BLM intends to take shortcuts to begin cutting timber after a fire

salvage logging
Skidder and delimber operating on a fuel management research project in the Priest River Experimental Forest in Idaho. Forest Service photo.

The Bureau of Land Management will open a 30-day period during which it will accept public comments on their plans to remove some steps that are required before cutting timber following a fire.

The agency intends to no longer require Environmental Impact Statements or Environmental Assessments on what they call “salvage” operations of less than 5,000 acres — cutting dead or dying trees which can result from insects or wildfires. They would use a Categorial Exemption (CX) to skip some environmental review steps that are usually required.

The BLM’s press release about their plans did not include information about how the public could comment, just that, “[A] a public comment period on the proposed CX closes 30 days after the proposal publishes in the Federal Register. The BLM will provide additional information about when and how to comment when the proposed rule is published. ”

Their press release saw no issues with their planned accelerated timber cutting operations:

The BLM has completed a review of scientific literature and previously analyzed and implemented actions and found no evidence that salvage harvest at the levels proposed would have a negative effect on forest health. To the contrary, removing dead and dying trees can accelerate forest succession and benefit native wildlife species that rely on successional habitat, while reducing the potential for catastrophic wildfires.

An opposing point of view is in a paper written by D.B. Lindenmayer and R.F. Noss, titled “Salvage Logging, Ecosystem Processes, and Biodiversity Conservation.” It was in Conservation Biology, Volume 20, No. 4, August, 2006.

Here is an excerpt:


“Discussion

“Some of the impacts we have outlined may be different from or additional to the effects of traditional forms of logging that are not preceded by large, natural disturbance events. This is because the conditions preceding, during, and after salvage logging may differ from those in areas subject to traditional logging. Moreover, the ecological benefits derived from large-scale disturbances (such as the creation of charred trees and coarse woody debris) can be lost or severely diminished by salvage operations for decades and even centuries (Lindenmayer & Ough 2006). These problems have often been overlooked or poorly understood by conservation biologists, foresters, and other natural resource managers. In some cases salvage impacts may have been so substantial that past interpretations of ecosystem responses to natural disturbance may need to be reexamined. That is, ecosystem processes and biotic responses may have been more influenced by salvage logging than by the initial natural disturbance event. This may be true for hydrological regimes in the northeastern United States following the 1938 hurricane (Foster et al. 1997), aquatic macroinvertebrates in the western United States (Minshall 2003), and arboreal marsupials in the forests of Victoria, Australia, after the 1939 and 1983 wildfires (Lindenmayer et al. 1997).

“Whereas most documented effects of salvage logging are negative from an ecological standpoint, others can be neutral or positive, depending on the response variables measured. Effects are likely to vary over time and among and within vegetation types in response to the type, intensity, and periodicity of natural disturbance and disturbance by salvage logging. Therefore, there can be no generic recipes for salvage logging that can be uncritically applied in all landscapes.

“Perhaps one of the problems associated with the lack of appreciation of the impacts of salvage logging lies in the terminology itself. Dictionary definitions of the term salvage associate it with “recover or save” or “saving of anything from loss or danger” (e.g., Delbridge & Bernard 1989). Although salvage logging removes wood from burned areas, such practices generally do not help regenerate or save ecosystems, communities, or species (but see Radeloff et al. 2000) and often have the opposite effect. Hence, in many respects, the term salvage is inappropriate and misleading from ecological and conservation perspectives. An alternative term might be postdisturbance logging.”

Trump administration seeks to streamline environmental review of prescribed fire and logging projects

The U. S. Forest Service is planning to streamline the environmental reviews of certain prescribed fire and forest management projects, including logging.

Below is an excerpt from a June 12 article at NPR.org.


Federal land managers on Wednesday proposed sweeping rule changes to a landmark environmental law that would allow them to fast-track certain forest management projects, including logging and prescribed burning.

The U.S. Forest Service, under Chief Vicki Christiansen, is proposing revisions to its National Environmental Policy Act regulations that could limit environmental review and public input on projects ranging from forest health and wildfire mitigation to infrastructure upgrades to commercial logging on federal land.

Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen budget FY2020
Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen testified about the White House’s proposed budget for FY2020 on May 15, 2019.

“We do more analysis than we need, we take more time than we need and we slow down important work to protect communities,” Christiansen told NPR.

The proposed rule changes include an expansion of “categorical exclusions.” These are often billed as tools that give land managers the discretion to bypass full-blown environmental studies in places where they can demonstrate there would be no severe impacts or degradation to the land.

John Gale, with the conservation group Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, says that if applied carefully and narrowly to certain projects, these exclusions could help lower the fire risk. But he’s skeptical because the administration recently rolled back protections for clean water and wildlife

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Rick. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

BLM to develop EISs for fuel breaks and fuel reduction

The programmatic Environmental Impact Statements would streamline approvals for projects

Above: A fuel break created along a road by mowing. BLM photo.

(Originally published at 9:55 a.m. MDT December 30, 2017)

In May the U.S. Geological Survey began an effort to study fuel breaks in the Great Basin to evaluate their effectiveness as well as the ecological costs and benefits. On December 22 the Bureau of Land Management announced the agency is proposing to develop two Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) for BLM lands in the states of Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, California, Utah, and Washington. One will cover the construction of fuel breaks while the other is for fuels reduction and rangeland restoration.

The process is expected to result in two programmatic EIS documents that would cover projects region-wide to gain efficiencies in subsequent National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analyses. The blanket approval will mean that individual landscape-scale fuel breaks and fuel reduction proposals will only need minor additional environmental reviews to proceed.

Fuel breaks are intended to interrupt the continuity of vegetation making it easier to control or stop the spread of wildfires. There is no guarantee of success since wind-blown burning embers can be lofted hundreds or thousands of feet ahead of a flaming front, crossing the breaks.

fuel break herbicide aerial application
An aircraft sprays herbicide on a BLM fuelbreak. BLM image.

Landscape-scale fuel reduction would slow the spread and reduce the intensity and resistance to control of a wildfire making it easier for firefighters to keep a small fire from becoming a megafire. Another goal of the vegetation modification is to restore the rangelands habitat in order to provide multiple use opportunities for user groups and habitat for plants and animals. The projects are designed to reduce the threat of habitat loss from fires and restore rangeland’s productivity while “supporting the western lifestyle”, the BLM said in a statement.

The public has until February 20, 2018 to submit comments related to the programmatic EISs by any of the following methods:

  • Website: https://go.usa.gov/xnQcG
  • Email: GRSG_PEIS@blm.gov.
  • Fax: 208–373–3805.
  • Mail: Jonathan Beck, 1387 S. Vinnell Way, Boise, ID 83709
BLM fuel break
BLM fuel break. BLM photo.