Objections to BLM Quotas and other violations on Advisory boards
2/90 (Letter) Protest of wholesale, flagrant, notorious violations of laws and regulations by BLM observed on a Timber Sale advisory board 1).
February 8, 1990
D. Dean Bibles, State Director
Bureau of Land Management
P.O. Box 2965 (825 NE Multnomah St.)
Portland, Oregon 97208
Dear Mr. Bibles;
I am a member of the Coos Bay BLM Timber Advisory Board. As you know my Board has completed its work, and approved about 50 sales, which provide for the clearcutting of almost 200 million board feet of timber. I think most of the sales approved by my Board were very ill advised. I voted against most of them. The Board was given misleading instructions. Essential documentation was not available; e.g. no site-specific environmental assessments, or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) reports. Sales with adverse impact on as many as 8 Northern Spotted Owls were represented as biologically acceptable. Many of the sales broke corridors and fragmented the forest into islands. The USFWS in their Conference Reports objected to this whole BLM sale program and most individual sales. The USFWS (a sister agency to BLM within the Department of the Interior) was described as error-prone through overwork, and their objections to the proposed sales were dismissed as misguided and irrelevant (see Board transcript 11/22/89, pp.94–105).
The Board approved sales in the Tioga Resource and other areas where there are so many owls that one can not log anywhere without locating clearcuts within Owl Agreement Areas (see below), or known owls. Apparently, private logging adjacent to BLM land has driven owls into what old growth is left. Yet, the actual owl disruption may be worse than BLM documentation shows because the USFWS said the following in a 12/6/89 report entitled "A Fish and Wildlife Overview of the Bureau of Land Management Timber Sale Program for Fiscal Years 1989-1990":
"... it is our understanding that there has not been a consistent calling effort associated with surveying sale areas on Bureau lands."
This means the true owl situation may be worse than BLM's data shows.
The Board was told verbally and in writing that it should not consider any factors other than volume goals and Spotted Owls. We were then given a sales program where it was obvious that if any serious consideration was given to Spotted Owls the Board would never meet its sales quota. I believe the board mandate and function created by Sec. 318 (the so-called timber compromise) was misrepresented and restricted in order for BLM to obtain quick approvals of its sales.
Our Board's charter as contained in your appointment letter of 11/15/89 (underlining added) gave the clear impression that the board was under some kind of legal mandate to approve a pre–set quota of sales:
"The duties of this board are to provide counsel and advice to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) District Manager regarding which proposed timber sales should be released, modified or prohibited to meet the timber sale level mandated by Public Law 101-121, within the BLM Coos Bay District. The duties of this board are limited to advising the district manager on how to meet the timber sale level mandated by the act in conjunction with maintaining habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl."
This was reinforced by what the Board was told. By the time the Board started deliberations it had been set up to be a rubber stamp to approve a predetermined quota. On page 58 of the legal transcript the following exchange occurs:
Board Member: "Our goal in life as part of—or as the bill outlines is to come up with 200 million feet or there—approximately."
BLM: "Thats the bottom line."
And a little later:
BLM: "I think total on the table you have got about 240 million you will be able to look at."
Board member: "Okay".
BLM: "Of that, you will have about 200 you will have to pull out."
I do not think that Sec.318 obligates the Board to approve a set amount of sales, yet this was the impression that was created by our charter and what we were told. If you look at the whole approach the Board took (from keeping tally of how far we were towards our quota, to the continuing deliberations) it is clear the Board believed it had to find 200 million board feet to approve.
The problems of these sales can be viewed in a microcosm in the Thomas Mountain sale. It was represented to us as a "middle of the road" sale, neither the best nor the worse, but right in the middle. Subsequent experience proved that assessment to be accurate. After it was advertised Oregon Natural Resources Council (ONRC) appealed it. The timber industry attacked the appeal in the Portland Oregonian as:
"...disrupt(ing) the good faith efforts of the advisory boards...frivolous...disruptive...old tired claims of a radical fringe group."
