, become water under the bridge after a certain period of time, in your opinion? Even with long-lasting documents like forest plans? The rule of law is typically highly valued in our society.
As for the private settlement in question, it looks like there were a lot of folks at the table, from a timber industry association, a multiple use coalition, a handful of conservation groups, some counties, South Dakota, and the Forest Service. Those combined entities represent a pretty broad spectrum of the public. Most opinions and perspectives were probably heard loudly and clearly in the negotiations. Can the same be said of an appropriations rider attached to a bill to fund counter-terrorism?
Thinning without adequate protections for habitat can destroy habitat and prevent habitat development. There are very few areas of the most mature, dense structural stages on the Black Hills – which is what some of the most rare species require. While MPB and wildfire might prevent more of this stage from developing in some areas, thinning guarantees it won’t develop in the relatively near-term. Protections for snag-dependent species and goshawks have been removed through forest planning and amendments over the years. Thinning projects also usually include road construction and reconstruction, which exacerbates road density and sediment issues overall.
Writing off biodiversity loss due to climate change without recognizing and adjusting our own role in exacerbating those losses goes against a lot of people’s values, I’d say. The Black Hills is generally good at growing ponderosa pine, but that does not mean it’s not a fragile ecosystem. At what level are you looking? What “extremely bad things” need to happen to label any ecosystem as “fragile”? As an isolated area, the Black Hills are particularly vulnerable to modifications in hydrology and other natural processes. There are numerous accounts of the Black Hills being at risk. Look at Sven Froiland’s book Natural History of the Black Hills and the Badlands.
Thank you so much Marten for your contributions in the comment section of this blog.
Well…the MPB didn’t spare to much old growth lodgepole in Colorado. The spruce beetle didn’t spare to much old growth in Colorado. The MPB didn’t spare to much old growth in the Black Elk Wilderness, while the adjacent Custer State Park, which thinned, has old growth and large diameter trees left…albeit the more historic “low density” version.
I would also like to know how many people will be willing to commune with deadfall in the wilderness area. Do you set your tent amongst the deadfall and celebrate it, or do you pick the green places? what is always unsaid is, “what are the effects of wildfiere and MPB on wilderness recreation.” How much does use drop off after these events. Do people back pack into the burn areas of Yellowstone, or has use been steered toward non burn areas? I’m sure the wealthy guided Elk hunters have no problem with burns, since Elk thrive in burns. Of course, nobody studies “wildfire and MPB effects on wilderness use.” I think it would be fascinating. Because if the wilderness enthusiasts don’t even use it, why should the 98% non-wilderness users celebrate it in the non-wilderness areas?I’m not suggesting that wilderness should be managed, oh to the contraire, the public should be able to compare between managed VS. non.
Simply put, the reason the BH’s haven’t been litigated to death is because it’s a place in the sticks that isn’t an attractive place for enviros from around the country to move to. The people who live here, were born here. The people who move here, once lived here. A VP for Weyerhauser once told me, that he spent the first 18 years of his life wanting to get out of South Dakota, and the last 40 years trying to get back. The BCA,which has litigated in the past, once complained that the BH’s wasn’t “charismatic” enough to raise funds to defend it. Evidently, grants from the big “I feel so guilty that grand daddy made a zillion in the oil business” enviro trusts have strings attached to their money. And saving the BH’s isn’t one of them. I might add that the BCA litigated the Medicine Bow in Southern Wyoming to closure, but hasn’t litigated one MPB timber sale since. In 2007, they were bragging how they had reduced timber harvest on that forest from 30 MMBF/year to 3 MMBF/year. That’s back up to 30MMBF/year for the last few years and no litigation. One might get the impression that a lot of their money comes from Colorado…and the Colorado donors have told them to shut up.
MPB mitigation is wildly popular here, just like it is in the ski counties of Colorado…which gave Obama 65% of their vote, while the BH’s counties gave Romny 65% of their vote.
Mountain Pine Beetles are believed to have originated in the Black Hills. They were originally called the Black Hills Beetle before being renamed. It is a shame they are vilified by timber interests in the area.
That’s why I love this blog…I found this on the “fossil records of mountain pine beetle”.
Generally I would say that despite what the beetle was called, MPB’s have been around for a long time and I don’t think that there’s any evidence that the species originated in the Black Hills. I can’t attest to timber industry’s point of view, but many other people prefer green living forests to dead jackstrawed ones. At least in Colorado. here’s the link.
Holocene records of Dendroctonus bark beetles in high elevation pine forests of Idaho and Montana, USA.
