Increasing the Scope and Scale of Treatments- WaPo Story on the Medicine Bow Landscape Project- II of II

From Google Maps. You can look around the town of Encampment, WY at different scales and scan areas in the mountains to the E and W. You can also click on this photo for more detail on a small area.

This is the second of two posts on the Washington Post story here about the Medicine Bow Landscape Vegetation Analysis LAVa project. All project information available here.

As to environmental groups, there’s a quote from Chris Topik, at The Nature Conservancy:

“If we are going to have a chance at combating climate change, forests are one of our best tools for mitigation because they sequester carbon,” said Chris Topik, director of the Nature Conservancy’s Restoring America’s Forests initiative. “So it’s vital that we help them to adapt.”

And then there’s the “science” angle. The story says “some biologists,” but only one is quoted.

Not everyone considers the plan a good idea. Some biologists say science does not back up the efficacy of the treatments proposed, particularly logging and the prescribed burns that the Forest Service calls necessary for lodgepole pine to reproduce and more diverse species to take root.

“They say they are going to reduce fuel loads to limit wildfires, and the literature doesn’t support that,” said Daniel B. Tinker, an associate professor at the University of Wyoming, who has studied the region for 23 years. “We’ve had fires this summer that burned through areas that were clear-cut 15 years ago. Those stands weren’t supposed to burn for 100 years.”

Reducing fuel loads, as we have seen, to change fire behavior and to provide opportunities for suppression forces to operate, are indeed supported by massive amounts of literature and the relatively humble fuels treatment effectiveness reports, as we have shown on this blog. Taking a look at Tinker’s recent pubs on the U of Wyo website here, doesn’t convince me that he’s an expert on wildfires nor fuels. But good one to the WaPo for interviewing someone local.

We can read this and instead think that conservation groups are divided on this.. first we have TNC, and then we have WEG.

Conservation groups also say that the Forest Service truncated scientific review in a rush to meet congressional demands for increased timber production on public lands. For now, the proposal does not specify which parcels would be targeted and where those hundreds of miles of road would be built.

“They are trying to fast-track this,” said Marla Fox, an attorney for WildEarth Guardians. “This is in line with the agency’s shift and approach under the Trump administration to ‘get out the cut,’ which means ‘let’s do some logging in the name of restoration.’ ”

NEPA-ites may chuckle at the use of “rush” when talking about an EIS. The article also says “Some pushback is internal. A group of Forest Service employees is skeptical that the agency can pull off an undertaking of this size.” Now I don’t doubt that many FS employees think different things, but this makes it sound like current employees are “pushing back” whatever that means. It sounds as if Andy polls a bunch of employees before he says anything, which I don’t think is the case (Andy?).

One more thing on this topic. Andy’s quote was that there is not enough money, which is of course probably true- but they’re setting the table, not guaranteeing a specific menu at a specific time. To my mind, the Med-Bow is not like the 4FRI at all. When I was working, I heard much about the ups and downs of industry in that area, and I admit that I don’t know what the story is currently. Still, I did see log trucks last summer there, so the industry is currently working. I might have interviewed someone from the industry on their situation, or Bill Crapser, the State Forester, if I had written the article or even NAFSR, the retiree organization. I suspect NAFSR would say something like:

“The U.S. Forest Service has been trying to move this direction for several years but has not yet been successful due to the novelty and technical complexity involved,” Andrew Larson, associate professor at the University of Montana, noted in an email. “If this project moves forward to implementation, it will become a case study in how to approach truly large-scale landscape planning and management.”

And what kind of professor is Dr. Larson, we might ask? Here’s some info. He’s also a forest ecologist. Which would mean that scientists (even within a sub-field) may not exactly agree with each other. Just like conservation groups and everyone else..

From last summer. My photo.

24 thoughts on “Increasing the Scope and Scale of Treatments- WaPo Story on the Medicine Bow Landscape Project- II of II”

  1. I always do find your nit-picking of the media (when you write stories you don’t like) a little curious, Sharon.

    But this one, in which you write:

    “And then there’s the ‘science’ angle. The story says ‘some biologists,’ but only one is quoted.”

    And then excerpt this from the article:

    Not everyone considers the plan a good idea. Some biologists say science does not back up the efficacy of the treatments proposed, particularly logging and the prescribed burns that the Forest Service calls necessary for lodgepole pine to reproduce and more diverse species to take root.

