For more than 25 years, FSEEE has been the leader in conserving your National Forest heritage. Along the way, we have won numerous victories that have protected your public lands. Read on to learn more about our past work and accomplishments.
Support Obtained for Designation of Wassen Creek as Wilderness
Wildlife and Habitat Protected from Destructive Cattle Grazing
Comments Submitted on 29 Forest Projects
A Greater Understanding of the Issues, Forest-by-Forest
Old-Growth Forest Saved on the Six Rivers National Forest
Toxic Mining Halted on the Superior National Forest
Grazing Permit Withdrawn in the Marble Mountain Wilderness
Secure Rural Schools Act Extended
Collaborative Program Established
Wolves Protected from Hunting
Scientists’ Free Speech Vindicated
Illegal Roadbuilding Stopped in Tongass National Forest
Old–Growth Forests Protected
Forest Service Drops Fire Appeal
New Policy Analyst
Blowing the Whistle on Faux Restoration
On paper, the Forest Service has indeed embraced the concept of restoration. But there’s a serious problem—all too often, restoration, as defined by agency managers, looks an awful lot like massive logging.
In 2015, FSEEE worked closely with local activists to help derail two major logging projects in the nation’s heartland. In both cases, Forest Service managers sugarcoated the projects with feel-good language such as “restoration,” “forest health” and “forest resiliency.”
But make no mistake—these projects were really about turning trees into two-by-fours.
The first, called the Butler Hollow project, is located in the lush hardwood forests of the Ozark Mountains in southwest Missouri. Officials with the Mark Twain National Forest wanted to “restore” more than 18,000 acres there. How? By logging the forests and spraying herbicides across the landscape.
We dug into the details of the Butler Hollow proposal and challenged the project on its ecological and scientific merits.
I’m pleased to report that the Forest Service appears to be backing away from the Butler Hollow project. It’s not dead yet, but the agency has indicated it will likely scale back the project significantly or shelve it altogether.
We also helped derail a similar project in 2015 in the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in Kentucky, which is managed by the Forest Service.
Those are important victories. But across the country there are dozens and dozens of restoration projects that are dubious at best. With your help, we’ll monitor these proposals and fight those that fail the smell test.
Sometimes a proposal comes along that makes you shake your head in disbelief.
This summer, FSEEE uncovered a scheme hatched by U.S. Army brass in Washington state that, if allowed to go forward, would seriously degrade one of the most spectacular mountain landscapes on the planet.
Officials with the Army’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord, outside of Tacoma, want to conduct high-altitude helicopter training over a large swath of Washington’s Cascade Mountains.
We’re not talking every now and then. If the Army gets its way, attack helicopters will be free to zip over much of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest day and night.
As part of the training, the Army wants to designate seven landing zones on pristine mountain ridges in the North Cascades, many of which would be directly on top of popular hiking trails including the iconic Pacific Crest Trail.
And—get this—one of the proposed landing zones is within the boundaries of the congressionally designated Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area in direct violation of the Wilderness Act.
Virtually no one outside the Army knew about the plans until FSEEE uncovered them. Again, we blew the whistle, bringing national attention to the scheme. Media outlets across the country wrote about it, and conservation groups, including FSEEE, filed formal complaints.
I’ve been at this long enough to know that stopping a proposal such as this one—especially when it’s put forth by an entity with as much clout as the U.S. Army—isn’t easy.
The first step is to slow the momentum, and we’ve done that. Under intense public and political pressure, the Army has been forced to extend the comment period for the proposal three times.
We understand that the military needs to train. But we also understand that there are places that are not appropriate for such training. The North Cascades certainly are among those. With your help, we’ll stop this outrageous proposal in 2016.
Rebranding the Forest Service
When top managers of the Forest Service hatched a scheme to rebrand the agency, we thought something was fishy. The Forest Service wanted to award a no-bid contract to an Oregon public relations firm that would lead this effort. The cost? Up to $10 million.
The more we learned about this rebranding effort, the more skeptical we were. Details were vague—but what was clear was that the agency wanted to spend millions on a top-down effort to spit-shine the agency’s image without undertaking true reform.
Don’t get me wrong—we’re strongly in favor of overhauling the Forest Service. In fact, that quest lies at the center of the FSEEE mission.
At FSEEE, though, we support grassroots reform, a change that begins in the hearts and minds of the rank-and-file agency employees who truly want to nurture the health of our public lands. Clearly, this plan was not that.
Virtually no one knew about the rebranding proposal, not even most Forest Service employees, until FSEEE blew the whistle. The proposal garnered national media attention, including articles in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post.
And we made sure those rank-and-file Forest Service employees knew about it, too. We sent an email to every one of them, telling them about the rebranding proposal. We heard back from many of them, almost universally opposed to the rebranding plans.
“What a sad reflection of our great [Forest Service] legacy,” one employee wrote to us. “By all appearances we have lost our identity and are groping blindly in the dark for anyone who can tell us what we stand for now.”
Facing intense pressure from without and within, Forest Service officials killed the rebranding plan. At FSEEE, we look forward to working hard in 2016 and beyond to foster true and meaningful reform of the Forest Service.
"Seeing the Forest" Premieres and Tours
FSEEE has a long and proud history of stopping schemes that would do harm to our beloved National Forests. Part of our mission, too, is to shine a light on the good things accomplished by Forest Service employees.
The Siuslaw National Forest, in Oregon’s spectacular Coast Range Mountains, offers one such success story.
During the go-go logging days of the 1980s, the Siuslaw cranked out more timber per acre than any other National Forest. That all came to a halt in the early 1990s, when massive damage caused by decades of over-logging led a judge to halt federal timber sales in the Northwest.
The Northwest Forest Plan, adopted as a result of that judge’s ruling, required major reductions in logging in the region to protect creatures such as salmon and the northern spotted owl.
Jim Furnish was supervisor of the Siuslaw at the time. With FSEEE’s support, Jim successfully transformed the Siuslaw’s mission. He led the effort to switch the forest’s focus from one of intense logging to healing the land.
Twenty years later, those reforms are paying off. Forests are growing back. Salmon are returning to the streams. Wildlife is abundant.
The Siuslaw example can, and should, be replicated elsewhere. And we made it our mission to tell the Siuslaw story. This year, FSEEE completed production of Seeing the Forest, a documentary film chronicling the revolution on the Siuslaw.
And we sent Jim on a nationwide tour in 2015. From the Northwest to the Midwest, Seeing the Forest was shown at each stop, followed by a lively discussion between Jim and members of the audience.
Crater Ridge Old-growth Forest Saved
High in the Rocky Mountains, the Forest Service is trying to log the most fragile forest ecosystems, and at FSEEE, we are fighting to protect these rare places.
I’m pleased to report that in 2014 we stopped dead a key timber sale on Wyoming’s Bighorn National Forest—one that would have served as a model for many more logging schemes in the region.
Hanging in the balance was a high elevation old-growth forest of spruce trees at a spot known as Crater Ridge.
The Forest Service wanted to clearcut the forest. This unique habitat is home to Canada lynx, boreal owls and spotted bats. Trees grow slowly here, battling long, frigid winters and brief, hot summers. Once logged, these forests never return.
FSEEE enlisted two of the nation’s leading forest ecologists to review the plan. Then we appealed the timber sale on the basis that the 1976 National Forest Management Act prohibits logging where the land cannot be reforested.
A Forest Service deciding officer agreed with us. He barred the logging in its entirety, thus saving this unique old-growth forest from the chainsaws.
In 2015 FSEEE will review and monitor similar timber sales throughout the Rocky Mountains. With your help, we will preserve these wonderful mountain ecosystems.
Holding Ranchers Accountable
Like you, I watched with dismay last spring as Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy thumbed his nose at laws designed to protect our public lands.
