We have been discussing a variety of issues around moral philosophy on this blog lately, so here something a bit more earthy.
P.S. The evacuees from the Lower North Fork Fire and (human and cat) staying at our house went home Friday.
Forest Service facing a cow conundrum- here’s the link.
Aspen Daily News Staff Writer
Six dead cows found last weekend in a U.S. Forest Service cabin at Conundrum Hot Springs will be blown up with explosives, officials said.
Cameron Harris and Marshall Kay, both 21, snowshoed to the hot springs last Saturday with a plan to spend the night in the cabin. But when Harris approached the small structure, he stared death in the face.
“When I walked to the entrance I saw a cow’s head,” Harris, an Air Force Academy cadet, said. “There were six dead cows that were frozen solid” lying inside the cabin.
“It was the last thing we expected,” added Harris.
Harris said he and Kay, who are both from Texas and are enrolled in the academy in Colorado Springs, said they made other sleeping arrangements on Saturday night.
“After the cow incident we hiked down a mile or two and put our tents on snow,” Harris said.
Brian Porter, who works in visitor information services for the Aspen ranger district for the Forest Service, said officials are unsure how the cows got there but speculate that they were part of a rancher’s herd that wandered off from Taylor Pass and walked a couple of miles into the Conundrum Valley for food and water.
“It’s a little hard to guess how they got there,” said Porter, who received a phone call this week informing him of the cow conundrum.
The cows, which had been tagged, probably went into the cabin seeking warmth and shelter during one of the first snowstorms this season, and then got stuck in there and starved to death.
Porter said he contacted Jim McBreen, lead blaster for the White River National Forest, who will at some point in the near future — after the snow melts and avalanche danger has subsided — hike up approximately eight miles to the cabin with explosives and equipment, attempt to pull the cows out and blow them up.
The animals will have to be taken care of before they thaw to ensure no water contamination occurs in the nearby hot springs, Porter said.
“We definitely have to do something,” he said.
Explosives are being used because the area is designated as wilderness and motor vehicles are not allowed.
“We are not exempt from the rules,” Porter said.
Forest Service spokesman Bill Kight said if the cows can’t be removed by a pulley system, the cabin — which is technically illegal to sleep in — also will be blown up.
“It’s been in the plans to remove the cabin anyway,” he said, but dragging the cows out “would be our first choice.”
In driving between Cedar City and Bryce Canyon, I was struck at the severe mortality from bark beetles. Here is what I saw the first time. The entire area had severe bark beetle mortality, with surviving aspen trees. I really doubt that any green trees were cut, as the bark beetles were still busily chewing and doing their thing.
The next time I drove through, I saw where snags had been felled and removed, resulting in this scene. I’m guessing that they skidded the logs over the snow, or used a helicopter. My bet is on over-the-snow skidding. This area is right at the summit, where the intersection to Cedar Breaks is. There are homes on the other side of the ridge. I like what they did here.
The story is here..
here’s an excerpt
Another topic that’s raised questions from both the Center for Biological Diversity and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is the new emphasis on “maintaining viable populations of species of conservation concern.” These plants and animals aren’t necessarily on the endangered species list.Environmentalists argue the new term fails to commit the agency to all-out protection of threatened or endangered species. Livestock producers say “maintaining viable populations” doesn’t show up anywhere else in federal law, so they have no idea what kinds of restrictions could be placed on their activity. And conservationists wonder what the agency will do about common species that still need attention, like elk or huckleberries.“If you make the land more resilient, it should support more wildlife,” Sherman said. “Where that does not sufficiently work, with species at risk, we may need to create additional conditions to help recover or preserve species.”That means asking users of federal lands to take action that could keep some animals off Endangered Species Act protection. For example, sage grouse populations are declining, but the bird is not yet listed as a threatened or endangered species. The Forest Service may ask grazing lease holders to move cattle away from sage grouse habitat to give the birds a boost.All those decisions are supposed to be reached by teamwork among Forest Service officials and those who own, advocate, study and care for the land.“When talking about contemporary, 21st century planning, collaboration is what you’re expected to do,” Sherman said. “We heard a lot about this from the public. We think this approach has widespread support.”
