BARK

PO Box 12065

Portland, OR  97212

503-331-0374

Bark@SpiritOne.com

www.Bark-out.org

 


August 17, 2005

 

Cindy Estrom

Cascade Resources Area

Salem BLM

1717 Fabry Rd. SE

Salem, OR 97306

or080mb@or.blm.gov

Cindy_Enstrom@blm.gov

 

Re: FY 2006 Timber Sale Thinning

 

Dear Cindy,

 

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the FY 2006 Thinning Projects. Bark normally focuses on the Mt. Hood National Forest and adjacent public land. This EA folds in four separate projects covering six different watersheds, totaling 1,880 acres, which frankly is overly ambitious for one EA.  Two of the project areas, the Snakehouse Project Area and the Round Mountain Project Area are far to the south of the Annie’s Cabin and Missouri Ridge project areas. We will therefore be focusing the majority of our site specific comments on the area in the vicinity of Mt. Hood National Forest, most specifically the Annie’s Cabin project. However, general comments apply to all.

 

This is the last EA that I will respond to on behalf of Bark, as I am moving to Washington State in the next month. We have hired a new executive director, Alex Brown, who will be your main contact person in the future. It strikes me as I read this final EA how incredibly optimistic the BLM is regarding the impacts of a logging project across almost 2,000 acres of public land that provides key wildlife, scenic, recreation and economic values. This optimism is embedded throughout the entire EA and leaves me little faith in this public agency. Just once I would have liked to see an analysis document that honestly depicted the impacts, didn’t down play the adverse effects and didn’t understate the impacts of letting nature take its course. Considering the broadscale destruction that both the BLM and UF Forest Service have had on the lands in their care, one would think that a little humility would be in order by the BLM in its claims. In summary, this project will not effectively carry out the purpose and need of this project. There is no documented evidence that it is contributing toward a sustainable supply of wood products to local communities and no evidence that it will maintain ecosystem diversity supporting healthy animal and plant populations. It will also not result in the increased protection for the public from large intense wildfires.

 

 

THE EA FAILS TO ADEQUATELY ASSESS CUMULATIVE EFFECTS

 

Cumulative Effects and Surrounding Private Lands

The regulations implementing NEPA state that cumulative effects result “from the incremental impact of the action when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future [federal and non-federal] actions.”  40 C.F.R. § 1508.7.  “Significance exists if it is reasonable to anticipate a cumulatively significant impact on the environment.  Significance cannot be avoided by terming an action temporary or by breaking it down into small component parts.”  Id. § 1508.27(b)(7).  There will certainly be cumulative effects of logging 1,880 acres of forest on soils, vegetation and wildlife in concert with ongoing activities and recent past logging projects in the area. However, the EA does not actually analyze the cumulative impacts of this project and other past, current, and foreseeable future projects, including timber sales, livestock grazing, herbicide use, mining projects, off-road vehicle use, and other recreation and management activities on the watershed. In order to comply with law, the agency will need to revise the analysis to fully disclose the cumulative effects analysis for this proposed project, including all past, present and reasonably foreseeable future actions or both public and private land impacting this watershed.

 

The fifth stipulation highlighted in the Environmental Assessment/Finding of No Significant Impact (EA/FONSI) to evaluate project areas “in context of past, present and reasonably foreseeable actions” has not been properly met.  In order to correctly assess the cumulative effects of a logging project, it must be analyzed in light of a much wider spatiotemporal context.  The current and future conditions of adjacent lands must be factored into the assessment, whether or not the surrounding area comprises public or private land.  The EA/FONSI fails to acknowledge how the proposed thinning project will affect the environment in combination with surrounding land management activities.  Instead, the proposed action is erroneously analyzed as an isolated project, irregardless of surrounding management activities.  The EA/FONSI factors in the effects of nearby development in only the No Action Alternative, commenting, “Effects to the watershed would continue to occur from the development of private and other agency lands (primarily timber harvesting and road building)” (EA/FONSI, page 34).  These effects are not accounted for, or even mentioned, in the cumulative effects determination for the proposed action.  Looking past the project boundaries, one understands that the forests proposed for thinning serve as a much-needed habitat reserve and erosion break amidst a devastation of clear cuts and highly developed land.  From the project area, facing east, it’s easy to see large scale clearcuts across the Molalla River. This area has a history of clearcut logging, and much of the adjacent industrial land is in a fairly short rotation, with plans on the horizon for wide scale cutting. More information is needed about the nature of private land use, past management history and future management plans. How much land is in Weyerhauser ownership and what is their plan in the near and mid term for their holdings?  How do these plans, in combination with your own, effect the watersheds?  These are the questions the EA/FONSI should have addressed in determining whether or not there will be a significant cumulative impact.  Until these questions are analyzed, the EA/FONSI fails to properly evaluate the cumulative effects to the watershed in terms of “present and reasonably foreseeable” surrounding actions.

 

Cumulative Effects and “Harvest Cycle”

Failure to include management effects on adjacent land in the cumulative impact analysis is not the only flaw in the EA/FONSI significant impact determination.  Additionally, the EA/FONSI neglects to account for future management activities on project land.  The EA/FONSI makes it abundantly clear that the project area comprises forest whose future harvest is inevitable.  Future thinning projects on this land are anticipated, as indicated by the renovation of 67.5 miles of road and the plan to stabilize road beds for future utilization during “the next harvest cycle” (EA/FONSI, page 38).  If this land is designated to undergo cyclic disturbance, an accurate and complete cumulative impact analysis must include adverse effects anticipated as a result of future thinning.  The exact time of future harvest is not stated in the EA/FONSI; however, canopy closure is predicted to occur within 10-20 years after the proposed action opens it up (EA/FONSI, page 43).  The 2006 thinning sets a precedent for thinning forests as a result of an anticipated less than optimal increase in average tree size due to “generally closed” forest crowns (EA/FONSI, page 26).  If this precedent is followed, future thinning projects may occur as soon as 10-20 years after the proposed action. 

 

Most of the adverse effects discussed in the EA/FONSI were excused on account of their temporary nature.  There might be short term impacts but they would be negligible in the longterm. However, if future harvest may occur as early as 10-20 years after this current thinning proposal, the forest will only be in the early stages of recovery before it is faced with another onslaught of thinning with subsequent impacts.  This is illustrated through old skid trails in the project area.  The EA/FONSI assures us that skid trails will begin recovery, and erosion and sedimentation will drop back to current levels in 3-5 years.  However, in subsequent pages, old skid trails occupying the units since the 1950s are admitted to just recently have “begun to recover productive capability as roots and animal activity have started to break up compaction and organic material has begun to accumulate” (EA/FONSI, page 36).  These skid trails, at the inception of a recovery that took up to 50 years to reach, will be re-compacted under the proposed action.  Expectation for a 3-5 year recovery is absurd; instead, it is much more realistic to assume minimal recovery will occur prior to the next thinning project in the “harvest cycle.”

