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New study challenges forest restoration and fire management in western dry forests

Posted by Matthew Koehler on February 23, 2012

(Below is a press release from the researchers. A copy of the study is available here. – mk)

New research shows that western dry forests were not uniform, open forests, as commonly thought, before widespread logging and grazing, but included both dense and open forests, as well as large high-intensity fires previously considered rare in these forests. The study used detailed analysis of records from land surveys, conducted in the late-1800s, to reconstruct forest structure over very large dry-forest landscapes, often dominated by ponderosa pine forests. The area analyzed included about 4.1 million acres on the Mogollon Plateau and Black Mesa in northern Arizona, in the Blue Mountains in northeastern Oregon, and in the Colorado Front Range.

The reconstructions, which are based on about 13,000 first-hand descriptions of forests from early land surveyors along section-lines, supplemented by data for about 28,000 trees, do not support the common idea that dry forests historically consisted of uniform park-like stands of large, old trees. Previous studies that found this were hampered by the limitations inherent in tree-ring reconstructions from small, isolated field plots that may be unrepresentative of larger landscapes.

“The land surveys provide us with an unprecedented spatially extensive and detailed view of these dry-forest landscapes before widespread alteration” said Dr. William Baker, a co-author of the study and a professor in the Program in Ecology at the University of Wyoming. “And, what we see from this is that these forests were highly variable, with dense areas, open areas, recently burned areas, young forests, and areas of old-growth forests, often in a complex mosaic.”

The study also does not support the idea that frequent low-intensity fires historically prevented high-intensity fires in dry forests.

“Moderate- and high-severity fires were much more common in ponderosa pine and other dry forests than previously believed ” said Mark Williams, senior author of the study and recent PhD graduate of the University of Wyoming’s Program in Ecology.

“While higher-severity fires have been documented in at least parts of the Front Range of Colorado, they were not believed to play a major role in the historical dynamics of southwestern dry forests .”

Some large modern wildfires, such as Arizona’s Rodeo-Chediski fire of 2002 and the Wallow fire of 2011 that have been commonly perceived as unnatural or catastrophic fires actually were similar to fires that occurred historically in these dry forests.

The findings suggest that national programs that seek to uniformly reduce the density of these forests and lower the intensity of fires will not restore these forests, but instead alter them further, with negative consequences for wildlife. Special-concern species whose habitat includes dense forest patches, such as spotted owls, or whose habitat includes recently burned forests, such as black-backed woodpeckers, are likely to be adversely affected by current fuel-reduction programs.

The findings of the study suggest that if the goal is to perpetuate native fish and wildlife in western dry forests, it is appropriate to restore and manage for variability in forest density and fire intensity, including areas of dense forests and high-intensity fire.

Key findings:

• Only 23-40% of the study areas fit the common idea that dry forests were open, park-like and composed of large trees.

• Frequent low-intensity fires did not prevent high-intensity fires, as 38-97% of the study landscapes had evidence of intense fires that killed trees over large areas of dry forests.

• The rate of higher-severity fires in dry forests over the past few decades is lower than that which occurred historically, regardless of fire suppression impacts.

The authors are Dr. Mark A. Williams and Dr. William L. Baker, who are scientists in the Program in Ecology and Department of Geography at the University of Wyoming. Dr. Mark A. Williams is a 2010 PhD graduate, and Dr. William L. Baker is a professor, both in the Program in Ecology and Department of Geography. In Dr. Williams’s PhD, he developed and applied new scientific methods for reconstructing historical structure and fire across large land areas in dry western forests. Dr. Baker teaches and researches fire ecology and landscape ecology at the University of Wyoming and is author of a 2009 book on “Fire Ecology in Rocky Mountain Landscapes.”

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Posted in Climate Change, Forests, logging, Restoration Economy | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

U.S. House rejects “Extinction Rider”

Posted by Matthew Koehler on July 28, 2011

Yesterday, on a vote of 224-202 the U.S House of Representatives rejected the “extinction rider,” which would have prohibited species listings and habitat conservation under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Specifically, this bill would have defunded the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s ESA program, preventing the agency from listing species as threatened or endangered or designating critical habitat under the ESA. Defeating the “extinction rider” is great news for America’s most vulnerable species and their habitat.

Posted in Wildlife | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Climate activist Tim DeChristopher goes to trial

Posted by Matthew Koehler on February 27, 2011

(What follows is a slightly abridged version of an article by Umbra Fisk, which appeared on Grist on Feb 22, 2011)

The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be … The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.—Martin Luther King, Jr.

I want to share a story of an ordinary citizen using peaceful direct action to take a stand.

When Tim DeChristopher woke up one morning in December of 2008, what he was intending to do that day was disrupt a Bureau of Land Management oil and gas lease auction. He did not expect he was starting down a road that would leave him $1.7 million in debt, facing a court date and up to 10 years in jail. But Monday, Feb. 28, DeChristopher will go to trial for an unusual and profound act of creative, direct, nonviolent civil disobedience.

