Fracking Free Speech
Last Updated on Monday, 09 September 2013 05:42
Instead of regulating the practice of natural gas hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to ensure our nation’s clean water supply is protected, the U.S, Forest Service has spent their efforts trying to squelch the free speech of the environmental activists who are bringing attention to the dangers fracking poses to the integrity of our public lands.
When New York-based artist and environmental activist Lopi LaRoe learned that the Forest Service was opening up National Forests to the dangers of fracking, she sprang into action.
She created a cartoon image of Smokey Bear, the agency’s icon, wearing a “No Fracking” ranger-style hat above the slogan: “Only You Can Prevent Faucet Fires.” The image went viral, and in response to growing demand, LaRoe silk-screened t-shirts with the Smokey parody and started selling them through her on-line storefront.
The Forest Service was not amused. Through its hired gun, the multi-national public relations firm Metis Group, the Forest Service sent LaRoe a letter threatening six months imprisonment and a fine of up to $150,000. According the Forest Service spokeswoman, Helene Cleveland, “Any time anybody uses Smokey’s image for anything other than wildfire prevention, it confuses the public.”
FSEEE has come to LaRoe’s defense. The First Amendment guarantees her right to parody the Forest Service’s copyrighted Smokey image. The fact that her parody is political heightens the protection she should receive from government speech suppression. Unfortunately, no one can possibly be confused into thinking that Smokey actually opposes fracking. His agency appears all too willing to sanction the potentially destructive practice on our National Forests.
FSEEE has committed to defend LaRoe and her first amendment rights should the Forest Service follow through on its threat to prosecute her.
At FSEEE, we know that activism like LaRoe’s can push the needle in accomplishing lasting protections for our National Forests. The first step in ensuring that natural gas fracking is undertaken responsibly on National Forests is to hold the industry accountable for any environmental damage done to our public lands. Please join us in demanding that the Forest Service regulates fracking and holds the industry accountable when environmental contamination occurs.
*Click here to read more about hydrofracking on your public lands, what FSEEE is doing to protect National Forests and what you can do to help.
FSEEE's Executive Director Testifies Before Congress
Last Updated on Tuesday, 18 June 2013 06:58
On June 18, FSEEE's Executive Director, Andy Stahl, provided testimony to members of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. The committee sought advice regarding the Federal Land Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA), which grants the Forest Service, and other federal land management agencies, the power to levy recreation user fees on public lands. Without Congressional action, FLREA will expire in December of 2014 and leave the land management agencies without the authority to gather recreation fees.
Andy urged Congress to reconsider the use of the standard amenity recreation fee on National Forests that was authorized under the existing act.
An archived copy of the hearing is available for viewing. Andy's testimony begins at 1:30:30.
You can also view FSEEE's written testimony here.
A Perfect Storm
Last Updated on Monday, 10 September 2012 05:52
View the promo video for "A Perfect Storm" and the original "Torrents of Change" and see our project to bring this successful forest restoration project to every National Forest office in the United States under FSEEE Projects.
Waldo Canyon Fire
Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 July 2012 05:04
These graphic photos of the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado show clearly why it's essential to have community wide standards for reducing home flammability in the Wildland Urban Interface (if they are permitted to be built in the first place). Metal roofs, in particular, can go a long ways towards protecting homes.
If you look at these series of photos, you will note that it was home ignition that contributed to the loss of all the homes in this fire—not the fire itself. The fire never spread into this subdivision. Rather one home would ignite, and then burn down its neighbor in a domino fashion. I've seen this all over the West—the Cerro Grande Fire at Los Alamos, a number of fires I've visited in such as the South Tahoe area and in southern California, and other places.
You can see that there are green (i.e. unburned) trees surrounding the ashes of the homes. And the trees that are singed are burnt on the side facing the homes, indicating that the fire from the adjacent wildlands did not directly reach the homes.