As per request by Larry, from Matthew:
For those who want to read the actual article, it can be found here:
The Great Falls Tribune also ran this article this morning:
Photos of live, trapped wolf prompt threats to Missoula-based group
Given the many discussions we’ve had on this blog concerning the top of restoration, this new research from Katharine N. Suding, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at the University of California, Berkeley should be of great interest to readers. The title of the paper is “Toward an Era of Restoration in Ecology: Successes, Failures, and Opportunities Ahead” (PDF copy here). Below is a teaser from the Abstract (emphasis added). – mk
As an inevitable consequence of increased environmental degradation and anticipated future environmental change, societal demand for ecosystem restoration is rapidly increasing. Here, I evaluate successes and failures in restoration, how science is informing these efforts, and ways to better address decision-making and policy needs. Despite the multitude of restoration projects and wide agreement that evaluation is a key to future progress, comprehensive evaluations are rare. Based on the limited available information, restoration outcomes vary widely. Cases of complete recovery are frequently characterized by the persistence of species and abiotic processes that permit natural regeneration. Incomplete recovery is often attributed to a mixture of local and landscape constraints, including shifts in species distributions and legacies of past land use. Lastly, strong species feedbacks and regional shifts in species pools and climate can result in little to no recovery. More forward-looking paradigms, such as enhancing ecosystem services and increasing resilience to future change, are exciting new directions that need more assessment. Increased evidence-based evaluation and cross-disciplinary knowledge transfer will better inform a wide range of critical restoration issues such as how to prioritize sites and interventions, include uncertainty in decision making, incorporate temporal and spatial dependencies, and standardize outcome assessments. As environmental policy increasingly embraces restoration, the opportunities have never been greater.
All, I had seen the post after I got home from work, and meditated on it as I drove to choir practice. I couldn’t shake the bad feeling that it gave me, as if our space were somehow polluted by the graphic depiction of violence and the words of a disturbed
person. I hesitated because I respect Matthew and the perspective he represents.
The photo is of a ritual cleansing practice, smudging with sage.
Recently, one of the main the topic of conversation here at NCFP has been about collaborative forest management. We have wandered though several posts and many comments into the controversy surrounding, in particular the Montana Forest Restoration Committee in Montana and the Tongass Futures Roundtable in Alaska. In these discussions, there have been those sitting just beyond the perimeter of a collaboration who feel that something is amiss. Concerns often expressed by local environmental groups include, “Who is at the table, collaborating, and who is absent?” That is, Is the committee biased? If so, what type bias? On the other side of this divide are those who champion collaboration, particularly some National environmental groups who seem tired of litigation battles and stalemate, and to prefer more direct forms of engagement. These would-be collaborators don’t seem too uncomfortable with the make-up of collaboration committees. Because they are well-represented?. Sometimes they look askance at those who challenge the validity of specific collaborations, even accusing local environmental groups of being obstructionists. Local environmental groups counter, and accuse the Nationals of “selling out,” becoming part of the problem that is often labeled “Washington D.C.”
As I’ve watched and participated in surrounding discussion, I’ve wondered: Whither FACA? The Federal Advisory Committee Act FACA) was passed in 1972 in an effort to reign in federal agency ‘capture’ by special interest groups, particularly corporate interests. By the late 1990s there was substantial interest in collaboration in natural resource policy, but FACA was seen by many as a barrier to effective collaboration: Too bureaucratic, too heavily-laden with process requirements. But collaborators seem to have forgotten, else never understood a little facet of the law: an advisory committee doesn’t need to be declared to be a FACA Committee to be held accountable to at least some aspects of FACA law.
A good overview of this FACA problem/opportunity can be found in “The Federal Advisory Committee Act and Public Participation”, 1999 (pdf) publication by Resources for the Future. The act itself can be found here. Another useful reference is “The Federal Advisory Committee Act and Its Failure to Work Effectively in the Environmental Context”, (pdf) 1995, Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review. After reading the latter, I was about to give up on FACA, in part because the courts had failed pretty much to allow people to challenge federal agencies under FACA. And the prevalence of closed-to-the-public advisory committees was still substantial in 1993:
FACA has … failed to fulfill Congress’s goal of opening all advisory committee meetings to the public. Closed-door advisory committee meetings still prevail, despite FACA’s mandates that meetings be open to public participation.218 The GSA, which monitors advisory committee activity throughout the government, reported that, in fiscal year 1993, there were more closed and partially closed advisory committee meetings (2,225) than open meetings (2,162).219 It is clear from these statistics that a substantial amount of advisory committee work is still done in private, away from the public scrutiny and participation that would help limit the influence private interest groups have on the agencies they are advising.
In short it looked like those finding themselves on the outside of collaboratives couldn’t find much recourse via the courts. Then I found an interesting little decision (pdf) rendered after the Idaho Wool Growers Association successfully challenged the Forest Service in Idaho, 2009. In Judge Winmill’s decision I saw a ray of hope that indeed FACA challenges might still reign-in committees that bias agency decision-making. In particular I found this interesting:
Memorandum Decision and Order – Page 18
FACA defines an “advisory committee” as “any committee, board, commission, council, conference, panel, task force, or other similar group, or any subcommittee or other subgroup thereof . . . which is . . . established or utilized by one or more agencies in the interest of obtaining advice or recommendations for the President or one or more agencies or officers of the Federal Government . . . .”
