Environmental Analysis too long to print

by Andy Geissler, AFRC Field Forester

Last summer I wrote an article for AFRC’s blog regarding the status of Environmental Analyses (EA’s) being completed on the Medford District of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in order to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when conducting vegetation management projects, including timber harvest, on their lands.  At the time, I highlighted a 418-page EA and described it as a “mammoth” document.  That description seemed fitting considering that the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) described in its 2007 publication A Citizens Guide to NEPA that The environmental assessment (EA) is intended to be a concise document that briefly provides sufficient evidence and analysis.  418 pages seemed excessive and a far cry from “concise” and at the time was the longest EA published by the BLM for a vegetation management project that I had reviewed.  Of course, there is no limit to excess, a rule that I was reminded of this month following the BLM’s publication of a 460-page EA titled “Pickett West”.  Now I’m faced with finding an adjective more extreme than mammoth.  I briefly flirted with the idea of labeling the Pickett West document as “mammoth”, but after placing a phone call into the Medford BLM office I was provided with a more apt description.

Typically, the BLM will provide printed hard-copies of any NEPA document they publish.  Knowing this, I called the Grants Pass Field Office to request a hard-copy of the 460-page Pickett West EA.  The response I received was at first funny and bit surreal, but later simply depressing.  The BLM informed me that they would not be providing the public with hard-copies of the Pickett West EA because it is “too long to print”.  That’s correct, the BLM has officially prepared an EA that is either too costly or too time consuming for them to print on paper.  That’s when I halted my search for a single adjective worthy to represent the Pickett West EA.  If 2016 was the year of mammoth EA’s then 2017 is officially the year of “EA’s-Too-Long-To-Print”.

I can’t say that I’m shocked by where we’re at.  The digression of the BLM into the world of EA’s-Too-Long-To-Print was bound to happen.  This is an agency that constantly hears accusations that their EA’s are “insufficient” in scope and in content by opponents of timber management, regardless of how long they are (If you don’t believe me, call the Medford BLM office and request copies of the 170-pages of formal protests they received last year for all their hard work publishing over 1,500 pages of environmental analysis).  So, if a 300-page EA is insufficient, and a 418-page EA is insufficient, then I’m guessing that a 460-page EA will also be seen as insufficient.  The only relevant question now is what will 2018 bring?  The optimist in me likes to think that it will be the year that the Medford BLM District ignores the absurd claims that their Russian-novelesque EA’s are insufficient, and publishes an EA that is a concise document that briefly provides sufficient evidence and analysis (where have I heard that description before…).  But the pessimist in me suspects that I’ll be searching for a new word to describe whatever type of document gets published by the BLM next June.

BLM Timber Sale Generates Impressive Value

by Andy Geissler, AFRC Field Forester

Over the past twenty years the Bureau of Land Management has met its timber output targets primarily through the thinning of young stands.  This one-dimensional management paradigm has been criticized by several stakeholders for various reasons.  Professional foresters have questioned the validity of a “thinning-only” regime given the fact that such a practice is unsustainable.  Sustainable forestry can only occur in this region through the harvest of mature timber followed by replanting of a new stand.

The forest products industry has questioned this regime as young stand thinnings only supply a single type of raw material that can only be processed into a narrow range of final products.  County governments, who receive 50% of the value generated by timber sales on O&C Lands, have questioned the limitations in value of a thinning-only management paradigm as the value of these offerings is lower than those from mature stands.  However, in recent months the BLM across all Western Oregon has started to progress beyond the status-quo of the past twenty years by offering timber sales that regenerate appropriate stands of timber.  This progression addresses all three of these concerns as regeneration harvest of mature stands provides sustainability, a variety of forest products, and a monetary value that is significant enough to provide stable county budgets.

The latest such timber sale, called Fawn Two, was sold by the Salem Sustained Yield Unit (SYU) of the Northwest Oregon District north of Mill City for over $2 million.  The stands in Fawn Two are at a seral stage where thinning is no longer effective and regeneration harvest is the only remaining management option.  The sale consisted primarily of Douglas-fir, and sold at a rate of $615 per thousand board feet (MBF).  To put this in proper context, the other five sales that the Salem SYU offered this fiscal year were sold at an average rate of $282/MBF for Douglas-fir (the highest rate was $347/MBF).  This means the Fawn Two timber sale exceeded the average value per board foot of Douglas-fir of all the other Salem SYU timber sales this year by nearly 120%!  As mentioned earlier, the total value of the Fawn Two timber sale was approximately $2 Million.  To put that number in context, the average value of the previously cited five timber sales was $1.2 Million.  The distinction between those two numbers may not seem significant; but consider that the average size of those five timber sales was 228 acres and that Fawn Two was a mere 60 acres!  The Counties will receive $16,666 an acre from the Fawn Two sale and only $2,632 an acre from the other sales.

If nothing else, the results of the Fawn Two timber sale should silence the critics who claim that the BLM’s timber outputs cannot provide the monetary value necessary to keep County beneficiaries whole.