by J. Patrick Quinn
“Environmental Terrorists,” is what some clear cutters and their advocates in local, state and national government label citizens who speak up in defense of steadily deteriorating ecological conditions on our watersheds! This time it is Ryan Zinke, exclaiming these and other inflammatory epithets. Trump’s appointed Secretary of the Interior appears to have taken his cue from our local elected county government, current and former. Misleading statements such as “There have been a number of instances where environmental groups have submitted petitions to the Bureau of Land Management, halting companies from removing dead and dying timber until the BLM can sort through each petition point,” are fed to the press and the public by Zinke and his appointed functionaries in the Department of the Interior. Spokesman Faith C. Vander Voort said in an email. “These actions halt proper forest management and leave the West vulnerable to incredible devastation.” Apparently, the filing of comments, protests and appeals, through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) warrants this kind of unprofessional and provocative response. Ironically, obtaining such public input is why NEPA was debated and passed by the Congress and signed into law by Republican President Richard Nixon, on January 1, 1970.
From the direct experience of the UW Conservation Committee, the NEPA process can seem to be a somewhat of a “dog and pony show” predicated on forgone conclusions and predetermined outcomes. Nonetheless, NEPA remains the official portal through which citizen volunteers at UW can formally disclose the actual environmentally degraded state of our watersheds. We warn of the devastating effects of adding ecological insult to environmental injury on public lands. NEPA offers us an opportunity to cite the latest and best available science, which too often validates the evidence before our eyes. Along with valid criticisms, NEPA allows UW to recommend more eco-forward management alternatives to resource extraction (aka public land clear cuts, or clear cuts “lite”).
Unfortunately, our observations on a given harvest plan founded on sound research are regularly ignored, misconstrued or dismissed. Initially, the BLM identifies a specific and usually large analysis area, including both public and private land (“checkerboard”). At this point, a given government entity has the choice of engaging in a comprehensive, in-depth examination of current conditions and how they are likely to be impacted by a given set of actions. This is called an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Usually, however, BLM or the USFS will issue a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) followed by a more truncated, often less in-depth presentation called an Environmental Assessment (EA). The EA is still mandated by NEPA to offer more than one proposed management alternative, examining the ecological impacts of each listed choice on the environment, with the agency usually identifying its preferred choice among those offered. Too often what BLM prefers runs counter to what UW believes to be the best management direction. In these cases, when a damaging timber is advertised for auction the UW Conservation Committee will often, though file a formal protest with the BLM District offering that sale. This protest must be delivered, hard copy only, to BLM within fifteen days of the advertisement of the sale. From our direct experience, such protests are regularly denied (thus, the “dog and pony show” descriptor), at which point UW must decide upon the appropriateness of a resort to the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) located in Arlington, Virginia. A group or an individual, whose protest has been denied, then has another period of fifteen days in which to notify the offending BLM District of its intent to file an appeal with the IBLA. Once that board is in receipt of our intent to appeal, we have a strict 30 day period to submit a declaration proving that the chair, as an individual, and UW as an organization, have legal standing to bring that particular appeal along with the actual reasons for the appeal.
In the past 2 years, UW has submitted numerous NEPA preliminary comments (called “scoping”) and comments on presentation of a draft EA. In the past 2+ years, the UW Conservation Committee has filed 8 formal NEPA protests, 5 with the Roseburg District and 3 with the Coos Bay District of the BLM. We have also been co-signatory with our sister organizations to several NEPA submissions to the BLM and the USFS, as well as to testimony in support of keeping and improving NEPA, not by emasculating what powers remain but by strengthening the provisions in that benchmark legislation intended to protect our watersheds for this generation and future generations.
None of these actions has been frivolous but are a regrettable environmental necessity addressing issues such as chronically depleted summer stream flows, the result of the mass liquidation of primary old growth and mature forest to monoculture Douglas Fir plantations, continued habitat destruction of imperiled species. We insist that the BLM give proper billing to the mandates of the 1937 O&C Act to “protect watersheds, regulate stream flows and provide for recreation” in all of its “Purpose and Need” statements, alongside the purported need to supply mills with logs and counties with revenue. In addition, UW insists that the BLM openly acknowledge this mass conversion from primary forests to plantations across all ownerships in the decades preceding adoption of the Northwest Forest Plan. We insist that BLM clearly discover and disclose the barbaric clear cut, herbicide, fiber farm condition of the adjoining private industrial timberlands that form the physical context for the public lands the agency manages in the west for the public trust. UW demands that the BLM conduct its management activities in full consideration of past and current degraded watershed conditions, and that their management proposals not further degrade, but instead mitigate for that shameful history, as well as for the current private industrial practices. If this kind of watchful, civic minded volunteer participation in the NEPA process qualifies as “environmental terrorism,” then we can characterize the real terrorism inflicted regularly on our beleaguered watersheds by large clear cuts, herbicide sprays and increasing forest road construction carried out under aegis of the retrograde Oregon Forest Practices Act (OFPA) as “corporate terrorism.”
UW also is involved in the never ending issue of the Pacific Connector Pipe Line (PCPL) and its adjunct power and liquefaction plants. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued yet another EIS (created by a contractor to the applicant). UW has been engaged in resisting this assault on public safety and private property rights from the beginning when this was purported to be an “import only” facility. Now in its third iteration, this foreign initiated, fossil fuel facilitating, export enterprise continues to besiege state and national government regulatory agencies. Our county commissioners have either endorsed the project, or refrained from commenting. A former member of the Board of Commissioners (BOC) years ago expressed concern over the abrogation of private property rights by a foreign entity. Our commissioners appointed Douglas County Planning Advisory Board and Planning Department as its approval process in the Coastal Management Zone. Now, in a contorted and shameful display, they have bent over backwards to facilitate the progress of the PCPL and the Jordan Cove plants. It continues to do so. Money talks!
UW’s Conservation Committee has submitted comments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the FERC, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the BLM and USFS and other state agencies including the Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ). Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s 2005 Energy Bill stripped local and state governments of most of their ability to regulate pipeline construction and related energy projects, but safety and environmental issues were left to county and to state. Oregon has the authority to deny the LNG permits to protect clean air, clean water and safety but have not done so to date. Short of litigation, our hope lies with the USACE and the ODEQ, in regard to likely violations of the Clean Water Act. Comments to these agencies were submitted by the UW Conservation Committee on August 20. Whether, at long last, these supposed servants of the people will stand up for we citizens and our best interests remains to be seen.
We are all well aware of the unpleasant and even life threatening nature of wildfire. The timber industry and its advocates in elected government, drooling over older, higher value Federal timber stands, are howling for the cut to be greatly expanded, using fear as the motivator. Ironically, these industry mouthpieces seldom if ever admit the actual causes of this situation. High temperatures in 4 of the last 5 years have contributed to severe drought, yet Douglas County Commissioner, Tim Freeman, conveniently omits mention of human caused climate disruption. “Active Management” is the new extractive battle cry despite the misguided policy of the last century of extinguishing all wildfires regardless of proximity to human habitations. There is no mention of the unnatural and tightly packed monoculture fiber farm plantations as a catalyst for the spread and intense wildfires within the “checkerboard” of alternating ownerships. This relationship was recently disclosed by careful scientific research conducted by two university schools of forestry (Humboldt and OSU), the Roseburg District of the BLM, and the US Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station (PNW) on the large scale fires in Southern Oregon.
Commissioner Freeman’s comments frighten homeowners within the wildland urban interface (WUI), that area where human habitation meets forested landscapes. As part of its effort to transition O&C Counties from complete reliance on timber production, the United States Congress, led by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, enacted the Secure Rural Schools Program (SRS). The Title III portion of SRS directed funds to help reduce fuel loads in the WUI. Douglas County BOC chose to divert those funds to a local non-profit, Communities for Healthy Forests, to produce propaganda in support of private industrial timber operations and their model for watershed management. UW’s Conservation Committee offered strenuous objection to this to this diversion of public taxes in 2015 and 2016 without result. Freeman and others in county government deny the history of diversion of fuel reduction funds to the timber industry propaganda machine. UW membership should take every opportunity to remind the Douglas County (BOC) of this outrageous and dangerous subversion of their tax dollars at every opportunity Douglas County Government is well under the thumb of “Big Timber,” ready at all times to mouth its message and do its bidding. Such a relationship is bad for the environment and doubly damaging to democratic governance.