Estacada OR 97023
EMAILED TO: jroden fs.fed.us.
RE: Cloak Thinning Preliminary Assessment
The Cloak project
would log 1,332 acres of matrix land and approximately 217 acres of riparian
reserves using thinning in addition to regeneration to create forage
enhancement areas (70 acres). It would also fertilize approximately 1081 acres.
The activities would take place in the
Bark feels the Cloak project in many ways is a step in the right direction. Instead of directly targeting old growth groves, the Cloak Project is directed toward plantations and second growth. We appreciate this new direction that the district is taking. However, we still have significant concerns about the proposed Alternatives, particularly B and E. Our concerns relate to: logging in riparian reserves; impacts to soil quality; effects on snags; high road densities; and impacts to endangered species, particularly fish populations and the northern spotted owl. We see this project as having significant impact across the landscape and urge the Forest Service to create an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that will more fully address the range of impacts. In the absence of a comprehensive EIS, we urge the Forest Service to, in order of preference, to: withdraw the project, consider Alternative A, or Alternative D. Our next preferred choice is Alternative C.
PLANTATIONS, NATIVE STANDS & OLD GROWTH
Due to the fact that the Cloak Project is a thinning project that takes place in plantations and second growth stands, it is critical to clarify definitions. Bark has field checked almost every unit in the Cloak project, and found some discrepancies between units labeled as plantations versus native second growth stands. For example, Units 480 and 481 are stands that according to Bark have the characteristics of second growth, and in the PA are labeled as plantations. These units were highgraded at some point in the past, and also appear to have been burned post logging. However, in no way do they resemble plantations, which consist of a dense monoculture stands. These units are very diverse, with variable density spacing throughout. It appears that they were logged but allowed to regenerate naturally, as they have all of the characteristics of a naturally regenerating post-fire stand. The only indication of past logging are the enormous Douglas fir stumps scattered throughout the units along with evidence of old skid trails. These stands have structural diversity, and a variety of native undergrowth species throughout. Below is a photo of unit 480.
Bark has determined that the following additional units, which are being treated as plantations in the PA, should be considered second growth stands and folded into Alternative D: 427, 465, 466, 468, 475, 476 (part native part plantation?), 480, 481, 494, 500, 501, 504, 507, 518, 566, 578, and 579. The units in bold face are of particular concern to us, as they are healthy, late successional old growth stands that are providing critical habitat in an area that is devoid of old growth characteristics.
The Oak Grove Watershed has only 42% of its forest in late
Successional condition, and the
The proposed action will log 307 acres of forest with late-seral characteristics, PA, 56. Additional late Successional forest will likely be affected that is not accounted for in agency analysis. Logging will most certainly increase exposure of old growth forests adjacent to Cloak Units to wind and weather. Bark is in particular concerned about the effects of old growth that borders units 465, 468, 498, and 571. The effects to these forests should be accounted for in agency analysis. At this time, due to lack of boundary markers for the Cloak project, it is impossible to tell what proximity logging will take place to old growth, and we would like clarity on this.
Bark is very concerned about the impacts of the 217 acres of proposed logging in riparian reserves, particularly the heavy thinning regime that is being proposed leaving only around 80 trees per acre. The PA states that the purpose is to accelerate the development of mature and late-successional stands, and we agree with that goal; however we disagree with the suggested method of implementing it. Light mechanical thinning could be carried out is some riparian areas in the Cloak project to beneficial effect, but this activity should not be included in the commercial portion of the project. Restoration should be done in a manner that does not result in adverse impacts that outweigh benefits. This should consist of thinning of very small diameter trees by hand, with the cut trees left on the ground to add to the down woody debris layer—a characteristic that the PA acknowledges is sorely lacking. The PA states that “if no action were taken in riparian reserves, stands would have reduced capability to produce the size and quantity of course woody debris sufficient to sustain physical complexity and stability of the riparian reserves and associated streams,” PA, 4, and yet the proposed action involves removing more potential course woody debris.
The riparian reserves serve a critical wildlife function
that will be impaired with the proposed logging. They are designed to act as
“connectivity corridors” for animals between Late Successional Reserves and
Wilderness areas. Given the precarious state of the northern spotted owl, these
areas should be kept intact until studies demonstrate that populations have
rebounded to a degree that can handle further reduction of habitat. There are likewise
a host of sensitive species that will be adversely impacted by riparian area
logging; specifically the aquatic mollusk
The PA does not accurately describe the beneficial effects from Alternative A in riparian reserves and in fact contradicts itself in relation to long term impacts. It states that “if no action were taken in riparian reserves, there would be negative long-term effects because stands would have a reduced capability to produce the size and quantity of course woody debris,” PA, 28. Yet in other sections of the PA, the agency acknowledges that over time, the forest will create similar desired traits of structural diversity through dying trees and disturbance, with dead trees naturally contributing to down woody debris layer. The main difference then becomes not one of effects but one of time frame, with the idea that desired characteristics will happen faster with a helping hand from the agency.
Northern Spotted Owl (Threatened)
It is the stated policy of Congress that all Federal
departments and agencies “shall seek to conserve endangered species and
threatened species and shall utilize their authorities in furtherance of [this]
purpose.” Endangered Species Act of 1973,
16 U.S.C. § 1531(c)(1). The Supreme Court has clearly restated
congressional policy stating that, “The plain intent of Congress in enacting
this statute was to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction,
whatever the cost.”
