Cascades Resources Area
Re: Hillock Environmental Assessment
Dear Ms. Enstrom:
We appreciate the opportunity to comment on the Hillock Environmental Assessment. Bark applauds the restoration component in Project 2 of this EA, and commends you for taking steps to repair what appears to be serious and chronic damage to the environment. With regard to the Hillock timber sale, we also support the commitment to stay out of old growth areas. However, we take issue with the wisdom of thinning on such steep slopes. We are also concerned that logging in Riparian Reserves with only 50 feet buffers will have a detrimental impact on the health of these watersheds and degrade their immediate capacity as dispersal habitat. There is also an extremely high road density in the area, with very little road closure. We have concerns about this high road density and related difficulty in controlling access to those roads. Additionally, the proposal increases the risk of fire while not adequately assessing the landslide potential these projects may induce. We also disagree that there will be no effects on Threatened and Endangered fish, and have serious concerns about any project that degrades any habitat of the northern spotted owl. We feel that more study and consultation needs to be conducted before proceeding with this project, in the form of an EIS. In light of the fact that most of our concerns related to the commercial logging aspect of this EA, the bulk of our comments will address that.
The Hillock project is a proposal to thin 450 acres in the General Forest Management Area (GFMA), 50 acres in the Riparian Reserve LUA. The Hillock timber sale is located in the South Fork Clackamas River Watershed and the Clear Creek/Foster Creek Watershed in Township 5 South, Range 4 East, Sections 12, 14, 24 and 36 Willamette Meridian. The EA also contains a proposal to restore the Helens Lake Shore Area and Goat Mountain OHV Trail Restoration. The Hillock project analyzed only two alternatives: the “proposed action” and the “no action alternative.” The project would construct 0.3 miles of brand new road; renovate 19.9 miles of road (.4 previously decommissioned) and reconstruct 1 mile of road.
It is insufficient to have only an Action Alternative and No Action Alternative. At least two other Alternatives should have been presented here. An alternative that analyzed a “No New Roads” scenario and a “Reduction Miles Reduction” proposal would be a good addition. Another would be a “Restoration Alternative”. Given the abuse throughout the National Forest and BLM systems associated with road miles, formally closed or otherwise, building no new roads is a responsible alternative that should have been explored. This would have limited access to unit 24D, and perhaps eliminated it, which in our opinion would have been a responsible move considering how steep it is. It also would have limited access to 12 B. This presents sufficient enough changes that it would legitimately require its own alternative. Likewise, a Restoration Alternative that included pre-commerical thinning to create large woody debris in an area the BLM acknowledges as deficient, along side serious road decommissioning would also be a valuable alternative to logging the area now, and it would provide critical habitat for species that are becoming increasingly rare.
II. The Hillock Timber
A. The BLM fails to support its contention that the proposed project is necessary for local economies, or will contribute to the health of the local economy
The EA is incomplete because it does not provide an adequate economic analysis of the proposed project. NEPA requires the agency to “identify and develop methods and procedures . . . which will insure that presently un-quantified environmental amenities and values may be given appropriate consideration in decision making along with economic and technical considerations.” 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(B). The regulation implementing this statutory section states that while a cost benefit analysis is not required for a project, if it is “relevant to the choice among environmentally different alternatives being considered for the proposed action, it shall be incorporated by reference or appended to the statement as an aid in evaluating the environmental consequences.” 40 C.F.R. § 1502.23 (emphasis added).
All evidence suggests that the proposed project will not result in a positive income if all future costs are considered. Further, the Salem BLM never substantiated that recovering the economic value of the trees and providing timber to the economy was necessary. There is no indication that there is a significant demand for the trees that would be logged under the Hillock proposed action that could not be satisfied from private lands.
B. The Hillock Timber
The Hillock timber sale EA fails to adequately assess and incorporate desired future conditions and priorities in the Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) that call for preserving plant and animal diversity as opposed to creating plantation forests. The EA states that by thinning these areas 5-20 years down the line they will be healthier forests. Some reports about thinning indicate that when thinning occurs the trees will first increase the size of their canopy, then grow in height to out-compete their neighbors and lastly expand in girth. This can make these trees top heavy and thus more susceptible to breakage and blowdown. This being the case, 5-20 years from now, these areas will not meet the desired future conditions as indicated in the EA.