 

The EA/FONSI justifies the near depletion of already minimal snag densities with the assumption that “by accelerating the growth of live trees, larger material would be available sooner (than without thinning) to contribute additional large snags to the future stand” (EA/FONSI, page 42).  However, what will the impact be on snags from future logging activities? It is highly likely that future logging will destroy any snags that have had time to develop. Regeneration (ie/clearcutting) was even optimistically posed as an acceptable possibility, with a large tree (“created” from the previous thinning efforts) serving as a nest tree in an isolated clearing. Please provide information about bird species common to the area that would choose to build their nests in an isolated tree in the center of a clearing.

 

Microhabitat drying is a huge problem that is largely overlooked, underestimated and misunderstood.  The EA/FONSI predicts this condition will persist unabated for 10-20 years after thinning, at which time it would only begin to decrease.  However, as explained in the EA, future harvest activities may restart as soon at the canopy closes, in which case, the microhabitat would have no interim to re-moisturize.  The effects resulting from a desiccated microhabitat are largely unknown and may result in repercussions for years. The impact as it relates to fire hazards is obvious.

 

Spotted owl habitat will also be adversely affected under the proposed action.  In the Snakehouse units alone, 804 acres of dispersal habitat for the Northern spotted owl would be altered (downgraded or degraded), and would take 10-50 years to once again become suitable habitat (EA/FONSI, page 89).  The EA/FONSI avers that “over the long term (>20 years), as stands respond to thinning, northern spotted owl habitat conditions are expected to improve” (EA/FONSI, page 42).  At that time the next thinning cycle and the re-degradation of spotted owl habitat will be imminent.  Also at that time, the territory may no longer be spotted owl habitat, considering the barred owl’s current and anticipated expansion.  Federally listed species such as the northern spotted owl cannot afford 20 years of habitat degradation, especially in light of territory competition with more populated barred owl populations. This should be obvious to the agency given the plethora of information available describing the northern spotted owl’s fast decline.

 

In order for the finding of no significant impact to meet the fifth stipulation listed in the EA/FONSI, future anticipated thinning projects must be factored in the cumulative effects determination.  The temporal justification of adverse effects must be reevaluated in light of future management.  As indicated by the above examples, this re-evaluation may drastically change the significance of adverse effects.  Please revise your document in the form of an EIS that incorporates planned future logging in the cumulative effects analysis, in order to meet the fifth stipulation listed in the EA/FONSI.

 

 

Cumulative Effects and the Watershed & Aquatic Species

Threatened Anadromous Fish

The six watersheds encompassed in the 2006 thinning project comprise prime anadromous fish habitat.  Many threatened anadromous species depend on the quality of these watersheds for survival.  UWR Chinook salmon and steelhead trout, both federally listed threatened species, inhabit channels downstream from project areas that will be affected by increased sedimentation.  Increased sedimentation due to management activities has been a likely contributor to categorizing these fish as Threatened and must be severely limited under future management activities.  According to the Lower Molalla River and Milk Creek Watershed Assessment (LMRMCWA), the "total impervious surface area of a watershed exceeding 10% can result in an altered hydrologic regime and degradation of physical habitat" (LMRMCWA, page 51).  The proposed action includes developments that increase total impervious surface area up to 10% of the units, without taking into consideration impervious surface areas outside of the units, which could amount to more than 10% of the watershed.  The effects determination for Threatened anadromous fish populations must consider the impervious surface areas outside of project units and factor in sedimentation from this surrounding land.  However, the EA/FONSI fails to do this and instead assumes the sedimentation occurring as a result of the project activities will be the only contributors in the watershed.  This is clearly not the case, a prime counter-example being Weyerhauser plantations on the adjacent slope of Annie’s Cabin units whose sediment-loaded runoff flows into some of the same threatened fish-inhabited channels.  Sedimentation from surrounding development must be factored into the effects determination.  Until this is accounted for, project activities cannot proceed.  Many channels in the Molalla River Watershed are also “highly sensitive to disturbance,” indicating a small amount of sedimentation may have a much higher effect than would be predicted otherwise (LMRMCWA, page 31).  The LMRMCWA classifies 41% (105.6 miles) of the stream reaches within the watershed as “highly sensitive to disturbance,” and “more than half of the total watershed channel length classified as highly sensitive to disturbance was classified as FP1 or FP2, indicating that large floodplain channels occurring in the lowland areas of the watershed represent a large proportion of the most sensitive channels occurring in the watershed" (LMRMCWA, page 31).  The LMRMCWA admits the lack of knowledge concerning the health of streams, recommending that “more intensive field-based surveys be performed to examine stream channel conditions to both produce baseline information and to better quantify channel conditions in various areas of the watershed for restoration prioritization" (LMRMCWA, page 33).  Nowhere does the EA/FONSI quantify channel conditions in order to reach a truly accurate effects determination.

The EA/FONSI assures no cumulative adverse effects through the following logic: “the limited magnitude…and duration…of this effect [of sedimentation] would likely be insignificant for water quality on the watershed scale (i.e., cumulatively)” (EA/FONSI, page 5, italics added).  We would like to note that the watersheds encompassing the four projects occupy an area of 530,283 acres, while the project area spans only 1,882 acres – 0.003% of the watershed areas.  If the EA/FONSI is looking for effects on a watershed scale, then it absolutely must analyze project activities in combination with management activities in the rest of the watershed.  This, however, was not done. 

Further, we understand that the agency took advantage of its new authority to reach an effects determination without consulting the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  We take issue with this new procedural development and would like to note that this authority is highly controversial and currently being litigated.  There is a conflict of interest inherent in an agency’s proposal to conduct a logging project and its ability to simultaneously determine if significant effects will ensue.  Additionally, the expertise to make such conclusions is not within the Salem District of the BLM. The exclusion of a second, more disinterested party calls into question the validity of the entire effects determination.

 

THE EA FAILS TO ADEQUATELY ASSESS IMPACTS TO RIPARIAN RESERVES

 

The EA/FONSI lists two goals to be attained by logging in riparian reserves: (1) develop future large CWD, snag habitat, in-stream large wood, and other elements of late-successional forest habitat and (2) develop structural and spatial diversity of the forest ecosystem on a landscape level in the long term.  In reality, snags and CWD densities will be diminished for years after logging activity with only a hope – not scientifically supported – that they will eventually be replaced (this also assumes no future logging activity would disturb the process).  Both goals may or may not be reached, while the adverse effects of sedimentation and habitat disruption are certain to occurr.

 

The proposed action – a reduction of canopy closure in the riparian reserves to 50%--is excessive and completely unacceptable.  Riparian areas are especially susceptible to sedimentation and mass wasting. They provide necessary habitat for an array of species, including Special Status Species, that will be adversely affected by such a severe logging regime. The impacts of this were not fully disclosed.  Several riparian areas marked for treatment are very steep. In the Annie’s Cabin project, there are also  riparian areas that are dense with hardwoods but not dense with conifers—a natural evolution of an area that has been logged and heading toward recovery naturally. Some of these areas are also already very open due to blow down.  We are concerned that logging will increase sedimentation and disrupt habitat; it is a risk not worth taking when this area is healing well on its own time.

 

 

MITIGATION MEASURES DO NOT OBVIATE THE NEED TO PREPARE AN EIS.

