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
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 and below is an excerpt. I thought it was interesting how they grappled with the issue of being local..
Sounding exasperated, Harney County Judge Steve Grasty warned the mostly Grant County audience: “If we don’t get this one right, you are going to see what Burns looks like.”
He noted the loss of industry there.
“We have nothing. You couldn’t identify five jobs outside of the federal payroll that come from the Malheur National Forest,” he said.
He also protested the lack of attention to Harney County’s concerns.
“You would not have met in Harney County if I hadn’t called,” he told Raaf. “This is wrong, to make Harney County the weak sister in every conversation we have.”
He urged the Forest Service to keep the percentage of timber low in the stewardship program, noting that the counties rely on the regular timber program for what little revenue it provides, and to open up the pool of contractors qualified to bid.
Britton was concerned about the idea of a “single winner,” and also suggested giving the contract to a nonprofit which would then then split up the work among the local timber and mill operators.
Forest Service officials said that could be considered if there was broad support for the idea, but there are questions about how the scenario would play out. The bid evaluation process pegs past performance, along with community benefits, among key criteria.
Britton’s suggestion drew opposition from industry representatives.
Russ Young of Iron Triangle said a nonprofit would just add another layer of bureacracy and also take its own profits from the top to fund its own organization. There are no “non-profit nonprofits,” he said. There are always winners and losers in business, Young said, but if an industry bidder loses to a nonprofit, “we all lose.”
Shelk also objected to the nonprofit idea, and said parceling out the work to multiple companies would further dilute the sawlog volume. He said the one-winner concept will still mean a “net win” to the communities, in terms of employment.
Here’s a link and below is an excerpt.
“Not only will these contracts help us alleviate the impacts of the mountain pine beetle infestation and reduce the threats of catastrophic wildfire, but they also will offer a supply of woody biomass that will be used to produce low-cost heat and a clean, renewable source of electricity,” said Harris Sherman, under secretary of the Department of Agriculture.
Scott Fitzwilliams, supervisor of the White River National Forest, said the work will help restore the landscape as well as produce wood products for everything from lumber to wood pellets to power plant fuel.
West Range Reclamation will remove lodgepole and ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, Engleman spruce and aspen and other tree species susceptible to insect and disease infestations.
The contract is the latest for a forest management company that has completed more than 300 contracts and 70,000 acres of range and forest projects on public and private land in five western states.
“The continued stability of the 10-year project will allow West Range to provide well-paying, steady, year-round work for our current employees and the ability to hire more skilled operators,” said Pam Motley of West Range Reclamation.
“We also intend to do our part to help strengthen local economies by purchasing products and services — such as fuel, food, housing, tools, parts, supplies, rentals and repair services — from local businesses,” Motley added.
Part of the wood removed during the treatments will provide fuel for a 11.5-megawatt power plant planned for Gypsum.
Eagle Valley Clean Energy plans to build the woody biomass plant to supply electricity to Holy Cross Energy and, in turn, an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 homes in Western Colorado.
Heat generated at the power plant will support the operation of an adjacent wallboard factory.
The USDA Rural Utilities Service announced in October a $40 million loan guarantee to help finance the plant.
Eagle Valley Clean Energy estimates the plant will create 107 construction jobs and 41 permanent jobs.
Confluence Energy will remove beetle-killed trees. Where commercially practical, the wood will be used for lumber, wood pellets and other products. The company will pay for those materials to offset the cost of the removal project.
And from another article here..
“The stewardship contracts are especially exciting because it will add to Colorado’s balance of clean, renewable energy by supporting biomass energy — electricity and heat for Eagle Valley Clean Energy in Gypsum and wood pellets for clean and efficient heating at Confluence Energy in Kremmling,” Udall said in the release.
“Active management of our multiple use national forest acreage in Colorado is vital as we confront the bark beetle epidemic and grow our forest products industries,” said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., in a news release. “After a summer of devastating wildfires, there’s an even greater urgency to ensure that our forests are healthy and resilient.
Our elected officials and political appointees in the Department seem to agree this is a good thing to have jobs. to reduce the use of fossil fuels, to reduce the costs of fuel treatments, and to use natural resources in a sustainable way..any nay-sayers out there?
For those who follow the coal mine litigation (could coal be the “new timber”? ) wars, Holy Cross Energy is also the one who partnered with Aspen Ski Co to use methane that would otherwise be vented from coal mines (Elk Creek). Here’s a link with more information. Meanwhile, since at least 2007, methane has been vented while some people worked on litigation and some potential legislative fixes. You gotta applaud people who “just do it.” Props to you Holy Cross and Aspen Skico. Here’s a link and below is an excerpt.
Holy Cross’s challenge, as the power purchaser, was to arrange transmission from the mine. “The electricity had to be wheeled over medium-voltage distribution lines to a TriState [Generation and Transmission Association] substation, then across Western and Xcel Energy transmission lines,” said Hildred. “We weren’t sure in what order we needed to talk to people. DMEA [Delta Montrose Energy Association], the owner of the line that supplies power to the mine, had never dealt with anything like this before.”
