Feds Respond in Eastside Screens Lawsuit

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Feds Cite ‘Scientific Support’ For Policy Shift On Tree Removal


Law360 (February 14, 2023, 3:33 PM EST) — The U.S. Forest Service is defending its decision, in early 2021, to scrap a decades-old restriction on cutting down old and large trees in the Pacific Northwest, arguing that a more flexible standard is needed to ensure that forests in the region can survive a growing number of wildfires.

Responding on Friday to a lawsuit filed by environmental activists, the Forest Service cast its old regulations — prohibiting the removal of trees that measure over 21 inches in diameter — as outdated and overly rigid.

The federal agency said its new standard, adopted in January 2021, provides a flexible approach that emphasizes protecting old trees in the Pacific Northwest but allows the removal of certain tree species that aren’t fire tolerant and crowd out ecologically beneficial species. That policy shift, the Forest Service said, “satisfies all statutory requirements and enjoys strong scientific support.”

“The weight of scientific consensus counsels the Forest Service to mitigate [wildfire] threats by actively managing forests to favor more historically prevalent, fire tolerant species,” it argued. “But that change is impossible if the Forest Service cannot cut any competing fire intolerant species over 21 inches in diameter.”

Federal authorities adopted the 21-inch prohibition as part of a 1994 series of timber regulations known as the Eastside Screens, which applied to 7.9 million acres of national forests in the Cascade Mountain Range of Oregon and Washington.

Read more at: https://www.law360.com/articles/1575462/feds-cite-scientific-support-for-policy-shift-on-tree-removal?copied=1

12 thoughts on “Feds Respond in Eastside Screens Lawsuit”

  1. USFS, Interior, Both deaf, dumb and blind: nobody will invest in a mill to cut a size of tree whose supply is never dependable. Bankers won’t loan. Nobody makes such equipment today in US. The market and production are based on short cutting rotational age in <40 yrs trees, capital gains taxing, and ASAP interruption of capital investment and recovery.
    Large land assemblages allow for a set annual harvest schedule and return on land investment.

    The ONLY path is to return to a timber sale contract for the amortization period and life of a newly constructed conversion facility that protects the contract holder from specious perpetual NGO litigation that stops the raw material flow.

    As it stands under a plethora of conflicting, amorphous Congressional statutes and agency rules is the idea of harvesting larger than 21” dbhob trees has a tiny private side constituency. The private timber and conversion facilities coupled with private land husbandry practices to NEVER having a tree that could be designated as “old growth.” NGOs and climate gurus set the rules. Industry adapted.

    Giving the now inability of federal land management to want to extinguish fire, why would private side bean counters and capital invest in a proven bad faith contract with a federal government that is based on emotions and aesthetics, balderdash and forever politically threatening. Now, with the economics of interruption of capitalization of timber growing, large land owners MUST harvest on a schedule OR the trees grow larger than any mills can process. Symbiotic. It works. Federal timber and logging once did. Now is impossible. Even to the refusal to salvage dead timber from excessive fire.

  2. If ya’ll could of seen how big in diameter the original trees ya’ll logged off in these areas once were compared to how few big ones remain today you’d hang your head in shame.

    Unlike regular farmers who get foreclosed on when their ability to grow a crop creates a smaller harvest each, tree farmers are never judged for overharvesting becasue they make so many BS excuses about how someone is interfering with their supply when they are the ones most responsible for depleting the supply down to nothing but pecker poles…

    Yet more petty tantrums about how court-ordered agreements that are designed to finally regrow bigger trees aren’t a worthy objective, but just “outdated and overly rigid.” You want us to believe that in the past decade all the trees grew 80 years and are ready for harvest again?

    Kinda like when an alcoholic or drug addict when told they’re running low on their supply and any their every attempt to slow down a little is met with the same type of reasons the USFS uses to go harder into doing even more, no matter how little remains. An addict doesn’t care about logic or science, they just want more no matter how little remains or how much damage it causes. That’s why we have laws and why all you crazies keep losing in court!

  3. I would like to see the scientific source that says it is “impossible” to “mitigate [wildfire] threats” without removing “competing fire intolerant species over 21 inches in diameter.” What I have seen in scientific literature (and I happened to be looking into it) is that where large trees (regardless of species) are now a limiting factor for at-risk wildlife species, it is important to preserve large trees where they exist and actively manage areas where they do not.

    And really, isn’t this a question of degree? A tradeoff between increments of reduced fire risk and reduced species risk? I think “impossible” is misleading the court.

    • OK, so here I imagine images of specific stands might help. I imagine a stand with large old ppines (m/l fire resistant) in which true firs (white? grand? hybrids?) have come in due to fire suppression. Some of the TF, which surround the old PP are over 21 inches. If a fire runs through, the burning tf will toast the PP, whereas if the pp were surrounded by grass the fire would burn through quickly and not toast the PP.TFs are prone to a host of bug and disease problems, which is not to say you shouldn’t have them around, but PPs are more fire resistant.
      Situation 1. Ingrown TF, fire burns through, all large trees are toast.
      Sitauation 2. Removed ingrown TF, fire burns through, old large PP survive.

      Is situation 1 or 2 better for “at risk wildlife species?”

