Cascades Resource Area Manager
Dear Mr. Keller,
Reasonable range of alternatives
Under NEPA, the Environmental Assessment (EA) is required to
provide a detailed statement of alternatives to the proposed action, and the
environmental impacts of both the proposed action and the alternatives. 42 USC § 4332, 40 C.F.R § 1508.9. An agency must look at and discuss every
reasonable alternative within the range dictated by the nature and scope of the
proposed action. Northwest
The EA fails to adequately address the cumulative impacts of this project. First, the EA never describes the composition of the land that borders the BLM units. The private property surrounding the Clear Dodger BLM lands have been logged repeatedly, making the native and old-growth forests in the BLM lands, quite literally, islands of biodiversity within a sea of heavily logged, younger tree plantations. In addition, much of the federal public land in the area has been logged extensively. The “Guard,” “Unguard,” and “Clear” Forest Service sales, and the “Artful Dodger” BLM sale have all been logged within the last 5 years. The Hillock timber sale just south of the Clear Dodger planning area is planned for the near future.
BLM management practices are supposed to be designed to maintain a variety of stand age and size classes in the vicinity, and the Clear Dodger sale in its current design is not in the spirit of this directive. While the EA claims that many of the stands identified to be logged are not yet Late Successional forests, I am unable to verify this based on maps provided, nor based on on-the-ground observations. Units B-1, B-2, B-3, B-4, B-5, and C-1 show a range from 40 years to 80 years, but the EA doesn’t indicate what percentage of 80 year-old trees (which is Late Successional) present in each unit is slated for logging. Moreover, Unit A-1 and D-1 clearly propose logging trees ranging in age from 81 to 120, well into the Late Successional class.
Moreover, the seral stage and stand composition of surrounding lands, not just this block of BLM lands, must be taken into account in order to determine the appropriate age class, and the overall effects of the Clear Dodger sale on the entire watershed. By not including information about the status of the adjoining land and its affect on the watershed, the impacts of the Clear Dodger sale cannot be fully determined. NEPA requires that the agency considers the impacts of present and reasonably foreseeable projects, both Federal and non-Federal, in the future. 40 C.F.R §1508.7. Neither current nor future BLM projects or projects on associated lands were discussed in the EA. The EA also failed to address the synergistic effect of past timber harvests in conjunction with the Clear Dodger sale, as required by NEPA. 40 C.F.R. 1502.16. Even immediate effects, such the impact of thinning on adjacent Riparian Reserves, were not analyzed adequately. Hypothetical beneficial impacts to the Riparian Areas were mentioned, but the edge effect from logging on surrounding forests is well known to have a detrimental affect, including increased tree mortality.
There is very little older, Late Successional forest left in
The WAR cumulative impacts analysis does not adequately access the cumulative impacts on the area. WAR only looks at peak flows and is based on a technique developed nearly 25 years ago and recently adapted for application in a different state. The WAR analysis for Clear Dodger does look at a variety of temporal scales but uses only one spatial scale and does not even define for what area the analysis was done. But even with this flawed analysis, the WAR analysis found that the “threshold value for considering the effects of increased bed mobility and bed scour” has already been exceeded given the current conditions. BLM has an obligation to maintain and enhance this environment, and at a minimum not sanction activities that degrade it further.
Aquatic Conservation Strategy:
Many of the ACS effects determinations in the EA are based on speculative and anticipated actions (some possible road decommissioning and road re-vegetation). Results produced from analysis employing these assumptions may be inaccurate or misleading. Employing this analysis for effects determinations raises significant problems for meeting NEPA requirements for “best available science” and other statutory requirements. The EA fails to disclose how the increased peak flows produced by Clear Dodger timber sale will maintain and restore the instream flow regime within these degraded basins as required by the Aquatic Conservation Strategy. The EA also fails to acknowledge the wide array of scientific information which details impacts of logging on stream systems, including the relationship between increased flows, unstable channels, and increased sedimentation. Sediment impacts associated with increased peak flows are not disclosed.
