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Media ignores real story with Rehberg’s EAJA crusade

Posted by Matthew Koehler on June 27, 2011

I just got done reading the Missoulian’s article “Environmental Lawsuits: Bill would limit payouts when government loses cases.”

Basically, in the article, the Missoulian helps Rep Denny Rehberg make the supposed case that the Equal Access to Justice Act needs to be reformed because us whacky environmentalists sometimes get some attorney fees covered when we successfully sue the federal government and the government loses.

As the Missoulian wrote, “The Equal Access to Justice Act says any government agency that loses a lawsuit to a private individual, group or business must pay the legal costs of the winner. The money comes out of each agency’s budget, rather than a central fund.”

“[EAJA’s] morphed into something entirely different that wasn’t intended. It’s become a cottage industry for lawsuits, especially in the environmental arena,” explained Rep Rehberg in the article.

Yet, buried in the story (and certainly not reflected in the Missoulian’s headline) is the fact that “just 1 percent of Equal Access cases made awards for environmental lawsuits, and those were split between conservation and industry groups.

“The real question is why does the government keep losing? Instead of getting rid of (EAJA), Congressman Rehberg should provide oversight of federal agencies to find out why they have such a hard time following the law” explained Michael Garrity of the Helena-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

So, just what type of cases make up the bulk of actual Equal Access to Justice Act cases? Well, the Missoulian really never tells us this, because apparently they want to keep the focus on the 1% of EAJA cases involving environmental groups.

However, the article does point out, “Other applicants for Equal Access to Justice money include businesses challenging federal agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and military veterans fighting the Veterans Administration or Department of Defense.”

And anyone with access to Google can find out just how important the Equal Access to Justice Act really is, not only to small businesses and military veterans, but also to Social Security claimants, especially the poor, disabled and disadvantaged.

From Disabled World:

Social Security Disability claimants may have to prepare themselves for another potentially crippling blow, and law firms that represent these claimants, such as Disability Group Inc., may suffer the same fate….The EAJA allows people to apply for awards of attorney fees and other expenses associated with pursuing litigation against the government. EAJA applicants who win their cases against the government and who are eligible may receive their payments after the case closes. This is a vitally important piece of legislation that helps guarantee that citizens of any socio-economic stratum can address legitimate grievances against the government….Any prohibition of EAJA fee award payments will undoubtedly make it difficult, if not impossible, for many Social Security claimants, as well as veterans, to find lawyers to represent them in federal court. This possibility weighs heavily on local and national Social Security Disability law firms across the country. “In my opinion,” writes attorney Douglas Brigandi of Bayside, New York, “it would be a travesty to allow this legislature to go forward and thereby deprive those individuals, who depend on the Social Security Act, the right to obtain these much needed entitlements.”

Perhaps the Missoulian can do another article on this aspect of the EAJA, especially since these cases constitute the vast, vast majority of EAJA cases and one would assume there would be plenty of veterans or small business owners or Social Security claimants in Montana who have benefited from EAJA.

It’s a shame that this EAJA debate with Rep Rehberg and Rep Lummis (R-WY) has been boiled down to the 1% of EAJA cases that are environmental in nature, while Rep Rehberg and Lummis apparently ignore what EAJA does to help level the playing field when the poor and disabled or military veterans and small businesses must hold the federal government accountable through court action.

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Happy 40th Anniversary Bolle Report!

Posted by Matthew Koehler on November 18, 2010

Today, November 18th, marks the 40th anniversary of the Bolle Report being entered into the Congressional Record?

Some of you might be saying, “The Bolle What?” – and I guess you might not be alone. So here’s a quick summary.

Following World War II, the housing and building boom dramatically increased demand for timber. Up until that time, the US Forest Service (USFS) was largely what historians have come to call a “custodial” agency. Sure, between the USFS’s founding in 1905 until the mid-1940s, the agency was cutting some trees and building some roads in America’s National Forests. However, the USFS didn’t fully get into the business of road building and timber production until the post-WWII era.

And boy did they ever get into it! For example, the USFS would become the largest road building agency in the world, bulldozing and jamming more than 440,000 miles of roads onto our National Forests. In the pre-1970s era, with no real environmental laws or regulations, roads were often built right through streams or riparian areas, or built one of top of another right up the sides of mountains.

The decades of the 50s and 60s also saw the USFS greatly ramp up it’s logging levels. In order to keep up with demand (and respond to Congressional pressure) the USFS increasingly looked to large-scale clearcutting to “get the cut out.”

The Bitterroot National Forest took this one step further: clearcuts followed by building terraces on entire hillsides. Forest Service policy expert, Dr. Martin Nie of the University of Montana, has this account:

“Responding to increased demand, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) began to more aggressively harvest timber after World War Two. This national change in management philosophy, from so-called custodian to timber production agency, was very apparent on the Bitterroot National Forest (BNF)…. Here, the USFS used clearcutting and terracing silvicultural techniques to meet its timber production goals. Several citizens of the Bitterroot Valley, however, disliked this degree of intensive forest management and charged that it was environmentally and aesthetically harmful. Among other complaints, citizens objected to the practice or intensity of clearcutting and/or terracing, stream siltation and watershed impacts, excessive road building, the level of timber harvesting, real estate effects, and the inadequate attention given to other multiple uses.”

