I was asked if I knew of an NGO or coalition that focuses on maintaining public access to federal lands or FS land (without getting into the OHV, hiker, bike issues). For example, funding or encouraging legal work to open roads that private landowners close to the public, to deal with trespass violations, and to review administrative or congressional land exchanges that may have impacts on public access. You also might call this topic “maintaining the federal estate.” Or something catchier.
I didn’t know of any, but thought I would ask this knowledgeable group.
The following was just released by the Center for Biological Diversity:
A new study in the international journal Bioscience finds that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service routinely ignored scientific peer review when designating protected critical habitat for endangered species. According to the study published this month, the agency ignored recommendations by scientific experts to add areas to critical habitat to ensure the survival and recovery of endangered species 92 percent of the time.
“Our study shows the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completely failed to rely on the best available science when deciding which habitat to protect for some of America’s most endangered species,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity and lead author of the peer-reviewed study. “This isn’t some meaningless bureaucratic oversight. Ignoring scientists’ advice jeopardizes the survival and recovery of endangered species.”
The designation of critical habitat is a key step in protecting the most important areas used by endangered species. Species with protected critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering as those without it. As part of making a designation, the Fish and Wildlife Service must have experts outside the agency review the proposed designation to make sure it’s scientifically sound and suitable to help species survive and recover.
Using data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the study reviewed 169 peer reviews of 42 critical habitat designations for 336 species covering a five-year period (2002-2007). Of the 169 reviews, 85 recommended adding areas and 19 recommended subtracting areas. In response, the agency added areas in only four cases and subtracted areas in only nine cases. After peer review, 81 percent (34) of the 42 critical habitat designations were reduced by an average of 43 percent.
“Routinely, the agency dismisses scientific advice on the grounds that they need ‘flexibility’ to better serve endangered species,” said Stuart Pimm, chair of conservation at Duke University and one of the study’s authors. “There is absolutely no evidence that, in consistently denying threatened species their needed habitats, any species has benefitted.”
In addition to examining the peer reviews, the study presented case studies examining the process for designating critical habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher and Cape Sable seaside sparrow. In the case of the flycatcher, the peer reviewers faulted the proposed designation for failing to include areas recommended by a scientific recovery plan. Rather than add additional areas, however, the agency cut the designation by 53 percent at the behest of a former political appointee at the Department of the Interior. In the case of the sparrow, the agency cut an area from critical habitat against the advice of peer reviewers (one of whom described the area as “extremely important”) based on the false premise that designation of critical habitat would conflict with Everglades restoration.
“Science, not politics, ought to drive which habitat is protected for endangered species,” said Greenwald. “Obtaining peer review shouldn’t simply be about checking off a box on a form. Saving species means saving the places they live and, when it comes to that, our best scientists need to be listened to.”
The study is the first to systematically examine a government agency’s response to peer review of its decisions. Peer review of government decisions is fundamentally different from peer review of scientific studies in that there is no editor to determine whether peer review has been properly considered or, if appropriate, followed. To rectify this situation, the study recommends appointing an arbiter to oversee the government’s response to peer review and giving agency scientists more independence to ensure closer adherence to scientific information.
Here’s a link.
Below is an excerpt.
But the final rule retains exemptions for roads for methane wells needed to allow an expansion of underground coal mining in the North Fork area and allows more flexibility for existing ski areas. And critics say the plan could also allow oil and natural gas drilling in roadless areas in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests and White River National Forest.
Mike Freeman, an Earthjustice staff attorney in Denver, said the group is reviewing the ROD, but he added that it appears the Colorado rule still falls short of the Clinton administration’s rule.
Freeman also said the state plan is unnecessary after the national roadless plan was upheld last year by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court’s decision reversed a Wyoming district court finding that the national rule had created de facto wilderness and violated the National Environmental Policy Act.
“We now have a consistent national approach to managing the 4.2 million acres in Colorado. It’s the law of the land. There’s no reason why Colorado forests should get second-class status and be managed to a less protective standard than the roadless areas in other states,” he said. “The state plan provides less protections for about 75 percent of the roadless areas in this state.”
Mike Anderson, a senior resource analyst with the Wilderness Society, said he’s also concerned about possible drilling in some roadless areas but added that the overall plan is a good one, particularly the 1.2 million acres of upper-tier protections that “highlight some of the more superlative areas of the state for wildlife and recreation, and that is a really good feature.”
Anderson said the Wilderness Society’s focus now will be to work with the Forest Service and state to ensure the new rule is properly implemented.
“There’s definitely pluses and minuses with this rule,” he said.
The issue remains a contentious one. The ROD comes at a time when Western state governments and the mining and oil and gas industries, among others, have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out the federal roadless rule and let states like Colorado determine how best to manage these pristine forestlands.
Colorado and Idaho are the only two states to pass state roadless rules under a George W. Bush administration petition plan that was later ruled unlawful.
The Forest Service said in a news release announcing the ROD that “future forest plans and revisions will be consistent with the provisions of the Colorado Roadless Rule.”
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said his state’s roadless rule “reflects the diverse, creative and passionate suggestions contributed by thousands of Coloradans” and should serve as the law of the land for managing roadless areas in the state.
“The rule adds new protections to millions of acres of our state’s cherished national forests,” Hickenlooper said in a statement, “while providing sufficient, targeted flexibility crucial to local economies and communities.”
It’s interesting that this reporter simply says “critics say” And critics say the plan could also allow oil and natural gas drilling in roadless areas in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests and White River National Forest.
However, the actual rule language says section 294.46 b..
Oil and Gas Leases. Oil and gas leases issued within a Colorado Roadless Area after July 3, 2012 will prohibit road construction/reconstruction. The Forest Service shall not authorize the Bureau of Land Management to grant any request for a waiver, exception, or modification to any oil or gas lease if doing so would result in any road construction within a Colorado Roadless Area. For oil and gas leases issued in a Colorado Roadless Area prior to July 3, 2012, the rule preserves any existing leases and surface development rights. The rule also preserves any existing limitations on surface development rights arising from lease terms, lease stipulations, conditions of approval, 36 CFR 228.100, and Onshore Oil and Gas Orders.Show citation box
(c) Oil and Gas Leases on Upper Tier Acres. Oil and gas leases issued within upper tier acres after July 3, 2012 will require a no surface occupancy stipulation. The Forest Service shall not authorize the Bureau of Land Management to grant any request for a waiver, exception, or modification to any oil or gas lease if doing so would result in surface occupancy within an upper tier area.
Which pretty much is the legal status quo for preexisting leases under the 2001 Rule.
For new leases, in upper tier, the Colorado Rule adds protection to 2001 by saying no surface occupancy in addition to no roads. I guess you could argue that that’s not an important additional restriction. But someone must have thought it was or it wouldn’t have been added.
Also the article is unclear when it says “Colorado and Idaho are the only two states to pass state roadless rules under a George W. Bush administration petition plan that was later ruled unlawful.” In addition to them “passing” state roadless rules (it is a federal action), of course, they initiated their efforts under the state petitions rule, but Colorado finalized it under the authority that states have to petition the department. Otherwise it sounds like they are currently working under a rule that had been overturned.
Thanks to Bob for these links.
Here is the website version, first published on USFS Wildfire Lessons Learned website in Fall, 2009.
Here is the longer (“more academic”) version, linked to the 2009 publication and also presented to — and discussed with — the Oregon Board of Forestry during their September 7, 2011 Board Meeting in Lakeview, Oregon.
Here is the temporarily halted (again) website, based on these articles.