21 Apr 2008, 4:48pm
Federal forest policy
by admin

USFS Issues New Planning Rule

Today the new US Forest Service Planning Rule was posted in the Federal Register [here]. A new Rule was required because the 9th District Court enjoined the old rule (2005) in January. That one was a rewrite of the older rule (2000).

The Summary of the new USFS Planning Rule from the Federal Register:

SUMMARY: This final rule describes the National Forest System (NFS) land management planning framework; sets up requirements for sustainability of social, economic, and ecological systems; and gives directions for developing, amending, revising, and monitoring land management plans. It also clarifies that, absent rare circumstances, land management plans under this final rule are strategic in nature and are one stage in an adaptive cycle of planning for management of NFS lands.

The intended effects of the rule are to strengthen the role of science in planning; to strengthen collaborative relationships with the public and other governmental entities; to reaffirm the principle of sustainable management consistent with the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960 (MUSYA) and other authorities; and to streamline and improve the planning process by increasing adaptability to changes in social, economic, and environmental conditions.

This rulemaking is the result of a United States District Court of Northern California order dated March 30, 2007, which enjoined the United States Department of Agriculture (the Department, the Agency, or the USDA) from putting into effect and using the land management planning rule published on January 5, 2005 (70 FR 1023) until it complies with the court’s order regarding the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) (Citizens for Better Forestry v. USDA, 481 F. Supp 2d 1059 (N.D. Cal. 2007)). The purpose of this final rule is to respond to the district court’s ruling.

This final rule replaces the 2005 final rule (2005 rule) (70 FR 1022, Jan. 5, 2005), as amended March 3, 2006 (71 FR 10837) (which was enjoined by the district court’s ruling) and the 2000 final rule (2000 rule) adopted on November 9, 2000 (65 FR 67514) as amended on September 29, 2004 (69 FR 58055).

DATES: Effective Date: This rule is effective April 21, 2008.

The gist of the new Rule (contends the USFS) is that Forest Plans are “strategic” guidance documents and do not specify any actions. Therefore they have no environmental effects in and of themselves, and so do not require Environmental Impact Statements. Only specific projects require EIS’s, not Forest Plans.

The new Rule itself did require an EIS (this is a little convoluted) and the USFS chose Option M as specified in that EIS. Option M does away with the concept of “alternatives” as required under NEPA and instead substitutes “options” of which Option M was the literal and figurative first ever (I told you it was convoluted).

Under Option M the USFS foresees a “collaborative process” for developing Forest Plans which will produce “options” in some cases and in other cases not, because the “collaborative process” might produce “points of agreement” such that the whole option thing could be ignored. The idea is to avoid NEPA altogether.

If the responsible official determines the plan revision or amendment can be categorically excluded from documentation in an EA or EIS, no alternatives would be developed. If further NEPA analysis and documentation are required, appropriate alternatives would be developed from the options.

In other words, the “responsible official” could sidestep the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Administrative Procedures Act, and any other national environmental laws with the stroke of a pen.

For an example of this kind of planning, note that USFS Chief Gail Kimbell has already thrown out four Fire Plans and is preparing to throw out more [here]. The USFS has implemented Let It Burn policies without so much as a nod toward NEPA, ESA, NHPA, etc. Whatever “public collaboration” occurred took place behind closed doors with the public totally excluded.

Instead of legal oversite and true public participation, the USFS proposes an authoritarian process where some civil service functionary assumes all power and gives the bureaucratic finger to the people whose landscapes, livelihoods, and very lives will be impacted.

Decisions will be made on the spur of the moment that may end up incinerating broad tracts of land. They have done it before, they are doing it now, they will continue to do it, but now without threat of legal appeal. All USFS actions will now be subject only to the “discretion of the responsible official.”

The USFS will be sued to enjoin the new Planning Rule. In fact, a coalition of 14 environmental groups jumped the gun April 11 and filed suit before the regulations became official in the Federal Register, but after the record of decision and EIS were made public.

The basic controversy is exactly the same as the one that arose with the 2005 Planning Rule: no EIS preparation in conjunction with Forest Plans. The USFS has taken it a step farther and has demonstrated no intention of EIS preparation for Let It Burn fires by throwing out fire plans in toto. This puts the environmental groups in a quandary: they want unplanned Let It Burn fires, but they also want EIS prep for any fuels management projects. They can hardly have one without the other, although they are squirming around it as best they can. For their part, the USFS wants no NEPA processes at all.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service holds sway over the Endangered Species Act. The USFWS has held that hammer over the USFS for a long time. Whether the spotted owl, the kangaroo rat, or any of a few hundred other ESA listed species, whatever the USFS wants to do the USFWS has had veto power over it, based on the ESA. Now, however, the USFS is giving the USFWS the finger, too. There is much inside baseball going on. The USFWS is trying to get Congress to switch the USFS to the Interior Department so they can apply a stranglehold and take over the USFS entirely. The USFS is trying to short circuit that effort and indeed dismiss the USFWS from any influence at all over USFS affairs.