Under the ESA, the Forest Service has the responsibility to
“insure that any action authorized, funded, or carried out by such agency is
not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or
threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of
habitat of such species.” 16 U.S.C. § 1536. As
described below, the record does
not support the finding that the proposed sale would not likely adversely
affect the northern spotted owl. The
proposed sale, along with others in the vicinity, would exacerbate the degraded
habitat conditions for this species that already exists on the
To avoid the taking or otherwise jeopardizing of listed
species and/or the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat, the
ESA creates a process whereby all federal action agencies must consult with the
FWS before the action agency engages in actions that may affect critical
habitat or a threatened or endangered species that may be present in the
project area. 16 U.S.C. §§ 1536(a)(2). The action
agency – here, the USFS – must prepare a biological assessment that describes
the anticipated impacts to the target species because of the project.
As part of a biological opinion, the FWS must quantify the extent of the incidental take and the effect that the proposed action will have on a listed species’ critical habitat. 16 U.S.C. § 1536(b)(4)(A)(i); (B)(i). To this end, the FWS must consider the impacts to the listed species from the proposed action in conjunction with past and present actions: the “effects of the action.” 50 C.F.R. §§ 402.14(g)(2) – (4); 402.02.
The condition of the species and its habitat prior to the proposed action is known as the “environmental baseline” for the species. 50 C.F.R. § 402.02. The environmental baseline “includes all past and present impacts of all Federal, State, or private actions and other human activities in the action area; the anticipated impacts of all proposed Federal projects in the action area that have already undergone formal or early section 7 consultation; and the impact of State or private actions which are contemporaneous with the consultation in progress.” 50 C.F.R. § 402.02. Without an adequate environmental baseline, FWS has no way of evaluating the present status of a listed species, and thus cannot rationally decide whether additional impacts on the species may not jeopardize its continued existence.
The failure to make a population-based analysis, combined with the failure to complete current surveys for listed species, creates a significant level of uncertainty regarding the level of impact that this project will have on listed species in the planning area. NEPA requires that when data is not available, an agency should recognize the lack of data and explain why obtaining it was not feasible. 40 C.F.R. § 1502.22. The ESA prohibits the Forest Service from going forward with the proposed sale without ensuring that the project will not result in jeopardy to the species. In light of this, the proposed action alternatives are unreasonably supported, and an EIS should be prepared that addressed population trends in relation to the Cloak Timber Sale.
Lack of assessment of impacts to and protection of Critical
Habitat Unit OR-10 and OR-11 precludes implementation of the Cloak timber sale.
The Cloak PA does not rely on adequate information regarding the impact on
habitat of the northern spotted owl, and threatens to violate species habitat
protection requirements if the proposed action is carried out. One of the FWS’
consultation duties is to ensure that other federal agency actions do not
result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical
habitat. 16 U.S.C. § 1536(a)(2). In addition, Forest Service regulations require
measures for preventing the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat.
36 CFR § 219.27 (a)(8). “Critical habitat” is defined in the ESA as
“[t]he specific area within the geographic area occupied by a species . . . on
which are found those physical and biological features (I) essential to the
conservation of the species, and (II) that may require special management
considerations or protections.”
The proposed alternative of the Cloak project will degrade 1,105 acres of dispersal habitat and degrade 86 acres of Nesting habitat for the northern spotted owl within the Critical Habitat Units OR-10 and OR-11. According to the PA, “the degradation of 86 acres of this habitat could cause detrimental effects to owls that may use the area and would degrade habitat from the landscape that has the potential to be occupied by owls. Therefore, in the context of the local and watershed scale, these alternatives would adversely affect the spotted owl and its habitat,” PA, 44.
When designating critical habitat for the Northern spotted owl, the FWS recognized that critical habitat is meant to promote recovery of the species by stating that “the Act’s definition of critical habitat indicates that the purpose of critical habitat is to contribute to the species’ conservation, which by definition equates with recovery.” 57 Fed.Reg. 1822 (1992). Both the ESA and the FWS’ Northern spotted owl critical habitat rule reveal that the purpose of designating critical habitat, and thus the FWS’ role in protecting the habitat from activities that might adversely affect the habitat, is clearly for the recovery of the species.
The effects determination issued by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in their province wide biological opinion (USDI, 2003) is flawed. They state that “the projects are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the spotted owl and are not likely to destroy or adversely modify designated critical habitat for the spotted owl,” PA, 45. By definition, the stands in the Cloak planning area are critical to the survival and recovery of the owl and should not be commercially logged. We question how a loss of habitat from a key connectivity corridor will not “appreciably diminish the value of critical habitat” as it relates to the species’ recovery. 16 U.S.C. § 1536(a)(2); 50 C.F.R. § 402.02.
Several of the units in the proposed action occur within the connectivity design cells of the Roaring River/Upper Clackamas General Area of Concern, which was created because the North Willamette LSR is very narrow in places and is bisected by a busy highway. The Roaring River/Upper Clackamas General Area of Concern is “an important connectivity area between two LSRs to provide some habitat redundancy, and to compensate for the road.” PA, 45. The specific units that overlap the connectivity design cells are not delineated in the PA, which claims that the units are young, managed plantations that currently are not serving as mature forest habitat. Given the discrepancy Bark has with the definition of plantation used by the agency, we request a list of the units, so they can be field verified by Bark. If they are indeed young, dense plantations, they would be good candidates for a pre-commercial thin that would not adversely affect owls, snags and downed woody debris.
