Update: Owl plan, Reform Act, Salazar, more

Update: Owl plan, Reform Act, Salazar, more
By American Forest Resource Council

(non) Recovery Owl Plan Released

How do you increase the population of a town abandoned due to a radioactive spill? If you are the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) you would build more homes. This is the logic behind the recently released draft Recovery Plan for the northern spotted owl. Spotted owls have abandoned hundreds of thousands of acres of prime habitat due to the presence of their bigger cousin, the barred owl, and because of this the spotted owl population is declining. How does the FWS propose to increase the population of spotted owls? Their answer is to reserve more forest land for the exclusive use of the spotted owl. This is despite the fact that all of these new reserves are either already being occupied by barred owls or will be very shortly, therefore, rendering them useless to the spotted owl. This draft Recovery Plan is a radical departure from the recovery strategy put in place almost 20 years ago. At that time, biologists determined that the spotted owl could be recovered and thrive by establishing a vast network of large reserves across federal lands from northern California to the Canadian border. Each of these reserves would be capable of self-sustaining at least 20 pairs of owls. This strategy was supported by extensive computer modeling, codified in the Northwest Forest Plan and has been reaffirmed in every review conducted by the FWS since it was adopted. Tens of thousands of jobs were lost and rural communities suffered to accommodate this strategy that led to a 90 percent reduction in timber harvest.

Now the draft Recovery Plan abandons this strategy without any supporting scientific analysis and says that the only way the spotted owl will recover is by protecting ALL “high quality” suitable habitat and ALL spotted owl sites on ALL lands (federal, private, state, county, etc.) The FWS says this is necessary because it “…should provide spotted owls high-quality refugia habitat from the negative competitive interactions with barred owls.” The problem with this strategy is that there is absolutely no evidence that these new “refugia” will not be occupied by the barred owl and therefore will not provide places for the spotted owls to hide from the barred owl. The FWS provides absolutely no scientific evidence to show that their plan is necessary or will even work.

There is only one way to recover the spotted owl. That is to remove the barred owl and allow the spotted owl to return to the hundreds of thousands of acres of existing suitable habitat within the existing reserve system. The Canadians have learned this the hard way. Their wild population of spotted owls has declined from 500 to less than twenty. They are now trying to reintroduce the spotted owl into existing spotted owl habitat by removing the barred owl. The FWS should learn from this rather than establishing “technical work groups,” analyzing data sets, doing more research and “educating the public.” Environmentalists love this new strategy as it locks up more land and ensures that the spotted owl will continue to decline so they can have even more land locked up.

Making more reserves for the spotted owl will not increase their numbers just like building new homes in a radioactive zone will not bring more people to a town. The radioactivity has to be cleaned up. The FWS must not be allowed to hide behind a Recovery Plan that purports to save the spotted owl but in reality will only lead to its demise. Without the removal of the barred owl, the spotted owl’s only hope is to create a captive breeding program so that we will have spotted owls to reintroduce into the wild if Mother Nature decides to take care of the barred owls for us. /Ross Mickey

Salazar Meets with Delegation

On September 23, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar met with members of the Oregon Congressional delegation to discuss Bureau of Land Management (BLM) forest management efforts in western Oregon. Members of the Oregon delegation have been asking for such a meeting for months and renewed their request following the Department’s release of the Western Oregon Task Force report in late July. That report received nearly unanimous criticism from the delegation, local communities, the forest products industry and the media.

In attendance were Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Democratic Representatives Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer, David Wu and Kurt Schrader. Salazar was joined by Department and BLM staff for the meeting. The delegation raised several issues with the Secretary, including their strong opposition to the Administration’s proposed FY11 budget cut for O&C forest management activities. They also pressed the Secretary on the need to increase harvest levels, particularly in hard hit southwest Oregon where the recent closure announcement of Swanson Group’s Glendale small log facility has underscored the urgency of the issue.

The Secretary committed to take a personal stake in the issue and work with the delegation to develop specific proposals for addressing the gridlock impacting much of western Oregon. It is clear that it will take the active involvement of the delegation to continue pushing the issue forward. It is worth noting that several members of the delegation missed floor votes and party policy meetings to participate in the entire meeting with the Secretary and we greatly appreciate their efforts. /Tom Partin

CR Likely This Week

This Friday is the start of Fiscal Year 2011 and Congress has yet to enact any of the twelve individual appropriations bills. As has happened in many recent years, Congress will need to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund government operations until a longer term measure can be adopted. With Congress scheduled to recess later this week for the midterm election, both the House and Senate will be spending time on what is expected to be a relatively “clean” CR – largely free of new policy and funding initiatives.

While CR’s have been common in recent years, the lack of action by either the House or Senate on individual appropriations bills is notable. In fact, the House Appropriations Committee has only approved two individual spending bills and their Senate counterparts have approved 11. Only two appropriation bills have actually been approved by the full House and the Senate has yet to vote on any.