Bundy, you may recall, refuses to obtain permits to graze his cows on land managed by the federal government. Like many states’ rights extremists, he doesn’t believe the federal government holds a valid claim to the land.
After years of kowtowing to Bundy, Bureau of Land Management officials decided they’d had enough. They sent law enforcement agents to seize Bundy’s illegal cows. But when confronted by a ragtag bunch of self-styled militiamen, the agents backed down. They let Bundy’s cows go—free to degrade our public lands, just as they have for decades.
The Bundy saga is indicative of a much larger problem. Across the West, ranchers let their cows run roughshod over land owned by you and me. Those cows foul pristine streams, trample vegetation and destroy habitat that sensitive species depend upon.
All too often, managers with the BLM and the Forest Service look the other way.
In July, FSEEE’s public lands advocate traveled to Nevada to get a firsthand look at grazing in the state. He met with Forest Service and BLM managers and examined file after file of documents pertaining to grazing on public lands.
FSEEE’s investigation uncovered a threat even more grave than Bundy and his militia. This threat is posed by a rancher named Wayne Hage. Like Bundy, Hage refuses to obtain permits for his cows.
Hage is waging a legal battle against the federal government. He says his right to use water on federal land trumps the government’s right to regulate grazing.
Hage has won at the U.S. District Court level. If he keeps winning, oversight of grazing on public land could end.
We can’t let that happen. FSEEE is working to make Hage just as notorious as Bundy. We’ve brought national attention to the Hage case, and we’ll keep fighting to make sure the case fails in the higher courts.
In the coming year, FSEEE will continue to shine a big, bright light on all ranchers who lay waste to our public lands for their own private gain. They must be held accountable. And the federal regulators charged with protecting our public lands must be held accountable, too.
Learning from Success: The Story of the Siuslaw
When FSEEE was founded 25 years ago, the mission of Forest Service managers seemed straightforward: log wherever you can, log however you can and log as much as you can.
That all changed in the early 1990s, when a lawsuit to protect the spotted owl brought old-growth forest logging on federal lands in the Pacific Northwest to a screeching halt.
Forest Service managers were left with an existential question: What now?
FSEEE is nearing completion of a documentary film about one National Forest that reinvented itself. Seeing the Forest is being produced in collaboration with award-winning filmmaker and journalist Alan Honick. It will show how managers with Oregon’s Siuslaw National Forest worked to restore a landscape that had been devastated by decades of unsustainable logging.
The Siuslaw is a stunning place, rugged and rain-drenched. Forests grow faster along this coastal strip than anywhere in the nation.
For decades, the Forest Service and its corporate clients treated the Siuslaw like a cornfield ready for harvest. The result was a ruined landscape of clearcuts, landslides and mud-choked streams.
Today, that’s all changing. Trees grow again on cut-over slopes. Elk, bear and cougar thrive in the Siuslaw’s woods. Salmon once more fill rushing mountain streams.
Honick directed FSEEE’s Torrents of Change documentary sixteen years ago. That film helped launch Jim Furnish, the Siuslaw’s supervisor, into the position of deputy chief of the Forest Service. With help from FSEEE, Furnish spearheaded the Clinton Administration’s roadless rule initiative, which protected 60 million acres of National Forests.
Seeing the Forest will document how Furnish and those who followed him on the Siuslaw collaborated with local stakeholders to restore the forest’s health.
What has happened on the Siuslaw over the past twenty years should be an inspiration to federal land managers everywhere. It’s a success story that we’ll tell far and wide.
FSEEE will release Seeing the Forest in early 2015. Then we’ll send Furnish on a nationwide tour. He’ll show the film to Forest Service employees and the public, demonstrating there can be an entirely new mission for the agency—one of healing the land.
Saving 1.3 Million Acres of Old Growth
This year, we worked with Congressional leaders who are trying to craft a win-win solution for western Oregon’s federal O&C lands. These are some of the nation’s most productive timber-growing forests and also very important habitat for threatened and endangered species, like the iconic northern spotted owl. About half of these lands have been logged during the past 80 years. Some truly spectacular old-growth forests remain uncut and unprotected on the other half.
FSEEE has proposed that the unlogged half of these lands remain so, in perpetuity, while the previously cut lands that today are second-growth plantations be managed responsibly for timber production.
FSEEE has worked diligently to craft that compromise. It hasn’t been easy because the timber industry and local county politicians want to log it all. Draft legislation is expected any day, and FSEEE will continue to stand tough on the side of preserving more than a million acres of old growth on your public lands for the people and wildlife that rely on them.
Championing Wilderness Designation
FSEEE has always believed that preserving special lands as wilderness is one of the most important aspects of public lands stewardship. Over the years, we have protected wilderness by challenging damaging livestock grazing, illegal tree cutting and resource degradation caused by poorly managed recreation.
But when we discovered that one of the last remaining old-growth forests in Oregon’s coast range mountains was under threat, we knew that protecting our existing wilderness areas was simply not enough.
So FSEEE spearheaded the campaign to designate as wilderness 30,000 acres of remote and rugged landscape known as the Devil’s Staircase.
FSEEE worked closely with Oregon’s congressional delegation to draft legislation that would protect this special place as wilderness and designate two sections of wild and scenic rivers. Our work resulted in the introduction in Congress of the Devil’s Staircase Wilderness Act of 2013.
In June, the Senate passed the act (S. 352) by unanimous consent. The House has also endorsed Devil’s Staircase, but as a part of an otherwise unacceptable forest protection roll-back led by the conservative leadership.
In the coming year, FSEEE will ensure that the Devil’s Staircase area is designated as wilderness as a part of a public lands bill that includes only acceptable provisions that don’t sacrifice the environmental integrity of your public lands elsewhere.
Exposing Flaws in Recreation Fee Law
In June, the House Natural Resources Committee invited FSEEE's Executive Director, Andy Stahl, to testify on recreation user fees for federal lands and, in particular, to articulate FSEEE’s views on the Federal Land Recreation Enhancement Act. The Act had been set to expire this fall, but gained a one year reprieve as a part of the deal to keep the government operating. The law creates two kinds of fees for National Forests: those at highly developed sites (e.g., campgrounds and visitor centers) and those fees required at day-use areas, such as trailheads and scenic overlooks. Most people support reasonable fees for costly improvements, like cabin rentals, or where there is a high maintenance cost, such as campgrounds.
What have proven more controversial are fees for parking at a remote trailhead or a scenic pull-out along a highway that passes through a National Forest. As firefighting costs have eaten up a larger and larger share of the Forest Service’s budget (increasing from 15 percent in the 1980s to 50 percent today), the temptation to nickel-and-dime visitors at every opportunity has spawned protests and lawsuits, most of which the Forest Service has lost. In one scathing opinion, the court of appeals wrote that the Forest Service had made an “end-run” around the law’s restrictions on charging fees.
In his testimony, Stahl urged Congress to eliminate fees levied on the public at day-use areas. The amount of money collected is trivial and the burden imposed on the public for what they are receiving is high. He also pointed out that about half of all Americans now qualify for free (e.g., children under 16 and military personnel including spouses) or reduced fees (e.g., persons over 62 years old) at day-use sites. These discounts are not based on any ability-to-pay criteria, but are just a form of political patronage. At FSEEE we sought to reform the recreation fee law to make it fairer while also ensuring dependable budgets for important recreation sites.
Combating the Dangers of Fracking
The boom in natural gas fracking has left your public lands vulnerable to the environmental impacts of a poorly regulated industry. A lack of standards and oversight has resulted in contaminated water sources, miles of new roads built, acres of public forests destroyed and mounting concern over the health impacts on the American public.
FSEEE has spent the past year fighting these troubling problems on two fronts. First, we are working to ensure that fracking practices on public lands are subject to effective and meaningful regulations. The federal government should require that the safest and least damaging practices be used in fracking operations. And where fracking may have an adverse impact on your public lands, the Forest Service should refuse to issue fracking leases.
