What the new BLM management plan means for our wildlife

The Griffin Half Moon proposed timber sale, is just one of the first examples of South Western Oregon's WOPR Jr.'s greasy implementation of:

 

THE NEW BLM LOGGING PLAN

We are seeing a new wave of BLM timber sales, and we need you to stick with us for updates on how to support wildlife. The new 2016 South Western Oregon Resource Management Plan for BLM forests in western Oregon is at the beginning stage of implementation following a Record of Decision signed in August of 2017. This new set of forest management standards relieves the BLM’s from following the previously dictating Northwest Forest Plan that emphasized protecting and restoring old growth forests, wildlife habitat, and clean water.

A CHECKERED HISTORY

OR-WA-BLM_lands.png

The checkerboard land ownership pattern of the Oregon and California Railroad created in the late 1800s has been the subject of a long, convoluted debate regarding land management and continuity. The BLM manages 2.5 million acres of public land within this checkerboard ownership, consistently switching every square mile from public to private land. In 1937, Congress passed The O&C Re-vested Lands Sustained Yield Management Act which provided for permanent forest production.   

After 50 years of intensive logging, the need for endangered species protections for wildlife resulted in the 1994 Northwest Forest plan. This paramount document has governed the land management of the Forest Service and the BLM to mitigate widespread habitat damage done on O&C lands over the last 20+ years.

The Northwest Forest Plan was adopted to address the dual concerns of economy and the threatened wildlife dependent upon old-growth forests. A team of 600 specialists drafted the Northwest Forest Plan. U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands within the range of the northern spotted owl (mostly west of the Cascades, including Washington, Oregon, and Northern California) were then governed by the rules of the NW Forest Plan.

This balance of duality wasn’t perfect for any stakeholder. The timber industry called for less regulations and the environmentalists called for more.

 Under the George W. Bush administration, the BLM and logging stakeholders conferred with each other to propose the Western Oregon Plan Revision (WOPR) which would have increased logging and clearcutting old growth forests, degraded habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl, further threatened enlisted fisheries and clean water in attempt to depart from the science based environmental protections established under the North West Forest Plan.  

After years of public debate, the Obama administration withdrew the initial WOPR because “it was legally indefensible.”

2012-2016

Soon after the death of the WOPR, the BLM underwent yet another planning process to revise their resource management plans. As of August 5, 2016, the BLM issued a final decision, the Western Oregon Resource Management Plan, or it’s nickname "WOPR Jr."

WOPR Jr. will guide the BLM on decisions on how 2.5 million acres of public lands are to be managed. There are some significant departures from the Northwest Forest Plan contained in the WOPR Jr., and we are starting to see a new wave of timber sales under this new management plan.

THE MEAT OF WOPR Jr.

The WOPR Jr. divides the 2.5 million acres managed by the BLM into different land use classifications, including – late successional or old growth reserves, riparian reserves, harvest land base ranging from low – high intensity timber harvest, recreation management areas, and other special designations – while reducing buffers of protection of streams and waterways, and wildlife, and increasing in the larger and most destructive canopy clearing timber harvests. 

THE CHEESE ON TOP: WOPR Jr eliminates key provisions of the NW Forest Plan:

The Survey and Manage protocol  

The survey and manage mitigation provides protection for approximately 400 diverse species that are associated with older forests. Scientists considered most of the species to be rare or knew little about them. The Survey and Manage standards and guidelines were developed to help assure persistence of the species thought to be closely associated with late successional and old growth forests. 

Surveys were required prior to habitat-disturbing activities and often habitat buffers were established to protect the species in question. Those protections are eliminated in the WOPR Jr and the BLM now is proposing projects to log in known, occupied survey and manage species habitat like the Great Gray Owl.

The Aquatic Conservation Strategy

The Aquatic Conservation Strategy of the NW Forest Plan was developed to restore and maintain the ecological health of watershed and aquatic ecosystems on public lands. The Aquatic Conservation Strategy is composed of nine objectives agencies must meet in developing agency forest management actions:

1.      Maintain and restore the distribution, diversity, and complexity of watershed and landscape-scale features to ensure protection of the aquatic systems to which species, populations, and communities are uniquely adapted.

2.      Maintain and restore spatial and temporal connectivity within and between watersheds. Lateral, longitudinal, and drainage network connections include flood plains, wetlands, up slope areas, headwater tributaries, and intact refugia. These lineages must provide chemically and physically unobstructed routes to areas critical for fulfilling life history requirements of aquatic and riparian-dependent species.

3.      Maintain and restore the physical integrity of the aquatic system, including shorelines, banks, and bottom configurations.