It also makes clear that protecting sprawl into the wildlands is now the major cost associated with fire fighting. People should no more be permitted to build in the wildlands as in river flood plains. And if they do, at the very least, they must have effective measures to reduce flammability. It does no good to have a metal roof on your home, if your neighbor does not. The heat from the adjacent house burning will likely set your structure on fire. - Commentary and photos by George Wuerthner
Be safe, be smart, be prepared.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 August 2011 14:23
With summer well under way and many folks heading outdoors for summer fun and vacation, news reports of lost and injured recreationists are on the rise once again. The past week saw headlines detailing the ordeal of a woman injured and lost in the Mt. Hood National Forest in Oregon who was found and rescued by an Army National Guard helicopter. A Boy Scout was lost and found in a Utah wilderness. And the summer has also brought numerous tragedies, with Yosemite National Park seeing number of visitor fatalities spike.
These events have led to the much rehashed discussion of where personal judgement and government intervention collide. There is a thin, often blurry line the must be tread. Perhaps the waterfalls at Yosemite could use better railing or signing (I must admit, I haven’t been to the falls where three hikers recently climbed over the rail and fell to their deaths). But in general, we agree that the government can’t monitor, nor should be held responsible for, the personal behavior and choices made by the recreationists on public lands. Every back-country waterfall can’t be signed or every dead tree along a wilderness trail dynamited, nor should they be. Personal responsibility and good judgement is a must when interacting with the natural world.
Even those of us who spend a good deal of time in the forest can make stupid mistakes. Case in point: knowing when to turn back. My partner and I headed out for an “easy” early season hike over the 4th of July weekend in the Three Sisters Wilderness of Willamette National Forest. The eight mile loop trail had minimal elevation gain for what we felt would be a nice, quick jaunt around the Erma Bell lakes. But in our excitement to get in the car that day, we left behind our day-hiking bag. As someone trained in Search and Rescue, I maintain a mantra of always having survival gear that can get a person through at least 24 hours of exposure when I'm out recreating. But our excitement overshadowed our better judgement, and down the trail we went anyway with just our lunch and water. The snow lingered this year in Oregon’s high country after the wettest spring in 117 years, and it covered the trail in large drifts. We utilized our trail-finding skills and continued on, always able to find the trail over the next drift...that is, until we couldn’t. With a good map and compass, we could have continued on and found our way back to the trailhead (but remember, you have to know how to use these tools properly when going off-trail). We were probably an hour from the trailhead if we continued on and three hours or more if we turned back. So turn back we did, and it was the appropriate and smart decision, but hard. We were dragging by the time we reached the car and ravenously hungry (luckily for me, my most excellent hiking partner is also a botanist with knowledge of local edible plants, and we browsed on violets on the trek back).
So please, enjoy your summer and enjoy our great public lands and National Forests. They contain some of the most beautiful scenery you will find anywhere, along with a multitude of recreational activities. But please, remember to be safe, be smart, and be prepared.
Congressman credits FSEEE for novel forest policy
Last Updated on Monday, 01 August 2011 13:58
While the debt ceiling vote and summer recess occupy the Congressional psyche in Washington, D.C., Representative Peter DeFazio and the Oregon delegation are crafting a novel policy solution to a long-standing forest problem on the Oregon & California (O&C) Lands in the state of Oregon (check out our summer 2011 newsletter for more history on these unique federal forest lands).
Representative DeFazio provided an in-depth radio interview on July 29th with Jefferson Public Radio to explain the comprehensive solution to vest these lands in two trusts, a timber trust and a conservation trust. He gave credit to FSEEE's Executive Director, Andy Stahl, for the unique idea.
You can listen to the interview here.
Money Speaks Louder
Last Updated on Monday, 18 July 2011 09:48
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection cancelled their contract for the "Very Large Air Tanker" (yes, it's actually called that), a DC-10 used for fire retardant drops. It is the largest air tanker in use for this purpose, and as this High Country News article (featuring FSEEE Executive Director, Andy Stahl) suggests, the cancelled contract may be the result of a tight state budget combined with a lack of evidence showing that aerially applied retardant is an effective means of suppressing wildfire, especially in the wind-whipped fires common to California. FSEEE has been pressing the Forest Service to realize that aerial fire retardant is not only harmful to aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals when dropped indiscriminately, but that the excessive spending on fire retardant may not actually buy the government any meaningful form of fire suppression. In these tense budget times, perhaps basic cost/benefit analysis speaks the loudest.
