Monday Roundup: FS OG Policy, Mining Law, Public Lands Rule, Illegal Cannabis and Giant Sequoias

Illegal cannabis greenhouses dot the landscape in the shadow of Mount Shasta in Siskiyou county, northern California. Photograph: Brian van der Brug/Getty

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I’ve received a few positive emails about our managed fire discussion so I’ll be continuing that in other posts. But for now, a few other interesting stories.

TRCP Preps Us for Release of FS Old Growth Policy

TRCP, who was no doubt involved in deciding, gives us an inkling that it will be a Good Thing with this op-ed in the Bend Bulletin:

Fortunately, the Forest Service’s proposed action on old growth demonstrates that the agency is listening and that it recognizes active restoration is critical to maintaining older forests in many places on the landscape. Grounded in the latest scientific research, the proposal aims to provide guidance for consistently maintaining and managing older forests while complementing wildfire risk reduction efforts. Initiatives such as the Wildfire Crisis Strategy advocate for proactive stewardship through selective thinning, prescribed burns, Tribal co-stewardship agreements, and other tools. Implemented effectively, a policy that enhances the health of Central Oregon’s old growth ponderosas coupled with existing strategies such as the Wildfire Crisis Strategy can enhance the pace and scale of managing healthy forest stands, benefiting wildlife habitat while reducing fire risk to communities.

Some Pieces of the “Public Lands Rule” to be Implemented in a More “Deliberate” Fashion Than Others

This sounds quite interesting, so thanks to Nick Smith.  I’d like to see the rest of the piece, so maybe someone who has access to E&E News could send.  FWIW, The Smokey Wire was not invited to the internal online webinar that E&E News was.   It feels kind of creepy that reporters for an outlet regular people can’t afford (and that isn’t available in my local public libraries) have unique access to information provided by the Admin.  I get a weird oligarchy vibe from all this. Here’s the summary Nick posted:

Bureau of Land Management Director Tracy Stone-Manning and other officials Thursday outlined to staffers next steps and a timeline for implementing the sweeping new public lands rule, acknowledging that it could take years to fully incorporate all the rule’s provisions. Stone-Manning and others promised the rule will be implemented in a deliberate fashion when it goes into effect on June 10. This will include a “preliminary suite of implementation guidance” developed by “interdisciplinary and intra-organizational teams” to help guide staff, said Brian St. George, BLM’s deputy assistant director of resources and planning. The rule kicks off major changes in how BLM approaches oversight of the 245 million acres it manages. Highlights include involving Native American tribes and Alaska Native corporations as “co-leads” in project reviews, such as environmental impact statements, and proactively protecting parcels that have been nominated, but not approved, for conservation, agency officials said during the internal online webinar late Thursday that E&E News was able to listen to. (Subscription Required)

Couldn’t someone nominate all BLM lands for conservation? Where does that leave renewable energy, strategic minerals, and new transmission lines?

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I do see a pattern of media getting out ahead of any direct contact between the actual text and the public.  Problem is, media campaigns themselves make some of us more skeptical than we would be with a straightforward public announcement with all the details for those of us more knowledgeable (than reporters) to peruse.  Maybe that’s just me, and it’s now a standard way of doing business.

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Bipartisan Bill on Mining Passed in House Goes to Senate

This is a very detailed story with no paywall.

The bipartisan support for blocking the Rosemont decision follows the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022, which incentivized mining companies to take advantage of the Advanced Manufacturing Production Credit to develop mining projects for critical minerals included in the law. Many of the critical minerals designated by the Biden administration, such as zinc, manganese and lithium, are integral to electric vehicle batteries and the transition toward a carbon-free economy.

“Everything from lithium-ion batteries to satellites relies on critical minerals, and we should be responsibly mining those right here in the U.S.,” Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), who introduced the Senate bill with Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), said in a press release. “My legislation will undo the damage of the misguided Rosemont decision and protect thousands of jobs across the West.”

There were 509 active mining plans of operation and another 806 active mining notices on federal lands in 2023, according to Steve Feldgus, deputy assistant secretary of land and minerals management at the Department of the Interior.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, nonprofit organizations working in Arizona, led the effort to sue the U.S. Forest Service over its decision to allow the Rosemont Copper Company to use federal lands to dump mining waste. The Tohono O’odham Nation, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and Hopi Tribe, among others, consider the area to be sacred, ancestral land, prompting conservation groups to file suit and prevent further development.

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“What we correctly argued and the court, we think, got it right, was that if you’re going to assert rights against the United States … the agency has to check and the company has to prove that it actually has the rights under the [1872] Mining Law,” said Roger Flynn, an environmental attorney who litigated on behalf of conservation groups against the United States Forest Service in the Rosemont decision.

