Owl plans, Timber sales, 2011 Fire stats, more

By American Forest Resource Council
In this newsletter

1. Interior Budget Moves
2. County Payments Hearing
3. Owl Recovery Plan
4. Forest Service Timber Sale Program
5. BLM Pilot Project Update
6. Northwest Forest Plan – Mendocino
7. Job Creation
8. EPA Softens on Biomass
9. Insect Mortality Expands
10. 2011 Fire Statistics
11. Ashe Confirmed as FWS Director
12. DNR Timber Sale Staff Changes 
Interior Budget Moves

On July 12, the House Appropriations Committee passed their Fiscal Year 2012 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies appropriations bill. Because of the huge deficits our country faces all 12 of the annual spending bills will likely see major reductions. Overall, the bill would fund the Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Forest Service and other agencies at $27.5 billion, which is over $2 billion below FY11 levels.

A quick recap of the bill shows that the big loser for total dollars was the EPA which took a $1.5 billion reduction, or a 18 percent hit. Taking the largest percentage reduction was the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who had their funding reduced by $315 million or 21 percent. The BLM was funded at $1 billion, which is a decrease of $63 million or 6.3 percent, and the Forest Service was funded at $4.5 billion or a 3.5 percent decrease.

Specifically for the Forest Service, the National Forest System was provided an additional $4 million over the FY11 level. The Committee recommended $336,722,000 for forest products, which is $673,000 above the 2011 enacted level. The Committee included report language indicating that it expects the agency to increase its vegetation and timber management activities to sell not less than 3 billion board feet of forest products in FY12. The report language also noted that the Committee further expects the agency to prioritize the use of hazardous fuels reduction funding to projects that treat and reduce Fire Regime Condition Class II and III forests predominantly through mechanical treatments.

The Committee indicated that “it is concerned that recent mill closures in forested rural areas have diminished the Service’s ability to actively manage national forests to prevent catastrophic wildfires, and large-scale insect and disease infestation. Forest products infrastructure is essential to improving the health and resilience of national forests while also contributing to the health of rural communities. The Committee directs the Forest Service to consider local infrastructure needs and capacity while planning forest management projects.”

For the BLM, the Committee recommended $112,043,000 for the O&C Lands as requested, $709,000 above the FY11 enacted level. The Committee report language notes that it was supportive of the Secretary’s Western Oregon strategy pilot projects, but “is concerned that these projects may not result in realistic long-term solutions to the management of O&C Lands.”

The report also indicated that “a comprehensive review and change of current policies, including Survey and Manage, is necessary to meet the goals of the O&C Lands Act of 1937.” The Committee notes that the law directs that these lands be managed ”for permanent forest production . . . with the principal of sustained yield for the purpose of providing a permanent source of timber supply, protecting watersheds, regulating stream flow, and contributing to the economic stability of local communities and industries, and providing recreational facilities”.

Other key aspects of the bill include:

– The discharge from forest roads and forestry activities would be exempt from needing NPDES permits.
– The administrative appeals process for Forest Service projects would be replaced by pre-decisional review process. – There would be a one year delay in Greenhouse Gas Regulations for stationary sources.
– There would be an allowance for the continued use of the 1982 Forest Planning Regulations, even if the new proposed regulations are finalized. Revisions to storm water runoff regulations would be prohibited.
– New listings or up-listings of endangered species would be prohibited and there would be no additional designation of critical habitat.
– Establish an Integrated Resource Restoration pilot program for Region 1, Region 3 and Region 4. Land acquisition funding was reduced from $301 million to $62 million.
– The bill did not provide funding for the Secure Rural Schools and County Self-Determination Act despite the Administration’s 2012 budget request.

While the House is working to complete all of its twelve spending bills by August 3, little action has taken place in the Senate to pass companion spending bills. / Tom Partin

County Payments Hearing

On July 14, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands held an oversight hearing on “Secure Rural Schools Reauthorization and Forest Management Options for a Viable County Payments Program.” Western members attending the hearing included Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Raul Labrador (R-ID), Wally Herger (R-CA) and Tom McClintock (R-CA).

The Secure Rural Schools Act, which expires this year, was an extension of a safety net created in 1994 to buffer the impact of the loss of timber sale revenues to the counties resulting from the listing of the Northern Spotted Owl. Beginning in 1908, counties received 25 percent of the revenues produced by Forest Service lands in recognition of the impact of large tracts of federal land on the ability of local governments to raise property tax revenue. Counties in western Oregon receive 50 percent of the gross timber receipts from BLM lands. The safety net system was intended to be a short-term program while forests developed new management strategies to again increase timber receipts. Unfortunately, stumpage revenues have not rebounded, due to a low level of timber management on Forest Service and BLM lands. The challenge before Congress is how to provide a source of revenue to these local governments in an era where the federal government is borrowing $.40 of every dollar it spends. Clearly, timber receipts could be part of the solution, but changes in federal forest management would be required.