For DeChristopher, armchair activism wasn’t enough of a response to the climate crisis. So when he heard that parcels of land were going to be rushed off for lease in an auction at the end of the Bush administration, opening them up for drilling, DeChristopher wanted to do something to stop the sale.

As a busy graduate economics student at the University of Utah, DeChristopher hadn’t planned what he was going to do that day when he arrived directly after a class. The auctioneers asked if he would like to be a bidder. Thinking on his feet, he said, “Yes, I would.”

Handed bidder paddle number 70, DeChristopher began bidding as soon as the auction opened. He bought more than a dozen parcels and drove up the prices of others before being stopped by a federal agent. His “purchase” totaled 22,500 acres, and effectively put a halt to the 11th-hour leases and subsequent drilling.

The auction itself was later deemed illegitimate by the Obama administration because it was conducted outside of the rules set for holding such auctions. A law known as Secretarial Order 3226 went into effect in 2001, stating that all parts of the Department of the Interior, including the Bureau of Land Management, have to take into account the impacts of climate change in any major decision they make involving resource extraction.

Last year, climate luminaries Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, James Hansen, Robert Redford, and Terry Tempest Williams published an open letter to support DeChristopher.

They wrote that he “pulled off one of the most creative protests against our runaway energy policy in years: he bid for the oil and gas leases on several parcels of federal land even though he had no money to pay for them, thus upending the auction. The government calls that ‘violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act’ and thinks he should spend ten years in jail for the crime; we call it a noble act, a profound gesture made on behalf of all of us and of the future.”

If you’re interested in joining the march or trial activities, you can find information for how to do that here. Watch Solve Climate News for a series of seven interviews with Tim DeChristopher. Contribute to Tim’s legal defense at Bidder 70.

During the two years since the auction, DeChristopher’s trial has been rescheduled nine times. He is heading toward the Feb. 28 date with “joy and resolve,” committing to letting his position be known even in the face of significant jail time. “I have no illusions about prison being a nice place,” DeChristopher told me in an interview. “But I’ve been very scared about my future for a long time. Throughout this I’ve been a lot more scared about staying on the path that we’re on now than about going to prison for a couple of years,” said DeChristopher.

Posted in Climate Change, Energy, Obama Administration | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Did Sen Tester forget that he already re-introduced his logging bill?

Posted by Matthew Koehler on February 24, 2011

The Tuesday, February 22, 2011 edition of the Missoulian included this article, which detailed Senator Tester’s talk at the annual Salish Kootenai College Career Fair in Pablo.

According to the article:

In response to other questions from the crowd, Tester also said:

• His Forest Jobs and Recreation Act will likely be re-introduced soon, probably attached as an amendment to another bill because it is Montana-specific, and Congress otherwise would not get around to considering it. “We’ll drop it in very soon, probably without much fanfare,” Tester said. “We’ve already been through that part, and had the fanfare.”

It’s very strange that Senator Tester would claim that his so-called Forest Jobs and Recreation Act will likely be re-introduced soon. Why?  Because the truth of the matter is that Senator Tester has already, in fact, re-introduced his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.

According to the official website of the Library of Congress (which tracks all federal bills), the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act was re-introduced by Senator Tester on Feb 3, 2011 (three weeks ago) and was “Read twice and referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.”  Tester’s mandated logging bill has been given bill number “S.268,” so anyone can view the bill language for themselves by visiting this site doing a search via the bill number.

It’s worth pointing out that the current version of the FJRA that Senator Tester has introduced this session of Congress differs from his original bill in a number of significant ways.  However, it unfortunately seems very clear that Senator Tester will not be looking to hold a Senate hearing on the new version of his bill. Nope, it seems clear that Senator Tester will again try the questionable maneuver of attaching his FJRA as a rider to a piece of unrelated, must pass legislation, such as the upcoming appropriations bills.

Perhaps this the reason why Senator Tester said he doesn’t want much “fanfare” for his mandated logging bill this session of Congress? Perhaps this is why he told the folks up in Pablo that his bill wasn’t re-introduced yet, when in fact it was re-introduced on February 3, 2011.

What hasn’t change in this session of Congress is the serious, substantive concerns expressed by many Montanans – as well as Americans – with Senator Tester’s FJRA. Concerns and opposition has come from not only the 50 plus conservation organizations (including 16 Montana organizations) that make up the Last Best Place Wildlands Campaign, but also conservation groups such as the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility – some of the most respected environmental groups in our nation. Concerns have also been expressed publicly from some of the former Chiefs of the Forest Service and a host of former Forest Service supervisors and district rangers.

Despite some minor changes, Senator Tester’s FJRA bill would still  have members of Congress mandating how and where logging takes place in our forests; would turn some of Montana’s federal wildlands (including Wilderness Study Areas protected in the late 1970s by former Montana Senator Lee Metcalf) into permanent motorized recreation areas; would allow motors and other non-compatible uses in Wilderness and would cause negative impacts to the Forest Service budgets in our region.

