I often point out how the Forest Service is shirking its responsibility to adopt forest plans that provide ecological conditions needed for diversity and viability of at-risk species. Most recently, I listed some examples from the recently released Rio Grande revised forest plan. Here is one guideline (there weren’t really any relevant standards):
EPC-G-1: To avoid or minimize adverse effects to listed species and their habitat, management actions should be designed with attention to threatened, endangered, proposed, or candidate species and their habitats.
This says essentially nothing.
An important purpose of identifying and planning for at-risk species is to reduce the chance that they would need to be listed under the Endangered Species Act. If this were a private landowner, conservation measures for at-risk (but not yet listed) species would be discretionary. However, they could choose to sign a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) with the listing agency to adopt conservation measures that would reduce the likelihood of listing in exchange for a commitment that the listing agency would not require anything more if the species did become listed.
Here is an example of one such enhancement of survival permit for Chinook Forest Partners, LLC Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances for Fisher in Oregon (until recently, a candidate for listing). From the NEPA document (CE):
Activities that are covered by this CCAA and the associated section 10(a)(1)(A) permit are on-going and commonly practiced forest land management activities. These include timber harvest and hauling, site preparation and reforestation, and road maintenance and construction. Additionally, there may be some collection of minor forest products, fire suppression, and recreation (including legal hunting and trapping).
Goals and objectives for fisher include: improving our understanding of fisher distribution, densities, and habitat use, especially on non-federal lands where information is more lacking; conserving active fisher den sites to increase the survival of young; increasing public participation and support for fisher recovery and reintroduction by providing long-term assurances; and, monitoring potential future reintroduced fishers as they disperse from their release sites to determine success rates and provide information for improving success rates.
And here is what the private landowner committed to do in the CCAA to achieve those objectives for fisher (note: some are saying that this still isn’t good enough). Given that the Forest Service is obligated by NFMA to provided ecological conditions for a viable population of at-risk species on national forests, why shouldn’t they be making at least this kind of commitment in their forest plans for public lands? (This could make them adequate regulatory mechanisms to reduce the likelihood of listing under the ESA criteria.)
- Specifically, CFP/CFM shall not conduct or authorize any of the activities described in the forest management activities in Section 4 (including but not limited to timber felling, pre-commercial thinning, reforestation, salvage of trees, prescribed burning, and brush control) within 0.25 miles of a den site, because those activities could result in disturbance or harm to denning fishers. CFM shall not authorize helicopter or fixed wing application of herbicide or fertilizer within 0.25 miles of an occupied den site between 15 March and 30 September until CFM is informed by USFWS or its agent the denning female has vacated the den site.
- Provide protection of denning female fishers by restricting trapping and nuisance animal control activities on enrolled lands within 2.5 miles of den sites.
- Report to USFWS, and ODFW or mutually agreed upon designated agents, within 48 hours upon finding any potentially occupied den sites or any dead, sick, or captured fishers on enrolled lands.
- Cover all man-made structures on enrolled lands that pose an entrapment risk to fishers (e.g. large water troughs, old rail cars, or other containers from which fishers cannot escape) or place a device within the structure (e.g., wooden pole to allow fishers to climb out) to prevent mortality of fishers from drowning, starvation or dehydration
- Where suitable habitat exists and where agreed upon by CFP and USFWS, allow the release of translocated fishers on enrolled lands
- CFP will seek to have all of its timberlands third party certified to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI),
- CFP will take fisher habitat characteristics into consideration when assessing parcels for transfer or sale into permanent or semi-permanent conservation status.
- Subject to safety, operability, fire hazard considerations, and salvage of timber following fire, windthrow or other natural or man-caused casualty, CFM will conserve existing and future standing deadwood, and, where available, focus leave tree retention on damaged, decayed, or deformed trees that are likely to provide or promote decay processes and structures beneficial to fisher or their prey.
- CFM meets or exceeds the Forest Practices Act (FPA) live tree and snag retention, and down woody debris. For clearcut harvests greater than 25 acres, FPA requires that at least 2 snags or 2 green trees 30 feet tall and at least 11 inches DBH, at least 50% are conifer, plus at least 2 down logs or down trees at least 50% of which must be conifers that are at 6 least 6 feet long with a total volume of 10 cubic feet must be retained. CFM commits to retaining a minimum of 3 snags or green trees per acre on clearcuts larger than 25 acres, and these trees/snags will be retained for the life of the CCAA.
- Trees >32” DBH will be retained the greatest extent possible, provided they do not pose safety hazards
- CFM will instruct logging contractor to avoid whenever possible, driving machinery over, or otherwise damaging large down woody debris, thereby maintaining the integrity of stumps and logs that may be used by fishers and their prey.
- CFM will seek to leave down woody debris and other structures important to fishers and their prey distributed throughout the unit instead of piling them into slash piles, will attempt to avoid mechanical damage or disturbance, and will locate skid trails around them where safety and operability considerations permit.
- For slash piles documented as being used by fishers for denning on the enrolled lands, CFM shall not burn or otherwise mechanically alter such slash piles for a period of 5 years after the last year of known occupancy and use by a denning fisher.
- CFM will avoid the use of rodenticides on lands enrolled in the permit area.
- CFM will prohibit lessees from recreational trapping.