Appeal Deciding Officer November 1, 2010
Meg Mitchell, Supervisor, Willamette National Forest
Eugene, OR 97401
Sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Appeal of Goose Project (McKenzie River Ranger District, Willamette National Forest)
Dear Appeal Deciding Officer:
In accordance with 36 CFR 215, the Cascadia Wildlands (lead appellant) and Oregon Wild hereby appeal the Forest Service’s decision to approve the project described below.
DECISION TITLE: Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact for the Goose Project.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION: Alternative 2 permits treatments across 2,100 acres, including 1,248 acres of commercial thinning, 195 acres of early seral wildlife thinning, 11 acres of dominant tree release 322 acres of gaps, 283 acres of no harvest, 41 acres of regeneration harvest, generating 37.9 mmbf of timber; 451 acres of helicopter logging, 640 acres of skyline logging, and 1,009 acres of ground-based logging; 8 miles of temporary road, 43 miles of road maintenance, and 1 mile of new road construction, among others.
PROJECT LOCATION: McKenzie Ranger District, Willamette National Forest. Lane County, Oregon.
DATE OF DECISION: DN signed September 13, 2010.
NAME OF DECIDING OFFICER: Mary Allison, McKenzie River District Ranger
APPELLANTS’ INTEREST: In accordance with Pub. L. 102-381, Title III, Sec. 322(c), Oct. 5, 1992 and 36 CFR 215.11, Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild submitted comments on, and expressed interest in, this project and is entitled to appeal. Members of Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild use and enjoy the area affected by this project for various recreational, esthetic, and scientific pursuits including but not limited to: hiking, horseback riding, fishing, mushroom picking, nature study, solitude, and bird watching.
REQUEST FOR RELIEF: Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild respectfully request that the Forest Service withdraw the decision being appealed and —
Issue a new decision that proceeds with alternative 3 as described in the Goose Project Environmental Assessment, which will thin and restore 811 acres of plantation forests and generate 9.1 mmbf of timber.
REQUEST FOR STAY: In accordance with 36 CFR 215.10(b) all implementation of this project must cease until 15 days after the appeal is decided.
STATEMENT OF REASONS:
1. The Forest Service violated NEPA by failing to consider or disclose the impacts of the logging project on barred owls and northern spotted owls, new information about barred owls, and failed to respond to public comment about barred owl impacts on spotted owls in the analysis.
According to the EA, the Goose Project will greatly impact suitable habitat (nesting, roosting, and foraging) for federally listed northern spotted owls. The project will downgrade 411 acres and remove 43 acres (DN at Appx E-1), and will incidentally take three historic northern spotted owl sites (EA at 64). However, the EA and wildlife reports never analyze or disclose the effects of the logging treatments on barred owls, a species that is having drastic effect on northern spotted owl populations. Logging spotted owl habitat exacerbates competitive interactions between spotted owls and barred owls and may create conditions favorable for barred owl incursion, which can invite spotted owl displacement and inbreeding, further impacting this federally listed species.
NEPA regulations define "effects" as direct, indirect, and cumulative. The barred owl is an indirect effect on the northern spotted owl, which is defined as those "which are caused by the action and are later in time or farther removed in distance, but are still reasonably foreseeable." 40 cfr 1508.8. The barred owl is also a cumulative impact on spotted owls, which must deal with habitat downgrading due to logging plus loss of habitat that is occupied and defended by barred owls.
The situation with barred owls has gotten so severe for northern spotted owls that the US Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed experimental removal to test its effectiveness. These tests are still in the planning stages and whether this program will ever go to full implementation is still unknown. In any case, it is highly unlikely that barred owls will ever be eliminated from the range of the spotted owl so additional mitigation is needed in both the short-term and long-term. This is best addressed with additional habitat. The FWS has also proposed to protect complex northern spotted owl habitat in its final 2008 Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Plan (voluntarily withdrawn) and draft 2010 Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Plan, known as Recovery Action 32, to help reduce adverse competitive interactions between spotted owls and barred owls.
There is significant new information documenting the impacts the recently arrived barred owl has had on dwindling northern spotted owl populations. Barred owl competition and displacement are significant concerns that emerged in the 2004 status review for the northern spotted owl. In addition to the 2004 status review and the draft 2010 recovery plan, there are at least four new reports and presentations raising the concern that barred owls could displace spotted owls and adversely affect their survival. The 2004 status review panel unanimously identified barred owls as a future threat to the spotted owl. http://www.sei.org/owl/meetings/Presentations/June/Gutierrez-Threats.pdf.
The new reports include:
The draft 2010 recovery plan also discloses a 3%/year decline of northern spotted owl populations across its range in a paper currently in press by Forsman, et al. This follows the 2005 status review that documented a 3.7% decline across its range. The Forest Service does not disclose this ongoing decline, the impacts barred owls are currently having on spotted owl in the project area or range-wide anywhere in the Environmental Assessment, or the future impacts that the proposed logging may have on barred owl/spotted owl interaction in the project area. Moreover, the EA and Decision Notice don’t meaningfully respond to public comment on this issue which is required by NEPA. The FS has no programmatic NEPA analysis of the cumulative impacts of logging and barred owls that it can tier to. The 1994 NWFP FEIS barely mentioned barred owls and does not address the significant new threat posed by barred owls.
2. The Forest Service failed to disclose the impacts of the Goose Project on 1992 northern spotted owl critical habitat.
The EA fails to disclose that the 2008 critical habitat designation is under legal review and that the 392-acre Unit 10 is located in CHU OR-16, which was established in 1992 to assist in the recovery of the federally listed northern spotted owl. The federal district court in Washington DC recently outlined a schedule for the new northern spotted owl critical habitat designation to be completed. The Forest Service should have analyzed the Goose Project with the ’92 designation in place because the 2008 designation has been remanded to the US Fish and Wildlife Service due to its illegal nature.
The 2008 CHU is smaller than the 1992 CHU, and this is a significant problem because the available evidence indicates an increased need to protect additional habitat today than when CH was designated in 1992. First, habitat on non-federal lands is being lost at a greater rate than anticipated. Second, barred owls occupy and defend a significant amount of suitable spotted owl habitat, so there is a greater need to protect additional habitat to mitigate for the recent (post-1992) invasion of barred owls. For this reason, logging in 1992 critical habitat (or any suitable habitat) is potentially significant and requires increased NEPA scrutiny.
3. Road building and logging in mature forest Riparian Reserves violates the Aquatic Conservation Strategy of the Northwest Forest Plan.
The Aquatic Conservation Strategy (ACS) of the Northwest Forest Plan prohibits logging in Riparian Reserves unless needed to attain ACS objectives. At C-32 the Forest Plan states:
Apply silvicultural practices for Riparian Reserves to control stocking, reestablish and manage stands, and acquire desired vegetation characteristics needed to attain Aquatic Conservation Strategy Objectives.
Logging in Riparian Reserves is authorized only if needed to attain ACS objectives. Logging in the reserves will necessitate impacting ground-based yarding, hazard snag felling, and significant reduction of mature and late-successional forest canopy and large wood structure. All of these impacts inhibit ACS objectives and are in no way needed.
The Forest Service generally only thins in Riparian Reserves when the agency has previously clearcut native stands and replaced them with even-age fiber plantations. Our organizations do not oppose thoughtful thinning of managed plantations in Riparian Reserves when needed to attain ACS objectives, and when recruitment of large wood will not be significantly affected. But with the Goose Project, the Forest Service is proposing to log mature, fire regenerated stands in Riparian Reserves, which is prohibited. Logging in mature stands will reduce canopy cover and recruitment of large wood, will retard attainment of ACS objectives, and therefore does not meet the narrow exception to the general prohibition on logging in Riparian Reserves.
The stands are already developing mature forest character. Further, many of the Riparian Reserves targeted for logging have already reached mid or mature seral conditions. Logging a mature or older riparian stand does not contribute to the development of mature forest characteristics that are already present. The Goose Project DN suggests Riparian Reserves will be thinned down to 40% canopy cover (DN at Appx A-1). It is unclear from the DN how many acres of fire regenerated stands will be thinned down to 40% in Riparian Reserves.
Units 110 and 480 of the Goose Project require road building through intermittent streams in Riparian Reserves. These two proposed temporary roads defy the standards and guidelines of the Aquatic Conservation Strategy. Complying with the Aquatic Conservation Strategy objectives means that an agency must manage the riparian-dependant resources to maintain the existing condition or implement actions to restore conditions. (NWFP ROD, B-10). The EA does not disclose how the impacts of building these two temp roads through a Riparian Reserve meets the objectives of the Aquatic Conservation Strategy.
Moreover, the EA does not disclose how the building of these two temporary roads in Riparian Reserves meets ecological maintenance thresholds outlined by the ACS. In order to make the finding that a project or management action “meets” or “does not prevent attainment” of the ACS objectives, the analysis must include a description of the existing condition, a description of the range of natural variability of the important physical and biological components of a given watershed, and how the proposed project or management action maintains the existing condition or moves it within the range of natural variability.
Thinning and road building in Riparian Reserves will capture mortality, reduce recruitment of pool-forming wood, and retard attainment of ACS objective #8. This concern was dismissed as a “general comment” (EA at 123) when in fact it is highly relevant to this project that logs over 300 acres of Riparian Reserves.
ACS objective #8 requires that coarse wood be maintained and restored which requires maintenance of the pool of live trees from which future recruitment of large wood can occur and maintenance of natural mortality processes continue to operate over time. The ACS analysis says that logging will mimic these natural processes. However, natural processes such as fire and wind leave most of the mortality in the forest as coarse wood which contributes to riparian and aquatic habitat values, while logging will remove most of the material that is killed so that it can never play a role in the achievement of ACS objectives. To say that commercial logging mimics fire (especially with respect to aquatic objectives) is a violation of NEPA’s mandate for accurate scientific information and analysis.
4. The EA fails to disclose the Goose Project’s carbon emissions and its cumulative effects with regard to climate change.
The Goose Project EA failed to disclose the impacts the proposal would have on climate change. There is widespread scientific consensus that deforestation greatly exacerbates climate change through the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Nowhere in the EA is there any accounting of what magnitude of carbon release would occur by implementing the project nor is there any carbon release analysis in the cumulative effects section. This is counter to NEPA’s disclosure requirements.
The Goose Project EA is deficient in responding to this USDA-issued guidance. Moreover, regen harvest and aggressive thinning of mature forest will have especially significant impacts on long-term carbon storage, but the EA does not disclose or mitigate for this impact.
5. The Goose Project’s significance requires and Environmental Impact Statement.
Based on the effects described in the EA and the effects not disclosed in the EA, this project causes significant environmental effects and therefore requires an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Evidence of significance includes:
delaying (or maybe even preventing) the attainment of snag habitat objectives for 50 years or more,
treatment of almost 1,000 acres in suitable spotted owl habitat,
downgrading 441 acres and removing 43 acres of spotted owl habitat,
degrading the quality of spotted owl dispersal habitat by reducing the recruitment of dead wood structure over the next 100 years or more,
a “may effect, and is likely to adversely affect” determination for impacts to northern spotted owls,
the project will “take” three pairs of northern spotted owls
more than 350 acres of logging in riparian reserves (more than half of which is in mature fire-regenerated forests), which will result in a long-term reduction in recruitment of coarse wood,
logging in a large ecologically significant unroaded area (and potential wilderness) that would contribute unique and important ecological functions (such as natural levels of dead wood recruitment) if left unlogged,
significant and long-term reduction in forest carbon storage that will exacerbate climate change,
more than 350 acres of regeneration harvest and “gaps” that do not mimic natural processes because it leaves too little structure to provide dead wood values,
9 miles of temporary and permanent road construction with attendant adverse impacts on soil, water, weeds, and wildlife
As established throughout our comments, and addressed above, the Goose Project’s impacts raise “substantial questions” about whether there will be “significant environmental impacts” from the proposed logging. See Blue Mountains Biodiv. Project v. Blackwood, 161 F.3d 1208, 1215 (9th Cir. 1998); Thomas v. Peterson, 753 F.2d 754, 759.
6. The FS failed to disclose the impacts to the potential wilderness area affected by the Goose Project.
The Forest Service has failed to disclose the impacts of the Goose Project on the 9,684-acre unroaded block or potential wilderness area (PWA) located north of McKenzie Bridge. The proposed action would remove approximately 680 acres from the current PWA through timber harvest (660 acres) and fuels reduction (20 acres) (EA at 86). The proposed logging in the PWA would also indirectly affect the PWA by reducing an additional 569 acres due to an area being fragmented by the timber harvest (443 acres) and fuels reduction (126 acres). (EA at 86)
One of the important ecological values of unmanaged, unroaded areas is maintenance of natural forest growth and mortality processes. The EA failed to disclose and analyze the fact that large snags are rare across the landscape and that unmanaged areas are needed to be protected from logging in order to restore and maintain dead wood habitat in certain areas, which will help mitigate for the lack of dead wood in the managed portion of the landscape.
Eugene, OR 97440
Conservation and Restoration Coordinator
PO Box 11648
Eugene OR 97440