Second, we have been working with leading scientists to develop and implement the use of tracers in fracking. When added to the fluid used in a fracking operation, a tracer can enable regulators and citizens to identify those outfits responsible for any contamination found in a water supply or ecosystem.
At FSEEE, we are working for true reforms of fracking practices that will only come by holding the natural gas industry accountable and liable for their actions.
Saving "Dead" Trees
Ten years ago, after a forest fire swept through eastern Oregon’s Malheur National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service saw an opportunity to deliver large pine trees-—at the time, off-limits under the forest plan-—to the local sawmill.
To promote this logging scheme, the agency developed a rating scale to measure the odds that live trees were not alive at all, but predestined to die imminently. Armed with this new rating system, tree markers swept through the burned area, marking valuable, large ponderosa pine trees as “dead,” thus making them eligible for logging under the forest plan’s rules.
The plan would have worked, but for a couple of ethical Forest Service employees. One of them, Dan Becker, went to the proposed High Roberts salvage sale and photographed the beautiful, large, and very much alive, ponderosa pines that were marked for cutting.
Dan came to FSEEE for help, and we filed suit in federal court. Although the trees looked green and healthy, the Forest Service continued to assert that they were mortally wounded.
With the help of an Oregon State University tree physiologist, we took to the woods with a device to measure the internal water pressure in the green needles, similar to a person’s blood pressure. A dead tree has no water pressure, while a dying tree will have dramatically reduced water pressure in its needles. Sure enough, the water pressure showed the trees were alive and healthy.
With that evidence in hand, the judge enjoined the logging, and the Forest Service, after some further resistance, canceled the timber sale.
In the fall of 2012, Dan Becker returned to the High Roberts area to see how those “dead and dying” trees are doing, ten years after the fire. I’m pleased to report his findings—they are all doing just fine, alive and healthy as the day is long. But for the conscientious efforts of a few government workers, and the financial support of dedicated members like you, these legacy trees would now be stumps.
Stopping Unnecessary Fire Retardant Use
This year, thanks to FSEEE’s ceaseless campaign to end the dumping of toxic fire retardant on your National Forests, the Forest Service published the first ever guidance for aerial retardant use.
Because of your support, more than thirty percent of National Forests are now off-limits to the application of toxic aerial retardant.
The ban covers the most sensitive aquatic and terrestrial habitats. We are hopeful that these new measures will prevent the massive fish kills and habitat degradation seen in years past.
But the fight to reform public lands firefighting continues. Two tragic airtanker crashes this year again highlighted the insanity of fighting forest fires using toxic chemicals dropped from the air.
In the remote, uninhabited Utah-Nevada borderlands, an airtanker crash killed both pilots while fighting a range fire that threatened nothing but jackrabbits and sagebrush. The retardant drop had no impact on the fire’s outcome-—it stopped burning when it reached the end of dry, flammable brush. Two months later, a converted Air Force C-130 plane crashed in South Dakota, killing four firefighting crew members. Once again, the fire being fought threatened no life or property. And, once again, the fire burned until it ran out of fuel, the wind died down, and the weather changed.
After the first airtanker crash, FSEEE sent an email message to all Forest Service employees, pointing out that the White Rock fire in Nevada was burning in a remote area and did not threaten homes or lives, except, tragically, the lives of the firefighters dropping retardant.
The message ignited a firestorm of debate within the Forest Service. Typical responses included howls of outrage that we dared to question the use of fire retardant. But others seconded the views of this experienced firefighter who, in response to a Forest Service request to evaluate fire retardant use, said:
“Just a beef I have, I hate to see us ‘throw’ retardant at large fires even when it is not the least ineffective (sic). We (USFS/BLM) will do this many times in the [wildland-urban interface] areas, maybe to save face with the public. Maybe to show the public ‘hey, we’re trying’. But really we aren’t doing anything except for wasting money, creating a mess and jeopardizing pilot, firefighter and public safety.”
Another firefighter explained: “Overall, the vast majority of retardant drops I’ve seen (and often personally requested) were either ineffective or turned out (after the fact) to have not been needed (rain, wind change, etc.). However, I believe this is because the vast majority of retardant drops I’ve seen and/or requested were in locations where in hindsight I should have known the probability of success was quite low.”
FSEEE will continue to push for reforms in the way we manage fire. Most critically, until homeowners realize that building in the fire-prone areas is risky and take the appropriate Firewise measures (e.g., keeping vegetation away from the home and ensuring roofs are not flammable), we will continue to lose firefighter lives in a fruitless campaign against Mother Nature.
More Action in 2012 and Continuing Projects
- When the National Forest Management Act was being revised, FSEEE and our members demanded rules that would protect wildlife, water quality and recreation by assuring no clearcut logging or other damaging practices would be implemented on our National Forests. The new rules, finalized in February, 2012, emphasize ecological sustainability in our National Forests, putting the protection of ecosystems ahead of the production of timber.
- In 2012, FSEEE launched a campaign to eliminate hydrofracking on public lands. We evaluated proposed fracking leases and development plans on National Forests around the nation, challenging lease sales and forest plan revisions. We’ll continue to focus on this important public lands issue as lawmakers grapple with domestic energy production.
- FSEEE led the charge to ensure that 1.2 million acres of forests greater than 80 years old will remain standing. And while we work to permanently protect these forest stands, we will also make sure that the Forest Service cannot utilize regulatory loopholes to cut logs in critical habitat for endangered wildlife like the spotted owl.
- Maintaining our commitment to help the public understand and participate in issues that affect forests, FSEEE staff educated citizens about working with public officials, filing comments on proposed projects, and advocating for improved public lands management. We participated in and organized numerous public education events, including teaching forest fire ecology and Firewise management to forestland homeowners.
- We launched a campaign to bring the Siuslaw National Forest’s successful restoration efforts to every Forest Service office in the nation in documentary form.
Forcing Fire Retardant Review
In response to FSEEE’s legal victory in 2010, the Forest Service has published—for the first time—an Environmental Impact Statement on toxic aerial fire retardant use.
The statement acknowledges that the agency has no data or studies that show that retardant use is effective. Still, the EIS claims that retardant makes a significant contribution to wildland firefighting success.
To support this claim, the Forest Service cited responses from a four-question email sent to firefighters asking about their successful use of fire retardant. From this survey, the agency extracted the positive accounts and passed over any negative feedback. The testimonials from 56 firefighters form the new database upon which the Forest Service now makes the claim that retardant is effective.
Countering these anecdotal stories, however, is a dozen-year record of actual data that FSEEE analyzed in our comments on the draft EIS. The data show that National Forests that use the least amount of fire retardant enjoy the highest success in putting out fires quickly. The data also show no correlation whatsoever between retardant use and the average size of forest fires. Although correlation does not prove causation, the analysis of real data is superior to the cherry-picked storytelling the Forest Service relies on in its final EIS.
Though FSEEE won the battle by forcing the agency to produce an EIS, the faulty reasoning used by the Forest Service ensures that the war continues.
There is currently a concerted effort on the part of politicians and agency personnel within the firefighting fraternity to acquire a new heavy airtanker fleet. The Forest Service is not ready to give up on fire retardant, even with no proof of its effectiveness and significant evidence of the environmental harm it can inflict.
Taking Millions of Old-Growth Acres Out of the Equation
The question of how to fund counties that have historically relied on a 25 percent share of National Forest logging revenue was raised again at the end of this year. Lawmakers struggled to find solutions to county funding problems—problems that have been compounded by the expiration of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, which provided counties with payments from the federal Treasury to compensate for lost logging revenue on federal lands.
Congressional Republicans see the coming fiscal disaster as an opportunity to reopen our forests to extensive clear-cut logging. In September, FSEEE Executive Director Andy Stahl visited Washington, D.C., to testify before Congress against a Republican-sponsored bill that would eliminate environmental laws and require National Forests to produce revenue from logging and other sources to provide county funding. He pointed out that among its many flaws, this bill would cost the U.S. taxpayer far more than it would have generated in revenue, due to minimum annual revenue requirements.
