The Sierra Forest Voice
Vol. 6, No. 1, March 2013
With the recent announcement in the Federal Register, the Forest Service officially began the process of revising forest plans on the Inyo, Sierra and Sequoia national forests. The revision process on these forests will be underway during the coming three to four years.
The first step in the process is to complete assessments for each national forest that evaluate the current conditions and identify trends for the ecologic, social and economic factors affecting these forests. Since many of the issues facing a national forest are relevant to the Sierra Nevada region as a whole, the Forest Service is undertaking a bioregional assessment along with assessments for each forest. Together these completed assessments are intended to provide support for the need to change or revise the forest plan.
With the goal of being inclusive and transparent in the development of the assessments, the Forest Service has taken an extraordinary step by developing a “wiki” called the Living Assessment. A wiki is a website environment designed to provide a common platform for people to review text, images, charts, and other data and actively edit or comment on the displayed content. This platform is a provocative (and sometimes chaotic!) environment in which to exchange ideas and information. (You may also wish to join the FS’ interactive blogging site, “My Forest Place”).
SFL and our partners have been reviewing the Living Assessment and adding information from our Conservation Strategy and other sources. We encourage all who are interested in conservation on national forest lands to visit the Living Assessment and contribute to the information being gathered. Be sure to check our website regularly for updated information for each of the “early adopter” forests now engaged in forest plan revisions.
Getting the Forest Monitoring Right This Time
In March 2012 the Forest Service issued their new Forest Planning Rule that revised forest management and planning regulations implementing the 1976 National Forest Management Act. Subsequently, last month the agency announced the publication of new Forest Planning Directives for the Forest Service Manual and Forest Service Handbook that will provide forest managers with guidance in preparing new forest management plans. The proposed new directives can be viewed here.
One of the fundamental and ongoing debates in forest management is centered on the scales and intensity of monitoring wildlife species to assess responses to changes in the environment. In a recent publication in the Journal of Wildlife Management (Schultz et al. 2013), several experts in wildlife conservation planning express concern of the Forest Service's historic reliance on what is termed "coarse filter" approaches to monitoring wildlife species:
"Research indicates that the coarse-filter approach is unlikely to provide a reliable basis for multi-species conservation planning, (Cushman 2008), only limited testing of the approaches validity has occurred (Noon et al. 2009), and the monitoring of a select group of species using a fine-filter approach is necessary to determine the efficacy of coarse-filter approaches (Committee of Scientists 1999, Flather et al. 2009). A recent review of the degree to which coarse-filter models can be used to infer animal occurrence concluded that '..the observed error rates were high enough to call into question any management decisions based on these models' (Schlossberg and King 2009)."
The authors state that the basic assumption that habitat is a valid proxy for species health is at best a risky stretch and at worst a weak and incomplete picture of the health, functioning and diversity of a particular ecosystem.
Another monitoring approach, also largely driven by expediency, postulates that species surrogates (indicator species) are adequate proxies for suites of species associated with various vegetation types across a landscape. In recent research (Cushman et al. 2010) examined 72,495 bird observations of 55 species across 1046 plots across 30 sub-basins and found "few significant indicator species relationships at either scale" where there was a presumed association.
In PSW-GTR-237, Managing Sierra Nevada Forests (2012) authors Malcolm North and Patricia Manley suggest that "coarse filter" approaches such as the California Wildlife-Habitat Relations model "generally fail to account for the different spatial and temporal scales at which species may respond to forest conditions or assess habitat features other than large trees and canopy cover."
The Sierra Nevada Framework Environmental Impact Statement (2001) habitat projections for old forest attributes are an example of the coarse filter approach. Old forest habitat--large trees greater than 50 inches in diameter and large snags--were projected to increase significantly over a 140-year time scale. Oaks modeled to 60 years showed similar results. Yet, species monitoring has demonstrated that the California spotted owl, one of the key sensitive species of management concern closely tied to these habitat values, is currently experiencing a declining population trend (Keane 2013). The information regarding declining spotted owl trend was the result of fine-filter monitoring via a long-term spotted owl research project. If managers (and conservation advocates) were to rely simply upon the optimistic habitat projections in the 2001 Framework Plan and EIS (which the conservation community actively supported) we would be flying blind in what looks like an increasing grave situation for the owl's survival.
