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Greens lash out at plans to speed NEPA reviews

By Marc Heller, Originally published August 27, 2019 at E&E News

Conservation groups and scientists are bashing the Forest Service’s plan to revamp the National Environmental Policy Act. (Photo of The Elliott State Forest. Photo credit: Tony Andersen/Oregon Department of Forestry/Flickr)

A Forest Service proposal to accelerate environmental reviews of forest management projects has generated thousands of public comments, including criticism yesterday from conservation groups.

In comments submitted to the agency, the Western Environmental Law Center and other groups said the proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act’s procedures would diminish public input while opening national forests to “sweeping destruction” through increased logging, mining and other projects.

Scientists Oppose Draft Forest Service Rule

For Immediate Release, August 26, 2019

Contacts: Dominick DellaSala, dominick@geosinstitute.org, (541) 621-7223 | Chris Frissell, leakinmywaders@yahoo.com, (406) 471-3167

Over 230 scientists oppose Draft Forest Service Rule That Would Block Scientist Voices, Gut Bedrock Environmental Law

Washington, DC― Over 230 scientists submitted comments strongly opposing a draft US Forest Service rule that would overhaul regulations that implement the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), one our nation’s landmark environmental laws. The proposed rule is designed to speed up logging and other damaging activities across the 193 million-acre national forest system, while cutting the public and independent scientists out of the vast majority of all national forest decisions.

The letter, signed by scientists with expertise in conservation biology, ecology and hydrology, raised concerns about the proposed changes saying they “would hamstring the agency from making informed decisions in an era complicated by unprecedented climate change and a legacy of land-use impacts to the national forest system.”

“In shutting scientists and the public out from forest planning decisions, the Trump Administration continues its reckless policies that will change the very future of our nations treasured forests and rivers, said Dr. Dominick A. DellaSala, Chief Scientist at the Ashland-Oregon based Geos Institute, and lead scientist on the letter. “The Forest Service is chipping away at public accountability with severe consequences likely to our national forests.”

For nearly half a century NEPA has guaranteed public transparency, federal government accountability and ensures that the best available science is considered in federal decisions on public lands. The current NEPA rules require that the Forest Service to notify the public of pending logging, mining, drilling and other projects on national forests and to require the public, including scientists, to comment on these decisions.

The rule would cut out scientist and other public voices from most extraction and development projects on national forests by ending early notification, called scoping, and by creating a host of new loopholes known as “categorical exclusions.” Among many new loopholes, two would allow logging up to nearly 7 square miles and bulldozing up to 5 miles of new logging roads at a time without any public engagement.

“Logging roads cause permanent, elevated levels of erosion and pollution of waters by sediment and nutrients, said Dr. Chris Frissell, a freshwater ecologist and watershed expert in Fisheries Science with 37 years of experience. “We now know how environmentally devastating these accumulated harms to water quality are around the world. The Forest Service’s irresponsible proposal to build more roads without strict limits on road construction and active restoration of the existing road system will increase harm to wild fish and our rivers and streams.”

Categorical Exclusions are reserved for categories of actions that do not cause significant harm either individually or cumulatively like campground modifications and parking lots. The new rules would now apply to mining and oil and gas drilling as well as pipelines and transmission lines that could permanently cut through national forests without any public engagement.

The Trump administration has ordered the Forest Service to increase timber targets to levels not seen in 20 years. The draft rule also weakens standards for categories of extraordinary circumstances such as threatened species, or the presence of wilderness when a more thorough environmental review is required.

“The national forest system stores massive amounts of atmospheric carbon and provides clean drinking water to millions of citizens in rural and urban communities. These values will be increasingly important in helping society slow and adapt to global heating and are unduly being compromised by the Forest Service,” added DellaSala.

Geos Institute is a science-based organization that works to make communities whole in the face of climate change.

Dr. Chris Frissell (PhD, MS, BA) is an ecologist and fisheries scientist and founder and principal scientist at the firm of Frissell & Raven Hydrobiological and Landscape Sciences. He holds an affiliate professorship at the Flathead Lake Biological Station, University of Montana.

