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Environment: Forest Service agrees to study snowmobile impacts on five national forests in California

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The U.S. Forest Service may finally address the environmental impacts of snowmobiles, at least in California, where the agency settled a lawsuit with a promise to do better studies.

Conservation groups say agency has been avoiding detailed studies by approving trail systems under streamlined categorical exclusion permitting process

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The U.S. Forest Service may finally come to grips with the environmental impacts of snowmobiles under a new legal agreement that will require a full assessment of snowmobile impacts on wildlife, plants and quiet recreation in five California national forests — the Stanislaus, Eldorado, Tahoe, Plumas and Lassen.

The agreement settles a lawsuit that challenged the Forest Service’s practice of avoiding detailed environmental review on these national forests in the central and northern Sierra and southern Cascades. In many cases, the agency has used categorical exclusions to authorize snowmobile trail grooming without taking a hard look at impacts like federal environmental laws require. Continue reading

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USFS to clean up mine debris near Breckenridge

Agency to remove abandoned buildings and old mining gear

Old mining scars are visible all along French Gulch Road, east of Breckenridge.

Old mining scars are visible all along French Gulch Road, east of Breckenridge, where the U.S. Forest Service is planning a cleanup at the Lincoln Townsite.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The U.S. Forest Service will begin a careful cleanup of mining debris around the historic Lincoln Townsite, near Breckenridge. As part of the agency’s abandoned mine lands safety program, crews will demolish and remove abandoned buildings, sheds and equipment — but five buildings will be left standing at the site after local stakeholders commented on the potential historical value of the structures. Continue reading

Environment: U.S. Forest Service plans to transition away from old-growth logging in the Tongass National Forest

Tongass National Forest map

After many years of conflict over logging plans, the Forest Service will transition away from harvesting old-growth trees in the Tongass National Forest.

Agency hopes to complete the shift to sustainable second-growth timber harvests in 10 to 15 years

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The U.S. Forest Service says it will back away from logging old growth in the country’s biggest national forest — Alaska’s 17-million acre Tongass — but not until after completing the  already approved Big Thorne timber sale.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack the agency’s plan to to conserve the old-growth forests by speeding the transition to management of second-growth forests. Vilsack said the goal is to increase second-growth timbers until they make up the vast majority of logging projects withing 10 to 15 years. Read the full memorandum here.

The Tongass contains large stands of old-growth rainforest, and provides world-class recreation and fishing while supporting local communities through a variety of economic activities. Continue reading

Threats, attacks on federal workers increase in 2012

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A National Park ranger was killed in the line of duty in 2012, the first such incident since 2002.

Watchdog group tracks federal data to identify year-to-year trends

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Attacks and threats against federal workers on public lands increased in 2012, with violence against U.S. Park Police officers reaching a record level, according to figures compiled by federal agencies and analyzed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

According to the figures, reported incidents rose more than 40 percent in wildlife refuges and in areas patrolled by the U.S. Park Police and by more than 12 percent in national parks.

The year began with the shooting death of Mount Rainier National Park law enforcement ranger Margaret Anderson on January 1. Anderson was only was the ninth ranger killed in the line of duty since the National Park Service was founded in 1916.  A park ranger was last killed in 2002, at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona, while chasing drug traffickers. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Conservation group says bats are at risk under new Forest Service Rocky Mountain cave-access policy

Re-opening caves could lead to spread of deadly white-nose syndrome

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By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The U.S. Forest Service this week denied an appeal of a new cave-access policy for the Rocky Mountain region, clearing the way for the re-opening of some caves that have been under a blanket closure the past three years to try and prevent the spread of bat-killing white-nose syndrome.

The fungal pathogen was probably introduced to caves in the Northeast by humans and quickly spread to kill more than 7 million bats as far west as Missouri and Oklahoma. Bats are unsung members of the country’s ecosystems, providing valuable insect-control and pollination services. Continue reading

Colorado: U.S. Forest Service withdraws drilling approval

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Oil and gas drilling roads and pads spread across western Colorado like a spiderweb. Bob Berwyn photo.

Community groups challenge agency’s environmental review shortcut for project in elk habitat

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — An attempt by federal land managers to rush approval for oil and gas drilling in Colorado was thwarted by watchdog groups, who challenged the U.S. Forest Service over permits for drilling on the Gunnison National Forest.

Following an appeal by the Western Environmental Law Center, filed on behalf of Citizens for a Healthy Community, The Paonia Ranger District withdrew its earlier OK. The appeal claimed that the USFS had failed to complete mandatory site-specific environmental analysis of drilling impacts. Continue reading

Military airtankers to join Colorado firefighting efforts

Forest Service cites ‘explosive wildfire conditions’ in deploying the planes

Two MAFFS aircraft will be coming from the 153rd Airlift Wing in Cheyenne, WY, and two aircraft will be from the local 302nd Airlift Wing here in Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Daniel Butterfield)

Two MAFFS aircraft will be activated to help fight the Black Forest and Royal Gorge fires in Colorado. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Daniel Butterfield).

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —After a sudden start to the Colorado wildfire season, The U.S. Forest Service is activating two giant C-130s to help with aerial firefighting efforts. The planes are equipped with Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems that can drop up to 3,000 gallons of water or retardant on a single run. They can discharge their entire load in under five seconds or make variable drops.

The systems will be provided by the 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. They will be based in Colorado Springs, Colo., and will begin flying wildfire suppression missions as soon as safe and effective operations can be established.

“We are experiencing an uptick in wildfire activity and we are mobilizing MAFFS to ensure that we have adequate air tanker capability as we confront explosive wildfire conditions in Colorado, New Mexico, and elsewhere in the West,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “Maintaining adequate aerial firefighting capability is critical to provide support to, and enhance the safety of, the firefighters on the ground who are working so hard to suppress wildfires that are threatening lives, homes, infrastructure, and valuable natural and cultural resources.”

Airtankers are used in wildfire suppression to deliver fire retardant to reduce the intensity and slow the growth of wildfires so that firefighters on the ground can construct containment lines safely, which is how wildfires are suppressed.

Fire retardant is not typically used to suppress wildfires directly. Professional fire managers decide whether to use airtankers to deliver fire retardant , and where to use them, based on the objectives they have established to manage wildfires and the strategies they are using to achieve them.  Airtankers are not requested for all wildfires.

The Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems program is a joint effort between the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Defense that has been in place for 40 years. The U.S. Forest Service owns the Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems equipment and supplies the retardant, while the Department of Defense provides the C-130 aircraft, flight crews and maintenance and support personnel to fly the missions.

The U.S. Forest Service has a total of eight Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems ready for operational use. Military installations in Wyoming, North Carolina, California, and Colorado provide C-130s to fly the missions.

In 2012, Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems delivered 2.4 million gallons of fire retardant while flying wildfire suppression missions in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, California, and Nevada.  That was the second busiest year for the systems in at least the last 20 years. 1994 was the busiest year, when they delivered more than 5 million gallons of fire retardant while flying wildfire suppression missions.

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