Thanks to Matthew Koehler for sending this brief that was filed Friday.
. I think it’s great to watch a single project go through appeals and litigation. We can also ask the question “how do we think it would be different if we had an objection process instead?
I’m still trying to glean what if anything the plaintiffs would want changed about the project except increasing the buffers and not cutting any trees (but if you don’t cut you don’t need to increase the buffers..). Here’s a link to my previous effort to find that out. I think in an objection process, people could object to the process, but it might also encourage people to put their cards on the table about what they want. If the plaintiffs win this lawsuit, we are likely to get more pages of analysis and at the end of the day another lawsuit if there are activities that the plaintiffs don’t want. I think there is a strong desire by many to “cut to the chase”; I still think that court-ordered mediation would be a good experiment. We tend to use analysis as a stalking horse for real disagreements that should be publicly vetted and discussed. Not in a backroom where settlements are negotiated. In my opinion.
Under the ESA, this means the Forest Service must ensure the physical and
biological factors that qualified the area for critical habitat designation remain
functional. See Ex. F. Activities that may adversely modify lynx critical habitat
include those that “reduce or remove understory vegetation within boreal forest
stands on a scale proportionate to the large landscape used by lynx.” M16-
28:15018. These activities may include, but are not limited to, logging projects
like Colt Summit that involve “forest stand thinning, timber harvest, and fuels
treatment of forest stands.” Id.
Am I reading this wrong or is this saying that there should be no fuels treatment in critical habitat? I have a vague memory that there might have been a percentage allowed in the decision northern rockies lynx decision. Also what does “on a scale proportionate to the large landscape used by lynx” mean?
It’s interesting that the idea that lynx or grizzly habitat may be better off if fires don’t run through the habitat does not appear to be a consideration. Our system of laws seems to have the implicit presupposition that “everything will be fine for species if we just don’t do any human intervention.” Not sure that that accurately reflects the real world under climate change.
I forgot to post this MSNBC story sooner. I think it’s particularly interesting because of this quote:
The Natural Resources Defense Council had a mixed initial take on the rule. “It is much more meaningful about getting local officials to apply the best available science,” NRDC forest analyst Niel Lawrence told msnbc.com, and there’s “significant improvement in public participation.”
But the environmental group is also “very concerned” because the rule removes a provision ensuring that wildlife will have viable populations distributed across the forests where they are now found, Lawrence said. “It jettisons the single most important conservation protection” on U.S. forests over the last 30 years, he added.
The NRDC intends to lobby the administration and if that doesn’t work a lawsuit is “perfectly possible,” Lawrence said.
I like this because it’s pretty clear that initiating a lawsuit is really about getting the policy results you want. The actual litigation is couched as concerns over following procedures, but deciding to litigate is not really based on things like “an inadequate discussion of cumulative effects.” They are being refreshingly honest about why they use the tactics they do, and you have to appreciate that. They want to have a special seat at a special table to promote their agenda, and litigation provides them with that. No public debate, discussion nor elections.. it’s a good gig.
Now for those of you who don’t know the history of NRDC, it was started by a group of Yale University law students according to this history. I’m not sure that their views should outweigh those of everyone else, especially those who have actually worked with forest plans on both sides of the fence in the real world. You might want to check out the staff and the Board of Trustees (David you might want to check on their corporate-ness). Here’s their membership 535,000 compared to Sierra Club (1.5 million) and Wilderness Society (more than 500K). But what is most concerning is the unlikelihood that many of the NRDC staff or local groups have any experience with forest planning compared to the other groups. Could this influence their position? Or is it merely the case that “when you’ve got a hammer, everything looks like a nail” and they are lawyers?
Check out these quotes about them on their website here.
” The New York Times
“One of the nation’s most powerful environmental groups.”
The Wall Street Journal
“NRDC is by many accounts, the most effective lobbying and litigating group on environmental issues.”
U.S. News & World Report
“NRDC’s lawyers are said by eco-observers to know more about environmental law than the government does.”
“By almost any measure, the most influential national environmental organization is NRDC.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“NRDC is one of the most effective environmental litigators on the globe.”
The National Journal
“A credible and forceful advocate for stringent environmental protection; you’d like NRDC on your side if you wanted the federal government to do something on a major policy matter . . .”
The Washington Monthly
“When an environmental cause needs first-class legal representation, it turns to NRDC.”
The Wall Street Journal
“It’s hard to find a major environmental law it hasn’t helped shape within Congress, the courts and federal agencies.”"
I went through their experts on their list here and did not find anyone who appeared to be a scientist with knowledge of the issues we discuss on this blog (in fact,scientists seemed to be mighty thin despite many references to “lawyers and scientists”). I didn’t find anyone who looked like they had participated in a forest planning effort. The below individual is the closest I could find.
SAMI YASSA is a senior scientist and director of NRDC’s forest initiative. He is an expert on forest ecology and management and efficient wood use in residential construction. Sami authored Efficient Wood Use in Residential Construction, a technical handbook for building professionals, and has written numerous NRDC reports on forest management. He has served on national committees relating to forest management, including the Interagency Technical Committee for the California Spotted Owl and the Keystone Center’s National Ecosystem Management Forum. He also serves as a lecturer in environmental science and policy at the Universities of California at Berkeley and Davis and as an Instructor at College of Marin. Sami holds a master’s degree in energy and resources from the University of California at Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree in physics from Colby College.
Now onto the MSNBC story here.. I’m going to skip right to the “what do people think” part of the story after the NRDC paragraphs above.
A timber industry group, for its part, told msnbc.com that it needed a day or two to review the rule. But, in a statement issued right after the rule, the American Forest Resource Council voiced concern. “We are very concerned about whether the agency took the comments we made on the draft rule to heart and made changes needed to avoid the mistakes of the past,” said council President Tom Partin.
The BlueRibbon Coalition, a group representing offroad interests, also said it was still reviewing the rule.
