I’m pretty sure we’ve talked about these landscape NEPA documents before. They have been questioned for lack of site specificity for treatments. Here’s another one that’s been successful, with an endangered species involved.
It’s the Tennessee Creek Project on the PSICC National Forest. The project area is 16,450 acres, and activities are expected to occur over 10- 15 years. Actions are a mix of thinning, clearcutting (lodgepole) and prescribed burning. Here are the acres treated:
Regenerate lodgepole pine through mechanical means on 3,790 acres.
Thin 2,685 acres of mature lodgepole pine stands. Pre-commercial thin 345 acres of advanced regeneration of lodgepole pine (3,030 acres total would be thinned).
Improve the health of aspen stands through prescribed fire and/or mechanical means on 180 acres.
Utilize prescribed fire on 5,485 acres.
I think it will be interesting to compare this with other successful landscape projects. We could track two things about them, project area, and acres treated divided by years, in this case about 10K/10 years or a “1K a year project.” Due to the number of acres treated this wouldn’t fit into the restoration CE. It’s interesting to speculate if you were a NEPA practitioner and had that CE possible, would you reduce the number of acres to fit, and how much work would that save (knowing that you still wanted to do more acres), with perhaps another future CE? Or is the limiting factor the budget, and your District’s budget allows a certain number of acres treated per year, and then you would decide how many years the work approved in a restoration CE would last?
From a Colorado Springs Gazette story here:
But the plan, known as the Tennessee Creek Project, which targets more than 16,000 acres of the Pike and San Isabel National Forests, hit a snag a few months after its final approval. On April 23, WildEarth Guardians, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, sued the Forest Service, claiming that the agency’s plan has miscalculated the harm that would be done to the habitat of the threatened Canada lynx.
The project also represents what could be a disturbing trend in Forest Service practice, where logging projects are approved without specific details about areas that will be logged, said John Mellgren, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center that represents WildEarth Guardians.
“The real problem with the project is the Forest Service just drew a big circle on the map,” Mellgren said. “(They) are going to log some part of this circle, but won’t tell you where they are going to log. If they stayed out of those areas, we might not have a problem with the project right now.”
This quote raised some questions for me, because it seems to me that part of a landscape scale project would be to say what treatments would go where, not spatially, but say in terms of lynx habitat. Note: lynx was reintroduced to Colorado.
Sure enough, Judge Hartz did not agree with WEG, and also not on their idea that the project required an EIS. Note to Jon: SRLA figured prominently in the Judge’s discussion.
Here’s a link to his decision. With regard to “site-specific”
But Richardson did not hold that an agency’s EA or EIS always must specify the precise locations within a project area that will be affected. The problem in Richardson was simply that there had been no environmental assessment of the ultimate plan. The earlier assessment contemplated a significantly different project from what was later selected. That is hardly the case here. The EA analyzed what could happen whatever sites were eventually chosen for treatment by the Project, so long as the Project restrictions were satisfied. The Service’s analysis accounted for the uncertainty about treatment locations by evaluating the Project’s effects on lynx in a worst-case scenario in which all the mapped lynx habitat in the Project area is treated, and by including conservation measures to protect high-quality lynx habitat, such as not treating healthy spruce-fir stands or any stands with greater than 35% dense horizontal cover. Moreover, the Service had a valid reason for not identifying specific treatment sites in its EA: it intends to select treatment units based on changing on-the-ground conditions over the 10 to 15 years of the Project. NEPA leaves “substantial discretion to an agency to determine how best to gather and assess information” about a project’s environmental impacts. Biodiversity Conservation Alliance v. U.S. Forest Serv., 765 F.3d 1264, 1270 (10th Cir. 2014). The Service used that discretion reasonably, assessing the Project’s maximum possible effect on lynx habitat while also conserving agency resources and retaining flexibility to respond to changing conditions. See Utah Shared Access Alliance, 288 F.3d at 1213 (“By conducting an EA, an agency considers environmental concerns yet
reserves its resources for instances where a full EIS is appropriate.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). We note that the Service was not postponing the requisite environmental analysis until it picks the specific sites for treatment under the Project; rather, it was saying that such future analysis would be unnecessary because, in its expert opinion, whatever sites it ultimately chooses (within the constraints imposed by the
Project), there would not be a negative impact on the lynx.