Ninth Court Blocks Life-Saving Thinning

A Bush administration rule that allowed expedited logging on national forests saved thousands of homes during the recent wildfires in California, Forest Service Chief Gail Kimbell said today.

Kimbell cited “some real vivid examples” in California where the Forest Service practice of logging without first analyzing its effect on the environment saved homes and lives.

“The hazardous fuels treatments were instrumental saving thousands of homes” in southern California during recent wildfires near San Diego and Lake Arrowhead, Kimbell said.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the practice Wednesday, saying it violated the National Environmental Policy Act. Kimbell said the administration was considering whether to appeal…

In its opinion Wednesday, the three-judge appeals court panel said the Forest Service had failed to properly analyze the rule, causing “irreparable injury” by allowing more than 1.2 million acres of national forest land to be logged and burned each year without studying the ecological impacts.

The justices ruled that the Forest Service can no longer exempt such projects from environmental analysis until the rule itself can be properly analyzed.

The ruling sided with the Sierra Club and Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign…

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., called the decision an assault on common sense and reason.

“The court’s overzealous interpretation of environmental regulation is placing lives and personal property in danger,” said Issa, adding that the appeals court “placed greater weight on the concerns of a special interest group than the lives and welfare of Americans threatened by wildfires.”

The case is Sierra Club v. Bosworth, 05-16989… [more]

6 Dec 2007, 7:53pm
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Big Sky Coalition promotes legislation, education to boost logging

Clark Fork Chronicle - Nov. 29, 2007 (Repost)

Environmentalists with common sense

by John Q. Murray

The Big Sky Coalition is moving forward with legislation, hopes to participate on the Bitterroot National Forest’s restoration committee, and may seek to launch education campaigns directed at East Coast and West Coast environmentalists, organizers told the Chronicle Tuesday.

The group, which characterizes itself as “environmentalists with common sense,” drew an eye-popping 650 people to a public informational meeting in Hamilton earlier this month, with the crowd overwhelmingly in support of increased logging on the national forests as a way to mitigate catastrophic wildfires. The group has already received over $10,500 in donations.

The summer’s smoke in the valley-again-frustrated a lot of Bitterrooters, explained organizer Tom Robak. “After the smoke started to die down, we spent a lot of time talking to people, and everybody had the same message—this is getting old. We need to try something different.”…

The group is considering a similar meeting in Missoula as they continue to build an environmental organization with a full-time staff that can participate in decision-making regarding public lands. They also hope to continue to develop broad public support to push legislation through Congress…

One potential approach is to require litigants suing to stop a project to post a bond. “In an emergency situation, if you are going to stop a project, you need accountability,” [organizer] Sonny [LaSalle] said…

The Big Sky Coalition is establishing partnerships with the Montana Wilderness Association, the National Wildlife Federation, and Montana Trout Unlimited. “Having a healthy forest and healthy habitat is beneficial to everything and everybody,” Sonny said…

“I’ve been involved in public meetings for 40 years and I’ve never seen a turnout like that,” Sonny said. “It sends a message to me that people really are frustrated and they want change. The status quo is not acceptable anymore and the Forest Service and our elected officials need to be responsive to that change.”… [more]

6 Dec 2007, 3:37pm
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Project unites rival forest views

A conservationist, a logger and a Forest Service manager work together

Tim Lillebo, Scott Melcher and Maret Pajutee trail decades of hostility as they tramp through the forests that slide east off the Cascades into central Oregon.

Yet, here they are — an environmentalist, a logger and a Forest Service manager — side by side amid the towering ponderosa pines along Indian Ford Creek.

The three have joined forces in an unusually friendly effort to repair a 1,200-acre patch of fire-prone forest just east of Black Butte Ranch.

“This is a great opportunity after absolute war,” said Lillebo, an advocate with the conservation group Oregon Wild… [more]

4 Dec 2007, 1:29pm
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TRPA loosens oversight of tree cutting

Agency tries to make it easier to create defensible space

from the Tahoe Daily News [here]

Annie Flanzraich, North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, Nov 29, 2007

KINGS BEACH - Despite some dissent from local fire chiefs, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board changed its ordinances Wednesday to allow property owners to remove trees that are 14 inches or less in diameter without a permit.

Under the new code, property owners can cut those trees without a permit, unless they are in a shoreline area. A TRPA permit is required to remove trees with a diameter greater than 6 inches on the area between the structure and the shore.

Board members said the ordinance change was part of TRPA’s effort to encourage Tahoe homeowners to create more defensible space around homes and structures for fire safety.