A Changing Forest Deserves a Change in Management
Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 September 2010 14:07
This fall, staff of the White River National Forest will begin a process to determine their mission and role in the active management of over 2 million acres of forest in Colorado. An article published recently notes that the Forest Service is observing historic ecological change on the White River. Unlike northwest forests, extensive logging has not impacted the White River; forest regeneration is experienced through major fire events, and it’s unsurprising that there has been a significant lack of major fires due to suppression efforts. As a result, many of the mature trees are now succumbing to other ecological pressures like fir and pine beetles. Most of these trees are older than the average expected lifespan for their species making them more vulnerable in their older age to be victims of diseases or pests. The White River National Forest is seeing a landscape scale transition and regeneration into a new forest type as the older trees die and new vegetation finds ways to best flourish under today’s environmental constraints and opportunities.
But the Forest Service isn’t going to take this regeneration and change passively. The White River forest staff has announced their intention to determine how they will create an even better forest. The Forest Service has yet to demonstrate their ability to improve or even mimic naturally occurring ecosystems, particularly at the landscape scale. This is a more daunting task considering the trouble the Forest Service has in writing forest management plans, and without a comprehensive vision, it is difficult to perceive how the Forest Service can actively manage 2 million acres. Yet the Forest Service appears ready to blaze ahead without pause to consider not only the feasibility, but also the need for this course of action. Rather, the White River National Forest staff, and the Forest Service in general, need to learn to evaluate not only the “how,” but more importantly, the “should” of their management proposals. Perhaps they can learn a lesson from the forest itself in adapting to change rather than attempting to redesign something out of their control.
Reclaiming Wilderness From Livestock Grazing
Last Updated on Thursday, 10 June 2010 13:56
Livestock grazing open ranges and backcountry pastures is an iconic image of the American west (what's a cowboy without a cow?). Nearly 50 percent of Forest Service lands are open to grazing, the vast majority of which is concentrated in the western US.
But the cost of livestock grazing on public lands is high. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report shows that in 2004, the federal government recovered less than 1/6 of what it cost to administer grazing programs on public lands. That year, the Forest Service spent $74.2 million administering livestock grazing programs. And this doesn't account for the vast damage livestock grazing inflicts on ecosystems.
Grazing even occurs in the areas that are supposed to be the most pristine—wilderness. Imagine hiking miles into backcountry wilderness only to step in a cow pie (I have) or worrying about the quality of the water or finding sensitive meadows and stream banks trampled into mud bogs. The Forest Service and many pro-wilderness organizations take the position that the Wilderness Act of 1964 gives carte blanche to cattle grazing in wilderness areas regardless of the impacts to the wilderness values enshrined in the law. In many cases, the Forest Service fails to disclose any impacts grazing will have on wilderness values (these are the values of lands that are: 1) untrammeled, 2) natural, 3) undeveloped, and 4) having outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation).
FSEEE believes that the Forest Service should disclose the impact grazing has on wilderness areas regardless of whether the activity is authorized under the Wilderness Act (an assertion we find dubious). We have begun to review environmental assessments for grazing allotments in wilderness areas to make sure the Forest Service meets their obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act to disclose these impacts (we'll be sure to keep you appraised of our efforts via this blog).
If there is one place livestock grazing certainly doesn't belong, it's in wilderness.
Managing the Mountain: 30 Years after the Eruption of Mount St. Helens
Last Updated on Monday, 24 May 2010 11:34
May 18, 2010 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the stunning eruption of Mount St. Helens. The force and unexpected collapse of the north side of the volcano created one of the largest landslides ever recorded. All told, the eruption left 57 dead and flattened 200 square miles of forest turning the area into a barren, lunar-looking landscape.
Out of the destruction, the Forest Service, US Geological Service, and Congress all found something extraordinary: a landscape in the public domain that could be studied throughout the coming decades and centuries by the scientific community to understand how volcanoes can cause such destruction and how the landscape rejuvenates itself after such cataclysmic alteration. And for the past thirty years scientists have watched life come back to one of the most hostile environments on earth.