The PA also cites the Northwest Forest Plan as being
“consistent with maintaining viability for the northern spotted owl across its
range,” PA, 45; however, a soon-to-be-released report suggests that the NWFP is
inadequate in providing for the northern spotted owl. On
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 the PA that the Forest Service has
considered any of this new information about northern spotted owls, which is
clearly significant. More information and implication for forest management
will become available when the status review is complete later this month. This project impacts designated critical
habitat and connectivity design cells in addition to dispersal and nesting,
roosting and foraging habitat. Based on
this significant new information, NEPA requires the Forest Service to publish a
Cloak EIS that examines how barred owls affect spotted owl survival range wide
and within the planning area, and how implementation of the Cloak project will
contribute to this situation. 40 C.F.R.
“If there remains 'major federal action' to occur, and if the new
information is sufficient to show that the remaining action will 'affect the
quality of the human environment' in a significant manner or to a significant
extent not already considered, a supplemental EIS must be prepared." Marsh v.
Moreover, Best Management Practices outlined in the Cloak project for the northern spotted owl are inadequate to address risk factors. This section reflects an overall deficiency in agency logic pertaining to management of northern spotted owl habitat: implying that it is okay to degrade habitat, as long as the owl is not present. The noise restriction, which does not permit any activity above the ambient noise level within .25 miles of a known spotted owl activity center during March 1 to July 1 becomes obsolete if it’s determined that an owl is not present. However, this then allows disturbance that would diminish the likelihood of owl presence during that period. Parallel logic would be that it is okay to blast dynamite incessantly next to someone’s home as long as they are not home. However, who would want to return home to a site given such a noise nuisance? Another deficiency relates to cumulative effects. There are numerous other timber sales in the planning area that will reduce spotted owl habitat; however, the PA does not discuss the cumulative impact of the present sale in addition to other uncut sales or past sales’ effects on the state of the owl.
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. vs.
The same problems identified in GPTF et al. v. FWS are present in the Cloak timber sale. The Forest Service has neither assessed nor adjusted the spotted owl environmental baseline for the Cloak 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 Cloak 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.
The Cloak project would cause non-listed species to trend towards listing, and listed species to trend toward jeopardy. The Oregon slender salamander, Cope’s Giant salamander, Cascade Torrent salamander, Oregon spotted frog, harlequin duck, Baird’s shrew, Pacific fisher and Pacific fringe-tailed bat are species about which the District lacks adequate information to conclude that the proposed project would not make their populations trend towards listing in violation of the ESA. Sierra Club v. Martin, 168 F.3d 1 (11th Cir. 1999). Despite the lack of information on these and other species, the PA erroneously concludes that they will be unaffected by the proposed project. There is no evidence to support the conclusion that removing suitable habitat for wildlife species will not adversely affect them. Indeed, the facts suggest that these species will be adversely affected in the short and long term.
Management Indicator Species
NFMA requires the Forest Service to provide animal and plant
diversity in the national forests. 16
U.S.C. § 1604(g)(3)(B). USFS regulations implementing this
requirement direct the Service to manage forests for viable populations of
native vertebrate and desired non-native species. 36 C.F.R. § 219.19. The regulations define viable populations as
a population that has “the estimated numbers and
To ensure that viable populations are maintained, the Forest
Service regulations also require that the Service identify management indicator
species (MIS) and that “[p]opulation trends of the management indicator species
will be monitored and relationships to habitat change determined.” 36 C.F.R. § 219.19(a)(6). This monitoring is “essential to verify and,
if necessary, modify the forest plan's assumptions about the effects of timber
harvesting and other management activities on wildlife…In order to meet the
monitoring requirement, planners will need to obtain adequate inventories of
wildlife populations and
The Ninth Circuit has stated that the duty to ensure viable or self-sustaining populations “applies with special force to “sensitive” species.” Inland Empire Public Lands Council v. United States Forest Serv., 88 F.3d 754 (9th Cir. 1996) citing Oregon Natural Resources Council v. Lowe, 836 F.Supp 727, 733 (D.Or. 1993). NFMA clearly directs the Forest Service to create regulations to “insure research on and (based on continuous monitoring and assessment in the field) evaluation of the effects of each management system to the end that it will not produce substantial and permanent impairment of the productivity of the land.” 16 U.S.C. § 1604(g)(3)(C); Sierra Club v. Martin, 168 F.3d 1 (11th Cir. 1999).
In light of this direction, NFMA’s regulations require
inventorying and monitoring on the National Forests under 36 C.F.R. §§
219.12(d) and (k) as well as 36 C.F.R. §§ 219.19(a)(6),
219.26, and 219.19(a)(2). The
regulations state “each Forest Supervisor shall obtain and keep current
inventory data appropriate for planning and managing the resources under his or
her administrative jurisdiction.”
Although NFMA clearly requires the monitoring of MIS
populations, the Forest Service has traditionally relied upon the availability
of suitable MIS habitat, rather than population surveys, to meet NFMA’s viable populations requirement.
Public Lands Council v.
Given this developing reinterpretation of the legal requirements attendant to management indicator species, it is question at best whether the multiple mandates in NFMA and its implementing regulations requiring population monitoring and surveying are being met for the Cloak project.