 

The EA recognizes there will likely be impacts: “The action alternatives could contribute to the risk of short-term increases in stream sediment as a result of road repair (including any culvert replacement), hauling, thinning and yarding in the Riparian Reserve LUA, which would likely contribute to a direct increase in turbidity levels directly below road/stream intersections” (EA, page 4.) However, the EA claims that impacts would be mitigated to “undetectable” levels across the landscape due to project design features and mitigation measures. Despite this great claim, there is absolutely no evidence that the EA will fulfill the claims listed out on page 3 including:

 

  • protect and enhance wildlife habitat components
  • protect against expansion of invasive and non-native plants
  • protect BLM Special Status plant and animal species (now to include C3 species)
  • minimize disturbance to federal T&E Species (plus there is a greater duty on the part of the federal government than to “minimize disturbance to” for T&E species!)

 

We would like to note that while the use of Best Management Practices (BMPs) is to be encouraged in timber projects, the use of these measures are not themselves sufficient to ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act (CWA).  Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Ass’n v. Peterson 795 F.2d 688, 697 (9th Cir. 1986) (holding that compliance with BMPs does not equate to compliance with the CWA). The agency cannot assume that the implementation of BMPs will sufficiently mitigate any problems that the proposed project will have on aquatic systems.

 

The EA downplays any potential adverse impacts from harvesting activities. 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. Despite the lengthy praise given to BMPs in the EA, there is no proof of “demonstrated ability” of BMPs to be successful in diminishing harm.

 

Where an environmental assessment relies on mitigation measures to reach a finding of no significant impact, that mitigation must be assured to occur and must “completely compensate for any possible adverse environmental impacts.”  Cabinet Mountains Wilderness/Scotchman's Peak Grizzly Bears v. Peterson, 685 F.2d 678, 682 (D.C. Cir. 1982).  If the effectiveness of such mitigation is not assured, then the Forest Service cannot sign a FONSI and must prepare an EIS.  Foundation for North American Wild Sheep v. U.S. Dep’t of Agric., 681 F.2d 1172, 1181 (1982).  In Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Assn. v. Peterson, the court determined that NEPA requires agencies to “analyze the mitigation measures in detail [and] explain how effective the measures would be . . . A mere listing of mitigation measures is insufficient to qualify as the reasoned discussion required by NEPA.”  764 F.2d 581 (9th Cir. 1985). 

 

In an explanation of its regulations, the CEQ has stated that mitigation-based FONSIs are inappropriate in most situations:

 

Mitigation measures may be relied upon to make a finding of no significant impact only if they are imposed by statute or regulation, or submitted by an applicant or agency as part of the original proposal.  As a general rule, the regulations contemplate that agencies should use a broad approach in defining significance and should not rely on the possibility of mitigation as an excuse to avoid the EIS requirement. 

 

46 Fed. Reg. 18,038.   If a proposal appears to have adverse effects that could be significant, and certain mitigation measures are then developed during the scoping or PA stages, the existence of such possible mitigation does not obviate the need for an EIS.  Therefore, if scoping or the EA identifies certain mitigation opportunities without altering the nature of the proposal itself, the agency should continue the EIS process and submit the proposal, and the potential mitigation, for public and agency review and comment.  This is essential to ensure that the final decision is based on all the relevant factors and that the full NEPA process will result in enforceable mitigation measures through the Record of Decision.  Id. at 18,026.

 

The courts have held that even though the procedural requirements of an EIS are more strict than those required for an EA, an EA requires more substantial proof that the mitigation will in fact result in no more significant impact than an EIS.  The Ninth Circuit has held that if the plaintiff “raises substantial questions whether a project may have a significant effect, an EIS must be prepared.”  Steamboaters v. FERC, 777 F.2d 1384 (9th Cir. 1985).  The court will not accept conclusory statements that mitigation measures are effective: the agency must be able to support its conclusions with information in the administrative record.  Sierra Club v. Peterson, 717 F.2d 1409 (D.C. Cir. 1985).

 

The test for whether mitigation is adequate is not whether it will avoid listing of a species, but rather whether it will completely avoid impacts to the species or reduce those impacts to the level of insignificance.  Cabinet Mountains Wilderness/Scotchman’s Peak Grizzly Bears v. Peterson, 685 F.2d at 682.  There is no assurance that planned mitigation measures for the proposed logging will completely compensate for environmental impacts. 

 

A recent USDA Office of the Inspector General Report concluded that reliance on speculative mitigation measures in order to reach a FONSI significantly compromised environmental quality.  Office of Inspector General, U.S. Dept’ of Agric., Evaluation Report No. 08801-10-At: Forest Service Timber Sale Environmental Analysis Requirements (1999).  The OIG concluded that:

 

Applicable mitigation measures contained in 10 of 12 decision notices and referenced environmental assessments reviewed, were not always implemented.  In addition, mitigation measures were either omitted or incorrectly incorporated into 4 of 12 accompanying timber sale contracts.  These mitigation measures are designed to reduce the adverse impacts of timber sale activities on the environment.  Generally, mitigation measures were not implemented due to district personnel (a) not being familiar with the mitigation measure contained in the environmental documents, (b) not adequately monitoring actual implementation of the mitigation measures, (c) not comparing timber sale contract clauses with the applicable environmental documents and, (d) oversight.  As a result, streams, wildlife habitat, heritage resources, water quality, and visual quality were or could be adversely affected.  In addition, “Findings of No Significant Impact” conclusions (i.e. that there was no significant affect on the quality of the human environment) were questionable . . . Timber sale field visits disclosed that mitigation measures designed to protect key resource areas were not adequately implemented.  The measures involved mitigation of riparian areas and stream management zones, wildlife habitat, heritage resource sites, visual quality, and soils.

 

The same rules should apply to the BLM. Until the BLM is able to substantiate its proposed mitigation measures – i.e., that they are appropriate, will be implemented, and will be effective – the agency must withdraw the proposed project.

 

 

THE ANALYSIS INAPPROPRIATELY COVERS FOUR ACTIONS IN ONE EA. SEPARATE EAS OR EISS ARE REQUIRED.

 

Stunningly, the agency ignores a host of activities happening in the same drainage in its FY 2006 Thinning cumulative effects analysis, yet claims to effectively determine the environmental impacts of 4 different projects spanning 6 watersheds with a distance of 30 miles in between, in one single analysis document.  Although the proposed actions may be similar for each of the 4 projects, their geographic range precludes the likelihood of similar environmental impacts. Taking the agency rational to its logical conclusion, a thinning project in Washington, and one in northern California with the same prescription in the same land designation could fit in the same analysis document. Another justification given is that “little new road construction would occur” (EA, page 11). Three miles of new road construction and .6 miles of improvement (which in this case is similar to new construction given the state of the roads in question) in addition to 67.5 miles of road renovation is hardly minimal, particularly given the outrageously high road density in the areas in question. Needless to say, it appears that the agency is attempting to put all its thinning projects in one environmental assessment for the purpose of efficiency at the expense of the landscape. This is totally inappropriate given the fact that according to the EA, “There is no physical mechanism for the proposed action in one watershed to translate across a topographic divide and directly affect a channel in a separate watershed” (EA, page 30). New analysis needs to be conducted that separates the projects by watersheds and adjacent watersheds.

