Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Norbeck Society hasn't ruled out lawsuit to stop BHNF's Tepee Canyon project

Dendroctonus ponderosae or mountain pine beetle predates by millions of years Pinus ponderosa in the Black Hills which only reached that region less than four thousand years ago.

When the Custer Expedition came through the Black Hills in 1874 bringing invasive cheatgrass for their horses stands of ponderosa pine were sparsely scattered but a century and a half of poor ranching and land management practices have created an unnatural overstory best controlled by the mountain pine beetle, prescribed fires and periodic wildfires. The bug is hard at work clearing centuries of overgrowth throughout the Rocky Mountain Complex, so is the western spruce budworm. But leaving dead and dying conifers on the forest produces methane, an even more dangerous greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide is.

Native Douglas fir, limber and lodgepole pine have been mostly extirpated from He Sapa, The Heart of Everything That Is and after a century of destructive agricultural practices invasive grasses infest most of western South Dakota. The Island in the Plains has been broken for decades but the collapse of select Black Hills ecosystems has been evident since at least 2002. Add the very high number of private inholdings within the Black Hills National Forest that make the wildland urban interface (WUI) very large to one of the highest road densities in the entire national forest system and Region 2 to lots of logging, hardrock mining and pesticides like Carbaryl then understand why over a hundred species in South Dakota alone and a million worldwide are at risk to the Republican Party.

Keystone, Hot Springs, Custer, Pringle, Argyle, Hill City, Hisega, Rochford, Nemo, Galena, Silver City, Hanna, Cheyenne Crossing, Savoy, Deadwood, Lead, Whitewood, Newcastle, Alva, Aladdin, Hulett even parts of Sundance, Rapid City, Piedmont, Sturgis and Spearditch are at extreme risk from the tactical use of wildfire. Just six strategically-placed improvised fuel air explosives (FAEs) deployed during red-flag conditions have the potential to create a firestorm that would be virtually unstoppable.

So BHNF officials want to slash and thin some 2,669 acres of forest during what they are calling the Tepee Canyon project on public land between Jewel Cave National Monument and the Custer Highlands residential area. Mechanical treatments will include clearcuts or in silviculture parlance: overstory removal. No doubt GOP donors Hulett, Wyoming-based Neiman Enterprises will gobble up that logging pork.
The Norbeck Society, which promotes the sustainable use of public land, submitted six pages of commentary on what it described as the “deeply complex” issues surrounding the management of the forest. Regarding the proposed thinning project, the Norbeck Society said prescribed fires would be more effective than the logging that is planned. The Society said “there is not a community safer from fire than one that has had fire,” and it said the proposed thinning project is “unlikely to make much of a difference in the intensity, severity and effects of a wildland fire in the area.”

“The past century of logging has helped to rob the ecosystem of large fire resistant stands of pines and gradually reduced the ability of the forest to cope with fire and insect outbreaks, dealt a sentence of botanical chaos and habitat loss, and jeopardized a plethora of other human interests on the forest,” the Society wrote. The Society said logging opens up areas of the forest for thickets of young trees that can serve as fuel for fires. The Society urged more prescribed burning to thin or remove such “understory pine growth." “If we do not reintroduce more fire to this landscape via prescribed burns, we will likely be introduced to fires beyond what we’ve ever experienced,” the Society said. [Comments on forest-thinning plan rife with disagreement]
The Dakota Progressive reached out to the Norbeck Society.

TDP: You guys should know I have an opinion of the Tepee Canyon project that is not entirely in agreement with yours.
Norbeck Society: Can you elaborate on what aspects of the Norbeck comments you are in disagreement with? ... and where you do agree?
TDP: Mechanical treatments followed by prescribed fire are critical to the success of the project.
NS: Agreed. Can you explain where you are not in agreement with the Norbeck comments?
TDP: Prescribed burns before mechanical treatments expose soils to undue risk.
NS: Only problem is they say they are unlikely to burn it. We do recommend burning after treatments. They have thousands of acres recently treated that should be burned, but they aren't doing it. Is there an advantage, at this point, to bring more acres into the stage where they'll be unburned-soon-to-be-too-big-to-burn regen? And they say they don't have the money to follow-up appropriately with thinning or weed mitigation... let alone burning.
TDP: That’s John Thune’s doing. $2000/A. for prescribed fire and $46/A. for cost of a wildfire. Can you afford to sue the bastards?
NS: We are keenly aware of the politics... and staying mum on the possibility of a lawsuit. The current local estimates on prescribed fire start at 600/ac. which is about the same as the cost of thinning. But that's not including the lost opportunity costs of the inevitable wildfires that will eventually crop up as a result of the foolish dream that logging is a substitute for burning...once prescribed fire is happening, the costs go down, I'm told... because the forest is safer for burning and they can build on prior applications.
TDP: So, you don’t have the money to sue.
NS: Right now, we're focused on pressure. The article today was a good introduction to the question of "is logging effective for managing fuels". I'm [afraid] that "egg-on-face" day is coming for those that maintain the logging done on this forest is sustainable. It's too bad that the public has taken the industry spin hook-line-and-sinker to their own detriment. Also, I don't think there's a lot of difference between your take of the situation and the Norbeck Society's, although NS may be a bit more moderate -- if I can say that. We view one of our main roles as educating the public... we volunteers up against paid lobbyists.
TDP: There is no portion of the BHNF that hasn’t been altered by human manipulation for probably 12,000 years. Take all the second growth pine, burn after fuel treatments then encourage aspen and other native hardwoods and forbs to where it was in 1800 or so. Make a deal not to sue.
NS: ...still trying to find my magic wand!

Read more about the Tepee Canyon project linked here.


  1. Seth Tupper's report completely ignores Populus tremuloides (quaking aspen) even though it's the most important deciduous tree species on the Black Hills National Forest but he did cite invasive eastern red cedar which is taking over much of the state. “Ponderosa pine is the dominant forest species in the state, according to the report, which said there are an estimated 352.9 million live ponderosa pine trees in South Dakota. That number is up from previous years, largely due to the estimated increase of 41 million in the number of ponderosa pines measuring smaller than 5 inches in diameter since 2013.” Rapid City Journal

  2. "Hit the pause button on sales of timber until there's a chance for the interested parties to convene and talk about how to bring the stable quantity into alignment with the current state of the forest," Norbeck Society Vice President Mary Zimmerman


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