The link to the scientist letter can be found here – https://forestlegacies.org/images/scientist-letters/FS_NEPA_Comments_Scientists_Final.pdf

Related Coverage

Alaska fishermen fight for logging limits

By Marc Heller, originally published on August 22, 2019 at E&E News

More than 100 people who operate commercial fishing boats in southeast Alaska urged the Trump administration not to ease limits on logging in roadless areas of the Tongass National Forest, saying opening those areas could negatively affect salmon.

In a letter sent to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen yesterday, the fishing operators asked officials to delay releasing a draft environmental impact statement on the proposed Alaska roadless rule until October, citing the industry’s busy summer season.

“We depend on the forest, we are important stakeholders, and in the summer we are fully engaged in earning a living. If the comment period occurs during the summer months, we will effectively be precluded from participating,” they said.

In addition, they asked for a roadless rule that “prioritizes protecting and sustaining the Southeast salmon resource and its habitat in perpetuity.” That would include phasing out old growth, clear-cut timber practices, they said.

Clear Cut: Saving BC’s Inland Rainforest

An ancient rainforest in BC’s interior is at risk of disappearing after decades of logging

By Daniel Mesec, published August 19, 2019 at Cascadia Magazine

An ancient rainforest, nestled at the northern edge of the Rocky Mountains, has flourished for thousands of years. But this isn’t just any forest. Towering with western red cedars, western hemlock, spruce, and subalpine fir, British Columbia’s inland temperate rainforest has all the hallmarks of a coastal rainforest, yet it is nearly 1,000 km (621 miles) inland. It’s one of the rarest ecosystems on the planet.

Stretching for more than 200,000 hectares along the Upper Fraser Watershed, this diverse and ecologically sensitive forest is home to a vast array of flora and fauna. The interior cedar hemlock ecozone is not only home to thousand year-old western red cedars, but also mountain hemlock, Engelmann spruce, and subalpine fir. These damp, surprisingly lush forests support habitat for black bears, grizzlies, wolverines, pileated woodpeckers, owls, and many other animal species. But this trove of biodiversity that few people know about is now under threat from recent clear-cut logging.

Only 9 percent of BC’s inland rainforest has been designated as protected areas or parks by the provincial government, leaving more than three quarters of the remaining land open to clear-cut logging, which has removed more than a quarter of all the old-growth cedar and hemlock over the past half century. There is no end in sight.

New Alaska roadless rule threatens Tongass deer

By Marc Heller, Published August 19, 2019 at E&E News

CRAIG, Alaska — A dwindling deer population is about to become a flashpoint in the debate over easing logging restrictions in the nation’s largest national forest.

Conservationists and Alaska Native tribes say deer — a big part of tribes’ diets — are in decline on Prince of Wales Island in the Tongass National Forest due to past timber industry practices. They plan to make that a rallying cry in uniting tribes against the Trump administration’s proposal to ease limits on logging in roadless areas of the national forest.

“Our deer suffer from logging,” said Clinton Cook Sr., president of the Craig Tribal Council, representing a community of about 400 people. Past clear-cutting created open landscapes where trees regenerated so thickly that deer can’t navigate the woods, a condition called stem exclusion that affects as much as million acres of forest around tribal lands, tribal officials said in an interview at their offices.

Trump tariff policies are threatening our efforts to transition the Tongass National Forest away from logging old-growth forests

By Marc Heller, E&E News reporter 

Originally published at E&E News on Friday, August 16, 2019

KETCHIKAN, Alaska — The Trump administration’s trade war with China is hitting Alaska’s timber industry where it may hurt most: in the younger trees that everyone seems to agree are the future of the business.

China’s 20% tariff on U.S. timber is retaliation for similar levies the administration placed on Chinese goods. And while Chinese officials spoke earlier this week of trying to reach a middle ground in the broader trade battle, people close to the timber industry in southeast Alaska say they’re not sure the region’s mills that ship there can quickly recover when the battle settles.

That could throw off plans to transition out of old-growth timber harvesting in the Tongass National Forest, a practice that’s unpopular with conservation and environmental groups, as well as Alaska Native tribes, but maintains support from the state’s political leaders.