The proposal also states that stands will have the “same species mix as before treatment.” (EA pg 14) One wonders how this might occur, with the habitat being opened to more sunlight. How will these proscriptions maintain mesic environments? Further, many of the shade-tolerant trees, such as Noble fir, Western hemlock, and Grand fir, will not have the same opportunities under the altered conditions. Also reading over the South Fork Watershed Analysis, we realized that the present conditions are not the same as the natural conditions. On these western aspects, where all of the units are planned, the dominant trees should be Pacific Silver and Noble Fir. But due to large scale logging in the sixties and the marketability of Douglas-fir, the composition of the forest has changed to Western hemlock and Douglas-fir being the dominant trees, due drying soil conditions. The desired future condition should move to what would naturally occur in this mesic climate and not continue to rely on economics to dictate the present forest composition.
III. The Hillock EA Does Not Adequately Consider The Impacts Of This Project
The Hillock EA does not provide enough information to determine the extent of indirect, direct, or cumulative environmental impacts associated with the project. Moreover, the EA does not furnish substantive and quantitative evidence showing this project will not cause serious and irreversible damage to soils, forest productivity, plant diversity, water quality, and wildlife habitat. In fact, the evidence strongly suggests that the project will cause significant impacts to these resources that preclude the implementation of the proposed project.
The EA states, “A healthy forest ecosystem can be maintained with habitat to support plant and animal populations and protect riparian areas and water resources.” (EA PG 3). This statement alone does not make it truth. As the following shows, there is much need for a deeper analysis before this project is pushed through.
A. The Hillock
EA Fails To Adequately Consider The Cumulative Environmental Impacts Of The
Proposed Project, And Past, Present, And
Several projects in the same watershed have cumulative impacts, which are defined as “the incremental impact of the action when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions.” 40 C.F.R. § 1508.7. The Hillock EA fails to identify and evaluate the cumulative impacts of the project. The brief attention given to the cumulative impacts of the Hillock Timber Sale is inadequate and fails to meet NEPA’s requirement for high quality scientific analysis that would satisfy the “hard look” standard.
The EA gives no mention to the other timber sales that are planned in the area. For example, Bark led a hike through unit 12B to investigate conditions. It was curious to see that beneath these very steep slops was the recently thinned Clear Sale and further west, and further down slope, is the proposed South Fork Clackamas Thin. These three projects taken cumulatively will have serious impacts to the Clear Creek Watershed. There are short sections dealing with cumulative effects scattered throughout the EA, but they mainly describe impacts, as opposed to assessing cumulative impacts. There is no indication that the agency has assessed the nature of the cumulative impacts to species, soil, and aquatic resources within the planning area. The EA uses such words as “it appears” to assess the cumulative impact, which makes one question the scientific validity of such a conclusion. Again, simply stating that other activities are occurring or will occur does not suffice as an adequate cumulative impacts analysis. Additionally, the impact of private land logging is described as likely being a shorter rotation than GMFA lands, but the effects of this is not analyzed in conjunction with the Hillock project and other projects.
Another important detail excluded from analysis is the
landslide potential. The South Fork
Watershed Analysis cited 17 landslides had occurred in the
area, 11 of which were associated with logging. All of these units are on very steep slopes
that could pose a very serious danger. Further, there are 4.4 miles of road per
square mile which can only exacerbate the problem, as roads will only accelerate
any movement of earth. With such a stark history of the area, there should be a
serious risk assessment done to determine the possibility of landslides from
logging in the area. The Hillock area is
heavily visited, and landslides could pose a serious threat to recreation
users. This would also be a serious
setback in trying to get these stands back to a healthy condition. As the
Because there is no indication that the agency has assessed
the nature of the cumulative impacts to species, soil, and aquatic resources
within the planning area, the analysis is woefully incomplete. Given the other
similar projects in the planning area, such as the South Fork Thin, an
environmental impact statement should be completed to address the significant
cumulative impacts of all of these projects together. Under NEPA, “significance
exists if it is reasonable to anticipate cumulatively significant impacts on
the environment. Significance cannot be
avoided by terming an action temporary or by breaking it down into small
component parts.” 40 C.F.R. §
1508.27(b)(7). Furthermore, NEPA
requires the agency to evaluate “cumulative actions, which when viewed with
other proposed actions have cumulatively significant impacts and should
therefore be discussed in the same impact statement.”