    “They say they are going to reduce fuel loads to limit wildfires, and the literature doesn’t support that,” said Daniel B. Tinker, an associate professor at the University of Wyoming, who has studied the region for 23 years. “We’ve had fires this summer that burned through areas that were clear-cut 15 years ago. Those stands weren’t supposed to burn for 100 years.”

    Seems to be the pick of the nit-picky-ness. I mean, do you doubt the science background of Dr. Daniel B. Tinker, who specializes in forest and fire ecology at the University of Wyoming? Or do you think that Dr. Tinker is perhaps the only biologist, botanist or ecologist in the world who holds these views?

    Just seems like a pretty strange thing to focus on and highlight with “science” and “some biologists” in quotes.

    Also, for whatever it’s worth, I’m quite certain that Dr. Andrew Larson and Dr. Daniel Tinker would see eye to eye on plenty of things. Perhaps Dr. Larson would actually agree with what Dr. Tinker was quoted as saying in this article.

    For example, here’s what Dr. Larson wrote (together with two other professors from the University of Montana’s College of Forestry and Conservation following the 2017 wildfire season):

    “But the public should understand that forest management, including timber harvesting and fuel treatments, cannot prevent or eliminate large fires or smoky skies during hot, dry summers like 2017. Indeed, preventing wildfires is counterproductive—fire prevention means even more fuel accumulation. And fire prevention is inconsistent with the ecology of most Western forests: Many plant species require fire to regenerate, and many wildlife species prefer, and even require, recently burned habitats.”

    • Matthew, I don’t understand … “some biologists” are not “one biologist”.. was what I meant. Some other biologists probably agree with Dr. Larson also but it wasn’t mentioned that way (in fact his discipline was not mentioned). I think it’s just convention.. Matthew and others believe x “quote from Matthew”. Sharon and others believe y “quote from Sharon.” It begs the question, “What others?” and “How do you know?”. We know in general there are people who agree with us about everything… but conventionally do we write that?

      • Jeez, Sharon. Do you think there’s a chance that a reporter from the Washington Post could’ve talked with a number of people, including “some biologists,” on background, but their quotes or names didn’t appear in the two part series? Again, just weird that you are focusing on this aspect of the story. Might be even weirder that I’m bringing it up.

        P.S. The link to the story doesn’t work

        • Thanks for the feedback, Matthew. I fixed the link. I just thought that it was odd that two forest ecologists were quoted and only one was identified as a scientist.

          • FWIW: In the article, Daniel Tinker is identified as “an associate professor at the University of Wyoming,” while Andrew Larson is identified as “associate professor at the University of Montana.” The word “biologist” is in the entire article 1 time, while the word “scientist” and “ecologist” are not in the article anywhere.

  2. I actually think that it was a pretty good article in general. . I was just pointing out that it’s not all about the Trump Administration , and that there are two related but different questions.
    1) Should you do large-scale NEPA or is some other tool better for the job?
    2) Should you/can you do fuel treatments and prescribed burning and remove hazard trees (regardless of NEPA tool)?

    • I do think, at least here in California, that we need CE’s to do salvage logging, roadside hazard tree removal and thinning, to reduce the “analysis paralysis” and get faster implementation. However, the real “pace and scale” is decided by funding and personnel rules and regulations. I don’t see any progress towards solving those issues.

      I currently work in a ski shop and the owner is having trouble hiring qualified people, during this time of low unemployment. With minimum wages going up, but no increases in Federal pay, it seems impossible to hire anyone with any forestry experience, as a Temporary Employee. My current wage is about equal to a GS-5’s pay, and that level is where most very experienced timber temporaries currently sit.

      It’s a gloomy future for the timber folks in the Forest Service. I think that many line officers are just ‘mailing it in’, until it’s time to retire. There just is no good outcome from continuing to rely on Temporary Employees to do the Forest Service’s fieldwork, each and every year.

  3. “Should you do large-scale NEPA?” Large-scale NEPA is fine. But, one of the concerns that Forest Service has had about doing that is that it could create a third layer of NEPA between the forest plan and projects. They thought that was not fine, but maybe that is what is really needed. NEPA REQUIRES environmental analysis when “the effects can be meaningfully evaluated,” but it could ALSO occur earlier if an agency believes that would be helpful.