The Mt. Hood National
Forest Plan states that management indicator species shall be protected from
adverse modification through the curtailment of conflicting activities, or
avoiding the area. Some of the management indicator species for the
Deer and Elk
The cumulative effects section on deer and elk is vague and
unclear. The PA states that Alternative B would result in approximately 86
acres of optimal cover being downgraded to thermal cover, but that it would be
“relatively short term,” PA, 54. What does relatively short term mean to the
agency? A clear timeframe should be presented in order to give adequate
information about cumulative effects. Likewise the PA states that approximately
1,463 acres of thermal cover would be temporarily downgraded, and that this
effect would be short term in nature. What does short term mean to the agency?
The PA claims that disturbance “would probably only displace animals and would
not likely affect their health,” PA, 54. However, disturbance does indeed
affect animals’ health, as their health can deteriorate due to loss of body
weight in traveling farther distances, and by being agitated, as supported by
The Oak Grove Watershed Analysis (OGWA), which says that road closures will
play a critical role in reducing the energetic demands upon the resident elk
herds and options to reduce open road densities especially in the locations
identified as important to el
The proposed action will result in a changed micro-climate
in approximately 307 acres of older second growth stands, which are used by
pine marten and pileated woodpecker. However the agency claims that the
activity will “p
Close to 30 species of migratory birds occur within the Oak
Grove, Upper and
Snags are a very important part of the
The agency acknowledges that the managed plantations are very deficient in snags and downed wood, PA, 49 and that they fall below the 30% tolerance level using the DecAID advisory. The project area currently does not have enough snags (standing dead trees or standing live hollow trees), and yet the proposed action will destroy some of the few remaining snags in the action alternatives. The agency acknowledges that “snags are difficult to retain during logging,” PA, 50, and that “snags that are left standing after the sale would be more prone to wind damage and snow breakage than before the stands were harvested,” PA, 50. Additional impacts involve “the reduction of any natural selection that would occur through the process of stress and mortality. Snags and downed logs that might have formed in the future would be removed through timber harvest,” PA, 50.
The PA, however, states that using BMPs, leaving “defective” green trees in place and using other design criteria, the snag retention in older second growth stands would have snag and defective tree densities and size guidelines at the 50% tolerance level as determined in the DecAid advisor, in Alternatives B and E, and 30% tolerance level or below in plantations, PA, 51. It is unclear in the PA how the existing level in second growth stands, which is determined to be between 30 and 50% tolerance level, will suddenly surge to 50% given the impacts of logging. Additionally, there is no discussion of how effective those snags will be, how long those snags will actually be in place, or how they will be retained in 10 to 20 years when the stands are reentered for another round of thinning. It is likely that in the future snags will be destroyed just as soon as they are becoming effective habitat. The same applies for plantations. Given plans for future operations, the statement that “These predicted tolerance levels for both snags and down wood are expected to be maintained or slowly increase in the units as they progress over time,” PA, 51, is unrealistic, and Bark has particular concern regarding the effects of logging on snags in Units 437 (effects on old growth adjacent to NE Side of Unit), 468, 494, 495, and 513.
The stand analysis in the cumulative effects section states that the snag levels after past, present and foreseeable future harvest would be close to or greater than the 100% biological potential level, PA, 52. However, this should not imply adequate levels of snags. According to the OGWA, “No agreement exists that this level of snag retention provides an equivalent level of biological potential for other snag users (e.g. bats, orboreal rodents, bluebirds, swallows, and denning carnivores).” Indeed, available evidence suggests that it isn’t even meeting the needs of the cavity nesting species.
the solution, to simply create “new snags” does not adequately replace the loss
of habitat, in the short term or possibly even into the foreseeable future.
Research has yet to show that these created snags are used by wildlife.
(“Created Snag Monitoring on the
There were four major field observations highlighted by the Boleyn 2002 report:
1) Foraging use by sapsuckers and pileated woodpeckers: Only 1.5 percent of the snags had new foraging excavations by pileated woodpeckers. Sapsucker use was present on 1.5 percent of the snags.
2) Foraging use by other birds: Nearly half of the created snags monitored (49 percent) had new foraging excavations from other woodpeckers and other unidentified excavators.
3) Nest/Roost cavities in created snags: New cavities were present on 1.2 percent of the snags. Of the 17 snags with new cavities, 2 were naturally created; 1 was girdled; 1 was unknown; and the reset were blasted or saw-topped. Also, of the 17, 2 had class 1 decay, 2 were class 3 decay, and the rest were class 2 decay. The majority of these 17 snags had 80 percent of the bark remaining with 7 having 60 percent of their bark remaining.
4) Use by species other than birds: Evidence of use by species other than birds on the created snags was present on 1.8 percent of the snags. Detecting use by other species was difficult since they did not always leave obvious signs. However, we did observe an unidentified species of bat leaving one created snag and a chipmunk climbing up another."
The Northwest Forest Plan ROD is clear that “a renewable supply of large down logs is critical for maintaining populations of fungi, arthropods, bryophytes and various other organisms… Models for computing expected numbers and sizes of logs should be developed for groups of plant associations and stand types which can be used as a baseline for managers to develop prescriptions for landscape management.” (C-40) The ROD clearly states that the 240 linear feet of logs per acre greater than or equal to 20 inches in diameter standard is to be used until better, vegetation-type specific standards are developed. Now that this model is currently available (DecAID), it must be applied.