B. Watershed Water quality:
1. Cumulative Direct and Indirect Impacts on Watershed Integrity
The EA does nothing to indicate how logging the Hillock planning area – in addition to logging other timber projects in the area – will not degrade water quality. There will certainly be significant cumulative impacts to aquatic systems from the proposed project in conjunction with other projects and activities (ATV, recreation, restoration, etc.,) in the vicinity. While the EA states that “any potential negative effects to these resources are anticipated to be site specific and/or not measurable,” (EA, p.iii) we contend that a site specific impact can indeed be very impactful and should be considered.
We are also concerned about logging in Riparian Reserves. With a canopy coverage reduced to just above 40%, more sunlight will be reaching these areas and altering the species composition. There is a typical riparian ground cover of sword fern, oxalis, and even wild ginger establishing themselves in the area. Any activity will extirpate this important ground cover from the area. It also seems inadequate to be only placing 50 feet buffers around streams in the Riparian Reserves. These are wholly inadequate to stop sedimentation from ending up in the watershed. In units such as 24B and 24E, there are 1,000 foot units with 500 foot elevation loses. The amount of sediment that could potentially develop from these areas, considering the grade of the slopes granting momentum to sediment movement, would not be stopped by a 50’ buffer, particularly with old skid roads and yarding line trails channeling water. Skyline logging will create 2 foot by 4 foot channels that will act as streams when the fall rains arrive following the activity. This will carry sediment that no mere 50 foot buffer can match.
2. Cumulative, Direct And Indirect Impacts On Dispersal Of Late Successional Species
Riparian Reserves have a special role to play in the
landscape, such as dispersal routes for late-successional dependent species,
and “any analysis of riparian Reserve widths must consider the contribution of
these reserves to other, including terrestrial, species” (NWFP Standards &
Guidelines, B-13). The Hillock EA fails to adequately analyze the critical role
of old Riparian Reserves as dispersal corridors for at ris
IV. The EA Inadequately Analyzes The Impacts To Aquatic Systems
Roads are a
well-known cause of negative impacts to streams and wildlife, and the Hillock
planning area already has a very high road density of 4.4 miles per square
mile. This project only offers 1.5 miles
of road closure to mitigate this high density of roads. The 1.5 miles of road closure cannot be
counted on, as road in this area are constantly being re-opened by unauthorized
recreationists. The analysis of existing conditions of the creeks and rivers in
the planning area is not based on high quality science, and relies upon outdated
information provided in the South Fork Clackamas Watershed Analysis published
in 1997. It lacks data and fails to adequately describe the current conditions
of these aquatic systems. It does not accurately represent the impacts on these
systems from the proposed action. The EA acknowledges that the water quality
within the watersheds has been altered, and that the Proposed Alternatives
would adversely impact water quality.
However, there is little site-specific analysis in the EA of how the
Hillock project will impact the aquatic systems in the planning area, including
two federally listed species of anadromous fish (See Below), and its eligibility
for designation as a Wild and
A. Sedimentation Will Increase As A
Result Of The Hillock Timber
1. The Hillock EA Is Inadequate Because It Does Not Include Monitoring for Water Quality Violations Nor A Mechanism To Deal With Such Violations.
The EA does not include provisions to monitor water quality impacts on a site specific level to ensure that water quality standards are met, nor does it include provisions to respond if the effects on aquatic systems are greater than anticipated.
2. Roads and Water Quality
Under the purpose and need for action, the EA states that activities are to “maintain and develop a safe, efficient, and environmentally sound road system.” We don’t consider a road density of 4.4 miles of road per square mile to be “environmentally sound.” Per the EA, the area should be below 3.5 miles per square mile. Relevant law and planning documents provide extensive requirements for roads. See, e.g., 40 C.F.R. 1508.8; NWFP S & G B-19, C-16, C-32 to 34; NWFP SEIS, 2-28,3&4-49,3&4-55,3&4-56, App. B6, B7. Road reconstruction, closure, decommissioning, landings, road crossings, commercial logging, and culvert replacement all represent sediment vectors. There is no quantification of the amount of sediment that may be introduced from these activities. The impacts of roads also include fragmentation of habitat, introduction of exotics, increased peak flow, extension of drainage density, increased interaction between humans and wildlife, and soil productivity loss. The SFWA states that “Roads may deliver chronic levels of sediment to streams over long periods of time from un-vegetated cut slopes and running surfaces” (SFWA 2-14).
