Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Read my lips: No new regulations

With both houses of Congress holding hearings on the White House suppression of science in the federal agencies, the Bush Administration announces that it will increase its political control over those very same agencies.

The New York Times is reporting that Bush has signed an executive directive to assert greater control over all statements and documents issued by the agencies that regulate publoic health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy. The White House will be installing a "regulatory policy office" in each agency, run by a political appointee, who will serve as a filter for all agency communication with the public.

Among other things, the measure restricts agencies from issuing rules that apply new restrictions or requirements on industries. It also requires agencies to prove that the problem can't theoretically be addressed by market forces before they regulate indutries. A lawyer for the White House said, “This is a classic good-government measure that will make federal agencies more open and accountable,” but he was unable to keep a straight face.


House picks public lands committee chairs

The U.S. House of Representatives has picked the chairs and ranking minority members for the House Committee on Natural Resources that oversees public lands and water. The most exciting news is that the excellent Rep. Grijalva (D-AZ) will chair the newly named and reconfigured subcommittee overseeing public lands.

The Committee is chaired by Nick Rahall (D-WV), with Don Young (R-AK) as the ranking minority member. The subcommittee assignments are:
--National Parks, Forests and Public Lands: Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) as chair and Rob Bishop (R-UT) as ranking minority member.
--Energy and Mineral Resources: Jim Costa (D-CA) as chair and Steve Pearce (R-NM) as ranking minority member.
--Water and Power: Grace Napolitano (D-CA) as chair and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) as ranking minority member.
--Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans: Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) as chair and Henry Brown (R-SC) as ranking minority member.
--Insular Affairs (new): Donna Christensen (D-VI) as chair and Luis Fortuno (R-PR) as ranking minority member.


Monday, January 29, 2007

This just in from "Mike Dubrasich"

You get a lot of strange mail when you have a blog. This fellow "Mike D." sent me an email this morning calling me a "nazi," a "dimwit" and claiming that I hate Indians, (???) and then he said something very interesting-- he said the Warm Fire near the Grand Canyon burned 15,000 acres of old growth forest. I ignored the name calling and politely asked him where he got that figure, as I had not heard it but am interested in the Warm Fire, and would like to know.

He responded with this!


Date: Mon, 29 Jan 2007 13:12:58 -0800
From: "Mike D"
Subject: Cease and Desist

To Whom It May Concern,

I demand you cease and desist from harassing me. Furthermore, I
demand that you take your web site down immediately, as it is in
direct violation of the Hatch Act.

If you fail to do so, I will pursue criminal investigations and
criminal charges against you, as well as civil actions.


Mike Dubrasich


I have no idea who he is, but he does have an interesting blog at


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Swift-boating the wolf

Check out the ad the Wisconsin Bear Hunter's Association is hoping to run to scare people about wolves. It cites Little Red Riding Hood as a primary authority, and just gets better and better, ending with a shot of a playground.

See it here.


Senate picks public lands committee chairs

The U.S. Senate last week picked the chairs and ranking members for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that oversees public lands and water.

The Committee is chaired by Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), with Pete Domenici (R-NM) as the ranking minority member. The subcommittee assignments are:
--Energy Subcommittee: Byron Dorgan (D-ND) as chairman; Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) as ranking member
--National Parks Subcommittee: Daniel Akaka (D-HI) as chairman; Craig Thomas (R-WY) as ranking member
--Public Lands and Forests Subcommittee: Ron Wyden (D-OR) as chairman; Richard Burr (R-NC) as ranking member
--Water and Power Subcommittee: Tim Johnson (D-SD) as chairman; Bob Corker (R-TN) as ranking member.


Saturday, January 27, 2007

California bans greenhouse gas power sources

California has banned electricity from major greenhouse gas power sources.

I wonder if any legal experts out there know whether state regulations of this nature violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution?

Folks in coal-producing regions are apprehensive. Story from Caspar Tribune here.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Oh really? B.C. Forest Practices Board discovers that beetle-killed trees have ecological value

The finding was startling enough to them that they issued a press release, available here.

Below is the (slightly abridged) text of the release:

January 23, 2007

Beetle-Killed Trees Have Environmental and Timber Value

VICTORIA – Stands of trees killed by the mountain pine beetle still provide environmental benefits and potential timber value if left standing, according to a Forest Practices Board special report released today.

The report examined pine stands affected by the 1979 mountain pine beetle attack in the southern Quesnel forest district. Trees left standing or regrown since that outbreak have developed unique structural features that now provide valuable wildlife habitat, 26 years after the original beetle attack. The board found that those trees that survived the pine beetle attack grew faster than prior to the attack, and may represent a source of mid-term timber supply.

“As B.C. grapples with the current mountain pine beetle epidemic, our work suggests the economic rationale for rapid salvage logging should be balanced with the benefits of retention of infested trees to enhance forest diversity and protect environmental values,” said board chair Bruce Fraser. “This is consistent with the recent advice of the Chief Forester for designating larger areas for retention in beetle-infested pine stands.”



Idaho Fish and Game retreating from "Governor's Tag"

It appears those blockheads running Idaho Fish and Game are coming to realize that it would be a mistake to present Governor Butch Otter with his very own ceremonial--but also very much real--wolf tag so that he can realize his dream of being the first person to legally blow away a wolf when these animals are delisted.

Read more about the sordid affair on the WWP blog.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has set a press conference for 1:30 PM Eastern on Monday, and it is widely believed they will announce their decision to delist the wolf at this press conference. Governor Otter has stated that he hopes to kill about 550 of the estimated 650 wolves that live in Idaho.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

It looks like we have a new record . . .

. . . for arrogant, untarnished Idaho hillbilly stupidity. Are you sitting down?

