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Posts Tagged ‘Restoration’

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.”


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

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

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:

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 »

Put Bluntly and Country, Tester’s Logging Bill is a Dog that Won’t Hunt

Posted by Matthew Koehler on November 9, 2009

Note: The following guest column appeared today in the Great Falls Tribune.

It’s written by Paul Edwards, a former Montana Wilderness Association board member who ended up resigning from MWA’s Board shortly after the Beaverhead Partnership was announced in spring of 2006. Amazingly, even though Edwards was the chair of MWA’s Wilderness Committee, he and other Board members were kept completely in the dark about MWA’s secret, closed-door negotiations with the timber industry, the results of which now makes up the bulk of Tester’s Logging Bill.

It’s also interesting to note that if Edwards supported the Tester Logging Bill, he would be hailed by the Beaverhead Partnership and supporters of Tester’s Logging Bill as a “non-traditional ally” because of his remarkably diverse background.

You see, Edwards worked as a young man as a pea-pitcher, header-puncher, roustabout, wild animal trainer’s assistant, high-steel man, able seaman, movie actor, and NGO rep in I Corps, during the Vietnam War. Edwards also put in 25 years as a writer, director and producer in Hollywood film and television (including serving as a writer for the hit TV show Gunsmoke) before fleeing for his life and what remained of his sanity to his ranch on the Rocky Mountain Front at the edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

However, since Edwards is willing to stand up for Wilderness, public lands, sane economic policy and open and transparent public processes, he’s more likely to be labeled an extremist by supporters of Tester’s Logging Bill. Go figure…


Tester Forest Jobs, Recreation Act is a dog that won’t hunt

Well, finally … Sen. Tester and a few strange bedfellows have floated a logging bill that everyone who works, has worked, or hopes to work, for one of four struggling lumber mills or one bankrupt cardboard box maker can wholeheartedly endorse.

Letters to the papers from such folks, including owners and employees of the mills and their “environmental partners,” express boundless joy we’ve all agreed to this federal welfare proposal to bail them out before they perish by the Invisible Hand of the Market.

You know, The Hand that regulates commerce in our American Free Market system and separates businesses that can compete from those can’t and will fail. That’s private enterprise: Some got to win, some got to lose. Tough noogies – the Hand has no pity.

But our big-hearted feds do. Because even though the Greenspans, Bernankes and Geithners who manipulate our money are sworn hardcore believers in free market capitalism, they think some outfits – doggone it – are … well, to big to fail.

Evidently, Tester feels the same about these mills. It’s not that they’re too big, though; it’s that they’re too important to Montana, so he has to bail ’em out with our money. Like the feds did AIG and Goldman Sachs, B of A and Chase, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It’s the new thing in Free Market Economics: The Invisible Hand’s been replaced by The Visible Handout. That’s what Tester’s Logging Welfare Bill is all about.

What makes these mills so important? Will a bailout create thousands of jobs, pump millions into our economy?

Well, no, its effect would be negligible even in boom times and lumber demand is down 55 percent with prices at modern historic lows. So what, then? Why is Tester pushing this deal?

It’s symbolism. There’s this weird perception rooted deep in our mythology that because extractive industries like mining and logging were once drivers of our economy that they still are; or ought to be; or will be again. The reality is that they can’t hack it in the world market even with the huge subsidies the U. S. industrial welfare program hands them.

But let’s say it was worth giving them a fat pork-barrel deal. What will it look like?

At an estimated taxpayer hit of $100 million from Forest Service losses on these below-cost sales, they get a mandated cut of 100,000 acres over 10 years: 30K in the brutally overcut Yaak and a staggering70K in the bone-dry Beaverhead/Deer Lodge where the Forest Service never allowed more than 2,800 acres cut, even in boom lumbering years.

In addition, more than 1 million acres of inventoried roadless wildland, including most of several of Lee Metcalf’s Wilderness Study Areas, will lose their protection and be opened to “management.”

And what’s the payoff for us Americans who own the forests for keeping these icons of yesteryear on life support? 600,000 acres of rocks and ice wilderness in scattered, widely separated patches with no connectivity, including one tiny island in the hammered Yaak.