Trump’s trade war tests Alaska’s struggling timber industry

By Marc Heller, originally published Friday, August 16, 2019 at E&E News

KETCHIKAN, Alaska — The Trump administration’s trade war with China is hitting Alaska’s timber industry where it may hurt most: in the younger trees that everyone seems to agree are the future of the business.

China’s 20% tariff on U.S. timber is retaliation for similar levies the administration placed on Chinese goods. And while Chinese officials spoke earlier this week of trying to reach a middle ground in the broader trade battle, people close to the timber industry in southeast Alaska say they’re not sure the region’s mills that ship there can quickly recover when the battle settles.

That could throw off plans to transition out of old-growth timber harvesting in the Tongass National Forest, a practice that’s unpopular with conservation and environmental groups, as well as Alaska Native tribes, but maintains support from the state’s political leaders.

Conservationists promote the Tongass as bulwark against climate change

Conservationist Dominick DellaSala asks can the Tongass save Alaska?

By Peter Segall, Originally published Friday, August 16, 2019 at The Juneau Empire

Can the Tongass save Alaska from climate chaos?

Dr. Dominick DellaSala, president and chief scientist at the Geos Institute in Ashland, Oregon, asked that question to the small audience of about two dozen gathered in the Mendenhall Valley Library Tuesday evening.

He speaking at at an event hosted by the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council about the role that old-growth forest like the Tongass National Forest can play in combating climate change.

Temperate rain forests like the Tongass soak up an incredible amount of carbon and play a pivotal role in keeping the planet’s temperature at sustainable levels. In answer to his own question, DellaSala said that the Tongass can play a part in saving Alaska from climate chaos, so long as it continues to exist in its present state.

That may be a problem as the Alaska’s logging industry is eager to get at the hundreds of thousands of acres of old-growth forest in Southeast. “Old-growth” forests are not simply forests with old trees, but forests with a complex array of features which create a unique ecosystem which have remained mostly undisturbed by humans.

This Trump administration proposal to roll back logging rules is reckless

By Jim Furnish

Jim is a consulting forester in Iowa, following a 34-year career with the U.S. Forest Service, including as the agency’s deputy chief from 1999 to 2002.

Published August 11 at The Washington Post

I was the supervisor of Oregon’s Siuslaw National Forest in 1996 when a huge landslide caused by shoddy road construction sent tons of mud and debris into a critical salmon stream. I felt terrible ― and personally responsible. In the rush to build logging roads along treacherously steep hillsides, we mismanaged forests for decades and pushed salmon and spotted owls to the brink of extinction.

When I came to Washington to become deputy chief of the Forest Service a few years later, that Oregon landslide ― and countless other road-building mistakes ― motivated me to rewrite national forest policy. I was a chief architect of two landmark rules to reform logging and road building in our national forests.

‘Deliberate extinction’: extensive clear-cuts, gas pipeline approved in endangered caribou habitat

Scientists warn another B.C. caribou herd could disappear as the provincial government approves 78 new logging cutblocks in critical habitat for the Hart Ranges herd, while construction of a pipeline for LNG industry takes out another chunk of boreal forest

By Sarah Cox, Originally published on Aug 7, 2019 at The Narwhal

Standing near the summit of a clear-cut mountain in B.C.’s interior, overlooking the brown and emerald green Anzac River valley, scientist Dominick DellaSala has a bird’s eye view of why the Hart Ranges caribou herd is at risk of extinction.

Only a fringe of forest remains around the distant mountain peak where the declining herd seeks protection from wolves and other predators in ever-shrinking habitat northeast of Prince George.

“The difference between this and Borneo is that there aren’t any orangutans behind me,” says DellaSala, pointing to extensive clear cuts covering much of the mountain side.

“You’ve got caribou at upper elevations. That’s their habitat out there. And they’re being squished to the top of the tallest mountains because all the habitat’s been taken out down below. The species is migratory, it goes up and down.”

DellaSala, chief scientist and president of the Geos Institute in Ashland, Oregon, is touring parts of B.C.’s ancient inland temperate rainforest as part of an Australian-led study documenting the world’s most important unlogged forests.

Continue reading at The Narwhal

 

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