If I were a visitor from another planet, who having read some of the recent posts to this blog, wanted to understand what all the fuss about things like “viability” is about, I might look to the Forest Service homepage for guidance. There I would learn that “The mission of the USDA Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.” Pretty straightforward so far. Looking for more of what these things called “national forests” are all about, I would learn that the agency’s “Motto” “Caring for the Land and Serving People” means, among other things, “Protecting and managing the National Forests and Grasslands so they best demonstrate the sustainable multiple-use management concept.” I would get confused though because I read that the mission also includes things like “Listening to people and responding to their diverse needs in making decisions.” And although I would agree that that is an absolutely essential thing to do, I wouldn’t be able to find anything in any law that says that is part of the agency’s mission. You might say that I was nit-picking, but fortunately we don’t have nits on my home planet.
Reading on through the Forest Service “Vision” wouldn’t help either. I might find lots of nice statements about “a caring and nurturing environment” where “employees are respected, accepted, and appreciated”, but I wouldn’t find anything about how the agency thinks the national forests should look in the future if it did a good job at carrying out its mission.
If I did a bit of Googling, I could learn that some pretty smart scientists have been thinking about new and better ways to plan and monitor and that they presented some of these ideas at the Forest Service Science Forum. [Full disclosure-- I wouldn’t actually have to Google it since I was the principle author of the final report for the forum]. Some of these scientists pointed out, however, that “. . . while science can help inform decision-making processes, it is most appropriately applied first in a context of shared agreement on the agency goals that will drive management decisions.”
In the absence of shared agreement in the form of a clearly articulated and widely shared vision for the future of the national forests, even an alien can see why a number of conservation organizations insist that the proposed rule doesn’t go far enough to require actions to ensure important things like species viability.
Despite the trees, that forest is evident even to a visitor from outer space.
Interesting headline…couldn’t find a link to the project easily, so no photo.
Judge Protects Forest From Forest Service
By SONYA ANGELICA DIEHN
SAN JOSE (CN) – A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction to protect imperiled species on the remaining 600 miles of a $1 million roadside-clearing project in Central California’s Los Padres National Forest. U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh granted Los Padres Forestwatch’s requests to protect the National Forest from the U.S. Forest Service.
Judge Koh found that the Forest Service’s failure to seek input from the public or other agencies “flies in the face” of environmental laws designed to ensure an open process.
The project involves removing trees and vegetation along 750 miles of forest roads in the Los Padres National Forest, to reduce fire risks and other potential hazards.
Judge Koh found that the Forest Service had failed to seek public input and consult other agencies over its plan, despite its own biologists’ findings that it could affect threatened and endangered species such as the Smith’s blue butterfly and seacliff buckwheat.
The nonprofit environmental group says the forest hosts 26 species protected under the Endangered Species Act.
After an internal process, the Forest Service in 2009 issued a categorical exclusion exempting the project from environmental review.
The Forest Service accepted a $1.1 million proposal for the clearing a year ago.
A Forest Service biologist had recommended measures to protect imperiled species, which Los Padres Forestwatch later demanded in its lawsuit.
These included a biologist being present to review planned clearing areas for the presence of imperiled species, and avoiding clearing along rivers or streams, and during nesting or breeding seasons.
Koh ordered the Forest Service to do so, in issuing a limited injunction allowing the project to proceed. The Forest Service also must provide weekly progress reports to the environmental group.
The conditions apply to the remaining 585 miles of the project.
While researching back issues of High Country News for a future post, I ran across this article..from 1995.. the year the original Toy Story was the #1 movie and Microsoft introduced Windows ’95.
- From the September 04, 1995 issue by Erik Ryberg
While reform of the Endangered Species Act captures headlines across the West, some conservationists say an equally important law is also in danger.
It is the National Forest Management Act, or NFMA, which has governed watersheds, soils and wildlife for nearly two decades. Forest Service officials now propose wholesale changes in the regulations that implement the 1976 law.
“The Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act get all the press, but really it’s the NFMA that’s been holding our forests together,” says Jennifer Ferenstein of Missoula’s Alliance for the Wild Rockies.
Ferenstein says the law’s current regulations specifically direct the Forest Service to maintain viable populations of native species throughout their ranges and protect water quality and soil productivity. “No other public-land law is so sweeping and so straightforward,” she says.
But the Forest Service, in a 35-page explanation, contends that these rules are difficult to understand and contain too much “language without real substance.” It says new rules are needed to give the agency greater flexibility, to streamline forest plans, and to allow for “adaptive management” necessary to implement ecosystem analysis.
Environmentalists fear the new regulations go far beyond streamlining.
“All the clarity in the current regulations has been removed,” says Ferenstein. “Wherever the current regulations say the agency “shall protect streams and streambanks,” or “shall provide for fish and wildlife habitat,” the proposed regulations substitute a lot of vague language about professional judgment and the need for flexibility.”
Ferenstein says when her group makes an administrative appeal on a logging project, it is almost always based on the act. “We use (it) to ensure that riparian areas are protected, to ensure that soil compaction doesn’t occur, and to ensure that regeneration needs are met,” she says. “All of that is going down the drain with these new regulations.”
Jeff Juel of the Inland Empire Public Lands Council in Spokane, Wash., says the new regulations amount to “total industrial dominion” over publicly owned forests. His group recently filed a legal challenge to a timber sale on the Kootenai National Forest, alleging the sale will threaten population viability of eight native species. The new regulations would prevent such court challenges on behalf of any species not already listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Speaking for the Forest Service in Washington, D.C., planning specialist Ann Christensen says the current regulations require her agency to perform unrealistic analyses. “The meaning of a term like population viability has evolved over the years,” she says. “Depending on the interpreter it can be beyond the grasp of anyone to implement the current regulations.”
But Kieran Suckling of the Southwest Center for Biodiversity in Silver City, N.M., says rules like the minimum viability requirement are essential. “With the current rules, you can measure the effect of Forest Service projects and hold the agency accountable for them,” says Suckling. “You can go out and count woodpeckers; you can judge the accuracy of a forest plan by acquiring data.”
The proposed rules, he says, reflect an “ethereal world with no measures and no accountability.”
Because grassroots groups across the West have used this law to shut down countless logging and grazing plans, adds Suckling, “It’s no surprise the Forest Service wants to get rid of it.”
A copy of the proposed regulations, which are scheduled to become final in early 1996, can be obtained at any forest supervisor’s office or by requesting them from the Forest Service at P.O. Box 96090, Washington, D.C. 20090.