 

ROADS

One of our main concerns involves the significant amount of road building and reconstruction involved in logging the area. Roads, even if “temporary” by description, have significant affects on the environment. There is abundant science dealing with the adverse affects of roads on wildlife and watersheds. This comes in the form of habitat fragmentation, soil compaction, sedimentation, introduction of invasive weed species, increased likelihood of off road vehicle abuse, and increased risk of fire, to name a few impacts. In addition to the already high road density in the planning area, the BLM plans to construct 3 miles of new roads, renovate a remarkable 67.5 miles of old roads, and create 2.8 miles of new temporary natural surface spur roads.  There is also already a high risk of sedimentation due to ongoing winter use of trails from stock and mountain bikes. In early November, there were muddy pools on many of the trails, and several were closed due to poor conditions. A high priority of the BLM should be to reduce impacts from roads through decommissioning ripping and restoration, turning more road miles to trail miles, not building new roads.

 

Annie’s Cabin

 

Drainage problem on existing trail

 

 

Due to problems with existing roads, and serious potential for erosion, the EA should eliminate northern & southern units from the project

 

Constructing Roads in Unstable Areas

This area has experienced a landslide, which has washed out a stretch of road. Despite instability of this slope, the BLM is proposing to construct a new section of road to extract timber in the southern unit north of Aqua vista area. This landslide area is re-stabilizing itself naturally through re-vegetation; new road building would disturb the recovery process and potentially have long term hydrological impacts. Building new roads in unstable terrain is not based on good restoration principles. Moreoever, the area that would be opened up to logging from a new road is not dramatically dense, and not in desperate need of restoration. If thinning needs to take place here, trees should be felled and left in place to provide needed nutrients to the forest floor. The southern units should be eliminated from the Annie’s Cabin project completely.

 

Additionally, the road to the north of the landslide area has re-vegetated and taken on characteristics of a trail rarely used. We suggest it be left that way.  Does the EA/FONSI classify this decommissioned road as a road or a trail?  Also, are trails included in the calculation for total compacted area?  Due to the high density of trails and their frequent use by hikers, motor bikes and horses, especially in recreation areas such as Annie’s Cabin, we want assurances that trails are included to the compacted area calculation.

 

 

 

Road Construction Crossing Streams, Washed Out Road and Non functioning Culvert (T6S-R3E, Section 31).

The below section of road would also require dramatic and costly road reconstruction, again, for short-term use. Reconstructing this road would likely have adverse hydrological impact on the area. To invest significant funds to rebuild this road and replace the culvert for a road that has become a trail and would not need to be used again as road is irresponsible and a waste of resources. All of this for how many board feet of lumber?

 

 

 

Accessing the Northern units near Leap Frog Loop (mismarked on map provided by BLM) would also require road reconstruction over a stream labeled Trout Creek. Again, this is not good restoration practice.

 

 

No New Road Should be Constructed to Access Amanda’s Trailhead Units (Section 7).

This northern section has fairly healthy sized trees that are not densely stocked. The cost to the environment and recreation are not worth any benefit in terms of reduced density. Significant road reconstruction would be needed in an area that has re-vegetated into a nice trail accessing MacBeth’s Loop Trail. As with the southern units, this area should be dropped entirely from the scope of the EA. An additional problem with this area is invasive weed infestation. There is an existing problem with Scot’s Broom, which will be exacerbated by logging and hauling.

 

 

Snakehouse

The Snakehouse project involves a total of 91 acres of soil compaction or10.9% of the project area.  This is greater than the designated 10% and must be reduced.  Soil compaction greatly reduces productivity, contributing to a smaller and less diverse forest, the opposite qualities of what the project aims to cultivate.  The EA/FONSI admits that “as trees age and become established, the negative effect on growth from soil compaction and displacement would become less pronounced and growth rates may approach that of trees on similar undisturbed sites” (EA/FONSI, page 36).  Increased growth rates, one of the main goals of the project, will not be achieved. In fact, only after an indeterminate amount of time, growth rates “may approach” those of trees on similar, undisturbed sites.  This project must be reevaluated in light of its true goals, and its procedures must be readjusted accordingly.

In addition to general problems with soil compaction, we further take issue with the following specific units:

The BLM road 9-3E-31 “is in need of closure and restoration to eliminate the existing sedimentation problem and prevent further degradation of the area” (EA/FONSI, page 85). Renovating the road to access unit 1B will be a huge cost to taxpayers and pollute fish habitat with sediment; we ask that you drop unit 1B altogether.

Five streams adjacent or very near 6 of the thinning units are fish-bearing (7A, 13B, 1C, 1B, 5B, 5F) (EA/FONSI, page 86). Erosion and sedimentation from road building and logging is a concern of ours. We urge you to cancel these 6 units in efforts to maintain and enhance fish populations. Units 1B and 1C must be dropped because they are along Snake Creek, and “…chronic sedimentation [is] currently occurring in Snake Creek” (EA/FONSI, page 87). A more appropriate action would be to repair road 9-3E-31, deemed culprit of the sedimentation. Unit 7A also must be dropped because fish populate the stream along the harvesting unit.

 

 

THE EA HAS NOT ADEQUATELY EVALUATED IMPACTS TO RECREATION & SCENIC QUALITIES

 

Annie’s Cabin

Most of the project would take place in the Molalla River/Table Rock SRMA. This has been designated, per the Salem District RMP, for recreation activity and experience opportunities. One of the prized features of this SRMA is the Shared-Use Non-Motorized Trail System. As your scoping document states, many partners and volunteers have played a critical role in developing and managing recreation opportunities in the area. There is no doubt that the quality of recreation will be negatively impacted by logging. On a basic level, recreationists will be inconvenienced by the logging operations, and affected by visual impacts, and noise. The photos provided in the EA (page 28) are useless in providing an idea of the visual impacts, because the before and after shots were not taken from the same vantage point. It’s clear, however, that the quality of recreation will diminished for years to come. This area, which is surrounded by private lands, provides a rare recreational opportunity for local community members. It also is an attraction for people from surrounding communities. There is great potential for the City of Molalla to use this trail network as an attraction with great benefit to its local economy, and this potential should be explored in an economic analysis included in a NEPA document. Logging this valuable recreational resource would interfere with this potential. Despite claims to the contrary (EA, page 4), logging in a recreation area is highly controversial, and therefore requires full analysis in an EIS.

 

 

THE EA HAS NOT ADEQUATELY EVALUATED IMPACTS TO WILDLIFE

 

Survey and Manage Species

The EA claims to protect BLM Special Status plant and animal species and relies upon statutes and regulations listed on page 3, including the 2004 Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to Remove or Modify the Survey and Manage Mitigation Measure Standards and Guidelines (“2004 SEIS”) However, this EIS is no longer valid in face of a recent ruling by Judge Pechman given in federal court on August 1, 2005, NWEA vs. Mark Rey, No. C04-844P. The ruling determined that the EIS violates NEPA. As a result, the BLM needs to follow all survey protocol for all previously listed C3 species and provide the results of those surveys in revised EISs.

