If you’re going in person, you’re probably there by now. If you’re not, consider joining in via webcast. Instructions and agenda here. Blog contributors Martin Nie and John Rupe are attending.
Yesterday (7/27), in a lawsuit brought by FSEEE, U.S. federal district court Judge Donald Molloy ruled that the Forest Service had violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service had violated the Endangered Species Act in regard to the Forest Service’s use of aerial fire retardant. The retardant is used primarily in the West, with California accounting for half of the over 20 million gallons dropped from airplanes and helicopters annually. The retardant, which includes ammonia-based fertilizer, is toxic to fish and threatens rare plants.
The judge ordered the Forest Service to prepare an environmental impact statement and complete ESA consultation with FWS and NMFS by December 31, 2011. He also warned that failing to do could be met with sanctions, including contempt proceedings, which wouldn’t be the first time.
People seem to be working together successfully…
Environmentalists, loggers push new wilderness deal in Northeast Washington
Seattle Times article here.
However, some are unsure if they are satisfied with the proposal, including cattle ranchers and motor-sport enthusiasts.
“They’ve done some groundbreaking stuff, but that coalition has been a teeter-totter between environmentalists and timber companies,” said resident Eric Weatherman, who is organizing backcountry vehicles users so they have greater voice in the debate. “Our opinion is it should be a triangle, not a teeter-totter, and the third piece is recreational users”
Here’s a link to FS volume sold from 1905 to 2008. The longer term graph (page 2 of the previous link) is more illustrative than the one above.
In my view, the historical table and graph definitely raise the question about whether the analytical and monitoring needs for protection of the environment and species for an 10-12 BBF program should be scaled back for a 2 BBF program. If we stopped “bayoneting the wounded” (in Jack Ward Thomas’ terms) what funding could that potentially free up to pursue other environmental goals?
Here’s a quote from Charles Wilkinson of the University of Colorado Law School (member of 1999 Committee of Scientists) in a July 23rd High Country News article on Vermillion Basin oil and gas leasing that acknowledges that conditions have changed since the old timber days…
Over the last year and a half, the Obama administration has made a variety of commitments to protect sensitive landscapes, cut greenhouse gas emissions and develop renewable energy sources. With that, Wilkinson can imagine a “more sensible onshore policy emerging” from the administration, but he adds, “I don’t know if they’ve reached their moment of decision yet.” He equates the issue to the problems the Forest Service faced over four decades, trying to improve forest management while keeping the timber cut high. It wasn’t until timber harvesting came down that environmental conditions on the ground genuinely improved. “We’ve got to bring the barrels down, too,” Wilkinson says.
A couple of weeks ago, I was on a field trip on part of the old Routt National Forest, when I had to take a climate change conference call. Since cell phone coverage was spotty, we targeted a good spot and I was dropped off for a couple of hours and sat at creekside while on the calls.
Looking at the dead trees on the hills, it became clearer to me some of the disconnects between climate change as talked about or written about in scientific journals, and as currently lived.
1. People are already dealing with climate change every day as part of their work.
People are felling hazard trees, doing WUI fuels treatments, looking for biomass opportunities, etc. Climate change is just another change agent that affects our work.
2. We may never know how much of what we observe is due to climate change (take bark beetles; 100% climate change? 75% climate change plus the age of trees 25% ?). But we still have to deal with the changes, regardless of their source. So it probably doesn’t make sense to have a separate pot of funds for climate change adaptation or resilience- otherwise we might spend out time in tedious disagreements about whose problem is more climate-induced.
3. We will be dealing with these issues collaboratively, locally (for the most part) using an all lands approach, and involving regulators and communities early and often.
We can’t or shouldn’t get to the point where the community and the FS are in one place, but the regulators have a different worldview.
4. Climate change will include opportunities as well as hazards and difficulties.
For example, at the Steamboat Ski Area, we visited a site where dead trees provided an opportunity for a children’s outdoor ski run.
5. It could be argued that the complex structure of direction in the Forest Service does not make us as flexible and adaptive as we need to be. Changes due to climate change and other factors can occur more quickly, and in different spatial/temporal configurations, than the current structure can easily respond to.
For example, the ranger district or forest is the right scale for many decisions. But not for bark beetles. Should it be dealt with by the current three forests? An interior west scale group? What would be the governance of such a group?
We have the incident command model for fires.. but if something is large, but not a month by month kind of emergency, do we have an organizational structure to deal with it?
6. Safety of our employees and the public need to come first.
I don’t know at the end of the day how many climate change issues will have real safety hazards such as bark beetle and other sources of dead trees. The urgency requires new ways of working together in a timely way. Environmental groups, industry groups, local communities, regulators- we all need to be able to speed up from our bureaucratic and legal natural rate of speed to an emergency rate of speed.
7. If ecosystems are too complex to predict (“more complex than we think, more complex than we can think”), let’s use scenarios and not specific predictions, and pick “no-regrets” strategies. I wonder sometimes if we are overthinking and overanalyzing climate changes and I think we should consider the opportunity costs of what we could to to “protect reconnect and restore” in the Trout Unlimited strategy versus “assess, predict and model.” Note that while common sense and decision theory under uncertainty have always argued for “no regrets” strategies, now at least some water scientists agree.
I would ask us to think about that climate change may be a stressor to our organizational and social systems as well as the environment. It requires us to work together faster, and better than we have in the past. I often wonder if climate science funding were divided half to social scientists (with one quarter to business and public administration schools), what would the “best available science” look like?
