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HFHC News Round Up

June 25, 2024 HFHC News Round Up 

Comprehensive Science Review Shows Fuel Treatments Reduce Future Wildfire Severity (The Nature Conservancy)
There is a common belief that prescribed burning, thinning trees and clearing underbrush reduce risks of the severity of future fires. But is that true? Sometimes anecdotal evidence or limited observations can create doubt. Researchers from the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, The Nature Conservancy and the University of Montana dug deep into the scientific literature for a closer look. Spoiler alert: the answer is yes—proactive ecological forest management can change how fires behave and reduce wildfire severity, under a wide range of conditions and forest types. Researchers found overwhelming evidence that in seasonally dry mixed conifer forests in the western U.S., reducing surface and ladder fuels and tree density through thinning, coupled with prescribed burning or pile burning, could reduce future wildfire severity by more than 60% relative to untreated areas. The study results were recently published in Forest Ecology and Management. 

Extreme Wildfires Doubled Over Past Two Decades: Study (Barron’s)
The frequency and intensity of extreme wildfires has more than doubled worldwide over the past two decades as human activity has warmed the planet, said a new study published Monday. For the first time, researchers were able to plot a global trend for the most destructive types of fires responsible for major economic damage and loss to animal and human life. The study was published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. Using satellite records, they studied nearly 3,000 wildfires of tremendous “radiative power” between 2003 to 2023 and established a 2.2-fold increase in their occurrence over that period.

Supreme Court could curb NEPA reviews next term (Greenwire)
The Supreme Court opened the door Monday to setting new limits for how agencies account for climate and environmental risks for new projects. The newly granted petition — Seven County Infrastructure Coalition v. Eagle County, Colorado — challenges the breadth of analysis required under the National Environmental Policy Act and is among the first environmental cases the Supreme Court has agreed to hear next term. In the last three terms, the justices have narrowed EPA’s authority to regulate climate pollution, reduced protections for the nation’s wetlands and are now poised to weaken the Chevron doctrine, which helps the federal government defend environmental rules in court. “Taking the case fits with the recent trend of the court taking environmental cases that raise controversial issues,” said Kevin Minoli, former EPA acting general counsel and principal deputy general counsel.

How to protect mature and old growth forests (Evergreen)
In June, 2023, President Biden signed Executive Order 14702, instructing the Agricultural Department’s U.S. Forest Service and the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management to define, identify and inventory all of the mature and old growth [MOG] forests in their care. Eleven months later the two agencies issued their report – a data rich 77-page report filled with tables and charts. Warp speed compared to the three to five years it takes the agencies to complete an Environmental Impact Statement.

US Supreme Court will review nixing of Utah oil-train project that drew Colorado opposition (Colorado Newsline)
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday accepted a last-ditch appeal from the backers of a controversial oil-by-rail project in eastern Utah, agreeing to review a lower-court ruling that sided with a Colorado county and environmental groups who accused federal regulators of failing to adequately analyze the proposal’s downstream risks. In an August 2023 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit found that the Surface Transportation Board’s approval of the 88-mile Uinta Basin Railway contained “numerous” and “significant” violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, and ordered the STB to correct deficiencies in the project’s environmental impact statement. The Seven County Infrastructure Coalition, a group of Utah county governments backing the project, appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court in March.

Supreme Court To Hear Critical Case On NEPA’s Scope And Application (AFRC)
The Supreme Court of the United States today granted certiorari in the case of Seven County Infrastructure Coalition v. Eagle County, Colorado. This case presents a crucial opportunity to address the extensive and often overreaching applications of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which have significant implications for infrastructure and environmental law…Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) filed an amicus brief supporting the appeal on behalf of the American Forest Resource Council (AFRC), arguing that the lower court misapplied NEPA, and overstepped its authority by negating Congressional intent. We are thankful that the Supreme Court has now granted certiorari to review the case and will address these significant legal and regulatory issues…AFRC Legal Counsel Sara Ghafouri said, “AFRC thanks the Mountain States Legal Foundation for representing AFRC in Seven County Infrastructure Coalition and bringing this important case to the Supreme Court’s attention. We are pleased that the Court has granted the petition for certiorari, because it serves as an important opportunity to restore judicial restraint and prevent the lower courts and unelected regulators from elevating their own preferred policy outcomes over Congress’s laws. A successful outcome in this matter will help protect the businesses, communities, and people who rely on active management of natural resources.”

Court to rule on logging project on Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest (Big News Network)
A federal judge in Montana is holding a hearing on Tuesday on a motion for an injunction against the Pintler Face logging and burning project on Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. A coalition of conservationists and activists has sued to stop work altogether. The Pintler project is located about 10 miles northwest of Wise River, Montana, and calls for bulldozing in 11 miles of new logging roads to gain access to 3,400 acres of clear-cuts, prescribed burns and logging of more than 560 acres of aspen. It would also log another 5,800 acres in a commercial segment of the project.

Wildfire Threats Make Utilities Uninsurable in US West (Financial Post)
Trinity Public Utilities District’s power lines snake through the lower reaches of the Cascade Range, a rugged, remote and densely forested terrain in Northern California that has some of the highest wildfire risk in the country. But for several years, the company has been without insurance to protect it from such a threat. Trinity’s equipment was blamed for causing a 2017 wildfire that destroyed 72 homes and three years later its insurer, a California public agency called the Special District Risk Management Authority, told the utility that it would no longer cover it for fires started by its electrical lines. Trinity could find no other takers. The utility’s exposure comes as wildfires are already flaring up across the US West in what could be a dangerous and prolonged fire season. “If a fire were to start now that involved one of our power lines, it would likely bankrupt the utility,” said Paul Hauser, general manager of the local government-owned utility that serves about 13,000 rural customers in Trinity County, 200 miles (322 kilometers) north of Sacramento.

How to Save a Forest – Members of the Kalispel Tribe in Washington have become some of the country’s foremost forest caretakers (The Nation)
“If you look really closely, the grand fir is dying,” said Ray Entz, who directs the Kalispel tribe’s Department of Natural Resources. I was trailing him in northeastern Washington through their Indian Creek Community Forest, where a few of the trees had faded from evergreen to an aged burgundy red, a sign that they would soon be joining their lost brethren, brittle and fallen on the carpet of dried pine needles. “That’s a climate reaction,” he explained. Summer droughts, coupled with exceptionally soggy springs, had created an ideal environment for laminated root rot, a fungus that was wiping them off the landscape. “We are losing that tree from our understory”—the plant life beneath a forest’s canopy—“at a fast pace.”

US Forest Service Returning Nearly 12K Acres To Leech Lake Ojibwe Tribe (Lakes Area Radio)
The U.S. government is returning nearly 12 thousand acres of land to a northern Minnesota Native American tribe. On Thursday, the U.S. Forest Service signed the paperwork to transfer land in the Chippewa National Forest to the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. The tribe worked with the forest service to identify land that could be given over without impacting private property ownership in the area. A ceremony to commemorate the transfer is scheduled for July 17th.

Jackson, Josephine counties some of the most at-risk for community-damaging wildfires (KDRV)
Jackson and Josephine County communities are labeled as some of the most at risk for community-damaging wildfires. The two counties have broad expanses of forests, a dense population and a challenging checkerboard of ownership between public and private lands. In 2021, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 762. The bill funded wildfire risk reduction programs, two of which were to reduce community damages in cases of wildfires. The defensible space code is managed by the Oregon State Fire Marshall. The Fire Hardened building code is overseen by the building codes division. Instead of regulating all the properties in Oregon, the legislature wanted to tailor these codes to the most at-risk communities. 

Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest names new forest supervisor (KOBI)
The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest is welcoming a new forest supervisor. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Molly Juillerat will oversee all land management and administration for the forest which spans 1.8 million acres in southwest Oregon and northern California. “Southern Oregon is a place that’s been home to me in different ways at various times in my life and career,” Juillerat said. “My dad reminded me this weekend that I have been backpacking [on southern Oregon forests] since I was 6 and climbing Mt. McLoughlin since I was 10.” Juillerat temporarily served as acting forest supervisor for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in late 2023 through early 2024.

Pockets of Superior National Forest severely damaged by wind (CBS News)
Parts of the Superior National Forest were severely damaged during recent storms, officials announced Sunday. The U.S. Forest Service did not announce any more closures, but did warn visitors that many areas have not been cleared and will create “inaccessible or difficult travel conditions.” The Tofte Ranger District had the most reported damage so far with nearly 50 acres of blowdown along the Sawbill Trail and Kawishiwi Lake areas.

Entitlement Funds Could Help Pyramid, But City Nonprofits Want The Money (Missoula Current)
Looking to keep a struggling mill in Seeley Lake from closing for good, Missoula County may look to steer a one-time state grant toward the operation. Commissioners and the county’s grant administrators met Monday to discuss the parameters of a Community Development Block Grant earmarked for economic development toward Pyramid Mountain Lumber, which announced its plans to close earlier this year. The county has been receiving the state funds periodically since the mid 1980s and has traditionally applied them to for-profit businesses that promote economic development, job growth and job training. While the county can award the funding as a grant or a loan, it has generally opted for low-interest loans while using the resulting revenue to build up a revolving loan fund.

Beyond the barrel: Combating the decline of the American white oak (USDA Forest Service)
Every bourbon trail begins in the same place: the woods. Specifically, among the millions of acres of mature American white oak in the US. White oaks are critical to the bourbon making process for storage and flavor development. So, when bourbon makers heard that white oak populations are on the decline, that caught their attention. Beyond bourbon makers, commercially and ecologically, the American white oak is one of the most valuable resources in the eastern United States. The tree provides food and shelter for a variety of animals like birds, deer, squirrels — even bats. Commercially, the wood is a popular choice in flooring, used in furniture making and is integral to other parts of the spirits industry.

America is Flooded with Lumber as Developers are Squeezed Out (Wood Central)
American construction costs have now returned to pre-pandemic levels, with lumber prices “continuing to bounce around the bottom of the market.” It comes as a stop-start housing market—the primary driver of demand and pricing—is causing an oversupply of wood-based building materials to flood the market. That is according to Skansa, one of the world’s largest construction companies, which is now turning to mass timber, green steel, and low-carbon cement to decarbonise construction. The quarterly market, published by Skansa USA, shows that the US market for wood-based building materials (including lumber, MDF, and engineered wood products) remains sluggish, primarily due to the Fed Reserve’s expected rate cuts failing to materialise.

Market Update: Navigating The Tough Commodity Plywood Market (Freres Wood)
The commodity plywood marketplace remains challenging. Over the past month, sales have been steady but not exciting. Buyers are cautious, making only necessary purchases. Inventory has mostly shifted to mills, making it a buyer’s market. This trend isn’t unique to plywood; other lumber and panel markets are also slow. Delayed projects due to financing and political uncertainty are big factors. Prices keep dropping, though more slowly. Sales for Western producers are close to or below breakeven points. Sawmill curtailments haven’t made much impact yet. Despite the slow pace, there’s still wood that needs to be bought weekly to maintain lean inventories. Current trends suggest we might be in this tough market for a while, but we’ll keep going, hoping for a positive change soon.

Not just another piece of wood (USDA Forest Service)
The 50,000th wood specimen has been catalogued into the Forest Products Laboratory Center for Wood Anatomy Research Madison Wood Collection. Collected by Dr. Michael Nee in the Andean mountains of Bolivia from a small tree in the Verbenaceae family called Recordia boliviana moldenke, the addition of this 50,000th wood specimen is in his honor. Dr. Nee started collecting wood specimens in Wisconsin in 1969. The Research Wood Collections at the Forest Products Laboratory are one of the largest historic, geographically and taxonomically diverse research wood collections in the world. Reaching 50,000 wood specimens catalogued into the Forest Products Laboratory Madison Wood Collection is a monumental milestone. 

Why The Southern Sauce That Adorns Biscuits Is Called ‘Sawmill Gravy’ (Mashed)
Any Southerner worth their salt (and pepper, flour, fat, and milk) knows biscuits and gravy. Sure, lots of sauces can be called gravy, but we’re not talking about Thanksgiving brown gravy or indulgent Southern chocolate gravy. When most Southerners talk about gravy (particularly biscuits and gravy), we’re talking about sawmill gravy — that delicious, creamy white sauce that often has cooked breakfast sausage folded inside. You may hear it called sausage gravy, white gravy, or country gravy these days, but historians believe sawmill gravy got its original name for its stick-to-your-ribs quality, perfect for sawmill workers in 1800s Southern Appalachia.