The Interior Appropriations bill, which funds the Department of the Interior, the Forest Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, was not approved by either Appropriations Committee. Based on initial information, it appears the CR will continue FY10 funding levels for most programs and largely steers clear of the inclusion of special add-on provisions or injections of funding for favored programs. With the Senate poised to first take up the CR as an amendment to the House passed Department of State/Foreign Operations appropriations bill, it soon should become clear if there will be sufficient votes to pass the measure this week. With lawmakers anxious to return to their districts to campaign it is highly likely that Congress will pass the measure in the next few days. / Tom Partin

Boiler MACT Letter

A bipartisan coalition of 41 Senators signed onto a letter asking Environmental Protection Agency Director Lisa Jackson to use all legal authority provided in the Clean Air Act to take a more reasonable approach in implementing the proposed Boiler MACT (Maximum Achievable Control Technology) Rule. This rule would set emission limits for a vast array of industrial commercial and institutional boilers. Achieving these limits will require mandatory plant upgrades which would impose tens of billions of dollars in capital costs at thousands of facilities across the country. Many believe the standards as proposed by the EPA are unachievable. According to the EPA, this is the most costly MACT rule ever proposed. Industry estimates the economic impact will be about $21 billion in capital expenditures alone.

In the letter the Senators stated that they are not opposing the Boiler MACT rule; rather they are only asking the EPA to make a redraft which is a more balanced and reasonable approach at protecting the environment, jobs, and the industries that are vital to our country’s economy. Several western Senators signed onto the letter and should be given thanks for their support. These Senators include: Ron Wyden, Patty Murray (D-WA), Jeff Merkley, Jim Risch (R-ID), and Mike Crapo (R-ID). / Tom Partin

Reform Act Case Dismissed

On September 22, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals published an opinion that dismissed a challenge to the Appeals Reform Act (ARA). The case began in 2003 before Judge Donald Molloy in Montana (Wilderness Society v. Rey). Judge Molloy ruled that the ARA did not allow the Forest Service to exempt from appeal (1) categorically excluded projects and (2) decisions by the Secretary of Agriculture. Judge Molloy also invalidated the provision of the regulation that required a person to submit substantive comments in order to later appeal the project.

Environmental groups further challenged the categorical exclusion provision of the regulations in a California case (Summers v. Earth Island Institute), involving a 250 acre salvage categorical exclusion.

This case went all the way to the Supreme Court which held that a plaintiff could not bring a generic challenge to the regulations without a challenge to a site-specific timber sale. Since the plaintiffs did not challenge any specific timber sales, the Ninth Circuit held that based on the Supreme Court decision in the Summers case, their challenge to the ARA regulations had to be dismissed. In particular the Ninth Circuit held there was no standing to bring the suit because it was “not tied to application of the challenged regulations, because it did not identify any particular site, and because it related to past injury rather than imminent future injury that is sought to be enjoined.” In addition, the Ninth Circuit dismissed the case because the ARA did not create “depravation of information” standing like is allowed under the Freedom of Information Act. /Scott Horngren

Panther Salvage Sale Challenged

The Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center has challenged the 6.5 million board foot Panther salvage sale on the Klamath National Forest. The plaintiffs contend that the emergency situation determination signed by the Chief of the Forest Service, which allowed the sale to be sold before an appeal is resolved due to deteriorating timber, was arbitrary and capricious because it overestimated the loss in value that would occur if the sale was delayed. The salvage is in matrix land and the Forest Service is removing some trees from riparian reserves within the matrix which plaintiffs argue violates the Northwest Forest Plan.

South Bay Timber purchased the sale and the logs are being processed by Rough and Ready Lumber. AFRC staff helped to negotiate a stipulation to permit harvest to begin before the preliminary injunction hearing, which occurred on September 27 before Judge Garland Burrell in Sacramento. The judge did not indicate how he would rule but a decision is expected soon. /Scott Horngren

Wildcat II

The Wildcat II project on the Umatilla National Forest has been appealed again. There was one appeal filed by four environmental groups including: Hells Canyon Preservation Council, League of Wilderness Defenders/Blue Mountains Biodiversity, Sierra Club, and Cascadia Wildlands. The appeal, over 180 pages long, is nearly a carbon copy of the appeal filed on the original Wildcat project. This timber sale has been in the crosshairs of some in the environmental community through both iterations mainly because of two issues: 1) areas without roads and 2) vegetation management in the higher elevation moist, mixed conifer stands. The Forest Service believes that the treatments being proposed are needed to improve the health of these stands and to reduce the buildup of heavy fuels. The areas without roads issue is based on an inventory by Oregon Wild that includes maps showing the areas they “wish” to be protected for their roadless characteristics-regardless of size. This was the principle reason the original decision was withdrawn because the forest did not adequately document how it analyzed this issue in the first iteration of NEPA documents. This second iteration includes a more thorough discussion.