One of those citizens was longtime Bitterroot Valley resident Guy M. Brandborg, who just happened to be the Supervisor of the Bitterroot National Forest from 1935 to 1955. Historian Frederick H. Swanson, who is currently putting the finishing touches on a book about Brandborg, last year published an excellent essay titled A Radical in the Ranks: G.M. Brandborg and the Bitterroot National Forest.

“[Brandborg] wrote mountains of correspondence to politicians, reporters, agency heads, and fellow activists, urging them to return the Forest Service to the principles he had followed while supervisor. Brandborg accompanied reporters such as Gladwin Hill of the New York Times, James Risser of the Des Moines Register, and James Nathan Miller of the Reader’s Digest on a circuit of Bitterroot clearcuts, contrasting the agency’s high-impact approach with the much more limited selective cutting he had once employed…. Brandy’s flannel-shirt-and-suspenders appearance did not hurt his credibility with reporters. As a professed “sourdough forester,” he lacked the scientific training of most contemporary Forest Service timber staffers, yet he drew on years of field experience to inform his views. He could be abrasive toward those he disagreed with, using his newspaper commentaries to castigate politicians, bureaucrats, and industry leaders whom he believed were selling out the public’s forests. Yet he acutely understood how to bring pressure on those in power, and beginning in 1968 he organized a calculated and persistent campaign that resulted in significant changes in forestry practices throughout the Forest Service.”

Dr. Nie picks up the story:

“Montana Senator Lee Metcalf, from the Bitterroot Valley himself, responded to widespread constituent complaints about forest management, especially about clearcutting and the dominant role of timber production in USFS policy, by requesting an independent study of the problem by Dean Arnold Bolle of the University of Montana’s School of Forestry. Bolle appointed a select group of faculty members from the University of Montana to investigate, and this group went further in its critique of forest management on the Bitterroot and beyond.

The Committee began its report with the startling statement that “[m]ultiple use management, in fact, does not exist as the governing principle on the Bitterroot National Forest.” It viewed the controversy as substantial and legitimate, with local and national implications. The Committee’s approach was to contrast the actions of the USFS with the written policies and laws governing forest management. From there, the “Bolle Report,” as it became known, criticized the Bitterroot’s “overriding concern for sawtimber production” from an environmental, economic, organizational, and democratic standpoint. Other multiple uses and resource values were not given enough serious consideration according to the Report: “In a federal agency which measures success primarily by the quantity of timber produced weekly, monthly and annually, the staff of the [BNF] finds itself unable to change its course, to give anything but token recognition to related values, or to involve most of the local public in any way but as antagonists.” The subculture of forestry, it seemed to the Committee, was out of step with shifting American values and goals. Though professional dogma was partly to blame, the Bolle Report also found that “[t]he heavy timber orientation is built in by legislative action and control, by executive direction and by budgetary restriction.” The Report also focused on the economic irrationality of clearcutting and terracing on the Bitterroot, and the serious lack of democratic participation in forest management.

Together with a parallel case on the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia, the Bitterroot controversy helps explain the significant changes that were made to U.S. forest policy in the 1970s, including new guidelines on clearcutting in the National Forests, and passage of the National Forest Management Act in 1976. Though its significance continues to be debated, the latter at least partly addressed some of the issues in the Bitterroot conflict, like by placing limits on clearcutting, and giving the public a more meaningful role to play in forest management and planning.”

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New Report Questions Key Aspects of “Forest Jobs and Recreation Act”

Posted by Matthew Koehler on September 22, 2010

A new report from one of the nation’s leading National Forest policy experts – Dr. Martin Nie of the University of Montana’s Bolle Center for People & Forests – provides an in-depth look at some of the key policy issues and concerns associated with so-called “Place-Based Legislation” in general, and Senator Tester’s “Forest Jobs and Recreation Act,” specifically. The report and research was requested by the Rocky Mountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service.

Here’s a snip from the report’s conclusion (emphasis added):

…[T]here are significant problems to the place-based legislative approach to national forest management. To begin with, the historical record of place-based forest law does not lend confidence to the approach in principle. By most accounts, cases like the Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Act have engendered more conflict and problems than the legislation has resolved. This is mostly because these site-specific laws must somehow be paid for and then reconciled with the cumulative body of environmental laws that govern the national forests.

These problems are not insurmountable, but Congress and the USFS should oppose forest-specific legislation until a number of more fundamental and systematic concerns are addressed. Most important are the questions of how these laws would fit into the preexisting statutory/planning framework and how they would be financed.

If replicated more broadly, place-based legislation would disunify the National Forest System and create a number of problematic precedents. Chief among these are legislated timber treatment mandates that would set the stage for future Congressional abuse. If enacted into law, these mandates would also have the unintended consequence of jeopardizing fragile agreements and negotiations going on elsewhere; as some timber interests would certainly use this precedent as new leverage in their bargaining positions. As one Congressional Staffer involved in a place-based negotiation says, if Senator Tester’s timber supply mandate gets through the gate, then he expects a similar sort of demand being made by the timber interests at his table.

