Here is Region Five’s “Ecological Restoration Implementation Plan”. It is definitely worth a browse, especially if you are a local within or near any of these National Forests. Each Forest spells out what it is doing and what it is planning.
(The picture is an old one, from fall of 2000. I had been here, salvaging bug-killed trees, in 1991. There was obviously additional mortality after that.)
From the Eldorado NF entry:
Maintain healthy and well-distributed populations of native species through sustaining habitats associated with those species
Use ecological strategies for post-fire restoration
Apply best science to make restoration decisions
Involve the public through collaborative partnerships that build trust among diverse interest groups
Create additional funding sources through partnerships
Incorporate the “Triple Bottom Line” into our restoration strategy: emphasizing social, economic and ecological objectives
Implement an “All lands approach” for restoring landscapes
Establish a sustainable level of recreational activities and restore landscapes affected by unmanaged recreation
Implement an effective conservation education and interpretation program that promotes understanding the value of healthy watersheds and ecosystem services they deliver and support for restoration actions.
Improve the function of streams and meadows
Restore resilience of the Forests to wildfire, insects and disease
Integrate program funding and priorities to create effective and efficient implementation of restoration activities
Reduce the spread of non-native invasive species
Upcoming National Forest Foundation webinar on IRR, for those interested.
U.S. Forest Service Integrated Resource Restoration: Regional Updates
Tuesday, April 16th, 2013 | 2:00-4:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time
We invite you to join us for an “Integrated Resource Restoration Update.” In this session, Forest Service leadership and staff from the pilot regions will share information about:
• The Integrated Resource Restoration (IRR) pilot program in Forest Service Regions 1, 3, and 4
• Fiscal year 2012 pilot program implementation –achievement of restoration goals, administrative efficiency, and program integration
• How community interests and partners can engage in the IRR process
• Next steps for IRR implementation
Click below to RSVP for the upcoming peer learning session on Integrated Resource Restoration!
Without making any value judgements here, I find this collection of meeting summaries to be fascinating. Chad Hanson is a full member of the Dinkey Collaborative Group, working to create a better future for the Sierra National Forest. It will be very interesting to see how this process will evolve, with Hanson’s input solidly in view. The level of transparency seems acceptable to me. At the same time, The Sierra is using the new Planning Rule to update their Forest Plan.
Mr. Hanson noted that there was no option for opposing the proposal, and also stated his concern for his opposition going undocumented. Mr. Hanson expressed two main concerns with the proposal. He stated that the proposal assumed high intensity fire results in fisher habitat loss, and commented that the proposal states an inaccurate assumption that trees experience almost complete mortality when a fire burns. Mr. Hanson expressed that the mortality rate was not supported by current data. Mr. Dorian Fougères assured Mr. Hanson that his position would be documented.
There are other meeting notes available by searching for “Dinkey Collaborative Hanson”.
Ed raised the question of “where do people on the blog think “intensive management, thinning and prescribed burning” belong.. everywhere? roadless? primitive areas?”
So I’ll go first.
I think that for places where there is no “timber industry” currently:
A. “Thinning for protection” thinning should be done around communities and roads in fire country . We should all work together on building “fire resilient communities and landscapes.” We should analyze all the places fire could start and make sure that for every really dangerous area, there are good areas for suppression between them and communities.
We should work on developing markets for the wood removed, so rural people are employed and we can afford to do it.
We would estimate the acreages and volume through time and then encourage industries to come in and use the material. Watch dog groups would watch to make sure than no more was offered for sale than in the agreement.
When a roadless area or wilderness is in a WUI, we would bring in experienced fire folks and determine if the fire could be fought safely with a break on private land (preferred) or public land.
Otherwise the backcountry would be left alone unless there is some compelling reason for action (protecting endangered species, corridors? or whatever).
B. “Thinning for protection plus resilience” Where there is existing mill capacity, thinnings may also be done if they make stands more resilient to drought and bugs, and they make money (not that they are restoring to the past, but the past had those attributes, say open parklike stands of ponderosa).
Now I was drafting this last night in response to Ed’s question. Meanwhile, I ran across these news stories.. in the Blue Mountains Accelerated Restoration project, it appears to be “thinning for protection plus resilience.” There are several good quotes about the rationale in the story.