In Congress, the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, Washington state Republican Doc Hastings, said the concerns he’d raised earlier “fell on deaf ears.”
“These new Obama regulations introduce excessive layers of bureaucracy that will cost jobs, hinder proper forest management, increase litigation and add burdensome costs for Americans,” he said in a statement.
Last November, Hastings’ committee hosted a hearing where critics piled on against the draft rule.
“First, the proposed planning rule will increase the complexity, cost, and time for the Forest Service to complete forest plans,” testified Scott Horngren on behalf of the American Forest Resource Council. “Second, of greater concern, is that the planning rule will make the projects that implement the plans more vulnerable to lawsuits than they are today.”
Forest Service set to adopt planning rule governing operations on national forests and grasslands
Published: Thursday, January 26, 2012, 5:24 PM Updated: Thursday, January 26, 2012, 5:35 PM
Eric Mortenson, The Oregonian By Eric Mortenson, The Oregonian
….Initial reaction has been muted.
Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resources Council in Portland, said his organization is reviewing the plan. “We hope that ecological, social and economic objectives are given equal weight in planning,” he said in a news release. The council represents mill operators and others in the timber industry.
The environmental group Oregon Wild said the state’s public lands face unprecedented threats. “It appears the Obama administration has provided a welcome vision for America’s wildlands, wildlife, and water,” spokesman Rob Klavins said in a prepared statement. However, the plan lacks clarity and enforceability, he said.
Dominick A. DellaSala, chief scientist and president of the Ashland-based conservation group Geos Institute, gave the Forest Service high marks for requiring the best science in forest plans.
Earth Justice attorney Kristen Boyles said the Forest Service “deserves credit for finally beginning to look at the forest and its waters in a new, holistic and sustainable way.”
Thanks to the Missoulian for giving us a break from the planning rule.. my comments in italics..
U.S. Forest Service streamlines appeal process
By ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian | Posted: Saturday, January 28, 2012 10:16 pm | No Comments Posted
What’s the difference between an appeal and an objection?
When dealing with the U.S. Forest Service, it determines whether your complaint gets dealt with on paper or face-to-face. A recent change in Forest Service decisionmaking requires project opponents to argue their points much earlier in the process.
Proponents of the change expect better, faster decisions on logging sales, special use permits and other activities on national forests. Agency sparring partners fear it limits people’s ability to block bad decisions.
“Frankly, we think it’s going to be a huge improvement,” said Keith Olson of the Montana Logging Association. “In order for somebody to become a litigant, they have to have involvement in the project. They can’t come in at the 11th hour and throw a monkey wrench in the works.”
“I think it’s kind of screwy,” said Arlene Montgomery of Friends of the Wild Swan, an organization that’s frequently tangled with the Forest Service. “The normal process is they scope a project, release an environmental assessment, you comment on that, they make changes. Then they issue a decision and you can appeal the decision.
“Now they’re skipping a step. It’s not possible for the public to raise every issue that could possibly come up in an EA before seeing the EA. I think it’s a way to truncate and thwart the public process.”
During the announcement of a major revision to the Forest Service’s planning rule last week, the word “collaboration” was a frequent touchstone. The agency managing 193 million acres of public forest and grassland wants the same connection with local residents, businesses and advocates that it’s traditionally had with the wood products industry.
At the same time, it wants to spend less time in court trying to fix projects.
A little-noticed change in the Forest Service’s 2012 budget bill eliminated the old appeals process and replaced it with an objection procedure for all environmental assessments and environmental impact statements.
“The idea was to get it down to the lowest level of decisionmaking,” said Region 1 objections coordinator Ray Smith. “Under the existing appeal process, a deciding officer can’t meet with appellants or the (Forest Service project) team. He only looks at documents, and that pulls that person away from the back-and-forth human interaction.
“With the objection process, the person reviewing the objection is able to talk to the objector, the interdisciplinary team and the district ranger in order to get, hopefully, a better project and decision.”
In Region 1, which includes national forests and grasslands in Montana, the Dakotas and parts of Idaho, there have been 28 projects launched under the new objections rule instead of the appeals process. Of those, 26 received a total of 71 objections, but only three projects went to court. The Forest Service won one lawsuit, withdrew one project and still has one in litigation.
To object, someone has to get formally involved at the earliest stage of a project. The Forest Service tries to alert all affected landowners, businesses, government agencies, non-governmental organizations and other interested parties through its Schedule of Proposed Activities notices and direct contact.
Those who don’t register interest in the project lose the right to lodge objections, and also may lose their standing to take the project to court.
“That concept of pre-final decision comes from the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (of 2003), and it works fairly well,” said Earthjustice attorney Kirsten Boyles, whose law firm frequently challenges Forest Service policy. “It requires people be involved earlier in the process, and it seems to have worked fine.”
But Montgomery countered that her experience with the objections process found projects poorly done. She recalled a logging proposal called Paint-Emery around Hungry Horse Reservoir that showed the flaws.
“This particular one had all this logging and 100 miles of road decommissioning,” Montgomery said. “The logging went forward, and 10 years later 70 miles of road hadn’t been decommissioned. The only reason those last 70 miles got done was (federal) stimulus money. The timber sales don’t generate the money to do the restoration. So when it comes to implementing restoration, nothing happens on the ground.”
I’d like to point out that there are two issues 1) on the ground actions not matching the NEPA and 2) not having the money to do all parts of a project, that have been pointed out by many groups.. just the ones I’ve attended included groups convened by Western Governors and NFF. This can happen equally under appeals or objections as they are all post decision actions (or inactions or errors). Not sure why Montgomery and the reporter considered this to be relevant to the issue of appeals vs. objections.
Under the old appeals process, a project would get a environmental assessment or environmental impact statement, and an opponent had 90 days to file an appeal.
Under the new objections process, opponents have 60 days from publication of a draft EA or EIS to point out problems. Then the Forest Service will schedule a meeting to attempt and reach a resolution.