Fine-filter monitoring approaches are less likely to oversimplify how animals use habitat and are more likely to capture effects of fine scale habitat fragmentation, predator-prey relations, behavioral responses to changed conditions, the value of understory diversity and snags and downed wood, landscape scale relationships or connectivity and spatial and temporal patterns of detection and non-detection.
In the new Forest Service Draft Directives, FSH 1909.12, Chapter 30 Monitoring, Section 32.12 "Selecting Monitoring Indicators," stresses the financial feasibility, practicality, measurability and relevance to key monitoring questions. Section 32.13 establish eight monitoring indicators for tracking ecological conditions and progress toward desired conditions, plan objectives and important trends. Included in the directives are indicators to assess ecological conditions and status of focal species that are tied to ecological conditions.
These are generally coarse filter metrics that will be further defined in the specific revision of forest plans, including the Inyo, Sierra and Sequoia National Forest early adopter forests in California. Chapter 20 of the new Directives address the need for specific fine-filter standards when more general ecosystem indicators are not specific enough to address at-risk species needs such as nest tree protection or culverts allowing proper fish passage.
The National Forest Management Act requires the Forest Service to provide for a diversity of plant and animal species and not simply a range of ecological conditions that may or may not support diversity. The new Forest Service Planning Rule and its Directives system must ensure diversity of plant and wildlife species is maintained. The Forest Service's obligation cannot devolve into a suite of invalid assumptions, ruled by efficiency which ultimately fail to meet the intent of the NMFA and the public's expectation that Forest Service land managers will examine closely and rigorously the effects of management and changing conditions on the land.
Committee of Scientists -- get the underpinnings of the 2001 Rule here
Cushman, S.A., K.S. McKelvey, B.R. Noon, and K. McGarigal. 2010. Use of abundance of one species as a surrogate for abundance of others. Conservation Biology 24:830-840.
Keane, J. 2013. California Spotted Owl: Scientific Considerations for Forest Planning. Section 7. 2 in: Science Synthesis to Support Land and Resource Management Plan revision in the Sierra Nevada and Southern Cascades, PSW Research Station, US Forest Service. January 2013.
Schultz, C.A., T.D. Sisk, B.R. Noon, and M.A. Nie. 2013.Wildlife conservation planning under the United States Forest Service's 2012 planning rule. The Journal of Wildlife Management. Article first published online : 23 Jan 2013, DOI: 10.1002/jwmg.513.
The California Wilderness Coalition Mapping Effort as of 2012
According to the USFS' planning regulations at §219.7(c)(2)(v), the agency is required to "Identify and evaluate lands that may be suitable for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System and determine whether to recommend any such lands for wilderness designation." This evaluation is to take place during the forest plan revision process.
Our coalition partners at the California Wilderness Coalition (CWC) have been collecting detailed supporting field data for over a decade, to ensure that the Sierra's roadless areas remain untrammeled in the current revision process for forest planning. In this article, we describe the criteria that are used to evaluate the quality of roadless areas and present information on contemporary roadless areas on the Sierra and Sequoia National Forests.
Forest Service Manual (FSM) 1923.03 and Forest Service Handbook (FSH) 1909.12, chapter 70, provide the agency with guidance for wilderness and roadless planning:
3(a). Newly identified roadless, undeveloped areas and areas (1) previously identified in the Forest Service Roadless Area Conservation Final Environmental Impact Statement (Volume 2, November 2000), (2) in a unit plan, or (3) in a land management plan, which remain roadless and undeveloped and have not yet been designated as wilderness or for non-wilderness uses by law.
b. Areas contiguous to existing wilderness, primitive areas, or administratively proposed wildernesses, regardless of agency jurisdiction for the wilderness or proposed wilderness.
c. Areas that are contiguous to roadless and undeveloped areas in other Federal ownership that have identified wilderness potential.
d. Areas designated by Congress for wilderness study, administrative proposals pending before Congress, and other legislative proposals pending which have been endorsed by the President.