The future of America’s national forest legacy is much more important than blindly supporting some politician who apparently thinks the best way to manage America’s public lands is through mandates and interference from Congress…but then forgets to tell a public gathering that the bill has already been reintroduced in Congress.

Posted in Forests, logging, timber industry, US Congress, Wilderness | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

MT Leg: Ghost of anti-environment, anti-wildlife senator lives

Posted by Matthew Koehler on January 25, 2011

It was once said that bad ideas die with the people who hold them. If only that were true. In viewing the opening of the Montana Legislature, it is apparent that the anti-conservation, anti-environment, anti-public land and anti-wildlife philosophy of Montana’s most notorious politician is vigorously alive in 2011.

By way of refresher, William A. Clark was our U.S. senator from 1901-1907. At the time, it was a position filled through vote of the state Legislature. For Clark it was “… a position he had initially purchased with bundles of crisp $100 bills handed out to legislators in monogrammed envelopes – W.A.C. stamped on the fold, $10,000 per vote.” Clark’s defense at the time was, “I never bought a man who was not for sale.” The prize then, as it is now, was privatization and commercialization of natural resources.

So opens an excellent guest column today from Jim Posewitz. Those not familiar with Posewitz should be sure to check out his impressivebio.

Posewitz grew up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin during the 1940s and 50s, at a time when even common wildlife, such as deer, were literally nowhere to be found across even the rural landscape of forests, fields and farmland, the inevitable results of over-hunting and poor management. I too was born in Sheboygan in the early 70s and was raised in the rural village of Elkhart Lake, about 20 miles outside of Sheboygan. Given the hundreds and hundreds of deer we’d see biking or driving country roads as a teenager, it’s literally hard for me to even comprehend how this landscape could have possibly been devoid of even the most common forms of wildlife.

Posewitz came from an incredibly athletic, I’d even say legendary, Sheboygan family. During the 1930s, John and Joe “Scoop” Posewitz were stars for the Sheboygan Red Wings, a professional basketball team that would go on to become the smallest market team in the NBA, successfully taking on the likes of the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks. Legendary basketball coach Arnold “Red” Auerbach, who’s team went 0-3 at Sheboygan during the NBA’s 1949 inaugural season, looked at Sheboygan, and their fans, with great distain. To this day, when I check the Sheboygan Press sports page, there’s good chance some member of the extended Posewitz family will be highlighted.

OK, enough of my Sheboygan-inspired digression. We’re all lucky, because Posewitz came to Montana in the 1950s on a football scholarship at Montana State in Bozeman. By the early 60’s – following 3 years in the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division – Posewitz left MSU with a Masters of Science in Fish & Wildlife Management and started what would be a 32 year career with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

Jim’s accomplishments while with FWP are literally too numerous to list (again, check out his bio), but some of the highlights include:

• Fish and Wildlife management plans were developed under Jim’s direction for the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.

• In the mid and late 1970s efforts were underway to construct two dams on the Kootenai River of northwestern Montana. Under Jim’s leadership, baseline fish and wildlife research helped to seal the fate of both the Kootenai Re-regulating Dam and the Kootenai Falls Dam. Neither were constructed.

• Jim was instrumental in assuring that critical fish and wildlife language was incorporated into the 1980 Montana Strip and Underground Mine Reclamation Act.

• When the Montana Water Use Act of 1973 was passed, it was entirely attributed to Jim Posewitz and his biologists who spent years in the field then weeks in court on the witness stand, adroitly testifying on behalf of fish and wildlife habitat needs. This was the first time that fish and wildlife needs were recognized as legal uses of water.

Posewitz has also founded Orion: The Hunter’s Institute, which provides leadership on ethical and philosophical issues to promote fair chase and responsible hunting. He’s also an excellent writer, who’s book, Beyond Fair Chase, has been printed over 500,000 times and is required reading for many hunter education courses.

The battle between exploitation and conservation has persisted through the century that followed, generally with pseudo-conservatives attacking conservation budgets, vilifying those carrying the conservation message, and purging progressive political thought from their own political ranks.

In conclusion, welcome to the 2011 Montana legislative session and its promise to privatize and commercialize our wildlife; repeal environmental protection; weaken laws passed that protected our air, land and water; and to do what it can to peddle the last ton of Western coal to Asia as the planet chokes.

Thus, it is once again time for the people to express themselves in support of the legacy that delivered this Last Best Place to our custody. There will be a number of conservation nonprofit organizations monitoring the legislative process. They deserve our support and when they call for our help, we all need to respond. It will be up to “we the people” to preserve the legacy passed to us and our time. Posterity will judge us just as we have judged those who preceded us.

Posted in Climate Change, Coal, Energy, Wilderness | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

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.”

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

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)

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