Actually this sale
- Is against the advice of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. They said in a report dated 11/20/89:
"The removal of spotted owl habitat contained in the Thomas Mountain Timber Sale will appreciably reduce the amount of habitat available within a 2.1 mile radius of the pairs' nest or activity centers. The reduction of spotted owl habitat is expected to increase energetic demands due to competition for food and space. Implementation of the timber sale, as proposed may also: further fragment and erode existing habitat in the sale area which will increase the potential of creating a permanent impasse to spotted owls between two physiographic provinces, thereby dividing the range of spotted owls in this vicinity into two disjunct populations;..."
- Does not consider any of the mitigating recommendations made by USFWS.
- May not have identified all the local Spotted Owls because USFWS says this District has an inadequate owl calling effort.
- Fragments a block of 400 acres not previously logged.
- Is within an Oregon Department of Fish And Wildlife(ODF&W) Owl Agreement Area. (see below)
- Had no "site specific" environmental assessment as required by the Environmental Protection Act.
- Disturbs the habitat of three pairs of Northern Spotted Owls.
Half of the sales would turn out to be worse than this; the Twin Horse Sale for example disturbs 12 Northern Spotted Owls.
In 1987 BLM and ODF&W identified 110 pairs of Spotted Owls on BLM land and created owl preserves around each. These designated territories were named ODFW/BLM Agreement Areas. When the agreement was being negotiated in 1987, timber sales had already been planned by BLM inside the proposed boundaries. ODF&W didn't like these sales at the time but agreed, as part of the negotiated settlement, not to challenge them in court. Because of subsequent injunctions, some of these sales were never sold, and they are now turning up in the 1990 timber sale program – some revised and under different names.
The volume represented by clearcutting inside Owl Agreement Areas represents 40% of the total volume approved by the Coos Bay BLM board – almost 70 million board feet. I believe that it is most unwise for all this logging to take place within areas set aside to protect owls. I fully realize that ODF&W may have promised not to sue you over these sales, but that does not mean that the sales are wise.
BLM Coos Bay sales approved within ODF&W/BLM Agreement Areas: Thomas Mountain, Qtr. Moon, Bear Air #2, Hog Mtn., Slater Slider, Shogun, Beaver West, Twin Horse, French Glen, Sandy Land, Bounced Check, Gilligans Isl., Bonecrusher, 2 Cherries1, Tioga Triangle (tie vote- left to BLM to decide)
The USFWS made a key point about logging in these ODFW/BLM Agreement Sites – this from their 12/6/89 overview referenced above (pg.3):
"The amount of suitable habitat in some ODFW/BLM Agreement Sites may not contain sufficient habitat to sustain a pair of owls over time without their use of habitat outside the Agreement Sites."
Site specific USFWS reports are available on only two of the above sales, Thomas Mountain mentioned above and the Slater Slider sale located in the Myrtlewood resource area. In their report dated 12/6/89 The USFWS said of the Slater Slider sale:
"The Proposed ...Sale... is within 2.1 miles of three spotted owl pairs."(pg.1)
"Four other timber sales are proposed within the 2.1 mile radii of the three pairs..." (pg.2)
"Unit 1 is within 0.5 mile of known nests, pair activity centers or natal areas."(pg.2)
"Implementation of this timber sale, as proposed, may also: Disrupt nesting activity of the pairs, thereby reducing the pairs' reproductive viability and/or displacing the pairs from established territories due to the close proximity of timber harvest activities to the pairs' nest sites or activity centers; Likely reduce the spotted owl pairs' ability to disperse through removal of sufficient dispersal corridor habitat, which increases the risk of exposure to avian predators, and increases the risk of starvation." (pg.2)
The USFWS report on this sale is four pages long and contains many recommendations on ways the sale could be modified to minimize the adverse effect on these owls. The BLM timber sale notice of 1/2/89 (auction scheduled for 1/26/90) is one page long, and contains no indication that any of the recommendations were accepted. The only mention of how Slater Slider is to be cut is the following brief statement at the bottom of the bidders notice:
"Two(2) units totaling approximately 50 acres must be clear-cut."