As of now, the bill is off the table, but its author, Utah Republican representative Rob Bishop, has vowed to rewrite it, and the amended version will be sure to contain another try at logging old-growth forests.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of Senators has announced a new proposal that promises five additional years of annually decreasing county payments, giving the counties time to continue their transition to a diversified tax base.
The reauthorization is about more than county revenues and tax rates. Also being debated is the future management of 2.6 million acres of Oregon & California railroad lands. About half of these acres were cutover during the timber boom years; today they are second-growth tree plantations. The other half consists of unlogged, old-growth forests.
FSEEE is working to ensure that any final legislation that passes Congress protects these irreplaceable, ancient forests.
Devil’s Staircase Nears Wilderness Status
On May 18, 2011, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests, held a positive hearing of the Devil’s Staircase Wilderness Act of 2011. But the government showdown and resulting gridlock over the federal budget, along with intense anti-environmental sentiment from Republicans, stalled wilderness efforts in the House of Representatives for much of the year.
Regardless, FSEEE worked throughout 2011 to keep the proposed wilderness designation on Congress’ radar screen while continuing to foster support for wilderness among our members and local communities. In late September, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber submitted a formal letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar nominating the Devil’s Staircase as a natural treasure and encouraging the administration to support wilderness designation for the area.
Finally, in October, the persistence of FSEEE and our dedicated members paid off when the House resource committee held a hearing to consider several wilderness proposals. The Devil’s Staircase Wilderness Act (HR 1413) was the only Democrat-sponsored wilderness legislation to receive a hearing.
Congressman DeFazio testified with enthusiastic support for his bill, recounting his own arduous journey into the Devil’s Staircase waterfall with FSEEE staff. The Obama Administration lent full support and encouraged Congress to add the more than 30,000 acres of old-growth forests to the wilderness preservation system. We look forward to the coming year when we will be able to officially call the Devil’s Staircase a wilderness area.
Protecting Wildlife Diversity
This year, the Forest Service once again proposed sweeping changes to the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) planning rule.
The most recent proposal would eliminate existing protections for all but a limited number of wildlife species, those that are currently threatened or endangered and managed already under the purview of the Endangered Species Act.
The proposed rule would eliminate the requirement that the Forest Service protect the viability of all wildlife species that are found in our National Forests, and effectively gut the NFMA mandate that the Forest Service preserve biodiversity on these public lands.
In March, Andy took FSEEE’s message to D.C., where he attended the National Planning Rule Forum. Throughout the spring and summer, FSEEE’s public lands advocate attended regional forums to express our concerns with the rulemaking team and pressed the Forest Service to include the wildlife biodiversity protections required by law in the new planning regulations.
In May, FSEEE submitted official comments to the Forest Service detailing our concerns with the weakened language of the proposed NFMA rule. We mobilized our members through our action alerts and through our website, asking that they submit their own comments on the proposed rule. The agency is now considering public comments as they draft the final document.
Our advocacy during the past year has pressed the Forest Service to maintain stringent wildlife protections, which we expect to see reflected in the final rule.
The rewrite of the NFMA planning rule represents one of the most critical policy changes in the management of our National Forests. FSEEE will continue to diligently work to ensure that the planning rule promotes the protection of biodiversity on our National Forests.
FSEEE WINS CHALLENGE AGAINST TOXIC FIRE RETARDANT
On July 27, 2010, Montana federal district court judge Donald Molloy ruled for FSEEE in our fire retardant lawsuit. The judge determined that the government had violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act in regards to the U.S. Forest Service’s continued use of toxic aerial fire retardant.
Despite FSEEE’s successful lawsuit in 2005, which compelled the agency to analyze the effect of fire retardant on threatened and endangered species, the Forest Service has continued to defend its use.
The agency claimed fire retardant posed no significant environmental threat, even in the face of scientific assessments from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service that concluded that retardant use threatened the survival of dozens of rare plant, wildlife and fish species.
Now they will be forced to comply with the court’s order. Judge Molloy ruled that there “are significant impacts that require the preparation of an environmental impact statement, and the Forest Service’s failure to prepare one under these circumstances is a violation of NEPA [the National Environmental Policy Act].”
The judge also ruled for FSEEE on each of our claims that the government’s use of retardant violates the Endangered Species Act. He stated that the government ignored retardant’s effects on critical habitat for dozens of threatened and endangered species, and that the government failed to impose any meaningful protection for imperiled species. Judge Molloy noted:
“As the Fish and Wildlife Service has candidly admitted, the agency was unwilling to impose the restrictions necessary to protect listed species...because it placed a higher priority on fire suppression...”
Judge Molloy faulted both the wildlife and fisheries agencies for their failure to specify the number of imperiled species that the Forest Service could harm or kill when using aerial fire retardant. Without such limits, the Forest Service could kill a substantial number of threatened and endangered plants and animals.
Fully aware of the government’s previous law-breaking and stubbornness over this matter, Judge Molloy threatened sanctions, including contempt proceedings, if the agency failed to comply with a December 31, 2011 deadline. He concluded that failure to act could “conceivably result in enjoining the continued use of aerially applied fire retardant until the law enacted by Congress is complied with. The issue requires immediate attention.”
FSEEE agrees. In 2011, we will be holding the Forest Service’s feet to the fire (sorry!) to ensure that toxic fire retardant is used only where it is proven to be effective and environmentally safe.
NEW WILDERNESS BILL BEFORE CONGRESS
Our efforts to protect some of the nation’s most wild and scenic landscapes made big gains in Congress in 2010. The Devil’s Staircase Wilderness Act will protect 30,000 old-growth forest acres in Oregon’s Coast Range. During the year, Andy visited Washington, D.C., and met with key House and Senate staff to push for preservation of this national treasure. The House Natural Resources Committee and its counterpart, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, marked-up identical bills and sent them to the full chambers for action. As 2010 draws to a close, we continue to work with our congressional allies to gain passage of this important law before the current Congress ends.
But even as we work to create new wilderness, the Forest Service continues to undermine the principles of the Wilderness Act at every turn.
In 2010, we were successful in stopping several activities that would degrade wilderness areas. In the Mokelumme Wilderness in the Stanislaus National Forest, we convinced the agency to disband a private wilderness getaway created by a group of citizens who were modernizing a historic cabin. But when the citizens protested, the agency caved and agreed to overlook their activities, even going so far as to helicopter workers into the area to make cabin repairs, until FSEEE reminded them that they were bound to adhere to wilderness laws.
In Idaho, the Forest Service issued a permit to allow commercial filming in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, though such activity is prohibited. Instead of revoking the permit once they realized their mistake, the agency issued new interim guidelines that granted commercial filming permits nationwide. FSEEE challenged the new regulations, and the agency conceded that such permits could open up wilderness areas to full-scale commercial productions. Imagine a blockbuster movie – maybe the sequel to Avatar? – being filmed in a federal wilderness. The Forest Service is now working on a new and permanent set of guidelines, and FSEEE will continue to watch closely to ensure that wilderness isn’t used as a cheap stage for Hollywood.
We continued our campaign to prevent livestock grazing in wilderness areas. We examined wilderness grazing allotments throughout the United States and provided comments on those allotment management plans that are up for renewal. As we move the campaign forward in 2011, we will be executing our strategy to end the public subsidy for the livestock industry that comes at the cost of our most treasured natural places.
COURT REJECTS FARMING IN NATIONAL RECREATION AREA
In a long-running dispute over corn and soybean farming at the Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area, FSEEE won a court order striking down a too-cozy relationship between the Forest Service and the National Wild Turkey Federation. The Forest Service has allowed farmers to grow genetically engineered corn and soybeans on several thousand streamside acres in the nation’s largest inland peninsula. The farmers leave 10 percent of the crop in the fields to be eaten by deer and turkeys, which are then hunted by area residents.