The Hillock project adds a 0.3 mile spur road, reconstructs 0.4 miles of previously decommissioned roads, and reconstructs 1.0 mile of unmaintained roads. These roads will temporarily increase the road density, the effects of which were not analyzed in this EA. Although not likely allowing vehicle passage once decommissioned, these roads will continue to have many of the detrimental effects on the environment, such as changing the hydrology, and adding to compaction. They will be maintained in a state such that they can be reopened for future use. We believe that this should be considered when assessing road density calculations. The project also calls for 8.6 miles of road renovation that will remain open.
The EA claims that there will be a reduction of 1.5 miles of road. For a project of this size and the high level of road density, this will do little to mitigate the impact of roads on the planning area. Furthermore, it’s unclear from the EA where that number comes from. It can’t come from roads that were previously decommissioned and then reopened and then de-commissioned again, as that wouldn’t be new road reduction. Does it come from the 7.8 of miles of renovated road, some of which the EA stated will be blocked after use? How much will be blocked after use? Whatever the amount, we feel that these road miles should again be included in road density calculations to get a true sense of road impacts. Like the decommissioned roads referred to above, these roads are not temporary. These roads not be re-vegetated and will continue to alter the hydrology of the area. This project will re-compact areas that were on their way to recovery, and possibly make them unable to recover in the future. The roads should not be dismissed simply because a gate will be erected, as the impact of these created roads are going to be a part of the landscape for years to come. Even the EA states, “subgrades on each of the above roads would remain as non-forest land and be an inactive part of the transportation between uses for management operations.” (EA pg 16). Moreover, OHV use is heavy in the area, and it is difficult to see how a gate will guarantee that these roads will not be used and remain truly closed to vehicle traffic, as OHV vehicles often chart their own path, as is acknowledged in project 2 of this EA. In 2002 Bark released a report on the state of roads in the Clackamas River Ranger District of Mt. Hood. It found that 25% of the roads that were supposed to be closed were not. This needs to be admitted and incorporated into a cumulative effects analysis. Bark’s study found that gates are often removed and therefore ineffective. What monitoring and enforcement will be provided to ensure that things will be different in this case?
When exploring the planning area we found many examples already in existence to illustrate these concerns, for example, where Road 5-4E 12.2 connects with Road 5 -4E 12.1. Road 5-4E 12.2 has deep pits from erosion and is now only passable by ORV or Jeep, which is only exacerbating the problem. Just west of Road 5-4E 12.1 at this juncture, the forest floor has been covered with soil from the runoff of these roads, caused by the recent rains. Also along road 5-5E-6 the drainage ditch was full of water and in some areas running over the surface of the road last winter. Where this culvert meets the seep that runs west out of unit 12B, the water quantity is likely tripled to what the stream would naturally carry. This has the potential to scour the stream, which will increase sedimentation to the Clear Creek watershed, and may disrupt the watershed system.
There are also roads such as the road just south of 4530 on Road 45 that we feel should be decommissioned. This road just goes up half a mile before reaching a berm. This berm should be relocated to where this road begins. Also Road 5-4 E-24, approximately ½ a mile from the Road 45 juncture, goes right over the top of a stream. A berm was constructed, but it is currently acting as just another jump for ORVs. We encourage you to properly decommission this road in order to protect this watershed. There are also many examples of skid trails that are continually being used that are prohibiting the healing of these areas. The EA states, “skid trails would be partially covered with logging slash and debris after logging is complete” (EA pg 8). We hope that more will be done to discourage OHV users from using skid trails than setting a few logs along the mouth of these skid trails, as it’s clearly not working. Throughout all units in sections 12 and 14, nearly all skid trails show sign of use. There is a seep through unit 12B where the skid trail goes directly over the stream. These areas should be ripped and replanted, and fully blocked from use. No new skid trails or roads should be added to this area until the BLM can show that it has adequate funding for restoration, monitoring and enforcement.