As we move forward with developing substantive proposals for wilderness and roadless management, it is essential that significant resource issues be determined with public participation and, at a minimum, consider:
- The values of the area as wilderness.
- The values foregone and effects on management of adjacent lands as a consequence of wilderness designation.
- Feasibility of management (FSH 1909.12, sec. 72.1) as wilderness, in respect to size, nonconforming use, land ownership patterns, and existing contractual agreements or statutory rights.
- Proximity to other designated wilderness and relative contribution to the National Wilderness Preservation System.
- The anticipated long-term changes in plant and animal species diversity, including the diversity of natural plant and animal communities of the plan area and the effects of such changes on the values for which wilderness areas were created.
Furthermore, as is stated at FSH 1909.12 Chapter 72, the USFS must consider the capability, availability and suitability of each area considered for wilderness designation. To fulfill these requirements, the "early adopter" forests should:
- Identify all wilderness-eligible land during the LRMP development process--including roadless areas that are not inventoried roadless areas (IRAs);
- Include in the LRMP a thorough examination of the impacts of placing all or portions of an IRA or other roadless area under a non-wilderness prescription; and
- Provide a full and fair evaluation of every roadless area's wilderness qualities in the LRMP, followed by an explanation as to why the USFS will or will not recommend to higher authorities that the areas be designated as wilderness in whole or in part.
Here are the roadless areas that have been determined to meet the required criteria for the Sierra and Sequoia National Forests.
Sierra National Forest
After this analysis is complete, the conservation coalition will request that the following Sierra NF roadless areas mapped by the CWC be protected from all logging, road construction, off-road vehicle (ORV) use; and the development of communication sites, energy production or transmission facilities and reservoirs:
- Ansel Adams Additions
- Devils Gulch
- Dinkey Lakes Additions
- John Muir Additions
- Kaiser Additions
- Raymond Mountain
- Sycamore Springs
(Click on the map image to download full PDF map)
Sequoia National Forest
The following roadless areas were mapped by the California Wilderness Coalition outside of what is now the GSNM, should be protected from all logging, road construction, off-road vehicle (ORV) use; and the development of communication sites, energy production or transmission facilities and reservoirs:
- Bright Star Additions
- Domeland Additions
- Golden Trout Additions
- South Sierra Additions
- Split Mountain
(Click on the map image to download the full PDF map)
The Roadless Area Review and Evaluation (RARE) surveys from the 1970s that produced the current system of IRAs are now badly out of date for a variety of reasons, including:
- The many miles of road decommissioning that has occurred since that time;
- Vehicle route designation efforts, especially the recent Motorized Travel Management process;
- The acquisition of land that was private during the RARE surveys; and
- The fact that there have been more recent surveys of wilderness-eligible land conducted by non-governmental organizations such as the CWC that have mapped many “new” roadless areas or extensions of IRAs.
Regarding the last point, from 1998-2001 the CWC conducted a “Citizens Wilderness Inventory” (CWI) to arrive at a more accurate reckoning of roadless land in California. The CWI identified 7.4 million acres of land in over 300 separate areas that still qualify for wilderness designation on federal lands in California. This total included 5,254,228 acres of NFS land, which is 16 percent more than the 4,417,000 acres of RARE IRAs that existed at the time of the 2001 Forest Service Roadless Area Conservation Final Environmental Impact Statement (RAC FEIS).
In 2011-12, the proposed roadless areas we propose for the Sierra and Sequoia NFs were resurveyed and remapped by CWC in the field, and found to still maintain their wilderness character since 2001.
Thanks to partners The Wilderness Society, California Wilderness Coalition, Sierra Club and Friends of the Inyo, the Conservation Coalition is making good progress toward presenting a robust package of wilderness recommendations during the Forest Plan Revision process for the “early adopter” forests. With final tune ups to some of the mapping efforts, especially for additional areas that have been cleared of unauthorized roads during the travel management process, the coalition will push for major additions to the Wilderness System during the forest planning process.