 

Excerpts From: NWEA vs. Mark Rey, No. C04-844P, Judge Marsha Pechmann, Aug 1, 2005:

Defendants failed to comply with the National Environmental Procedure Act (“NEPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq., in preparing the 2004 Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to Remove or Modify the Survey and Manage Mitigation Measure Standards and Guidelines (“2004 SEIS”). Defendants failed to analyze potential impacts to Survey and Manage species if they are not added to or are removed from the Forest Service’s and BLM’s respective programs for special status species. Defendants failed to provide a thorough analysis of their assumption that the late-successional reserves would adequately protect species that the Survey and Manage standard was introduced to protect, particularly in light of their previous positions in earlier environmental impact statements. Lastly, the Survey and Manage standard was deemed a hindrance to hazardous fuel treatments, which served as part of the justification for eliminating the standard. However, Defendants failed to disclose and analyze flaws in their methodology for calculating the acreage in need of hazardous fuel treatments. Part of the cost analysis was similarly flawed because it relied on the acreage in need of hazardous fuel treatments in calculating the cost of the Survey and Manage standard. The Court does not reach Plaintiffs’ claims under the National Forest Management Act.

 

The 2004 SEIS explicitly assumed that 152 species will be added to the SSS Programs, but acknowledged that the Forest Service and BLM regional officers “have not exercised their authority to add species to the [SSS] Program[s] ....” (04 SEIS 25). … The 2004 SEIS fails to analyze what would happen if the Regional Foresters and State Directors exercised their discretion and chose not to include some otherwise eligible species in the SSS Programs or to remove species that have been included. … Agencies should have informed the public and the decision makers of the environmental effects on these species if they were not included or were removed from these Programs.

 

Northern Spotted Owl

The EA as proposed, will degrade Northern spotted owl Critical Habitat, contributing to the regression, not recovery, of the Threatened Northern spotted owl.  The project will result in 1,882 acres of Dispersal Habitat downgraded, including the loss of 171 acres of NRF suitable habitat, which will no longer support nesting, roosting, and/or foraging behavior. The Biological Assessment determined that these projects may affect the northern spotted owl due to the modification of dispersal and suitable habitat, but that it would not jeopardize the continued survival of the spotted owl. (EA, page 14). Again, optimistic assumption completely divorced from reality. 

 

Habitat degradation as proposed in this project is precisely what has led to the Threatened status of the northern spotted owl.  The EA argues that this short term decrease in habitat quantity and quality is acceptable because “habitat conditions are expected improve as thinned stands mature (>20 years). In otherwords, in the long term the habitat may be more suitable for spotted owls. “treatments can have long-term benefits to spotted owls by encouraging late-successional characteristics to occur more rapidly. In the short-term, disturbance associated with accomplishing thinning (logging, road-building, etc) may have a temporary negative effect on presence or movement of adults between blocks of suitable habitat, or movement of juveniles to disperse from natal territories.” (EA, page 42.) For a species listed as Threatened, this is a risky and unacceptable conservation strategy. 

 

As recognized by the spotted owl status review, all existing suitable habitat could be critical to the survival of the spotted owl. Will there still be a local spotted owl population to repopulate the area in twenty years?  Destroying NRF habitat and degrading dispersal habitat will only exacerbate the trend toward decline. No thinning project claiming to use ecological restoration as a motivation can adversely impact habitat of local populations of a threatened species. The Proposed Action fails to adhere to conservation stipulations enacted for the protection of the northern spotted owl and therefore should be withdrawn.

 

Barred owl territorial expansion as a result of harvesting may further displace spotted owl populations.  Reduction in habitat quality post-harvesting could cause an increase in both inter- and intra-species competition.  In the case of the Threatened northern spotted owl and its common competitor, the barred owl, this competitive escalation could very easily result in spotted owl displacement and loss of habitat. 

 

Furthermore, this project very poorly adheres to BMPs concerning spotted owl protection.  During the critical nesting period for spotted owls, noise generating activities are allegedly prohibited unless there is no nesting activity detected.  While there might not be a nest located at the time of the survey, allowing logging and hauling could assure that there would not be nests there in the near future due to disturbance. Additionally, the thinning prescription involves large openings around large trees which are not the protected settting that northern spotted owl require for their nests.

 

If in the context of the local and watershed scale, the project would adversely affect the spotted owl and its habitat, how does the project contribute to spotted owl recovery?  As required by law, the FWS must physically protect and restore habitat to achieve “recovery” not just maintain the species in bare survival mode. The agency must follow the recent holding of the 9th Circuit: “… the ESA was enacted not merely to forestall the extinction of species (i.e., promote a species survival), but to allow a species to recover to the point where it may be delisted. See 16 U.S.C. § 1532(3) (defining conservation as all methods that can be employed to “bring any endangered species or threatened species to the point at which the measures provided pursuant to this [Act] are no longer necessary”); Sierra Club, 245 F.3d at 438.  In order to ensure that any action taken will lead to the recovery of the northern spotted owl, we request a thorough research and report addressing the northern spotted owl habitat in an EIS.

 

 

SOIL

 

Healthy soil is the foundation of a healthy forest ecosystem (Coleman, et al. 1992; Klopatek, et al. 1993).  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 prescribed by law.  Forest laws, particularly the NWFP, recognize the importance of soil and create very specific duties to mitigate impacts to this precious resource, for example, Activity areas (units) should not exceed 15% detrimental soil conditions (FW-022). DEIS, 87). It appears the EA/FONSI is meeting this standard, although it does not have a chart showing current and projected detrimental soil impacts, nor is there one in the Soils report.

 

There are specific problems with the EA/FONSI’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.  Instead, the EA/FONSI mentions a possible 20 year or more period of soil dessication resulting in severe damage to microbial populations.  As mentioned earlier, this condition could proceed past the determined 20 years if management activities persist.  Drying due to canopy opening is not the only problem facing forest soil health.  Soil compaction will also greatly reduce the productivity of soil for years to come.  Trails, roads and skid trails aren’t the only areas that will be impacted. The EA/FONSI states that “soil compaction in these places (out of the road prism) would inhibit natural revegetation or biochemical soil processes more than approximately one to five years” (EA/FONSI, page 37).  How much longer will soil recovery take and how will this affect the rest of the ecosystem?  Generalizations such as this are unacceptable and must be qualified with specific conclusions concerning effects on forest health.

 

Mycorrhizae

 

The EA/FONSI does not recognize the importance of mycorrhizal fungi on forest growth and productivity, and fails to discuss how mycorrhizae will be impacted by the proposed timber project.  In fact, this resource’s important function in forest ecology was completely overlooked.