Among those testifying at the hearing was Duane Vaagen, President of Vaagen Brothers Lumber Company, Colville, Washington. Vaagen testified on the need to get back to managing our national forests to restore community and forest health. He provided the Subcommittee with a set of legislative recommendations including: reduce the time and cost of project planning; hold the Forest Service accountable; revise Stewardship Contracting authority to allow counties to share in receipts; separate fire fighting and forest management functions; and get ahead of fire suppression costs by increasing fire prevention treatments. An archived video of the hearing and a copy of Vaagen’s testimony and that of other witnesses can be found at: http://naturalresources.house.gov/Calendar/EventSingle.aspx?EventID=249959

Representative Greg Walden (R-OR) also testified before the Subcommittee, which he once chaired, to share his perspective. Walden urged the Committee to enact reforms and pointed to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources timber trust lands as a potential model. His testimony can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgdJ2dreoQc

The Subcommittee should be thanked for taking a hard look at what is needed to address the sustainable health of both our national forests and rural communities. Neither can exist without the other. / Tom Partin

Owl Recovery Plan

On June 30, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released its Final Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl. Under the terms of a Court order from the D.C. District Court, the FWS will also revise its 2008 Critical Habitat Designation.

The 2011 Plan replaces the 2008 Recovery Plan from which it differs in many respects. The 2011 Plan abandons the improved reserve network adopted in 2008 and reverts to the network originally designed in 1990, thus totally ignoring almost 20 years of new scientific data.

The 2011 Plan also calls for increased management restrictions and mini-reserves on the remaining 13 percent of the available federal lands even though leading spotted owl researchers agree that the barred owl is the real threat to its smaller cousin. The major deficiencies of the Draft Revised Recovery Plan concerning the lack of population viability analysis to support the recommendation in the Final Recovery Plan were not addressed and are still valid concerns. The new management restrictions and mini-reserve recommendations are based solely on speculation and hypothesis and are not backed by any empirical evidence or computer simulation. For more information, go to:

/Ross Mickey

Forest Service Timber Sale Program

With only three months left in this fiscal year, the Forest Service has only sold 44 percent of their national 2011 target. Regions 5 and 6 lag behind this average, selling just over 30 percent of their programs. Other troubling points are the number of no-bid sales in some regions and the amount of fuel wood that is being credited. Regions 2 and 9 had the highest volume in no-bid sales. Regions 5 and 6 combined had 10 no-bid sales but these represented a small fraction of their targets. Also of concern is the fact that of the meager volume sold, only 53 percent of the accomplishment was in sawtimber. While some areas of the country have large fiber-based infrastructures, others do not and are being hurt by this low percentage of sawtimber. Regions 5 and 6 only sold 51 percent and 65 percent respectively of their program in sawtimber to date. The remainder was in firewood and “other convertibles.” /Ross Mickey

BLM Pilot Project Update

Both the Medford and Roseburg Districts are on track to offer a timber sale this fiscal year that will be based on the “restoration” principles of Drs. Norm Johnson and Jerry Franklin. These sales will count as part of their normal sale program target and will not add any additional volume to help the southern Oregon infrastructure. The Coos Bay pilot is on a slower time track with sales not likely until next year. As reported in past newsletters, the trade-off the BLM made to expedite these sales was to avoid all “controversial” areas, thus limiting their effectiveness in addressing the real issues facing the BLM as they try to treat their unhealthy forests.

The Medford Pilot is located within the 80,000 acre Middle Applegate Watershed, primarily on approximately 50,000 acres of public lands administered by the BLM. Due to a number of administrative decisions and legal roadblocks, the Pilot Joe Demonstration Project, will only treat 299 acres of commercially viable timber. Another 590 acres of pre-commercial treatment is being proposed which would be paid for either from receipts generated from the commercial harvest or from congressionally allocated money. The public comment period for the Pilot Joe Demonstration Environmental Assessment ends July 27 and can be found at:

The Roseburg Pilot is located within the 76,000 acre Myrtle Creek Watershed, primarily on approximately 31,000 acres of public lands administered by the BLM. Due to a number of administrative decisions and legal roadblocks, the initial Pilot Project will only treat 250 to 350 acres. The project features using variable retention regeneration harvest in an interior moist forest, with potential density management in a portion of 109 acres of associated Riparian Reserves and Riparian Management Areas. Scoping for the Environmental Assessment to support this project ended July 15.


The Oregon Chapter of the Society of American Foresters provided very good input on the projects, emphasizing the need for a broader landscape assessment and questioning the scientific basis of some of the recommended treatments. Their comments as well as AFRC’s can be found on our website at http://www.amforest.org/images/pdfs/Pilot_Project_Issue_Paper.pdf

/Ross Mickey

Northwest Forest Plan – Mendocino

The last newsletter highlighted how the Six Rivers National Forest fared in meeting Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) timber target expectations during the past 15 years (1995-2009). This issue will highlight the Mendocino National Forest.