Meanwhile the enviro groups are tripping all over themselves to get to first base in any of this.

In general, the actual affected parties are the rural residents who suffer under the dictatorship of the USFS, USFWS, and enviro groups, none of whom give a kangaroo rat about rural communities, economies, forests, watersheds, or public health and safety. Those rural citizens will be stepped on again and again as the DC power game goes on. Someday though, some “responsible official” is going to use his or her “discretion” to destroy homes and lives of rural residents and may reap an ugly backlash. Whoops, that’s already happened and happening. Everybody is a patsy in this game.

Stay tuned to SOSF because we will be bringing you the second inning of this power game sometime in the future, when the courts come up to bat.

22 Apr 2008, 8:13am
by bear bait

If the USFS does not start the fire, is not responsible for its ignition, by what authority is it required, mandated, legally obligated to suppress, control or put it out? Isn’t that the question? And who makes the fire policies? Does Congress have a huge role if only because suppression and control are a budget item, far from USFS control? I would then progress to the idea that there is no stated national policy for wildfire, on any lands. There are local, state, and agency plans, but nothing national. This should all get interesting over time.

22 Apr 2008, 9:41am
by Mike

Federal/state cooperative fire control agreements were initiated nearly 100 years ago, and fully established since the early 1950. For the last six years or so the Feds have been trying to bail on their legally contracted obligations, and leave the states holding the bag.

State fire agencies in CA, MT, NM, AZ, OR and elsewhere have considered and sometimes implemented fire control on Fed land in order to squelch fires before they blow up and cost the states much, much more. The Feds have been embarrassed again and again by state fire agencies who pay more to firefighters, have better equipment, and do a better job.

There is a chronic bureaucratic turf battle and frequent skirmishes because the Feds don’t want the states on “their” land doing the management/stewardship/firefighting. But then the Feds are growing increasingly incompetent (if that could be imagined) and fires are doing ever more serious destruction.

The Rey/Bosworth/Kimbell era has been particularly inept and catastrophically incendiary. They have been worse than worthless. The states are growing very bored of a do-nothing, dumb-assed, in-the-way, national fire apparatus.

The outlook is more of the same only worse. Interesting is not the word. Horrific fits better.

22 Apr 2008, 10:22am
by Mike

Take the Trigo Fire, for instance (see the new W.I.S.E. Fire Tracking site here).

The Trigo Fire started last week in the Pajarita Wilderness of the Coronado NF in NM. The Feds could not control it, and it jumped onto private property where it caused the evacuation of two towns and burned nine homes.

The firefighting costs to date have been $2,300,000. The bulk of this has been incurred by state and local fire agencies. A FEMA grant has been approved to defer some of those costs, but more than $500,000 will remain the responsibility of tiny, cash-strapped rural RFD’s.

The USFS response? Wilderness fires are great and let’s ban homes and bulldoze the nearby towns. The brown-skinned people who live there are not worthy of existence, anyway. We will Burn Baby Burn no matter what, so screw the residents. The dirty scum are living in the Wildland-Urban Interface where we told them not to, so too bad for them. Not our fault. They burned their own homes down. We killed Smokey Bear for good reasons, etc. etc.

That is no exaggeration either. The Fed fire community has been infiltrated and taken over by anti-American holocausters. There is a war going on right here on American soil. It’s the Feds versus the resident rural citizenry. I have written about it a hundred times. There is no let up, no cease fire, no truce, and no dialog. People need to wake up and smell the smoke. Your home could be next on the Fed incineration list. Your forest most certainly is.

22 Apr 2008, 5:01pm
by bear bait

Now you have me thinking that state and local fire efforts, when there is a fire coming at them from federal land, maybe ought to go right to the federal property line, drop back 20 feet onto state, local, private land, and back fire. Even if the fed fire is miles away. Just tell them it was necessary to backfire to protect private property, and put in the cat line on other than federal lands, and back fire and, gee, the fire got away. We were just backfiring, making a black line, to defend our property. A damned shame we had to burn up your wilderness area, your special use lands. But you can tell your minders you got the job done. You got it all burned.

By the way, that is exactly what the Feds did on the Egley Fire last summer by Burns. Dropped back miles, set a big backfire, lost it, and burned tens of thousands of acres of mixed private and public lands, all from a public lands backfire effort. Ooops! Sorry!!! and that was it. But all those burned acres with little suppression effort kept their per acre costs way down, and everyone got to keep their jobs. Oh, and the overhead team that did all that was from somewhere in the Carolinas in the deep south. Thought they were fighting loblolly pine fire. Diversity at work. The condom approach: one size should fit all.

22 Apr 2008, 5:37pm
by Mike

bear bait,

Not backfire; have state and local crews go straight onto the Fed land, straight to the ignition point, and do the initial attack and fire suppression surge first rather than waiting at the Fed boundary for the fire to come to them.

The Egley Fire was not the first time the USFS set destructive backfires. See the next post, Ninth Circuit Rules Against Burned-Out Homeowners.



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