For outdoor folks, hunters, anglers, horsemen and seekers after peace and solitude, any wilderness is good wilderness, and after decades without any preservation of Montana wildlands – as fine and whole as any left anywhere – the yearning for it that all of us feel who love and use the outdoors without smog-machines is tremendous.

That said, this bill is a visionless, wholly inadequate wildlands proposal – a fact made obvious by the absence of the word wilderness in its title – that simply gives away far too much to protect far too little. It shows very clearly how little regard Tester and Max Come-Lately have for our irreplaceable wilderness, in spite of phony chin music.

This plan – secretly concocted by its “partners” – is not only a terrible wilderness bill (which it unquestionably is) it’s also a terrible logging bill for everyone but the little mill owners. Since they don’t represent 1 percent of Montana’s working people, you have to wonder how such a sorry, deformed, ugly hash could ever have been sold to Tester.

It will be interesting to watch it in Congress. Word is the “partners” think they have the skids greased. Maybe so, but they may find that in the big federal meat grinder this particular batch of raw pork will be judged too gamy to make acceptable sausage.

Over half a century ago the wise and visionary Aldo Leopold, speaking of a public Land Ethic, said, “A thing is right when it preserves the integrity, beauty and stability of the biotic community. It is wrong when it does otherwise.” No one has ever said it better.

There is just no way to craft a national welfare bill for a few small, desperate lumber mills at the price of so much irreplaceable wild country and sell it to Congress as a grand boon to Montana and America. To put it bluntly and country, Tester’s dog won’t hunt.

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

NY Times Sings NREPA’s Praises

Posted by Matthew Koehler on July 7, 2009

Efforts to protect remaining roadless wildlands and restore logged over public lands in the northern Rockies got a boost today when the New York Times penned an editorial strongly in favor of the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act.

Posted in Climate Change, Forests, Green jobs, logging, Restoration Economy, Sustainable Solutions, timber industry, Uncategorized, Wilderness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Once Again, Rehberg Gets It Wrong

Posted by Matthew Koehler on May 27, 2009

(This article was written by Paul Richards. Richards is a former member of the Montana House of Representatives and numerous state and federal advisory councils.  In 2006, he was a candidate for the U.S. Senate.  Click here for Richards’ testimony before the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands concerning NREPA.)

Montana’s far-right Rep. Denny Rehberg got a lot of ink with his tirade against H.R. 980, the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA) and his mean-spirited attack upon Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, who is sponsoring the Act, along with 70 other members of Congress.

Rehberg claims “96 percent of us who live in these areas oppose this bill.”  In reality, 78 percent of all Montanans support full protection for our region’s remaining National Forest roadless wildlands.  Montanans overwhelmingly support the “Roadless Conservation Rule” that safeguarded the 6.4 million acres that are included in NREPA.

The Roadless Conservation Rule received the most public participation of any proposed federal regulation in the history of the nation.  In Montana, 34 hearings were held across the state, while over 600 hearings were held throughout the country.

In total, more than 1.6 million Americans wrote comments on the roadless protection policy.  An overwhelming majority – 78 percent of all Montanans and 95 percent of all Americans – supported full protection for our country’s roadless wildlands.

Rehberg claims that NREPA “federalizes” these public roadless wildlands and that “bills like NREPA create more federally controlled land.”  Apparently, Rehberg does not know basic American history:  His fellow Republican, President Theodore Roosevelt “federalized” these lands in 1907, over 100 years ago!

Rehberg  evokes the most passion with his stirring defense of gun rights.  “There’s a new concern looming in the minds of the folks around Montana and the country,” he warns.  “There aren’t many things folks in the Northern Rockies care more about than their Second Amendment rights.  Bills like NREPA create more federally controlled land, but they don’t guarantee Second Amendment rights on that land.”

Huh?  Rehberg, one of the richest members of Congress, is a land developer and spokesman for big oil.  Were he a hunter or outdoorsman, he would know that, since our roadless wildlands provide the best habitat, they are the preferred places for big game hunting.  With guns.  Has Rehberg ever heard of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, our region’s hunting Mecca?