The roughly 50,000 acres thinned or logged annually within the four forests is probably less than 20 per cent of what’s needed, Aney said.
“We need to at least double that” to stabilize forest health within 15 years, he said.
The plan Aney will execute calls for managing the Blues in blocks of several hundred thousand acres, instead of the current 30,000-acre planning units. Logging or thinning is likely on no more than 40 percent of each planning unit, Aney said. Individual projects will have to go through environmental reviews.
Work in the woods is expected to start in summer 2014.
Veronica Warnock, conservation director for the La Grande-based Hells Canyon Preservation Council, was more guarded. She said forest restoration is necessary but should be avoided in places where science doesn’t support it, such as stands of old growth or wildlife corridors.
I wonder what “science” that is, that involves what you should or should not do…I thought the role of science was empirical rather than normative. oh well.
Key findings from the synthesis were:
Efforts to promote resilience of socioecological systems increasingly consider the interaction of social values and ecological processes in pursuit of long-term mutual benefits and social learning for local communities and larger social networks.
Research indicates that strategic placement of treatments to reduce hazardous fuel accumulations and to restore fire as an ecosystem process within fire sheds can lower the risk for undesirable social and ecological outcomes associated with uncharacteristically large, severe, and dangerous fires, which include impacts to wildlife species of concern, such as the fisher and California spotted owl.
Science generally supports active treatment in some riparian and core wildlife zones to restore fire regimes. However, adaptive management, including experimentation at large landscape scales, is needed to evaluate which areas are priorities for treatment and what levels of treatment produce beneficial or neutral impacts to wildlife species and other socioecological values over long periods.
Yep, this is what we are already doing on my Ranger District. It is always important to focus on what we are leaving, rather than what is being removed. We still have longstanding limitations of protecting old growth and a ban on clearcutting. The picture is an example of salvage logging just six months after completion.
Here’s the link:
This article shows some of the numbers we have been interested in..
“We’re a relatively small player in overall forest dynamics,” said Gene DeGayner, the region’s director of renewable resource management. “This year, we’ll treat with commercial timber sales about 12,000 acres a year, regionwide. We’ll do maybe another 8,000 acres of pre-commercial thinning.
“But we’re looking at 6 million acres of beetle kill. Last year, we had more than 1 million acres burned. What we can affect with mechanical treatment is 1 percent of 1 percent of the region. We are a small player. We cannot move the needle on a lot of these issues.”
The 2012 Year in Review publication released last week on the Internet features 24 pages of stories of projects, awards and accomplishments in Region 1. In its introduction, Regional Forester Faye Krueger invited readers to “look at this publication as the bridge to how much more we can accomplish in 2013.”
The agency cast a somewhat bigger shadow in less labor-intensive efforts like noxious weed management and prescribed burning. But DeGayner said a large chunk of its expected timber harvest stalled in lawsuits challenging the Colt-Summit forest restoration project near Seeley Lake.
That project was the keynote of the Forest Service’s latest tactic for getting stuff done in the woods: the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program. These pilot projects got special funding from Congress to see if a combination of including community members in the planning, bartering timber for restoration work, and seeking matching funds from state or private sources might speed up workflow.
In Region 1, CFLRP provided about $9 million in operating funds, which was to be matched 1-to-1 in partnership agreements. The biggest local effort was the Southwestern Crown Collaborative, to do logging and landscape restoration in the Lolo, Helena and Flathead national forests. It claimed credit for producing 32 million board feet of sawlogs, 18,834 acres of noxious weed treatment, 19 miles of stream restoration and 268 miles of trail maintenance between 2010 and 2012. It’s allocated $4 million a year in CFLRP funding for 10 years.
“We’ve got a good portion of that program tied up in litigation, but we hope to prevail on those this year,” DeGayner said.
A federal district judge ruled in favor of the Forest Service on nine of 10 claims, but ordered it to provide more explanation how the project might affect threatened lynx habitat. DeGayner said that extra paperwork would not change the size or scope of the project.
The other main way the Forest Service cut trees last year was through travel safety projects that clear beetle-killed stands along roads. In 2012, it tallied about 500 miles of easement clearing, which paid for itself by the sale of timber.