The Clear Dodger project area is located at elevations between 1,300 and 2,000 ft., with approximately one-half of the project area subject to rain on snow events, which have the potential to increase peak flows during winter or spring storm (EA, 21). Portions of Clear Creek and the Clackamas River are both identified as having moderate water quality problems, “which may be affecting general water quality, fisheries and for the Clackamas, aquatic habitat” (EA, 24). One of the stated probable causes is erosion. The Clear Dodger EA by ignoring the consequences from peak flow erosion, and relying on untested mitigation assumptions, fails to demonstrate that the objectives of the Aquatic Conservation Strategy will be attained. Many statements in the EA regarding the attainment of Aquatic Conservation Strategy objectives are not scientifically substantiated.
The Clear Dodger timber sale proposes vigorous commercial thinning in basins that are currently at-risk or not properly functioning because of intensive clearcut logging or other deforestation and road construction (particularly on unstable and potentially unstable slopes and within the “rain-on-snow” zone), high road density, and elevated sedimentation and peak flows. The EA’s assumption that there will be a “small increase in summer water yield which correlates to the removal of the confer over-story” (EA, 35) that is unlikely to directly alter base flow or peak flow events in a measurable manner is unsubstantiated with the given analysis.
Instream and peak flows in a sub-basin are affected by a number of environmental variables including vegetation condition, rainfall, temperature, antecedent snow accumulation, elevation, soil compaction, acres of non-forested area, road interception of subsurface flow, and increased drainage density caused by roads. Changes to natural or background instream flows are caused by removal of forest vegetation, and the construction and re-construction of roads. Vegetation removal influences the storage and transport of water by changing evapotranpiration rates, deep sub-surface moisture content, and snow accumulation and melting rates (Jones and Grant 1996). Roads intercept subsurface flows (Wemple and others 1996, Megahan and others 1992) and create impermeable surfaces that cause surface run-off that bypasses slower subsurface flow routes (Harr and others 1975, Harr and others 1979, Ziemer 1981). The changes to hydrologic processes resulting from forest roads are as permanent as the roads. Until the roads are removed and natural drainage patterns restored, roads will continue to affect the routing of water through watersheds (Jones and Grant 1996).
Road density and drainage network increase caused by roads
also affect peak flows. According to the NMFS-Matrix, road densities between 2
and 3 miles of road per square mile of area indicate a sub-basin is “at risk”
of increased peak flows. Sub-basins with
more than 3 miles of road per square mile of area are “not properly
functioning.” For the Upper Clear Creek Watershed,
open road densities are apparently less than 3.5 miles per
section, (EA, 19) but how much less is not revealed. No information is
provided on the Clackamas River Watershed. It very possible
that based on the NMFS model that both the Upper Clear Creek and
Statements regarding ACS objectives for sediment are also
unsubstantiated and in-conflict with available scientific information. The EA
anticipates increased sedimentation in the proposed action, but also states
that mitigation will off-set any degradation: “potential impacts resulting from
tree harvest and road construction would be mitigated and, with the
implementation of BMP, are unlikely to contribute to measurable amounts of
sediment to streams” (EA, 35). In
addition to violating the Northwest
For example, Broderson (1973)
studied three watersheds in western
The Clear Dodger timber sale EA does not demonstrate that the objectives of the Aquatic Conservation Strategy will be achieved, and therefore is not in compliance with the Northwest Forest Plan. We request the sale be modified to protect aquatic resources. Supplemental environmental analysis is needed to clearly demonstrate that Aquatic Conservation Strategy objectives will be achieved and to address significant inconsistencies between methodologies and analytic techniques employed in the EA and information available in the published literature. We request an analysis be conducted by employing scientifically-credible analytical techniques and that impacts of the sale be fully disclosed. Based on the information provided, we believe that logging and road building activities will impede attainment of ACS objectives in the Clear Dodger planning area.
The EA states that the three units located in the
Riparian Restoration Project
This project proposes to create up to 8 snags per acre in
green conifer trees greater than 20 inches in diameter, some scattered, some
clumped as miniature clearcuts.