Before the 2022 Rosemont decision, as a legal precedent, the Forest Service often did not require proof of valid mining claims. According to Flynn, who teaches courses on mining law at the University of Colorado, the agency has historically greenlit dozens of mining projects on federal land because of its interpretation of the 1872 Mining Law.

“I think the [1872] Mining Law automatically gives rights to these companies, the agencies do not have the discretion to say no. The Rosemont mine changed that,” Flynn said. “And that’s what has caused the industry to go to their supporters and basically take away the few guardrails that actually exist in the Mining Law.”

On the other hand, this also came across my desk this morning..from the University of Michigan “Copper can’t be mined fast enough to electrify the US”.    Seems like after the election might be a good time for a bipartisan reality check on all this. Right now it seems like decarbonization pathways are chosen by political forces we don’t know about, without an open public review of assumptions and alternatives.   As I’ve said before, if the US has parties with different perspectives and decarb is a long-term project, doesn’t it have to have bipartisan public support?One could argue that the IRA/BIL is that, but those are about sending out more money (easy for pols) not so much about getting things done (because someone is not going to like it). Clarity about the hard choices we face seems important to me, but not to the marketers of various erstwhile solutions.

Copper can’t be mined fast enough to electrify the US

Copper can’t be mined fast enough to electrify the US

Some Pieces of the “Public Lands Rule” to be Implemented in a More “Deliberate” Fashion Than Others

This sounds quite interesting, so thanks to Nick Smith.  I’d like to see the rest of the piece, so maybe someone who has access to E&E News could send.  FWIW, The Smokey Wire was not invited to the internal online webinar that E&E News was.   It feels kind of creepy that reporters for an outlet regular people can’t afford (and that isn’t available in my local public libraries) have unique access to information provided by the Admin.  I get a weird oligarchy vibe from all this. Here’s the summary Nick posted:

Bureau of Land Management Director Tracy Stone-Manning and other officials Thursday outlined to staffers next steps and a timeline for implementing the sweeping new public lands rule, acknowledging that it could take years to fully incorporate all the rule’s provisions. Stone-Manning and others promised the rule will be implemented in a deliberate fashion when it goes into effect on June 10. This will include a “preliminary suite of implementation guidance” developed by “interdisciplinary and intra-organizational teams” to help guide staff, said Brian St. George, BLM’s deputy assistant director of resources and planning. The rule kicks off major changes in how BLM approaches oversight of the 245 million acres it manages. Highlights include involving Native American tribes and Alaska Native corporations as “co-leads” in project reviews, such as environmental impact statements, and proactively protecting parcels that have been nominated, but not approved, for conservation, agency officials said during the internal online webinar late Thursday that E&E News was able to listen to. (Subscription Required)

Couldn’t someone nominate all BLM lands for conservation? Where does that leave renewable energy, strategic minerals, and new transmission lines?

 

Environmental and Human Trafficking Impacts of Illegal Cannabis Grows in Shasta County, California or Legalizing Provides Cover for Illegal Operations

Policies made with the best of intentions can have unintended consequences.  Proponents (whether driven by self-interest or ideology) tend to assume away and downplay them.  Some are downright surprises to anyone; some are easily foreseen or experienced by other government entities who have tried that policy.  What’s interesting about this Guardian article is that it’s not really clear how much of this is federal land, possibly due to the fact that the reporter is located in London, and so our detailed land ownership patterns are unnecessary detail (and relatively unimportant for the Guardian’s audience, I guess):

The wilderness around Mount Shasta is protected by law, sheltering spotted owls, Pacific fishers and rare plants such as the Shasta owl’s clover. The Medicine Lake Volcano, 30 miles from Mount Shasta, is an important drinking water resource for the state that captures snowmelt from the surrounding area.

“We’ve gone down there on the ground and there’s really no wildlife. You’re lucky to find a lizard,” says Rick Dean, the community development director for Siskiyou’s environmental health division. Along with helping local people rebuild from the region’s enormous wildfires, Dean is spending ever more of his time on the consequences of illegal cannabis production.

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Illegal production continues on federal land and forest ecosystems, sometimes with links to organised crime groups. There are fines for illicit growers but most amount to a few hundred dollars, which authorities say is little deterrent. By contrast, commercial growers in the legal market are obliged to follow restrictions covering the use of pesticides and chemicals, with dispensaries testing cannabis products before they go on sale.