That still wouldn’t have helped keep the Colt-Summit project north of Seeley Lake out of court, according to Montgomery. The Friends of the Wild Swan and two other groups lost an appeal of that project and are now challenging it in federal court.
“We couldn’t have got our issues fixed by objection on Colt-Summit,” Montgomery said. “Our main concern was that the Swan-Clearwater Divide is a really important wildlife corridor. Yet they were going to be logging in old-growth forest, which we think will detrimentally alter the habitat of that crucial area. And that was given no analysis at all.”
The statement “no analysis at all” triggered a look. See what I found in a few minutes of examination below. If you take the quote at face value, it does not appear to be a true statement.
The Lolo National Forest promoted the 4,300-acre Colt-Summit project as an example of the new attitude of collaborative decision-making. It had support of the Montana Forest Restoration Committee, which includes many conservation, environmental and forest industry organizations. It proposed 740 acres of logging and thinning, 1,216 acres of understory clearing and burning, 19 acres of clearcuts to improve tourist vistas, nine miles of road decommissioned or repaired, and 34 miles of weed-control spraying.
Leslie Weldon, the Forest Service’s director of National Forest Systems, said the new format should produce more solutions than obstructions.
“Objections are only effective if we have a much more extensive level of engagement initiating projects,” said Weldon, who was Region 1 forester in Missoula before her promotion to Forest Service headquarters in Washington, D.C., in January. “It’s about making things public at the very beginning, understanding the issues and concerns with a particular area, and understanding conditions on the landscape. Then we can use all that at the front-end of the process to inform what a project will be.”
A couple of things- the Congress are the ones who voted on the appropriations bill- it almost sounds like it was an executive branch concept that Congress adopted. More likely, constituents found the current situation suboptimal and asked for some help by Congress, who felt that HFRA seemed to be a successful experiment, so.. there are only so many ideas out there.
It is also interesting that Pacific Northwest Earthjustice Kirsten Boyles says that her group has had good experiences with objections. I wonder if there are local differences in approach that would explain the difference. Perhaps it would be useful (since regulations are to be developed) if we had a feature of “good objection experiences” and “bad objection experiences” with the names of the projects and exactly what people liked or didn’t like about them. You can send any submissions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have had previous discussions on appeals vs. objections on the blog here. Be sure to check out my chart in comment #32 and Mike’s visionary thought in comment #42.
We have had previous discussions on the Colt Summit project here. Re the “cone of silence” for litigation here, when I asked what the litigators would like to see on the project for it to be acceptable, and a discussion of the project and who supports it and not here, and the map with the FWS concurrence letter here.
As I’ve said before, what I like about objections is that at least in my experience, it moves the discussion from “your are violating NFMA and ESA, and plus your NEPA sucks” to something more pragmatic “want 150 foot buffers, or a diameter limit”. I believe it is better because these desires can be openly discussed with the objector and the other members of the public, and does not go directly into the litigation “cone of silence.” Which. it seems to me, gives the public better access to information and more open discussion.
* A cursory look at the original EA yielded these paragraphs shows pp 51-52:
Stand exam data shows that the current stand-relative densities in the old-growth units proposed for treatment (units 6, 7, 28, and 29) range from 56 to 71 percent. Each unit is currently at risk from agents of disturbance. A direct effect of the proposed action will be to reduce post-treatment relative densities to a range from 34 to 56 percent. Indirectly post-treatment relative densities and structure will leave the old growth stands more vigorous and resistant to beetles and wildfire than before treatment, thereby maintaining the current availability of old growth in the analysis area and increasing its availability over time.
Following treatment, there would be no change to the existing number of trees greater than 21inches dbh in the stand except other trees that are felled for safety reasons. If trees over 21 inches are felled for safety they would be left in place as coarse woody debris (table 5, WL-4, WL-5). Underburning will be hand ignited to manage the fire intensity to protect residual old-growth trees from fire in these units (table 5, FM-6). The post treatment basal area will be more than sufficient to meet the thresholds specified in Green et al. 1992. Existing snags needed to meet old-growth requirements will be left post-treatment. Again, some may need to be felled for safety reasons, and if so, will be left in place as coarse woody debris. A variety of scientific literature has been published that discusses the appropriateness of using silvicultural treatments to maintain or restore old-growth vegetative structure. The Lolo National Forests Old Growth Monitoring Study cited no less then fifteen papers (USDA 2008). Data from the 2008 Lolo National Forest Old Growth Monitoring Report vividly demonstrates the effectiveness of thinning–from-below followed by underburning in old-growth stands. Doc# A-1
Colt Summit Restoration and Fuels Reduction Project
If proposed treatments in the old growth and potential old-growth stands did lose old-growth characteristics, which is highly unlikely due to over 10 years of old-growth management experience and monitoring (USDA 2008), site-specific prescriptions, and resource protection measures (table 5, FM-6), the percentage of area managed for old growth would still exceed the Forest’s 8 percent goal within the Upper Clearwater Ecological Management Area (USDA Forest Service 1996b).
An indirect benefit of the proposed action is the acceleration of the creation of old-growth structure in potential old growth units by 30 years in units 6 aand 7, and by 5 years in unit 29 when compared to a no-action scenario.
Here’s what’s in the March addendum to the EA (which contains the final acres in Table 1 on page 4)
Although there is a reduction in old-growth enhancement treatments from 57 acres in the proposed action to 17 acres in the modified proposed action, and an increase in the old-growth slash and underburn treatments from 80 to 120 acres, there would be no difference in the direct, indirect or cumulative effects to the amount of old-growth. Neither the proposed action nor the modified proposed action would affect the quantity of old-growth in the project area, and could help protect old-growth and stands that could mature into old-growth. The guideline for 8 percent of an ecological management unit to be managed for old growth would continue to be exceeded.
Both alternatives’ treatments would maintain and protect old-growth characteristics in a 22-acre stand (unit 28) that currently meets old-growth criteria, and help move 115 acres in other stands (units 6, 6A, 6B, 7, 7A, 7B, and 29) towards meeting old-growth characteristics 5 to 30 years sooner, through less competition and faster growth, than if not treated.
