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HFHC News Round Up

February 29, 2024 HFHC News Round Up

Enviros sue Forest Service over timber harvest goals (E&E/Politico Pro)
Although the Forest Service has striven for more timber harvesting in recent years, the goals are still considerably less than what the land management plans for individual forests allow. The agency has pledged to keep up with expanded targets in part to combat wildfire, saying in its 10-year wildfire strategy that bigger and more severe wildfires sacrifice forests’ ability to sequester carbon. The merits of thinning forests as an anti-wildfire strategy are a subject of debate within forest management circles, especially where old-growth stands are concerned. But Smith told E&E News in an email, “Managing forests and harvesting timber is good for forest health, good for our climate, good for supporting rural communities, and good for addressing affordable housing, among many other challenges.” Smith said timber targets help to keep tabs on management of federal forests, which his group says is already flawed by allowing a buildup of vegetation that can feed wildfires. “Eliminating timber targets eliminates an important layer of accountability to a system of federal forest management that’s already broken,” Smith said. (Subscription Required)

Governor Gianforte, DNRC Announce Montana’s Third Consecutive Year of Forestry Management Success (Montana.Gov)
Governor Greg Gianforte today announced the State of Montana reached its annual goal for acres placed under active forest management, the third consecutive year achieving this stewardship milestone. Under the leadership of Director Amanda Kaster, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) placed over 36,000 forested acres under management in 2023. “The DNRC has demonstrated its commitment and capability to meet the ambitious forestry management targets we’ve set forth in Montana,” Gov. Gianforte said. “This achievement is a testament to our proactive approach and pursuit of strategies that safeguard our forests, communities, and natural resources.”

Stabenow threatens to block new farm bill this year over GOP demands (Politico)
Senate Agriculture Chair Debbie Stabenow said for the first time Tuesday that she’d rather continue punting on the farm bill than strike a deal with Republicans to limit climate funding and social safety net programs. The parties have been at an impasse in the farm bill talks for months now over those and other competing priorities. Stabenow (D-Mich.), who is retiring at the end of this Congress, has increasingly argued in private that her legacy is contingent upon protecting climate funding in the farm bill, in particular, as well as anti-hunger programs, according to three people familiar with the talks.

White House finalizes ecosystem services guidance (E&E/Politico Pro)
The White House finalized guidance Wednesday directing agencies to provide a detailed account of how proposed projects, policies and regulations could affect human use and enjoyment of the natural environment. The guidance on so-called ecosystem services is the first of its kind, setting a standard for costs and benefits that agencies have only sometimes considered in their decisionmaking. It aims to arm federal officials with the latest research and methodologies on how ecosystem services — or “contributions to human welfare from the environment or ecosystems” — can be enhanced or diminished by federal rules on everything from infrastructure and cars to energy and health. (Subscription Required)

Forest Service seeks comment on Larabee Hat Vegetation Project (Helena Independent Record)
The Helena Ranger District is seeking public comment on a new project south of Elliston proposed to restore forests and address hazardous wildfire fuel loads. “In addition to improving forest health, the Larabee Hat Vegetation Project would also improve watershed conditions for bull trout, create economic opportunities through wood products and timber harvest, and reduce fuel loading around Elliston,” Helena District Ranger Kathy Bushnell said in an email. The project is in Powell County and includes National Forest System land between the Little Blackfoot River and the western boundary of the Helena Ranger District, south of U.S. Highway 12, and north and west of the Electric Peak Recommended Wilderness Area. The project area is about 43,158 acres, of which 17,849 acres are proposed to have some type of management activity occur.

Forest Service concludes initial Northwest Forest Plan comment period (Lake County News)
The initial comment period on a new plan that includes national forests such as the Mendocino National Forest has closed. The Forest Service said the initial comment period for the Northwest Forest Plan concluded Feb. 2. Of note, forests in California included in the Northwest Forest Plan planning are Klamath National Forest and Butte Valley National Grassland, Lassen National Forest, Mendocino National Forest, Modoc National Forest, Six Rivers National Forest and Shasta-Trinity National Forest. The Forest Service had been accepting comments on a notice of intent that the agency will prepare an environmental impact statement to evaluate the effects of proposed amendments to the Northwest Forest Plan. More than 9,000 comments were received from the public which are now being analyzed to refine the proposed action, identify initial concerns, and explore potential alternatives and environmental impacts. Using that information, a draft environmental impact statement will be drafted, posted, and available for public review and additional comments in the coming months.

A Tale of Two SERALs- Making Landscape Scale Resilience Happen With the Stanislaus Forest and YSS (The Smokey Wire)
There are many news stories about projects in litigation, or where there are controversies.   Forest Service folks may remember the management training of “catching people doing something right.”  The SERAL (Social and Ecological Resilience Across the Landscape) efforts are successful at getting large-landscape treatments done. Are there ways that other Forests and communities can learn from these efforts? This story deserves much greater play in larger media IMHO. I’m thinking a NY Times, WaPo, or NPR-style set of emotion-inducing interviews, drone overflights, and all that.  I’ll be sending this to journalists with that wish.   It would also be an interesting case study for social scientists interested in trust building and collaboration.

Wildfires may be bigger problem in southern Appalachians (Journal-Patriot)
In a new study, North Carolina State University researchers found that more extreme and frequent droughts would dramatically increase the amount of forest burned by wildfire in the southern Appalachian region of the Southeast through the end of the century. In a study published in Fire Ecology, researchers found the most severe and frequent drought scenario would mean about 310 square miles of forest in the southern Appalachians burning every year in the decade ending in 2100. In comparison, there were around 231 square miles burned in 2016 in the mountain region — a year considered historic for wildfire in the southern Appalachians following multiple acts of arson, accidental ignitions and downed power lines.

Fish in the Forest: Hope for a better future of fish, fire, and forest management on June Mountain (CalTrout)
After a century of fire suppression, forests across the state have become densely packed and overloaded with dead wood that is primed to burn intensely and causes fires to spread quickly. By mimicking some of the effects of the natural fire regime, mechanical thinning selectively removes patches of dead forest and understory. On June Mountain, CalTrout and Inyo National Forest are working across 356 acres to realize a more resilient forest ecosystem for the benefit of the nearby community, wildlife, native plants, and inland fish. Forest health and fish health are intimately connected, especially when wildfires occur. In forested watersheds, heritage and wild trout populations are increasingly vulnerable to the effects of wildfire including increased water temperature, decreased water quality, and increased runoff and erosion. During the 2022 McKinney Fire, 60,000 acres around the Klamath River burned. A few days later, unrelenting rain assailed the fire footprint, pushing dirt and debris into Klamath River tributaries. Choked with mud, the river’s dissolved oxygen plummeted, and its aquatic denizens suffocated. The fish kill extended along a 30 to 40 mile stretch of the river.

Forests, Carbon Offsets and a Clear Path to Decarbonization (Triple Pundit)
The overwhelming consensus is that forests are significant carbon sinks. The U.S. Department of Energy, for example, included large-scale forest projects in its 2023 decarbonization roadmap. Nevertheless, new research indicates that forest-based carbon offsets are no substitute for reducing emissions at the source. In May of 2023, for example, the journal Science published a study that explored the unlikely scenario of eliminating all forest management activities in favor of all-natural forest restoration.  “This work provides further evidence that changing forest management is not an alternative to cutting carbon emissions,” Bianca Lopez, an associate editor at Science, wrote. The U.S. Forest Service took note of another complicating factor last April when it published a study indicating that climate change has already caused some forests to deteriorate, potentially leading them to act as carbon emitters instead of carbon sinks. The issue of forest deterioration was also studied in China, where researchers advise that aging forests are less efficient at trapping carbon.

Oregon lawmakers advance bill to give tax relief to wildfire victims (JPR)
Hundreds of people have either won lawsuits or reached settlements against electric utilities in the wake of the 2020 wildfires, which burned thousands of homes across Oregon. Supporters of the bill said that after paying attorney fees and taxes, some plaintiffs don’t have enough money left over to actually rebuild their house. During a brief discussion on the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, urged his colleagues to act quickly. “I think it is an emergency,” he said. “These families have already been harmed. This gives us the opportunity to give them a little bit of relief.” One lawmaker whose district was hit hard by the Almeda Fire said he heard “hair-raising” testimony in committee from wildfire victims who found that money won via the legal system didn’t end up going very far.

House committee to vote on wildfire insurance bill (E&E/Politico Pro)
The House Financial Services Committee plans to vote on legislation Thursday that would require a study of wildfire insurance. The “Wildfire Insurance Coverage Study Act of 2023,” from ranking member Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), would require the Government Accountability Office to study wildfire risk assessment and insurance coverage. The legislation lays out several questions the GAO should address, including the need for a national wildfire risk map. The bill would also have auditors review existing coverage and state rules. A measure requiring a similar wildfire study was included in the 2022 “Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act,” which passed the House but didn’t get a Senate vote. (Subscription Required)

Santa Fe National Forest supervisor not coming back to N.M. (AOL)
The woman who headed the Santa Fe National Forest during the largest wildfire in New Mexico history and was given a temporary assignment in the aftermath of the devastating blaze will remain in Washington, D.C. Former supervisor Debbie Cress, who headed the Santa Fe National Forest for about a year and a half, has taken a permanent position with the U.S. Forest Service office in Washington, D.C. An “On the Move” news release issued by the agency earlier this month said Cress had accepted the job of deputy chief of staff. Julie Anne Overton, spokeswoman for the Santa Fe National Forest, confirmed in an email this week Cress would not be coming back to Santa Fe.

USDA Forest Service Announces Leadership Shifts at Allegheny National Forest (BNN)
The USDA Forest Service recently revealed significant leadership changes within the Allegheny National Forest (ANF), marking a new chapter for the forest’s management and conservation efforts. Robert Heiar steps in as acting forest supervisor, transitioning from his deputy role, while Jamie Davidson assumes a temporary position as deputy regional forester for the Eastern Region. Myah Coleman joins as acting deputy forest supervisor, strengthening the leadership team with her extensive background in government and Congressional relations.

Alexis Dahl: Logging made me feel squirmy, so I went to forestry camp. (YouTube)
The logging industry is a big deal in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. As someone who likes forests, this made me feel squirmy on the inside, so I went to camp to learn more about what sustainable forestry actually means here. Along the way, I learned that we’re making some WILD things out of wood.

Managing forests for resilience (The Charlotte News)
Landowners often ask me: “Is my forest healthy?” While this may seem like a simple question, the more time I spend working with forests, the more difficult it is to answer. While most people picture a “healthy” forest as one with lots of healthy trees, when we take a more holistic and expansive view of forest ecology, it’s actually much more complicated than that. More and more, I define forest health in terms of resilience. The resilience of a forest is essentially its ability to persevere and to “bounce back” from adversity — to respond to threats, stressors and disturbances while maintaining its productive capacity and natural processes over time. It’s important to recognize that some amount of “adversity” is a normal and natural part of forest ecology. As long as there have been forests, there have been pests, parasites and pathogens, windstorms, ice storms and forest fires. While these disturbances kill trees, they are as normal (and arguably as essential) a part of forest ecology as the trees themselves.

Green Injustice: How environmentalists rig the economy against the poor (Washington Examiner)
Green groups often criticize big business, blaming commercial activity for environmental ills. But in reality environmentalists have lots of big businesses they love. They will even do dirty work for them to help squash competition. Consider something called the Forest Stewardship Council. You may not know its name, but if you’ve ever purchased a cup of Starbucks coffee or used a paper shopping bag at Whole Foods, you’ve used a product that has been shaped by that organization’s malign influence.