However, many fire chiefs had hoped the shoreline provision would be struck from the ordinance.

“One thing that has been very evident is that fire doesn’t know boundaries,” South Lake Tahoe Fire Chief Lorenzo Gigliotti said on behalf of other basin fire chiefs. “It doesn’t pay respect to shorezones, it doesn’t pay respect to scenic boundaries - fire knows no bounds.”

Still, board members argued that it was necessary for some compromise to be reached between protecting scenic resources and defensible space.

“That’s a compromise, and that’s as far of a compromise as I want to go,” said TRPA board member Bruce Kranz. “We need to do something; we need to get this out to the public to let them know we’re serious.”

In September, Lake Tahoe fire chiefs presented a nine-point plan to the TRPA with specific rules they said needed to be changed to make the basin safer.

One of the points in the letter addressed giving homeowners more control over removing trees that could pose a fire danger on their property.

That nine-point plan resulted in talks between the TRPA and the fire districts, and eventually this ordinance change.

The ordinance passed with an 12-1 vote, with TRPA board member Steven Merrill voting against it.

“This is one of the cases where there is tension between fire safety and scenic standards,” Merrill said.

3 Dec 2007, 11:58pm
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Connaughton to Lead Eastern Region of the U.S. Forest Service

USDA Forest Service
Washington, D.C.
Release No. 0724 Released 12/03/2007

WASHINGTON, November 30—U.S. Forest Service Chief Abigail R. Kimbell today appointed Kent P. Connaughton as Eastern regional forester (Region 9). Connaughton will oversee 15 national forests in 20 eastern states. He is currently Associate Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry in Washington, DC.

“Kent brings a wealth of experience in managing national forests and cooperating with State and private forestry programs that will serve him well in this new assignment,” said Chief Kimbell.

While in the Washington Office Connaughton was responsible for federal protection of the nation’s forests from fire, insects, and disease, as well as programs to support sustainable management of non-federal forests, conservation education, and tribal relations.

“I am very pleased to have this opportunity and challenge,” said Connaughton. This region is known for its size and geographical dispersion, and I look forward to carrying out the high standards set by Chief Kimbell.”

He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Stanford University, a Master of Forestry degree from Oregon State University, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of California, Berkeley. He is a member of the Society of American Foresters, and was elected Fellow of that professional society in 1991.

2 Dec 2007, 7:32pm
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Cyclone-like conditions have hit Oregon before

by George Taylor, Director, Oregon Climate Service at Oregon State University

As I write this on Thursday night, a powerful storm is forming in the western Pacific near Japan. Cold air from East Asia moving over the warm waters of the Kuroshio Current is causing rapid storm development. This is enhanced by moisture from two decaying typhoons, Mitag and Hagibis, which have moved into the mid-latitudes. Everything is setting up for a big West Coast event.

The predictive models are beginning to come together in agreement regarding what comes next. They are suggesting that, by tonight, strong winds will begin to affect the Oregon coast. Monday and Monday night look rather windy in the inland valleys.

And then the rains are expected to arrive. The storm will be tapping copious amounts of subtropical moisture, producing an “atmospheric river,” the type of condition that gives us our wettest rain events. Because of its original tropical location, the “river” is a very warm one, and high freezing levels are expected. A “rain on snow” event, caused by a combination of melted snow and heavy rain, might occur. We may get a big windstorm followed by a big flood. It’s still too early to tell, but by the time you read this, we’ll have a better idea.

The storm will kick up some pretty big surf as well. The U.S. Navy wave model is predicting 25- to 30-foot waves for our coastline early next week.

And just how big a windstorm will we have? According to the National Weather Service, the kid of storm we get about once every five to 10 years. In other words, BIG! In fact, this storm has caused NWS officials to issue a wind warning that they have never used before…

Shades of 1962, when a dying typhoon moved into the North Pacific, regained strength and turned into the Columbus Day Storm, the most powerful storm to hit the Northwest on record. That storm had winds comparable to a Category 3 or 4 hurricane… [more]

Thinning objections thwart collaboration

Unsigned editorial, Arizona Daily Sun, 11/30/07

It’s certainly good to hear that a sixth major thinning project has been officially proposed for the forests surrounding Flagstaff.

What’s not so good is to learn that outsiders from Tucson and New Mexico have raised objections to a plan already arrived at by local compromise.

The thinning plans are the collaboration of the Coconino National Forest and the Greater Flagstaff Forests Partnership. When complete, they will cover nearly 100,000 acres of what’s known as the wildland-urban interface.