If this doesn’t seem like enough analysis of old-growth, check out the draft NEPA efficiency guidelines here (page 5 last paragraph), “Similarly, the CEQ guidance issued in 1981 indicated that 10-15 pages is generally appropriate for EAs.”
This is the first editorial I’ve seen..
Editorial: Forest blueprint is a balancing act
The management plan is the product of significant collaboration. We hope it stands the test of time.
Posted: 01/28/2012 01:00:00 AM MST
By The Denver Post
The Obama administration’s proposed blueprint for management of the nation’s 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands is a much-needed update that provides a sound guide for public land use and protection.
This broadly written document offers strong safeguards for the nation’s drinking water, about 20 percent of which comes from national forest lands, while allowing for recreational and commercial uses.
It’s a balancing act, to be sure, but one crafted with significant input from a variety of interested parties.
Harris Sherman, U.S. undersecretary for natural resources, told us the new blueprint was a consensus document, the product of 2 ½ years of work, dozens of meetings and some 300,000 comments.
It is especially important for Colorado, which is home to 14.5 million acres of national forest land.
A planning document can be an esoteric thing, so we asked Sherman for an example of how one of the proposed changes in management could play out in a Colorado national forest.
He told us the new planning approach was a flexible one that provides for feedback and retooling if, for instance, an invasive species were to appear on forest land or there was a bark beetle outbreak.
The current management rule, which dates back to 1982, is far more cumbersome and doesn’t easily allow for management changes on the fly.
Typically, forest managers wait until their management plan expires, which happens every 15 years, before modifying practices.
Each local plan takes into account multiple uses such as timber, grazing and oil and gas exploration. Recreation, in particular, is emphasized. National forest areas get 173 million visitors annually and generate some $13 billion in local economic activity annually.
Colorado’s ski area-rich White River National Forest is the nation’s busiest, with nearly 10 million annual visits. Not counting skier visits, our Arapaho-Roosevelt forest, with 6 million visits annually, is the busiest.
As local management plans are created and revised, managers are directed to protect sustainable recreation and ensure habitat conditions are right for hunting and fishing.
Furthermore, the proposed forest management rule pays special attention to restoring the nation’s forests, many of which are dense and susceptible to disease and fire.
One criticism of the rule is that it gives considerable discretion to local forest managers. However, we see value in having decisions made by people who live in a particular area and know the land well.
The proposed management rule is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register in a week, and could take effect this year.
To be sure, forest management rules have a contentious history of litigation. The last two proposed during the Bush administration were shot down by courts.
We hope this one, a solid approach crafted with considerable collaboration, stands the test of time.
Read more: Editorial: Forest blueprint is a balancing act – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/editorials/ci_19838057#ixzz1klT0xf85
Planning Rule Editorial Boxscore
1. Denver Post balanced – value in local decisions
Note from Sharon: I bolded the sentence about local managers. Perhaps the difference between our interior west press and others is that they have personal knowledge of these managers and the complex nature of the issues they deal with.
Here’s the Missoulian:
Obama administration releases new national forest management rules
By ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian | Posted: Friday, January 27, 2012 6:15 am
A proposed planning rule for managing national forests puts new emphasis on watershed health and recreation, but also strives to keep loggers in the woods, U.S. Forest Service officials said Thursday.
The national rule will guide local forest supervisors when they make their more specific forest management plans. Those plans govern where trees can be cut, the kinds of wildlife to watch out for, activities allowed in campgrounds and the backcountry, and how people can challenge forest decisions.
“The rule needs to take into consideration those multiple uses, be resilient to climate change over time, focus on restoration of forest health, reduce the threat of catastrophic fires and supply timber products to local mills,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said during a conference call Thursday.
The meeting unveiled the final environmental impact statement on the proposed plan. After it’s published in the Federal Register on Feb. 3, a final version of the rule will be selected by Vilsack within 30 days.
“We really appreciate that the agency is trying to get projects out more quickly and with less expense,” said Keith Olson of the Montana Logging Association. “That really seems to be what they think they’ve accomplished with this. Our biggest concern is whenever you have this expensive a document, what it turns out to be is a blueprint for those who like to litigate. It goes beyond the scope of any planning document ever designed. We focus on simplicity and clarity, and our big concern is this goes exactly the opposite direction.”
The new rule replaces guidelines the Forest Service has depended on since 1982. Many forests, including the Lolo National Forest based in Missoula, haven’t updated their management plans since the late 1980s. The Kootenai National Forest issued a new forest plan in January, but it’s based on the 1982 rule.
A Bush administration revision of the rule was struck down in court in 2009, one of three revisions that failed to pass court muster in the last decade.
The law firm Earthjustice helped overturn that Bush administration draft. Earthjustice attorney Kirsten Boyles said the new version has much better language for protecting national forest watersheds, which provide 20 percent of the nation’s drinking water. But she doesn’t like the planned changes in wildlife management.
“The rule puts a great deal of attention on species that are already threatened or endangered, but it does nothing for species that are doing all right,” Boyles said. “How do we help them to continue to be healthy so we don’t have a train wreck? Elk are generally healthy, and they’re not listed as threatened or endangered. But we think the Forest Service should pay more attention to make sure those populations stay healthy and viable.”
Rather than appeal the 2009 court decision, the Obama administration opted to restart the process. That involved numerous public scoping meetings, including one in Missoula. It also accepted almost 300,000 public comments.
Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said the new rule will make it considerably easier to write, update and amend forest management plans.
“It cuts the time in half,” Tidwell said. “It took five to seven years to develop plans in the past. With the new rule, we should be able to do that in three to four years, or less. That will leave more time and money to get restoration done.”
Putting greater emphasis on watershed health and recreation will present challenges to the Forest Service budget. The agency intends to expand the use of stewardship contracts that essentially trade sawlogs for restoration work like stream rehab or trail construction.
“The Forest Service budget will have to pay for some of those things,” Acting Northern Region Forester Tom Schmidt said in Missoula. “Revenues from timber sales won’t be adequate to pay for all of that.”
But the Forest Service is experimenting with a new way of mixing budget lines together to get more landscape-wide projects done, according to the agency’s Leslie Weldon, director of national forest systems.
“We’re taking things like vegetation management, wildlife, fish, hazardous fuels, roads dollars, and put those into one budget line item,” said Weldon, who headed the Northern Region in Missoula before being promoted to Washington, D.C., in January. “We’re experimenting with that this year and will hope for permanent authority to use it. The goal is to use a suite of tools like timber sales and stewardship contracting to produce revenues that can be reinvested. Then we have a mixture of funds that contribute to restoration.”
That could also include more partnerships with volunteers, non-government organizations and businesses to maintain and expand campgrounds, trails and visitor centers, Weldon said.
“We’re experiencing an increasing emphasis on recreation,” she said. “That calls on us to find different avenues to leverage the dollars we are investing.”
Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at email@example.com.
Missoulian- why interview Kirsten Boyles from the Earthjustice Seattle office? Knowledgeable conservationists abound in Montana! Do elk really need more FS attention?
Here’s one from Phoenix.
Forest Service unveils new planning guidelines for national forest uses
by Salvador Rodriguez/Cronkite News (January 27th, 2012 @ 5:00am)
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Forest Service unveiled new planning rules Thursday that it said will emphasize the protection of forest and watersheds while maintaining and creating forest-industry jobs.
“People want us to have a planning process that takes less time, that it costs less, but at the same time provides the same level of protections or higher level of protections for our forests and our watersheds and for wildlife habitat,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “And I feel that this � does that.”
The new rules will take effect in March and have an immediate impact on two-thirds of the country’s 155 national forests and 20 national grasslands.
But in Arizona, officials said only the Tonto National Forest will be affected by the new rules as it revises its land management plan. All of the other national forests in the state are in the late stages of revising their plans and will be grandfathered in under current rules.
Plans for Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino, Coronado, Kaibab and Prescott national forests are expected to be complete within the next year, said Bob Davis, director of planning for the Forest Service’s Southwestern Region. They would only be affected by the new rules if they made subsequent revisions or amendments to those plans.
“At this point, what we will see is various national forests that are in the process of updating their forest plan that will be using these new guidelines,” said Matt Skroch, executive director of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition.
Current national forest management plans were developed under procedures that have been in place since 1982. The Bush administration tried to update the rules, but a federal court threw out that plan in 2009.
“Congress has provided pretty clear direction that management plans should be updated every 10 to 15 years, but unfortunately we’ve waited almost 30 years for many forest plans to be revised,” Skroch said.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he believes the new rules will help restore forests and leave them in better condition for future generations.
“We are hopeful and confident that there is support for this rule and that we can move forward to update our management plans,” Vilsack said as he announced the plan.
Businesses and timber and mining trade groups on Thursday guarded their reactions, saying they want to carefully examine the entire plan.
The American Forest Resource Council, a lumber trade group, said it hoped the Forest Service had listened to its comments and made changes “to avoid the mistakes of the past.”
“We hope that ecological, social and economic objectives are given equal weight in planning so that all of the needs of our citizens will be met by our federal forests,” said council President Tom Partin in a news release.
The group said it would review the new rules, talk with the agency and its members before deciding how to proceed.
Environmentalists and conservation groups generally approved of the new rules. Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, said Arizona will benefit from the plan’s emphasis on protecting national forest watersheds.
“We get a lot of our water from the national forest, their watersheds, for many of the people in Arizona,” she said. “If we want flowing rivers and clean drinking water, protecting those watersheds, keeping water from being contaminated, those are important benefits for all of us.”
Bahr also applauded the plan’s reliance on science, saying “we could use a lot more science and less politics in our decision-making” on forests.
Jim deVos, director of conservation affairs for the Arizona Elk Society, said he likes the plan because it invites public input on decisions.
“Organized groups have people that do things like read the Federal Register, and they become informed that way. But by using the Internet and other communication tools that are more modern, it allows the general public to become more informed,” he said. “It’s a step forward, in our view.”
The Forest Service said it received nearly 300,000 comments on the plan after issuing a proposed rule last February.
Skroch said the Arizona Wilderness Coalition likes the fact that the new rules could protect potential wilderness areas. But he thought they could have gone further, noting that the new rules retain criteria that exclude any such areas where “you may see or hear things outside of the wilderness area that are not compatible with that wilderness.”
He also said the new rules do not do enough to protect wild species.
But deVos said the Forest Service did a good job balancing social, cultural, ecological and economic conditions in many parts of the new rules. As a result, he believes they will likely satisfy most people.
“Certainly any document that serves the diverse American public and the diverse American forest has got to have some give and take,” deVos said. “It appears to me to be a nice workable plan that doesn’t side too heavily with any particular user group.”
Planning Rule Opinion Boxscore (cont’d)
8. Montana Logging Association concern over complexity of document
Earthjustice – Kirsten Bayles of Seattle- thumbs up watershed, wildlife concerns (repeat of #3-5)
American Forest Research Council triangle (repeat of #3-6)
9. Sierra Club water good, science good
10. Arizona Elk Society public involvement good, nice workable balanced
11. Arizona Wilderness wilderness, wildlife concern
Sharon’s notes: I italicized “environmental and conservation groups generally agreed with the new rules,” in this piece, which is completely opposite to the ENS piece (Media Watch #2) “Obama’s New Forest Planning Rule Fails to Satisfy Conservationists.” Depends on who you interview, doesn’t it?
My “local interviews yield different results” seems to be holding up.
And let’s give a special shoutout to newspapers who interview local folks, and to those groups who admitted that it would take them time to read it, talk about it, and understand it, before they comment.
January 27, 2012, 10:07 am
How to Manage U.S. Forests, Version 3.1
By FELICITY BARRINGER
In the high-tech world, new versions of programs are released to fix new bugs. In the federal regulatory world, new versions of management blueprints are released to address legal problems. Each is generally judged by a simple metric: did the fixes work, or will they have to be redone?
By that standard, efforts to update a land management planning rule for the National Forest System have not exactly been a success.
The Bush Administration’s attempt to overhaul it were rejected by a federal judge who said it did not provide adequate safeguards for flora and fauna. When the Obama administration unveiled its first attempt at adjusting the rule 11 months ago, environmentalists criticized it as weak in terms of protecting water purity and biodiversity. So on Thursday, the administration released “a new version.
The rule, a broad blueprint to be followed by individual forest supervisors — many of whom are working with 15-year-old planning documents at the moment — is likely to become final within five weeks.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who is in charge of the Forest Service, struck a conciliatory note in a conference call Thursday, saying that wide public participation will be crucial to the success of future forest management. He said that the revised rules focused on restoring the ecological health of forests and watersheds, particularly conserving and improving the quality of freshwater in the forests.
Noting that 20 percent of Americans drink water that comes from national forests, Mr. Vilsack said that management of the watersheds would be based on the “best available science.”
He and the chief of the Forest Service, Tom Tidwell, also emphasized a desire to ensure that the forests are open to all uses, including timber harvesting and recreation.. With the new rule and a greater emphasis on cooperative planning with various interest groups, Mr. Tidwell said, plans governing individual forest plants could be written twice as fast — in three or four years, as opposed to the current five, six or seven.
Forest policy is a difficult arena. It’s not just that the forests face natural challenges like invasive beetles or fierce wildfires, challenges exacerbated by climate change. Managing the forests can pit timber harvesters against environmentalists in clashes like the drawn-out one over the northern spotted owl two decades ago.
The point that Mr. Vilsack repeatedly made echoed a line from President Obama’s State of the Union address. He said he wanted a forest-based economy “built to last.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthjustice offered guarded praise for the Forest Service’s intentions. “It’s a smart bunch of public-minded people” at work, said Niel Lawrence, a forest expert at the N.R.D.C., and they “are trying to produce a durable rule that will work.They get high marks for their vision of protection and restoration of federal forests.”
Then came the big “but.” The rule contains a small change in wording that he said would weaken a former requirement on keeping widely distributed populations of local plants and animals in a forest. “These rules are set up to allow the agency actively to squeeze wildlife out,” he said. “That’s a recipe for a wildlife zoo, not a healthy ecosystem.” He called the language “a loophole that threatens to undo all their good work.”
Kristen Boyles of Earthjustice took a similar tone: some great ideas here, but problems remain. Her concern was that the section on protecting animals gave too much flexibility to forest managers.
Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council, a timber industry group, said in a statement: “We hope that ecological, social and economic objectives are given equal weight in planning so that all of the needs of our citizens will be met by our federal forests.
Planning Rule Opinion Boxscore (cont.)
5. Concerns about flexible managers
6. Hopes for an equilateral triangle
American Forest Council
7. High marks for vision BUT oh those loopholes
Thanks to the Wildlife Society for providing the following. There are 16 Federal agencies on the steering committee and I assume that USDA is one of those.
Obama proposal battles climate change impact on wildlife
Western Farm Press
In partnership with state, tribal, and federal agency partners, the Obama administration released the first draft national strategy to help decision makers and resource managers prepare for and help reduce the impacts of climate change on species, ecosystems, and the people and economies that depend on them. MORE
First from the Environmental News Service (thanks to Terry Seyden). My comments in italics.
Obama’s New Forest Planning Rule Fails to Satisfy Conservationists
WASHINGTON, DC, January 26, 2012 (ENS) – The Obama administration today proposed a new forest planning rule that will guide the management of 155 forests, 20 grasslands and one prairie in the National Forest System.
The rule provides the framework for U.S. Forest Service land management plans. Once approved, the final rule will update planning procedures that have been in place since 1982, creating a planning process that the the Forest Service says reflects the latest science and knowledge of how to create and implement effective land management plans.
Hiker explores White Mountain National Forest in Maine. (Photo by Bob Nichols courtesy USDA)
But, although plans would be required to provide habitat for plant and animal diversity and species conservation, several conservation groups say the new rule weakens protections for wildlife on national forests.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service under its jurisdiction considered nearly 300,000 public comments on the proposed rule and draft environmental impact statement issued last February, to develop the agency’s preferred course of action for finalizing the planning rule.
“The most collaborative rulemaking effort in agency history has resulted in a strong framework to restore and manage our forests and watersheds and help deliver countless benefits to the American people,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said today. “Our preferred alternative will safeguard our natural resources and provide a roadmap for getting work done on the ground that will restore our forests while providing job opportunities for local communities.”
“This approach requires plans to conserve and restore watersheds and habitats while strengthening community collaboration during the development and implementation of individual plans,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.
“Under our preferred alternative, plan revisions would take less time, cost less money, and provide stronger protections for our lands and water,” said Tidwell. “Finalizing a new rule will move us forward in managing our forests and grasslands, and will create or sustain jobs and income for local communities around the country.”
In the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, PEIS, for the National Forest System Land Management Planning Rule released today, the Forest Service requires that:
Plans must include components that seek to restore and maintain forests and grasslands.
Plans would include requirements to maintain or restore watersheds, water resources, water quality, including clean drinking water, and the ecological integrity of riparian areas.
Plans would be required to provide habitat for plant and animal diversity and species conservation. These requirements are intended to keep common native species common, contribute to the recovery of threatened and endangered species, conserve proposed and candidate species, and protect species of conservation concern.
Plans would provide for multiple uses, including outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, wildlife and fish.
Plans would be required to provide opportunities for sustainable recreation, and to take into account opportunities to connect people with nature.
Opportunities for public involvement and collaboration would be required throughout all stages of the planning process. The preferred alternative would provide opportunities for tribal consultation and coordination with state and local governments and other federal agencies, and includes requirements for outreach to traditionally under-represented communities.
Plans require the use of the best available scientific information to inform the planning process and documentation of how science was used in the plan.
The planning framework provides a more efficient and adaptive process for land management planning, allowing the Forest Service to respond to changing conditions.
The new PEIS is the Forest Service’s fourth attempt since 2000 to revise nationwide regulations governing national forests. All three previous attempts were challenged in court by the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity and allies, and all three prior attempts were found to be unlawful.
Like the 2000, 2005 and 2008 rules, the Obama administration’s planning rule would decrease longstanding protections for wildlife on national forests.
This statement sounds like it’s news and not the opinion of some. Just sayin’, reasonable people could disagree.
“Today’s rule is a step up from the Bush administration’s rule, but its protections are still a far cry from Reagan-era regulations that the Forest Service has been trying to weaken for 12 years,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director at the Center.
“Our publicly owned national forests should be a safe haven for wildlife,” said McKinnon. “In the face of unprecedented global climate change and other threats to species, the Forest Service should be trying to strengthen, not weaken, protections for wildlife on our public lands.”
If climate change is unprecedented, all the regulations in the world are not going to keep plant and wildlife species where they are now. There is an inherent conceptual difficulty here. Even if the FS did nothing at all (no recreation, no whatever) under certain scenarios different species are going to exit.
Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, served as head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during the Clinton administration. She is not satisfied with the PEIS released today, saying, “The administration deserves credit for the genuine effort that it made to respond to public comments. Although we strongly support this historic shift in direction, we remain concerned about the adequacy of its wildlife conservation provisions and worry that the forest-planning rule makes promises that it can’t fully deliver.”
A notice of availability for the PEIS will be published in the Federal Register on February 3 with a Record of Decision on the final rule to follow within 30 days.
Clark said Defenders of Wildlife will be reviewing the rule more closely with an eye on improvements that can be made to ensure stronger protections for wildlife before the rule is finalized.
I am curious about what these might be, maybe we can get copies of a letter if they send one.
Here’s one from the Asheville Times
unveils new forest
ASHEVILLE — Conservation groups
welcomed “with cautious optimism” news of
a new national forest planning rule unveiled
Thursday by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom
In a media conference call, Vilsack
announced the release of the
environmental impact statement for the
new National Forest System Land
Management Planning Rule, saying there
would be a greater emphasis on science
and watershed protection while promoting
multiple uses such as logging and
recreation when developing new forest
“The general impression is that we’re
cautiously optimistic about the new rule. It
puts importance on maintaining and
restoring the ecological integrity of national
forests, and we like that,” said Josh Kelly,
public lands field biologist with the WNC
Alliance, an Asheville-based conservation
“I think the national forests do need a new
planning rule. Times have changed. But it’s
important that the rule is administered
correctly,” Kelly said. “It will require the
involvement of groups like the WNC Alliance
and the public to make sure the desired
Forests have been operating under a
planning rule in place since 1982. Local
forest management plans, revised every 15
years, guide the agency on how to manager
for timber, wildlife, water, recreation and
The planning rule provides the framework
for Forest Service land management plans
for the 155 forests, 20 grasslands and one
prairie in the National Forest System, which
make up 193 million acres and receive
more than 170 million visitors a year and
have a $13 billion economic impact on
local communities, Vilsack said.
The new planning rule comes at an
opportune time for Pisgah and Nantahala
national forests — two of four national
forests in North Carolina — that together
comprise about 1 million acres. The two
forests in Western North Carolina, which
receive some 5 million visitors a year,
operate under a joint management plan,
last revised in 1995.
“The Nantahala-Pisgah (plan) is up for
Advertisement revision, as it has been for a while. We’re
glad that it will be subject to the new
planning rule,” said Brent Martin, Sylva-
based Southern Appalachian regional
director for the Wilderness Society.
“We’re fairly pleased with the rule overall.
It’s a great improvement over the previous
rule,” he said. “This is what a lot of people
in the conservation community were waiting
to hear. Forest management is not just
about timber anymore. It’s about the
ecological services that forests provide.”
Strong public interest
The agency’s preferred course of action
was developed based on more than
300,000 comments received after the
draft plan was released to the public last
February, Vilsack said. A public forum in
Asheville last April drew about 80 people.
“This has undoubtedly has been the most
collaborative and transparent process used
in forest planning rules,” Vilsack said.
The new rules, which replace those thrown
out by a federal court in 2009, will focus
more on “solid science,” water quality,
forest restoration, wildlife, sustainable
recreation and the challenges of climate
change, while featuring greater public
collaboration and creating more jobs.
Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said the
new planning rule also calls for allowing
individual Forest Service land management
plans to be completed more quickly, in
most cases cutting that time in half.
“In the past it took five-seven years to
develop a plan,” Tidwell said. “The new
planning process should cut that to three-
four years. It will be much more efficient.”
If approved, the new planning rules would
also provide for less expensive
management plans, said spokesman Stevin
Westcott. Instead of $5 million to $7
million, each plan revision would cost about
$3 million, he said.
A notice of availability for the planning rule
environmental impact statement will be
published in the Federal Register on Feb.
3, and Vilsack will issue a decision about a
month after that.
Planning Rule Opinion Boxscore
1. weakening protections of 82
Center for Biological Diversity
2. not satisfied
Defenders of Wildlife
3. Cautiously optimistic
4. Fairly pleased; great improvement
Hmm. It seems so far that the regional groups interviewed were more positive than the national groups. It’s also interesting that the ENS chose to give CBD first crack at commenting, apparently because they litigated the previous rules. So litigation gives your opinion some kind of precedence in this media outlet? Worth thinking about. Let’s keep track for ourselves and see what kinds of patterns emerge.
Obama administration issues major rewrite of national forest rules
By Juliet Eilperin, Thursday, January 26, 6:42 PM
The Obama administration finalized a rule Thursday governing the management of 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands, establishing a new blueprint to guide everything from logging to recreation and renewable energy development.