Whether USFS is of the opinion
that DecAID is best applied at larger scales than a timber sale project area is
immaterial to the implementation of updated policies that reflect the current
science. In fact, USFS should amend the
Northwest Forest Plan to get rid of the biological potential based retention standards. Recently on
However, with the Cloa
Since the publication of Thomas et al. and Brown, new research has indicated that more snags and large down wood are needed to provide for the needs of fish, wildlife, and other ecosystem functions than was previously recommended by forest management guidelines in Washington and Oregon. For example, the density of cavity trees selected and used by cavity-nesters is higher than provided for in current management guidelines…
Research results have expanded the number and variety of decaying wood categories over what was previously presented in Thomas and Brown…
Both snag- and down wood-associated wildlife more or less equally participate in dispersal of seeds and fruits (although the particular species they disperse may differ); however, snag- associated wildlife play a greater role in dispersal of invertebrates and plants, and down wood-associated wildlife play a greater role in dispersal of fungi and lichens. Down wood-associated species might contribute more to improving soil structure and aeration through digging, and to fragmenting wood. This is one example of the far greater differentiating power afforded by a well-constructed set of matrixes than was previously available in Thomas and Brown…
USFS fails to look at the research generated by its own scientists in regard to the pileated woodpecker. In the October 2003 Science Findings, published by Pacific Northwest Research station. PNW researcher Keith Aubry calls the biological potential threshold for woodpeckers “untested hypotheses” and says that the new information contained in the report be “immediately applied to existing standards and guidelines.” This report outlines that snags and decadent trees are essential for nesting, with 48% of nests found in live, dead top trees, despite the rarity of decadent trees on the landscape, meaning that decadent trees appear to be more important for nesting than snags. Pacific silver fir, found in Cloak units, is preferred for nesting. Trees used for roosting are never used for nesting. Lastly, down logs do not support populations of carpenter ants and therefore do not provide foraging habitat. This finding is particularly important for Cloak, as many of the left snags and large trees retained after logging will likely fall over. A future EIS needs to be generated that addresses the effects from the diminishment of snags on species likely to inhabit the area.
SOIL & STEEP SLOPES
Logging should not occur in units where soil damage currently exceeds Forest Plan maximum levels of damage: “Several of the Cloak units exceed the Forest Plan Standards and Guidelines FW-022 and B8-40,” PA, 58. Logging should not be approved in units where past logging has already extensively damaged the soil, as the damage may be irrevocable. The analysis also does not adequately take into consideration that logging is likely planned again in the near future: “In most units another thinning would be desirable in 10 to 20 years; sooner in stands that had closer spacing in the first thinning and later in stands thinned to a wider spacing,” PA, 38.
Additionally, given the fact that some of the plantation stands are in fact second growth stands that have been high graded in the past, the following blanket statement about soil conditions in natural second-growth stands does not apply. The sentence “All of the natural second-growth stands have soils with little or no detrimental impact,” PA, 58, should be revised to say “X% of the second growth stands have soils with little or no detrimental impact.”
Bark is very concerned about logging on steep slopes in the following units: 426, 467, 471, 476, 495, 496, 500 (NW side of unit), 505, 516 (very steep slopes), 567 (85-90% slope!), 568, 571 (East side), and 577. These areas should be left alone.
The Cloak project proposes
approximately 70 acres of clearcuts (up to 3 acres in size retaining 10-30
trees per acre) for deer and elk “forage enhancement,” which is a stated
purpose of the project. This is a serious misplacement of priorities. The
Forest Service expresses concerned about potential future reduction in habitat
for deer and elk-- neither of which are threatened or endangered--saying that
forage is a limiting factor. However within the same project the Forest Service
is proposing a significant reduction in the quality of dispersal habitat, and the
destruction of nesting roosting foraging habitat for a species that is
currently federally listed as threatened. The Forest Plan does not contain any
forage standards that the Forest Service has to live up to in this regard, PA,
53; and yet the project prioritizes meeting non-existent standards while
simultaneously violating specific set standards in other areas, such as soil
health. What studies does the Forest Service have that shows that deer and elk
are in trouble on the forest? Or that lack of forage is harming these
populations? The watershed analyses spanning the Cloak project show that
historic conditions had a much smaller percentage of land in early seral state
than our current percentage, and according to the Upper Clackamas Watershed
Analysis (UCWA), “there is more early seral vegetation throughout the watershed
than in the estimated range of natural variability.” UCWA, 9.
To borrow the Forest Service’s oft-used
phrase, there is plenty of habitat in adjacent areas
that will meet the needs of these species. A more appropriate way to address
The PA cites the Forest Plan stating that it recommended
8-10% new forage be created for the Oak Grove and 9-11%
in the Upper and
The proposed action calls for 3.4 miles of closed, and overgrown roads opened and re-built, and road placement within Riparian Reserves as close as 100-150 feet from streams. The impacts of roads include increased sediment input, fragmentation of habitat, stream crossings, introduction of exotics, increased peak flow, extension of drainage density, increased interaction between humans and wildlife, and soil productivity loss, to name a few effects. This is acknowledged in the UCWA, but not addressed in the PA: “The effects of roads and hydrology is well documented. Road ditches collect and concentrate the water as well as shorten the transport time from hill slope to stream channel compared to natural processes. The principle effects are to increase the volume and shorten the duration of the amount of overland flow to stream channels.” UCWA, 172. The PA downplays any possible effects from existing or new roads, mainly remaining silent on the subject of potential impacts. Given that the road density in half of the elk management areas exceed the target road density levels, PA, 53, it is unthinkable that the proposed action calls for building more roads, even if “temporary.”
