Forest Service withdraws largest logging, road-building project in Wyoming’s history

According to WildEarth Guardians:

Thanks to Guardians and allies, what would have been perhaps the largest logging and road-building project in Wyoming’s history has been withdrawn.

The Medicine Bow Landscape Analysis Vegetation (LaVA) Project covered 850,000 acres and would have logged 360,000 of them, including 123,000 acres across 25 different Roadless Areas. It would also have included building 600 miles of temporary roads, which fragment habitat and destroy water quality.

The general public has stiffly opposed the project, which was proposed in 2017. Considering its unprecedented scale, lack of detail and environmental analysis, levels of road construction, loss of wildlife habitat, effects on Roadless Areas, and lack of analysis of climate change and economic impacts, it’s certainly a major victory that the Forest Service is taking a step back.

Read the press release.

8 thoughts on “Forest Service withdraws largest logging, road-building project in Wyoming’s history”

  1. There was some previous discussion of this “big gulp” approach here:

    Here is Conor Flynn’s last comment from there: “a bunch of smaller projects could risk the ‘connected and interrelated’ analysis trap, where every small project would have to analyze every other project and could be challenged as the Forest trying to get away with logging the whole forest by segmenting one project into many. There are issues either way…”

    He’s right; if it is one project decision, then NEPA analysis has to be done at this point. That doesn’t avoid the requirement that it would also have to be done at future decision points if there is new information about effects (40 CFR §1502.9), site-specific or otherwise.

    It’s great that the Forest Service wants to do a mid-level analysis in addition to the existing two-step (plan/project) decision process. But if they are worried about their limited resources, they should think about trying to work with the NFMA process better. A forest plan decision that lands are suitable for timber production should be supported by analysis of the cumulative effects of that. Then they can do a landscape analysis that results in specific proposals for action, followed by appropriate site-specific project NEPA analysis. Turning their mid-scale analysis into a mid-scale decision isn’t likely to end up being more efficient. (I seem to remember they were teaching this in their NEPA training years ago.)

    • But Jon, they did a forest plan presumably with the cumulative effects of that? I see that if you did mid scale analysis folks could probably go after that analysis as not being a NEPA document. Which leads us to a flurry of CE’s or EA’s. Wouldn’t it be fun to get a pool of litigants and the FS into a room where litigants tell the FS exactly what kind of analysis they want where? Step by step? Otherwise it’s like “bring me a rock, oops not that rock”. Then we could have something that we could discuss the pros and cons here.

  2. Whats fun about this LAVA project, is what a strange PR job the USFS did with it. 350,000 acres of logging? Or I should say “up to” 350,000 acres. Now granted, the Medicine Bow has ramped logging up to the go-go Reagan days of the 80’s…they’re still logging only about 2-3,000 acres/year. You have to dig into the Economics section of the LAVA EIS to find out the “likely” output will be 20 million board feet/year. Considering recent salvage clearcut timber sales on the MBNF have been running around 10,000 Board feet/acre…that makes it about 2,000 acres per year. If I recall…the ASQ of the last bogus “Plan” was around 22 MMBF. SOoooo…the “reality” of the LAVA project was more likely about 30,000 acres over the 15 year life span…where they came up with the sales pitch of 350,000 I have no clue. Unless a few Montana sawmills were planning on “railroading” 50 MMBF/year 600 miles…as has been done. Meanwhile…2,999 acre Cat Ex’s are going through at a rapid rate. Amazing that the timeline from “proposal” to “Decision” is literally a couple months. Love it. But all in all…I have to say, a rather poor job at “packaging” a proposal by the USFS. A simple explanation of the “actual” acres logged would have sufficed. 35,000 acres is a huge difference in perception vs. 350,000. Even 50,000 acres on the outside. Oh…and all the “citizen opposition”…well, the objection form letters seemed to be rather stilted towards the “ecology class” at UW. A few kids pointing and clicking and some gray ponytailed prof’s…a revolution does not make. Interesting the Wyoming Game and Fish supported this “massive clearcut” project…but then we all know they’re just lackeys of the Trump/Cheney Cabal…even funnier. Obviously they support it because of the new research that shows elk abhor the pine beetle battle field. I assume this “group” has covered that.

    • Derek, If your calculations are correct 30K by 15 years, then that’s 2K per year? And the 2018 CE’s can cover 3K per project? Of course, these units may not fit the CE, but if CE’s are bad, and large landscape decisions are bad, it would be nice to know exactly where the “right spot” is.

      It would be nice to round up the usual litigatory suspects and ask them for a table that shows what they would like in terms of analysis. If it weren’t too overdone, then this could be submitted to the judge. Otherwise the FS is in a game of “bring me a rock, no not that rock,” as I said in the comment to Jon above.

      It’s also puzzling to me as, in the past CEQ attorneys, were fond of the large landscape NEPA idea (to the extent that they told EPA reviewers to back off). When I was working on this kind of stuff it was all very confusing. It seemed like some environmental attorneys didn’t agree with the projects and used NEPA as an access point to stop or slow down projects, to some extent, no matter how the FS did their NEPA.

      • Your last sentence is the basic formula for NEPA litigation. The Forest Service exacerbates this when it says it is making a final decision for a huge area over decades. That’s going to attract every potential litigant in the neighborhood if the FS can’t tell them whether or how their particular area or interest would be affected. It would be be harder for them to challenge future “non-decisions” to “proceed” in particular areas.

        I don’t think it is helpful to pose the choice as large landscape decisions or CEs. Hypothetically, they could do decisions over the same large landscape with CEs if they occur in small enough pieces (since they say that the cumulative effects of the CEs can’t be significant). In fact what the Forest Service really seems to be doing is connecting actions that they could have analyzed individually. That just makes the NEPA obligation bigger. There are plenty of NEPA cases that say the action agency can’t claim it’s too hard to comply with NEPA since they are the ones who chose the scope of the action.

        • I think this is where we need solid and clear limits on every CE. Of course, there are some people out there who want the opposite, for ‘more flexibility’, or whatever reason they want to use. CE’s need to be inflexible, IMHO. The intent for using CE’s is not to streamline process, or reduce costs. For example, thinning under a CE should not include the ‘thinning’ of old growth (by taking big trees out). If you want to push for a specialized CE to do that, well, success would be very difficult.

  3. It is not unusual to have a timber sale of several thousand acres and only have few hundred acres that are actually affected by timber harvesting.
    Seems no matter what you do, the environmental litigators will litigate.

  4. hey, Sharon… I kinda like large landscape NEPA — when it makes sense: like cumulative effects, connected actions, repetitive treatments, etc. I did EIS’s (not EA’s) for such and abbreviated lengthy analysis by focusing on documenting significant effects (as reqd by NEPA) NOT insignificant effects to make a case for FONSI. Lotta wheat, no chaff. FS spends so much time and energy doing LENGTHY EA’s to make the case for “insignificance,” then lose on procedural issues. This plagued roadless area timber sales back in the day. Five Rivers EIS on Siuslaw (circa 1998) was 10 years worth of “significant effect” timber, wildlife, fish, and road work in 80 pages — no appeals.


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