Subject: SW Biodiversity Alert #18
* ************* Southwest Biodiversity Alert #18 *****************
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* southwest center for biological diversity *
* firstname.lastname@example.org *
* http://www.envirolink.org/orgs/sw-center *
1. Albuquerque Journal Warns of FBI/Congressional Investigation
Into Forest Service Arson
2. Coronado National Forest Shreds Salvage Documents - Charges
to be Filed
3. New York Times Stories on Forest Health and Fire in West -
Grazing Finally Blamed
1. ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL CALLS FOR FBI/CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATION
INTO FOREST SERVICE ARSON
Gila National Forest employees are under investigation by the U.S.
Inspector General for starting arson fires in 1995. A separate
investigation ordered by the Inspector General at the request of the
Southwest Center, is looking into charges that the Gila National
Forest allowed the Eagle Peak Roadless Area to burn in order to
salvage log it, bungled the fire investigation, and engineered an
illegal alteration of the Mexican spotted owl Recovery Plan to
allow salvage logging of roadless areas.
The following editorial appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on
May 7, 1996:
ARSON REPORTS TAINT U.S. FOREST SERVICE
Federal firefighters are shifting their main emphasis from the
devastating Dome Fire in the Jemez Mountains to the big Hondo Fires
as New Mexico continues to reel under the early onslaught of what
threatens to be the worst fire season ever. Dry conditions in the
wake of wet years, and decades for fire suppression, make the forests
of the Southwest wildfire habitats waiting to go.
But, even as the firefighters deploy against the big fires, both
apparently accidentally started by humans, it is disclosed that the
U.S. Department of Agriculture's Inspector General's Office for four
months has been investigating allegations that federal Forest
Service employees might be to blame for arson fires on the Gila
Now, the thought of Forest Service employees
setting forest fires is unthinkable. But, if there is credible
evidence it might have happened, its should be investigated by law
enforcement - the FBI, for instance - not the in-house Agriculture
Department Inspector General's Office. More importantly, if Forest
Service employees are suspected of arson, it is a law enforcement
question -and not a "personnel matter," as asserted by Gila Forest
supervisor Abel Camerena.
"If there is wrongdoing, it's being done
by individuals and not the agency," asserted Milo Larson, acting
regional forester for New Mexico and Arizona. "We want justice to be
done here, because it's too important to what we do and stand for."
That's true - but suggesting that dealing with forest fire setting
Forest Service employees is a "personnel matter" sends and entirely
If Larson doesn't choose to make Gila National
Forest officials more forthright in disclosing what is going on, New
Mexico's elected officials in Congress should enter the discussion.
With Northern New Mexico going up in flames and thousand of brave
men and women risking their lives to protect the forest and private
property, the stewards of the forests owe the public they serve
absolute candor in disclosing wrongdoings by their peers.
If the Forest Service isn't playing straight with the public
on what's going on, Congress should move quickly to make changes. How
can the public trust the Forest Service on complex matters like
endangered species habitat analysis and sustained-yield levels of
timber cutting when at a hint of internal wrongdoing, the agency
circles its wagons in a public-be-damned silence?
Environmentalists have long accused Forest Service officials
of bending the truth in catering to commercial interests in the
multiple-use concept for national forests. The official silence about
the arson investigation lends a little credence to such accusations.
People can help the fight against New
Mexico's threatening summer of fire. They can be careful in the use
of fire in or near forest areas. They can also help in demanding that
Forest Service officials be more candid about alleged federal arson
in the Forest. Barring rain, Mother Nature has programmed a long,
hot summer for New Mexico's forests. The U.S. Forest Service in New
Mexico should face a long, hot summer of its own until there is a
full public explanation of just what is going on with reports of
Forest Service arsonists.
2. CORONADO NATIONAL FOREST SHREDS SALVAGE COURT DOCUMENTS -
CHARGES TO BE FILED
The Southwest Center informed the U.S. Forest Service today that it
will file charges against Coronado National Forest employees who
shredded a critical document to prevent it from being used in recent
Southwest Center lawsuit to stop the Rustler Salvage Timber Sale in
the Chiricahua Mountains.
The salvage timber sale is entirely within a Spotted owl core area
which was deleted by the Forest Service after the sale was planned.
It is also within the home range of a nesting pair Northern
goshawks. The Southwest Center argued in court, that since the sale
is in pine-oak and mixed-conifer habitats (which are protected by
the Mexican spotted owl recovery plan), the Salvage Rider requires
the Forest Service to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service and
prepare an Environmental Assessment.
The Forest Service won the case by scrupulously removing every
reference to the habitat type from the public record. First it sent the
Southwest Center bogus documents when we requested the post-fire
vegetation plan, then it insisted that the vegetation plan did not
exist even though it is listed in the administrative record. Finally
it succeeding in having the Southwest Center's own vegetation transects
stricken from the court record.
Unfortunately for the Coronado, the Southwest Center has
appealed the decision, and it has obtained a copy of the supposedly
non-existent vegetation plan. The plan states exactly what the
the Center's declarations demonstrate: the habitat type is pine-oak
and mixed-conifer. The new evidence will be used in the appeal.
The Center will also be filing charges against the Forest Service for
suppressing critical evidence.
3. NEW YORK TIMES STORIES ON FOREST HEALTH AND FIRE IN WEST -
GRAZING FINALLY BLAMED
The New York Times printed three stories on Southwest forest
fires and their implications for forest health in the inland west on
April 30th, March 7th and March 11th. The first story had lots of
fire scare stories, but did not discuss the causes of the fire "threat."