    I don’t see this question addressed here – whether this large-scale NEPA is intended to be the last NEPA. I suspect so, and if so, it would run into the usual arguments against it – that it is not site-specific enough (if you don’t know where you are disturbing, how do you know what species are being disturbed and how much?), and that a few years out the information will be “stale” and have to be revisited (the NEPA “rule of thumb” is 5 years). It’s hard to believe they won’t have to consider/reconsider alternative locations and treatments, which is what NEPA is for. It would be possible to develop a structure for tiered analysis that addresses subsequent information (more site-specific and newer) and how to integrate that into future NEPA, but I doubt that it would do away with the need for more process on each part of the project when they actually propose it.

    • “I don’t see this question addressed here – whether this large-scale NEPA is intended to be the last NEPA. ”

      There should always be an ‘expiration date’, as conditions will change, over time. How long would such a NEPA document be allowed to last?

      • Here’s a rare instance where I think I agree w/ Larry.
        Yes, conditions definitely change, and so does our scientific understanding of forest ecology, so perhaps it’s a good idea to put a time limit on a NEPA analysis.

        How then can Region 6 get away with managing Mt Hood NF and other westside NFs under Forest Plans that are decades old?
        Some of the only constants in MHNF, since the plan was adopted in 1990, are that: it’s still a NF managed by USFS; they still log it; Mt Hood is still there; and rivers continue to flow off the mountain.

        Many significant things have changed in MHNF and the surrounding communities: population has grown dramatically; wolves have returned to the forest; numerous species are now federally listed; recreation use has increased significantly; FS management capacity has drastically decreased; the global climate is changing; oh, and here’s a BIG one — the economy of the communities around the forest has shifted away from resource extraction to a more diverse economy that includes a significant amount of recreation related revenue.

        USFS adopted the MHNF Forest Plan in 1990 with intent of revising it long before now. It was written by people who were in school in the 60’s – 70’s using science from the 70’s & 80’s. I know because I worked on the old FS “unit plans” that were precursors to the Forest Plans.

        It’s WAY overdue for the agency to update the Forest Plans for MHNF and the other forests in the range of the Northern Spotted Owl.
        Seems almost like professional malfeasance to manage under plans that were developed before cell phones. Can you name any other entities that manage their operations using business plans that are almost 30 years old?

        • There is actually a requirement in NFMA to revise forest plans at least every 15 years. When the first plans started to expire, and lawsuits were threatened, Congress protected forest plans with a rider (that as far as I know has been included every year) allowing the Forest Service to delay individual plan revisions as long as it is diligently making progress overall (or language something like that).

          In practice, I think that means that project NEPA has to rely less and less on analysis that was done for the forest plan (which in many cases was not really worth a lot to begin with), and more and more on project analysis (especially cumulative effects). This is probably what would happen with “big project” NEPA, too, as it gets old. The most important thing from a NEPA standpoint is completing meaningful analysis before irreversible effects occur at the project level. I don’t think I’ve seen a court say you can’t do a project until you do or re-do plan-level NEPA. (This is different from ESA, where the Cottonwood case was about re-doing plan-level consultation.)

        • Another way of looking at it is that Big Decisions are made outside forest plans entirely, (Wilderness , Roadless, NW Forest Plan) or as amendments (Oil and Gas Leasing, Travel Management, WFU) and so forests operate from Real Integrated Plans that are a conceptual loose-leaf notebook of these plans and the old forest plans.

          As more controversial decisions are made outside forest plans, it would seem that there is less pressure from anyone to update them.

          • If memory serves, the NW Forest Plan was promulgated through the regular NFMA planning process, i.e., it wasn’t “outside” forest planning. The NWFP had its beginnings in the Pacific Northwest Regional Guide, which was a part of the 1979 planning rules’ process.

            • OK, but from where I was watching, it seemed like a separate initiative (the former President’s Plan) which was necessarily incorporated into Forest Plans. I guess I’m separating “initiated as part of the planning process” from “initiated elsewhere for other reasons but incorporated into forest plans.” Grizzly and lynx amendments, for example, had their initiation from ESA and were incorporated into plans via the Southern Rockies Lynx Amendment.

              I found this on the Clinton White House archives (or not, whom can you trust in the internet-o-sphere?