Memorandum Decision and Order – Page 19-20
“When a committee is established to provide expert summaries or interpretation of technical data, their reports can be ‘in the interest of obtaining advice or recommendations for . . . one or more agencies.’” . . .
“Even though [the committee] provided the USFS with only narrative summaries of scientific information, and made no policy recommendations, the [committee] drafts and the final assessment provide the framework, context and information that the USFS will rely on in making policy decisions.”
Memorandum Decision and Order – Page 20
FACA imposes a number of requirements on advisory committees. See, e.g., 5 U.S.C. App. II, §§ 2, 5, 9-14 (records must be made available for public inspection; charter must be filed; upcoming meetings must be announced; meetings must be held in a public place; minutes must be kept; attendance must “be fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented” and may “not be inappropriately influenced by the appointing authority or by any special interest”). Typically, a close examination of each requirement, contrasted against the circumstances in a particular case, is warranted when determining whether a FACA violation occurred.
So FACA may indeed be ‘in play’ in broader contexts than have heretofore been considered by many. That is, it matters not so much that FACA committees be chartered by agencies. What matters is what the players do, how they deal with the public interest and how they vet various interests/positions. Post Judge Winmill’s decision, it looks like the courts may finally be listening. Or not! If the courts are listening, we may be in for more FACA lawsuits to test these waters.
What does it all mean? How does and agency, say the US Forest Service, go about getting workable committees (defacto FACA committees) that can come to any agreement or give advice that is not all over the map?
I think that the answer lies in an area that the Forest Service is so far loathe to go. That area is the area of multi-scale adaptive governance that includes policy development as well as program and project management. The Forest Service seems to want to hold policy development to itself, yet to collaborate on site-specific watershed projects. That type arrangement gives no space to deliberate upon and enact the type preservation sought by John Muir naturalists, who want intact ecosystems for say, wildlife—big home ranges for large carnivores, protected corridors for migration, etc. So the whole idea of local-only collaboration is a nonstarter to many environmentalists.They want to deal with matters of broader scale and scope. But there is no such forum available in the 2012 NFMA rule. At least that’s the way I see it. No wonder environmentalists cry fowl. When will the Forest Service warm up to adaptive governance, with its emphasis on collaboration and adaptive management? Not likely anytime soon. So, for this and other reasons, we’ll just see what shakes out in FACA court room battles. When dealing with extant collaboratives, we are left to wonder: What the FACA? Or maybe just WTF?
Perhaps the answer, or part of it, has already been offered up in a NCFP comment from Terry Seyden, if only ALL would/could operate in good faith and keep the public interest in mind:
In my view, there is just no substitute for ongoing substantive dialogue to help the agency truly understand what the real underlying interests of various constituents are. Having a rich two way dialogue also assists the agency in creatively exploring all available options for meeting agency goals while trying to meet sometimes competing interests. … [T]o be legitimate and effective, any collaborative effort has to be well grounded within a larger public involvement strategy that gives the larger community of interests substantive opportunity to comment on and influence collaborative recommendations BEFORE decisions are reached.
Of course for any of this to work, the process has to be seen as credible and fair, both in terms of who directly participates in a collaborative group and how those “not at the table” have meaningful opportunities to contribute before decisions are made. While good faith among all interests is not a requirement for this approach to be successful, good faith on the part of the Forest Service or other third party convening any collaborative effort is absolutely essential.
This is echoed by An Optimist:
A good process… will seek to represent the ideas or interests of even non-participating groups. The challenge, however, is that a collaborative process is a learning process ….
In a Michigan Law Review article, Daniel Walters (pdf) seems to agree with both. He advocates for a “deliberative approach” to FACA. It all sounds right to me.
The challenge, for all of us is to be ever-vigilant to ensure that ‘collaboratives’ are indeed operating in good faith, and in the public interest. But if the many of the comments in the posts linked just below are an indicator, many such collaboratives in the past may not have been acting in good faith and in the public interest. Also the Forest Service needs to make sure that collaborative fora are available at appropriate scale to deal with relevant issues—not just at the local level. So let’s keep talking, keep challenging emergent collaboratives and broader policy both in terms of resource-related policy, programs and projects and in terms of collaboration design and operation. And let’s talk here about what I missed, what I messed up, and so on re: FACA, collaboration, and US Forest Service policy and planning.