Ecological Value of High Severity Fire
In the last issue of this newsletter, we talked about the important role that fire plays in shaping the Sierra Nevada landscape and creating habitat. The effects of fire on forest biota are highly variable, depending largely upon the existing structure of the forest and weather conditions and timing, and the resulting duration and intensity. Fire effects are described by scientists as ranging from low, moderate, and high severity effects. High severity fire causes a resetting of the forest successional time clock to zero, whereby entire stands of forest are largely killed. While such fires are generally considered "catastrophic" in our culture -- both from a resource and esthetic perspective -- in reality forest ecologists have long known that the resulting forest structure and forest successional processes following such fires support a large variety of plants and animals that form the foundation of the forest food web during natural succession.
The team at Wild Nature Institute have put together an assortment of valuable materials demonstrating the value of post-fire, early successional forests, which they term snag forests. A new video produced by the Wild Nature Institute beautifully describes the variety of wildlife and plants that inhabit forests burned by high severity fire, and was filmed in the Lassen National Forest.
Watch Forests Born of Fire, here.
You can also read more about this important stage of forest succession in SFL's July 2010 newsletter.
Photo: Black-backed Woodpecker courtesy Ron Wolf ©2007
Black-backed woodpecker is one of the birds featured in the video. Associated with burned and unburned forests, this species can be found throughout the Sierra Nevada but is predominantly associated with burned forests, where it dines on a variety of insects that are attracted to freshly burned conifers. Regular fire, and the production of sufficient snags in burned and green forests are critical to the conservation of black-backed woodpecker. The Conservation Strategy we developed with our partners in 2012 now includes a species account and conservation measures for this species. Read or download the article from our website and read more about BBW here on our website, too.
Recent research by Fontaine and Kennedy (2012) concluded that the "range of fire-based disturbances (or their surrogates) is necessary to maintain a full complement of vertebrate species, including fire-sensitive taxa." Their study found that other practices, such as thinning, did not simulate the effects and benefits of high severity fire. Because of this, they recommend that high severity fire (either as wildfire or prescribed fire) "should be included in management plans where it is consistent with historic fire regimes and where maintenance of regional vertebrate biodiversity is a goal."
It is critical that land managers recognize that while recognition that fire is a necessary and normal factor in western forest ecosystems, the many benefits for forest health and biodiversity are not realized when forest ecosystems are subjected to clearcut salvage logging and agricultural conifer plantation regimes in the aftermath of forest fires. Such practices have myriad adverse effects that ripple through the forest ecosystem. Read more about salvage logging effects here on our website.
Fontaine, J.B. and P.L. Kennedy. 2012. Meta-analysis of avian and small-mammal response to fire severity and fire surrogate treatments in U.S. fire-prone forests. Ecological Applications, 22(5), 2012, pages 1547-1561
Forest Service Returns to pre-2012 Fire Policy
The Forest Service is again altering its approach to fire management, returning to the pre-2012 direction that allows fires to burn to achieve restoration objectives, if the fire is not a threat to life and property. This has been official federal wildland fire policy since 2001. The announcement was made in a February 20, 2013 letter from FS Chief Tom Tidwell to agency directors regarding the upcoming 2013 fire season.The decision making process in 2012 was made in response to a severe fire season throughout the West, but critics point out that the 2012 "full suppression" decision seemed to have no effect after all on fire size, firefighting costs, or loss of property
Farewell from Joe Stringer, Regional Planning Director
This is a bittersweet time for me personally, as I leave the Forest Service in May for new opportunities. Over the past three years I have had an amazing staff to work with, and together we have worked to reach out and seek help in this challenging time for our public lands. As a Region, we have developed the starting point for a vision on restoring the ecological integrity of these lands, while realizing we have a long path to realizing that vision and we cannot achieve that vision alone. Others have also reached out to us with offers of help, and our state and federal partners are all ready to roll up their sleeves and work together alongside our non-governmental partners such as SFL in developing common goals and improving the quality of our environment. For me, building those relationships and developing the respect and admiration for so many of the people I have had the privilege to work with is the best part of my time here, and will be the toughest to leave.