The Mendocino encompasses approximately 913,000 acres and is located within Colusa, Glenn, Tehama, Lake, and Mendocino Counties. The annual Allowable Sale Quantity identified in the NWFP was 12 mmbf and if fully funded would have amounted to 180 mmbf. The total harvest funded during this period was approximately 112 mmbf, which is only 62 percent of NWFP expectations. During the last 15 years the Mendocino awarded approximately 99 mmbf, which amounts to 88 percent of the funded target and 55 percent of NWFP expectations.

Job Creation

If NWFP projections would have been met it would have created 1,980 direct and 4,554 indirect jobs. If funded targets would have been met it would have created 1,232 direct jobs and 2,834 indirect jobs. In reality only 1,089 direct and 2,505 indirect jobs were created from actual awarded projects. This accounts for a reduction of 891 direct and 2,049 indirect jobs.

During the last 15 years, the forest has been given $13,958,000 to accomplish their assigned target. This number only includes appropriated timber dollars and not funding for fuels, wildlife, and watersheds that was used to assist with the vegetation program. The cost per thousand board feet on the forest for the last 15 years has been approximately $141/mbf. /Rick Svilich

EPA Softens on Biomass

In a letter released on July 1, the EPA gave biomass-burning plants a three year reprieve from complying with new federal regulations that would further reduce greenhouse gas emissions. During this period of time, industrial plants that burn woody biomass won’t need additional permitting before they build, or have to comply with the stringent rules that were proposed last year by EPA.
The extension was given because biomass from forests and agricultural crops are considered to be carbon neutral, meaning they will decay and release carbon dioxide by natural means, therefore burning them has no additional adverse climatic affects.

Critics of biomass wrongly believe that the use of this material will lead to harvesting more acres of forests simply to burn the biomass in cogeneration plants. This isn’t the case with low value biomass which can only be economically retrieved from the forest environment in conjunction with projects that yield sawlogs or other higher value products. / Tom Partin

Insect Mortality Expands

A recent Forest Service report has found that 8 percent of the forests in the lower 48 contiguous states have either been killed or damaged by insects. The study, which analyzed data from 1998-2007 showed that over 49 million acres have been impacted by various species of insects over that 10 year period. Most frightening is the recent trend that three times as many acres were destroyed during 2003-2007 than the previous five years, accenting the growing epidemic. The leading killers in the west are bark beetles, engraver beetles, and the gypsy moth, while the emerald ash borer has plagued forests in the upper midwest and northeast regions.

Several conditions have led to the expanded insect outbreaks including drought, warmer than normal winters and overcrowded forests. When overcrowding occurs and moisture is limited, the trees are unable to fend off invading insects and they find their way into the trees and ultimately kill them because the tree is weakened. While man can’t control moisture patterns and temperature, we can control the stocking levels on the forests and an active management strategy needs to be implemented if we have any hope in curbing this alarming trend of mortality in our forests. / Tom Partin

2011 Fire Statistics

This fire season is on pace to be one of the worst on record for acreage of wildland forest burned. The burning began early in the spring in the southwest and still remains severe in parts of Arizona and New Mexico where most of the larger fires have occurred. The Wallow fire in Arizona burned over 500,000 acres and the Los Conchas fire in New Mexico has consumed almost 150,000 acres.

Last month, Senate hearings focused on the need for the Forest Service to treat more forested acres before they are consumed by large wildfires. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell told members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that progress was being made on getting acres treated. However, western Senators pushed back by saying that the intent of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act to treat 20 million acres has not been met by the agency, and only a fraction of the acres have been treated to date. The fact that the forests are unhealthy and at great risk to burn, coupled with the need to get revenues flowing back to the counties, has put a renewed emphasis on getting management back on our federal forests. Year-to-date statistics are below.

Year Fires Acres

Ashe Confirmed as FWS Director

On June 30, the Senate confirmed Dan Ashe as the Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Ashe has served in a number of posts with agency since 1995, most recently as Deputy Director for Policy. Ashe was nominated in December 2010, 10 months after the previous Director Sam Hamilton, died of a heart attack during a ski vacation.

Ashe’s confirmation had been blocked in part by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and John Barrasso (R-WY) over concerns about Western wildlands policy and management of the gray wolf. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) also put a hold on the confirmation over the failure of the Obama Administration to issue permits for deepwater oil exploration wells and to respond to other concerns regarding the permitting process. /Ann Forest Burns

DNR Timber Sale Staff Changes

Effective July 18, Julie Sackett is the new Washington Department of Natural Resources Manager, Forest Resources and Conservation Division. Julie replaces Jed Herman, who is now Assistant Region Manager, South Puget Sound. Julie will also serve as Acting Assistant Division Manager until a replacement can be found for Jon Tweedale, who has become Lewis District Manager, Pacific Cascade Region. Julie’s prior position was Assistant Forest Practices Division Manager.

In other personnel changes, Cullen Stevenson, former Director, DNR Office of Budget and Economics, has been named Deputy Supervisor, Uplands, replacing Clay Sprague, who moves to Assistant Division Manager, HCP Implementation. That position has been held by Tami Makita who has become Administrator, Small Landowner Office.
/Jacob Groves

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