On the steep slopes, such as 12 B, 24 A, 24 E and sections
of 24 D, there is also great potential for these roads to add sediment to waterways,
and increase the potential of peak flows. The EA states that the project
elevations “range between 2,000 and 4,000 feet, which is above the elevation
band susceptible to rain-on-snow events” (EA, 18). However, our experience is
that this is exactly the range at which rain on snow events commonly take
place. Bark visited the area in November 2003 where early snows were followed
by a bout of warm weather, and many of the cut-over areas had stream-like
conditions coming down the hillsides. According to the Clear Dodger EA,
3. Cumulative Impacts From Sediment On The Planning Area
It is stated in the EA that activities “would create some surface erosion” and that it would be “diverted onto stable vegetated slopes before sediment reaches the stream.” (EA pg 16). After visiting 24 B and 24E, it is difficult to believe that a 50 foot buffer will be sufficient to deter sediment from logging in these units. Further sections of unit 12B and 14A are directly above the recently logged Clear Thin, and in some areas the proposed South Fork Thin. These projects taken collectively could have a serious effect on the Clear Creek.
We noticed how units in section 26 were dropped when the South Fork Clackamas had serious need of restoration. It is disheartening to see true restoration needs being dropped for financial purposes. In the EA it is stated that the South Fork Clackamas is in good shape through the planning area. Unfortunately that is not the case upstream in section 26 and adjacent Forest Service land. While this may not be in your jurisdiction, these areas still need to be accounted for as it is all the same watershed no matter where artificial political boundaries lie. According to the UCWA, approximately 60 % of the total potential sediment delivery from roads and timber harvest occurs in the Upper South Fork Clackamas subwatershed, at 79.22 tons (UCWA, 2-19), which also has the highest road densities at 5.94mi/mi (UCWA, 2-21).
B. Fish Species
The BLM should address the cumulative impact on fish as a result
of the myriad ongoing projects in the watershed. Despite this lack of analysis on fish in the
planning area, and the fact that there are five timber sales planned on the
South Fork Clackamas, the EA finds no reason to assume that any fish species are
put at risk. The EA states that
All sections dealing with the impact of logging discuss how
the project will result in adverse impacts to species for 5 to 20 years (EA pg
20). It also states that terrestrial species
can use adjacent stands until these stands recover. Any species at risk from these activities in
sections 12 and 14 have few places to go as this area has few if any stands of
late successional trees. Of particular concern are the Cascade torrent
It states on page 3 of the EA, “habitat for populations of native riparian-dependent plants, vertebrate, and invertebrate species can be enhanced or restored.” We wonder how this can be the case when the canopy cover of this mesic environment is intended to be lowered to approximately 40%? This will dry out the area and radically change the species that will be able to inhabit the area. There will also likely be a greater influx of noxious weeds into the area. The South Fork Watershed Analysis 1997, stated that the dominant species in the area have historically been Noble fir and Pacific Silver fir. Yet all the cut-over areas are now inhabited by Douglas fir and Western Hemlock. Logging activities have historically changed the composition of the forest and it seems current practices will create the same results.
It also cites that there are two Survey and Manage Category C species of lichens that were found in the area. Yet the EA does not list what species these were. While it does say that surveys were performed, the specific information should be made readily available in the EA.
A. Northern Spotted Owl
The EA also notes that “in the short term, up to 500 acres of dispersal habitat for the northern spotted owl would be degraded, but would remain dispersal habitat (EA, iv) and that “dispersal habitat would be degraded for the next decade by opening the canopy” (EA pg 21). BLM has offered no proof that logging these areas will not degrade habitat to a degree that further risks an already vulnerable population. Potential long term benefits in essence have no benefit for a population on the brink of extinction right now.
In addition, the FWS has recently recognized the importance
of interspecies competition with spotted owl, and the role that barred owls
play in northern spotted owl survival. A
Range Wide Baseline Summary and Evaluation of Data Collected through Section 7
Consultation for the Northern Spotted Owl and its Critical Habitat: 1994-2001,
11. This document was prepared in
response to litigation and dated
There is no indication in any of the documents associated with the Hillock project that the BLM has considered any of this new information about northern spotted owls, which is clearly significant. These studies provide significant new information about the status of Northern spotted owls. More information and implication for forest management will become available when the status review is complete later this year. The NEPA analysis for this project is tiered to the Northwest Forest Plan, which was created in the first place to respond to the ESA listing of the northern spotted owl. The decision on this project was made without taking any of this just-released and soon-to-be released information about the status of owls into consideration. The EA does not discuss impacts to spotted owls as the result of edge habitat creation and other raptors excluding spotted owls from their existing ranges.
