This is from Barry Wynsma in Evergreen. Thanks to Jim Petersen for permission to repost. We have discussed the Black Hills success story in terms of litigation and appeals before. here and here. There are several other posts about the Hills you can find by searching in the search box.
There are many notable things about the Hills, including the fact that they have a formal FACA committee (photo above).
It’s fairly long and worth reading in its entirety, but I focused on this section that talks about litigation. Feel free to comment on any of the other parts as well.
The Alliance for The Wild Rockies, The Wild West Institute, The Lands Council, The Native Ecosystems Council, Friends of the Clearwater, Etcetera…
Another reason – maybe the reason – why comparing the Northern Region with the Black Hills National forest may not be equitable is that the sheer number of species that have to be dealt with in Region 1 makes its national forests huge and easy targets for environmentalists who oppose active forest management.
During fiscal year 2012, there were 140 appeals filed in the Northern Region5. As of August of 2013, 44 more appeals were filed in the Northern Region. Of those, 16 were against projects that included commercial sales of forest products [personal communication with FS]. Also as of August 2012, personnel in the R1 regional office told me the appeals/objections were holding up about 225 million board feet of commercial timber sales.
By comparison, the Black Hills National Forest received 3 appeals [actually objections under the “218” rules] in 2012 and none in 2013.
In referencing the Forest Service Appeals and Litigation website6 I can see that in the Northern Region, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, The Land’s Council, Friends of the Clearwater and the Native Ecosystems Council seem to like to appeal all projects that involve the commercial sale of forest products. Readers that check out this website will also see other groups and individuals that have made it their agenda to appeal commercial timber sale projects.
In comparison and referencing the same Forest Service website, Friends of the Norbeck, Prairie Hills Audubon Society and the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance appears to be the only environmental groups that occasionally appeal projects on the Black Hills National Forest.
The Government Accountability Office [GAO] provided data on Forest Service appeals and litigation for the period 2006-20087 for fuels reduction projects, not necessarily including all projects that involve commercial sale of forest products.
Excerpted from the GAO report are the following findings:
“In fiscal years 2006 through 2008, the Forest Service issued 1,415 decisions involving fuel reduction activities, covering 10.5 million acres.
Of this total, 1,191 decisions, covering about 9 million acres, were subject to appeal and 217-about 18 percent-were appealed. Another 121 decisions, covering about 1.2 million acres, were subject to objection and 49-about 40 percent-were objected to. The remaining 103 decisions were exempt from both objection and appeal. Finally, 29 decisions-about 2 percent of all decisions-were litigated, involving about 124,000 acres.
For 54 percent of the appeals filed, the Forest Service allowed the project to proceed without changes; 7 percent required some changes before being implemented; and 8 percent were not allowed to be implemented. The remaining appeals were generally dismissed for procedural reasons or withdrawn before they could be resolved. Regarding objections, 37 percent of objections resulted in no change to a final decision; 35 percent resulted in a change to a final decision or additional analysis on the part of the Forest Service; and the remaining 28 percent were set aside from review for procedural reasons or addressed in some other way. And finally, of the 29 decisions that were litigated, lawsuits on 21 decisions have been resolved, and 8 are ongoing. Of the lawsuits that have been resolved, the parties settled 3 decisions, 8 were decided in favor of the plaintiffs, and 10 were decided in favor of the Forest Service. All appeals and objections were processed within prescribed time frames-generally, within 90 days of a decision (for appeals), or within 60 days of the legal notice of a proposed decision (for objections).”
Note that this report found that of the projects involved in this report, 18 percent were appealed, 40 percent were objected to and “only” about two percent were litigated. Some environmentalists like to use this two percent figure to downplay the significance of their commercial timber sale appeals.
While this may be true on its face, it reminds me of the Forest Service claim that more than 90 percent of all wildfires in the U.S. each year are put out before they become catastrophic. Whether it’s a big fire or a big lawsuit, the two percent we are discussing is causing significant damage to the environment, to the ability for the Forest Service to manage timber stands that are suitable for commercial timber harvests and to the economic stability of the communities surrounded by national forests.
Looking at the GAO report again, Tables 7 and 8 show that the top five “serial” appellants [to coin Jim Petersen’s phrase] in the Northern Region for the period 2006-2008 includes the Alliance for the Wild Rockies with 35 appeals/objections, the Wild West Institute with 26 appeals/objections, The Land’s Council with 25 appeals/objections, Native Ecosystems Council with 13 appeals/objections and Friends of the Clearwater with 8 appeals/objections. The Northern Region had a total of 187 appeals/objections during this period from the above mentioned and other groups and individuals.
Tables 7 and 8 also provide comparative data for the Rocky Mountain Region, but not the Black Hills National Forest specifically. Even so, the entire region – which includes the BHNF – saw only 44 appeals/objections during the same time frame. The appeals were filed by the following environmental groups: Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, 13 appeals/objections; Colorado Wild, 5 appeals/objections; Prairie Hills Audubon Society, 4 appeals; Western Watersheds Project, 1 appeal; Great Old Broads for Wilderness, 1 objection, Sierra Club, 1 objection, Sinapu, 1 objection, Wilderness Workshop, 1 objection and; Wild Connections, 1 appeal.
All these appeals, objections and a small percentage of litigation has a catastrophic affect not just on those projects that have been directly targeted, but more often than not, they indirectly effect most if not all projects nationally that are undergoing environmental analysis and the NEPA process. This is especially true for those projects that entail commercial timber harvests. There is a ripple effect on the recommended level of analysis needed to satisfy the latest court case decisions in order to head off the future threat of litigation.
Because appeals and litigation often involve the issues of threatened, endangered and sensitive species (based on my personal experience for the past 23 years as a project leader and 33 years as a Forest Service employee), you can plainly see that those forests and regions that have more listed species will have a correspondingly higher level of difficulty navigating the appeals/objection/litigation process.
Barry was a 33 year employee of the Forest Service, the last 23 as a small sales and special forest products project leader on the Bonners Ferry Ranger District, Idaho Panhandle NF. I specialized in small tree and biomass utilization projects and was also a co-author of the Forest Service’s Woody Biomass Utilization Desk Guide.