Not only will the forest emerge healthier, but local communities will be safer from catastrophic wildfire.

The partnership is a model of collaboration and consensus-building by business, conservation and academic interests, in addition to the Forest Service.

It was created in part out of frustration with the adversarial and litigious process involved in getting forest thinning projects approved. When environmentalists would take the Forest Service to court, it was not only costly to taxpayers but prolonged the wildfire risk to local communities…

But two outside environmental groups, the Center for Biological Diversity of Tucson and Forest Guardians of New Mexico, have longstanding objections to the cutting of almost any old-growth tree. They rightly point out that Southwest forests have already lost most of their large trees to logging, and they contend no more can be spared. The goshawk, they add, is not as adaptable as ERI scientists believe.

But if aggressive thinning isn’t conducted, including in some old-growth stands, there won’t be any trees left at all, big or small. And that means no goshawk, either. We learned that locally in the Pumpkin Fire, which scorched stands of unthinned old-growth pines near Kendrick Peak down to bare earth because it reached the crowns… [more]

29 Nov 2007, 4:50pm
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Avoiding Crown Fires

Fuels reduction thinning can help

published in the Eugene Weekly, 11/29/07

We have serious disagreements with the Viewpoint (11/1) by Tim Hermach on fire ecology and fuels reduction with thinning. We recognize that protection of old-growth forests is necessary, since enough old growth has been clearcut — too much, in fact. Given the fact that logging reduced Oregon’s old forests by approximately 80 percent over the 20th century, people are justifiably skeptical about yet more logging in these forests. However we also fear that we may lose much of our remaining old growth to fires, especially in the mid- and low-elevation ponderosa pine zone of Eastern Oregon…

In his column, Hermach said, “In fact, recent science demonstrates that forests that were thinned before a wildfire, including the Biscuit Fire, ended up with more dead trees than the forests that were left to nature. Not surprisingly, many of the forests around Lake Tahoe had already been ‘thinned,’ some of them up to six months before the fire, which — at best — did next to nothing to prevent the fire, and — at worst — intensified the blaze.”…

In fact, thinning and slash treatment have been successful in reducing severe fire in eastern Washington, Arizona, New Mexico, Tahoe, the Biscuit Fire and parts of northern California. Studies show that when the slash from thinning is treated by burning or crushing into small pieces, fires stay mostly on the ground with canopy fire reduced considerably, but without such slash treatment, fires can indeed burn hotter. Thinning opponents have sometimes singled out areas without treated slash to support their case. For example, ignoring the full range of treatment effects at Tahoe, one of Hermach’s colleagues widely distributed pictures of the one treatment area that had not had thinning slash treated, and consequently burned severely, using it to argue that thinning didn’t work…

Even when we disagree, we respect opponents who present evidence soberly and accurately, but we cringe when scientific literature is ignored or misrepresented. We are not contending that thinning in all locations is advised, helpful or even economical, but Hermach and others have blatantly misrepresented studies of wildfire behavior in stands thinned for fuels treatments. Whether due to sloppiness or purposeful cherry-picking to support a point of view, such distortions do a disservice to those trying to understand how to best protect our forests and rural communities… [more]

27 Nov 2007, 8:02pm
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Low timber prices stifle plans to boost logging


PORTLAND — Bush administration plans to boost logging in Northwest national forests have collided with low timber prices blamed on the housing slump.

The U.S. Forest Service is running short of money to draw up new timber sales.

Government and industry officials say lumber prices are as low as they have been for years, down by about half from the peak in 2004.

Thus the Forest Service earns far less for timber, meaning less money for future logging projects.

“We didn’t know this was going to happen,” said Peggy Kain of the Forest Services regional office in Portland. “The market hasn’t been this bad in a very long time.”

Some mills are cutting back production.

“It’s probably as bad as its ever been, maybe worse,” said Kevin Binam, of the Western Wood Products Association… [more]

27 Nov 2007, 7:55pm
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Trees giving bizarre clues to climate change

By Sandi Doughton

CARSON, Skamania County — Suspended 20 stories in the air, Ken Bible looks down on the crown of a 500-year-old Douglas fir and ponders a mystery.

It’s not the obvious one: How does a man without superpowers hover above the treetops?

That’s easy. The University of Washington forest ecologist rose to his lofty perch in a metal gondola hoisted by a 285-foot-tall construction crane.

The vantage point allows Bible to study the upper reaches of this old-growth forest, where a reproductive orgy is under way.