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FS Retiree on Tester Bill: Gutting the Forest Service is not the Solution

Posted by Matthew Koehler on February 12, 2010

Note: The following perspective is from Bill Worf.  Mr. Worf was born in 1926 on a homestead in Eastern Montana and grew up on a ranch through the Great Depression. When World War II came along, Worf left high school to join the Marines. He fought in the battle of Iwo Jima.

Worf joined the Forest Service in 1950 and spent 12 years in Utah on the Uinta, Ashley and Fishlake National Forests. Worf then became the Supervisor of the Bridger National Forest in Wyoming. When the Wilderness Act passed in 1964, Worf was sent to the Forest Service National Office to head the development of Regulations and Policy for implementation of the Wilderness Act. In 1969, he was assigned to the Regional Office in Missoula as Director for Wilderness, Recreation and Lands, a position he retired from in 1981. He lives in Missoula. Click here for a short video featuring Worf.

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Gutting the Forest Service is not the Solution
By Bill Worf

I am a Montana native who graduated with a degree in Forestry from the University of Montana in 1950, when I started a career in the U.S. Forest Service. When the Wilderness Act passed in 1964, I was serving as Supervisor of the Bridger National Forest in Wyoming.

Forest Service Chief Ed Cliff and Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman immediately tapped me to serve in the National Office to oversee implementation of the Wilderness Act. I moved from Wyoming to Washington DC to administer the National Wilderness Preservation System established by the Act. I served in that position until 1969, when I was appointed Deputy Regional Forester for Wilderness, Recreation and Lands in Missoula, Mt.

Although I retired in 1983, I have remained involved in National Forest issues. In this capacity, I have strong feelings about the Jobs and Recreation Bill (S 1470) introduced by Senator John Tester. I share the Senator’s concern about growing fire and insect problems in our National Forests. The Senator’s heart may be in the right place, but his proposed solution would result in severe long-term damage to the Forest Service as an institution.

The Forest Service is one of the most respected agencies in government. It contains the finest collection of natural resource professionals in the world. I spent my professional career as a proud member.

With his logging bill, Tester is saying he knows more about how forests ought to be managed than professionals who work for the Forest Service. Tester is telling us what to do and how to do it, even though what Tester wants may violate federal laws. If Tester gets away with dictating forest management in Montana, every Senator and every Representative in Congress will try to do the same. Instead of being managed by one professional agency that considers all the views of public stakeholders from throughout the country, our National Forests would be managed by local interests primarily geared towards resource extraction.

By effectively dissolving the Forest Service, Tester would create 535 fiefdoms, all with different management mandates dictated by different members of Congress. This would take away Americans’ rights concerning our public lands.

What Tester may not know is that the National Forest System was established in 1897 by Congress. Congress also established the Forest Service to administer these National Forests for the benefit of all Americans of present and future generations. Subsequent laws provided additional guidance, including the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act of 1960, the National Forest and Range Land Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974, and the National Forest Management Act of 1976. Congress passed these laws to ensure our National Forests are administered in a planned and sustainable way – in perpetuity.

Because Tester is a Hi-Line farmer, I figured he may not know much about Forest Service history. So, I attended an open house on Monday, October 26, 2009, concerning his logging bill. I shared with the senator that heavy corporate and political pressure had caused the violation of the 1960 Act mandating “Sustained Yield”. This unwise overcutting of our National Forests resulted in the closure of mills in Montana and elsewhere.

I followed up my conversation with Tester by sending him a detailed letter on Thursday, November 12, 2009. I included a 20-page comprehensive analysis of Forest Service reports which clearly shows the failure to maintain a “Sustained Yield” throughout the National Forest System.

I strongly disagree with Tester that the answer to overcutting in the past is to overcut in the future. Congressionally mandating logging quotas and legislatively dictating management would convert our National Forest into “Private-Local Forests.” This is directly contrary to 113 years of precedence. When Congress passed the Organic Act in 1897, lawmakers were assured that National Forests would remain open to the public and not restricted to private companies or privileged groups.

The Tester bill effectively says that a handful of local extractive interests have greater knowledge than the professionals of our Forest Service. This dangerous precedent would be viewed with glee by special interest groups of all kinds! For that reason, I must oppose the Tester bill.

Bill Worf served with the Forest Service for 33 years. Worf reports he has not yet received any reply to the detailed analysis he sent Tester on November 12, 2009.

Posted in Forests, logging, timber industry, Wilderness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

New Report Debunks Myth of “Catastrophic Wildfire”

Posted by Matthew Koehler on February 3, 2010

There is no such thing as “catastrophic wildfire” in our forests, ecologically speaking. That is the central conclusion of a report released this week by the John Muir Project (JMP), a non-profit forest research and conservation organization.

The report, “The Myth of Catastrophic Wildfire: A New Ecological Paradigm of Forest Health“, is a comprehensive synthesis of the scientific evidence regarding wildland fire and its relationship to biodiversity and climate change in western U.S. forests. It stands many previously held assumptions on their heads, including the assumptions that forest fires burn mostly at high intensity (where most trees are killed), and that fires are getting more intense, as well as the assumption that high-intensity fire areas are ecologically damaged or harmed. The report finds that the scientific evidence contradicts these popular notions.

“We do not need to be afraid of the effects of wildland fire in our forests. Fire is doing important and beneficial ecological work,” said the report’s author, Dr. Chad Hanson, a forest and fire ecologist who is the Director of the John Muir Project, as well as a researcher at the University of California at Davis. “It may seem counterintuitive, but the scientific evidence is telling us that some of the very best and richest wildlife habitat in western U.S. forests occurs where fire kills most or all of the trees. These areas are relatively rare on the landscape, and the many wildlife species that depend upon the habitat created by high-intensity fire are threatened by fire suppression and post-fire logging.”

The report notes that hundreds of millions of dollars are being needlessly spent each year suppressing fires in remote forests and implementing widespread “forest thinning” logging projects. This puts firefighters at unnecessary risk in remote wild areas, puts homes at greater risk by diverting scarce resources away from efforts to create defensible space around structures, and further threatens the many rare and imperiled wildlife species that depend upon post-fire habitat.

Specifically, the report finds:

• There is far less fire now in western U.S. forests than there was historically.

• Current fires are burning mostly at low intensities, and fires are not getting more intense, contrary to many assumptions about the effects of climate change. Forested areas in which fire has been excluded for decades by fire suppression are also not burning more intensely.

• Contrary to popular assumptions, high-intensity fire (commonly mislabeled as “catastrophic wildfire”) is a natural and necessary part of western U.S. forest ecosystems, and there is less high-intensity fire now than there was historically, due to fire suppression.

• Patches of high-intensity fire (where most or all trees are killed) support among the highest levels of wildlife diversity of any forest type in the western U.S., and many wildlife species depend upon such habitat. Post-fire logging and ongoing fire suppression policies are threatening these species.

• Conifer forests naturally regenerate vigorously after high-intensity fire.

• Our forests are functioning as carbon sinks (net sequestration) where logging has been reduced or halted, and wildland fire helps maintain high productivity and carbon storage.

• Even large, intense fires consume less than 3% of the biomass in live trees, and carbon emissions from forest fires is only tiny fraction of the amount resulting from fossil fuel consumption (even these emissions are balanced by carbon uptake from forest growth and regeneration).

• “Thinning” operations for lumber or biofuels do not increase carbon storage but, rather, reduce it, and thinning designed to curb fires further threatens imperiled wildlife species that depend upon post-fire habitat.

• The only effective way to protect homes from wildland fire is to use non-combustible roofing and other materials, and reduce brush within 100-200 feet of structures.

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Keeping It Wild! In Defense of America’s Public Wildlands

Posted by Matthew Koehler on December 16, 2009

United by our common understanding that Montana’s wild country is its greatest treasure;
And, that once degraded or impaired, this wild country can never be restored or replaced;
And, cognizant of Thoreau’s belief that “In wildness is the preservation of the world;”
And, schooled by Aldo Leopold who long ago warned that wilderness can only shrink and not grow;
And, keenly aware of the definition of wilderness in the Wilderness Act of 1964 as being “untrammeled by man,” where “man himself is a visitor who does not remain;”
And, fully recognizing that the Northern Rockies ecosystem is the only functioning ecosystem in the lower 48 states where all native species still reside;
And, being of one mind in our desire and determination to protect and preserve what remains of our public wildlands to the greatest extent possible;
We hereby state our intention to work together to achieve the most inclusive and comprehensive protection under the law for all remaining publicly-owned de facto wilderness in Montana.
In full affirmation of the above and, after having been unsuccessful in our earnest efforts to improve Sen. Tester’s so-called “Forest Jobs and Recreation Act,” or “S. 1470,” we must now unanimously oppose this bill.
The bases for our opposition are exhaustively catalogued in separate analyses and papers, but we submit this foundational document to concisely articulate our chief objections. They are as follows:

1. The Tester bill specifically eliminates from mandated protection large portions of the late Senator Lee Metcalf’s wildlands legacy, Congressionally designated as Wilderness Study Areas in 1977 by his farsighted bill, S. 393. By eliminating this protection, the Tester bill opens these priceless public wildlands for road building, logging, and other development.

2. The Tester bill undermines the overwhelmingly popular Clinton Roadless Rule and Obama Roadless Initiative. Over one million acres of federally-inventoried roadless wildlands protected under the Roadless Rule and the Roadless Initiative would be classified as “Timber Suitable or Open to Harvest.”

3. The Tester Bill surrenders decisions about our national forests to a handful of local bureaucrats and extraction-oriented corporations, thereby promoting fragmentation of America’s national public lands legacy into locally controlled fiefdoms.

4. The Tester bill undermines the National Environmental Policy Act by imposing unrealistic and arbitrary requirements that preclude the Forest Service from accurately assessing environmental impacts of road building, logging, habitat loss, water degradation, weed infestation, and other costs of developing public wildlands.

5. The Tester bill mandates unsustainable logging quotas regardless of environmental costs, thereby jeopardizing safeguards provided public lands by the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, National Forest Management Act, Wilderness Act, and Federal Land Policy and Management Act.

6. In its effort to isolate decisions to log wildlands from national attention, the Tester bill disenfranchises public lands stakeholders, by overriding legitimate science-based forest planning that involves full public information and participation. It deprives the public of our rights to be included in irreversible decisions concerning our own land.