Paleoecological reconstructions from two lakes in the U.S. northern Rocky Mountain region of Idaho and Montana revealed the presence of bark beetle elytra and head capsules (cf. Dendroctonus spp., most likely D. ponderosae, mountain pine beetle). Occurrence of these macrofossils during the period of time associated with the 1920/1930 A.D. mountain pine beetle outbreak at Baker Lake, Montana suggest that when beetle
populations reach epidemic levels, beetle remains may be found in the lake sediments. In addition to the beetle remains found at Baker Lake during the 20th century, remains were also identified from ca. 8331, 8410, and 8529 cal yr BP. At Hoodoo Lake, Idaho remains were found at ca. 7954 and 8163 cal yr BP. These Holocene records suggest the infestations occurred during a period when climate changed rapidly to cooler and effectively
wetter than present in forests dominated by whitebark pine. These two lake records provide the first preliminary data for understanding the longterm history of climatic influences on Dendroctonus bark beetle activity, which may be useful for predicting climate and stand conditions when mountain pine beetle activity occurs.
Since I don’t have a life(LOL), I was just re-reading the Mountain Pine Beetle Response DEIS. Specifically the “vegetation”” section. On page #118 is an interesting visual. It’s a graph showing “existing structural stages,” and predicted MPB mortality if Alternative A was chosen, which we all know is the “no action” alternative. If “no thinning” is done and the MPB is allowed to run amok, “stand” structural stage 4C (mature dense) would be reduced from 60,000 acres to 5,000 acres, 4B (mature med. dense) would be reduced from 140,000 acres to 15,000 acres while stages 2(grass forb) and 3A ( 5″-9″ DBH low density) would both increase from nothing to 60,000 and 70,000 acres respectively. Basically mother natures clearcut.
Now go to page 128 for an even more stunning visual. It’s the stand structural stages after alternative C (the chosen alt.) was implemented…compared to the Alt. A MPB mortality. “after Alt.C thinning,” the 4C structural stage would still have 45,000 acres, compared to the MPB mortality of 5,000. There would still be 60,000 acres in 4B compared to 15,000 after the MPB got through. Stages 2 and 3A would go up, but nothing like Mother Natures MPB clearcut. The big increase would be in 4A.
My point in all this “eye glazing,” is after the Alt. C thinning, there would be many many more acres in the 4B and 4C stage…this is important in that any future old growth IS recruited from these two stages. In short, there is a much much better chance of future old growth under the “action alternative C” thinning than taking your chances with the MPB.
Nature abhors dense forests, which probably explains why only 5% of the BH’s was “dense Old Growth” 100 years ago. But then of course, I’m sure the early foresters who inventoried the BH’s were lackeys of the capitalist pig timber barons, and I’m sure this recent data was skewed by the puppet USFS who is beholden to the capitalist pig timber barons today.
I find it a bit Orwellian that “we must error on the side of caution” is the operative phrase in all enviro causes, but when it comes to the possible future extent of the MPB they switch to a rather cavalier attitude suggesting the MPB won’t be that bad…and certainly no worse than logging some of it. Yes, logging some of it will result in more future old growth. Of course you could look at the graphs yourself. Go to the BH National forest website, click on “land resource management” then click on “projects” then look for the “MPB response project” > then DEIS.
But then again, I forgot that “old growth” was yesterdays cause… todays cause is the Black Backed Woodpecker. I don’t want to offend anybody, but I think enviros have been so opposed to logging for so long, that they have no choice but to promote wildfires and MPB as an alternative. I do enjoy watching you “painting yourself into a corner” by the fierce opposition to any logging. I’ve said it before…a good part of the public supported you when you were saving “green” forests, but you’ve lost them by defending dead forests. good luck with that.
Derek, pre-settlement there was at least 40% old growth (SS5). And the reason 4A will be so/ are prevalent is that the logging prescriptions in the on-going Mountain Pine Beetle Response Project were to take 4B and 4C down to 4A.
The past five years much of that has been done and is continuing. Meanwhile, the Black Hill Resilient Landscapes Project proposes to cut most of those exact 4A stands down (another entry with heavy machinery in a very short time).
This time (under the Black Hills Resilient Landscapes project) volumes will be a fraction (i.e. half) of what they were necessitating the use of twice the acreage to get the same volume. It’s pretty hard on the land/ soils, and it’s a fact (see the NEPA disclosures) that there is not enough money to address the anticipated weed infestations that result.
As you know 4A is relatively low risk for Mountain Pine Beetle infestation and catastrophic wildfire. Meanwhile, human and economic support that could be precious in terms of addressing fuels issues in populated areas (and in a forest that produces lots and lots of tourist dollars in the state), has been diverted to chase logs to the mill for a few donors to political campaigns.