Forest Service looks to streamline operations

By Eric Baker
The U.S. Forest Service is looking to trim the time it takes to analyze some timber sales and other projects by revising its rules that guide implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

The proposed changes, announced this week and described as “bold” in a U.S. Department of Agriculture news release, would add new areas for which shortened analysis, known as categorical exclusions, can be used and reduce the amount of public involvement for qualifying projects. The changes are being pursued to make the agency more flexible in dealing with fire-prone forests, mitigate insect and disease infestations and improve services such as trail and recreation-facility maintenance.

“We are committed to doing the work to protect people and infrastructure from catastrophic wildfire,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said. “With millions of acres in need of treatment, years of costly analysis and delays are not an acceptable solution — especially when data and experience show us we can get this work done with strong environmental protection standards as well as protect communities, livelihoods and resources.”

The National Environmental Policy Act, known as NEPA, requires federal agencies to carefully examine planned projects to determine if and how they will affect the environment. The process can be lengthy, often taking years. The law also requires agencies to expose their decision-making process to public scrutiny and to seek public comment prior to making decisions on a broad range of actions.

Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen said the agency leaned on its experience to come up with the proposed changes, which have the potential to bolster the agency’s efforts to reduce big and damaging forest fires.

“We have pored over 10 years of environmental data and have found that in many cases, we do redundant analyses, slowing down important work to protect communities, livelihoods and resources,” she said in the news release.

The updates would give agency officials a suite of new categorical exclusions pertaining to infrastructure projects, restoration work and special-use permits. Under them, the agency could log as much as 4,200 acres within areas of 7,300 acres or fewer, build temporary roads as much as 2.5 miles in length or permanent roads as much as a half-mile long, without producing documents known as environmental analysis or lengthier environmental impact statements. It could also maintain things like roads, trails and bridges, as well as recreation sites and visitor centers, and issue permits to people or organizations using forest land.

Source: Forest Service looks to streamline operations – The Spokesman-Review, 2019-06-29

Trump’s wildfire plan eases environmental law to speed forest thinning in California

By Emily Cadei
The Trump administration’s wildfire plan would ease environmental restrictions in national forests to speed clearing, thinning and the removal of dead trees. He’s chided California for its forest management.

The Trump administration is proposing new regulations it argues could help prevent wildfires — but could also open up more federal land to logging and mineral exploration.

The U.S. Forest Service released proposed regulatory changes Wednesday that would exempt several new types of forest management projects from the typical review process under the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA.

The changes are part of an ongoing push by the Trump administration to speed forest management projects — things like clearing brush, removing dead trees and thinning smaller trees from overgrown forests.

Source: Trump’s wildfire plan eases environmental law to speed forest thinning in California – Sacramento Bee, 2019-06-12

World’s largest wood pellet plant planned in Lucedale

BY MARY PEREZ
Largest wood pellet manufacturer in the U.S. is proposing to build the world’s largest wood pellet mill in Lucedale, Mississippi in George County. Some residents are for it, others question environmental impact.

Residents of Lucedale who showed up in force to a public hearing Tuesday already made up their minds about the largest wood pellet mill in the country locating in their town.

They wore stickers announcing their position. And they weren’t swayed by speakers who came mostly from outside the area, arguing that while Enviva might be good for the bottom line, it might not be good for the health of the community.

The company proposes building a $140 million pellet plant in the George County Industrial Park in Lucedale and a $60 million shipping terminal in Pascagoula. The state Legislature appropriated more than $2 million to fix the rail spur between the two.

The pellets will be made mostly from pine trees in and around George County and shipped overseas to supply fuel for power plants in the United Kingdom, Asia and other countries.

Tuesday’s meeting was the last step in the review process before the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality decides whether to approve the pollution control equipment so the plant can operate within the legal limits of Mississippi. The decision could come as early as the June 11 meeting of the MDEQ review board, which meets the second Tuesday of each month.

Source: World’s largest wood pellet plant planned in Lucedale. Residents, environmental activists at odds. – Biloxi Sun Herald, 2019-05-16

Conference addresses environmental impact of mass timber industry

Organizers of last week’s International Mass Timber Conference in Portland, Ore., devoted a whole track of the three-day event to environmental and sustainability aspects of the mass timber sector — an indication of the importance of sustainability to the tall timber building brand.

Manufacturing of cross laminated timber, or CLT — the product used to construct tall timber buildings — has the potential to revitalize the timber sector and the rural communities in Oregon that have fallen on hard times because of the widespread closure of timber mills across the state, reports Oregon Business.

But experts concede the environmental benefits of CLT are complex and difficult to measure.

Structural engineers look at the lifecycle emissions of CLT when assessing the environmental impact of tall timber buildings. The lifecycle analysis takes account of the greenhouse gas emissions from the harvesting of the wood, through the manufacturing and construction of tall timber buildings, to their eventual demolition.

When taking this cradle-to-grave assessment, the environmental benefits of CLT are not clear.

Source: Conference focuses on mass timber industry | Proud Green Building, 2017-04-03

New study identifies biomass harvesting techniques that have few long-term impacts

A set of newly published studies evaluated nearly forty years of data on the impacts of biomass utilization on soil, tree, and plant recovery and found minimal impact using certain forest harvesting techniques.

The experiments, initiated in 1974, were conducted by scientists from the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station on the Coram Experimental Forest, located in Northwestern Montana. In order to evaluate the ecological consequences of large-scale biomass harvesting, scientists implemented three different tree removal techniques on the landscape – group selection (remove small groups of trees), clearcut (remove all timber), and shelterwood (retain some trees for shade and structure) – all using cable logging. On all three sites the soil was left relatively undisturbed from the harvesting and varying amounts of downed wood were left to promote soil organic matter and wildlife habitat. For some sites, prescribed fire was applied to reduce fuels and fire danger. Scientists then tracked these sites over 38 years to provide a contemporary look at the long-term impacts of biomass utilization on forest productivity (e.g., tree growth).

Source: New study identifies biomass harvesting techniques that have few long-term impacts | Rocky Mountain Research Station