Here’s a link to the press release from Region 1, but there is a warning that it is a large file. The actual link to it is imbedded from the press release page.
The above are photos of 1) what the stand is desired to look like, and 2) what stands look like when not enough 16 inchers have been removed. At least that is my interpretation of the photos in the EA here. If I misinterpreted, please feel free to point it out.
Here is the link and below is an excerpt:
The area in question is about 39 square miles located near Jacob Lake, or north of the 40,000 acres accidentally burned in 2006′s prescribed-burn-turned-wildfire on the North Kaibab Ranger District, called the Warm fire.
It’s a defeat for the Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity, which have raised objections over the age and size of trees to be thinned since 1998.
Those groups asserted that the scale of thinning the Forest Service had proposed on the Kaibab Plateau is not beneficial to the northern goshawk, a bird the forest service considers a “sensitive” species (not federally listed as threatened or endangered), and submitted data to support that view.
The Forest Service weighed that data, then set it aside in favor of what its own expert had said about how dense or sparse the forest could be in areas where the goshawk live.
The plans allow for logging of ponderosa pines 16 inches and larger in diameter (with no upper size limits), though the Forest Service says it will only account for fewer than 2 percent of the trees to be cut.
The matter is potentially significant because the conservation groups have raised objections to similar plans for a handful of other thinning projects on national forests elsewhere in northern Arizona, including closer to Flagstaff.
“It makes no sense for the Forest Service to continue to push to log these old growth and large trees, when we have so little remaining. This is not a restoration project. It is a squandering of these biologically significant large trees — critical and missing components in many of our forests,” stated Sandy Bahr, of the Sierra Club.
The district forester lauded the decision.
“Thanks to the hard work and perseverance of our employees, and support from our local communities, we can move forward to help protect the habitat and the forest from high intensity wildfire,” stated North Kaibab District Ranger Randall Walker.
Note from Sharon:
1) I am curious whether this is the same project as in this story here” Group Sues to Stop Thinning Project near the Grand Canyon.”
And only a small percentage of the forest’s old-growth trees will be removed, he added.
I anticipate that some critics of my decision may mischaracterize this project with claims that it will significantly reduce old growth habitat,” Short wrote in the assessment. “Alternative 1 would reduce old growth by up to 105 acres within the 26,916 acre Jacob-Ryan project area. This equates to approximately 0.4 percent change in old growth allocation.”
Loggers would cull old-growth trees only where it would be necessary to promote restoration goals, according to the agency.
However the same story also says…
Under the proposal, about 700 acres of mature and old-growth ponderosa pines would be harvested.
39 square miles? 700 acres? 105 acres? This seems very confusing.
I sure think it would be interesting if, for each project that goes to litigation, the unit would develop a standard video package that shows 1) what the area currently looks like, 2) explains why they are doing what they are doing, 3) show how they would do the marking, and then 4) show what nearby areas look like after that treatment. There was some of that done in this EA, but I think a video showing what trees would be removed and why would be clearer. It would be helpful for folks on this blog, and other members of the public and the media to understand and compare. It would also be interesting to know how much the FS, OGC and DOJ spent defending this one (39 square miles, or 150 or 700 acres, whatever..) compared to the 150 acre and 600 acre projects we’ve talked about on this blog before. We could even then generate a litigation cost per acre..
Here’s a letter to the editor by the ranger describing the project and the FS side..Good work by the FS, OGC and DOJ on the case, and the District for the EA and getting the word out.
Here’s a story from the Rapid City Journal on attempts (with CEQ) to design NEPA documents and decisions in a more flexible way.
Here’s an AP story as well, not so clear about the NEPA, more about the funding.
Black Hills National Forest officials will rely on streamlined regulations and extensive commercial tree thinning in a new attack plan against the mountain pine beetle aimed at protecting vulnerable areas before the bugs hit.
Forest Supervisor Craig Bobzien said Monday in releasing details of the Mountain Pine Beetle Response Project, which was developed over more than a year and included public comments and environmental review, that it would target 248,000 acres of highly vulnerable woodlands within the 1.2-million-acre forest for treatment in advance of beetle.
