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Profile: US Forest Service (USFS)
US Forest Service (USFS) was a participant or observer in the following events:
Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey’s office orders employees of the Forest Service’s Content Analysis Team (CAT) to downplay the public’s feelings towards the Roadless Rule in a report the team is preparing for policy decision-makers. The office also instructs them not to mention how many people have sent in comments on the issue. A memo is later distributed to the team’s employees setting the limits on what they are permitted to say in the report. It instructs them to “avoid any emphasis on conflict or opposition and also avoid any appearance of measuring the ‘ote’ highlighting areas of conflict [because it] serves no good purpose in dealing with the issues or interests, and may only exacerbate the problems.” The memo even provides explicit instructions on what words the CAT team can and cannot use. Among the list of banned terms are: many, most, oppose, support, impacts and clear cuts. Words that the memo suggests using instead include: some, state, comment, effects and even-aged management. [High Country News, 4/26/2004]
Activists with the Earth Liberation Front (ELF—see 1997) claim responsibility for an arson attack on a US Forest Service research facility in Irvine, Pennsylvania, that causes over $700,000 in damages. ELF issues a statement suggesting that it is willing to take even more drastic measures to force the US government to stop its depredations against the environment. The statement says, “While innocent life will never be harmed in any action we undertake, where it is necessary, we will no longer hesitate to pick up the gun to implement justice, and provide the needed protection for our planet that decades of legal battles, pleading, protest, and economic sabotage have failed so drastically to achieve.” [Anti-Defamation League, 2005; Anarchist News, 9/11/2008]
Newfields International, an environmental consulting firm, completes a study comparing several different content-analysis techniques used by government agencies and private contractors. The study, commissioned by Yosemite National Park, finds that the Forest Service’s Content Analysis Team (CAT) is using the most cost-effective, high-quality system available, explaining that the team has a “track record (that) is not equaled by any other organized process.” CAT is in charge of reviewing comment letters from the public and producing summary reports for policy decision-makers. Two months later the Bush administration will announce that the program will be reviewed for possible outsourcing to private contractors (see December 2002). [High Country News, 4/26/2004]
On the day before Thanksgiving, the Bush administration releases proposed rule changes that would lead to increased logging of federal forests for commercial or recreational activities by giving local forest managers the authority to open up the forests to development without requiring environmental impact assessments and without specific standards to maintain local fish and wildlife populations. Administration officials claim the changes are needed because existing rules—approved by the Clinton administration two months before Bush took office—are unclear, in addition to being costly and difficult to implement. Critics charge the changes are aimed at pleasing the timber industry at the expense of forest ecosystems. The proposed changes would affect roughly 192 million acres of US forests and grasslands. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 11/27/2002; CBS News, 11/27/2002] The proposal closely follows the timber industry’s wish list—a “coincidence” according to the Forest Service. [Native Forest Network, 11/27/2002 ]
The Forest Service proposes a new rule that would create three new categories of timber sales exempt from National Environmental Policy Act requirements for environmental review and public input. The three new “categorical exclusions”—exemptions meant for activities that do not effect the environment—would apply to (1) “Low-impact silvicultural treatments involving harvest of live trees”; (2) “Harvest of dead/dying trees”; and (3) “Harvest of live, dead, or dying trees necessary to control insect and disease.” Though the Forest Service states that these activities do not have a significant effect on the environment, the rule would allow the constructions of roads through federally protected forests up to half a mile long. It would apply to more than 150 pending logging projects. [Wilderness Society, n.d.; US Forest Service, 1/3/2003 ; Perks, 4/2004, pp. 17-18 ]