I’d be curious about others’ ruminations on these topics…
Here’s a link to a piece describing this …
But with El Paso’s commitment, “we agreed not to try to delay or litigate Ruby Pipeline,” said Jon Marvel, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project. His group is one on three plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s refusal to declare the greater sage grouse a threatened or endangered species.
Marvel expects the Western Watersheds fund to eventually be used to buy grazing permits from willing ranchers, but the organization first wants Congress to approve legislation to allow federal agencies to permanently retire grazing permits in such cases.
“It’s unprecedented to have the support of industry to work for the retirement of public grazing permits,” Marvel said, emphasizing that the fund would only buy permits from willing sellers.
Here is an article from the Idaho State Journal on TU and ICL filing a friend of the court brief in the Idaho Roadless litigation.
My problem with the Sierra Club/Wilderness Society position is that they are so philosophically committed to the concept of roadless area protection requiring a national solution that I don’t really believe they can be objective about the solutions proposed in a state’s rule.
Just compare the Chris Wood quote
“The Idaho rule is a demonstration of what can happen when common sense is applied to a common problem for the common good,” Wood said.
To the Craig Gehrke quote:
“We just don’t think a state approach is going to lead to good, consistent management, any more than having a state-by-state system for running the national parks,” said Craig Gehrke, regional director for the Wilderness Society. “Simply put, we have less protection with the Idaho rule than under the Clinton rule.”
Certainly one view is that everything of importance should be decided nationally.. however, that’s not my view. Nor, more importantly, T.U.’s. Is it about the principle or the protection?
P.S. photos of Idaho Roadless for this blog entry would be appreciated.
Next week July 29th and 30th is the Roundtable in DC. Here is the agenda. Info on webcasting does not yet seem to be available; I will post when I find out.
If you have ideas you might want to respond to these new blog posts on the official blog by next Thursday or Friday (and crosspost them here if you want). Here’s the note we received on the new blog posts.
We’ve posted the approaches to Monitoring and Evaluation, Resilience,
People and the Environment, and Recreation we are considering for the
proposed planning rule to the Planning Rule blog at
http://blogs.usda.gov/usdablogs/planningrule/ and to the Planning Rule
website at http://fs.usda.gov/planningrule.
Without further details and language, I’m unsure of what to make of the USFS’s draft planning rule framework. I’m anxious to see the draft language and learn more next week at the 4th Roundtable. But I can’t help feeling somewhat positive about the agency’s apparent willingness to adopt an “all-lands approach” to planning.
It’s impossible to fully exorcize the cynic out of me, so I realize that this might amount to nothing more than some recasting of ecosystem management. But the Stuart Smalley in me says that this could be an important turn for the agency. (yes, I need my daily affirmation).
Just a few years ago, during the 2005/08 regulations, several national forests revised plans without even acknowledging their broader landscape and ecological context.
I found this incredibly frustrating. How, for example, could national forests in western Montana not even mention the word “Plum Creek” in a revised plan? How could the agency simply ignore the largest private landowner in the state and its real estate subdivision plans on adjacent checkerboard sections? Such context would be provided during NEPA-analyzed projects supposedly, but I remain unconvinced, and still think a forest plan should situate a national forest in its broader landscape.
In was within this context that Char Miller and I wrote the following essay (NIE Miller article (2)) (a few years ago actually, with the essay “in press” forever). I lied, bribed, harassed, cajoled asked Char to provide the historical context and to set the stage for a few pretty general observations of my own. Here is our abstract:
The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) identified the loss of open space as a core threat to the health of national forests. Widely acknowledged are the ecological interconnections between public and private lands. But there is also an important historical and political relationship between national forest management and private land development. There is ample historical precedent for the USFS to consider what is happening outside its jurisdiction and respond accordingly on national forests. We expect national forests to become more politically contested in the future, as a result of the fragmentation taking place on private lands. If the agency fails to consider the larger landscape when making decisions, we also expect a growing number of interests to challenge it politically and legally. There are several policy tools and strategies that can be used to deal with the private land development problem, and we focus on a few approaches that have not received as much attention.
I expect federal lands to become more politically contested in the future, as more private lands get developed. A compensation principle will be hard to miss. But an all-lands mindset might cut in numerous political directions. Take grazing-lease decisions, for instance, and the debate over “cows versus condos.” Will the demise of public-lands ranching lead to further land fragmentation as ranchers are forced to sell and subdivide their adjacent private property? Debate notwithstanding, it is reasonable to ask the Forest Service to consider the environmental impacts of their leasing decisions at a landscape level, with possible threats to private land included.
My take is that the USFS is on solid historical footing; and that embracing an all-lands approach will pay political dividends in the future as well.
Derek wrote in to say:
Just wanted to share a couple links to a couple news stories in today’s “Arizona Daily” in Flagstaff AZ. The first is a flood resulting from the Schultz fire of a couple weeks ago. The second is an OP-ED by a member of the Greater Flagstaff forest partnership voicing his frustration at the lack of “collaboration” between moderate enviros (GFFP) and more radical enviros at the Center for Biological Diversity. The CBD appealed and stalled a collaborative effort between the GFFP and the USFS to thin 12,000 acres that covered the Schultz fire. It doesn’t have much to do with planning-but it does have a lot to do with the frustrations of collaborative planning. And I think its represents a schism that is developing, and may develop much more in the future, between moderate greens and radical greens.