The Idaho Fish and Game Commissioners just met to discuss wolf hunts in Idaho (see story below on their public meeting that had a two-day notice) and have decided not only to commence wolf hunts in the state of Idaho, as expected, but, uh, how do I put this?

They have created two new categories of hunting tags. The first category is apparently called "The Governor's Tag." One will be issued, and it will go to Idaho Governor Butch Otter. (See story below on his grandstanding about wanting to be the first to shoot a wolf legally in Idaho.)

Others will be issued to the Fish and Game Commissioners.

Plebians like you and me can get the rest. They cost about thirty bucks.

The Western Watersheds Blog
has the first report I've seen on the meeting, along with the Fish and Game press release, which wisely leaves out the business about the Governor's tag.


Court stops Craig's effort to kill Fish Passage Center

The Ninth Ciruit Appeals Court slapped down Idaho's Senator Larry Craig's underhanded attempt to eliminate federal funding from the Fish Passage Center.

The Fish Passage Center is a creation of the federal government and is primarily funded by the hydroelectric dam operators on the Snake and Columbia Rivers of the Northwest. The FPC angered Craig by doing what it was created to do--count fish.

The FPC counts salmon migrating up and down the rivers and has collected data showing the decline of many salmon species. These data, in turn, showed the disastrous effect the dams were having on the fish and the ecosystem.

In 2005, Craig inserted language into the committee report for an spending bill , specifically forbidding the dam operators (Bonneville Power Adminstration) from funding the Fish Passage Center--a kind of reverse-earmark. But a committee report is not legislation, it is simply a letter that accompanies the Appropriations bill. And, thus the courts ruled that Craig's nasty-gram does not carry the rules of law, and that BPA needs to continue funding the FPC.

The Seattle P-I carried this AP summary of the story. You can also read the opinion here.

Do I even need to mention that the hydroelectric operators are major contributors to Craig's election campaigns?


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

USDA petitioned to halt sodium cyanide wildlife poisoning

Readers of DL, as we call this blog, will remember that the Forest Service has proposed new rules to expand the use of sodium cyanide to poison wildlife inside wilderness areas and elsewhere on public lands. (See Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2006 article in archives.)

Sinapu, a Colorado-based conservation organization, has petitioned the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to stop the practice. It isn't likely the U.S.D.A. is going to listen to them, times being what they are, but petitions like these require the agencies (eventually) to respond--which means they offer a good chance to make agency officials squirm.

You can read more about the petition, and access the petition itself, on Sinapu's website.

There was also an article today on Sinapu's petition in the San Francisco Chronicle.


A Whistleblower Wins! Kerr-McGee liable for oil royalties.

The NYT has a detailed story up on the news that a jury in Denver has found Kerr-McGee "cheated the government out of millions of dollars in royalties on oil it produced in publicly owned coastal waters."

It's a huge win for whistleblower Bobby Maxwell, a former DOI auditor who had his investigations shut down and then was forced out of his job (in a reorganization, of course; reorganization is the new purge). Maxwell filed under a private attorney-general provision, IIRC, that allows him to recover a substantial reward for his public-spirited action:

The jury in Mr. Maxwell’s case decided that Kerr-McGee had underpaid the government $7.5 million, accepting Mr. Maxwell’s estimates.

Under the False Claims Act, a law that was intended to encourage whistle-blowers, Kerr-McGee could be forced to pay more than $30 million — double or triple the original amount it owed, as well as penalties of up to $11,000 for each of 1,200 false statements that the company is accused of making in its royalty reports to the government.

Mr. Maxwell could be entitled to as much as 30 percent of that, though the judge has considerable discretion in deciding the reward.

Way to go, Mr. Maxwell. You've earned it. Here's hoping this win helps rip the lid off the rest of the stories that parallel this one, some of which are already in court, brought by other DOI whistleblowers.

The whole mess is, of course, an unfortunately representative sample of the outrageous energy & public lands policies of the Bush-Cheney administration. Or, for that matter, their policies in general: suppressing accurate information to benefit corporate cronies while pressing ahead with the program prescriptions of right-wing think tanks. Here, again, I think there is an opportunity -- to firmly tie the worst policies in a century to the worst administration in history.

The corruption, hubris, and recklessness of this administration's policies will be a millstone around the necks of industrial hacks for at least a generation. Unhappily, the burden will be shared by the rest of the future as well.

-- slige

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Oh man they really mean it: Idaho preparing to sell hunting tags for wolves

Idaho Fish and Game just announced a meeting to discuss hunting tags for, um, wolves. You know, wolves? The endangered species?

For some reason they only gave a two-day notice for the meeting.

Here's the notice, copied straight from Ralph Maughn's excellent blog.



Pursuant to Idaho Code Section 67-2343, notice is hereby given of an open public meeting of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission.

DATE OF NOTICE: January 23, 2007
DATE OF MEETING: January 25, 2007 at 1:30 p.m.
PLACE OF MEETING: Idaho Department of Fish and Game
600 S. Walnut
Boise, Idaho 83707


PURPOSE OF MEETING/AGENDA: Executive Session: Idaho Code 67-2345 (1) (b) Personnel.
Open Meeting: discussion on proposed tag fee structure related to hunting wolves.

DOI oil leases, continued

Troubles continue at the Department of Interior in the unraveling oil lease scandal. The Department's own Inspector General recently released a report that said that top officials at the Department of Interior failed to act to recoup royalties for oil and gas drilling on public waters for years after they were told of the problem.

Specifically, Ms. Johnnie Burton, DOI director of Minerals Management Service, had previously told Congress that she first heard of the problem with the leases in January 2006. However, subordinates subsequently produced copies of emails in which they alerted Ms. Burton to the problem in early 2004.