Commercial thinning would be used on almost half of those acres — 122,000 — over five to seven years to make them more resistant to the destructive bugs and less likely to erupt in wild fires, he said.
“It’s hard work and in many cases it’s expensive work,” Bobzien said. “But it’s worth the effort.”
Bobzien said the response project includes a variety of treatment options and costs about $70 million over the five to seven years. On an annual basis, that is slightly more than current forest management costs weighted heavily toward pine-beetle control work and fuels reduction to reduce the chances of wild fires.
Bobzien said the forest could put additional money to good use through the response project. But its effectiveness is about more than just money, he said.
“We’ll be able to respond much faster and adapt to what’s going on out there in nature. We’ll be able to move at a much-faster pace,” Bobzien said. “This allows us to be out in front of the beetle, which is where we’re most effective.”
The project was authorized by the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003, aimed at a better response to the buildup of hazardous fuels in thick forests and including work against insects and disease. Additional pressure in recent years for streamlined regulations came from private citizens, state and local officials, and the timber industry, as well members of the state’s congressional delegation.
With support from the delegation, the Forest Service worked with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the White House Council on Environmental Quality to find acceptable ways to streamline regulations, Bobzien said.
Rep. Kristi Noem and Sen. John Thune, both Republicans, celebrated Bobzien’s announcement Monday.
This is one of the current efforts at helping the Forest Service use NEPA in ways that facilitate dealing with 21st Century problems. 4FRI is another example, and there are others. Observers will note that the impetus to do this is still there, even though it’s not an R administration.
Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin — one of the driving forces in the 4FRI movement — was among those openly questioning whether Pioneer had the financing or expertise to undertake the massive thinning project, which depend on the contractor building bio-fuel plants and mills that could turn a profit on millions of saplings and small trees.
#Locked in a campaign for re-election now, she says her doubts about Pioneer’s financing remain — but the effort now relies on Pioneer’s success. Martin has played a leadership role in the effort to convince the U.S. Forest Service to thin fire-prone thickets on the outskirts of Rim Country communities. She has also spearheaded the effort to post water-filled bladders strategically throughout the region to enable fire trucks and firefighting helicopters to quickly fill up storage tanks to contain brush fires.
#Meanwhile, other recent developments have advanced the effort to use a revitalized timber industry to thin millions of acres in Northern Arizona where a century of grazing and fire suppression have created an overgrown, tree-choked forest.
#Tree densities across most of the ponderosa pine forests of Northern Arizona have increased from perhaps 30 per acre to closer to 800 per acre in the past century, according to researchers from Northern Arizona University. A once-open, fire-adapted forest now generates an increasing number of massive crown fires, which threaten to incinerate forested communities.
#It costs up to $1,000 per acre to thin and burn off the slash piles, which means it would cost taxpayers about $6 billion annually to thin those forests by hand. The 4FRI approach would give private contractors a guaranteed 10- or 20-year supply of mostly small-diameter trees as an inducement to invest millions in building mills and power plants that could turn a profit on the vast oversupply of small trees.
#The 4FRI approach could get a boost in November if Flagstaff voters approve a $10 million bond issue to raise money to support forest-thinning projects in the Lake Mary watershed. Backers say that a crown fire that killed all the trees and scorched the soil would result in a dramatic increase in silt building up in Lake Mary, endangering Flagstaff’s already precarious water supply.
#The Schultz Fire two years ago demonstrated the risk to the city. The fire roared through an area that had been earmarked for a 4FRI project. The monsoon rains that followed caused mudslides that inflicted millions of dollars of additional damage on homes.
However, the Forest Service adopted many of the recommendations of the Stakeholder Group, but refused to commit to the preservation of most of the larger trees. Forest Service biologists reasoned that in some areas those larger trees exist in relatively dense clusters.
#That refusal to set a clear size limit on the trees caused concern among some members of the Stakeholder Group, including Martin — who found herself in the unusual position of agreeing with the Centers for Biological Diversity, which had spent years suing to block timber projects on the grounds they continued to target the big, fire-resistant trees.
#The selection of Pioneer after almost two years of study and delay initially posed a near-mutiny among the Stakeholder Group. Pioneer actually offered to pay the Forest Service millions less for the bid than did the contractor who had spent years working with the Stakeholder Group. Moreover, Pioneer omitted any money for monitoring whether the thinning projects had the desired impact on wildlife and watersheds.