 

The EA/FONSI fails to address how past logging has affected mycorrhizae in areas within the analysis area.  Scientific evidence suggests that mycorrhizae and other soil organisms and processes are extremely important and are easily destroyed by ground-based logging.  Attachment 9, Fungi and Insects; Attachment 12, Soils and Logging in Eastern Oregon.  Without a discussion of the impacts to soil mycorrhizae, both Bark and the decisionmaker are precluded from making an informed decision regarding the proposed project, and the USFS cannot assert that there will be no permanent impairment of the soil.  30 C.F.R. §§ 219.27(a)(1), 219.14(a)(2) (prohibiting activities unless technology is available to prevent impairment of soil or water resources).

 

 

Machine piling of fuels and pile burning can have serious adverse impacts on soils. Please limit the extent of these treatments and do not conduct such treatment on slopes where they can become the initiation point for surface erosion.  In order to mitigate potential fire hazards, the EA/FONSI requires that pile burning take place during the wet season only.  This stipulation is in direct opposition to BMPs insisting that any sediment-causing activities occur during dry months only.  How do you plan to uphold both stipulations simultaneously?

 

THE EA HAS NOT ADEQUATELY EVALUATED IMPACTS TO INVASIVE WEEDS

 

Invasive weeds have the potential of being a serious problem in the planning area. Scot’s Broom is visible along the Molalla Forest Road in areas that have been disturbed in the past. Invasive weeds have become such a problem in the region that the Forest Service is proposing a large scale EIS to address the issue. Central to solving this problem is halting activities that further perpetuate the conditions where invasive weeds thrive. Logging equipment and exposed soil mean more vectors for invasive plants. Once introduced, they are very difficult to eradicate. This issue should be given serious attention, particularly given the influx of vehicles, bikes and humans in this area.  The EA/FONSI admits that the proposed action will engender “potential changes to noxious weed populations,” but provides no more solid information. (EA/FONSI, page 29).

 

Fields of Scot’s Broom result from their seeds having been transported deep within the subwatershed on logging trucks.  The problems posed by the introduction of non-native invasive weeds are well documented. How is it possible that this project will not further spread noxious weeds throughout the planning area? This EA provides very little in the way of mitigation, requiring only “Ground disturbing equipment would be cleaned as needed to be free of off-site soil, plant parts and seed (e.g. noxious weeds) prior to entering the project area” (EA, 19). At a minimum, the EA should require an actual inspection of logging equipment by an authorized and qualified agency official. What is the success rate of the very limited proposed mitigation measure? Do you have any data? What are the risks of this measure failing? How would you monitor success of this measure during implementation of the project? How will building more roads and bringing in heavy machinery and other vehicles that carry noxious weed seeds assist with prevention? Why is the spread of noxious diseases omitted from your cumulative effects analysis? While we feel the agency should be seriously concerned about the spread of noxious weeds, and measures should be taken to prevent their spread, Bark cannot support the use of herbicides on false brome  given the known adverse affects of pesticides to wildlife and humans. (EA, 17) The agency is advised to use manual techniques as opposed to herbicide application. Either way, the FY 2006 Thinning analysis should have included information about impacts to wildlife, particularly T&E fish populations, from its use.

 

SNAGS AND PRE-COMMERCIAL THINNING

 

Due to past management involving clear-cutting, this area has few large downed logs and little downed woody debris on the forest floor. However, there are signs that the forest structure is beginning to change as trees in denser stands are falling over and creating openings in the canopy. If left alone, this process of natural selection will result in downed woody debris and increased growth rate for nearby trees no longer competing for resources. I explored the northern section of the planning area, and saw a few stands which were extremely dense and devoid of undergrowth. These areas could benefit from some pre-commercial thinning to increase the rate of down woody debris on the forest floor and decrease competition. However, the majority of the stands I visited had a lush and diverse array of undergrowth species, with a healthy amount of space between trees. Bark supports selective pre-commercial restoration thinning as the best solution for these very dense stands.

 

 

 

There is much science on the value of snags that has become available since the NFP and RMP were finalized.  The BLM must use the best available science to guide planned mitigation measures and design features.  The best available science indicates that retaining snags “at levels to support species of cavity nesting birds at 40 percent of potential population levels” (RMP, p. 46) is not adequate to keep snag dependent populations viable.

 

Bats, martens, woodpeckers, bears, and many other species are dependent upon snags. Current direction for protecting and providing snags does not meet the needs of the many species associated with this unique and valuable habitat component.  See Rose, et al., Decaying Wood in Pacific Northwest Forests: Concepts and Tools for Habitat Management, Chapter 24 in Wildlife-Habitat Relationships in Oregon and Washington http://www.nwhi.org/nhi/whrow/chapter24cwb.pdf

Intensive forest management activities that have decreased the density of large snags in early forest successional stages (sapling/pole and small tree stages) may have had adverse impacts on the 61 associated wildlife species (Figure 12). Similarly, the lesser amount of large down wood in early forest successional stages may not provide as well for the 24 associated wildlife species. Such results suggest the continuing need for specific management guidelines to provide large standing and down dead wood in all successional stages. (pg. 600)

Several major lessons have been learned in the period 1979-1999 that have tested critical assumptions of these earlier management advisory models:
Calculations of numbers of snags required by woodpeckers based on assessing their biological potential, (that is, summing numbers of snags used per pair, accounting for unused snags, and extrapolating snag numbers based on population density) is a flawed technique. Empirical studies are suggesting that snag numbers in areas used and selected by some wildlife species are far higher than those calculated by this technique. (pg. 226)

Numbers and sizes (dbh) of snags used and selected by secondary cavity-nesters often exceed those of primary cavity excavators.

Clumping of snags and down wood may be a natural pattern, and clumps may be selected by some species, so that providing only even distributions may be insufficient to meet all species needs. Other forms of decaying wood, including hollow trees, natural tree cavities, peeling bark, and dead parts of live trees, as well as fungi and mistletoe associated with wood decay, all provide resources for wildlife, and should be considered along with snags and down wood in management guidelines.

 

The ecological roles played by wildlife associated with decaying wood extend well beyond those structures per se, and can be significant factors influencing community diversity and ecosystem processes. We have also learned that managing forests with decay processes should be done as part of a broader management approach to stand development, with attention paid to retaining legacies of large trees and decaying wood from original or prior stands.
(p 602-603)


The bottom line is that current management at both the plan and project level does not reflect this new information about the value of abundant snags and down wood. The agency must avoid any reduction of existing or future snags and logs (including as part of this project) until the applicable management plans are rewritten to update the snag retention standards. See also PNW Research Station, “Dead and Dying Trees: Essential for Life in the Forest,” Science Findings, Nov. 1999 (http://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/sciencef/scifi20.pdf) (“Management implications: Current direction for providing wildlife habitat on public forest lands does not reflect findings from research since 1979; more snags and dead wood structures are required for foraging, denning, nesting, and roosting than previously thought.”)

 

The fact is that while large snags are hard to come by, there are smaller snags dotting the planning area, some that are under the height requirements that determine protection. Given the lack of large snags, all existing snags, no matter the size should be given priority for protection. Entering stands with heavy machinery automatically increases the potential for destruction of snags and large down woody debris. This planning area simply cannot afford to lose more of those features, particularly given the private land adjacent which has been recently logged and industrial land that is planned for largescale clearcutting in the near future. 