Montana has the best hunting season in the country, and it’s not by accident. Our five-week-long general hunting season is due directly to the prime habitat provided by these 6.4 million acres of roadless wildlands.  Montana hunters and anglers want these lands protected.

Rehberg is just plain WRONG when he claims Montanans do not support these priceless wildlands.  Rehberg is WRONG when he says we don’t appreciate their pure water, clean air, and abundant fish and wildlife.  Rehberg is WRONG when he claims Montanans and other residents of the Northern Rockies want to destroy these public wildlands with taxpayer-subsidized road-building, logging, mining, and other development.

Despite Rehberg’s claims:  Private land is NOT affected by NREPA; grazing and existing mining claims are NOT changed; gun rights are NOT taken away; and environmentally-sustainable logging outside roadless areas will continue.  We’re NOT talking about already-developed national forestlands.  These are federally-inventoried ROADLESS AREAS, for God’s sake!  They have been wild for millennia.  Their remaining so will not bring about apocalypse.

Rehberg apparently has no concept of leaving future generations a public lands legacy.  Our future citizenry will need these wildlands for psychological, spiritual, scientific, economic, educational, biological, ecological, and societal well-being.  Public wildlands are simply too valuable to be recklessly squandered away by short-term politicians like Rehberg.

The biggest lie that Rehberg and other extremists perpetuate about NREPA is that is it is “top-down” management, forced upon us locals by “outsiders” like Rep. Maloney.  First, these National Forest wildlands belong to ALL Americans, not just local anti-wilderness rednecks.

More importantly, Rehberg is just plain wrong about NREPA’s origins.  After consulting with numerous Montana conservation organizations and wildlife biologists, I wrote the first draft of what-was-to-become the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act in 1986.  After involving about a dozen more regional conservation groups, I wrote the text of the second draft of what-was-to-become NREPA in 1987.

I’m not an “outsider.”  I was born and raised in Helena.  Growing up in Montana, we always heard about “multiple use” for our National Forests.  When I was a kid in the 1950s and 1960s, that meant hiking, backpacking, wildlife viewing, hunting, grazing, and fishing.

In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, however, we saw more and more National Forest wildlands converted into single uses:  Roads, clearcuts, same-species tree plantations, scars from off-road vehicles, open pit mines, and toxic mine waste dumps.

Now, in the National Forest nearest my home, two-thirds of the Forest has been developed.  We who grew up here have first-hand knowledge that roadless wildlands are fast disappearing.  Roads on National Forests in Montana increased from 8,600 miles in 1945 to 32,900 miles in 1997.  Nationally, the Forest Service is now overwhelmed by more than 380,000 miles of roads, eight times larger than the entire Interstate highways system!

We who grew up here know that it is time to protect ALL of our few remaining public roadless wildlands in the Northern Rockies.  Twenty-three years is long enough to wait:  NREPA’s time is now!

Posted in Forests, Sustainable Solutions, timber industry, Wilderness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Wilderness Defender Carole King & NREPA Featured at Huff Post

Posted by Matthew Koehler on April 24, 2009

The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.
Edward Abbey (1927 – 1989)

Yesterday, the Huffington Post featured Todd Wilkinson’s look at Carole King’s sixteen year effort to protect Wilderness in the northern Rockies. The four-time Grammy Award winner has been a stalwart in the Wilderness movement every since 1993, when King was captivated by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies’ vision for Wilderness protection based on science and the needs of wildlife, not politics.  Much of King’s activism has centered around her remarkable efforts to see the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA) passed by Congress and signed into law.

We’ve written about NREPA before. In a nutshell, NREPA:

• Designates as Wilderness 24 million acres of roadlless wildlands in the Northern Rockies;

• Connects natural, biological corridors, ensuring the continued existence of native plants and animals and mitigating the effects of climate change;

• Restores habitat that has been severely damaged from tens of thousands of logging roads that were built, and creates more than 2,300 restoration jobs in rural communities leading to a more sustainable economic base in the region;

• Keeps water available for ranchers and farmers downstream until it is most needed; and

• Eliminates subsidized development in the designated of 24 million acres of new wilderness areas, saving taxpayers $245 million over a 10-year period.

