Public meetings to draft a stewardship project proposal

I probably should pay more attention to how Forest Service projects are developed, and I had to do a double-take on this:

The U.S. Forest Service has announced it will host local public meetings to identify project restoration activities that improve water quality, soil productivity, watershed health and wildlife and fish habitat and meet local and rural community needs.

The Clinch Ranger District is developing a “stewardship project” proposal, according to a press release. Stewardship projects allow the forest service “to work with a partner or contractor to remove timber and use the proceeds from the timber sale to fund restoration projects,” it states. “Stewardship projects can provide local jobs and economic benefits from the timber sale and from implementing restoration projects.”

“I am excited to hear ideas from local community members that could be included in future projects,” stated District Ranger Michelle Davalos. “By starting with a clear understanding of community interests, we can focus future projects on activities that will meet both the goals laid out in the Jefferson National Forest Plan and the needs of local communities.”

I like the sound of this; is this how stewardship projects usually work?  I assume this includes asking where to log.  Do/could they do the same thing on projects that aren’t “logging funded?”  This is the kind of early involvement that would go a long ways towards avoiding disputes down the road.

17 thoughts on “Public meetings to draft a stewardship project proposal”

  1. Stewardship projects to fund restoration really only work where you have valuable timber. In some areas (like the southwest), that would most likely mean cutting large trees. Other areas where they have more valuable trees allow for more flexibility for sure.

    • I believe that they might be if they fit into existing categories, not because they are “stewardship.” Some of the recent fuels CE’s require collaboration, but they also have requirements about condition class and so on. Not sure that the Jefferson has fuel issues?

      I couldn’t find a list of current CE’s on the internet- can any current employees help?

      • A search for the term “FSH 1909.15 chapter 30” will provide you the document that has the list a categorical exclusions available to the Forest Service.

        • Tony – I googled and found one from 2015 that I didn’t think had the latest legislative ce’s included. Maybe you were more successful?

            • I thought that there was one that went with the 2017 Omnibus Appropriations.”The omnibus bill includes several forest management policy reforms. This includes a new 3,000-acre Categorical Exclusion (CE) under the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA) for Forest Service “Wildfire Resilience” projects. The CE must use a collaborative process, consider best available science, and maximize retention of old-growth and large trees. Projects must be located within landscapes designated under the Farm Bill as of March 23, 2018. Projects may also be within the Wildland Urban Interface, or within Condition Class 2 or 3, or Fire Regime Groups I, II, or III that contain very high wildfire hazard potential. Before using this CE, the Forest Service is required to apply its “extraordinary circumstances” regulation to ensure no significant effects.”

              So I was thinking the FS would have some document that included that one, not necessarily a Handbook, more like a list of all available CEs.

  2. Yes, Jon, we are seeing more public engagement occurring on the front end of project design for the reasons Ranger Davalos states in her quote. It’s been a long time coming to actively engage the public on activities occurring on public land.

  3. On the Nantahala, the “Stewardship Project” was designed to shut many public stakeholders out of the review process, then granted special privileges to a few groups who handpicked each other. It has largely been a farce, which has circumvented the public as a whole from the process, and which has so far circumvented the NFMA and NEPA mandates under the guise of “public” stewardship. Outsourcing of public lands management has been roundly rejected by the Courts elesewhere and will likley fail in North Carolina. The problem in North Carolina is the stewardship group put up walls blocking out the majority of the public and USFS officials are blindly following the stewardship guidelines.

    • “designed to shut many public stakeholders out of the review process, then granted special privileges to a few groups who handpicked each other.”

      That may be true in this case — I don’t know — but that’s what other groups have said when collaboratives they haven’t participated in produce plans they disagree with.

      • In some cases, the stance of a particular eco-group might be well known, and had been rejected in the past. Does the Forest Service have to put on an elaborate ‘show’ about re-considering and re-rejecting the opinions of a group that just wants to gum up the system? I would think that a simple statement should accomplish the same thing, without unnecessarily blocking needed work. (Of course, I’m not talking about any particular project… just the process.)

        • “Collaboration” only works when the needs of all stakeholders are considered and have a voice in the process. When three wolves decide what to eat for Dinner, and you fail to consider the sheeps objective to survive, can this be called a collaborative process?

          • But you can’t force all stakeholders to participate. Some groups seem to prefer to sit on the sidelines and then lodge objections or lawsuits.

            That said, they ought to have seats at the table if they are willing and able to work collaboratively.

            I have heard that the Center for Biological Diversity has been a willing and constructive participant in forest health projects on the Cibola National Forest in New Mexico.

            • It’s certainly interesting how an organization, or an American citizen, fully and completely participating in the open, transparent and inclusive NEPA process can somehow be equated to “sit[ting] on the sideslines”….

              Meanwhile, participating in an optional, non-required and often times expensive, time-consuming and inconvenient “collaborative” process is somehow considered the gold standard.

              And guess what? Even if an American citizen is not willing or not able to work “collaboratively” (whatever that may mean) they get to have a say in how America’s public lands are mentioned because of…democracy.

              The fact is, NEPA = “collaborative process.”

              • Like I said, if a group chooses to participate, or not, a simple statement could be made, maybe within the ROD, addressing the views that were not accepted, or brought to the table. For example, maybe an anti-biomass group has not accepted a seat at the table, because their views have not been included in previous project areas. It would be appropriate to directly address why that group’s opinions were rejected, despite them not being part of the collaboration. Give them an empty seat, and pretend that they have expressed their concerns, in absentia.


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