 

Current science shows that 4 snags/acre minimum is required for 100% population potential for woodpecker species associated with snag cavities. Wolf Vegetation Management EA, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, May 2001, page 57. “Historic snag levels could have been much higher, closer to 6-14 snags/acre. (Harrod, Gaines, Hartl, and Camp, 1998).” Goose EA, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. Additional snags should be left because future fires (both managed and unmanaged), wind, and illegal firewood cutting is almost certain to take a heavy toll on snags over the next several decades.

Snags should be carefully inventoried by species, size, decay status, quality, and location during project planning, and they should be treated as “special habitats” and given special protection during project planning and implementation (i.e. keep workers out of the vicinity of snags so that OSHA doesn’t order them cut). For instance, the May 2001 Wolf Vegetation Management Project on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest includes a mitigation measure protecting trees from being harvested if they are near hazardous snags >15 inches dbh. The EA does not adequately address the need to protect and provide snag habitat.

The snag retention requirements in the EA fail to retain enough snags to provide habitat for viable populations of cavity dependent species. Since snags have a patchy spatial distribution, surveys to determine snag abundance require very large sample sizes relative to other general vegetation surveys. This was not recognized until relatively recently, so most past surveys conducted to determine natural snag abundance have therefore grossly underestimated the true abundance of snags. This has led the agency to underestimate the number of snags necessary to protect species. This new information must be disclosed and documented in an EIS and it requires a forest plan amendment.

The agency must do away with the caveat that they will protect snags where feasible.   This is based on a false choice between snags and safety. The agency can buffer snags from activities that involve workers, then all ecologically important snags can be protected. The agency must consider this as an alternative to their proposed “management by caveat.” An example of this was the Umpqua National Forest, Cottage Grove Ranger District’s 2001 decision to burn a picnic table near Moon Falls in order to avoid placing the public in a hazardous situation with respect to a nearby snag. Similarly, the agency here should save the snags by avoiding the activity in the hazard zone around the snags.

 

THE EA INADEQUATELY ANALYZES IMPACTS OF FIRE & FUELS

 

The EA proposes fuel treatments in the aftermath of logging, claiming that this would reduce both the intensity and severity of potential wildfires in the long term (EA, page 16). However, this is totally unsubstantiated, and frankly absurd. There is no viable explanation given to how this would take place. One time removal of logging-created brush will not counter the increase in fire prone conditions created by the logging project itself, which is well known to elevate the potential of a fire’s severity and spread.  The fact is that the proposal will reduce the canopy closure to 40% or 50%, opening up the area to sun and wind, and drying out ground fuel that was previously shaded and moist. Hot, dry conditions will likely be exacerbated by global climate change, which is estimated by scientists to result in a decrease in the Cascade’s snowpack by 56% by 2050. This will have a serious impact on moisture levels during the hot, dry fire season, which was not included in the analysis. Paired with intense recreational use, increased likelihood of unauthorized access to roads, and human presence--the most common source of fire starts-- and this project will result in a more hazardous, not less hazardous, fire situation across the landscape. This would take place at a time when the government is pouring money into efforts to reduce the severity of wildland fires. The EA claims that maintenance of the desired future condition (which is not explained) would be accomplished by ongoing prescribed fire, piling and burning of fuels, or other mechanized treatments (EA, page 17). Where will the money come from to regularly treat 2000 acres for fuel reduction? The project area would likely need to be treated once a decade in order for this to legitimately work, given the rate of growth of vegetative ground cover as described in the EA: “Understory and ground cover would remain sparse in unthinned patches, and vigorous dense shrub patches would develop in heavily-thinned patches of up to an acre in size, resulting in an enhanced layer effect to the canopy and understory” (EA, 27). Claims of reducing fire severity is additionally absurd given the fact that it would involve a dramatic and totally inappropriate transition of this landscape from one in large part has a fire return interval of 200 years to one with a fire return interval of 10-20 years.  By the way, where are the environmental impacts assessed for this repeated reentry in this EA on wildlife, particularly on Special Status terrestrial species?

 

 

OLD GROWTH

Both Annie’s Cabin (100 year old timber stands) and the Snakehouse Project (115 year old timber stands) include logging in Late Successional forest. The value of Late Successional forest in a watershed almost devoid of older forest is obvious from a wildlife habitat and water quality standpoint. The EA claims that “Generally, the largest trees will be left” (EA, page 15). However, it allows for taking co-dominant and dominant trees. This is unacceptable. All stands that are late Successional old growth; in other words 80 years or older, should be excluded entirely from this project. In the Annie’s Cabin project area north of the intersection of the Huckleberry Trail and the Rim Tie Trail, there are numerous large trees. A few measure 10.6 feet in circumference. Many are 6 feet in circumference. These older trees are very rare in the watershed.  Tree growth is achieved most successfully through thinning early seral stands, not the mid seral and late seral stands that comprise the vast majority of the planning areas.

 

In addition to staying completely out of LSOG stands, there needs to be an explicit diameter limit in the EA/FONSI about the size of the trees that would be removed in the case that a remnant trees are found in younger stands. Instead, the EA/FONSI generalizes that “suppressed, co-dominant and occasional dominant trees” will be removed (EA/FONSI, page 15).  Such lax restrictions are dangerous and tend to provide loopholes for removing bigger, more financially lucrative trees.  Explicit, quantitative restrictions must be set in order to properly proceed with the logging project.  A large tree in the northern-most unit is pictured above. Will it stay?

 

 

THE EA WOULD RESULT IN DESTRUCTION OF KEY HARDWOOD HABITAT

 

There are also hardwoods present in the planning area that are proposed for logging in this EA. “Vine maple and California hazel would be cut in selected areas to enhance or initiate understory conifer regeneration” (EA, page 15). Any and all hardwood needs to be protected. It is well known that hardwoods (and alders in particular with their nitrogen fixing) play a vital role in forest ecosystem diversity.  The USGS Biological Science Report USGS\BRD\BSR – 2002-0006 “Managing for Biodiversity in Young Douglas-Fir Forests of Western Oregon” (MB 2002) repeatedly highlights the role played by hardwoods and shrubs in promoting diverse and healthy forest ecosystems.  Hardwoods are mentioned over 70 times in this report, each time in conjunction with the important ecosystem role they play within Douglas-fir plantations.  The “Project Objectives” section contained the following quote:

“Do the diversity and abundance of selected forest organisms appear to be related to specific stand features, such as shrubs, hardwood trees, remnant old trees, and snags?” (page 11, bold is from original)

Hardwoods were found to play an important role in nearly every ecosystem aspect studied in this overview; specifically, they were found to be important to maintaining healthy populations of epiphytic lichens and bryophytes, moths, and birds. Tall established shrubs were the main factor when examining macrolichens and bryophytes.