These are the only national forest acres in the country that are farmed. Insofar as our great nation has no shortage of corn and soybean plantations, these public lands are more suited as ecological preserves, managed for species diversity and complementary recreation, than as herbicide-treated, fertilizer-enhanced feedlots for game.
To make matters worse, the Forest Service decided that not only would it let the fox into the hen house, it would give the fox the keys, too. The Forest Service entered into a “stewardship contract” that forfeited the agency’s permitting and oversight duties.
The National Wild Turkey Federation, a private, non-profit hunting group, was allowed to issue and administer the farmers’ special-use permits on your National Forest land!
We sued. We won. Kentucky federal district court judge Thomas Russell ruled that “the delegation of such power by the Forest Service constitutes unlawful delegation of the agency’s duty to protect the environment to a private entity.” FSEEE is continuing with its efforts to ensure that one of the East’s largest public land preserves is free from commercial farming activities. In addition, this case is the first to interpret a new “stewardship contracting” law that the Forest Service believed gave it unbridled discretion to outsource any and all managerial functions to the private sector. Not so, the court ruled.
WORKING TO SAFEGUARD OUR NATIONAL FORESTS FOR THE FUTURE
FSEEE works on an ongoing basis with citizens and Forest Service employees to ensure that that our National Forests are preserved for future generations. Among our active projects:
• Serving as a valuable resource for citizens and agency workers who are concerned about National Forest preservation. It’s a sad statement that even after the exit of the Bush Administration, the Forest Service continues to be rated as one of the very worst places to work in the federal government. In 2010, we provided advice to both government workers and National Forest advocates about oil and gas drilling, off-highway vehicles, cleanup of old forest dumpsites and wilderness outfitters running amok.
• Ensuring that the Forest Service meets environmental mandates. We monitor and review a broad scope of National Forest projects, including reviews of travel management plans and road projects. We work to strengthen off-highway vehicle regulations and to minimize their impacts to wildlife, watersheds and the non-motorized public.
• Monitoring the rewrite of the National Forest Management Act planning rules. We won a legal case against the Bush Administration’s revisions of the NFMA planning rules in 2009, but another rewrite is poised to strip all meaningful wildlife and water quality protection provisions from them. These rules form the backbone by which every National Forest is managed. We have been involved in the revision process every step of the way, including participating in and following the national and regional roundtables, drafting a sample set of NFMA planning rules that stick to the letter of the law, and meeting with Forest Service officials leading the project. We will continue to fight for a set of planning rules with strong protections for forest health and are prepared to once again challenge any rewrite that falls short of legal mandates.
OLD-GROWTH LOGGING DEFEATED
Just before leaving office, President Bush’s Interior Department inked its signature to aggressive old-growth forest logging on public lands. The Western Oregon Plan Revision (WOPR) called for tripling the logging on 2.2 million acres. The old-growth forests at issue are a pivotal part of the three-state Northwest Forest Plan on which forest protection has been based since 1994.
FSEEE responded by filing suit in federal district court. We argued that the government failed to consider the significant environmental effects of cutting down the old-growth trees and that they did not consult with their companion federal agencies as required by law.
On July 16, 2009, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar withdrew the logging plan, stating
“We have carefully reviewed the lawsuits filed against WOPR, and it is clear that as a result of the previous administration’s late actions, the plan cannot stand up in court.”
In a scathing report, the Department of Interior concluded that the previous administration had interfered with scientists’ conclusions so that more logging could occur. The government has now reverted to the more protective regulations in place since 1994.
PUBLIC'S RIGHT TO COMMENT ORDERED FOR ALLEGHENY NATIONAL FOREST DRILLING PROJECTS
In the last five years, the Allegheny National Forest in northwestern Pennsylvania has seen an explosion of oil and gas development. To date more than 10,000 wells have been drilled in the Allegheny, more than in all the other 154 National Forests combined. The Allegheny is Pennsylvania’s only National Forest.
Oil spills and the scars left on the landscape from drilling have destroyed many thousands of acres of forest, degrading water quality and eliminating native forest and wildlife habitat. About 93% of the subsurface mineral rights on the forest are privately owned, and until recently the Forest Service turned a blind eye to drilling, even though it resulted in substantial and permanent negative effects on the forest.
FSEEE filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service for failing to do any analysis of the environmental effects of the drilling as prescribed by the National Environmental Policy Act. NEPA requires federal agencies to integrate environmental values into their decision-making processes by considering the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions. To meet NEPA requirements federal agencies prepare a detailed document known as an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
In April 2009, the Forest Service agreed to settle the lawsuit and comply with NEPA.
Under the agreement, they’ll prepare a Draft EIS within a year, after receiving input from drillers, conservation groups and the public. FSEEE will follow up to make sure that the Forest Service’s EIS complies with the law and provides protective measures to minimize future degradation of the Allegheny.
Although the parties to the case agreed on a settlement, the judge delayed approval of the settlement. He allowed the drilling industry to join the case and state why they thought the settlement was unfair. After hearing all the arguments, in May 2009 the court approved the settlement as fair.
As reported by the Associated Press on April 10, 2009:
“With this settlement the Forest Service is making a commitment to disclose to people living near the Allegheny National Forest what impact oil and gas drilling will have on water quality, recreational opportunities, and the other benefits they expect from the national forest in their backyard,” stated Andy Stahl, executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics.
WILDERNESS PROTECTION BILL MOVED THROUGH CONGRESS
The overwhelming majorities in both the House and the Senate that passed the Omnibus Public Lands bill in March signal that this Congress is a good forum for protecting wilderness areas. FSEEE’s wilderness campaign is focused on densely-forested lands that store massive amounts of carbon and provide habitat for threatened and endangered fish and wildlife.
The coastal old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest are among the most valuable—and the most endangered—forests in the world. These temperate rainforests contain more biomass than any other terrestrial ecosystem and support unparalleled biodiversity. Ninety percent of this forest type has been clearcut.
The Devil’s Staircase Wilderness is the most developed of our wilderness efforts. It lies between the Smith and Umpqua Rivers in Congressman Peter DeFazio’s Fourth Congressional District. This rugged landscape is blanketed by a rainforest that includes 8-foot diameter Douglas-fir and western red cedar.
FSEEE’s policy analyst and I took Peter, his Oregon staff director and two Forest Service scientists to the Staircase so Peter could see for himself the beauty and necessity of protecting the area. We also spent many hours developing and advocating for a wilderness bill.
As a direct result of FSEEE’s efforts, on June 16, 2009, two bills were introduced in Congress entitled the Devil’s Staircase Wilderness Act of 2009. Congressman DeFazio introduced HR 2888 and Senator Ron Wyden introduced S 1272.
On October 1, 2009, I testified before the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee in support of HR 2888. The hearing was a success and on October 27, 2009, the Committee marked up the bill and sent it to the House floor. We expect the House to pass the bill in its next session.
In addition to the Devil’s Staircase, FSEEE has launched a similar strategy for Moonlight Dome in Washington. Craig Romano, an avid hiker, outdoorsman and writer, is helping FSEEE rally support for the Moonlight Dome Wilderness with public presentations, organized hikes and online outreach. The major threat to this area is mining, which causes significant damage to flora and fauna. Wilderness designation for the area would eliminate this threat. In October, FSEEE led a hike into Moonlight Dome to raise awareness of the area.
COURT UPHOLDS WILDLIFE VIABILITY RULE
In 1976, Congress passed the National Forest Management Act in response to the Forest Service’s profligate clearcutting. In 1979, the Carter Administration adopted federal rules implementing the new law that required the Forest Service to protect viable populations of native wildlife species. The Reagan Administration slightly revised the 1979 rule in 1982, retaining its wildlife protections thanks to strong pressure from Congress.