I would like to point out an incident that brings it home for me. Last January, there was the most recent in a series of never-ending hearings on some aspect of litigation over the Sierra Nevada Framework. I was a little late to the hearing, and as I struggled to open the massive fourteen foot high door to enter the courtroom, I looked in and saw Craig and Sue sitting on a bench to the left. I immediately walked over and gave them a hug and we exchanged hellos. I then looked to the right to see some confused looks from our Forest Service representatives and attorneys. Why was I hugging the "other" side? It was kind of like hugging your soon to be ex-brother in law during a divorce proceeding, I guess. But we can't let our differences overshadow what we share in common, and I firmly believe we are discovering we have more and more in common. And as our relationships mature, so will our common purpose and vision. -- Joe Stringer
We'll miss you too, Joe.
Sierra Cascades Dialog May 30, 2013
The next gathering of the Sierra Cascades Dialog will be May 30, 2013 at the Lions Gate Hotel, 3410 Westover Street, Sacramento, California. The focus of this meeting will be the Draft Bio-Regional Assessment Report, which is currently being drafted by the Regional Planning Team of the U.S. Forest Service. Registration is required, details will be posted at this link.
To learn more about the Sierra Cascades Dialog, please visit here.
Brown Bag with Forestry: A Lunch Webinar Series on Current Forest Science Research
The UC Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources is offering a series of monthly webinars this winter and spring, highlighting research topics in forestry and fire science. Learn more, and register for the upcoming presentations, at this website.
- March 25: Maggi Kelly on the use of lidar
- April 22: Rob York on gap-based silviculture
- May 30: John Battles on the population dynamics of dead and dying trees
You can also download previous webinars presented in January and February:
Dr. Scott Stephens"The ecological effects of fuel treatments in US forests and how are we doing in the Sierra Nevada"
Dr. Kevin O'Hara - "Advances in multi-aged silviculture"
Fire Science Consortium Webinar: Traditional Tribal Knowledge March 27, 2013 at 11 am
The California Fire Science Consortium will be sponsoring "Incorporating tribal traditional knowledge and community values into wildland fire management," a webinar presented by Frank Lake, USFS PSW Research Station scientist and Karuk tribal member.
Want more webinars? Check out the PSW Research monthly webinar series.
More cool stuff:
Researcher Katie Moriarity talks weasels, highlighting her research with marten (and occasionally wolverine) at Sagehen Creek Field Station. Watch Sagehen TV.
Sierra Forest Legacy Bookshelf
The California Naturalist Handbook by Greg de Nevers, Deborah Stanger Edelman, Adina Merenlender. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles. 2013. 261 pp
California's brand new certified naturalist program now has a textbook,
The California Naturalist Handbook, just published by UC Press. The program is similar to the popular Master Gardener program. Aspiring naturalists must complete a required 40 hour course including field work, and participate in 40 hours of volunteer work to qualify to be certified naturalists. (There are lots of opportunities to participate, with eight different locations this spring and summer--including one at Sagehen Creek near Truckee. See links below for more information). The mission of the program is "to foster a diverse community of naturalists and promote stewardship of California's natural resources through education and service."
The authors have done an admirable job of capturing key ecological concepts and putting them into simple language that is easy to understand and can easily be taught, but still retain the substance of ecology and conservation biology.
Chapter 5, Forest, Woodland, and Range Resources and Management contains an accurate, although abbreviated, summary of forest management history in California. Most importantly it includes a section on fire and forests. However, this chapter paints an overly optimistic picture of current management of California's forests as a whole (stating for example that "large areas of old-growth and mature (late-succession) forests have been set aside." While true in the North Coast forest region, it is not the case in California's Sierra Nevada forests. Without more information, the casual reader might mistake the true status of old growth forests in California--and their associated wildlife, many of which are imperiled and losing habitat rapidly.
The California Naturalist Handbook is a good broad introduction to natural history in California, and stands as a good reference text that has put together all in one place the history and key ecological concepts that are relevant to California conservation. Hopefully it will set the stage for further explorations by inspired future naturalists. The handbook would be improved with the inclusion of a reading list at the end of each chapter, for budding naturalists will need to familiarize themselves with several essential and excellent field guides, of which there are many.