Some related NCFP collaboration posts of interest:
Odd bedfellows try collaborating to resolve conflicts- from E&E News, March 15, 2012
“Collaboration on natural resource management is divide and conquer” The Wildlife News, March 11, 2012
New Research: Who Litigates, Who Collaborates and Why?, March 7, 2012
Two Views of the Tester Bill, December 22, 2011
Collaboration Can’t Fix What Ails Public Forest Management, October 6, 2011
Colt Summit- Garrity EditorialOctober 6, 2011
Some related NCFP collaboration posts of interest:
Here’s a piece by Holly Doremus on the new Planning Rule, on the Legal Planet blog here. I didn’t copy the links in the original to the piece below.
The Forest Service has now finalized the new planning rule it proposed a year ago. The final rule with preamble runs more than 240 pages. I haven’t yet plowed through it. The blog A New Century of Forest Planning is reporting reactions from a variety of sources. So far, there seem to be a lot of general statements of support, with the unsurprising proviso that the devil will be in the implementation details.
The thing that pops out at me about the new rule is the extent to which it brings to life what I view as the key dilemma of modern conservation policy: the tension between desires for management flexibility and demands for management accountability. Consider the most negative public commentary on the rule so far, and the one threat I’ve seen of litigation. It comes from the Center for Biological Diversity, which notes that:
The new rule significantly weakens longstanding protections for fish and wildlife species on national forests. While the Forest Service was previously required to ensure the viability of those populations, the new rule largely defers to local Forest Service officials.
What CBD is referring to is that the 1982 rule which this one replaces included the following provision:
Fish and wildlife habitat shall be managed to maintain viable populations of existing native and desired non-native vertebrate species in the planning area. For planning purposes, a viable population shall be regarded as one which has the estimated numbers and distribution of reproductive individuals to insure its continued existence is well distributed in the planning area. In order to insure that viable populations will be maintained, habitat must be provided to support, at least, a minimum number of reproductive individuals and that habitat must be well distributed so that those individuals can interact with others in the planning area.
That regulatory provision, popularly known as the “viability rule,” was the source of considerable successful litigation against the Forest Service. Groups like CBD correctly saw it as one of the few sources of strong accountability in a regime that gives the Forest Service a great deal of management discretion.
The new rule eliminates the viability rule, which the Forest Service now describes as inconsistent with “the most current science” and insensitive to “limitations on the Agency’s authority.” No wonder the Forest Service is worried about committing itself to maintaining the viability of particular species in every planning unit, given the realities of climate change.
The new planning rule focuses instead on ecological integrity and ecosystem diversity, which are admittedly fuzzy concepts. It also calls for additional species-specific conservation measures as needed to conserve ESA-listed and proposed species and other species of conservation concern. The regional forester is given discretion to decide which species are of conservation concern, and to determine that it is beyond Forest Service authority or the capability of the planning area to maintain a viable population of a species of conservation concern. That determination doesn’t mean the plan doesn’t have to deal with the species at all. It must still include provisions designed to “maintain or restore ecological conditions within the plan area to contribute to maintaining a viable population of the species within its range.”
I’m sympathetic to CBD’s concerns about loss of oversight. The Forest Service has hardly been a reliable champion of the public interest on national forest lands in the past. It often seems to be highly sensitive to local economic interests, at the expense of long-term conservation.
But in this case, I’m not sure I could craft a better rule. It looks to me like the new language meets the relevant statutory requirement of NFMA, which mandates that the planning rule specify guidelines for plans “to provide for diversity of plant and animal communities based on the suitability and capability of the specific land area in order to meet overall multiple-use objectives.” I agree with the Forest Service that the old viability rule is too rigid for the current situation. The Service will need some flexibility to respond to a changing climate, and it is right that many species that live part of their life on national forests are also strongly affected by the actions of other landowners.
The key, of course, is to provide the Service with the discretion to respond to legitimate conservation challenges without allowing it to disregard conservation in favor of extractive industry interests. This is just one example of a far more general problem — if we need to adaptively manage lands and resources in order to be able to adjust to new conditions and new understanding, we have no choice but to give managers some discretion. The documented history of putting conservation well behind economic uses makes it difficult for environmentalists to feel comfortable about that, and its hard to create effective accountability and oversight measures for a necessarily discretionary regime.