From that day forward, the Forest Service has fought the “viability rule” with all the cunning and resourcefulness it could muster. Although the rule was used to gain protection of old-growth forest habitat for the northern spotted owl in 1994, the agency still opposed the rule and has never completely abandoned its anti-wildlife views.
FSEEE and our environmental colleagues challenged the Forest Service’s latest attempt to eliminate the wildlife viability rule.
On June 20, 2009, a court issued a decision in our favor. Federal district court judge Claudia Wilkens ruled that the Forest Service violated both the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act when it sought to eliminate the viability rule.
The court’s ruling gives the Obama Administration a clear path forward to protect wildlife on our National Forests. President Obama need only do what the court’s order suggests—return Forest Service policy to the Reagan-era 1982 wildlife protection rule. Now that would be change to believe in!
RETALIATORS AGAINST WHISTLEBLOWER EXPOSED
Glen Ith, a Forest Service wildlife biologist who successfully challenged illegal logging roads was investigated for blowing the whistle, then put on administrative leave. Eight months later he was told his job was being eliminated. Four days after that he died of a heart attack at age 48.
With FSEEE’s help, Glen’s widow, Marketa Ith, sued to obtain the Forest Service’s files on Glen. The Forest Service initially refused to produce hundreds of documents, claiming they were privileged and/or exempt from disclosure due to “government deliberations.” In July of this year, the court forced them to turn over several hundred additional pages of documents that the Forest Service had previously withheld.
These new documents show that a Forest Service personnel chief urged employees to destroy e-mails containing his advice on how to fire Glen, in the event the e-mails were later used against the Forest Service in a potential lawsuit. Following our analysis of the documents, FSEEE had a series of communications with the Office of Special Counsel in charge of investigating Glen’s case before he died. They refused to pursue the matter in the face of clear, documented evidence of who retaliated against Glen. FSEEE is now pursuing matters with the new administration, who should hold the responsible parties accountable and ensure that the Forest Service never treats an employee this way again.
Support Obtained for Designation of Wassen Creek as Wilderness
Wildlife and Habitat Protected from Destructive Cattle Grazing
Comments Submitted on 29 Forest Projects
A Greater Understanding of the Issues, Forest-by-Forest
FSEEE has been working to obtain both public and congressional support for the designation of Wassen Creek as a new Wilderness Area.
Wassen Creek is the largest roadless area in federal ownership in Oregon’s coast range. The Creek’s very pure, cold water is important for endangered salmon runs and its spotted owl habitat is the most productive in the region, a crucial element of the owl’s continued survival.
This year, we organized a grassroots campaign to highlight Wassen Creek. FSEEE has taken dozens of folks down to Wassen Creek, and hosted events around the state to introduce people to this special area. And we have more trips planned for next spring.
We also asked you, our members, to contact your congressional representatives to save Wassen Creek. Your calls and letters definitely had an impact on Congressman Peter DeFazio, (D-OR), a senior member of what we anticipate will be a powerful pro-environment majority in both houses of Congress next year. He sits on the House Natural Resources Committee and the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.
On October 21, 2008, we took Peter and his staff on a successful expedition into Wassen Creek.
Congressman Peter DeFazio is triumphant after an arduous hike to the elusive Devil’s Staircase at Wassen Creek. Forest Magazine File Photo.
Our cross-country bushwhack (about 8 miles round-trip) was led by spotted owl surveyor Chris McCafferty, accompanied by Dr. Eric Forsman, a Forest Service wildlife biologist. Peter and Chris combined their GPS skills to bring us to Wassen Creek’s remote Devil’s Staircase—a series of majestic waterfalls.
Along the way we saw an Oregon red-legged frog, Pacific giant salamander, lots of mushrooms, and much evidence of Wassen Creek’s large herd of elk.
Peter’s visit to the site, combined with your calls and letters, have made big difference. He has now pledged to help protect Wassen Creek as a Wilderness Area!
Cattle grazing on National Forests wreaks havoc on the environment. Cattle erode stream banks, displacing native fish and other water creatures. Cows also cause water temperatures to increase by trampling shade plants and creating wider, more shallow stream beds, forcing out species that require colder water to survive. And cattle spread invasive species that reduce or eliminate native vegetation.
On the Fremont-Winema National Forest in Oregon, the forest plan requires cattle to be excluded from streamside areas if they harm sensitive species habitat. An investigation revealed that cattle grazing was harming the Oregon spotted frog, a creature that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found was threatened with extinction. The frog was not added to the list of federally protected species, however, due to a lack of funding.
Without official federal protection for the frog, the Forest Service gave in to pressure by the cattle grazing permit holders and ignored the findings of the Fish and Wildlife Service that the frog population was rapidly declining.
On March 11, 2008, FSEEE filed suit in federal court to force the Forest Service to follow its own management plan and exclude cattle from sensitive streamside areas.
In response to our case, the Forest Service agreed to build a new 4-mile fence to keep cows out of the sensitive area. The fence was completed August 2, 2008.
FSEEE staff visited the site several times to ensure that the fence was constructed properly. We will continue to monitor the enforcement of the fence lines as well as seek a court ruling that the Forest Service should reduce the number of cows on the grazing allotment.
Throughout 2008, FSEEE prepared and submitted detailed comments on 29 National Forest projects. We put the Forest Service on notice that we have investigated their actions, found violations of the law, and that we’ll enlist the help of the courts if the changes outlined in our comments are not implemented.
Here’s a list of the projects we commented on this year:
The Big Border Grazing Allotment on Washington’s Colville National Forest.
The Empire Grazing Allotment on Montana’s Helena National Forest.
The Santiam Pass Off-Highway Vehicle Plan on Oregon’s Willamette National Forest.
The Western Oregon Plan Revision.
The Scotty-Damon timber project on Oregon’s Malheur National Forest.
The Dad’s Creek timber project on Oregon’s Malheur National Forest.
The Kidder-Shackleford Grazing Allotments on California’s Klamath National Forest.
Twelve different oil leases on the Texas National Grasslands.
Abandoned mine clean-ups on California’s Six Rivers National Forest.
Bureau of Land Management oil and gas leases on Colorado’s Roan Plateau.
Six different grazing allotments on Idaho’s Caribou-Targhee National Forest.
The Colorado Roadless Rule Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
The Idaho Roadless Rule Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
National Forests are the cornerstones of efforts to connect fragmented habitat and restore wildlands in the United States. We will soon emerge from the conservation wilderness, so to speak, of eight years of the Bush Administration. Hopefully, President-elect Obama will work with a Congress with a stronger conservation agenda.
Even with a pro-environment President, we need to be equipped with vision for future management of National Forests that is informed by practical, on-the-ground knowledge.
FSEEE has strong ties with Forest Service employees who are performing the forest planning functions as well as the employees doing the day-to-day work. And we enjoy support from within the Forest Service at all ranks. In addition, our membership includes conservation-minded agency personnel and we have a long history protecting forests through support of Forest Service whistleblowers. These connections place FSEEE is in a unique position to cultivate the knowledge and relationships necessary for future forest protection successes.
To help formulate this vision for the future of our public forests, FSEEE’s Policy Analyst, James Johnston, has embarked on an ambitious review of every National Forest in the country. This summer he traveled to 41 National Forests and grasslands in Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Back in the office to organize his findings, he’ll resume his travels to more National Forests in January.
James met with more than 400 Forest Service employees, talking with them about the challenges the agency is facing, including fire management, budgets, outsourcing, consolidation of function, travel management planning, thinning projects, the roadless rule and more. He also met with dozens of FSEEE members, hundreds of other citizens, and local conservation groups to get their input.
James investigated construction of roads and a pipeline in the East Willow Roadless Area of the Grand Mesa National Forest. Photo © James Johnston.