Fire risk & Blow Down
BLM management practices are supposed to provide for windfirm forest stands that are resistant to wildfire. However, the proposed thins will increase the risk of fire and blow down. Although the EA plans to cut from below and leave the old growth and oldest trees, removing the portions of the canopy suggested in the EA (about 50%) will result in drier conditions, and logging will increase the levels of slash. Blowdown is also likely given that blocks B-3, B-4, B-5, and D-1 are on top of a ridge line. 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 the area is frequently used as a shooting range. 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. The heavily logged private lands in the area are already at relatively high risk of fire. Acres of thin, tightly-packed, even-aged trees with a tangle of fine fuels on and near ground level, along with an abundance of roads are a hazardous combination. Logging these cooler, wetter, native forests is unwise and irresponsible given the above combination of factors.
Wildlife & Botany
The EA fails to adequately analyze the impact of this sale on wildlife and to adequately present management plans for designated Survey and Manage species. The proposed action occurs within known spotted owl habitat and may adversely affect the spotted owl. However, the EA provides no plan for mitigation of owl habitat, only that seasonal restrictions would minimize the risk of disturbance if nesting spotted owls are found within the disturbance range (EA, 31). However even these seasonal restrictions could be waived early if ongoing surveys indicate no presence of spotted owls within the disturbance range of the harvests. What are the protocols for these surveys? How often will they be taking place? The EA also does not comply with the management requirement to retain 100 acres of the best northern spotted owl habitat as close as possible to a nest site or owl activity center for all known spotted owl activity centers (RMP, 22.) The failure to maintain adequate spotted owl habitat also violates the NWFP. Furthermore, the EA does not discuss whether incidental takes will occur and if there was a Biological Evaluation prepared which would authorize such takes.
Current studies show that the northern spotted owl is on the
decline—in some parts of its range severely. Given the precariousness of this
endangered species, it is irresponsible to engage in any management activities
that degrades its habitat. The EA states that the consequences of the proposed
action—downgrading 128 acres of suitable habitat to dispersal habitat and
degrading 33 acres of dispersal habit—is justifiable in the short term, because
in the long term (such as 10 to 20 years), the habitat conditions could
improve. Common sense tells us that when detrimental consequences in the near
term are certain, and potential future benefits are uncertain, the responsible
choice is to manage for certainty. In this case potential benefits to the
northern spotted owl will be irrelevant if the species is extirpated prior to
then. While USFW determined that all the FY 2003-2004 Habitat Modification
projects in the
The EA also states that the planning area is habitat (highly likely) for the Oregon slender salamander, the clouded salamander, the red-legged frog, along with numerous species of bats, all of which are classified as sensitive species and depend on coarse woody debris, snags, and a damp forest floor for their habitat. The EA acknowledges short term adverse impacts on these species due to habitat drying from the canopy opening up, but again excuses short term losses using an unproven assumption about improved long-term conditions. The impacts of the proposed action on these sensitive species are never identified or analyzed in the EA, as is required by the Resource Management Plan. (RMP, 29) Neither is the impact from climate change on these sensitive species considered, with its anticipated drying affects on the habitat. The prescribed broadcast burn (EA, 17) will have a negative impact on the survival of any amphibians within the burn zone, and there is a strong probability that some of the leave trees will be damaged or killed by the excessive heat. Additionally, these same leave trees are relied upon to mitigate the effects of micro-habitat drying by providing shade. A nearly 50% reduction in canopy cover is not going to provide much shade, and scorched ground will not provide the moist habitat necessary for the survival of the amphibians. For many species, benefits will be greatest if trees are retained in patches rather than singly, and even very small patches do not provide suitable microclimates, as required by the NWFP. (ROD, C-41.) Bureau sensitive species and their habitats should be managed so as to recover the species, not further degrade their habitat. (RMP, 28.) Further analysis of the effects of this sale on the population of amphibians, bats, and other old-growth dependent species such as pileated woodpeckers, northern goshawk, bald eagles, pine martens and red tree voles is necessary. In addition, more feasible mitigation measures, with concrete analysis of their success, should be considered for the short-term viability of the species.
Eighteen known sites of Megomphix hemphilli, a Survey and Manage species, were detected, 17 of which are in the vicinity of the units. The EA states that crown cover from residual trees and course woody debris (CWD) would provide shade and microclimates that would assist mollusk species not detected to persist, however, again, the impacts on the species from microclimate drying and the reduction of CWD is not analyzed. The EA fails to state whether surveys were conducted for all of the Survey & Manage species, such as rare lichens, mosses, and fungi. The EA does not discuss the occurrence of cavity nesting birds in the units and what, if any, mitigation measures would be implemented to protect their habitat. The Salem Disrtict RMP mandates that enough snags be retained per harvest unit to support cavity nesting birds at a 40% of potential population (RMP, 25). To establish what 40% of potential population may be, and whether or not the number of leave snags per acre would be sufficient to support this 40%, more information about the composition and amount of cavity nesters in the units is necessary. NEPA requires that a high level of science be used in environmental analysis, to provide the public with information on the sale. 40 C.F.R. § 1502.24. Finally, the impacts of the loss of 161 acres of good thermal cover for wildlife, specifically deer and elk, are not discussed in the EA. The lack of thorough analysis about the composition of existing populations, impact of the proposed project to these populations and the lack of mitigation measures indicate that further analysis must be prepared in order to adequately address these issues.
The EA calls for building 2,000 feet of new road and temporarily re-opening 14,700 feet of currently closed road. The EA also includes decommissioning 2,200 feet of road and blocking or gating 4,600 ft of existing road. We strongly support the decommissioning of the roads, and commend efforts to decrease the overall road density in the watershed. However, the net result of the above scenario is that new road feet will be built with an immediate and lasting adverse environmental impact, while the benefits of the road decommissioning will not be seen for decades. Meanwhile, road that was currently in the process of re-vegetating will be re-opened with renewed adverse impacts. Likewise, the benefits of blocking or gating the 4,600 feet of roads won’t be felt for decades to come, if ever, as the chance of reopening the road as seen with this sale is real. There is no indication about the permanence of the closed roads, thus the proposed road scenario suggests a net loss to the ecosystem.
There are still some questions left unanswered about both the decommissioning of roads and the building of the temporary roads. The EA does not set out a time frame for blocking 4,600 ft. of existing road. The road blocking: is it after the temporary roads are built? If so, the impact of a temporary increase in road density to the watershed is not assessed.
The EA did not analyze the current road density nor the cumulative effect of this road on the surrounding area. The EA states that Lower Clackamas River Watershed Analysis (LCWA) does not disclose road densities (EA, 19). On page 2-27 of the LCWA, the following information is provided on road densities:
Based on the logos on the cover of the watershed analysis, the
document seems to be prepared on behalf of the BLM and the US Forest Service,
thus covering both land designations. So do the above road density
recommendations not apply to BLM land? Does BLM have different road
density goals for deer and elk range? If so, then what are they? If not, then
it appears that the road densities in the
It is also critical, in determining road densities, that
figures include roads that are actually being used by motorized vehicles.
Even temporary roads have cumulative impacts, as they impact the area as they are being built and they impact the area even after they are decommissioned. 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 examples. Decommissioning roads cannot offset the soil disturbance from the new temporary roads and the logging operation, even if the BLM is completely successful in re-vegetating the area in the future.
The EA acknowledges that garbage dumping is also a severe
The EA states that a no new road construction alternative is within the scope of the alternatives analyzed, and I encourage you to pursue it; however it would have been helpful to have such an option offered as a formal alternative for complete analysis, including beneficial impacts. In summary, given the consequences of increasing the road density and given that only 16 acres of forest would be accessed with the new road, is does not seem like a sound investment of agency resources let alone a wise ecological decision, to include new road building in the final proposal.
I encourage you to consult the following resources in making your determination to build new feet of road.
1. Robert Coats, et al., Assessing Cumulative Effects of silvicultural Activities, (1979) (significant increases in peak flow post-harvest)
Harr, et al., Changes
in Storm Hydrographs after
Robert Harr, et al., Pacific Northwest Research
4. Robert Harr, et al.,
Pacific Northwest Research
Jones & G. Grant, Peak Flow Responses
to Clear-Cutting and Roads in Small and Large Basins, Western Cascades,
Lyons & L. Beschta, Land Use, Floods, and Channel Changes:
Reid & T. Dunne, Sediment Production
Steep Slopes & Soils
EA said in response to comments that “it is not part of the proposed action to harvest timber” on steep slopes (EA, 4). Then the EA goes on to say that “some areas within the proposed action are steeper than would be allowable for ground based operations and thus will have to be skyline yarded. The EA states that Units C-1 and D-1 require yarding because slopes are greater than 35% (EA, 5). These units together constitute 60 acres, or 37% of the sale acreage (EA, 6). That’s a large percentage of the sale to be logged on steep slopes, especially given that assurances are made in the EA that logging on steep slopes would not happen at all. Cable yarding with one-log suspension, which is the EA’s stated mitigation remedy for steep slope logging, is by no means free of adverse effects, and these effects are not addressed in the EA. This type of logging often creates deep ruts, contributing to soil disturbance, erosion and an increase in sedimentation and compaction. Despite the fact that existing yarding corridors will be used as much as possible, a number of them will be new. And all main skid trails will be left intact for use for later harvest projects (EA, 30), thus continuing to create sedimentation and contribute to malfunctioning hydrology.
The EA fails to adequately address affects to soils from the project. The EA notes that there is a concern for soil instability, erosion, runoff and compaction when soil is wet (EA, 15-16), but fails to discuss what the compaction potential is for each unit, and fails to analyze the compaction due to the building of temporary roads and landings. The EA states that 10% compaction will not be exceeded in the project area under the proposed alternative, however no information about the percentage of the area is currently in a compacted state. Is it already at its 10% threshold given all the existing yarding corridors and roads? In addition, the EA states that the soil is unstable in unit C-1, but does not set out any solid mitigation measures to preclude further damage to the soil from harvesting activities. What evidence is there that the mitigation measures proposed will actually minimize compaction? While logging on wet soils is certain to result in compaction, so is logging on dry soils. Please share information about the effects of compaction on dry soils as well as wet, along with scientific analysis of the impact of your proposed mitigation methods. The terrain just east of Units B-2, B-3, and B-4 are described as having high rates of sediment transport during episodic events (EA, 22), and the given units will surely drain onto these slopes, however, no assessment of impact was provided, simply stating that erodability is low because the slope of the actual unit is less than 20% (EA, 29).
The EA also does not adequately assess the impacts of broadcast burning on soil stability and erosion. The failure of the EA to adequately analyze the effect on soil due to harvest and burning activities, and to present any proven mitigation measures for soil compaction and nitrogen loss, requires that a supplemental environmental EA is needed prior to this project moving forward.
In addition to impacting soils, and aquatic systems, the logging on steep slopes with have other residual effects, including the destruction of reserve green trees outside of the unit boundaries used for attaching cables (EA p 9). This is an unnecessary consequence of logging in an area that should not be logged in the first place due to its steepness. Will any of these trees be old growth? The EA states that old growth trees and many of the largest second growth would be reserved from harvest in all units and not be felled unless essential to provide for human safety (EA, 11). Does this apply to trees used as part of yarding operations? All trees used for attaching cables, whether inside or outside of the unit should be counted as wildlife trees, as the mortality rates for these trees will likely be high. If the Riparian project is pursued, any trees destroyed as a consequence should count toward the 8 snags per acre desired for the Riparian Project.
Competition from brush species is also a said to be a major concern for unit D-1; however effective mitigation is not addressed in the EA. In fact the proposed action clearly states that “the wider spacing of residual trees would result in increased growth of understory trees and shrubs, which would provide a richer more diverse habitat for wildlife” (EA, 28). Where is the evidence that this will indeed become a richer habitat given the stated concern about competition from brush species? In the LCWA, noxious weeds are listed as a major problem, stating that “The introduction of nonnative plant species, especially noxious weeds, is a potential threat to native biological diversity. Noxious weed invasions can reduce biodiversity through the displacement of plant species necessary for wildlife habitat and can also adversely effect reforestation, visual quality, and recreational activities.” A variety of noxious weeds are found throughout the watershed in areas associated with roads, timber harvest activities and recreational use. Nonnative seed can be carried to areas of ground disturbance through vehicle use, logging equipment, and contaminated erosion control and forage seed mixes, as well as by wind and biological vectors.” (LCWA, 2-10). The EA states that logging equipment will be washed, but just a few seeds can cause an invasion. What studies have shown that this alone can guarantee that the area won’t be subject to an increase in the spread of noxious weeds?
Thank you for considering our comments.