Learn more about UCNR naturalist program.
Register for the California Naturalist training program at Sagehen this summer.
And speaking naturally...check out Ken-Ichi Ueda and Scott Loarie's
iNaturalist.org program. You can load it up for free on your computer, as an app for smart phone or tablet, and report in real time your daily floral, fungal, and faunal findings. Let's create a community of people who care about our fellow travelers on Planet Earth.
Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax trailii)
The willow flycatcher (Empidonax trailii) is a neo-tropical migrant songbird that is now very rare in the Sierra Nevada. With an annual population decline of up to 23 percent, and with about 40 percent of all historic nest sites in the region now unoccupied, land managers and scientists are faced with sobering circumstances under which to prioritize goals, gather resources, and take action.
Willow flycatcher are small flycatchers, measuring approximately 13-17 cm in length. They are olive-brown to brownish gray on their upper parts, with light gray on the under parts, with a tinge of yellow in the spring, making them blend in superbly with their willow habitat. They have whitish gray wing bars, and an inconspicuous whitish eye ring. The willow flycatcher call is a simple dry "whit" and its typical song is a snappy FITZ-bew (with note accent on first syllable).
In the Sierra Nevada, willow flycatcher breed in wet meadows between 4,000 and 8,000 feet. They nest mostly in one willow Photo by Dave Menke/USFWS
species, Salix lemonii. Willow stands must be dense and tall (five to six feet) with at least 60 percent cover and ten acres in size with standing water through mid-June for successful nesting. These conditions exist in less than 1 percent of all Forest Service land in the Sierra Nevada today, primarily due to habitat destruction and degradation, primarily from grazing livestock, road building, and water diversions.
Three subspecies of willow flycatcher occur in the Sierra Nevada, E. trailii extimus, E .t. brewsteri, and E. t. adastus. Populations of E. t. brewsterii occur on the west slope and E. t. adastus occurs on the east side. All three subspecies are in peril. Southwestern willow flycatcher (E .trailii extimus) is a federally designated endangered species. It is found in the southernmost areas along the South Fork Kern River, and in the Owen's Valley in the Eastern Sierra Nevada.
Willow flycatchers have been extirpated in the central Sierra on the Eldorado, Stanislaus, Humboldt-Toiyabe and Sierra National Forests, and Yosemite National Park. They are nearly lost in the Lake Tahoe Management Unit as well. Trampling and destruction of nests by livestock, compaction and drying of meadow habitat, reduction in aquatic insects that the bird eats, and increased nest predation are contributing and associated factors that result in reduced reproduction and nesting success. Nest parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds is also a conservation concern for willow flycatchers, particularly on the east side of the Sierra crest, although cowbird parasitism rates are relatively low across the Sierra Nevada.
Management intervention is needed to protect and restore hydrologic function and to sustain willow flycatchers in the Sierra Nevada. Recommendations presented in the Conservation Strategy include:
- Redesigning roads and stream crossings within five miles of degraded habitat during meadow restoration and project planning, prohibit new roads in flycatcher habitat.
- Modifying livestock permits to eliminate grazing in suitable habitat within five miles of meadow and riparian ecosystems occupied by willow.
- Fence stream and meadow areas to prevent the entry of cattle on sensitive lands.
- Prohibit mechanical activity in potential or occupied meadows unless it is related to meadow restoration.
- Keep new developments that attract cowbirds and other nest predators, such as pack stations and campgrounds, away from riparian areas to minimize the impacts of the cowbirds on willow flycatchers.
Learn more about willow flycatcher, and read our recommendations for restoring the willow flycatcher to Sierra Nevada meadows, in our comprehensive Conservation Strategy for the forests of the Sierra Nevada.
Help Protect Our Sierra Nevada Forests
The work we do to protect the forests, with all of their unique and rare plants and animals, and the many wild places of the Range of Light cannot be done without the generosity of our supporters. Please help us to keep up our efforts. You can make a safe and secure donation from this website. Thanks to all who have so generously supported our work - together we form a multitude of voices. Join us in saying, "Si, se puede" on behalf of the wild forests of the Sierra Nevada.
"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it does otherwise."