7. The Tester bill mandates cutting at least 100,000 acres over 10 years. It dictates at least 7,000 acres be logged per year for 10 years in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. In recent years, the Forest Service has set its sustainable cut level for the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest at 500 acres per year. In past years, when the Forest Service was dedicated to “getting the cut out,” an average of 3,213 acres per year was logged, from 1954 to 1996, in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. On the Three Rivers Ranger District of the Kootenai National Forest, Tester’s bill mandates logging of 3,000 acres per year for 10 years in fragile Yaak grizzly bear habitat, already severely damaged by decades of overcutting. While logging at least 100,000 acres would be compulsory, the Tester bill contains no accompanying mandates for restoration, leaving all post-logging reclamation and forest restoration optional.

8. The Tester bill fails to address at least $100 million in costs to U.S. taxpayers that would be incurred by the Forest Service for subsidizing “below-cost” timber sales and power plants for the few specially-privileged timber corporations involved. The bill interferes with free enterprise by mandating that five favored private mills be subsidized with perpetual supplies of national forest trees, at huge economic costs to taxpayers. The bill ignores the financial realities that the United States currently face: Economic crises and a lumber “depression,” with new home construction down 70 percent and demands for lumber down 55 percent.

9. By forcing unsustainable industrial-scale logging upon our public lands, the Tester bill would irrevocably harm essential habitat of species that characterize the wild nature of the northern Rockies, such as the gray wolf, bull trout, cutthroat trout (Montana’s official state fish), otter, mountain goat, mountain sheep, elk, arctic grayling, northern goshawk, boreal owl, pileated woodpecker, ferruginous hawk, Montana vole, sage thrasher, wild bison, peregrine falcon, bald eagle, pine marten, fisher, lynx, wolverine, and grizzly bear (Montana’s official state animal).

10. The “wilderness” areas in the Tester bill are fragmented and unconnected islands of largely “rocks and ice,” with limited biological integrity and no potential for sustaining biodiversity. The minimal “wilderness” designated in the bill fails to protect different elevation habitats and their dependent species with core areas, buffer zones, and connecting biological corridors. The bill promotes numerous abuses that are clearly in violation of the 1964 Wilderness Act, including motorized access into and through “wilderness,” military aircraft landings in “wilderness,” possible “wilderness” logging, and other intrusions that violate the principles of Wilderness.

Due to these severe deficiencies, we intend to see that the Tester bill is not endorsed by Congress. Instead, we will constructively stand for a scientifically-sound, ecologically-based Wilderness Bill that preserves the greatest amount of our priceless and rapidly-vanishing public roadless wildlands in Montana.

We, the following, are conservation organizations and citizens dedicated to wildlands protection, Wilderness preservation, and the sound long-term management of our federal public lands legacy. Our coalition includes small-business owners, scientists, educators and teachers, health care practitioners, hikers and backpackers, hunters and anglers, wildlife viewers, outfitters and guides, veterans, retired Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management officials, ranchers and farmers, craftspersons, and community leaders – all stakeholders committed to America’s public wildlands legacy.

Note: Individual citizens can sign onto this, by clicking here. For more information visit: http://testerloggingbilltruths.wordpress.com.

Alliance for the Wild Rockies (MT)
Big Wild Advocates (MT)
Buffalo Field Campaign (MT)
Conservation Congress (MT)
Deerlodge Forest Defense Fund (MT)
Friends of the Bitterroot (MT)
Friends of the Rattlesnake (MT)
Friends of the Wild Swan (MT)
Swan View Coalition (MT)
Western Montana Mycological Association (MT)
Western Watersheds Project (MT)
Wilderness Watch (MT)
WildWest Institute (MT)
Allegheny Defense Project (PA)
Bark (OR)
Big Wildlife (OR)
Biodiversity Conservation Alliance (WY)
Buckeye Forest Council (OH)
Caney Fork Headwaters Association (TN)
Cascadia Wildlands (OR)
Center for Biological Diversity (AZ)
Center for Sustainable Living (IN)
Citizens for Better Forestry (CA)
Clearwater Biodiversity Project (ID)
Cumberland Countians for Peace & Justice (TN)
Dogwood Alliance (NC)
EcoLaw Massachusetts (MA)
Ecosystem Advocates (OR)
Environmental Action Committee of West Marin (CA)
Green Press Initiative (MI)
Friends of Bell Smith Springs (IL)
Friends of the Breitenbush Cascades (OR)
Friends of the Clearwater (ID)
Heartwood (IN)
Hells Canyon Preservation Council (OR)
John Muir Project (CA)
Kentucky Heartwood (CA)
League of Wilderness Defenders (OR)
Native Forest Council (OR)
Network for Environmental & Economic Responsibility, United Church of Christ (TN)
Protect Arkansas Wilderness! (AR)
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) (DC)
RESTORE the North Woods (ME)
Save America’s Forests (DC)
Selkirk Conservation Alliance (WA)
Umpqua Watersheds (OR)
Utah Environmental Congress (UT)
Western Lands Project (WA)
WildEarth Guardians (NM)
WildSouth (NC)

Posted in Forests, logging, timber industry, Wilderness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Dr. Power: Two Views of the Tester Forest Jobs and Recreation Bill

Posted by Matthew Koehler on December 8, 2009

Note: The following commentary from economist Dr. Thomas Michael Power was presented on Montana Public Radio December 7, 2009. – MK

Two Views of the Tester Forest Jobs and Recreation Bill

By Thomas Michael Power

(Dr. Thomas Michael Power is the former Chair of the Economics Department at the University of Montana, where he currently serves as a Research Professor)

The controversy over Senator Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Bill is likely to get some national attention in a week or so as the bill receives its first hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests in the our nation’s capitol. That bill has been called both Tester’s “logging bill” as well as Tester’s “wilderness bill.” Critics point out that the title of the bill mentions “forest jobs” but does not mention “wilderness” at all, leaving some suspicion as to what the main purpose of the bill is.

Wilderness advocates who support the bill point out that the bill would add 670,000 acres of wilderness and another 225,000 acres of National Recreation Areas where timber harvest will be prohibited. That’s approaching a million acres of protected land, clearly an admirable goal.

The critics, also wilderness advocates, shake their heads in dismay because at the same time that bill appears to open so much roadless wild land to potential logging. Consider the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, Montana’s largest National Forest. It contains 3.3 million acres of land, mostly undeveloped, high lodgepole pine forest. Forest managers there have classified less than ten percent of that land as suitable for commercial timber management. Yet, Tester’s bill would classify 1.9 million acres of land as “suitable for timber production” where “timber harvest is allowed.” The 500,000 acres of new wilderness that Tester’s bill would create in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest somewhat shrinks in significance compared to the area four times as large that appears to be declared open for timber harvest. That is especially shocking since the area now declared open to logging is over eight times larger than what had previously been deemed suitable for timber harvest.

This may just be the result of bad horse trading and a conscious gamble on the part of the collaborative that originally negotiated this proposal. The fact is that the vast majority of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest is likely to remain unroaded and unlogged indefinitely into the future, primarily protected by economics. It is far too costly to go after most of the standing inventory of trees there and those trees have little commercial value, at least for now.

Tester’s bill actually attempts to steer the logging that the bill mandates away from the backcountry and limit it to the already human dominated edges of the forest. The bill orders the Forest Service, when choosing the lands where the timber harvest is to take place, to give “priority” to lands that already have high densities of roads, have already been relatively heavily logged, and contain forests that are at high risk for insect epidemics or high-severity wildfires.

The actual meaning of these limits, however, may hinge on whether all of these criteria have to apply or whether only one of them need apply. That last criteria is loose enough that it by itself could open the entire Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest to timber harvest since lodgepole pine forests naturally tend to experience large stand-replacing fires.

The level of timber harvest that would be annually mandated on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest under Tester’s bill can also be read in either comforting or alarming terms. The bill requires 7,000 acres a year to be harvested. To supporters of the bill, this is a tiny acreage of harvest, a tiny fraction of one percent of the huge 3.3 million acre forest.

To critics, although 7,000 acres appears trivially small compared to the total size of the forest, it is not so small compared to the part of the forest deemed suitable for commercial timber harvest, 300,000 acres, of which the 7,000 acres are 2.3 percent. That level of harvest would be sustainable only if new trees grew to commercial size in about 40 years, an unlikely event in a high, cold, lodgepole pine forest in Montana.

To critics, this is simply an unsustainable level of harvest. Looking back over 40 years of timber harvest on that forest, 7,000 acres of timber harvest was reached only once, in 1971, in the heyday of aggressive Forest Service harvests across the nation. That level of harvest was once again approached in the last peak harvest year on Forest Service lands in the late 1980s when 6,000 acres were harvested. Between 1967 and 1989, when the Forest Service was still largely unhindered by environmental concerns and harvested record numbers of trees, the average acreage harvested on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest was about 4,000 acres. The Tester bill would seek to force a harvest level two-thirds higher than that previous unfettered average harvest level.

Supporters of Tester’s bill insist that the intent is not to open up most of the forest to timber harvest but quite the opposite: to support modest timber harvests where they would do the most good and the least harm. If that is the case, the language of the bill should be tightened up to accomplish exactly that by limiting the areas open to potential timber harvests to a much smaller portion of the forest and by making clear that the “priority” areas for timber harvest are in fact those areas that have already been roaded and open to logging and where the timber harvests can help protect human habitation. Finally, the level of mandated timber harvest should be set based on what foresters indicate is a sustainable level of harvest given the characteristics of that forest.

Such a tightening up of the language and numbers in the Tester bill should be acceptable to the wilderness advocates who support this bill since it would simply assure that the bill does what they say it is intended to do. If timber interests howl in protest over such clarification that should give the rest of us pause as to exactly what the Tester bill is really all about.

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By the Numbers: Tester’s Mandated Logging vs. Historical Logging

Posted by Matthew Koehler on December 8, 2009

What follows is some information compiled from US Forest Service records regarding historical logging on the Beaverhead and Deerlodge National Forests.

The info will clearly demonstrate how Sen. Tester’s S.1470, which would Congressionally mandate a minimum of 7,000 acres of logging per year for ten years on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, would compare with historical logging on these same forests.

All of the following information was obtained directly from the US Forest Service.

From 1959-1996 the Beaverhead NF averaged 1621 acres of logging per year. The greatest acreage logged on the Beaverhead NF in that time period was 4168 acres in 1987. The Reagan years average on the Beaverhead NF was 2697 acres of logging per year.

From 1954-1996 the Deerlodge NF averaged 1592 acres of logging per year. The greatest acreage logged on the Deerlodge NF in that time period was 4332 acres in 1971. The Reagan years average on the Deerlodge NF was 1916 acres of logging per year.

The average acres logged per year for the Beaverhead and Deerlodge forests combined from 1954-1996 was 3213 acres/year. The average acres logged per year on these same forests during the Reagan years was 4,613 acres/year.

The most acreage ever logged in a single year since 1954 on both forests combined was in 1971, when 7013 acres were logged. The next highest total was in 1966 at 5813 acres. These years were also prior to our nation having environmental laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act.

Remember, Sen Tester’s bill would Congressionally mandate a minimum of 7,000 acres of logging per year for ten years on the BHDL NF. That amount of logging per year is not only more than double the historical average on these forests, but it’s the most amount of logging ever, except for one single year.

There is near universal agreement between the timber industry, Forest Service, conservationists, economists, scientists and the general public that the logging levels on National Forests during the logging hayday of the 1960s, 70 and 80s were completely unsustainable and misguided.

However, despite the current and on-going economic crises and resulting “Lumber Depression” (lumber demand down 55% and new home construction down 70%) Sen. Tester’s bill would have Congress step in and mandate a minimum level of logging on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge NF that far exceeds anything this forest has ever seen…at an estimated taxpayer cost of $100 million.

Furthermore, it’s quite clear that because Tester’s bill contains a number of “unfunded mandates” money would be taken from other national forests in Montana and the region and given to the BHDL NF to conduct this mandated logging and complete NEPA requirements for these large logging projects within the arbitrary 12 month timeline, which Tester’s bill imposes. (Note: NEPA typically takes the Forest Service 2 to 4 years to complete, and often even at that pace the NEPA assessment isn’t as complete as it should be).

This is just yet another concrete example of a serious concern many of us have that’s based on the actual language contained within the bill.

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Key Assumptions behind Sen Tester’s “Forest Jobs and Restoration Act”

Posted by Matthew Koehler on November 24, 2009

The following commentary concerning Senator Jon Tester’s “Forest Jobs and Recreation Act” is from Dr. Thomas Power. Dr. Power is the former Chair of the Economics Department at the University of Montana, where he currently serves as a Research Professor. Dr. Power is widely considered one of the country’s leading natural resource-based economists. This commentary is only the first in a series of commentaries Dr. Power will devote to critically exploring the assumptions behind Sen. Tester’s bill. Please check back in a few weeks for the next in the series. – MK

“What I want to do here is simply outline the conventional wisdom from which Senator Tester appears to be operating. That will sound familiar, and, to many, convincing, but those assumptions are, in fact, highly debatable.  In commentaries over the next two months, I will then seek to critically explore each of those assumptions ….As common and familiar as all of these underlying assumptions are, they are far from being factual assumptions. They are a mix of folk wisdom, economic nostalgia, wishful thinking, and barely disguised commercial and bureaucratic government special interests. Before jumping onboard with Tester’s proposal, each has to be critically analyzed.”
– Dr. Thomas Power

The Key Assumptions behind Senator Tester’s “Forest Jobs and Restoration Act”
By Dr. Thomas Power

Montana’s Senator Tester is attempting to cut the Gordian knot that has tied up any action on the management of more than six million acres of roadless federal land in Montana. He has been praised by some for his courage and audacity while others have attacked him for not keeping faith with those who elected him and for selling out to one special interest group or another.

One reason for this mixed emotional reaction is that when it comes to the public dialogue about forest management there is no common agreement about the underlying facts and economic context. Senator Tester and his allies are operating from one set of what they believe to be factual assumptions while their critics begin with a quite different understanding of the facts on the ground.

What I want to do here is simply outline the conventional wisdom from which Senator Tester appears to be operating. That will sound familiar, and, to many, convincing, but those assumptions are, in fact, highly debatable.  In commentaries over the next two months, I will then seek to critically explore each of those assumptions before coming to any conclusion about whether Senator Tester is actually offering a viable solution to the paralysis that has kept a grip on Montana’s roadless wildlands for more than a quarter of a century.

The title of Senator Tester’s bill makes clear its primary focus: forest restoration. The basic assumption is a familiar one: The National Forests in Western Montana, as a result of a variety of human and non-human causes, are in poor, even dangerous, condition. They biologically are well beyond natural and sustainable conditions. As a result major human intervention is necessary to move these natural landscapes back to a healthy, safe, and sustainable condition. From this point of view, we cannot just stop stressing and damaging the forests and allow them to rest and recover on their own. That is why roadless area or wilderness protection for most of these lands will not solve the problems. We have to actively intervene with landscape-scale vegetative manipulation, including logging, thinning, prescribed burns, etc. Tester’s bill seeks to start doing exactly that.

This need to work the forests to move them back to safe and stable conditions is also why it is important for the region to maintain a functioning forest products industry. Without that, we will not have the commercial infrastructure to make use of the logs that need to be removed from our forests. Without a significant forest products industry, the wood fiber in our forests loses commercial value, and the harvest of trees from these unhealthy forests cannot help finance the forest restoration work that needs to be done. That is one of the reasons Tester’s bill seeks to prop up the region’s forest products industry.

The other reason that Tester proposes legally mandating the harvest of more timber from federal lands is the belief that the economies of Western Montana heavily depend on the forest products industry and those economies have been disrupted by the inability of the US Forest Service to maintain a flow of logs to our mills. Tester’s bill seeks to solve that problem by mandating a steady annual flow of logs. That, he believes, will help save those mills and stabilize our economies.

Landscape-scale forest restoration of the sort that would be mandated by Tester’s bill will cost a lot of money, money that the federal government does not really have. With existing large federal deficits and increasing demands on the federal budget for economic recovery, ongoing wars, medical insurance reform, and energy policy, it is unlikely that we can count on Congress to appropriate the money to fund all of the forest restoration work that we are told needs to be done. Senator Tester proposes to get around these funding limitations by paying private contractors with the harvest of commercially valuable logs to do the needed work. Instead of the US Forest Service selling the logs and sending the cash back to the US Treasury, the logs would be used to pay for the forest restoration work through what are called Stewardship Contracts.

The approach that Senator Tester has taken in developing his bill indicates his solution to the conflict among competing uses of National Forest land that has thus far led to paralysis and gridlock.  Senator Tester relied on having some of the competing interests sit down at the table and negotiate in a collaborative manner. That sort of negotiation allowed many parties to get part of what they wanted from the National Forests, producing what has been called a win-win-win outcome. The idea is that these competing uses can be balanced so that the forests can simultaneously support an expansion of the timber industry, more off road vehicle use, improved wildlife habitat, enhance non-motorized recreation, as well as the environmental services provided by natural forests and watersheds. Allowing such local and private negotiations over the management of our National Forests is seen as an appropriate decentralized solution to a broken centralized federal system.

Finally, the forested landscape of Western Montana is seen as so huge that significant timber harvests are possible without doing any serious environmental harm. With millions and millions of acres of federal forestland available, mandating the annual harvest of ten thousand acres or so of trees could not possibly do significant damage to the overall forest. In fact, we are told, that mandated logging, when carried out as part of a larger forest restoration effort, will actually improve the health of the forests.

As common and familiar as all of these underlying assumptions are, they are far from being factual assumptions. They are a mix of folk wisdom, economic nostalgia, wishful thinking, and barely disguised commercial and bureaucratic government special interests. Before jumping onboard with Tester’s proposal, each has to be critically analyzed.

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Protecting America’s Public Lands a National Concern

Posted by Matthew Koehler on November 23, 2009

The following perspective is from Keith Hammer. Mr. Hammer grew up hiking, skiing, camping, hunting, and fishing in the Swan Mountains of Northwest Montana. He has worked a number of jobs, from Forest Service trail worker to logger to backcountry guide, and currently works as an environmental consultant and head of the nonprofit Swan View Coalition, which he co-founded in 1984. Keith and Swan View Coalition have gotten over 600 miles of road decommissioned on the Flathead National Forest to restore fish and wildlife habitat.

Protecting America’s Public Lands a National Concern!
By Keith Hammer, Swan View Coalition

We can take much inspiration from Ken Burns’ film “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” and readily extend its premise to the remainder of America’s public lands. Key take-home messages in Burns’ film are that threats to America’s wildlands never cease and that their protection is brought about through national concern and legislation, often over the objections of local politicians.

Indeed, as elk and bison were being slaughtered by commercial hunting in the West in the late 1800s, it was not the new states of Montana and Wyoming that put an end to it. It was Representative John Lacey of Iowa who prohibited the interstate transport of illegally killed wildlife when his “Lacey Act” was signed into law by President William McKinley in 1900.

Montana Senator Thomas Long objected to what is now Glacier National Park being designated a Forest Preserve in 1900, followed by the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce objecting to its designation as a National Park in 1910. Thank goodness for the persistence of Americans George Bird Grinnell and others, who had the foresight to see that the area needed better protection than that afforded the Forest Preserves (later known as National Forests) and convinced President Taft to designate Glacier as America’s 10th National Park!

Today, local communities thrive on tourists visiting Glacier National Park and the families and businesses choosing to locate near it! More recently, the town of Seward, Alaska was so dead-set against the designation of Kenai Fjords National Park that it passed two resolutions denouncing the idea. After the Park was designated in 1980 and Seward began to reap the rewards, however, it rescinded its previous resolutions and asked that the Park be expanded! President Carter, once burned in effigy in Alaska for his conservation initiatives there, nonetheless tripled the size of Denali National Park and designated most of it Wilderness for added protection.

For these reasons and more, we helped write and support the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act knowing it may not initially garner support from Congressional delegations in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. It builds upon President Clinton’s – and now Obama’s – intention to protect roadless lands from development, sequestering carbon in roadless forests also serving as wildlife migration corridors. It also creates high-paying jobs restoring watersheds through road reclamation .

In contrast, Senator Tester’s (D-MT) wildlands logging bill (Links: here, here and here) would set dangerous precedent by mandating logging levels on two National Forests and subsidizing the burning of public forests as “biomass.” It would also release from protection numerous roadless lands and Wilderness Study Areas granted protection by the far-sighted Senator Lee Metcalf in 1977!

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