              “The President and his administration succeeded by creating a science-based, legal, and balanced forest management plan that provides for both economic opportunity and protection of the environment.”

              Not to sound like Mark Rey, but when things get too difficult it seems like they are dealt with necessarily with folks above the Forest Supe/Forest Plan level. Many areas of importance have what we used to call “escaped containment”. So what is left to plan?

              • I don’t think there is anything that prevents higher levels in an agency from stepping in and making decisions, as long as they follow the prescribed agency process. The “President’s Plan” followed the NFMA and NEPA processes, as did the many individual species amendments. The roadless rule used the APA rule-making process instead, and nobody who litigated that complained that it was outside of the agency authority. And Congress retains the authority to make any decisions it wants to, like wilderness.

                As for what we used to call “functional plans” (mineral leasing, travel management, fire plans, weed control), they are “resource plans” that under NFMA must be consistent with forest plans. There used to be separate timber management plans, too; I don’t know if there still are, but maybe this is where these “landscape-scale” “projects” fit conceptually.

              • I guess I’m separating “initiated as part of the planning process” from “initiated elsewhere for other reasons but incorporated into forest plans.” Except in this case the NFP really was “initiated as part of the planning process.” As Steve Yaffee’s exhaustive treatment of the subject chronicles: The environmental groups made their argument in an appeal of the Regional Guide in the fall of 1984, and while the Chief supported his Regional Forester’s decision, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Douglas MacCleery overruled the Chief. MacCleery remanded the decision back to the Chief and required the USFS to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) on spotted owl management. Egads, I wrote that appeal! How time flies.

                • Thanks for the additional information. I was working in the science biz during that period so wasn’t following it. I liked this quote:

                  “NFMA in particular promised a technically-credible, agency-controlled way out of festering disputes for the USFS, and the agency embraced its planning process as a way to build understanding of and support for its land management programs. It also contained an explicit recognition of the need to protect plant and animal diversity. While agency officials expected that issues like owl and old-growth management
                  would be dealt with at the forest level in the planning process, wide-ranging issues like owl management did not quite fit NFMA’s largely forest-level decisionmaking process, and environmental interest groups were quite willing to remind the agency of this fact.”

          • Yes, but land allocations were made in the Forest Plans and most (all?) of them still stand here on the M. Hood as if they were the 10 Commandments. Yet due to the changes in local economy, population growth, community needs & expectations, climate change and changes in watershed condition some of the land allocations are outdated and need to be revised.
            That type of decision is NOT likely to be made in project level NEPA; nor should it be since the project level analysis isn’t broad scale enough to look at the entire NF.

  4. Jon, thanks for this link.

    It’s interesting that the Gazette article also points out the origins during the previous administration.. although many of us could trace the idea of landscape scale analysis further back than that..

    “Landscape-scale management, which began to take shape during the Obama administration, is also seen by Forest Service managers as a tool to use to “shape and influence forest land use on a scale and in a way that optimizes public benefit from trees.” Making available the logs needed for jobs in timbering, milling and wood products manufacturing is viewed as being among such public benefits, according to the Forest Service’s website.”

  5. That website quote sounds like Trump spin, though (and as articulated by the public affairs staff, who don’t understand forest plans). The word “jobs” is not in the forest plan. For lands that are suitable for timber production the goal is “Manage vegetation to provide a sustained yield of timber, contribute to local and regional economies, achieve desired age class distributions, and benefit other resources.” There are objectives for both volume and acres, but the driving objective (supporting the “desired age class distributions”) is “Provide timber harvest, and related reforestation and timber stand improvement activities, to contribute toward the attainment of desired vegetation conditions.” Jobs are incidental (and not part of any legal requirement).

    • It’s hard for me to imagine “contributing to local and regional economies” without some jobs involved. Maybe this is a potayto/potahto thing.