 

Epiphytic lichens and bryophytes play a vital role in forest nutrient cycling. As discussed (MB 2002, page 17), these epiphytes “…are important components of these ecosystems. They serve as nitrogen-fixers (e.g., Lobaria oregano), providing important inputs of plant-available nitrogen to ecosystems; as hydrological buffers, absorbing, storing, and releasing water (e.g., moss mats); as part of food webs (e.g., in the diet of arthropods, flying squirrels, deer, and elk); as nesting material for marbled murrelets, flying squirrels, and other birds and mammals; and as habitat for insects and other arthropods…Communities of lichens and bryophytes develop slowly…Because of their importance in forest ecosystems, and the association of many species with old-growth forests, epiphytic lichens and bryophytes are increasingly being considered in the practice of forest-ecosystem management (FEMAT 1993, USDA and USDI 1994).” With that in mind, the results of the study were unequivocal and resulted in the following conclusion and recommendation for management:

·        “Hotspots [i.e., hardwoods] supported more rare or unusual macrolichens, and a higher diversity and abundance of cyanolichens, than did other stand types.”

·        “Retain a legacy of hardwoods and shrubs, and favor the old shrubs on a site. Hardwoods provide important habitat for macrolichens, possibly because macrolichens grow during the wet season, when hardwood leavers are not present. In particular, many nitrogen-fixing species are hardwood-associated, for reasons that are not yet well understood.” (page 28)

 

Similar results were found for the role hardwoods played in moth populations.  As noted, “The biodiversity of moths is linked to the ecosystem through their influences on nutrient cycling, plant population dynamics, and food-web dynamics (Miller, 1993)…If the plant species is lost from the forest, then the moth and the function that it provides are lost as well. Thus, patterns in the biodiversity (i.e., species richness and relative abundance) of moths are related to the biodiversity of host plants in the forests” (MB 2002, page 18).  With their importance in mind, the study was once again unequivocal:

“Hardwoods were responsible for most of the species richness in every stand type. In fact, 46 percent of the species collected across all stand types were associated with hardwoods.” (MB, page 34)

 

The study had a very similar result when they examined the relation of hardwoods to forest birds:

“Bird species richness was positively associated with hardwood components of stand structure, which indicates the important contribution of hardwoods to stand-level diversity.” (MB, page 39)

 

It is not surprising then that a portion of the project conclusions and “proposed thinning guidelines” were focused on retention of existing hardwoods within Douglas-fir plantations:

·        “Hardwoods are important for many species, whether through providing habitat substrate (e.g., for epiphytes), food sources (e.g., for moth larvae), or foraging substrate (e.g., for birds) – other habitat conditions…”

·         “Favor hardwood trees across a range of size classes, including large trees that occupy midcanopy and higher positions.” (MB 2002, page 41-42)

 

“Favor hardwood and shrubs” is at the top of the list of general thinning prescriptions for biodiversity enhancement within Douglas-fir plantations (MB 2002, p.46).  Similar finding/conclusions/recommendations were documented for shrubs, especially tall shrubs (MB 2002, pages 20, 24-25, 28-32, 38- 42, etc.).

 

The following scientific studies report that a high density of hardwoods is key in promoting healthy populations of a diverse array of species:

 

Hagar and McComb, 1993.  Bird Communities in Commercially Thinned and Unthinned Douglas-fir Stands of Western Oregon. COPE Report, October 1993, p. 6-9, found that the number of bird species in a stand was positively correlated with hardwoods >12" dbh, conifers >22" dbh and snags >20.5" dbh.

 

Science Findings, January 2004, issue 60, “Tree squirrels in the Pacific Northwest are part of a keystone complex that includes ectomycorrhizal fungi, Douglas-fir, and spotted owls…” This study had as a “Key Finding” that “the flying and Douglas’ squirrels and the Townsend’s chipmunk consume truffles as a major part of their diet. They also consume a variety of mushrooms, lichens, maple seeds, poplar catkins, and salal fruit, many of which are more nutritious than truffles. Thus retention of diverse hardwoods is important for biodiversity.”

 

The Forest Ecosystem Study: Background, Rationale, Implementation, Baseline Conditions, and Silvicultural Assessment (Andrew B. Carey, David R. Thysell, and Angus W. Brodie), May 1999, PNW-GTR-457 notes that, “the coniferous overstory species and other ectomycorrhizal understory species are hypothesized to “preserve ectomycorrhizal fungi during periods of rapidly changing above ground community structure and that mycorrhizal links between hardwoods and conifers facilitate conifer establishment by providing a ready source of inoculum, nutrients, and water” (page 68).

 

The aforementioned scientific findings make it clear that preserving as many hardwoods as possible is key to preserving and enhancing biodiversity.  The proposed action would involve the commercial harvest of hardwoods, contributing to an overall reduction of hardwood density.  This is unacceptable and does not comply with the project’s stated goal to “To protect and enhance stand diversit and wildlife habitat components” (EA, page 3).  If this projects aims at the enhancement and restoration of biodiversity, all hardwoods standing must remain undisturbed.  While there are certainly large patches of forest that have a high density of hardwoods; they are still much more rare in the planning areas relative to the conifers present.

 

ABUSE OF TAX PAYER DOLLARS

 

When user groups asked to build a trail over the above landslide area, they were told by the BLM that the area was too unstable for a trail, and that any trails should be re-directed around the landslide area. However, the BLM is now proposing to punch a road right through it. Double standard? Volunteers clearly took great pains to install this environmentally sound trail circumventing the slide. Under the Annie’s Cabin proposal, all of this effort and goodwill will go to waste.

 

 

 

CONCLUSION: THE EA SHOULD ANALYZE A TRUE FOREST HEALTH ALTERNATIVE

 

Many of the forests in the planning area are well on their way toward healing themselves from past management activities. The areas Bark visited showed strong signs of a natural recovery process and healthy understory increasing in diversity as natural disease and disturbance processes are beginning to take place. Many were not overly dense. As previously stated, blow down is happening naturally in many units.

 

We would like you to reevaluate your plan for the FY 2006 Thinning Projects and create instead a true Restoration Alternative. This could involve some thinning any unnaturally dense stands, leaving the trunks for down woody debris, and chipping the limbs for soil fertilization. In the Annie’s Cabin project specifically, there are many areas that could benefit from pre-commercial thinning. For example, the area north of 9B West/10 and the area east of 9B. The part of Unit 2 (422) on the west side of the road is composed of very young (15-30 yr old) Douglas-fir and western hemlock with lots of rhododendrons, and it is somewhat impenetrable.  This area in particular, given the age class of the stand and the fact that it is so steep, is more suited for pre-commercial thinning than a commercial thin.

 

Road obliteration is desperately needed and would also be part of this alternative, as would invasive plant removal.  Such a project could truly address the forest health issues, without the damage caused by an intensive commercial harvest operation.  It could also serve to provide a sustainable source of employment for timber workers. Non-commercial thinning projects create jobs and the maintenance of truly healthy forests that provide an array of recreational opportunities that contribute to stable economies now and in the future.

 

Although we appreciated the inclusion of helicopter logging alternative in the Annie’s Cabin proposal, we still feel the impacts to the area would be greater than the habitat and wildlife can reasonably handle and again urge you to separate out your analysis into separate EAs for each project.

 

Thank you for considering our comments.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Sandi Scheinberg

Executive Director