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Archive for the ‘Forests’ Category

After some detailed study and discussion, KEA finally weighed in on the proposed land exchange between Arizona developer M3 Eagle, Idaho Forest Group (IFG), and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), expressing serious concerns.

The complicated exchange would provide M3 with key parcels related to a development proposal just north of Eagle, it would supply BLM with some 12000 acres of M3’s surplus sagebrush steppe lands in the Boise foothills, and it would supply Idaho Forest Group with some 8000 acres of BLM forest lands in North Idaho. M3 and IFG would like the Idaho congressional delegation to jump start the process with legislation to authorize the exchange pending environmental studies. (News coverage available here and here and here.)

KEA has had the opportunity to review presentations on the proposal by BLM’s North Idaho office and by Idaho Forest Group, in which the pros and cons of the proposal were thoroughly explored. In a letter to Congressional representatives sent yesterday, KEA expressed concern with the proposal:

In sum, on the substance, we believe the present proposal drains critical public resources from BLM’s inventory in North Idaho while not providing comparable economic or environmental value in the Boise foothills. On the procedure, we believe that any such proposal should be subjected to a full environmental analysis and a comprehensive parcel-by-parcel appraisal prior to any approvals – legislated or otherwise.

The letter notes that KEA doesn’t necessarily or automatically oppose land exchange proposals with the federal government. Indeed, consolidating parcels for conservation benefit or acquiring recreational access are often accomplished through land exchanges. But this proposal would essentially exhaust BLM’s North Idaho inventory, making local exchanges much more difficult for the foreseeable future.

Most importantly, though, these complex exchanges require a great deal of study first. Each and every parcel needs a thorough environmental assessment and a thorough market appraisal, and these evaluations need to be accomplished — and released for public input — before approvals are given. In this respect, we expressed concern to our congressional delegation that legislation on this proposal would be premature, and probably prejudicially so.

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Just back from vacation in the pine-beetle-ravaged Colorado mountains, I was pleased to see the letter (reproduced below) from Idaho Panhandle National Forest Supervisor Ranotta McNair regarding KEA’s request for long-overdue monitoring reports. The annual reports, required under several provisions of federal law, have not been produced since 2007.

 McNair explains that Recovery Act projects have taken USFS staff away from the reporting requirements, but that the reports are on track to be complete by the end of August.

 We certainly hope so. These reports are critical in understanding the state of our local forests, and understanding whether efforts to manage the forests are actually achieving their purposes or not. Moreover, as “collaboration” becomes the new paradigm for localized forest decision-making, availability of good science and good monitoring data becomes increasingly important to those doing the collaboration.

 We’re pleased with the IPNF’s prompt response to our letter, but we remain anxious to see the actual reports.

 The letter in its entirety:

 Dear Mr. Harris,

 With regard to your recent letter expressing concern about the current state of monitoring efforts on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests, I want to assure you that we are working hard to issue the monitoring reports as expeditiously as possible.

 Forest monitoring has been completed for each year since 2007, but due to staffing shortages we have been unable to complete all of the written reports. In addition, national priorities have diverted personnel from completing the reports. Our highest priority this past year has been creation of jobs for citizens in the Northern Rockies through Recovery Act projects. Our staffing shortages have been solved, and the majority of the $18 million in Idaho Panhandle National Forests ARRA projects have been contracted. Therefore, we expect to release the overdue monitoring reports no later than August 31, 2010. In addition to the 2007 and 2008 reports we will also be releasing the 2009 monitoring report at the same time, which will bring our forest up to date on monitoring and reporting requirements.

 In closing, I want to assure you that our forest takes these reports seriously and our staffs are working diligently to complete our monitoring reports as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

Ranotta K. McNair

Forest Supervisor

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Kootenai Environmental Alliance has sent a letter to the Forest Supervisor for the Idaho Panhandle National Forest (IPNF) regarding monitoring reports it has failed to issue. Under the forest plan adopted for this region’s forest, and under federal law, the forest service is required to submit annual monitoring and evaluation reports to the public.  However, reports as far back as 2007 and 2008 have yet to be issued. The letter states, “It appears that the Forest Service has failed to meet the obligations required under the forest plan and federal law, and have unreasonably delayed performing a legally mandated responsibility.  As representatives of the public’s interest in the proper management of our local forest resources, we are once again requesting these [monitoring] results.”

In response to an October inquiry from KEA, the Forest Service noted that the 2007 and 2008 Reports are not available “due to other priorities” but provided assurance that both reports would be issued in the spring of this year, 2010. Of course, spring has come and gone and we are still waiting for the reports.

In KEA’s letter, we point out that the monitoring report is expressly required under the several relevant sections of federal regulations, the most relevant is 36 CFR §219.11(f) which states:

(f) Annual monitoring and evaluation report. The responsible official must prepare a monitoring and evaluation report for the plan area within 6 months following the end of each fiscal year. The report must be maintained with the plan documents (§219.30(d)(5)), and include the following:

(1) A list or reference to monitoring required by the plan; and

(2) A summary of the results of monitoring and evaluation performed during the preceding fiscal year and appropriate results from previous years. The summary must include:

(i) A description of the progress toward achievement of desired conditions within the plan area; and

(ii) A description of the plan area’s contribution to the achievement of applicable outcomes of the Forest Service national strategic plan.