  6. Well…in FY 2018 the Medicine Bow-Route NF harvested 50MMBF and sold 60MMBF…which is just about where it was in 1988 LOL. Yes, the mill in Saratoga is humming right along. Poor Saratoga…population 1600 lost 250 jobs in 2003 when the mill closed cause the MBNF sold 3MMBF. I’m sure they all found jobs in the thriving eco-tourism business selling ice cream cones to tourists for 4 months of the year. The enviro bugaboo outfit at the time was the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance(BCA)…which quietly went belly up with nary a press release on or about 2010…about the time logging came back in vogue in the blue counties of Colorado…which probably says a lot about the source of their revenue (can ya believe the USFS clearcut hundreds of acres around Nederland…crystal and reefer dispensary capital of CO.) Colorado has doubled timber harvest in the last 10 years…and is rapidly approaching Montana…come to think of it, the MBNF sold more timber than any NF in Montana in FY 2018. I guess all the rich hippees who had loggers cut out the dead trees in their lawn…didn’t think those loggers were such bad dudes after all.

    The mill opened up again in 2013. 10 years of depressed home values, bankruptcies, probably some broken marriages, maybe a suicide or two, lots of young people leaving home to find work in the oil fields…ya, all for what? Old growth that is dead now. I do get a kick that the USFS is still “carrying on the books” designated old growth…so in another 150 years the deadfall will contribute the “course woody debris” so vital to functioning old growth habitat LOL. All in a forest that saw 15% of the forested acres harvested in 50 years. And no UW Prof…the clearcuts didn’t burn, I’ve already looked…no more than the clearcuts didn’t burn on the Kootenai, Flathead, Beaverhead Deerlodge, Bridger Teton, Targhee, Uinta, ect. ect. In my own “hold the dime at arms length” way…the Old growth suffered 85% mortality in BA…with some “suppressed” making up the green. The regen clearcuts from the 60’s,PCT at some point, consisting of 6″-8″ DBH…suffered around 20% mortality…just a nice thinning release that already reflects in the growth rings.

    And frankly, nothing bores me to death more than the “procedural process industry” that has built big homes for bureaucrats. Said industry has long ago reached the point of diminishing returns. WTH do you produce? I got more respect for the carpenter or the concrete finisher. Only people who work for government believe government works…those who have to work “with” government…don’t see it that way so much. Now I don’t trash the people…I trash the establishment system. And you are the establishment now you know…in many ways, you’re no different than Spiro Agnew LOL.

    What does fascinate me…is how much longevity the dead lodgepole has as a raw material. The old rule of thumb was you could only make 2×4’s out of lodgepole that was dead for 6 years… before “check” became an issue. It’s been 10 years now for some of the MPB killed LLP. The LAVA project brought this up…and seems they can get another 5 years out of it. A study done on Targhee back in the 80’s…found that after 8 years there was a 20% defect. Always amazed me that LPP doesn’t really rot to fast…not like Ponderosa. Now Engleman Spruce can be salvaged up to 20 years…which should assure the Neiman’s in Montrose a return on their investment. I also find it fascinating, that the stumpage the mill pays in Saratoga…is about 25% of what the mills pay in Montana…for the same dead LPP. There’s an edge for ya. Oh it’s inevitable that the mill will close again…I give it five years. But it’s one thing if it’s due to a MPB epidemic…versus 10 wasted years that it was shut down by dogma ideology…to save the 2% of the forested acreage that would have been logged…that died anyway. Oh, I forgot…what about all the cavity nesting wildlife? Well, considering there is more “cavity nesting habitat” now in the west than at any time since the last ice age…I guess that argument is moot. Mendacity.

    • For whatever it’s worth…

      According to the U.S. government, the population of Saratoga, Wyoming in 2017 was 1,655. In 2003 the population was 1,697.

      Also, the Saratoga sawmill had a fire at the sawmill in March of 2000 that caused $4.8 million in damage. The Saratoga sawmill also had a fire at the mill about ten years before that, and actually the sawmill had another fire in April of 2018. In January of 2016 the Saratoga mill had yet another fire, and that one closed the mill for about 4 months. I would image that a sawmill having at least 4 fires (including one that caused about $5 million in damage and another one that forced the mill to close for 4 months) might be tough on business. Wonder what their current insurance rate is?

      According to numerous articles, when the Louisiana-Pacific owned Saratoga sawmill had that fire in the year 2000, 108 people worked at the mill. According to a recent article, 100 people currently work at the Saratoga sawmill.

      Would be interesting to fact check the rest of the figures that Derek posted above, because it seemed like his first couple of sentences included information that wasn’t really correct. Also, Derek has a history of posting lots of figures on this blog, some of which are not verified or accurate.


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