If you haven’t already, you can read about James work at http://fseeeblog.fseee.org.
National Forest landscapes are changing and are likely to continue to change dramatically over the next few decades in response to fire, fire suppression, insects and climate change. FSEEE is convinced that the Forest Service’s forward mission has to do with re-introducing fire to the landscapes and providing ecosystem services such as water production and carbon storage to mitigate the effects of global warming.
FSEEE will be making recommendations on National Forest management—to the incoming administration, Congress and the conservation community—that clearly identify the key challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
Your support is invaluable to FSEEE’s mission of protecting our 192 million acres of National Forests. Please help FSEEE meet the ongoing challenges faced by our public forests by making a year-end gift. Thank you!
FSEEE has been closely monitoring the timber sale programs of National Forests in northern California, including the Six Rivers, Mendocino, Klamath and Shasta-Trinity National Forests. These forests, managed under the Northwest Forest Plan, comprise the southern extent of the range of the northern spotted owl, whose population continues to decline precipitously as a result of habitat loss. All of these forests’ timber sale programs received a 30% boost in funding from the Bush administration to get the cut out in 2007.
One of the most environmentally destructive timber sales being planned by these forests was the Little Doe–Low Gulch timber sale on the Six Rivers National Forest. The Forest Service’s “preferred alternative” included 500 acres of clear-cut logging in old-growth forest, prime spotted owl habitat. On January 5, 2007, FSEEE filed an administrative appeal which argued, among other things, that the Forest Service had failed to perform surveys for owls and didn’t know how many owl breeding pairs would be affected by logging.
In their Record of Decision released September 5, 2007, the Forest Service dropped all clear-cutting from the project.
In January, FSEEE won a big victory for the north woods by challenging the Forest Service’s decision to let large mining companies search for valuable minerals in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest. The mining could have negatively impacted the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The Superior National Forest lies atop the Duluth Complex, a large reservoir of copper, nickel, platinum, palladium, and titanium. Development of the area hasn’t been feasible until recently due to technological and economic issues. But new technology and very high commodity prices mean that the resource can be effectively exploited—and the Forest Service is trying to authorize dozens of new mining operations.
This type of hard rock mining can create enormous environmental impacts, including miles-long tailing ponds of toxic pollution. The Forest Service, however, did not conduct any environmental analysis of the long-term impacts of allowing mineral exploration in this world-class public wilderness area.
FSEEE filed an appeal stating that the Forest Service needed to prepare a broad scale environmental analysis of the long-term impacts of mining. The Forest Service initially denied our claim, asserting that we had no right to appeal decisions when no environmental analysis was involved. Then on January 3, 2007, they abruptly withdrew plans for the toxic mineral exploration and initiated the environmental analysis that FSEEE requested.
Livestock grazing on National Forests, perhaps even more than logging and roadbuilding, has profoundly altered native ecosystems. Amazingly, the practice of allowing private ranchers to run cattle at little or no cost on public lands has almost entirely avoided environmental scrutiny.
Since the late 1990s, the Forest Service has been exempt from preparing environmental analyses of grazing allotments. Hundreds of thousands of acres of range are open to cattle, with no consideration for impacts to soil, streams or other wildlife. To make matters worse, in 2004 Congress passed a rider on an appropriations bill that allowed cattle grazing plans to be “categorically excluded” from environmental analysis.
The Forest Service is not exempt, however, from following the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, which protects endangered species like the bull trout and the gray wolf from the impacts of grazing allotments.
The Forest Service is currently in the process of reauthorizing hundreds of permits to graze cattle on National Forests all over the country. FSEEE filed an appeal challenging grazing that runs afoul of other laws that Congress has passed, including grazing in Congressionally designated wilderness.
In addition to challenging grazing in public forests on a national level, FSEEE has been busy this year challenging individual grazing allotments. Specifically, we filed comments on three different grazing allotments on the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, one allotment on the Helena National Forest, one allotment on the Malheur National Forest, one appeal of an allotment on the Wallowa- Whitman National Forest, one appeal on the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, one appeal on the Bridger-Teton National Forest, and six appeals on the Marble Mountain Wilderness of the Klamath National Forest.
In response, so far the Forest Service has withdrawn the grazing permit for the Kidder allotment on the Klamath National Forest. And we expect to hear similar results on many of the other appeals we filed. FSEEE will continue to work to ensure that your National Forests are not used for private grazing at the expense of native wildlife.
For almost 100 years the fate of federal forests has been inextricably tied to local county government budgets. Under a 1907 law, from each dollar paid by timber companies for national forest timber, the local county where the logging occurs receives 25 cents. In Pacific Coast states, especially Oregon, the money added up fast. County governments became the most significant political force behind maintaining unsustainable logging levels on federal lands.
With the increased protection granted to ancient forests for wildlife and water quality protection in the early 1990s, county governments faced a potentially calamitous budget crisis. Congress, with FSEEE’s support, has stepped in with a series of spending bills to maintain county revenues near their historic levels. The 7-year Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act was the most important of these bills. But it expired last year, leaving counties in the lurch once again.
FSEEE staff worked with members of Congress to have the law renewed. And FSEEE members helped clinch the deal by calling their senators and representatives. As a result, Congress has extended that law for one additional year.
There are also positive signs that a multi-year measure that more equitably distributes federal payments among counties will gain passage this year. FSEEE supports both measures as important to the protection of federal forests, especially irreplaceable ancient forests. We will continue working to ensure that ancient forests are not threatened by county governments that cannot tax federal land.
Fulfilling our mission to forge an ecological value system for the Forest Service has meant aggressive litigation and advocacy in recent years—often on behalf of Forest Service whistleblowers. We remain committed to doing what is necessary to protect the old-growth forests, roadless areas, and pristine streams and rivers that are the hallmarks of the national forest system.
At the same time, FSEEE has launched an innovative new program that attempts to build partnerships between activists, agency leaders and traditionally hostile interest groups like the timber industry. We hope to fulfill our organization’s mission through collaboration, not just conflict.
FSEEE has a long history working on the Malheur National Forest in eastern Oregon. The Malheur is big—about 1.7 million acres. Its diverse and beautiful scenery is typical of the inner-Columbia basin and includes high desert grasslands, sage and juniper, old growth ponderosa pines, alpine lakes and jagged mountain peaks.
The Malheur is a flagship forest, one of those forests that the Forest Service looks to provide the bulk of timber and grazing range for a region, and whose methods are copied throughout the country. For decades, the Malheur has come through, cutting hundreds of thousands of acres of old- growth ponderosa pine and providing range for thousands of cattle. On that front, last year FSEEE stopped the Malheur’s High Roberts timber sale and saved old growth.
As part of our new collaborative program, we invited a group of diverse stakeholders on the Malheur, including agency personnel, conservationists, rural community leaders, mill owners, ranchers and county commissioners to meet and try and establish some common ground about the future of land management in the area. After several positive conversations we formed a group that would work together to implement land management projects that all sides can agree on.
Our first project is working with the Forest Service on restoration forestry in the Dad’s Creek watershed. Dad’s Creek was the site of some of the first logging in the area, where tens of thousands of acres were clear-cut by railroad logging methods in the 1920s. The soils and streams were severely damaged and the widely spaced low elevation old-growth ponderosa pine forest has been replaced by a dense forest of much younger pines and firs.
The Forest Service is currently working on an environmental assessment of this project, and project implementation, overseen by our collaborative group, is slated to begin by the end of this year. Income from the sale of some of the commercially merchantable small diameter timber that will result from this sale will be used for stream restoration and road closure projects.
Your support has allowed us to: (1) Build bridges between conservationists and traditionally hostile stakeholders that can be leveraged into future collaboration on difficult environmental challenges, including grazing, and climate change driven forest disturbance; (2) Create models for collaborative resource management that work and that can be used on other forests; and (3) Create visibility for conservation opportunities among Forest Service employees and recruiting new members and supporters.