      Perhaps part of the communication difficulties is the way court discussions occur- they don’t really have the time to get into the nitty gritty details (nor is it really their expertise). At least in my (albeit, limited, compared to may TSW folks) experience.
      I would say “in some places it may be necessary to remove some intolerant species over 21 inches to protect large trees.” I like living trees. So do many wildlife species, I would think. Plus if you keep trees around, they produce seed so you get more trees (many times) without planting.

      • Situation 3 (no fire while treatment is effective) also has to be factored into the risk calculation (and the 100% certainty that the logged trees are gone).

        Why not manage fuels around the stand to keep fire from reaching it?

          • Look somewhere else. Or if it is a uniquely critical priority that plan language can’t objectively anticipate, amend the plan for that project.

          • Steve – here’s more like that: https://oregoncapitalchronicle.com/2023/02/14/exclusive-massive-die-off-hits-fir-trees-across-the-northwest/

            Given that “A dangerous fire period can occur within the first two years following a major die-off,” it seems like the priority should be salvaging newly dead firs rather than killing the live ones left. (It seems like draught might take care of most of the “thinning” of big firs for us, and we ought to try even harder to leave the rest of them alone.)

            • Here’s part of an article I wrote for The Mountain Times, the monthly community newspaper in Welches, Oregon, and surrounding towns. This was from a recent “The Woodsman” column I write eac. month.

              “Firmageddon” and Oregon Forest Health

              By Steve Wilent
              For newspaper, magazine, or blog editors trying to come up with attention-grabbing headlines (as all editors do) for a story about forest health (boring!), using the word “Firmageddon” would be a slam dunk. The Oregonian used the term in a November 25, 2022, article, “Record number of firs dying in Oregon, Washington in what experts call ‘Firmageddon.’” Other newspapers far and wide ran similar headlines, including Esquire, Wired, and the US edition of the British newspaper, The Guardian.

              Firmageddon, a term based on “armageddon,” was coined by researchers who had compiled data cleaned from aerial surveys of forest conditions in Oregon and Washington. According to The Oregonian, the researchers found that “Fir trees in Oregon and Washington died in record-breaking numbers in 2022,” and it was “the largest die-off ever recorded for fir trees in the two states.”

              Note that the die-off of firs does not include Douglas-fir, the most common tree in our area, but so-called “true fir” species grand fir and noble fir, which are common in the northern Cascades, as well as white fir, Shasta fir, and red fir, which are common in southern Oregon. Douglas-fir is not a true fir.

              In assessing the results of aerial surveys covering about 25 million acres in Oregon, the researchers found that “The fir mortality is widespread and quite severe in some locations. Fir mortality has been detected across Oregon and Washington, but the elevated and more severe fir mortality was observed across the Ochoco, Malheur, Fremont, and Winema National Forests from Central Oregon to the California border. More than 1.2 million acres have been impacted with fir mortality across the Pacific Northwest, with ~1.1 million of those acres all being recorded in Oregon. Nearly double the acres impacted compared to all the previous year’s data on fir mortality in Oregon.”

              The results of the surveys are summarized in “Forest Health Highlights in Oregon – 2021,” from the Oregon Department of Forestry and the US Forest Service (download it at tinyurl.com/3cmna6hc). The US Forest offers an informative “story map” that looks at data from Oregon and Washington (tinyurl.com/ywy76erh).

              Trees die in our forests every year due to a variety of natural causes, such as wildfire, insect attacks, and diseases. In recent years, many trees have been weakened by drought stress, which reduces their ability to defend themselves against insects and diseases. Heat stress, such as during the unusual “heat dome” we all suffered through in 2021, also weakens trees. The graph accompanying this article shows that tree deaths from abiotic factors—drought and heat stress (shown in blue)—were far greater in 2021 than in previous years. This is not surprising, as much of Oregon has seen drought conditions in recent years, “most heavily across Oregon from the center of Oregon around the Ochoco Mountains to the California border,” according to the report.

              To me, as a forester, the high mortality in true firs isn’t surprising. In many areas, especially in eastern and southwestern Oregon, true firs have “invaded” forests that had previously been dominated by large, old ponderosa pines and Douglas-firs. In the past, relatively frequent, low-intensity fires killed most of the young true firs before they could become big enough to compete with the larger, older trees. Such fires were caused by lightning or were intentionally lit by Native Americans for centuries before European settlers moved in. Today, the invading true firs have become large enough to compete with larger trees for water and nutrients, and most or all trees in these overcrowded forests are stressed, leaving them more susceptible to insects, diseases, drought, heat waves, and especially wildfire.

              The US Forest Service, the Oregon Department of Forestry, private landowners, and other forest managers have worked for many years to reintroduce low-intensity fire—prescribed fire that is beneficial in ways similar to the fires lit by Native Americans. With so many young trees and dead/down woody debris in these forests, wildfires that otherwise would have been low intensity, leaving the largest trees unscathed, often become high-intensity fires that kill many or all of the large trees. Using prescribed fire in these areas can help clear out the invading firs, but only if the amount of available fuel is reduced beforehand through mechanical or hand thinning.

            • I don’t think so. If leaving fire resilient trees (large PP) is the goal, then we need to remove smaller trees around them so they don’t produce a ring of fire that toasts the PPs. The smaller trees may or may not be dead. Also by the time a project is implemented living trees could be dead.

              A cluster of true fir around an old pp also compete with the PP for water. In a drought, then, a person could argue that it’s better for the PP to take away competitors. If the true fir are dead, they are not competing. I’m not suggesting this, but pointing out that a case could be made.


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