The guidelines — which will take effect in early March and apply to all 155 national forests, 20 grasslands and one prairie — represent the first meaningful overhaul of forest rules in 30 years. The George W. Bush administration had issued a management-planning rule for national forests in 2008, but a federal court struck it down the next year on the grounds that it did not provide adequate protection for plants and wildlife.
In announcing the new procedures, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said they were crafted to enhance the nation’s water supplies while maintaining woodlands for wildlife, recreation and timber operations. The lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s drinking water, according to the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the Agriculture Department.
“Restoration is the philosophy, with a focus on forest health and our water,” Vilsack told reporters in a conference call, adding that the rules require that planning decisions be “driven by sound science.”
The debate over how best to manage forests — especially in regions such as the Pacific Northwest — has pitted timber companies against environmentalists and some scientists for decades. On Thursday, administration officials emphasized that they had sought input from an array of constituencies to develop a plan that could minimize these public disputes.
“We expect to see much less litigation with this process,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.
The rule will serve as the guiding document for individual forest plans, which spell out exactly how these lands can be used. While these plans are updated periodically, Vilsack noted that half are more than 15 years old.
Michael Goergen, executive vice president and chief executive of the Society of American Foresters, said that given the scientific advances in the past three decades, “we need to put that knowledge to work and outdated rules aren’t going to help us. The new rules should be given a chance to work.”
Several environmentalists and scientists praised the guidelines, which were revised to include additional scientific safeguards after the department received 300,000 comments. But they cautioned that the rules gave local supervisors considerable discretion in their implementation.
“The vision is laudable, and this is no small shift in how the national forests will be managed, from one of commodity extraction into a vision of protection, restoration and water preservation,” said Dominick DellaSala, president and chief scientist for the Oregon-based Geos Institute.
Society for Conservation Biology policy director John Fitzgerald said the rule had “several weaknesses,” including the fact that it would “assume and not require the responsible official to show that the plan includes all practicable steps to conserve the full biological diversity” within a given forest.
Agriculture officials noted that the guidelines still compel managers to document how the “best-available scientific information” has guided decisions ranging from what areas should be logged to how officials are monitoring wildlife.
“We have 155 forests. They are not all alike,” Vilsack said. “That requires some flexibility and some acknowledgment of that uniqueness.”
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said the concerns that he and other lawmakers expressed about the planning rule’s impact on jobs “apparently fell on deaf ears.”
“These new Obama regulations introduce excessive layers of bureaucracy that will cost jobs, hinder proper forest management, increase litigation and add burdensome costs for Americans,” Hastings said.
Officials at the American Forest & Paper Association, which represents pulp, paper, packaging and wood products companies along with forest landowners, said they were “still reviewing” the blueprint. But the group had concerns “regarding the costly procedural requirements in the proposed rule,” said vice president and general counsel Jan Poling.
Thanks to Terry Seyden for being on top of this one!
More (much more..) to follow. Send me stories you find and I will post.. firstname.lastname@example.org.
APNewsBreak: US to unveil new forest rules
updated 1 hour 39 minutes ago
By MATTHEW DALY
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Obama administration says new rules to manage nearly 200 million acres of national forests will protect watersheds and wildlife while promoting uses ranging from recreation to logging.
The new rules, to replace guidelines thrown out by a federal court in 2009, are set to be released Thursday by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. A summary was obtained by The Associated Press.
Vilsack said in an interview that the rules reflect more than 300,000 comments received since a draft plan was released last year. The new rules strengthen a requirement that decisions be based on the best available science and recognize that forests are used for a variety of purposes, Vilsack said.
“I think it’s a solid rule and done in a collaborative, open and transparent way,” he said.
The guidelines, known as a forest planning rule, will encourage forest restoration and watershed protection while creating opportunities for the timber industry and those who use the forest for recreation, he said.
Vilsack, who has pledged to break through the logjam of political conflict over forest management, said the new regulation’s emphasis on science and multiple uses should allow it to stand up to likely court challenges from environmental groups or the timber industry.
“I am hopeful and confident that it will stand scrutiny,” he said.
Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said the guidelines would allow land management plans for individual forests to be completed more quickly and at a lower cost than under current rules, which date to the Reagan administration.
Several attempts to revise the 1982 planning rule have been thrown out by federal courts in the past decade. Most recently a Bush administration plan was struck down in 2009. Environmentalists had fought the rule, saying it rolled back key forest protections.
The Obama administration did not appeal the ruling, electing to develop a new forest planning rule to protect water, climate and wildlife.
Under the new rule, forest plans could be developed within three to four years instead of taking up to seven years, as under current guidelines, Tidwell said.
“We really can protect the forest at lower cost with less time,” he said.
The new regulation also should give forest managers more flexibility to address conditions on the ground, such as projects to thin the forest to reduce the risk of wildfire, Tidwell said.
“We’ll be able to get more work done – get more out of the forest and create more jobs,” while at the same allowing greater recreational use, Tidwell said. Recreational use of the forest has grown exponentially in recent years.
Like Vilsack, Tidwell said he is optimistic the new plan will stand up to scrutiny from environmental groups and the timber industry, both of which have challenged previous planning rules in court.
“I’m optimistic that folks will want to give it a shot,” Tidwell said.
The 155 national forests and grasslands managed by the Forest Service cover 193 million acres in 42 states and Puerto Rico. Balance between industry and conservation in those areas has been tough to find since the existing rules went into effect three decades ago.
At least three revisions of the rules have been struck down since 2000.
The planning rule designates certain animal species that must be protected to ensure ecosystems are healthy. However, the rule became the basis of numerous lawsuits that sharply cut back logging to protect habitat for fish and wildlife.
Meanwhile, the timber industry has continued to clamor for more logs, and conservation groups keep challenging timber sales, drilling and mining projects.
Matthew Daly can be followed on Twitter: (at)MatthewDalyWDC
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.