“We’ve never seen anything like this here,” he says, reaching over the edge of the open-air gondola to grasp a limb laden with cones… Scientists’ thrill ride… [more]

27 Nov 2007, 7:46pm
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State of timber-Forests’ future full of changes, challenges

By PERRY BACKUS of the Missoulian

Editor’s note: Today, the Missoulian concludes a four-part look at the past, present and future of timber cutting in Montana.

HAMILTON - Tom Robak knew he’d struck a public chord that day he opened up his post office box.

A week hadn’t yet passed since Robak and others had hosted a meeting in Hamilton earlier this month that drew close to 650 people on a sunny Sunday afternoon. The crowd had come to learn about the new group - Big Sky Coalition: Environmentalists with Common Sense - that planned to challenge forest management policies it believed were causing catastrophic wildfires.

When Robak turned the key, he was shocked to see his box stuffed full of letters supporting the coalition. The envelopes contained almost $3,500 in donations.

“We had no idea when we started if this was something that people would be interested in,” Robak said. “Now we know there are people out there who want to see something different happening on forestlands.”

All around the state, people from all walks of life are looking for answers to the complicated question of just what should happen on the millions of acres of national forests in Montana.

Some call for more logging to thin the forests. Others want a hands-off approach, allowing nature to take its course. Some say timber cutting should pay for restoration efforts to rebuild streams, control noxious weeds and improve wildlife habitat. Others say that amounts to ecological extortion… [more]

27 Nov 2007, 7:43pm
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State of timber-Culture, fire play roles in CSKT forest plan

Editor’s note: Today, the Missoulian presents the third in a four-part series on the past, present and future of timber cutting in Montana.

RONAN - In 2000, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes adopted a new forest management plan that immediately cut the annual timber harvest on tribal lands on the Flathead Reservation almost in half, from 32 million board feet a year to 18.1 million.

What changed?

For one thing, a plan that spoke of cultural and spiritual values in the same breath as economic ones.

For another, a plan whose intent was to use logging in an attempt to mimic the role wildfire played in a forest’s ecosystem prior to the major fire suppression efforts of the last century.

“The forest management plan is based on the natural process of fire,”James Durglo, head of CSKT’s forestry department, says. “I don’t think many have been developed that way.” … [more]

27 Nov 2007, 7:41pm
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State of timber-DNRC’s harvesting production on rise

Editor’s note: Today, the Missoulian presents the second in a four-part series on the past, present and future of timber cutting in Montana.

By JOHN CRAMER of the Missoulian

The state of Montana doesn’t own much of the forest within its borders compared with the big boys on the block - the U.S. Forest Service, Plum Creek Timber Co. and other private owners.

But while the bigger players have had trouble producing lumber in recent years - constrained by everything from economic downturns and lawsuits to foreign imports and debates about squishy science - state officials have been quietly tending their little plots of earth.

Since it went into the public-land logging business in 1889, the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation has seen its share of ups and downs in timber production.

But in the past decade, the state of Montana has steadily increased its harvest and sales volumes of timber coming off the state’s school trust lands.

That’s meant a relatively steady flow of money for public schools, where most of the state timber revenue goes.

That revenue dropped significantly in the past year because of a national sub-prime mortgage crisis, a resultant drop in homebuilding and a decreased demand for lumber, but agency officials expect timber profits to bounce back when the economy stabilizes… [more]

27 Nov 2007, 7:39pm
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State of timber-Tracing history of an industry in decline

By MICHAEL JAMISON of the Missoulian

Editor’s note: Over the past three decades, the national forest timber harvest has crashed. Some blame environmental regulation. Others blame overharvest in the 1970s and 1980s. Still others point to supply-and-demand economics, and an emergent international import-export lumber business. But most agree the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Region - where harvest has been reduced from 1.2 billion board feet to just 114 million - could produce far more logs if the market would bear them. How to get at that timber, however, remains a point of considerable controversy. Today, the Missoulian begins a four-day series looking at timber cutting in western Montana.

KALISPELL - About a month ago, a brand-new Bitterroot Valley-based group rallied up in Hamilton, calling for more trees to be cut from national forests.

A whole lot of people turned out.

At the same time, the Flathead National Forest offered up for sale 3.4 million board feet of timber, trees already cut and lying right there alongside a road.

Not one bid was submitted.

That you can get the people to rally but you can’t get the mills to bid “proves that public-land timber management is more complicated than some people think,” said Denise Germann, a spokeswoman for the Flathead forest. “We offered the trees, and nobody came to the table. The mills just didn’t want it.”… [more]

17 Oct 2007, 10:10pm
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