#Martin also raised concerns about whether Pioneer had enough financing — and a business plan that would yield a profit on turning small trees into energy and into furniture.
#Forest Service officials in the Southwestern Regional Office in New Mexico made the selection, without direct input from the Stakeholder’s Group.
#Pioneer has said it remains on track to start work in the spring. Marlin Johnson said the company will start off with already-prepared timber sales and send the wood it harvests to existing mills, while the company continues to line up financing for its own mills.
#The company plans to build a 500-acre plant near Winslow, which will convert small trees into finger-jointed materials, like furniture and other wood products. The company also plans to build a bio-diesel fuel plant, which would turn brush and scraps into diesel.
#Johnson noted that Western Energy Solutions/Concord Blue USA will build and operate the bio-diesel plant.
#However, Pioneer has yet to announce any firm commitment for financing of the thinning projects or the Winslow plant.
I’ve heard many times that groups think “you should never take big trees,” e.g. diameter limits But if big trees are in a clump, and you are trying to thin trees, then to get fewer trees in the clump you would have to take out big trees. I’d be interested to have a discussion with someone with this point of view and see what their side of the story is.. that is.. the “no big trees” point of view.
Here’s the link
And here’s an excerpt:
“Our forest plans require it,” he said. “But that would be a pain” if the existing guidelines don’t actually help the goshawks successfully rear more chicks. “We do have different prescriptions for the goshawk areas. In those breeding areas we know they typically have a higher (tree) density. So we have prescriptions for that. We’re trying to manage the future forest. One of the big concerns is whether we’re going to have adequate canopy cover — so we’re really managing groups of trees and also providing for those interspaces and managing for their prey.”
#But the NAU study raises questions about whether biologists yet know enough to micro-manage the forest for the benefit of any individual species.
#The goshawk and the Mexican Spotted Owl for years have fluttered about at the center of the legal and political fight about the future of the forest. The agile, crazy-orange-eyed goshawk is nearly as large as a red tailed hawk, but can maneuver deftly through the thick forest. In open areas, they tend to lose out to the red tails — which circle overhead looking for prey rather than perching on tree branches for a quick swoop to the ground.
#The now nearly defunct timber industry in Arizona made most of its money on cutting the big, old growth trees associated with those species and others like the Kaibab squirrel and the Allen’s lappet-browed bat. With most of those trees reduced to two-by-fours, the timber industry had a hard time making money on the smaller trees that remained in dangerous profusion.
#The Centers for Biological Diversity has repeatedly sued to prevent timber sales that included a large number of old growth pines greater than 16 inches in diameter at about chest height. For instance, earlier this year the Centers for Biological Diversity successfully blocked a timber sale on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon on the grounds that the 25,000-acre sale would include about 8,000 old-growth trees — even though such trees account for only about 3 percent of the trees.
#The NAU study demonstrated that biologists still don’t really understand what species like goshawks need.
#None of the sites studied very closely matched the guidelines, which call for clusters of giant, old-growth trees and nearby areas with underbrush likely to result in high populations of 14 different prey species.
#Although little true old-growth ponderosa pine forest remains in Arizona, the researchers expected to find that the more closely the conditions around the nest area resembled that prescription — the more chicks the goshawks would produce. In fact, the more closely the forest matched the prescription the fewer chicks the hawks reared.
#That doesn’t mean the goshawks don’t prefer nesting in big, old growth trees. But it does mean that they’re not as sensitive to the prey populations in the area or the nearby forest conditions as biologists had expected.
But my favorite quotes are:
The NAU research now throws into question many key assumptions built in ponderous legal strictures of existing forest plans.
#“The results raise questions about the decision to implement the goshawk guidelines on most Forest Service lands in Arizona and New Mexico,” the researchers concluded.
#However, the Forest Service remains legally bound to the detailed guidelines now cast in the legal concrete of adopted forest plans.
“Ponderous legal strictures” and “legal concrete of adopted forest plans”, indeed. The old conundrum – while some people look for certainty of protection in plans, others look for flexibility to respond to changing conditions. Can both sides ever be happy?