4.      Maintain and restore water quality necessary to support healthy riparian, aquatic, and wetland ecosystems. Water quality must remain in the range that maintains the biological, physical, and chemical integrity of the system and benefits survival, growth, reproduction, and migration of individuals composing aquatic and riparian communities.

5.      Maintain and restore the sediment regime under which an aquatic ecosystem evolved. Elements of the sediment regime include the timing, volume, rate, and character of sediment input, storage, and transport.

6.      Maintain and restore in stream flows sufficient to create and sustain riparian, aquatic, and wetland habitats and to retain patterns of sediment, nutrient, and wood routing (i.e., movement of woody debris through the aquatic system). The timing, magnitude, duration, and spatial distribution of peak, high, and low flows must be protected.

7.      Maintain and restore the timing, variability, and duration of flood plain inundation and water table elevation in meadows and wetlands.

8.      Maintain and restore the species composition and structural diversity of plant communities in riparian zones and wetlands to provide adequate summer and winter thermal regulation, nutrient filtering, appropriate rates of surface erosion, bank erosion, and channel migration, and to supply amounts and distributions of coarse woody debris sufficient to sustain physical complexity and stability.

9.      Maintain and restore habitat to support well-distributed populations of native plant, invertebrate, and vertebrate riparian-dependent species.

The BLM is now in process of planning and implementing timber sales under WOPR Jr. in which Survey and Manage Standards and Guidelines and the nine Aquatic Conservation Strategy principals are no longer required or considered.

THE CHEESE GETS CHEESIER

Further departures from the North West Forest Plan:

  • Reduces streamside no-logging buffers along fish and non-fish bearing streams: The Northwest Forest Plan’s protections of streamside buffers in some Riparian Reserve classifications are cut in half. Seasonal stream protections have been given the most reduction placing previously protected Riparian Reserves open to harvest. The WOPR Jr. puts drinking water, salmon and steelhead runs, and wildlife who depend on this buffer for habitat in greater risk.
  • More intensive logging across land classifications: The reduction of Riparian buffers makes more land available for timber harvest. Though more of SW Oregon’s older forests are placed into late successional reserves (LSR) under the WOPR Jr. than the NW Forest Plan, the silviculture prescriptions for LSR land classifications to not identify a maximum size tree to be protected. Classifications for their Low-Intensity Timber Harvest Land Base Area call for retention of only 15-30% of pre-harvest living trees. Meaning removing 70-80% of canopy cover is considered low harvest. Logging tactics are focused on commercial logging and regeneration harvest, not thinning existing fiber plantations. At the expense of degrading habitat, logging will generate more money for the timber industry as cutting in previously protected areas is opened.

One of the first timber sales under the new 2016 plan:

The BLM is just starting to release scoping documents under the implementation of the WOPR Jr. After a scoping field tour with the BLM to logging units proposed in the Griffin Half Moon Vegetation Management Project (2018), it is disappointing to see the BLM’s intention to target known, occupied, great gray owl (GGO) sites for intensive logging. The Ashland Resource Area recently elected to drop these sites from previous timber sales specifically to avoid harm to the species from logging activities such as those proposed in Griffin Half Moon. The agency’s proposal to revisit that decision in order to maximize timber production necessitates completion of a deeper environmental review to move forwards on this timber sale. Without survey and manage to ensure the presence or nests of great gray owls, the BLM now intends to implement logging in great gray owl habitat that was dropped (buffered) from the previous Swinning and Howard timber sales by the Ashland Resource Area. 

The BLM’s draft WOPR Jr. Finial Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) specifically indicates that it does not address “the threshold determination of whether there is sufficient habitat to support stable populations of Survey and Manage species...” such as great gray owls. Significance being, the BLM can’t credit past analysis in the FEIS for their decision to target known great gray owl sites for timber harvest. Further, in contrast to the statements of BLM timber planners in the field during the scoping tour, the 2016 RMP indicates that these owls (and other former survey and mange species) are associated with “more structurally-complex multi-layered conifer forests” as opposed to heavily thinned or regenerated forest stands. Additionally, in the past, Medford BLM wildlife biologists have stated that great gray owls exhibit “especially high site fidelity.”

CONCLUSION

The WOPR Jr. isn’t the have it your way sandwich its name implies. Cutting protections and ecosystem recovery mitigation measures for endangered and threatened wildlife that calls southern Oregon home isn’t sustainable forest management. Logging in known and previously dropped units of Great Gray Owl habitat to push timber interests without environmental sideboards is a greasy way to do business. Stay tuned with our Action Alerts to know when there are open public comment periods for these upcoming timber sales.

 Great Grey Owl courtesy of Elster Photography

Great Grey Owl courtesy of Elster Photography

 

 

 

 

Tim Ream