Forest Service officials inform employees of the agency’s Content Analysis Team (CAT) that the work they are doing will be outsourced to the private sector. The management team will remain, but the content analysis work will be farmed out to contract consultants. This decision is made despite the department’s reputation for remarkable efficiency. In October 2002, a study commissioned by Yosemite National Park had praised CAT saying it had a “track record… [un]equaled by any other organized process.” (see October 2002). A study three months later will conclude that outsourcing will actually cost the agency more (see June 2004). [Associated Press, 11/14/2003; Missoulian, 11/15/2003; High Country News, 4/26/2004]
Mark Rey [Source: USDA]Undersecretary for Natural Resources and the Environment Mark Rey, who heads the US Forest Service, announces that the administration still intends to propose a rule giving state governors increased control over the national forests in their states by allowing them to apply to the federal government for exemptions from the Roadless Area Conservation Rule on a case-by-case basis (see December 23, 2002). Though the Roadless Rule would technically remain on the books, the changes would make it easier for commercial interests to obtain exemptions since industry often has considerable influence in state governments. Rey, a former timber industry lobbyist, reasons: “We have an obligation to protect them. At the same time, we have always welcomed the cooperative participation of state governments that have the broadest possible support.” The announcement comes as a surprise because only a few days earlier Rey said that a temporary rule allowing some exceptions to the Roadless Rule would not be renewed. The proposed rule will be formally announced more than a year later on July 13, 2004 (see July 12, 2004). [US Department of Agricultural, n.d.; Native Forest Network, 5/30/2002; Associated Press, 6/9/2003; Mail Tribune (Medford), 6/11/2003]
US Forest Service officials remove Michael Gertsch, a Forest Service wildlife biologist since 1976, from a team of scientists working on an amendment to the 2001 Nevada Forest Plan after he repeatedly complains that the agency is misrepresenting the impact of forest fires on owl populations, which are dependent on old stands of trees. “I fought and fought and fought and fought and finally they used some excuse and removed me from the team,” he later tells the Associated Press. [Associated Press, 8/6/2004]
President Bush signs into law the “Healthy Forest Restoration Act,”
(see May 21, 2003) aimed at reducing environmental and judicial review of forest-thinning fire-prevention programs in national forests. The law—modeled on President Bush’s “Healthy Forest Initiative”—almost doubles the federal budget for forest-thinning projects to $760 million. [White House, 12/3/2003; Associated Press, 12/4/2003; Los Angeles Times, 12/4/2003] The bill axes a requirement that any proposed US Forest Service (USFS) program that may adversely affect endangered plants or animals be reviewed by the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service. Under the new law, reviews will instead be performed by USFS biologists or other land-management agencies. Marty Hayden, legislative director for Earthjustice, says the measure removes important checks and balances. “The conflict of interest is that the agency whose top job is to do the logging will make this decision, rather than the agency whose top job is to protect threatened or endangered species,” he explains. [Los Angeles Times, 12/4/2003] Critics of the bill argue that it will make it easier for timber companies to log large fire-resistant trees in remote parts of the forest and ignore the needs of at-risk communities who need help clearing flammable brush from the immediate areas surrounding their homes and property. Sean Cosgrove, a forest expert with the Sierra Club, tells CNN: “The timber industry fought real hard for this bill for a reason and it’s not because they want to remove brush and chaparral. Through and through this thing is about increasing commercial logging with less environmental oversight.” Overall, critics say, the law reduces environmental review, limits citizen appeals, pressures judges to quickly handle legal challenges to logging plans, and facilitates access for logging companies to America’s 20 million acres of federal forests. [Associated Press, 12/3/2003; Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/3/2003; Associated Press, 12/4/2003]
The US Forest Service quietly announces its decision to allow the construction of roads on 3 percent of the 9.3 million acres in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, opening up the once protected forest to possible logging and mining. [Associated Press, 12/23/2003; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/24/2003] “It allows us to maintain a stable supply of raw materials, in the form of logs, for our small, community-centered mills scattered throughout the 32 communities of southeast Alaska,” explains Dennis Neill, public affairs officer for the National Forest Service. “It’s a viable forest with vast stretches of functional ecosystem that’s going to stay that way. We’re very dedicated to keeping this forest as a functional ecosystem.” [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/24/2003] The decision was made by the Forest Service in consultation with Agriculture Department officials and the White House Office of Management and Budget after Alaska’s governor sought an exemption from the Clinton-era Roadless Rule claiming that it violates the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the Wilderness Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act. [Associated Press, 12/23/2003] The decision ignores some 2 million public comments in favor of upholding the Roadless Rule in Tongass. Critics warn that building roads will harm salmon runs by silting up streams and blocking access to spawning grounds. Additionally it will give hunters increased access to wolves, bears and other animals in remote parts of the forest. And though the Forest Service says that logging will be confined to no more than 3 percent of the Tongass, environmental groups say that since the parcels to be logged are so spread out, the access roads could ultimately disturb four times that figure. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/24/2003]
According to a memo authored by Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth, an “Intermountain Region Director’s Round Table Discussion” takes place on this date to consider plans to eliminate outside agency reviews of US Forest Service activities that are unrelated to what Bosworth has described as the “four threats”—fire risk, invasive species, un-managed recreation and loss of open space. The measure would end the practices of (1) consulting the US Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA-Fisheries on the effects of land management activities on inland aquatic species; (2) conducting environmental analyses of herbicide applications that are ostensibly done to control invasive plants; and (3)
allowing state agencies to review US Forest Service activities that may affect historical and cultural artifacts as required by the Historic Preservation Act. [USDA Forest Service, 1/14/2004 ; PEER, 3/18/2004]
Jack Blackwell, the US Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Regional Forester, announces an amendment to the 2001 Nevada Forest Plan which manages 11 national forests in California. According to the Forest Service, the amendment will “reduce the acres burned by severe wildfires by more than 30 percent” and “double the acres of large old growth trees [and ]… spotted owl nesting habitat” over the next fifty years. The plan is portrayed as a response to an emergency situation. “Large, old trees, wildlife habitat, homes and local communities will be increasingly destroyed unless the plan is improved,” Blackwell says. According to the agency, an average of 4.5 owl sites a year have been destroyed by wildfires in the area over the last four years. [USDA Forest Service, 1/2004; US Forest Service, 1/22/2004; Chico News and Review, 1/29/2004; Environment News Service, 2/26/2004]
The amendment will triple the amount of timber that can be harvested generating about 330 million board-feet of green timber annually during the first ten years.
The amendment will reduce the percentage of funds designated for timber thinning near communities from 75 to 25 percent. The majority of timber removal will be done in remote, uninhabited forests.
The revised plan will cost $50 million per year. However, the Forest Service only has $30 million allocated for the plan. The agency intends to raise the additional $20 million through commercial timber sales. Companies that remove more than a certain amount of brush and saplings will also be permitted to remove a number of larger trees.
The amendment will increase the maximum trunk width of trees that may be removed from 20 inches to 30 inches. It is later discovered that justification for the amendment was based on politicized data and exaggerated claims. For example, an important statement that put the risk of forest fires in perspective written by veteran wildlife biologist Michael Gertsch was left out of the final version. According to Gertsch, his section was excluded because “the conclusion… was that fire appears to be more of a maintenance mechanism than a destructive force for owl habitat.” When Gertsch refused to back down from his analysis, he was removed from the project (see January 22, 2004). Describing the final version of the amendment, he says, “Snippets were taken from science, but they didn’t listen to the science community.” [Associated Press, 8/6/2004] The Associated Press will later investigate some of the amendment’s claims and in August publish a report revealing that “at least seven of 18 sites listed by the agency as owl habitat destroyed by wildfires are green, flourishing and occupied by the rare birds of prey”
(see August 6, 2004).
[pictures rearranged for display purposes] Series of photo shots included in the US Forest Services’ “Forests with a Future Brochure” brochure [Source: US Forest Service]The US Forest Service distributes a pamphlet promoting the agency’s amendment (see August 6, 2004) to the 2001 Nevada Forest Plan, which calls for more logging. In one section of the pamphlet, put together by a public relations firm, there is a series of six black-and-white photos taken at different times over a span of 80 years. The first picture, taken in 1909, shows a forested area with large trees spaced far apart. Each of the following pictures, taken at the same spot, show how the forest became denser over time. The photo-chronology suggests that the first picture represents how forests should appear in their natural state. But in Spring 2004, it is learned that the first picture had been taken after the area had been logged. Furthermore, the pictures were actually taken in Montana, not the Sierra Nevadas. It also turns out that the photos had similarly been used before by the agency to promote other forest-thinning initiatives. [USDA Forest Service, 1/2004 ; Associated Press, 4/12/2004]
The US Forest Service reverses its ban on poisoning prairie dogs on five national grasslands in South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Wyoming. The measure is a response to complaints from the livestock industry that prairie dog populations are spreading from federal lands onto private property, ruining grazing land, causing erosion and damaging roads. Critics of the decision to lift the ban note that in 2000, the US Fish and Wildlife Service had concluded that prairie dogs should be listed as a threatened species. [Associated Press, 2/14/2004]
The US Forest Service announces that it has modified its procedures for conducting environmental analyses on grazing allotments in national forests and grasslands. The agency is required to conduct these assessments for each of its 8,700 livestock grazing allotments under Section 504 of the 1995 Rescissions Act to provide a basis for determining whether or not changes need to be made to each of the allotment’s grazing policies. The agency says that the procedures, outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), needed to be changed because NEPA “lacked specificity and clarification in describing the process.” The Forest Service also claims that the changes were necessary in order to expedite the assessment process as the agency currently has a backlog of 4,200 allotments. The new plan involves increasing the duration of the permits and limiting the number of alternatives considered. Critics argue that the changes circumvent NEPA requirements by reducing public input and weakening environmental review. [Greenwire, 2/10/2004; US Forest Service, 2/20/2004]
The Oregon and California State Offices of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Pacific Southwest and Pacific Northwest Regional Offices of the Forest Service jointly announce two changes to the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan that will reduce federal wildlife protections and lead to increased logging on public lands in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. The first change drops the “survey and manage” rule, which requires forest managers to search forests for about 300 rare plants and animals not yet listed under the Endangered Species Act prior to the logging of old-growth forests. The Forest Service says that the process is time-consuming and expensive, thus making it difficult for timber companies to meet the maximum, allowable, annual timber harvest level of 800 million board feet a year that is permitted under the Northwest Forest Plan. The US Forest Service estimates that this change will allow the timber industry to log an additional 70 million board feet a year. The second change concerns the plan’s Aquatic Conservation Strategy (ACS), which was created to restore and maintain the ecological health of watersheds and aquatic ecosystems in order to ensure that logging and roadbuilding does not damage salmon bearing watersheds. Instead of requiring that individual logging projects meet all ACS requirements, forest managers will only have to see that the standards are met at the “fifth-field watershed scale,” which usually represents an area of about 20,000 to 100,000 acres. [Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service, 3/23/2004; Oregonian, 3/24/2004; Los Angeles Times, 3/25/2004]
The Associated Press publishes a report summarizing its investigation of the US Forest Service’s amendment (see January 22, 2004) to the 2001 Nevada Forest Plan. The report reveals that the Forest Service ignored analysis that did not support increased logging (see January 22, 2004) and that the data used to justify the plan had been manipulated. For example, one of the claims made in the amendment was that wildfires in the Sierra Nevadas were responsible for the destruction of an average of 4.5 owl sites a year. But the AP found that this was not true. “At least seven of 18 sites listed by the agency as owl habitat destroyed by wildfires are green, flourishing and occupied by the rare birds of prey.” The AP’s conclusions were based on interviews with several Forest Service employees, hundreds of pages of documents, and on-the-ground tours of the sites that were cited in the Forest Service’s amendment. [Associated Press, 8/6/2004] When the Forest Service is asked to comment on these discoveries, it denies that there was “an intentional attempt to mislead.” Forest Service regional spokesman Matt Mathes says, “We went with what we knew at the time. They were lost at the time the draft went out. Things change on the ground.” He tries to reason that sometimes the owls will live “among black stems for as long as two years after a wildfire goes through. But eventually the owls do leave.” He also insists that despite the findings, the agency’s policy is sound. “Whether or not there is a mix-up or a simple error, our thought process in reaching the decision was not based only on what has happened but what will happen in the future,” he says. [Associated Press, 8/6/2004]
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