But with this anniversary comes increasing contention about the management of Mount St. Helens. In 1982, the federal government established the 110,000 acre Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument to preserve the area for research, recreation, and education. It became the first national monument to be managed by the Forest Service. Visitor centers, highways, picnic areas, miles of trails, and campgrounds have been built throughout the area to accommodate the public's desire to visit this place. Editorials across the country have spent the past month lamenting the lack of funding at the monument and the poor visitor experience to be had at one of the Pacific Northwest's most unique and famous locations. The solution suggested by many is to turn management of the monument over to the National Park Service. I disagree.
But before I tell you why, I have to provide full disclosure. I have a personal relationship with Mount St. Helens. In the spring of 1980, my uncle, Harry Glicken, was in his final and fifth year of undergraduate work at Stanford University. He spent much of the year working for the US Geological Survey, and when St. Helens began rumbling, he was sent to the area to work for David A. Johnston, a young volcanologist. Harry manned a small camper on a ridgeline several miles north of St. Helens, monitoring and tracking the activity on the mountain. The pictures below were taken by Harry from the outpost, the top picture being snapped the day before the eruption (perhaps one of the last pictures of St. Helens pre-eruption). But Harry was not on the mountain on May 18th. Some sources say he was called away for a meeting in California about his future graduate work. My family recalls that it was simply his day off and he went to Vancouver to do his laundry. So Johnston took over for Harry and was there the morning of the eruption. As it began, Johnston radioed the USGS base, "Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it!" Johnston was killed that day, and now the main visitor center, Johnston Ridge Observatory, is dedicated to his memory.
From what I've been told, my uncle bore his guilt internally and threw himself into scientifically groundbreaking work at St. Helens that he and the other scientists dedicated to Johnston's memory. He continued the work at volcanoes around the world studying lahars, or debris flows, which St. Helens is so famous for (its entire north face collapsed during the eruption sending 3,000,000 square meters of debris mixed with water some seventeen miles). He studied dormant volcanoes with an interest in predicting lahars.
But volcanology is one of the most dangerous jobs-if not the most-in the world. A decade after the eruption of Mount St. Helens, my uncle was killed during the eruption of Mount Unzen in Japan.
From this perspective, I see the unique concept that is the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. Yes, it is in part a natural wonder that intrigues the public, not just in America, but also throughout the world. And yes, the visitor center is a place to memorialize the loss of life and the destruction of a landscape.
But truly, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is about cutting-edge research and the scientific observation of a landscape coming to life. And in this way, it is a dedication to Johnston, my uncle, and the research community that was affected by the eruption and its aftermath. The wonderful thing about being a scientist is the ability for others to continue and expand upon your work, even after your death.
And yes, the visitor amenities could use more funding; what areas couldn't use a little (or a lot) more? But turning the monument over to the National Park Service is not the appropriate way to solve funding problems. The National Park Service strives to fulfill Americans' desire to visit some of our most spectacular landscapes, but they are not in the research business, they are in the business of providing visitor services. At Mt. Rainier, a National Park to the north of St. Helens, the schedule is packed with activities occurring all day around the park, and some visitors to Mount St. Helens would like similar access and amenities, including access to areas currently being used for research. Pressure by interest groups has led to the restocking of many of the monument's lakes for fishing and there is demand to build a road through one of the most critical research areas-the area around Spirit Lake (some individuals have even illegally dumped fish into Spirit Lake as well).
Mount St. Helen's isn't a place for letting visitor preferences and economic interests dictate management practices; it's about observing a living, dynamic landscape as it slowly unfolds and comes back to life. Really, it isn't about tourists at all.
Congress needs to provide the funding necessary for the monument's visitor services and provide ways for the Forest Service to supply recreation opportunities across its lands without having to rob their own accounts to fight wildland fires. And if improved visitor amenities are important to the public, then the public needs to communicate this need and have a realistic discussion about recreation on public lands in general.
In the end, Mount St. Helen's can't be about the coming and going of vans full of tourists or high tech displays at visitor centers or pristine fly-fishing opportunities. It needs to be about the landscape itself, slowly coming into being once again. It needs to be left for scientists to observe and learn so that they can share with the rest of us the wonders of such a devastating event.