Based on this significant new information, NEPA requires the
Forest Service to withdraw Hillock timber sale until a reasoned examination of
how barred owls affect spotted owl survival range wide and within the planning
area, and how implementation of the Hilloc
Recently, several conservation organizations – including Bark
– filed suit in federal court against the Fish and Wildlife Service for
violations of the Endangered Species Act.
Gifford Pinchot Task Force et al.
The same problems identified in GPTF et al. v. FWS are present in the Juncrock timber sale. The Forest Service has neither assessed nor adjusted the spotted owl environmental baseline for the Juncrock planning area. It has not completed population surveys for the species as required by the ESA, and has no idea how many owls and owl pairs are located in the Juncrock planning area. Using a habitat model as a surrogate for population surveys may be acceptable in the context of assessing the impacts of timber sales on management indicator species, but threatened and endangered species demand greater protection pursuant to the ESA. While it is true that GPTF et al. v. FWS involves the FWS and not the USFS, the USFS has the same legal obligation to comply with the ESA in preparing timber sales as the FWS does in refraining from approving timber sales that do not protect the owl from jeopardy.This issue is currently before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. While this issue is under litigation, timber sales that have been prepared by the USFS and approved by the FWS may be under injunctive relief.
B. Bridgeoporous Nobilissimus
Another species that was discussed is Bridgeoporous nobilissimus. This extremely large conk is dependent on Abies sp., which is historically the dominant species in the area according to the South Fork Watershed Analysis. The EA discusses microhabitat drying as being a result of thinning these units. It discusses how this may be problematic for mammalian species but neglects the negative impact it will have on habitat for Bridgeoporous nobilissimus. It neglects the fact that species are being extirpated by logging activities. Even the BLM’s own survey guidelines list as threats to Bridgeoporous “activities that cause the removal of host trees or modification of microclimatic conditions required for fruiting and survival, such as logging, road, trail, and campground construction.”
C. Snag-Dependent Species
The BLM has failed to respond to the issue that logging will
remove potential future snags and down woody debris from a planning area that
is already deficient in these features.
Snags are very important for wildlife and are necessary for a properly
functioning forest. The
Bats, martens, woodpeckers, bears, and many other species are dependant upon snags and downed wood. Snags and downed wood also serve several crucial ecosystem functions. Current direction for protecting and providing snags and downed wood does not ensure the continued operation of these ecosystem functions nor does it meet the needs of the many species associated with this unique and valuable habitat component.
The Hillock documents do not adequately address the need to protect and provide snag habitat. It does not adequately inventory the existing snags to develop a project that protects them. The snag figures provided are only estimates and seemingly written off because of their small diameter. But it would seem that small snags are better then no snags. If these areas are left alone, competition will select the weakest to serve as snags in a faster time frame then thinning these units. Even on page 15 in the EA, it states that if the action did not occur “intermediate and suppressed trees would continue to lose vigor and eventually die…” It is these trees that create habitat by providing downed logs and snags, which is vital habitat in these recovering areas. Additionally, the agency must do away with the caveat that they will protect snags except where they create a safety hazard. This is based on a false choice between snags and safety. The agency can just buffer snags from activities that involve workers, then these ecologically important snags can be protected.
The Hillock EA did not recognize the importance of
mycorrhizal fungi on forest growth and productivity, and failed to discuss
within the EA how mycorrhizae will be impacted by the proposed timber
project. In fact, this resource’s
important function in forest ecology was completely overlooked in the EA. The
EA failed to address how past logging has affected mycorrhizae in areas within
the analysis area that have been logged.
Scientific evidence suggests that mycorrhizae and other soil organisms
and processes are extremely important and are easily destroyed by ground-based
logging. Fungi and Insects; Attachment
12, Soils and Logging in
This winter in unit 12B we found the dead stems of Corallorhiza sp. Recent studies have shown that this plant is no longer to be considered a saprophyte but that instead is semi-parasitic. Science now shows that this plant instead taps into the mycorrhizal relationship between tree and fungus. The reason we cite this is because the presence of this plant in the unit shows that this area has developed a mycorrhizal relationship to such an extent that it can now support Corallorhiza species. Logging always decreases the presence of this species. This demonstrates that the proposed activities will decrease the symbiotic relationship beneath the soil that will be necessary for the forest’s future health.