At first glance, it looks to me like the new rule makes a credible stab at striking that difficult balance. It requires an explicit determination that species of conservation concern can’t be fully protected within the planning area, and the adoption of provisions to at least contribute to conservation. But I agree with CBD that there doesn’t seem to be as much limit on the ability of local forest officials to simply read species out of the list of concern, and it will surely be more difficult under the new rule to force reluctant forests to make robust conservation efforts. Still, I’d like to see a clearer explanation from CBD of what language they would like to have seen in place of what’s been adopted. If there isn’t a better option, than this one might have to do even though it’s clearly imperfect.
Forest activists at Montana’s Swan View Coalition are calling BS on the FS over the Flathead National Forest’s plans to cut down 270 of the biggest, genetically best western larch trees remaining on the forest in order to, get this, collect seed cones. Yep, that right, while the federal government could put a man on the moon 43 years ago, apparently the only way to collect western larch cones in 2012 is to chop down large diameter western larch trees up to 28″ in diameter and up to 200 years old.
Of course, as the Swan View Coalition points out, the Forest Service in Oregon seems to have no problem collecting western larch cones through the use of a crane to easily and safely pick larch cones, while letting the big, old larch trees live to see another day…or another century or two. Heck, the Forest Service even has this nice little slideshow showing larch cone collection on Oregon’s Ochoco National Forest.
You can learn more about this proposed project by visiting the Swan View Coalition’s website, where you’ll find links to the Flathead National Forest’s press release, as well as a copy of Swan View Coalition’s comment letter to the Forest Service. SVC is encouraging people to send their own comments into the Flathead National Forest through email or by writing: Flathead National Forest, 650 Wolfpack Way, Kalispell, MT 59901.
Collaboration on forest restoration projects key to sustainability (Go here to see all the hyperlinks.)
Agency Chief testifies before House Committee on Agriculture
WASHINGTON, March 27, 2012 —In testimony on Capitol Hill today, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell emphasized the importance of collaboration in developing restoration projects on national forests and grasslands.
“The aim of these efforts is to move beyond the conflicts which have characterized forest policy in the past and toward a shared vision that allows environmentalists, forest industry, local communities, and other stakeholders to work collaboratively toward healthier forests and watersheds, safer communities and more vibrant local economies,” Tidwell said.
Tidwell emphasized that such collaboration not only results in better projects, but will also create jobs.
His remarks were made before the House Committee on Agriculture’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry.
“The Forest Service recognizes the need for a strong forest industry to help accomplish forest restoration work,” Tidwell remarked. “Forest industry involvement also lowers the cost of restoration to the taxpayer by providing markets for forest products.”
Tidwell presented a list of programs already in place at the Forest Service that will enhance the restoration and management efforts on the nation’s forests and grasslands:
- Implementation of the new forest Planning Rule that emphasizes restoration, public involvement, and sustainable management to provide benefits and services both today and for future generations.
- Investing in restoration projects with partners though the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program. These projects have demonstrated that collaboration among stakeholders can facilitate large landscape scale restoration, thereby improving forest health, reducing wildfire risk, restoring fire-adapted ecosystems, and increasing timber and biomass production from the national forests.
- The Watershed Condition Framework which provides a consistent and comprehensive approach for classifying the condition of the 15,000 watersheds that comprise the National Forests and Grasslands and for prioritizing restoration needs.
- Integrated Resource Restoration which allows the agency to align its budgeting to focus on landscape scale restoration projects across resource areas and, with partners, combine the restorative focus of several line items into a single item.
- The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy which is a collaborative process with active involvement of all levels of government, non-governmental organizations and the public working for an all-lands solution to wildland fire management issues.
- The Forest Service bark beetle strategy which focuses management efforts on priority treatment areas to ensure human health and safety and to reduce hazardous fuel conditions on more than 17 million acres of National Forest System lands impacted by bark beetles.
- Use of stewardship contracting which allows the Forest Service to offset the value of the services received with the value of forest products removed. This authority is crucial to collaboratively restore landscapes at a reduced cost to the government.
- Expanding markets for forest products through the development of new markets for woody biomass utilization and green building materials by providing a reliable and predictable supply of biomass for potential investors.
- Research using new technologies and cutting-edge science to help better understand impacts of forest disturbance on natural and cultural resources.
- Use of a new objections process prior to a decision, rather than using an appeals process after a decision. The process tends to increase direct dialogue between the agency and stakeholders and often results in resolution of concerns before a decision is made.
- Improved efficiency of the National Environmental Policy Act process by learning from and sharing the lessons of successful implementation of streamlined NEPA analyses.
“Today, people understand that forests provide a broad range of values and benefits, including biodiversity, recreation, clean air and water, forest products, erosion control and soil renewal, and more. Our goal is to sustain and restore ecosystems that can deliver all the benefits that Americans want and need,” Tidwell concluded.