It has been pointed out to me that my Board could not be a rubber stamp as it did reject some sales. Our Board occasionally rejected sales because some were so bad even the Timber Industry Board members voted against them. Some had owls actually nesting within proposed clearcuts! And, some were so bad BLM admitted they had already been rejected by the Agency itself. I think we also rejected one sale that was within the habitat area of 12 known Spotted Owls.
BLM biologists, in their recommendations, designated each proposed sale as having low, medium or high impact. No one seems aware that because of the logging BLM has already done, it has few areas left that can be logged without disrupting Spotted Owls; even "low impact" sales will have adverse affect on owls. Some of the BLM lands have so many owls I don't think the biologists really know how to assess what the damage to owls will be. Data on spotted owls is not sufficient to assess the consequences of removing habitat when many owls share the same habitat, there are questions about how to count and apportion the land among and between the owls. Nevertheless, this is what the BLM biologists are trying to do with a crude scale of only three values that cannot possibly accurately represent the true impact on Spotted Owls. The actual situation as we did our analysis ranged from sales where there was no impact on owls (a few sales were like this) to some where a nesting pair was within the proposed clear-cut. Most sales were in the broad range between these two cases. Now, how could a three choice rating truly discriminate between these cases?
The boards are not so much approving good sales as disapproving the worst sales in excess of their "quotas". We picked the least-worst ones to add up to the goal. It is as if you had a forced choice; be shot in the head or in the leg. In BLM terms the leg would be "low impact" compared to your head, which would presumably be "high impact". What we have in the advisory boards is not an "approving" process - it is triage. There aren't many good sales only some that are less worse than others.
The appeals filed by the Oregon Natural Resources Council (such as the one filed against Thomas Mountain on 12/12/89) outline all the Coos Bay District's alleged violations of Laws, Regulations and Court decisions in areas of; environmental assessments, rare plants surveys, erosion from poorly planned roads, degrading watersheds, computer models which underestimate stream sedimentation, refusing to prepare environmental assessments the way other BLM districts and the Forest Service do, logging on steep slopes, ruined streams, taking protected habitat without permits, inadequate consideration of cumulative impacts, failing to consult with USFWS in good faith, violating the documentation requirements of the Clean Water Act, inadequate reforestation, not adequately considering blowdown, and all the other sundry practices, or lack of, that caused Coos Bay District timber sales to be enjoined in the first place. I will not elaborate on these here as ONRC has already done so in their 14-page letter of 12/12.
I request you have your Regional Attorney review the legal transcript of the proceedings of my Board to see if the charter and ongoing instructions were in keeping with the language of the Hatfield-Adams "compromise"; and if they fairly construed the function and capabilities of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. I believe the instructions and charter as described above were so flawed and misleading as to warrant the setting aside of the recommendations of my board and the establishment of a new Board.
USFWS individual sales reports were available for the first sale only. For subsequent sales we only had an overall summary at the time we voted. Individual sales reports were occasionally available some weeks after the votes were taken. I request the record be checked to see if the Board was given all relevant reports in a timely manner.
I request the ODF&W–BLM Agreement be reviewed to verify that all proposed sales inside Agreement Areas are specifically allowed by that Agreement.
I also request the proposed sales of the BLM Coos Bay District be reviewed by a impartial professional biologist, who is not under a mandate to fill timber quotas, to see if any of these sales violate the provisions of any existing laws or regulations.
I would also like to be furnished with a complete transcript of the proceedings of my Board as soon as possible.
Thank you for your cooperation in this matter. If you have any questions do not hesitate to call me at 332-9775.
James S. Britell
Coos Bay BLM Advisory Board
cc: Cy Jamieson, Director BLM
US Fish and Wildlife Service
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
Members of the U.S. Congress
Members of Timber Sale Advisory Boards