If you want more information about NREPA, including the full text of the bill and also a link to some really nifty maps broken down by National Forests, click here.

Do yourself a favor. Read the excellent feature on Carole King’s Wilderness activism, get inspired and then take a page from Carol’s book and get active!! You’re Congressional representative is waiting to hear from you!

Posted in Climate Change, Forests, logging, Obama Administration, Sustainable Solutions, timber industry, Wilderness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Wuerthner Praises the Dead (trees)

Posted by Matthew Koehler on March 16, 2009

The folks at FSEEE (Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics) have just put out their spring issue of Forest Magazine, which contains an excellent article from ecologist George Wuerthner titled Let us Praise-and Keep-the Dead. Give it a read and let us know what you think.

Wuerthner writes:

“a new perspective is slowly taking root among forest managers, based on growing evidence that forest ecosystems have no waste or harvestable surplus. Rather, it seems that forests reinvest their biological capital back into the ecosystem, and removal of wood – whether dead or alive – can lead to biological impoverishment. Large stand-replacement blazes and major insect outbreaks may be the ecological analogue to the forest ecosystem as the hundred-year flood is to a river. Such natural events are critical to shaping ecosystem function and processes. Scientists are discovering that dead trees and downed wood play an important role in ecosystems by providing wildlife habitat, cycling nutrients, aiding plant regeneration, decreasing erosion and influencing drainage, soil moisture and carbon storage.”

Having followed forest issues closely for the past fifteen years, it’s always struck me as sort of funny that some people believe that once a tree dies in a forest the best thing to do is cut it down and haul it away. Didn’t these forests evolve with dead and dying trees for thousands of years? How about the wildlife? Do they use dead trees? You betchta.

According to the article, Richard Hutto, professor and director of the University of Montana’s Avian Science Center, has found that nearly fifty percent of all North American native bird species rely on snags for at least a portion of their life cycle.

Jim Andrews, a professor at Middlebury College in Vermont who studies amphibians and reptiles in northeastern forests, makes sure the article doesn’t just offer a western bent:

“Foresters tend to look at the forest from the floor up. I have occasionally gone on field trips with them, and they were rather proud of how they had managed their forests, but the forest has nothing in it. There’s no cover. No places to find live critters. Standing snags, once they get big enough so that they have hollow centers—what foresters call ‘overmature’…are the places where wildlife resides. To a biologist you don’t have overmature trees—you have wildlife habitat.”

Dr. Chad Hanson, a University of California-Davis researcher, put it quite nicely with this quote:

“We are trapped by an outdated cultural idea that a healthy forest is one with nothing but green trees. An ecologically healthy forest has dead trees, broken tops and downed logs. Pound for pound, ton for ton, there is probably no more important habitat element in western conifer forests than large snags and large downed logs.”

The take home message? There’s life in dead trees.

Posted in Forests | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Stimulating Bittersweet Bitterroot Restoration

Posted by Matthew Koehler on March 13, 2009

Last week the US Forest Service announced the first batch of projects moving forward courtesy of the $1.15 billion Congress allocated to the agency in the American Recovery and Reinvestment act, more commonly called the Stimulus Bill.  Like other government agencies, the Forest Service was asked to put together a list of “shovel ready” projects, which could be implemented quickly, thereby providing a needed jobs boost in rural communities by knocking out some needed restoration, maintenance and improvement work.

While it’s common in these parts to hear people complain that “the Forest Service can’t do nuttin’ because their hands are tied by the damn environmentalists,” it should be pointed out that this $1.15 billion in “shovel ready” projects funded by the Stimulus Bill will create 25,000 jobs. Oh, you mean the Forest Service had a bunch of important working literally just sitting on the shelves collecting dust, waiting for funding? Yep. So much for that tired, old argument of “analysis paralysis,” eh?