In a nutshell, some DOI drilling leases had (accidentally) failed to include a standard clause that rescinded royalty exemptions when oil prices reached $34 per barrel. Burton could have pressed the oil companies to fix the mistake with new leases but failed to do so for two years after being told about the problem. The problem has so far forfeited around $865 million in royalties that could have been going to the Treasury, and could add up to as much as $10 billion if the leases aren't fixed.

Ms. Burton is expected to soon be leaving the Interior Department to spend more time with her family. Get the full story at the New York Times article.

On Thursday, the House passed a bill to press oil companies to fix the faulty oil leases. MSNBC on the bill.


Update: Leroy Lee Ceremony

We are getting a lot of hits from people googling Leroy Lee (see story from January 17, lower on this page), and a few reports and remembrances. This came in from Gary Macfarlane, who is the Executive Director of Friends of the Clearwater and was a friend of Leroy's:

"Like you, I am hurt and stunned. I was planning to go with Leroy this next summer in the field to learn more about stand exams. When I saw him at the Farmers Market in September, we penciled in some time for the summer of 07. We talked about doing it last summer but it didn't happen. I am kicking myself for not making it happen in 2006.

Leroy's send off was very appropriate and moving, even for a nonbeliever like me. Horace Axtell and the other Nez Perce traditionalists sang and drummed. There was no preacher or religious figure, except Horace. I don't know many other folks, if any, of European descent who are/were accepted as Nez Perce like him. Lots of folks showed up Thursday. I went up with Chuck and Kelley. Many students, past and present, most of whom were in shock, were there.

He won a teaching award recently. The actual burial was delayed until Friday because his mother flew in from Chile."


Logging for water

Northern Arizona University professor Wally Covington promoted forest thinning as a way to increase streamflow and recharge water tables in a speech to the Arizona state legislature last week. The Tucson Citizen had this quote from Dr. Covington "The increase in tree canopies can be mapped exactly to the steady decline in watersheds, springs and stream flow."

Covington went on to explain that tree cover in the Southwest has increased from 17% to 90% due to forest management practices, particularly fire suppression. This has increased the water taken up by trees and lost to transpiration and evaporation.

This is not a new claim--forest thinning and even clearcutting have been proposed over the years as ways to increase water flow into community aquifers. Nor is it without scientific basis--the number of trees in many areas has increased dramatically and trees certainly do use and lose water.

However, that is not to say that logging southwestern forests can save water tables and make the streams flow again, as Covington implied in his remarks to a state government that is often highly credulous of schemes to log its national forests.

For one thing, soil compaction from logging operations and loss of forest structure can cause rain to run off much more quickly and take more sediment, leading to short flashes of muddy streams rather than inflitration that recharges the aquifers. But more importantly, no amount of logging is going to overcome the ongoing drought and overpumping of aquifers to feed booming urban development.

We certainly need to improve the management of our national forests, but logging is not a panacea and can easily lead away from the real problems and solutions.


Forest Service wins access fee appeal in Tucson

This was big news a few months ago when a Tucson woman won a case against the Forest Service over a parking ticket she refused to pay in a Forest Service fee area. The Forest Service appealed, and has won. News and opinion here (New West blog) and here (Wild Wilderness).

The court ruling is available here (Western Slope No-Fee Coalition).


Monday, January 22, 2007

Forest Service to prosecute fire commander for death of crew members; Mark Rey decries the increased oversight

Federal prosecutors will charge a negligent (or possibly reckless) fire crew commander for the deaths of his crew members in the 2001 Thirtymile fire in Washington State.

From the Oregonian article:

"Federal prosecutors insist that criminal charges against Daniels are appropriate because he was grossly negligent in the Thirtymile fire, when he deployed crew members into a dead-end canyon, where they were overrun by flames. 'But for his reckless disregard for their safety, they would not have died," said Tom Rice, an assistant U.S. attorney in Spokane.'"

And here's Mark Rey, ever on-message:

"Mark Rey, the undersecretary of agriculture and the top White House official overseeing the Forest Service, fears that the prosecutions will drive experienced people away from top fire jobs and make those who do take them exceedingly cautious about tackling swift, aggressive fires, leading to more large, out of control blazes that sweep into communities."


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Isn't it pretty to think so: Incoming Forest Service Chief Gail Kimbell and "collaboration."

One of the most pervasive myths about public lands forest management is that it is paralyzed by a battle between well-funded, litigation-happy environmentalists and entrenched industry, with the Forest Service "caught in the middle."

Never mind that the lawsuits those environmentalists always file list the Forest Service, not industry, as the defendant, and never mind that the status quo is usually (a) favorable to industry and (b) a creation of the Forest Service. I don't meet a lot of public lands activists who like industry, but most of the complaints I hear from them involve Forest Service officials turning a blind eye to the law and the resource they are supposed to be protecting.

But the Forest Service takes every opportunity to paint the dispute as one they have little control over, a dispute between two loud and rich opponents that the poor Forest Service happens to be right in the middle of.

It's easy to see why they favor this portrayal: it takes the focus off agency culpability and the agency bureaucrats who are dutifully following their orders from above and creating a landscape that is increasingly full of cows and empty of clean water, predators, native plants, and trees.

It's no surprise to me that the new chief is selling the "caught in the middle" myth right out of the gate. She's already off and running with it, declaring that she hopes that loggers and environmentalists can for once sit down and talk and work out ways to manage the forests together.

Meanwhile, an interesting and poignant letter to the editor appeared today from Jeanette Russell in the
Helena, MT daily, describing her personal experience with Kimbell. Russell, clearly favoring the truth over the myth, isn't buying what Kimbell and others are selling.


Friday, January 19, 2007

Huge salvage sale planned for N. Rim of Grand Canyon: activists vow to make this another Biscuit Salvage Sale

Oh man. The Forest Service, never known for its public relations acuity, has just proposed an 85 million board foot salvage logging sale (Flagstaff Action Network) adjacent to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The sale surrounds the road that leads to the historic lodge in Grand Canyon National Park, and is on the Kaibab Plateau.

The Warm Fire was originally a "wildland fire," meaning the Forest Service did not try to suppress it. This decision was questioned by many, and the fire got out of control. Now the Forest Service plans to log it in what is to be one of the largest commercial logging projects in the Southwest in years.

The Kaibab plateau was one of Teddy Roosevelt's favorite places, and is supposed to be protected as a game preserve.

Will the Forest Service never learn? The rumblings among forest activists is that this will be the new Biscuit Salvage Sale -- which has not been a good time for the U.S. Forest Service.

Get ready for a long, miserable fight, you grubby Tucson Earth First!ers. (But at least the scenery's nice, and you'll probably win.)


Pacific Lumber files for bankruptcy: fate of Headwaters forest unknown.

Hmmm. From the Mercury News article:

"The news raises questions about the fate of more than 200,000 acres of ancient redwoods the company owns in Humboldt County.

Pacific Lumber officials said today that they aren't sure if they are still bound by that deal.

``I can't speculate what will happen as to the historic Headwaters agreement,'' said Andrea Arnot, spokeswoman for Pacific Lumber. ``That's a legal question.'"


Wildland Urban Interface isn't just for fire anymore: Forest Service plans to kill prairie dogs around private inholdings

It seems the Wildland Urban Interface idea has worked so well for fire (and logging) that the Forest Service has decided to apply the principle to other features of "natural resources management" as well.

From the Bismarck Tribune article:

"The U.S. Forest Service plans to kill 10,000 [prairie dogs] where the dog colonies are encroaching on private and non-federal land adjacent to the McKenzie District of the Little Missouri Grasslands.

"The plan to prevent the dog colonies from spreading off the grasslands onto private and state land is part of the new grasslands’ management plan’s good neighbor policy."

Once again, Demarcated Landscapes will let you be the judge.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Leroy Lee, 1956-2007

Leroy Lee passed away today at his home near St. Maries, Idaho.

Leroy was one of those people you don't meet every day: as a timber stand examiner -- a seasonal position with the U.S. Forest Service, and one of the lowliest positions that agency offers -- Leroy Lee cracked open what was probably the biggest scandal ever to hit the Northern Region of the Forest Service.

Sometime in the late 1980's Leroy started noticing that the numbers he was using in his timber stand exams weren't adding up, and he gradually became suspicious that the Forest Service was keeping two sets of books. Persistent and thoughtful investigation paid off, and he was finally able to prove it, igniting what came to be called the "Phantom Forest" scandal. Leroy showed that the Forest Service was pretending to have more trees on the ground -- and thus more trees available for logging -- than they actually had. And by a wide margin. His work was groundbreaking because almost nobody but a timber stand examiner even knew how to read the data, and most timber stand examiners don't stay up too late scratching their heads about what is happening back at the office.

But Leroy did. The reason his discovery created a scandal is that it revealed that the Forest Service was deliberately cooking its books when it applied to Congress for funding each year. On the Kootenai National Forest for example, 75 percent of the clearcuts on the ground registered as standing forests on the books. So Congress, in the dark about what existed on the ground, kept right on funding more logging. And the Forest Service kept right on using that funding to log more trees and build the wonderful road system that saturates our formerly valuable National Forests.

You can read more about his accomplishment here, in an excellent article from Sierra Magazine from 1992. It details Leroy's investigation and the Congressional hearing that followed. What it doesn't mention is the fallout: to this day, the Kootenai National Forest is still getting hit with lawsuits that stem from Leroy's incredible work over a decade ago. Leroy busted up on his own, as a poorly-paid grunt, what no army of professional conservationists could even touch.

So Leroy, wherever you are: way to go, brother. You didn't pass on without leaving a dent.

Update: An excellent piece on Leroy's life with comments by many of his friends is here. (Spokane, WA Spokesman Review.)


For once I agree with the ranchers -- unmanned aircraft to monitor grazing in Idaho

What the hell? This from the Washington Post:

"A U.S. government agency is considering using unmanned surveillance planes, or drones, to help oversee remote areas of eastern Idaho, raising concerns in a region deeply wary of outside interference.

Officials the Bureau of Land Management office responsible for most of eastern Idaho may initially buy one hand-launched drone for an estimated $15,000 to help keep track of the vast, thinly populated area.

They said the unpiloted aircraft, with a wingspan of about 4 feet, would monitor vegetation and streams in areas used largely for grazing and recreation and there were no immediate plans to use them for law enforcement."

The full article is here.


You think they'd really do that?

So there's this scuttlebutt going round, about why the (US, not Brazilian) Forest Service suddenly has a new Chief. In early December, Scott Silver predicted Bosworth would be gone soon:

The REASON for replacing Bosworth now is so that his Bush-appointed replacement will not be forced to leave the FS in 2008. If Bosworth were still in that position, he'd be swept out. If, however, Bosworth was only recently replace, then it would be unseemly to replace the replacement. It's not that anyone in the Bush Administration is anxious to get rid of Bosworth. It's just that he has to go in order to make room for another, more lasting, Bush legacy.

Dick Artley suggests that Kimbell is an intended Bush Legacy in the letter posted below.

Two things are striking here.

One is how much of a piece the Kimbell appointment feels with other strategic appointments by the Bush Administration. Slick, capable, and consumately devoted to the success of her institutional allies. Like, say, our new Chief Justice.

And then there's the Bush Administration's moves to install new US Attorneys across the country, which kind of puts the whole thing in perspective. I mean really, Kimbell's bad, but they're making Karl Rove's 37-year-old head of oppo research a US Attorney, for chrissake. It's all part of the plan, they're being very comprehensive. And of course, being the Cheney Administration, they have no shame whatsoever.

And if you think about it -- this is the second thing -- moves like these are a two-fer play for the witless cynics running the government. Even if they do get swept from power in a tidal wave of recrimination, they will have seeded the government with their agents. Either a new regime tolerates some of them -- at great risk to any possible reform agendas -- or, by sweeping them all out, further weakens public institutions already badly damaged by the Bushies.

Heads they win, tails we lose.


An Amazon Forest Service. Uh-oh.

I know. Second post ever and suddenly it's South American public lands.

But get this: Brazil's government -- the one headed by populist Lula -- has decided that the out-of-control, unregulated logging eating away at the fringes of the rainforest cannot be sustained. So now, in addition to the unregulated logging of the frontier, the government itself will be managing the deforestation of the interior, where untouched forests still remain. Here's the lede from Larry Rohter's NYT piece (don't miss the pictures).

A Brazilian government plan set to go into effect this year will bring large-scale logging deep into the heart of the Amazon rain forest for the first time, in a calculated gamble that new monitoring efforts can offset any danger of increased devastation.

Hmmm. Kind of reminds me of somewhere. A "calculated gamble," eh? Those figuring the odds might want to check out the, um, "new monitoring efforts." In particular, one might wish to assess their structure, resources, staffing, and legal backing. And oh, yeah. That name. Again from Rohter:
But the called-for monitoring of the loggers allowed into the rain forest’s largely untouched center will come from a new, untested Forest Service with only 150 employees and from state and municipal governments. That concerns environmental and civic groups because local officials are more vulnerable to the pressures of powerful economic interests and to corruption.

You don't say?

I'm tempted to make some wisecrack here about how they could rewrite some of the early U.S. Forest Service field manuals in Portugese, but it's just not that funny. We've already watched this movie. It has a very sad ending.
I mean, couldn't we just translate Paul Hirt into Portugese?


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Blame Canada!

From the country that gave us Joni Mitchell, another story that could've been a stanza from Big Yellow Taxi.
Y'know, like:
The glaciers are melting
right out of the park
so they dug a big coal mine
now the Flathead runs dark
Dont it always seem to go
That you dont know what youve got
Till its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

(Okay, so I'm not a lyricist. Nor am I Zadig. But I digress.)

Michael Jamison's story is up on the Missoulian's website, until they take it down.
The basic outline is pretty horrific: BC wants to mine the coal seams above the headwaters of the North Fork of the Flathead river, just north of the US-Canada border from Glacier national park in Montana. The area, Jamison notes, is extremely important for wildlife:
The North Fork of the Flathead is home to the thickest population of grizzly bears this side of coastal British Columbia. It's home to lynx and wolverine, bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout.

And yeah, the impacts are likely to be pretty damn serious:
Water samples from [below an operating coal mine at] Michel Creek, [scientist] Hauer said, show sulfite levels 18 times higher than in the undeveloped Flathead. Nitrate levels are 650 times higher. Levels of the heavy metal selenium are 57 times higher, exceeding Montana drinking water standards.
“We have been spending millions in this basin to keep phosphorous and nitrogen out of Flathead Lake,” he said. To undo that work now would be “unconscionable.”

But here's what's really interesting. Gov. Schweitzer and Sen. Baucus are taking positions here that, well, sound an awful lot like the kinds of things that Tom Power, Mike Bader, and the rest of the bleeding greenies have been saying for, oh, the last two decades or so.

...[T]hat wild and scenic heritage, Schweitzer said, ... continues to fuel northwest Montana's booming economy.“The entire world recognizes the importance of this corridor,” the governor said.... [Sen.] Baucus called the potential dangers “devastating,” not only to fish and wildlife but also to a regional economy now heavily reliant upon protected wildlands.

And they're gearing up to escalate.
Schweitzer said he's looking for ways to take the story “over the top of the mountains and all the way to Vancouver,” British Columbia's provincial capital...“I think this is now going to be in the lap of the State Department.” “That's my job,” said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. “I'm just going to have to find a way to do it.”

Point being not so much that the Northern Rockies Democrats are finally getting a little environmentalist on us, but that these narratives, and these facts, are fast becoming the new common sense.

As the "bloggers" say, About.Damn.Time.

It's amazing, how someone else trying to externalize their environmental costs on us can clarify the zeitgeist.

Hey Canada -- we dare ya to try to log the Idaho Panhandle. We double-dog dare ya!
-- Slige

New Forest Service Chief's perspectives on NEPA.

It turns out Gail Kimbell, the new Chief of the Forest Service, weighed in during the NEPA hearings last year. These hearings were essentially a show-trial ( for the National Environmental Policy Act, which has been called our nation's "bedrock environmental law." The NEPA is what requires federal agencies to write environmental impact statements when they conduct activities that may have a significant effect on the environment. The Bush administration hates NEPA, because it prevents the feds from conducting environmentally destructive actions in the dark. The NEPA is primarily a law about government transparency, and the Bush administration, run as it is by industry representatives, shuns transparency like Dracula shuns daylight.

That Kimbell even took part in the show says a lot about her. These hearings were carefully orchestrated by Richard Pombo and others to be one-sided condemnations of our nation's most important environmental law.

You can read what Kimbell had to say about NEPA here. It amounts to a harangue about how long her environmental documents have to be and how they get litigated anyway. Her message: environmental laws prevent the Forest Service from logging the national forests. And that's bad.


New Forest Service Chief draws praise from Ag Secretary, Senator Craig, and . . . the Idaho Conservation League

It's true, the Idaho Conservation League has joined Idaho Senator Larry Craig and Mark Rey to praise Gail Kimbell, new Forest Service Chief. "Her experience as regional forester over North Idaho will be good for the state, said Jonathan Oppenheimer, who works on forest issues for the Idaho Conservation League. 'In general, we think she's a good choice for the position,' Oppenheimer said.

See posts below for more on Kimbell. (Or click on "Home" at the bottom of this page.

The Idaho Conservation League has stirred up a hornet's nest of controversy over their support of a number of Wilderness Bills that many local conservationists find entirely unpalatable. (PBS NOW)


Whoa--a former colleague of new Forest Service Chief addresses her history of whistleblower retaliation

This just came from Dick Artley, a former colleague of the new Chief of the Forest Service, Gail Kimbell.

January 14, 2007

Dear Abigail Kimbell, Regional Forester, Northern Region, U.S. Forest Service,

Why am I not surprised that you have been selected to succeed Dale Bosworth as the next Chief of the U.S. Forest Service?

It's clear to most thinking Americans that Bush has no regard for the environment. Bush's staff and their corporate allies spend an incredible amount of time and money to seek-out people who will carry on Bush's anti-environment legacy long after Bush is gone from the White House in January of 2009.

I knew you Abigail on a day-to-day basis at Oregon State University from 1978 to 1980. We were both pursuing our master’s degree in logging engineering. I could not understand at the time why you were never able to envision a tree as anything other than several logs. To you, a tree was a "piece" that weighed so many "kips" to be hauled to a "landing."

It never occurred to you that these trees you wanted so desperately to log were part of a forest ... or a favorite picnic site for a family ... or a critical piece of wildlife habitat ... or that these trees might shade a blue ribbon trout stream.

I never said anything to you at the time. I felt you might grow out of it. I thought once you left academia and actually started walking alone in the forest you would see the majesty of the natural world without human tinkering. I was wrong.

Based on your history (shown below) it’s obvious that your skewed sense of values stayed with you and became even more bizarre after you left college.

Your Bighorn National Forest mistakes

You were selected as the forest supervisor for the Bighorn National Forest in 1997. Prior to your arrival on the forest, you knew that in 1994 some Bighorn N.F. employees wrote a letter to their regional forester, disclosing that the Bighorn forest supervisor had created a hostile work environment for his employees and was mismanaging the forest in several ways (see below). Rather than thanking these employees for their work, you reacted differently.

Within a year after arriving, you decided to abolish 14 positions with a forest reorganization. Of the total 14 positions that you proposed to be abolished, 5 were the positions of the 6 people who signed the 1994 letter that were still working on the Bighorn National Forest. You told the press that the reorganization was vital to stay within your budget.

Over the next two years, you used the WRAPS process to reassign four of the 1994 letter signers to other duty stations. One of these 4 people was reassigned to a position in Arkansas that he had never performed before and had no prior experience in. One letter signer had his job abolished and was able to be re-employed on the Bighorn only after various members of congress spoke on his behalf.

By the year 2000, only 2 people remained on the Bighorn who had signed the 1994 letter to the Regional Forester pointing out massive mismanagement of public land.

The Government Accountability Project (a non-profit law firm) defended the employees that were threatened by you Ms. Kimbell. The GAP attorneys alleged that the reorganization was an attempt by you to discipline whistle-blowers.

The GAP was right. It was no coincidence that your reorganization had eliminated the jobs of most of the employees on the Bighorn that signed the 1994 letter.

Abigal, you carried out all this punishment and caused so much heartache for these splendid employees because they told the Regional Forester in their letter that the previous forest supervisor, Larry Keown had:

· approved timber sales that damaged caribou habitat,

· abandoned his legal reforestation commitments,

· cost the taxpayers money by favoring politically-connected timber companies,

· abandonment his wilderness preservation commitments,

· violated the employees’ civil rights with sexual harassment and "contempt" for handicap access regulations,

· approved the construction of roads through Native American sacred sites, and

· a "pattern and practice" of whistleblower retaliation.

On April 22, 2003, U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) announced the favorable settlement of eight whistleblower retaliation complaints filed by the Government Accountability Project (GAP) on behalf of 8 former and current employees of the U.S. Forest Service’s Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming. Under the settlement, the Forest Service was ordered to pay a lump sum amount of $200,000 to be divided between these 8 people. The agency was also ordered to provide corrective personnel actions for 2 of the 8 complainants, mitigating a 14-day suspension to a reprimand, and providing an interim bridge appointment to a former employee who experienced a break in federal service after he was removed for refusing to accept a geographic reassignment.

Special Counsel Kaplan stated, “This was an unusually complex retaliation situation given that it occurred over a lengthy period of time and through a dubious reorganization that took advantage of WRAPS procedures.”

Unfortunately, one employee who signed the 1994 letter lost her job after her ecology position on the Bighorn N.F. was abolished before the settlement proceedings had begun.

Most forest supervisors would have been grateful to these caring employees and rewarded them for pointing out such mismanagement of public land. Not you Ms. Kimbell.

With this one act, you had just placed yourself at the top of the Bush’s search-list (which would start in 2 years) of potential anti-environmental candidates for either BLM Director or Forest Service Chief.

If any readers would care to check the accuracy of the Bighorn information presented here, please access the Office of Special Counsel April 4, 2003 press release at:

Your Promotion to Associate Deputy Chief of the Forest Service

You were named to become the Associate Deputy Chief of the Forest Service in 2002 to lead the nation’s timber program on national forest land … a Bush administration decision. They were now grooming you to be Chief. After your Bighorn performance, they knew you were exactly what they wanted.

Your Promotion to Regional Forester

You were named to become the Regional forester for the Forest Service’s Northern Region in December 2003 … again, a Bush administration decision. This was your reward from the Bush administration.

Few American citizens know that much of your time at your last job as Associate Deputy Chief in Washington D.C., was spent authoring the tragic Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003. Bush signed that Act into law the same month you became Regional Forester in December 2003. The vast majority of the statements of fact that you wrote in the Act were contradicted by the general scientific consensus. You knew this, yet you wrote them anyway.

You now knew that you were on the fast-track to the Chief’s job … the first woman to hold that position. It was time to lay low and make no mistakes … appear to care for the public land.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to connect the dots of your past.

Your Job as Chief of the U.S. Forest Service

You and you’re your new boss (USDA Asst. Secretary Mark Rey) will get along great. You have so much in common. You know this, since you have worked with him before. You can continue to trade stories and laughs about Mark’s previous employment as a timber industry lobbyist.

Abigal Kimbell, you shouldn’t be Chief, you should be ashamed.

I can only pray that your stay in the Chief's office will end with Bush's departure in January 2009.

Every person in America that cares about their public land will be watching your every move like a hawk … including members of the new congress.


Richard Artley (retired Forest Service land management planner) Grangeville, Idaho

Sunday, January 14, 2007

More news emerging on new Forest Service Chief ...

. . . and it doesn't look good. To wit:

1. Kimbell began her career in the mid-seventies as forester with the Bureau of Land Management in one of the most recalcitrant, backward, stubborn, and timber-oriented districts that agency has to offer: Medford, Oregon.

2. From the company town of Medford she moved to Kodiak, Alaska, still as a forester. "Forester" meant, then as now, a person who transforms forests into clearcuts, if possible, otherwise plantations of some kinder, gentler model.

3. From Kodiak, Kimbell advanced to District Ranger on the Colville National Forest. There is only one way you got to advance from grunt to District Ranger in the mid eighties, and that's by appeasing big timber. The Colville was what the Forest Service called a "working" forest back then. No lazy, dissolute, slacking forest, the Colville was expected to churn out plenty of logs. And it did. (Googling around just now I discovered this from the official website of Utah's Fishlake National Forest: "A 'working forest,' the Fishlake is managed for livestock grazing and timber management. In the coming years, increased interest in mineral, oil and gas reserves may extend to portions of the Fishlake National Forest." It seems the folks in Utah aren't ashamed to boast about their forest's work ethic, just like in the old days.)

4. After a brief stay on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest from 1988-1991, again as a District Ranger, Kimbell advanced to Forest Supervisor of . . . the Tongass National Forest, a position she held from 1991 to 1997.

This bio should quickly dispel any hopes folks may have about her willingness to consider other values over corporate ones. It is a certain kind of person required to supervise the Tongass National Forest, and it is a certain kind of person that is going to pass muster with Mark Rey, the former timber lobbyist and current Undersecretary of Agriculture, who no doubt played a very large role in her selection as Forest Service Chief. As I have often said, you can't expect much variety when you have industry representatives running your government. It's going to come down to how willing you are to oversee a transfer of wealth from the public into private hands, and my money is on Kimbell being all-too-willing to make it happen.

Official bio is here (USDA website).

Probably the most thorough article yet (not saying much) is here (Billings Gazette). This article is actually more interesting for what Bosworth admits about global warming than for anything it says about Kimbell.


Some frightening words from reclusive new Park Service Director

According to this A.P. article (Houston Chronicle), the new National Park Service Director will "increasingly look to outside sources for money to help maintain parks." Mary Bomar, who took the position in October, told an interviewer that "we're much more business-savvy than we used to be," and the article notes that "officers have been holding meetings with private interests to increase awareness of the agency's fundraising efforts."

The article offered no indication of what the Park Service's newfound "business-savvy" would lead to, and mentioned only philanthropy as a source of the outside money. Perhaps by "business-savvy" Bomar merely meant that the Park Service would ask for more charitable donations. However, given the Park Service's recent flirtations with corporate advertising inside National Parks, it is hard to be too confident.

Bomar took over from Fran P. Mainella, who resigned "to spend more time with her family" after a rocky tenure in which she was hauled before congress to explain how she and her staff had racked up 94 million dollars in travel expenses, (A.P. article) including one official's $9,500 trip to Africa. She also oversaw the rewrite of the rules to continue to permit snowmobiles in Yellowstone and insisted that all mid- and upper-level Park Service employees be thoroughly vetted by DOI--presumably for their political leanings--before being hired. The order, which affected over 1000 hires, was described by PEER as "an unprecedented political intrusion into what are supposed to be non-partisan, merit system personnel decisions."

According to the A.P. article in the Houston Chronicle linked above, this is Bomar's first interview since she took office.


Friday, January 12, 2007

If you have a moment and the media representations of global warming interest you . . .

Check out this post from the excellent RealClimate blog, discussing NOAA's quick willingness to discount any likelihood that global warming has much to do with the weather.

New Idaho Governor hopes to be the first to legally hunt wolves.

Oh give me a break. Like Butch Otter cares enough about environmental laws to await wolf-killing to be legal.

Idaho Statesman story on his grandstanding here.

Another oil and gas regulator returns to private life amidst scandal.

Good riddance. From E&E Daily:

"Kathleen Clarke, who spearheaded an effort to accelerate oil and gas drilling on public lands in the West, resigned last week after five years as director of the Bureau of Land Management.

"The first woman to head BLM, Clarke said she is leaving to spend time with her family in Utah. Her tenure was marked by attempts to promote a "multiple-use" mandate on the agency's 265 million acres of public lands, including accelerating the permitting process for oil and gas drilling and revising Clinton-era grazing regulations. Clarke was also the subject of ethics investigations into her connections with Utah interests and a Wyoming grazing deal now headed to the Supreme Court."

Park Service gives two conflicting stories to explain the Grand Canyon. Hint: one involves somebody called Noah.

Press release from PEER:

HOW OLD IS THE GRAND CANYON? PARK SERVICE WON’T SAY — Orders to Cater to Creationists Makes National Park Agnostic on Geology

Washington, DC — Grand Canyon National Park is not permitted to give an official estimate of the geologic age of its principal feature, due to pressure from Bush administration appointees. Despite promising a prompt review of its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah's flood rather than by geologic forces, more than three years later no review has ever been done and the book remains on sale at the park, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

“In order to avoid offending religious fundamentalists, our National Park Service is under orders to suspend its belief in geology,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “It is disconcerting that the official position of a national park as to the geologic age of the Grand Canyon is ‘no comment.’”

Read the rest of the release.

Or buy the book! The Grand Canyon: A Different View. (Amazon.)

Gail Norton, former Secretary of Interior to go to work for . . . the oil and gas industry

Denver Post article here.

From the article: "When Norton left Interior after five years, she said her primary reason was so she and her husband, John Hughes, could return to "the mountains we love in the West," as well as return to the private sector.

"As Interior secretary, Norton was attacked by environmentalists for her pro-development policies regarding oil and gas, coal and timber. She also reopened Yellowstone National Park to snowmobiles.

"Industry advocates and Norton's fellow Republicans, however, have praised her as a realist willing to open public lands to drilling during a time of energy shortages that threatened the economy."

The Abramoff scandal is really starting to hit the Department of Interior.

More resignations. Washington Post article is here.

The article is so good I can't decide which paragraph to quote. Let's just say that the big-wig former lobbyists are abandoning ship and heading back to work "in the private sector," which of course means their former employers in the industries they had been supposedly regulating during their "government service." Can any of this really be a surprise? When industry representatives hold the regulatory positions in government, can it be a surprise that the landscape becomes saturated with oil and gas wells and the agency representatives eventually start running afoul of transparency and influence laws?

I hope this investigation gets Steven Griles (Wikipedia), former Deputy Secretary of Interior with close and very lucrative ties to the energy industry, who appears to have lied about his connections with Abramoff.

Newly discovered Scott's Bar Salamander will retain protection thanks to court challenge.

If you've ever been to Scott's Bar, California, you're lucky. It sits in the Siskiyou Mountains, a tremendously diverse, wonderful forest. It is hard to believe you can find such remote country that is so beautiful, so rich with rivers, fish, forests, and good weather, and in California, too!

Thanks to a challenge by a coalition of environmental organizations, the Scott's Bar salamander will retain state protected status under the California Endangered Species Act, and thus offer hope for some of the trees local timber companies have targeted. The story is pretty interesting, told well in this press release. Unfortunately, the battle is not over yet, as other mechanisms at work in California are at work to remove the current protections from this little critter.

From the press release:

"Formerly considered a subpopulation of the Siskiyou Mountains Salamander, which is listed as a threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act, the Scott Bar Salamander was described as a new species in May 2005. Rather than herald the discovery of new species, DFG immediately informed forestry officials and timber companies that the salamander had lost protection, which allowed several logging projects to destroy salamander habitat. At least one private logging plan is currently proposed in Scott Bar Salamander habitat and likely will be affected by today’s decision."

Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth Resigns--Gail Kimball, Regional Forester for Northern Region to take Bosworth's place.

The press release is here.

I'd be interested to hear any personal impressions of Kimball. Bosworth himself was a Regional Forester, serving in that position for the Intermountain Region out of Ogden before his selection as chief. He always seemed to me a bit of a cheerleader, happy to live entirely infused with the myth of the Forest Service, the brave, objective, tough men who manage our nation's forests. But of course he was just a bureaucrat who had a particularly good nose for which way the wind was blowing. He wasn't as stubborn as he could have been, didn't seem to have a lot of creativity, and he was far from courageous.

AP story is here.

If anyone has experience with Kimball, let us know!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Tongass National Forest: Meet the new plan, same as the old plan

Oh, the poor Tongass National Forest. So beautiful, so important, so loved, and so far away. How much of this place has to be wrecked before we finally come to our senses?

The original long-term management plan for the Forest called for insanely high amounts of logging, based on faulty data. The plan was rejected by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals after a challenge by conservation groups, and this new draft plan, released today, is the result. It calls for the same amount of logging as the old plan, and offers 2.4 million acres of roadless lands for logging. Did you read that right? That is 2,400,000 acres of forested roadless lands available for logging.

The timber industry has also complained about the plan, reports E&E Daily. They sought a plan that would nearly double the logging permitted by the old, rejected plan.

Some really good news from the Supreme Court--of all places!

The Supreme Court has declined to hear a case concerning the National Forest Management Act. The case, Ecology Center v. Austin (.pdf), set a new standard of environmental review for logging projects on national forest land, and all but turned the tables on the Forest Service's current conception of the NFMA as a dead law that has no meaning. The case concerned logging on the Lolo National Forest in Montana and concluded that the NFMA statute requires a high level of protection of soil quality, water quality, and wildlife habitat on national forest lands.

The decision not to review the case is found in this document (.pdf) which is found on this page on the U.S. Supreme Court website.

I predict that this piece of news will probably be the best thing that happens to National Forests in 2007. It's that good. Congratulations to the Ecology Center and its attorneys for obtaining this landmark lawsuit and for holding it down in the face of a tremendous challenge. The Supremes would have likely really screwed it up, and turned NFMA once and for all into a dead, meaningless law like the Multiple-Use, Sustained Yield Act, which carries virtually no legal weight any more despite its lofty language and goals.