All of the parties proved cooperative, so Holy Cross was able to sort out the distribution without encountering too many barriers. The utility signed the power purchase agreement and DMEA built a substation with a short extension to the 44-kV line.
Of course, no project happens without funding, and the developer was fortunate in finding an “angel” with an interest in alternative energy. Randy Udall, a sustainable energy advocate and former executive director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, happened to be at Vessels’s first meeting with Holy Cross Energy. “Afterward, Randy asked me if we were seeking partners and gave me the number of the sustainability director for Aspen Skiing Company,” Vessels recalled.
The innovative project appealed to the ski resort owner with its long history of supporting environmental causes, and the company put up the bulk of the funding to build the Elk Creek facility. “Aspen Skiing Company and Holy Cross Energy deserve accolades for seeing beyond the end of their noses,” declared Vessels.
I wonder what other issues would benefit from the “just do it” approach as opposed to years of litigation or unsuccessful federal legislation attempts?
We diverged from Mike’s original question in the post here:
It could very well be that we are seeing the end of FS employees actually implementing management plans and, instead, moving into a time where the agency puts together management plans in conjunction with public and then contracts out all implementation (we’re practically there in most cases anyhow). These wold be longer-term contracts with multiple-year objectives. The benefit in doing business this way is that if the FS is legally bound by contract, the funding to fulfill the contract is much more likely to be included within future FS budgets. Another place where this kind of thing might fit well would be in fulfilling the FS mandate to perform adequate monitoring, following project implementation (e.g. forest thinning projects). In this scenario, the FS would still need funding for enforcement of contract terms for whatever the concessionaire (or contractor) is doing, but it could still pencil out as a costs savings to the public. personally think this is a really interesting topic and would enjoy exploring this further… I’m interested in a couple of things… first, do you agree with “we’re practically there?” Second, the idea of legally binding contracts – how could we make them flexible enough to respond to changing needs and also yet solid enough to be meaningful? Other’s thoughts and comments would be appreciated.
into the world of contracting for ecosystem services.. related and worthy of its own discussion, which I hope will continue.
I am posting this to bring us back to Mike’s questions; I am thinking that stewardship contracts may be a preview of this new world, and I wonder what people with experience in stewardship contracting have to say. It seems like it could be easy to build monitoring into a stewardship contract and I assume that it has been done? Here are Mike’s later questions:
That is, whether moving further toward contracted implementation of FS management plans would allow for longer-term management plan implementation on NF, something most everyone agrees is desperately needed instead of the often piece-meal approach that happens today. Sharon raised an interesting question that pertains to whether contracting would/could allow for adaptive management (i.e How would contract terms be written to allow for adaptation but still hold the contractor and FS accountable?). This seems like a really interesting topic for discussion. Personally, I’m just not sure, but would be really interested in hearing of examples where this has been tried before, especially pertaining to National Forest management. As I think about this, though, one example may be found in the recently let 4-FRI contract in the southwest, which is a multiple-year contract to thin tens of thousands of acres of P-pine forest in just the first phase of the project. It seems like there would have to be clauses that account for adaptive management in the there. I’ll check and see.
My other thought on this topic pertained to post-project monitoring required by law on NFs. Here, I think most people agree that the FS has a dismal track record when it comes to longer-term monitoring, and the reason often cited for this is that long-term monitoring requires consistent federal funding, long after a project is completed, and the reality is that the money often just doesn’t come through. I may be wrong here, but my sense is that if post-project monitoring funding was legally obligated through a multi-year contracts tied directly to on-the-ground projects, this could be an effective way of ensuring the motoring actually happens, which would then inform the adaptive management. I’m sure my take is overly simplistic and I welcome other responses. I would guess this has been done already at least on an ad hoc basis, but would like learn more about where and what kind of things resulted. What am I missing?
I tried my hand at some “digital thinning”, with a picture of the Stanislaus National Forest, above the Mokelumne River. I couldn’t really remove as many of the bigger trees as I should, without sacrificing photorealism. I did “enhance” some of the oaks, which is a keystone of the new paradigm of ecosystem wildlife values. I am sure there are some home habitats of ESA birds, here. There would also be some pockets of undisturbed forest, and maybe some bigger openings around the oaks.
Below is the original picture
I think we can all say that there is, indeed, some excess trees to thin out, in this stand.
One of my colleagues (not FS) asked the question “what are the pros and cons of stewardship contracting in your opinion?” My story has been it’s a good idea but you need trees to have positive economic value, so we have problems with that in large parts of the interior West.
We are interested in your stories… seems like members of our community share a variety of (thankfully, non-partisan!) perspectives and have on-the-ground experience. What’s been your experience? Are there things you would like to change about the program?
Thanks in advance for your ideas.
In looking over a Record of Decision, I found some new and old stuff, regarding NEPA alternatives.
The first one is being called “The Environmentally Preferable Alternative”, which seeks to dispel the calls to remove discretion from Forest Service bigwigs.
“NEPA implementing regulations require agencies to specify “the alternative or alternatives which were considered to be environmentally preferable” [40 CFR 1502.2(b)]. Forest Service policy further defines the environmentally preferable alternative as “…an alternative that best meets the goals of Section 101 of NEPA…” (FSH 1909.15). Section 101 of NEPA describes national environmental policy, calling on Federal, state, and local governments and the public to “…create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony.” Section 101 further defines this policy in six broad goals:
• Fulfill the responsibilities of each generation as trustee of the environment for succeeding generations
• Assure for all Americans safe, healthful, productive, and esthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings
• Attain the widest range of beneficial uses of the environment without degradation, risk to health or safety, or other undesirable and unintended consequences
• Preserve important historic, cultural, and natural aspects of our national heritage, and maintain wherever possible, an environment which supports diversity and variety of individual choiceRecord of Decision for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest Travel Management Plan FEIS Record of Decision 13
• Achieve a balance between population and resource use which will permit high standards of living and a wide sharing of life’s amenities
• Enhance the quality of renewable resources and approach the maximum attainable recycling of depletable resources
Based on the description of the alternatives considered in detail in the FEIS and this record of decision, I believe that the selected alternative best meets the goals of Section 101 of the National Environmental Policy Act and is therefore the environmentally preferable alternative for this proposed Federal action.”
This appears to be the justification for his decision that this is the best alternative for the land, overall, balancing the impacts with the benefits. I’m wondering if the Federal lawyers have had input on such statements, and if the Forest Service folks have had training in how to make their statements as legally-supportable, as possible. I know that my experience in contract documents had me choosing my wording very carefully. Overall, I welcome the transparency and the willingness of Forest Supervisors to do their jobs, (and I hope they do it well).
“The no action alternative serves as the baseline used to compare the effects of the proposed action and alternatives. No new management activities are proposed. Current biological and physical processes would be allowed to continue on their present trajectories along with associated risks and benefits. None of the management activities described in the proposed action or the other action alternatives would be implemented to accomplish project goals. Commercial thinning, fuels treatments for activity and natural fuels, and prescription burning would not be authorized. There would be no temporary road construction or treatment of fuels in riparian habitat conservation areas. Hardwood restoration and road decommissioning activities would not be authorized. There would be no amendment to the forest plan to allow specific treatments needed to increase stand health and resilience in the planning area. For the no action alternative, current management plans would continue to guide management of the project area. Other approved projects would continue in the project area. In addition, other public uses, such as recreation, hunting, and firewood gathering would continue as permitted.”
This is a VERY tiny paragraph explaining what happens if nothing is done at all. The social and economic losses need to be studied and presented, as well as a projection of the next 30 years for the probable outcomes. Judges, and the public, needs to know what ALL is at stake, including the full ecological costs of doing nothing, within the framework of today’s realities.
The Sequoia suffers from many blockades to sensible forest management and protection. With the only mill within more than 100 miles away, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, and being hamstrung by unreasonable diameters limits for harvestable timber, as well as having the Giant Sequoia National Monument to manage, they face a very long uphill battle to update their 24 year old Forest Plan.
Also opposing them is the Sierra Club, who continue to portray the Forest Service as loggers of ancient Giant Sequoias. They wish that all 300,000+ acres of the Giant Sequoia National Monument be free of all logging projects, despite there being only about 10,000 acres of already protected Giant Sequoia groves within the Monument. The McNally Fire nearly killed the world’s second largest tree, when it was allowed to burn for weeks. The Sierra Club is quite happy to let their followers think that the Forest Service will cut the sequoias down, and that clearcuts and the cutting of big trees will happen. The Sierra Club wants the Monument to be “un-managed”, just like the adjacent Sequoia National Park. They also don’t realize that the Park Service doesn’t follow the same rules on prescribed fires that the Forest Service does. You cannot solely use prescribed fires to manage the fuels build-ups of 80 years, on hundreds of thousands of acres. Besides, the California Board of Air Resources don’t have enough burn days, when prescribed fires would be “in prescription”. The Park Service is well known for losing their management fires, which can be set during high temperatures and dry conditions.
This may be one of the most contentious new Forest Plans under the new Planning Rule. I wonder how much it will change when the only lumber mill in southern California goes bankrupt.
This is an example of a “protected” nesting site for a northern spotted owl. It was never logged and will not be habitat for many decades, especially if a reburn occurs. It sure doesn’t look “natural and beneficial”, to me, OR the owls and goshawks.
Here are the kind of snags (the large orange-marked one) that were selected to be “saved”, within Biscuit cutting units. Of course, only 4% of the 500,000 acres of the Biscuit were salvaged, so there certainly is no lack of snags in the huge burn.
Here is a cutting unit where mortality was close to 100%, in unlogged old growth. Instead of thinning a green stand, we ended up “thinning” snags.
Here is some erosion, in a small gully. I wonder what the “cumulative impacts” of hundreds of similar gullies have upon salmon populations, and other aquatic organisms. Surely, some of these gullies experienced accelerated erosion in the 5+ years since I took this picture.