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One Reason To Be Thankful That NJ Has No National Forests

US Forest Service Study Led To Highlands Act, But Not National Forest Designation

US Forest Service “Forest Health” Program A Pretext For Logging

USFS and NJ DEP ignore climate change in forest management

Although the NJ Highlands were mapped by a US Forest Service Study – which provided the major justifications for the Highlands Act – NJ is one of only 10 states that have no National Forests.

Ironically, that may be a good thing, as the Trump administration’s US Forest Service becomes increasingly subservient to logging and extractive industry special interests nationally:

The new categorical exclusions in these proposed rules are huge and far from risk-free. Large logging projects, which could devastate vulnerable habitat, and road-building in pristine wildernesses would be among those escaping rigorous environmental review.

For just one recent egregious example, the NY Times reports today on a massive mining proposal that would poison the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness:

the Forest Service called off an environmental review that could have restricted mining, even though the agriculture secretary had told Congress that the review would proceed.

More specific to the logging topic of my post today, however, I just read a story about USFS plans to log national forest, under the pretext of the North Bridger Forest Health Project.

Because that USFS logging project sounded so much like the euphemisms and slogans used to support NJ DEP’s plans to log Sparta Mountain and other NJ Highlands Forests (i.e. “treatments” “forest thinning” “resilience” “forest health”, etc), I thought I’d look into the details and get an understanding of exactly how USFS justified this crap.

In reviewing the details of the USFS logging, I confirmed what I expected, based on NJ DEP’s forestry program:

1. Despite the science and urgency, USFS forest management is not subject to any laws, regulations, standards, policies, or management practices regarding climate change.

While NJ DEP denies this huge flaw via silence, the USFS admits that, directly and right up front:

Regulatory Framework

There are no applicable legal or regulatory requirements or established thresholds concerning management of forest carbon or greenhouse gas emissions. (See: NEPA Categorical Exclusion, p.2)

2.  Water Quality and stream buffer protections are even weaker then NJ DEP BMPs

USFS relies on 15-50 foot stream buffers, but based on stream classification and extremely steep slopes (>35!), buffer can be increased to 100 feet (see Appendix A of NEPA scoping document, and table below):

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 1.06.54 PM

That is weaker than DEP’s lax water quality and stream buffer BMP’s.

3. USFS Logging is based on the same “forest health” rhetoric and “science” that NJ DEP relies on

I had seen this similarity several times before, and lazily just assumed it just came from the PR people in the logging industry and the forestry bureaucrats in USFS and NJ DEP.

But today, I hit a few links to the decision documents and traced the legal and policy source of some of these Orwellian euphemisms.

(and keep in mind that the justification I discuss here came in 2014, years before the recent western and California wildfires, which focused public attention on forest management and provided their own cover stories and justification for the need for “treatments” and “fuel management” to avoid “wildfire at the urban-wildland interface”).

In the project overview in the NEPA scoping document, I found this as the source that initiated the logging project:

The North Bridgers project area was designated part of an insect and disease treatment program in accordance with Title VI, Section 602, of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA), as amended by Section 8204 of the Agriculture Act (Farm Bill) of 2014. For additional information on how the 2014 Farm Bill amended HFRA and areas designated, see Appendix C.

Buried in Appendix C, I learned the following about that 2014 Farm Bill – including a process for Governor’s to request USFS designation of forests:

Section 8204 of the Agriculture Act of 2014 (Public Law 113-79) (also referred to as Farm Bill) amended Title VI of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 (HFRA) (16 U.S.C. 6591 et seq.) to add Sections 602 and 603 to address qualifying insect and disease infestations on National Forest System lands. The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture delegated authority to implement the provisions of the Farm Bill to the Chief of the Forest Service on March 6, 2014.

Section 602 provides, in part, the opportunity for Governors to request designation to areas in their State that are experiencing, or at risk of, an insect or disease epidemic. The Forest Service received letters from 35 states requesting designations. These requests were reviewed to ensure they met at least one of the following eligibility criteria outlined in the Farm Bill: experiencing forest health decline based on annual forest health surveys; at risk of experiencing substantially increased tree mortality based on the most recent Forest Health Protection Insect and Disease Risk Map; or contains hazard trees that pose an imminent risk to public infrastructure, health, or safety.

Upon reviewing the States’ requests, the Chief designated approximately 45.6 million acres of National Forest System lands across 94 national forests in 35 States. Over 6.6 million acres were designated in the Northern Region (1,708,628 million acres in Idaho; 4,955,159 million acres in Montana). These areas will be further evaluated to identify potential projects that reduce the risk or extent of, or increase resilience to, insect and disease infestations. Information on the request and designation process, by state, can be found here

Here are the national Insect and Disease Designations.

I was surprised and disappointed  to learn that NJ Gov. Cuomo requested designation of 3,000 acres of the Finger Lakes national Forest and USFS did so. I wonder how that project is working out?

As NJ has no national forests, the Governor of NJ requested no designations.

Just think if the Highlands were a National Forest – then NJ DEP’s Highlands logging program would be greatly expanded, given even more resources, and subject to federal control. Guess we dodged a bullet, eh?

4. Government moves like lightning when special interests are greasing the skids

Some say that government bureaucracy moves too slowly and that NEPA review injects huge delays in development (you hear that all the time, especially from those that would exploit and extract natural resources and develop and destroy the environment).

But, check out the accelerated action timetable involved in this national forest designation process, which leads to logging:

That’s damn quick for developing a new and controversial national program.

So, government can move very quickly when special interests are pulling the strings.

Ironically – and thankfully – the project is being blocked by litigation challenging USFS NEPA “Categorical Exclusion”.

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