In Montana, one of the first projects to move forward with the stimulus money will be reconstruction and drainage improvements for a road that runs along Rye Creek in the Bitterroot National Forest. Historically, Rye Creek was a stronghold for bull trout (now a threatened species), but decades of heavy roadbuilding and clearcut logging in the Rye Creek watershed have taken their toll on native fish and the entire watershed.

Much of the problem with the Rye Creek Road is that it was built way too close to the actual creek, a common problem found throughout Forest Service lands. You see, when many of these roads were built there was little environmental knowledge or oversight, so the “path of least resistance” seemed to rule the day. Short of removing the road completely (not an option in the Rye Creek case) or rerouting the road (a very expensive option) the best option is to mitigate the amount of sediment bleeding from the road bed into the creek, which in a nutshell is what they intend to do up Rye Creek.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that this important road and watershed restoration work up Rye Creek will finally take place and I think it’s great that this restoration work will help create a few more jobs in the Bitterroot Valley. However, it’s somewhat of a bittersweet situation. Let me explain why.

The origins of this Rye Creek watershed and road restoration work can be traced to the Bitterroot Burned Area Recovery Plan, which followed the fires of 2000. Originally, the Forest Service pushed forward with a “recovery” plan that was actually one of the largest proposed timber sales in the history of the agency. The plan called for nearly 70 square miles of logging, half of which was to take place in key watersheds for those threatened bull trout and sensitive westslope cutthroat trout. The industrial logging also targeted roadless wildlands and previously unlogged, old-growth forests.

Local conservation organizations took the Forest Service to court and following two days of back and forth negotiations (while literally being locked in the federal courthouse in Missoula with the likes of Mark Rey) a settlement agreement was reached on February 6, 2002. Basically, conservation groups agreed to the settlement because while it allowed the Forest Service to move forward with logging on approximately 14,000 acres, the court-sanctioned settlement also contained the promise of $25 million worth of very important watershed and forest restoration work, including that work up Rye Creek.

At the time, Dale Bosworth, Chief of the Forest Service, told the public, “The most important thing to me is getting on with the restoration work. There’s lots of other work we wanted to do – roads we wanted to obliterate, watershed work, reforestation. The idea of the whole project was fire restoration.”

What transpired was a far different story. You see, the logging component of the Burned Area Recovery project was completed years ago, but the majority of the promised restoration work has either lagged far behind – as in the case with Rye Creek – or may never be completed, despite promises and rhetoric to the contrary. Unfortunately, this is a very common practice. Something we’ve seen happen time and again with the Forest Service’s use of “stewardship contracting.”

What makes the Bitterroot situation all the more frustrating is that back in 2002, when the settlement agreement was signed, the Bitterroot National Forest had in-hand the $25 million to complete all of the promised restoration work. It just wasn’t their priority.

Unfortunately, yet predictably, the Forest Service put all their time and energy into the logging part of the project. During that summer of 2002, when I took a USA Today reporter on a tour of the “recovery” plan his cover story pointed out what we had been warning about all along, “The work in the Bitterroot is also emblematic of the controversy dogging the fire plan. The logging here is 10 miles from the nearest community at risk from wildfire. And the burned trees being salvaged are the largest, most commercially valuable ones, not the smaller ones that would likely ignite most easily in another fire.”

A few weeks later, Forest Service brass in Washington DC, despite being party to the settlement agreement, decided to use the $25 million set aside for the promised Bitterroot restoration work to pay for the costs associated with fighting fires in Oregon, Colorado and Arizona. Conservation groups howled, but not a peep of protest was heard from the logging industry.

For those interested in a more detailed blow-by-blow of how this all went down, we put out press releases on the two year and three year anniversary of the settlement agreement.

Like I said, it’s great that the important restoration work up Rye Creek is moving forward. We’ve supported and fought for this work all along. It’s good for fish, workers and the entire watershed. However, I can’t help but see the irony that it’s taken over 7 years, and the near-complete collapse of the US economy, to finally get this work started. Talk about not taking “the path of least resistance!”

Posted in Forests, Green jobs, Restoration Economy | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »