April 25, 1995
Mr. Jim Lyons
Undersecretary for Natural Resources
U.S. Department of Agriculture
14th Street and Independence Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20250
This is to report Quincy Library Group's understanding of the status of projects being implemented under the one million dollar allocation to "QLG Area" National Forests in FY 95. We bring it directly to your attention because your support was crucial to the effort that brought this allocation to our area last year, and our experience with the $1 million projects influences the recommendations we are making to local Forests on the $ 4.7 million Forest Health Pilot Project this year.
In November 1994, Forest Service officials announced a supplemental allocation of one million dollars to the Lassen National Forest, the Plumas National Forest, and the Sierraville Ranger District of the Tahoe National Forest. The Quincy Library Group suggested to the Forests that about ten percent of the allocation should go toward an area-wide plan to implement a network of defensible fuelbreaks, with the other ninety percent to be spent on specific fuel reduction projects that could be implemented quickly and would be compatible with the fuelbreak strategy an all other aspects of the QLG Proposal. The three forests initially decided on the following list of projects:
|Lassen N. F.||1
4 machine pile
|Plumas N. F.||2
|Tahoe N. F.||2
|Lassen, Plumas & Tahoe||Technical Fuels Report||
The four underburn projects on the Plumas National Forest were later omitted, and the status of remaining projects is:
* Three-Forest Technical Fuels
Report. In April 1995 the three forests gave a public briefing on
development of this report, and it was published in July 1995.
Based on early discussions and the public briefing, QLG saw that
the Technical Fuel Report was a very important development, and
suggestedthat it be followed immediately by a full-scale planning
effort that would lead to incorporation of the major concepts of
this fuels reduction strategy into the Forest Plans through
appropriate NEPA and NFMA processes. Vegetation management
prescriptions as well as standards and guidelines were
anticipated products to the fuels reduction strategy amendments
to Forest Plans. QLG suggested that the $168,000 initially
allocated to four PNFunderburn projects would more efficiently be
spent toward the follow-on planning. With the $168,000 the three
Forests conducted an in-house planning effort, which became know
"Tri-Forest Assessment" and which is being completed without benefit of either NEPA or NFMA-mandated public involvement.
Lassen National Forest projects:
-- Fuelbreak, proposed 200
acres, completed 350 acres in September 95.
-- Thinning, proposed 855 acres, sale advertised in September 95.
-- Machine pile, proposed 1275 acres, 1470 acres accomplished or in
Plumas National Forest projects:
-- Thinning, proposed 474 acres in two projects. These were included in the Westside Biomass/Thinning project of about 1650 acres, which was about 1 percent complete, with another 10 percent partially completed as of October.
Sierraville RD projects:
-- Biomass thinning, 1194
acres, awarded August, 15% completed as of October.
-- Fuelbreak, 196 acres, awarded September, 40% completed as of October.
-- Underburning, 110 acres, completed.
The attached table summarizes planned and actual expenditures for the above projects.
* In early 1995 local Forests and Ranger Districts could not readily confirm that the expected money had actually been allocated, and in some cases the money did not actually "arrive" on the forests until July. This introduced doubt and considerable risk into the early planning of these projects, and prevented the award of contracts until very late in the season.
* The forest-level and
area-wide planning suggested by QLG is being implemented too
slowly. Technical Fuels Report publication was over two months
later than scheduled. The follow-on processes to incorporate
Technical Fuels Report concepts into new projects and the Forest
Plans has been delayed in various ways. There was initial
reluctance to spend any of the money toward any effort identified
as planning, because a conflict was perceived if another process
that might lead to amending Forest Plans took place while the Cal
Owl EIS was
pending. Also it has been difficult to progress from a "report" that is based primarily on fire and fuels considerations to a "plan" that needs participation by many other specialists and managers, as well as the public.
* To date the $168,000 allocated to the Tri-Forest Assessment has not resulted in public disclosure of its contents or the release of a report. Forest Service failures to observe legal process requirements of NFMA and NEPA are leaving the timber and fuels management programs vulnerable to attack in court. In addition, outside expert and public reviews of the Technical Fuels Report and Tri-Forest Assessment might produce economically and environmentally superior management plans; given both the tight budgetary picture and the impacted nature of some Forest resources, better planning is needed.
* Except for the Technical Fuels Report and the Tri-Forest Assessment, the $1 million projects were generally limited, due to time constraints, to what was available "off the shelf." That was to be expected in the first round of implementation, but now we need to deal with another special allocation in FY 96, and the stock of off-the-shelf plans is pretty much depleted. The need to create new projects has magnified the adverse effect of delay in the planning efforts initiated under the $1 million allocation.
* Another adverse effect of early dependence on off-the-shelf projects is that many of them turned out to be cleanups of previous projects. Those cleanups were more numerous than the long-term average need would require, and they produced less saleable commodity than long-term average fuel reduction projects should yield. Thus the $1 million projects did not fully represent a valid "pilot program", but were at besta good try at a first approximation.
* In the summary table there are minor discrepancies between estimated and actual costs, because some contract bids were for less than the estimated costs. It was not possible to identify exactly how each of these amounts was eventually expended, because there were not always specific project codes assigned to each segment of the $1 million allocation. The indicated difference, about $25,000, may not represent the total discrepancy, because some of these projects are still in progress, so there continues to be a mixture of estimated and actual costs in the "actual" expenditure column.
* Another source of uncertainty in the net effect of spending this $1 million is the fact that dollar yields from sales of the biomass and thinning products are not reflected in the table. For example, in the two Plumas thinning projects listed, there were separate sales contracts for the relatively small amounts of sawlogs and biomass chips produced.
The QLG "defensible fuelbreak" strategy is well represented in the three-forest Technical Fuels Report. The Technical Fuels Report has been widely distributed, and its concepts and terminology have been borrowed by other Forest Service units, such as the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. A network of fuelbreaks nearly identical to the Defensible Fuel Profile Zones (DFPZ's) proposed in the Technical Fuels Report was expected to be modeled by the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project (SNEP) as one of its scenarios for detailed analysis. The SNEP report is now due to be published in June 1996.
The various thinning and fuelbreak projects are reasonable first approximations of the range of conditions and prescriptions that need to be considered when incorporating the Technical Fuels Report strategy into the Land Management Plans. Eastside pine, westside mixed conifer, urban interface, and general forest areas are being treated. The emphasis is on mechanical treatment, withsome limited use of prescribed fire. The work includes CDZ's, DFPZ's, and FRZ's (Community Defense, Defensible Fuel Profile, and Fuel Reduction Zones).
About two thirds of the $1 million went to contractors for thinning, slash piling, and construction of CDZ's and DFPZ's.
First, the Forest Service generally selected projects that met the criteria QLG had suggested, and these projects have been or are being implemented with reasonable success.
Second, QLG and Forest Service monitoring of the implementation of such projects needs improved pre-planning and should occur over the whole life of each project.
QLG members are now planning how best to monitor implementation and expenditures under the FY 96 allocation of $4.7 million. We are convinced that much can be accomplished by helping the Forest Service monitor and evaluate its management performance, for the benefit of both the National Forests and the U.S. Forest Service. Your interest and assistance are greatly appreciated.
Linda L. Blum Edward C. Murphy
Corresponding Secretaries, Quincy Library Group