Interesting how this project is characterized in Courthouse News here…I think the write of the article said “4890 acres of commercial logging.” But in the next paragraph quoting the plaintiffs it says that there are 381 acres of precommercial thinning. So I think you need to subtract that to get a total of commercial. But as we see below the commercial distinction is fairly fine.
SALT LAKE CITY (CN) – Uncle Sam refused to prepare an environmental impact statement before approving a 5,000-acre logging project in southern Utah that threatens rare and endangered species, including spotted and flammulated owls, goshawks, and three-toed woodpeckers, environmentalists claim in court.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the Native Ecosystems Council sued the U.S. Forest Service and Dixie National Forest Supervisor Angelita Bulletts, in Federal Court.
The Forest Service in March approved the Iron Springs “vegetation improvement and salvage project,” authorizing 4,890 acres of commercial logging in Dixie National Forest.
“Among other things, the Forest Service’s decision notice authorizes 3,603 acres of spruce/fir commercial logging utilizing ground-based skidders, at least 1,927 acres of which will occur in old-growth stands, 366 acres of commercial sanitation and salvage logging, 381 acres of precommercial thinning, 152 acres of regeneration logging, and 388 acres of ‘aspen cleaning’ in aspen stands, for a total of 4,890 acres of logging,” the complaint states.
“The decision notice also authorizes road reconstruction and maintenance activities on 36.16 miles of existing roads and 9.61 miles of new, temporary road construction to facilitate logging activities.”
The plaintiffs claim the Forest Service approved the project without preparing an environmental impact statement, “instead finding that the authorized activities would not significantly affect the quality of the environment.”
Sensing that this will be an interesting project to consider (since we’ve never analyzed ones in Utah that I recall), I went to the project website here and found this explanation of why they were doing it.
Treatments within Engelmann spruce/subalpine fir stands Within the project area, there are 5,240 acres of Engelmann spruce/subalpine fir. Approximately 3,603 of these acres would be commercially thinned to reduce stand densities while maintaining a variety of tree sizes. Individual tree marking would designate trees that would be harvested. In addition to the commercial thin, there would be salvage and sanitation harvest of pockets of Engelmann spruce killed or infested with spruce beetle.
Approximately 381 acres of the 3,603 acres of treated spruce/fir stands would also be precommercially thinned to remove trees less than 5-inches diameter that exceed stand density objectives or species mix. Trees greater than 5-inches diameter would be removed commercially.
Trees between 5- and 7.9-inch diameter size class that cannot be sold commercially will be included in the pre-commercial treatment. Approximately 388 acres of scattered aspen clones
within spruce/fir stands would receive aspen cleaning through hand felling of conifer. Within aspen clones commercial-size conifer would be removed; non-commercial-size conifer and some
aspen would be cut and left on site to discourage browsing by larger ungulates, primarily deer, elk, and livestock.
Under the criteria in “Characteristics of Old-Growth Forests in the Intermountain Region” (Hamilton et al. 1993) and a 2007 Regional Office letter (USDA 2007) clarifying meaning and
intent in Hamilton et al. 1993, 2,058 acres of spruce/fir within the project area have old growth characteristics. This determination was made based on an evaluation of existing stand data and new data collected during field surveys. These data and findings are included in the project record. Thinning is needed in these stands to reduce the risk of timber loss due to beetle kill and to forestall the spread of beetle activity to additional trees. Thinning in these areas will be done from below, and will be restricted to trees between 5- and 18-inches diameter.
Of the 2,058 acres with old growth characteristics, 131 acres would not receive treatment. Of the 1,927 acres treated, approximately 1,541 acres would retain old growth status following treatment. Thus, of the 2,058 acres with old growth characteristic, approximately 1,672 acres would retain old growth characteristics. The Forest Plan requires that 7 percent to 10 percent of each drainage be managed as old growth. Retention of 1,672 acres as old growth exceeds the Forest Plan requirement in each drainage within the project area. Details are provided in the Forest Vegetation Report.
Spruce beetle-infested or killed trees throughout the project area would be removed using sanitation/salvage timber harvest and commercial removal. Some stands that contain infested or killed subalpine fir would also be commercially removed. Merchantable, dead standing, and down spruce and fir would be harvested.
Approximately 366 acres in the spruce/fir stands are currently at the desired density. These 366 acres would receive commercial sanitation/salvage treatment only.
Finally, approximately 154 acres would be planted with Engelmann spruce seedlings using hand tools or augers. These areas are conifer strips in the south half of the project area that were
clearcut in the 1960s and that do not contain the desired tree stocking.
I’m sure all the regular followers of this blog will spy a number of interesting things.
1) Is the 152 acres the same as the 154 that they are planting due to not enough stocking. If so, is planting trees the same thing as “commericial logging”.
2) Everyone loves aspen, but if you try to get more by cutting conifers, that’s bad. Or only if you sell them? What difference could it make? 388 acres of hand felling?
3) “Trees greater than 5-inches diameter would be removed commercially.” That’s a good market.
The “issue” with the plaintiffs is that “they should have done an EIS”. Somehow I don’t believe that is really their goal. Plaintiffs are being represented by the Northern Rockies Justice Center here. I think it’s interesting that their mission is in the NW, but they are doing work in southern Utah.
I wonder if a simple statute were passed that required cases (say, as a trial run, FS cases involving vegetation management) to go to mediation prior to litigation, and the mediation record was available to the judge when ruling, and the mediation documents were also publicly available. This could be tried as a pilot anyway.. perhaps starting with this case? Rider, anyone?