The higher elevation forests is a big issue for the Umatilla since so much of the forest is in this general category. Some in the environmental community argue there is no science, or the science is mixed on whether or how to conduct vegetation management in this zone. The appeal includes 32 points for resolution and if the forest agreed to all 32 points the environmentalists say they would drop their appeal. The first point is that virtually no vegetation management would occur above 3,500 feet. Another is a list of units they want dropped, which would essentially gut the entire project.

During the resolution meeting/conference call with the appellants, the Forest Supervisor said he could not agree to the list of demands. Senator Ron Wyden’s staff participated in the conference call and have had follow up discussions with the Forest Service, industry, and the environmental community in the hopes of seeing the project move forward.

It is likely that the project will continue through the appeals process and the reviewing officer will hopefully render a decision shortly. Whether the environmentalists follow through as before and file a lawsuit is something we will have to wait and see. This project is a large part of the forest’s 2011 timber sale program. /Chuck Burley

Jones Thin Appeal Decision

On September 23, the Forest Supervisor of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest issued the decision on AFRC’s appeal of the Jones Thin Project. The reviewing officer recommended and the Forest Supervisor agreed the decision should be reversed. The decision was based on the District Ranger’s failure to demonstrate adequate consideration of opposing comments and viewpoints raised by AFRC.

On August 2, AFRC appealed the Jones Thin Project which is located on the Hayfork Ranger District.

The project proposed to thin 437 acres of 50 year old ponderosa pine plantations. The purpose and need identified for the project included improving the long-term forest health and vigor and providing longterm reduction of hazardous fuels. The final decision recommended thinning to an average spacing of 18 feet.

The appeal had three points of contention. First was a violation of NEPA in terms of presenting an inadequate range of alternatives. During scoping and draft Decision Memo comments, AFRC repeatedly asked for an additional alternative to be developed and analyzed that thinned the stands to a wider spacing (25 feet) rather than that developed in the proposed action. The second point dealt with the agency not meeting the established purpose and need. AFRC pointed out that the effectiveness of 18 foot spacing will not last for 10 years and crowding and fire risk will soon return. The third point dealt with implementation feasibility. The reduced spacing will increase the risk to residual damage to the leave trees and will dramatically increase implementation costs. / Rick Svilich

Westside Fuels Reduction

The Klamath Ranger District on the Fremont-Winema National Forests has released its Decision Notice (DN) on the Healthy Forest Restoration Act Westside project. This project is almost entirely within a wildland urban interface and is all under the Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP). For the most part it is a project that AFRC and our members have supported.

Unfortunately, the forest included diameter limits which are not part of the NWFP. AFRC filed an objection and during the course of the resolution discussions was informed that the LSR 21-inch diameter limit was from the LSR assessment completed for this area, but we are unable to find that actual reference. In addition, we were informed that the 30-inch diameter limit in the Matrix lands was based on the recommendations for this project from the forest silviculture staff.

Despite our objection and discussions with the forest staff, the final DN retains both these diameter limits. /Chuck Burley

Gate 2 Volumes

One of the things AFRC has been discussing is having shelf stock or NEPA-ready volume on each national forest. For some time now forests have been working hand-to-mouth with no projects in reserve. That is they complete NEPA, implement the project, and start on the next one. Under this scenario, appeals and litigation have resulted in significant disruptions in accomplishments and volume offered.

AFRC began requesting earlier this year for Gate 2 volume by forest. Gate 2 is the point where the NEPA decision is complete and signed. This includes categorical exclusions, decision notices for environmental assessments, and records of decision for environmental impact statements. We feel that attention paid to this will direct resources to help forests get more Gate 2 volume that they can draw from when other projects are held up for various reasons.

One excellent example of this is the Mt. Hood National Forest where they completed an EA several years ago for 60-70 million board feet of second growth Douglas fir plantation thinning on the Clackamas Ranger District. Having this shelf stock allows the forest to meet its targets when other projects are delayed.

Below is the first report of Gate 2 volume for the Oregon and Washington eastside national forests.

Forest Volume (mmbf)

Fremont/Winema 69.2
Deschutes 59.7
Ochoco 3.1
Malheur ?? (52 mmbf planned to complete in 2011)
Umatilla 11 (6 mmbf is in Wildcat II)
Wallowa-Whitman 4.7 (25 mmbf planned to complete in 2011)
Okanogan/Wenatchee 15.8 (40.8 mmbf planned to complete in 2011)
Colville 37.4 (18.5 mmbf planned to complete in 2011)

Keep in mind these volumes are gross figures, sawtimber and non-sawtimber combined. Clearly some forests do not have much if any shelf stock and so each NEPA decision is critical to meeting targets. We would like to see these figures increase each year and intend to include this in our future monitoring meetings. /Chuck Burley

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