While the action alternatives would also close roads after
Decommissioning roads cannot offset the soil disturbance from the new roads and the logging operation, even if the USFS is completely successful in re-vegetating the area at some point in the distant future. Road density doesn’t automatically return to the prior level after a road has been decommissioned. It often can take 20 years to successfully revegetate a road, and in the meantime, environmental impacts of the road are felt. There is also a high chance that these roads will be revived before they even have a chance to fully recover, and therefore, they cannot in all honesty be called temporary. A more accurate term would be “stealth” roads, as these roads exist to facilitate timber sales that otherwise would not be feasible or permitted due to excessive road densities. However, due to semantics, these roads are allowed to go undetected in formal road inventories. All units that require the building of these stealth roads should be removed from the proposed action.
The PA does not analyze the cumulative effects of a temporary increase in the current road density on the surrounding area. The PA also does not offer specific open road density information for the entire planning area. This is obviously necessary in order to assess accurate cumulative impacts. It is also critical, in determining road densities, that figures include roads that are actually being used by motorized vehicles. Bark has 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 thus ineffective. In summary, given the consequences of increasing the road density, is does not seem like a sound investment of agency resources, let alone a wise ecological decision, to include new road building in this proposal.
Page 28, the PA fails to fully address Section-10
(b) Unless the necessity for a permanent road is set forth in the forest development road system plan, any road constructed on land of the National Forest System in connection with a timber contract or other permit or lease shall be designed with the goal of reestablishing vegetative cover on the roadway and areas where the vegetative cover has been disturbed by the construction of the road, within ten years after the termination of the contract, permit, or lease either through artificial or natural means. Such action shall be taken unless it is later determined that the road is needed for use as a part of the National Forest Transportation System.
The PA does not mention the location of the funds to vegetate and monitor the temporary roads for the required 10 years after timber harvesting. If the funds come from the auctioning of this project, the PA needs to mention a second source of funds if the purchasing price does not allocate enough money to monitor these roads for 10 years.
Finally, the USFS does not indicate how it intends to compensate for the short- and long-term damage to the watershed caused by reconstructing, upgrading, and building roads in watersheds that already have excessive road densities. The project should not go forward until the USFS can ensure compliance with the CWA and LRMP standards designed to protect water quality. The USFS should demonstrate that it has considered the following resources in making its determination to build new feet of road in the Cloak Project, and if it dismisses the recommendations within these reports, explain why it has excluded these recommendations from its analysis.
1. Robert Coats, et al., Assessing Cumulative Effects of silvicultural Activities, (1979) (significant increases in peak flow post-harvest)
Robert Harr, et al., Changes in Storm Hydrographs after
3. Robert Harr, et al., Pacific Northwest
Robert Harr, et
al., Pacific Northwest Research
J. Jones & G. Grant, Peak Flow Responses to Clear-Cutting and Roads in Small and Large
Basins, Western Cascades,
K. Lyons & L. Beschta, Land Use, Floods, and Channel Changes:
M. Reid & T. Dunne, Sediment Production from
The PA does not fully analyze the cumulative impacts of this project and other past, current, and foreseeable future projects, including timber sales, roads, herbicide use, mining projects, off-road vehicle use, and other management activities. There are short sections dealing with cumulative effects scattered throughout the PA, but they mainly describe impacts, as opposed to assess 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.
This lack of analysis is also apparent in the discussion of direct and indirect effects. In the section titled Riparian Reserve Stand Structure, the PA neglects to give information about the potential adverse environmental impact from Alternatives B and E, saying, “Alternatives B and E would result in the long-term benefits because thinning would develop increased capability of stands to produce the size and quantity of course woody debris sufficient to sustain physical complexity and stability of riparian reserves and associated streams,” PA, 30. The only hint given of potential adverse impacts under these alternatives appears in the discussion of Alternatives C and D, where they are described as less harmful than B and E: “the probability of any sediment reaching a stream course or any decrease in stream shading would be less,” and “There would be slightly less risk of erosion,” PA, 30. The PA doesn’t hesitate to inform us, however, of the adverse impacts of Alternatives C and D, which do not include any road construction, and which use the less destructive helicopter logging instead of ground based logging in some units.
The lack of an adequate cumulative impact analysis to assess loss of late Successional forest, degradation of water quality, impacts to plant and animal species, and soil health is especially problematic given the admission in the relevant watershed analyses that the area has been highly impacted by past logging and other management activities.
The PA completely disassociates incremental impacts with the collective or long term effects, and states that “Impact to water quality or fisheries resources caused by sedimentation due to road construction would be short-term and undetectable at a watershed scale,” PA, 28. Repeated destruction of habitat over time has caused listings in the first place. Continued repeated destruction over time is what will cause species to go extinct. The PA uses criteria that could never acknowledge any significant impacts on a project level. It’s hard to imagine using this technique that any single project that could be described as having impacts felt across the entire watershed or impacting an entire population. Through such as screen, incremental habitat degradation will continue to take place over time until species become extinct.
The analysis of existing conditions of the creeks and rivers in the planning area is not based on high quality science, fails to adequately describe the current conditions of these aquatic systems, and does not accurately represent the impacts on these systems from the proposed action. The PA acknowledges that the Proposed Alternatives would adversely impact water quality, PA, 28. However, there is little site-specific analysis of how the project will impact the aquatic systems in the planning area.
In terms of effects, the PA offers a generalized statement of potential impacts:
“Potential effects to listed, proposed, candidate, or sensitive fish species and their habitat from the proposed project include direct, indirect and cumulative effects. An example of direct effects may include increased levels of fine sediment in local streams generated during road building, logging, and hauling. Increased levels of sediment in streams could reduce feeding efficiency during times of increased turbidity… An example of indirect effects may include increased amounts of fine sediment downstream in rivers or at the intake of municipal water providers, due to erosion from harvest units and roads.”
PA, 27 (emphasis added).
The courts have held that this type of generalized impact assessment
regarding potential impacts and possible effects violates NEPA.
Given the at-risk condition of the waterway and the nature of the ground disturbing activities of the Cloak project, it is likely that there will be adverse watershed effects from the Cloak timber sale, even though the Forest Service fails to admit that this will occur. The Clean Water Act does not permit “short term” degradations of water quality, and any project that proposes such degradations is unlawful.
We note that the USFS also has an obligation to physically
survey the reaches of the creeks, streams, and tributaries in the planning area
in order to determine the number of pools, riffles, down woody debris, and
other features that are present in the water bodies in the planning area. Without key and current information, 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 scope
of the project and range of activities, an environmental impact statement
should be completed. 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.”
WATER QUALITY AND FISHERIES
Effects to Watersheds
The National Marine Fisheries document titled “Making
Endangered Species Act Determinations of Effect for Individual or Grouped
Actions at the Watershed Scale” states that a watershed which has riparian
reserves that are less than 70% intact is considered to be “not properly
functioning,” Page 11. The description of a watershed that is not properly
functioning includes: “riparian reserve system is fragmented, poorly connected,
or provides inadequate protection of habitats and refugia for sensitive aquatic
species (<70% intact)” Page, 11. The Riparian Reserves in the
Fish Stocks and Concerns
The Cloak project proposes to log within the Oak Grove Fork
Additionally, Bark has found the PA’s treatment of threatened and endangered fish species to be inadequate and in need of revision. The statement that “there are no fish species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the vicinity of thinning units,” PA, 27, is incorrect based on our own investigation.
Page 31 of the Preliminary Assessment states the “Lower
After mentioning a few areas where LCR steelhead occurs within a mile of the Cloak Project area, the Preliminary Assessment states, “all other units within the Cloak Project area are located greater than one mile above any occurrence of LCR steelhead.” Based on Bark’s measurements, 22 out of the 55 units (40%) rest within a mile vicinity of a LCR steelhead-bearing stream (Source 1, 2, & 4). Table-1 lists these 22 units. Please revise the PA to state, “22 of the units within the Cloak Project area are located less than one mile above any occurrence of LCR steelhead.”
Page 33 of the PA states the distances of the streams where
In regards to the ODFW fish distribution maps, the red line shows definite spawning and rearing stream locations of threatened and candidate fish (Sources 1, 2, and 3). Other streams not listed by the red line in the distribution maps could provide habitat for these fish, but the ODFW does not have the resources to monitor them. The USFS should not log units that rest adjacent to potential spawning and rearing habitat streams.
In addition to the units referenced above, we have particular concern about the impacts to perennial streams in the following units: 428, 467 (below unit), 468, 476, 494, 495, 496, 500, 502, 504, 507, 509, 566, 567, and 568.
There is no quantification of the amount of sediment that
may be introduced from road reconstruction, closure, decommissioning, landings,
road crossings, commercial logging, and culvert replacement in the Cloak
project. NEPA requires the agency to
quantify and qualify the extent of direct and indirect impacts as a result of
its activities. 40
C.F.R. 1508.8. The Ninth Circuit
has held that “general statements about ‘possible’ effects and ‘some risk’ do
not constitute a ‘hard look’ absent a justification regarding why more
definitive information could not be provided.”
There is also inadequate information about sediment
turbidity levels in the watersheds where the project is planned. Due to the
fact that there are no solid environmental baselines, it is impossible to
determine whether sedimentation has increased as a result of past logging
projects, and therefore difficult to make assumptions about the nature of the
impact of future projects on sediment.
The possibility of short term effects are
acknowledged, PA, 22, but logging activity is validated due to the
implementation of BMPs and anticipated benefits over the long run. There are
serious and significant effects associated with this sale, and the Forest
Service has no evidence to support the implication that impacts can be
adequately “lessened” by implementation of BMPs. This approach—short term
impacts with long term benefits pervades Forest Service management strategy. In
an ecosystem that was healthy and resilient, such a strategy might make sense.
However, given the ecological indicators of crisis on
The no cut buffer widths of 50 feet for perennial streams and 30 feet for intermittent streams are simply inadequate to trap sediment given the nature of the heavy thinning being proposed in the Cloak units and the fact that heavy logging equipment would be permitted in such close proximity to streams. These buffers would suffice if pre-commercial thinning were to occur that would not result in any skid trails or ruts from skyline logging, or the introduction of heavy equipment to the area; however, that is not what is being proposed here. Bark is equally troubled by the fact that even the inadequate buffer widths proposed here are not set in stone, as falling trees within the buffer zone would be allowed if it was determined to not increase sediment or decrease stream shading. When is that going to be determined? By whom? These buffers widths should have been outlined clearly in this PA, not determined on an as-need basis after a decision notice is published for this project. Clarity and transparency with the riparian buffers should be part of a Cloak EIS.