Over the next several years, FSEEE will continue this outreach to a broad spectrum of stakeholders. We will recruit participants to a collaborative working group, and work closely with Forest Service staff to identify land management projects—such as small diameter thinning—that can achieve ecological objectives while producing wood products for local industry. We will build support for these sorts of projects in stakeholder meetings and sponsor educational forums, create educational materials and publicize collaborative work. Our goal is for the Malheur National Forest to become a flagship forest for the land ethic that will change the way the Forest Service conducts business in the 21st Century.
The Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness is the largest wilderness area in the lower forty–eight states. It represents the ideal of untrammeled wilderness and is a stronghold for the gray wolf.
Idaho was hoping to institute a small but lucrative wolf hunt, and wanted to gather population data to support that goal. To do so, Idaho petitioned the Forest Service to land helicopters in remote areas of the wilderness in order to radio–collar and track the wolves.
The 1964 Wilderness Act and the 1980 Central Idaho Wilderness Act prohibit motorized transport into wilderness unless there is a life–or–death situation. Clearly, wolf collaring and hunting are not valid exceptions to those laws.
FSEEE worked with the Regional Forester to stop the wilderness invasion and proposed hunt. In January, Idaho withdrew it’s request.
Oregon’s Biscuit forest fire was not only the largest in recent memory, it is the most studied. In January, Oregon State University researchers published results in the journal Science that challenge the notion that salvage logging is necessary to restore burned forests. The scientists’ data showed just the opposite. There were 70% fewer seedlings in the salvage logged forest versus the unlogged forest. Logging also increased flammable fuels on the forest floor.
The study would have received little notice, but for efforts to censor it. First, several foresters with long–standing ties to the timber industry asked Science not to publish the study, arguing that the peer review had been faulty. Science editors refused. Email messages revealed that the Forest Service helped instigate the attack against the independent scientists, together with the dean of Oregon State University’s College of Forestry and several professors with financial ties to the timber industry. Next, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) suspended funding for the study, arguing that the research constituted “impermissible lobbying.”
FSEEE came to the defense of the university scientists. Our efforts paid off with media coverage of the censorship and communications with key members of Congress. Rep. Jay Inslee, D–Wash., asked the Interior Department’s inspector general to examine whether the BLM was punishing researchers for their findings, stating on the House floor on February 7, 2006,
“It’s very apparent to most neutral observers that under this administration in a variety of ways that the scientific process has been corrupted by political influence. It goes back to Galileo being punished for his views.”
Facing a congressional inquiry and a barrage of negative publicity, BLM restored the scientists’ funding. As a result of this inquiry as well as FSEEE member calls to their senators, Congressman Greg Walden’s salvage legislation now faces a steep uphill battle in Congress.
On May 26, 2006, a federal judge ordered the Forest Service to stop working on two disputed logging roads in the Southeast portion of the Tongass National Forest.
The court sided with FSEEE and Glen Ith, a Forest Service biologist, who sued the Forest Service for violations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The case asserts that logging roads should not be built without a public environmental review and that the Forest Service is trying to promote logging by circumventing NEPA.
While the injunction remains in place, we are moving forward with the case in order to set the precedent that the Forest Service cannot rebuild old logging roads on the Tongass without notifying and involving the public and without considering the overall impacts of the reconstruction and planned timber sales in the same area.
On October 6, 2006, we filed a Motion for Summary Judgment in the hopes that we can obtain a strong court decision that will make it clear to the Tongass National Forest that it cannot continue its current practices. The Forest Service filed its response on October 27, 2006, and oddly enough, admitted that its illegal roadbuilding activities were related to pending timber sales and that the proper relief would be a permanent injunction preventing further road maintenance or reconstruction.
For the past two years, FSEEE has been working with two whistleblowers on the Malheur National Forest in eastern Oregon to halt logging of old–growth ponderosa pines on the edge of the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Area. A fire burned through the area in the summer of 2002, and the Forest Service decided to salvage log. The largest and most valuable trees in the area were the old–growth ponderosa pine trees unharmed by the fire, while the trees that were actually killed by the fire were mostly saplings and species with little commercial value.
In order to log these valuable trees, the Forest Service needed to figure out a way to get around a rule that protects all live ponderosa pines in eastern Oregon and Washington greater than 21 inches in diameter. So the Forest Service created a new set of guidelines under which nearly all of the pine trees were marked as “dying.”
When the Forest Service finally got around to begin cutting the trees two years later, they were still green, healthy and growing. With the help of two whistleblowers, we filed suit, and won a preliminary injunction that prevented the trees from being cut.
On March 23, 2006, the judge decided to hold off ruling on the more complicated issues surrounding whether the trees were in fact dying, and ordered the Forest Service to process an administrative appeal from FSEEE.
On May 18, 2006, FSEEE supplemented the existing administrative record with an extensive appeal, based on the work of our whistleblowers and an expert tree physiologist, Dr. Richard Waring. The research documented that the old–growth pines are still alive, that they are healthy and thriving, and that the Forest Service’s guidelines have serious statistical and scientific flaws.
In response to our analysis, the Forest Service withdrew the High Roberts timber sale on August 24, 2006. Hundreds of acres of healthy old–growth ponderosa pine trees are now safe from being logged.
For decades, the Forest Service has used toxic chemical fire retardant while fighting wildfires on National Forests. The agency uses millions of gallons of these chemicals every year, which has resulted in major fish kills. Despite its widespread use, the Forest Service has never assessed the environmental effects of the retardant in an environmental impact statement. FSEEE therefore filed suit in 2003 to force the Forest Service to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act concerning its use of retardant.
In September, 2005, Judge Molloy of the federal district court in Montana agreed with FSEEE that the Forest Service’s decision not to analyze its annual dumping of chemical fire retardant on National Forests was unreasonable. The court also agreed that the Forest Service is required to consult with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service concerning its use of retardant on threatened and endangered species.
Although the court ordered the agency to comply with NEPA and the Endangered Species Act, no deadline was imposed. In response, FSEEE requested a reasonable compliance schedule, suggesting that 13 months should be sufficient for the Forest Service to prepare the required environmental impact statement. The Forest Service responded that any compliance schedule was inappropriate, and that even if one was imposed it should allow the agency 30 months.
The court agreed with FSEEE that the Forest Service should be held to a schedule and on February 8, 2006, ordered the Forest Service to prepare the required NEPA analysis within 18 months. On September 29, 2006, the Forest Service voluntarily dismissed the appeal it had filed, thereby capitulating to the court’s ruling that the Forest Service must analyze the effects of the toxic retardant.
FSEEE has a new staff member, James Johnston. James has more than ten years of experience working to protect public lands. A graduate of the University of Oregon, he founded Cascadia Wildlands Project, a conservation group dedicated to the protection of endangered ecosystems in Washington, Oregon and Alaska. In the last decade he has worked on the comment, appeal and litigation phases of more than 300 public land projects in twelve states.
As FSEEE’s Policy Analyst, James is working on a number of projects. To name a few, he is:
preparing scientific challenges to biological opinions that adversely impact spotted owl habitat in the Rogue, Siskiyou, Umpqua and Klamath National Forests.
working to highlight ecologically responsible thinning operations by reviewing and commenting on environmental assessments and impact statements for the Deschutes, Malheur, Six Rivers, Shasta–Trinity, Klamath and Medocino National Forests, and
monitoring U.S. Forest Service plans to clearcut aspen groves throughout the San Juan National Forest in response to a mysterious die–off of trees.
preparing comments for four states that have begun implementation of the new national Off–Highway Vehicle Rule, to ensure that areas in which OHV use is allowed are properly designated and mapped.
Member support helps FSEEE meet the ongoing challenges to the current and long-term health of our public lands. Thank you! If you have any questions or comments about our victories or ongoing projects, feel free to call, write or email us at: