October 9, 2003

 

William B. Keller                                              Regional Solicitor

Field Manager                                                  Pacific Northwest Region

Cascades Resource Area                                  500 NE Multnomah St. Suite 607

Salem BLM                                                      Portland, OR 97232

1717 Fabry Rd. SE

Salem, OR 97306                                            Hampton Tree Farms, Inc.

Sent via fax: (503) 375-5622                            P.O. Box 2315

                                                                        Salem, OR 97308

Association of O&C Counties              

P.O. Box 2327

Harbor, OR 97415

 

RE: Appeal of Final Decision Documentation and Decision Rationale for the Clear Dodger Timber Sale.

 

Pursuant to 43 CFR Section 4, please consider the following appeal of the Final Decision Documentation and Decision Rationale for the Clear Dodger Timber Sale.

 

Decision Title:  Final Decision Documentation and Decision Rationale Clear Dodger Timber Sale.

 

Project Description:  145 acres of partial cut logging, producing approximately 1.7 MMBF.  Forest to be logged is between 83 and 88 years old.  213 feet of road construction.

 

Project Location: T4S, R4E Sections 12, 23, 24, and 25 .

 

Date of Decision:  July 29, 2003

 

Name of Deciding Officer:  William B. Keller, Field Manager, Cascades Resource Area, Salem BLM.

 

Appellant’s Interest:  ONRC expressed interest in, submitted comments on, protested the decision, and is entitled to appeal.  Many of ONRC’s more than 7,000 members use and enjoy the area affected by this project for various recreational, aesthetic, and scientific pursuits.  Many of our members also receive their drinking water from the Clackamas River.

 

Request for Relief:  ONRC respectfully requests that the BLM withdraw the decision being appealed and issue a new decision that does not aggressively log mature forests.  We do not appeal the decision to enter the majority of the units in the sale (units 1, 2, 4, 5, and 8).

 

Request for Stay:  ONRC requests a stay of implementation of portions of this project (units 3, 6, and 7).

 

Statement of Reasons:

 

As we stated in our protest of this project, we are pleased to see that much of the new road construction has been dropped.  New road construction is one of our major concerns when it comes to the impacts of logging projects.  We agree that thinning could benefit the young, relatively uniform stands (1, 2, 4, 5, and 8).  But we remain convinced that BLM should withdraw plans for logging in areas that are beginning to develop late-seral structure and have legacy features (snags and CWD).  While we recognize that BLM has slightly reduced the acreage in units 3, 6, and 7, these units contain some of the oldest and best functioning older forests in the area.  We feel that the emerging science strongly supports early entry into young stands.  But the older the stands become, the less thinning promotes late-seral characteristics and the more damage is done to soils, snags, and coarse woody debris.

 

While dropping much of the proposed road construction and modifying unit boundaries has resolved some of our specific concerns raised throughout the NEPA process, (e.g. compliance with ACS Objectives) we wish to state clearly that logging in older stands is not an appropriate activity for federal agencies to engage in at this time.  There are many more urgent priorities, and while many of these priorities cost money, thinning of young, dense, mid-seral managed stands produce wood products and increase the complexity and diversity of uniform stands.  We will continue to oppose thinning, partial-cut, and regeneration prescriptions of older stands, but stand aside, and in some cases, support thinning in young stands.

 

Impacts to legacy features.

We argue that the design features for protection and retention of snags in the EA as well as standards and guidelines in the NFP and the RMP is do not adequately protect snags and the species dependent on snag habitat.  The EA calls for protection of hard snags only, with exemptions granted for safety concerns.  While keeping forest workers safe should be a top priority, it is possible to retain snags and the trees around them in aggregate to avoid placing workers at risk.

 

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 large 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.”)

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). The EA calls for leaving only harder snags (in decay classes 1, 2, or 3), ignoring the importance of retaining snags of a variety of age classes.  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.”  (EA, pg. 11).  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.

Cumulative effects.

BLM states in response to our protest point regarding cumulative effects analysis that the proposed action “is not contributing to cumulative effects for several other elements of the human environment because there are no measurable direct or indirect effects these resources from the proposed action.”  The BLM goes on to list that among other things, this project will not impact prime or unique farm lands, hazardous or solid wastes, and wilderness.  Naturally, this project will have no impacts on these elements of the environment.  However, our issue with the cumulative impacts analysis is that it does not have adequate baseline data to determine whether or not this project has negative effects on already degraded environment, and we feel that the analysis the BLM has used does not adequately look at elements of the environment that are immediately in the vicinity of the project area.

 

For instance, the BLM has never disclosed what the biological condition of stream channels downstream from the project area are in nor how the project will impact the biological productivity and diversity of aquatic systems on a whole.  As you note in the EA, Jones and Grant (1996) have reviewed a long record of stormflows in western Cascade streams and determined that the cumulative effect of roads and harvest in western Cascade basins cause a significant and long-term increase in peak flows. These peak flows in turn cause bank erosion and undercutting and unnaturally high rates of streamside landslides. While the EA discusses the effect these peak flows have on stream channel morphology and coarse woody debris in streams, it does not analyze the impacts these events have on biological systems.  Higher peak flows are also thought to cause scouring and displacement of salmonid egg masses and alteration of the aquatic invertebrate communities, which could have repercussions throughout the aquatic and terrestrial food chain.

 

It is important to recognize that in the absence of a large pool of data points over a long period of time, it is irresponsible to ignore the information available.  We may not have a large enough sample size to prove that damage from peak flows described by Jones and Grant is happening at the larger watershed scales and the longer return intervals. But federal land managers should be very cautious, and certainly not allow aggressive logging in older forests in watersheds that support listed fish when the limited cumulative effects analysis suggest that the watershed is in bad shape.

 

The BLM has also failed to address our concern that the use of BMPs and mitigation is a poor surrogate for addressing cumulate effects.  NMFS shares our concern because BMPs are addressed to individual actions and fail to limit the totality of individual actions within a watershed.

 

Cumulative effects of forest practices may include changes in sediment, temperature, and hydrologic regimes, resulting in direct, indirect or eventual loss of key habitat components (e.g., clean gravel interstices, large woody debris (LWD), low temperature holding pools, and protected off-channel rearing areas) necessary for spawning and rearing of anadromous salmonids. These changes often are not expressed "immediately" at the project site, but instead may occur subsequent to triggering events (fire, floods, storms) or are manifested off-site (downstream) of where the effects are initiated.

 

The prevention of potentially adverse impacts at the project site is indeed necessary, but not sufficient, to avoid adverse cumulative effects under the CEQ definition of cumulative effects (CEQ 1971). As Reid (1993) states: "The BMP approach is based on the premise that if on-site effects of a project are held to an acceptable level, then the project is acceptable, regardless of activities going on around it. Interactions between projects are beyond the scope of BMP analysis, and operational controls are applied only to individual projects."

 

In summary, however useful site specific BMPs are in minimizing effects of individual actions, they still do not address the cumulative effects of multiple actions occurring in the watershed which, though individually "minimized" through application of the site-specific BMPs, may still be significant, in their totality, and have undesirable consequences for beneficial uses such as salmon populations and salmon habitat…

 

The argument that applying a BMP while conducting a specific forest practice minimizes site specific effects and thus also minimizes cumulative effects is logically flawed. Every BMP is an action and has an effect . . . thus, generally, the more the BMPs are applied, the greater the cumulative effect. Only by minimizing the number of actions, i.e., the number of individual applications of BMPs, would cumulative effects be minimized. This is precisely why a cumulative effects assessment is needed -- to establish the watershed-specific limits and excesses of BMP application.

 

NMFS, Position Paper on the Oregon Forest Practices Act, May 13, 1996.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Jeremy Hall

Northwest Field Representative

Oregon Natural Resources Council

P.O. Box 11648

Eugene, OR 97440