This is no paper exercise.  Numerous collaborative efforts to address forest management issues around the region are underway, and every last one of them will depend on timely monitoring data to guide their efforts.

Having been perhaps too patient for too long, KEA has called on the Forest Service to either release the long-overdue reports or explain “the press of other priorities” that have caused the delay.  We’d certainly like to know what those priorities are, and how those priorities are higher than the monitoring and reporting requirements outlined in federal law.

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The American Power Act, the energy / climate bill unveiled yesterdayby Senators Kerry and Lieberman (and not Graham), is a complex 900+ page bill that will attract a lot of discussion in the coming months.  There are pros and cons, of course, but at this point, it is mostly some really difficult legal mumbo-jumbo to wade through. The excellent folks at NRDC posted an outstanding “first reading” summary that we found extremely helpful but also somewhat troubling.  One of the problems NRDC identified is one that is likely to seriously impact us in North Idaho.

As described by NRDC, one of the major flaws in the bill is the “biomass loophole” which gives entirely too much credit and not enough protections when it comes to burning biomaterials for energy.  Those materials around here, of course, are our forests.  Here are NRDC’s (and our) concerns:

Closing the biofuels loophole.  The draft bill creates a large loophole for the carbon emissions from producing and burning biomass, significantly eroding the bill’s carbon pollution reductions. Covered firms are allowed to ignore carbon emissions from burning “renewable biomass” on the assumption that they are completely counterbalanced by carbon uptake when biomass is grown (Sec. 722).  In fact, carbon uptake falls short of combustion emissions for many fuel sources defined as renewable biomass, resulting in net carbon pollution. Not requiring allowances for this carbon pollution gives covered sources an economic incentive to switch to biomass, thus seriously degrading the bill’s stated carbon pollution reductions. Closing the biomass loophole is necessary to ensure the integrity of the bill’s emissions targets.   The bill’s definition of “renewable biomass” also lacks critical environmental sourcing guidelines to protect forests and other sensitive ecosystems (Sec. 700).  The definition provides absolutely no protection for private lands, inviting clearing or converting of sensitive wildlife habitat, old growth forests, and our last remaining native prairies.  Partial protections are included for some federal lands, including roadless areas, and wilderness study areas.  But many of the nation’s public forests remain exposed.  A proper definition would protect areas that are high in biodiversity and that serve as large carbon storehouses, such as mature and old growth forests.  It would also provide strong sustainability guidelines to ensure that bioenergy incentives do not drive increased carbon emissions, deforestation, forest degradation, or loss of wildlife habitat.    

We’ll be watching as the debate progresses, but plugging this loophole needs to be a priority.

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Even as we refine our on-line presence (We’re on Twitter! And Facebook!) , we try not to get too caught up in click-counting here at KEA 2.0. Just as lawn signs are not a good predictor of election day outcomes, clicks are not necessarily a good indicator of commitment.

Still, we were fascinated as to why our blog’s most popular post, by far, was the one about the federal statute that created Woodsy the Owl. Well, it seems that our blog posting, for whatever reason, has made it to number one on Google if you’re searching for Woodsy Owl images.

For what it’s worth, we borrowed that particular public domain image from Wikimedia Commons. Still, we welcome the search engine traffic to our North Idaho outpost. So here are a couple more Woodsy the Owl images for our blog visitors from around the world.

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On forest issues in our region, “collaboration” is the latest buzzword. Can long-standing issues be resolved by local or regional stakeholder discussions? Or is it more complicated than that? Or much more complicated? Some readings:

The complexities of collaboration by the Forest Service — High Country News and a response from a newish blog A New Century of Forest Planning. The comments to the blog postings are also well worth reading.

The official blog for the Forest Planning Rule — USDA Forest Service

Snowpack, not temperature, may be most critical to sub-alpine forest carbon capture — Science Daily via Yale 360.

How to cut the costs of fighting wildfire — Headwaters Economics via Idaho Conservation League 

Collaboration in Eastern Oregon — about a project in the Bend Bulletin, about legislation in the New York Times

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Everyone knows that Woodsy Owl is “the name and representation of a fanciful owl, who wears slacks (forest green when colored), a belt (brown when colored), and a Robin Hood style hat (forest green when colored) with a feather (red when colored), and who furthers the slogan, “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute”, originated by the Forest Service of the United States Department of Agriculture.” Right?

But did you know that it’s the law?  See 16 U.S.C. 580p

We learned this after Harold Bell, one of the creators of the Woodsy Owl character died recently.  Originally a marketing agent for the Lassie TV show, Bell created the character with several forest rangers who were serving as technical advisors to the show.  According to Bell’s NY Times obituary, they considered a raccoon, a bull elk, a rainbow trout and a ladybug, before deciding on an owl.  Woodsy Owl was legislated in 1974 and the fanciful owl became the law of the land.

(Hat tip to Concurring Opinions.)

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