The second story was all Forest Service rhetoric: a century of fire
suppression has led to extremely dense ponderosa pine forests which
now threaten local communities and a nuclear research lab with
apocalyptic fires. A Forest Service spokesman said that pre-Euorpean
ponderosa pine forests had only 8 to 10 trees per acre (!) while
today's the forests are choked with "doghair thickets" with (yikes)
"hundreds" of trees per acre.
The third story brandished a terrible headline, but after complaints
about the first two stories, the author did include a lot of good
information, including the huge influence of overgrazing on forest
health. Exerpts from the third story:
IN SICK, CROWDED PONDEROSA FORESTS OF WEST, SEEDS OF INFERNOS
LIE OMINOUSLY IN WAIT
[George Johnson, New York Times, May 11, 1996]
"It is no coincidence that this devastating fire firestorm occurred in
these densely wooded mountains, where Mr. Peterson and his
rangers are overseeing more than 100,000 acres of sick pines.
Forestry experts believe the seeds of these conflagarations
have been laid over many years. By removing the grasses that
compete with pine seedlings, grazing has caused many pines to
sprout into dense but illnourished thickets, which are tinder for
fierce fires. And fire suppression, by interfering with nature's cycle
of burning and renewal, has created a buildup of combustible material;
the fire that inevitably catches is all the fiercer..."
"Throughout the Western United States, Ponderosa forests,
which stretch from northern Mexico to southern Canada, have
undergone a dangerous transition. Where there once might have
been 30 to 80 tall ponderosas per acre - sometimes even fewer -
there are now hundreds and often thousands. When fire strikes...the
result is no longer the mild cleasing fires that nipped the
base of the Ponderosas, clearing out the underbrush and weeding
out the weeker trees..."
"A series of biological studies over the last decade has
awakened foresters to the problem, which extends throughout the
West. Beginning in the 1880's with the coming of the railroad, the
large-scale grazing of million of cattle and sheep removed muc of
the grass that carried alonfg the healthy fires - and that competed
with the pine seedlings. Grazing, followed by the United States
Forest Service's decades long policy of putting out forest fires, has
let the Ponderosa pines get the upper hand..
" 'If you wanted to design a way to destroy Ponderosa
forests, you couldn't come up with a better plan,' said Dr. Wallace
Covington, a professor at Northern Arizona University's School of
Forestry. 'Of course, none of it was intentional.'
The Forest Service now says it has got religion on the issue
of fire suppression, and it is using the recent fires to drive home its
new credo: the woods need to be cleared with widespead, carefully
controlled burns. 'It's like somebody turned on a light,' Mr. Peterson
said. Where the Forest Service used to burn a few hundred acres at a
time, it is now burning thousands'....Prescribed burns are not
without risk. There is always the danger that one will get out of
hand, as happened in 1993 in the Jemez District, killing a firefighter.
And some planned fires can have the opposite of the effect intended,
sparing the doghair thickets and killing the old-growth Ponderosas that
foresters want to save...."
"Some effects of (tree) overcrowding are more subtle,
though no less worisome to eoclogists. Studies have shown that
chemicals called terpenes in the pine needles - that is what gives
them their piney smell - interfere with bacteria that convert nitrogen
in dead wood into a form that plants can use. The thick carpet of
pine neeles also traps rainwater - which is already being retarded by
the continuous canopy of forest - keeping it from penetrating into
the ground. What little trickles down must find its way through the
increasingly thick network of tree roots.
'In a very real sense, we are seeing the desertification of
pine forests,' Dr. Covington said. All over the Southwest, springs are
slowly running dry,' he said..."
"But treating millions of acres of Ponderosa forests would
require a public works project of huge proportions. 'The public
might not stand for it,' Mr. Peterson, the Jemez ranger, said. 'People
believe this is what forests are supposed to look like.'
Environmentalists become suspicious when the Forest
Service starts planning more large-scale operations in public woodlands.
Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Southwest
Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, said the Forest Service
was trying to divert attention from the major cause of the sick
forests: logging and the removal of the fire-carrying grasses by
cattle grazing. 'The primary cause of fire suppression is not the guys
in yellow jackets, it's the cows,' he said. But many ecologists doubt
that grazing is as big a problem as it used to be.
Mr. Suckling also says the Forest Service bolsters its cause
by selectively quoting from historical records, in which early explorers
describe the Ponderosa forests as "open and parklike."
To counter this impression, he has unearthed old reports that speak
of dark forests "black with timber." But historical accounts are
notoriously subjective. In higher elevations, dense forests with
a mix of pines, firs and spruces have always been the norm, biologists
say, and occasional crown fires in these regions are actually considered
Scientists today are reminded that even today's wildfires are
not all bad. (The editors must have intervened here since this sentence
does not go anywhere.) When flames sweeping down from St. Peter's Dome
and surrounding mountains hit sparser pinyon-juniper forests on the
Bandelier monument's lower mesa tops, the frlames slowed and cooled into
the heathier fires ecologists like to see.
But it is only a matter of time before the pinyon-juniper
forests become as crowded and volitile as the stands of Ponderosas
above them, Dr. Covington said. The same factors - fire suppression and
grazing - are causing the density of these trees to increase. 'Fifty
years from now we will see crown fires of biblical proportions,' he