U.S. Forest Service hopes new minimum rates can help clear forests

By Scott Buffon
The U.S. Forest Service in Washington D.C. changed its national policy on the price of selling Forest Service timber in a way they hope will help forestry projects clear cut timber off of its thinning areas.

Across the country, Forest Service officials are now able to sell bundles of logs for a new minimum price that applies to trees regardless of its diameter — 25 cents per CCF. As 5 CCFs can fill a log truck, the new metric means a truck could be carrying a load worth only about $1.25 in areas with low-value lumber. John Crockett, Deputy Director of Forest Management, Range Management and Ecology at the Forest Service in Washington D.C., expects the change will not impact areas where trees are sold at high value, and will only help areas that are struggling to remove unhealthy swaths of trees.

The Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) works across four national forests and offers timber sales and stewardship contracts to clear unhealthy forests around northern Arizona. The new minimum rate will help 4FRI lower the cost of the wood, in the hopes that a business might be able to save money on the wood and afford the costs of removing it from the site.

Source: U.S. Forest Service hopes new minimum rates can help clear forests – Arizona Daily Sun, 2019-07-09

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

To Control Forest Fires, Western States Light More of Their Own

By Sophie Quinton
RUSTIC, Colo. — Tramping over a charred mountainside here one foggy morning, Matt Champa glowed with satisfaction. “Deer and elk will love this,” said the U.S. Forest Service “burn boss,” gesturing to a cluster of blackened trees that eventually will fall and create more space for forage plants.

Champa and his team set fire to this area last month, part of the 1,900-acre Pingree Hill prescribed burn on the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland to improve wildlife habitat and create space that firefighters could use to defend nearby residents and the Cache la Poudre River from a wildfire.

The Forest Service and its partners hope over the next decade to carry out a series of such prescribed burns in Northern Colorado to protect communities and the river, which supplies water to about 300,000 people.

Public and private landowners across the West are increasingly using prescribed fire to reduce wildfire danger. Over 3 million acres were treated with prescribed fire in Western states in 2017, up from the roughly 2 million in 2011, according to a survey by the National Association of State Foresters and the Coalition of Prescribed Fire Councils Inc.

Source: To Control Forest Fires, Western States Light More of Their Own – PEW Stateline, 2019-05-16

US agency endorses plan to block new mining near Yellowstone

By Jerry Painter for AP
U.S. officials recommended approval on Friday of a plan to block new mining claims for 20 years on the forested public lands that make up Yellowstone National Park’s mountainous northern boundary.

Regional Forester Leanne Marten submitted a letter to the Bureau of Land Management endorsing the plan to withdraw 30,000 acres (12,140 hectares) in Montana’s Paradise Valley and the Gardiner Basin from new claims for gold, silver, platinum and other minerals, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Marna Daley said.

A final decision is up to the office of U.S. Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke, who favors the withdrawal. Zinke said in a statement that it could be finalized in coming weeks.

The Trump administration’s support is notable given the president’s outspoken advocacy for the mining industry and his criticism of government regulations said to stifle economic development. The proposal has received bipartisan backing in Montana, with Democrats and Republicans alike eager to cast themselves as protectors of the natural beauty of the Yellowstone region.

Source: US agency endorses plan to block new mining near Yellowstone – Idaho Falls Post Register, 2018-09-24

Forest Service Chief Talks Need For New Fire Management, Fuel Treatments

by Tony Schick
The West is in the midst of another intense fire season. Fires in California and Oregon have claimed lives and homes and burned up farmland.

As part of EarthFix’s ongoing series on wildfire, reporter Tony Schick spoke with interim Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen about what her agency is doing to reform fire management and reverse the fire problem.

Christiansen discussed her agency’s approach to wildfire management and what she’s doing to reduce the damage from wildfires in the future. Below are some of her responses on these issues, edited for length and clarity.

As EarthFix reported, the Forest Service still suppresses nearly all fires, decades after recognizing the danger in that practice. Wildland fire agencies currently spend millions fighting relatively low-risk fires that could actually help protect communities if allowed to burn a bigger footprint. Researchers within the Forest Service are trying to push wildland fire management toward more data-driven decisions that consider the long-term tradeoffs of fire suppression. Asked what she’s doing to implement that throughout the agency, Christiansen said she was trying to build more acumen for risk management and reset the agency’s thinking.

“We are successful at extinguishing 98 percent of all fires. But there’s 2 percent that, I call them hurricane fires. We don’t ask public safety officials to stop a hurricane. We ask them to get people out of harm’s way, to provide assistance to mitigate, create resilience, etc. Well that’s the situation we are in. But we are asking many of our responders to take aggressive action when there is zero probability of success.

“So our reset is about thinking about (the) probability of success, and just the first line — all fire is bad and we must stop it. Why are we exposing responders, not doing our work to get people out of harm’s way, spending all kinds of public funds, when the probability of success is zero to very low. That’s the first level of the reset.”

Source: Forest Service Chief Talks Need For New Fire Management, Fuel Treatments – OPB/EarthFix, 2018-07-30

Cooperative Forestry Act Celebrates 40 Years of Helping Private Forest Owners

By Joyce El Kouarti
When most people think of forested lands in our country what comes to mind are public wild lands like the Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon or the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. But the reality is most forests in America, nearly sixty percent, are owned by private landowners who very much rely on these lands for income that helps to fuel the economic health of rural communities.

So because forests continue to be threatened by wildfire, attacks by insects and diseases, and conversion to non-forest uses, forty years ago, on July 1, Congress passed the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act of 1978. The Act was designed to mitigate these threats by empowering the USDA Forest Service to partner with state forestry agencies, which typically match federal investments 2 to 1, to provide technical forest management assistance to landowners.

Today the Forest Service Cooperative Forestry programs, created through the Act, help individual and family forest owners balance timber management with the conservation of water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, wildfire management, and opportunities for outdoor recreation.

One of these programs is the Forest Stewardship Program, which each year helps connect more than 400,000 landowners with the information and tools they need to manage their woodlands for timber, fuel wood, wildlife habitat, water protection, and recreation.

Another example is the Forest Legacy Program, which offers economic incentives to permanently conserve private working forests that support strong markets for forest products. The program recently helped private forest landowners in Georgia conserve 26,000 acres of well-stocked long-leaf pine forests that are now actively managed for timber, wildlife habitat, and watershed protection with new areas opened up for hunting, hiking, and mountain biking.

Source: Cooperative Forestry Act Celebrates 40 Years of Helping Private Forest Owners – USDA Forest Service, 2018-06-29

Montana, feds agree on habitat conservation plan for grizzlies, lynx, bull trout

A few more timber projects may move ahead on Montana state forests, even where they are in critical habitat for endangered species, under terms of a new state-federal conservation agreement. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released the final draft of an EIS that outlines management guidelines for more than 620,000 acres of state forests.

Source: Montana, feds agree on habitat conservation plan for grizzlies, lynx, bull trout – Missoula Current

The painful riddle of forest thinning plan

By Peter Aleshire
Fire season looms.

Every high country community quivers on the cusp.

So the U.S. Forest Service will on Thursday hold a meeting on its plan to use thinning projects and controlled burns across a million acres of Rim Country to dramatically reduce both tree densities and wildfire risk.

One little problem: The Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) the plan envisions has fallen years behind schedule and is struggling to make a dent on the hundreds of thousands of acres of projects already approved.

The Forest Service awarded the first 4FRI contract five years ago for an initial 300,000 acres out of a total of 2.6 million eventually targeted. The Forest Service shifted the contract from Pioneer Forest Products to Good Earth AZ after a year, with no projects completed. So far, Good Earth has completed thinning projects on about 8,500 acres out of the 60,000 called for in the original schedule. Good Earth has said it plans to thin 30,000 acres annually, but so far has had trouble lining up enough trucks and capacity at small-wood sawmills to come anywhere near that pace.

Source: The painful riddle of forest thinning plan – Heber/Overgaard | wmicentral.com, 2017-04-14

Wet winter fails to solve California’s forest problems

By Christine Souza
Despite the wet winter and far-above-average Sierra Nevada snowpack, California forests remain at risk from tree mortality, bark beetle infestations and overgrown landscapes, according to presentations at the 2017 California Farm Bureau Federation Leaders Conference.

During the event, foresters and forest landowners discussed all those issues and communicated concerns directly to Randy Moore, U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest regional forester, who participated as a guest speaker.

Shaun Crook, a timber operator and president of the Tuolumne County Farm Bureau, emphasized to Moore the need for effective forest management and that it be included in the agency’s updated forest plans, to reverse the damage happening in the national forests. The Forest Service is currently working on forest plans to serve as the land management framework for the Inyo, Sequoia and Sierra national forests, which are expected to serve as blueprints for other forests in the Sierra and across the country.

“As we go forward with the forest plan revisions and the (tree) mortality, we need to be more proactive with the green and timber sale program to start getting the forest back into that state that it was 100 years ago, before we can just let fire do its thing, or we’re going to continue to have the catastrophic fires like the King Fire and the Rim Fire,” said Crook, a contract logger and grazing permittee in the Stanislaus National Forest. “We need a guaranteed harvest level coming off of the national forest because without that, we won’t get this private infrastructure back.”

Source: Wet winter fails to solve state’s forest problems – California Farm Bureau Federation, 2017-03-15