E. Noxious Weeds
The Hillock EA does not adequately acknowledge that noxious
weeds are a problem. The EA simply
states that, “All of the noxious weeds identified during field surveys are
common roadside weed species throughout western
VI. The Hillock EA Inadequately Analyzes The Impact To Soil Resources
Healthy soil is the foundation of a healthy forest ecosystem
(Coleman, et al. 1992; Klopatek, et al. 1993), and thus we are concerned that
the BLM has not analyzed this factor sufficiently in relation to soil’s
ecological importance nor in relation to the standards proscribed by law.
There are specific problems with the EA’s total lack of information on organic soil components. These organisms perform critical processes and functions. Soil decomposers (bacteria, fungi and possibly certain arthropods) are responsible for nutrient retention in soil. If nutrients are not retained within an ecosystem, future productivity of the ecosystem will be reduced. (Hendrix et al, 1986; Klopatek, et al. 1993). There is no analysis whatsoever of the effects of the proposed action on this critical ecosystem factor, which if not remedied, threatens to cause tremendous violations of law.
There are troubling questions regarding long-term soil health and how that disturbance condition is monitored. In “Assessing Visual Soil Disturbance on Eight Commercially Thinned Sites in Northeastern Washington” [Tepp, USDA 2002] and “Bulk Density and Soil Resistance to Penetration as Affected by Commercial Thinning in Northeastern Washington” [Landsberg, Miller, Anderson, Tepp, USDA 2003], significant questions were raised that apply to the Hillock project but were not addressed in the Hillock planning document. Specifically, how is post logging disturbance monitoring conducted? In Landsberg they compared three different approaches and noted significant differences within these three different approaches. Further questions, such as consistency of seasonal resistance to penetration monitoring (as summer progresses and soils dry they become more resistant to penetration) when comparing pre- and post-logging impacts. For example, if pre-logging resistance is measured in September before the rains have come and the soil is dry and very resistant to penetration, the baseline readings will be artificially high if the post-logging readings are done in early July before the soils have dried. The reliability of the soil disturbance monitoring is of critical importance.
No matter the logging method, soil compaction remains a troubling issue. Especially with so many skid trails in sections 12 and 14, the additional skyline logging ruts that will be created where the logs are dragged, and the effects of piling and burning. Soil compaction leads to greater runoff and erosion, loss of the soil’s physical characteristics and destruction of deep forest biota.
VII. The Hillock EA Fails To Use Appropriate Vegetation Manipulation Methods.
While it is good to hear that the BLM has the common sense not to allow tractors on these steep slopes, the report does not assess the impact of the ruts that lateral yarding will create. The EA states that a “disturbed trail two to four feet wide for each yarding road would result.” These drag lines are likely to act as drainage routes, especially since the landscape will have less absorption capacity with less woody material. These ruts are going to add to peak flows in the watershed, and will contribute to more sediment.
We are also curious about when skyline logging will be permitted. It states, “tractor operations and haul will not be allowed when the soil moisture is high” (EA pg 16). Will this restriction be applicable to skyline logging as well? Skyline logging will create ruts and during wet conditions these channels will scour and carry sediment down slope.
The EA states on page 24 that fuel loading is currently a “low to moderate fire risk.” It admits that fire risk will increase with the proposal and that “unregulated recreational use in the project area is relatively heavy.” With examples such as burnt out cars down the slope off Forest Service Road 45, and shot-gun holed appliances at nearly all dead ends, this risk is very real. Most studies show that the most common cause of fire is human induced. Simply because it has not happened in the last few decades (EA pg 25) does not mean the area is immune, particularly with the increased dryness expected from global climate change. We would assume the opposite since there will be greater fuel loadings from logging activities, a hotter microclimate being created by greater exposure to the sun and new roads providing better access to these areas.
IV Inconsistency in the EA
On page ii, the EA states that commercial thinning will take place in 45-55 year old stands. However, another point in the EA refers to the average age as closer to 65-70. Could you please explain the discrepancy?