The statement that the proposed project will not affect stream temperatures is unproven. It is in fact very likely that there will be an increase in the volume of heated water as water flowing off of roads and ditches into the riparian reserves will increase. The riparian reserves, which will be heavily logged, will not absorb and cool water due to the lack of canopy cover. It is unclear how this serious regime of logging would maintain water temperatures. The statements that water quality degradation will be “undetectable at watershed scale” and that “Any water temperature increases should abate in 15-20 years,” PA, 28, ignore the immediate and localized needs of local threatened fish populations.
The proposed action involves aerial application of 200
pounds of nitrogen per acre to approximately 1081 acres of forest in the
project area. Over 100 tons of nitrogen fertilizer is inappropriate in a sub-basin
already damaged by an excess of nitrogen in the waterways, and the
justification, namely faster growth, does not merit the risks to wildlife. Water quality in this section are described
in relation to aquatic life, without addressing the impact to a host of
wildlife that could be affected, ranging from salamanders to birds to mollusks.
The criteria regarding nitrogen are designed in such a way that impacts to
other species are masked. The standards are therefore rarely violated in the
Sources for water quality section:
1. Oregon Department of Fish &
2. Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife. Clackamas River Summer Steelhead Fish Distribution Map, ftp://rainbow.dfw.state.or.us/pub/gis/pdf/distrib/st_sum/st_summer17090011_11x8.pdf
3. Oregon Department of Fish &
5. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:
6. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:
7. Bureau of Land Management. Standards
and Guidelines for Management of Habitat for Late-Successional and
The native stands that are fire regenerated are fantastic examples of fire recovery that has taken place without salvage logging. Since these stands have had no "management" (post-fire or otherwise), they are very important living laboratories for studying long-term post-fire recovery in the West Cascades, and should be kept intact without logging.
The Forest Service continuously expresses concern about increasing fire risk in the forest; yet the proposed thins will increase the risk of fire. Reducing the canopy will result in drier conditions, and slash will only increase the fine fuel load. Blowdown is also likely given in units with steep slopes. Climate change, which is already increasing the summer drought conditions across the region, is only expected to continue and get more severe, increasing the fire risk further. There is a high concentration of roads in the vicinity, and given that most forest fires are human started on or near roads, it seems unwise to create drier conditions with increased levels of highly flammable fuel loads in the area. Logging in the cooler, wetter, native forests is unwise and irresponsible given the above combination of factors.
BEST MANAGEMENT PRACTICES
The PA downplays any potential adverse impacts from harvesting activities: “vegetated buffer strips would act as an effective barrier to any sediment being transported into stream channels by surface erosion or runoff,” PA, 28, and “Even if some soil movement occurred, the vegetated buffer strips along every perennial or intermittent channel would act as an effective barrier” PA, 28. The current condition of the riparian reserves in the project area does not support that conclusion. The PA conveniently omits any discussion of the age and health of the riparian reserves. An analysis of the condition of the reserves is necessary before making assumptions about the level of sediment these reserves will be capable of trapping. The foundation of such generalized and optimistic assessment of impacts is Best Management Practices (BMPs), which are automatically assumed to negate negative impacts. While we support the use of BMPs, they should not facilitate approval of projects that degrade habitat. The aim of BMPs is that they can “control or prevent,” adverse impacts. However, the only sure method of preventing adverse impacts is by not conducting activities that cause harm and destruction. BEST measures of control do not provide assurance that valuable habitat will not be degraded. There is no proof of “demonstrated ability” of BMPs to be successful in diminishing harm.
The Cloak PA acknowledged that noxious weeds are a problem, and yet proposes no mitigation measures such as washing heavy equipment before it comes into the planning area. The PA does not indicate that any actions will be taken to reduce the risk of noxious weed introduction and establishment, nor does it include a discussion of how the USFS would monitor success of these measures during implementation and in the aftermath of the project. Invasive weeds have reached such epidemic proportions that the Forest Service recently sent out a letter stating: “In recent years invasive plant populations have significantly increased on these forests…Invasive plants continue to expand every year, and have the potential to increase at rates of up to 8 – 12 percent per year” (letter from Gary Larsen, 2.24/04, Attached). Given this situation, the lack of protocols around dealing with noxious weeds in the Cloak PA is startling.
The Cloak Thinning Project, while flawed, is a serious step
in the right direction for the Clackamas District, and we applaud the agency
for steps it is taking to redirect resources away from liquidating legacy
stands of old growth on the district. We also applaud the wide range of
alternatives, including Alternative D. At the same time, we are greatly
concerned about the impact of this project on the northern spotted owl, in
addition to impacts on riparian areas, snag loss, and detrimental impacts to fish
populations and soil. If the project was turned into a mechanical thinning
project directed at monoculture plantations, with trees lopped and scattered on
site, we would enthusiastically support it, as we share the view that there are
numerous units in the Cloak project that could benefit from some mechanical thinning,
namely: 472, 473, 474, 478, 503, 511, 512, 513, 514, 515, 517, 519, 520, 578,
579. However, until the above issues are adequately resolved, Bark cannot
support this project. We also feel that this PA is seriously lacking in
information on the direct, indirect and cumulative effects of the proposed
activities. Thank you for considering
our comments. Bark incorporates by reference the comments of Oregon Natural
Resources Council and