Standing on a hill looking over the makeshift greenhouses and partially buried rubbish, local sheriff Jeremiah LaRue says authorities do not have enough resources to clear the illicit operations. Pickup trucks can be seen patrolling the site. “There’s a lot of concern about environmental damage. We see the labour trafficking of the people that come in here and work; water use concerns; and the marijuana is essentially being cultivated with pesticides that are not supposed to be on the plant.

“The marijuana goes to anywhere … to licensed facilities. We’ve tracked it to other states. It’s a public health issue,” he says.

While his team do issue fines after raids, they largely go unpaid. When a growing site is abandoned or cleared, Siskiyou county estimates the cleanup costs to be about $30,000 an acre, with workers routinely finding illegal pesticide that could be fatal to people who breathe it in.

“The idea was that [legalisation] would combat the illegal side of things,” says LaRue. “This exploded around the same time as legalisation. All the costs associated with doing it legally are way more than to do it illegally. It’s not about whether the plant is bad. If this was corn, or strawberries, or cherries, whatever, it would still be wrong.”

Giant Sequoias Have Bark Beetles Too

Considering it seemed to start during the drought, it could be that the trees were so weakened by a lack of water and the extreme heat (associated with climate change), that the beetles were able to take advantage, similar to what happened in conifer forests across the Sierra Nevada. It can take sequoias multiple years to recover once rain returns.

An image of trees at different stages of damage.
As beetle attacks progress, trees tend to die from the top down.
(Nate Stephenson/U.S. Geological Survey)

Fire could also be playing a role, according to Brigham. There seems to be a correlation between beetle attacks and severe fire scars at the base of the trees. While sequoias need fire to survive, extreme fires like those that we’ve seen in recent years, can damage their roots and trunks, compromising their ability to transport nutrients to the demanding, full green crown several hundred feet off the ground.

6 thoughts on “Monday Roundup: FS OG Policy, Mining Law, Public Lands Rule, Illegal Cannabis and Giant Sequoias”

  1. The hypothesis that “There seems to be a correlation between beetle attacks and severe fire scars at the base of the trees,” prompts me to ask, why do all large sequoias have sizable fire scars? Additionally, sequoias are used to date fire frequency via fire scarring on rings and their rings are used date wood used in prehistoric structures and implements. The claim of climate change seems opportunistic and facile; it’s the go to answer for everything. I worked on Mountain Home State Forest, with its 3000 old growth sequoias, following the droughts in the 1970s. None of the young growth showed signs of bark beetle. Bark beetles have their preferred species, which one is attacking the sequoia?

    None of this is to say, the hypothesis is wrong. It is to point out that it may not be the whole answer. As we used to say following every report we made in college, “More study is needed.”

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    • Norm, maybe you could interview some other forest entomologists and send us a more in-depth report we could post. I think it would be of broad interest.

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    • My guess would be that before fire suppression, giant sequoias had a much more open understory. That would result in more available groundwater, which would help the trees fend off the beetles. Pines and firs do the same thing, using tree sap to push the beetles’ eggs back out the entry holes. We called them “pitch streamers”.Sometimes the tree will live, and sometimes the tree has too many ‘hits’.

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      • Great point, Larry. Both the National Park Service and US Forest Service did have a kid glove approach to removing understory around old growth sequoias. This was a point of contention with Cal-Poly professor Doug Piirto and others on the management of the Giant Sequoia Monument. I have been out of the forestry world for two decades and things may have changed.

        Mountain Home SF did not such a policy, and logged around old growth. This may have allowed for the more mesic conditions that sequoias prefer. I’ll call Mountain Home’s office today and see if their sequoias took a hit from bark beetle attacks.

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        • Here is what I learned:
          • Anthony Ambrose, executive director of the Ancient Forest Society will be visiting Mountain Home Demonstration State Forest three times this year.
          o July, August, and October
          • The fires have drawn the attention to the forest and sequoias
          • His crew will be in the canopies of the giant sequoias
          o Hard to know what their findings, if any, will mean.
          o After all, what is the bassline?
          o How long have beetles been attacking GS?
          o Has it been happening all along, (probably) but we hadn’t paid attention to beetle attacks because it was high in the canopy? (also probably)
          My thoughts:
          • While the climate change narrative animates politics, grant funding, and thus research, it may be simply that the romantic idealism of forests and this amazing species have led us full circle to a point where researchers and experts arrive at the place where forest managers have been.
          • Replace the term “climate change” with “overstocking” and the “novel adaption methods to climate change” look very much like Forestry 101 basics for dealing with fire, pests, and diseases.
          • Time will tell. More research will occur as long as this latest shiny object animates the public, the media, and politicians.

          Reply

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