Protecting Pine Mountain and Reyes Peak

 A commercial clause allows a willing buyer to remove the dead and small diameter trees thinned in this project  An infested plot within the treatment area Prescribed fire may be the only treatment necessary in some plots  An example of how competition for scarce resources in overstocked stands kills trees Thinning this area will create more healthy conditions where trees can thrive Scientists agree that overgrown, decadent stands diminish forest health These infested areas must be treated in order to be protected for future generations Moderate thinning and understory burning will enhance resiliency across the landscape

 

 


 

TREASURED LANDSCAPES AT RISK

On May 8, Los Padres National Forest introduced a plan to protect areas of Pine Mountain and Reyes Peak that are at risk due to overstocking and the devastating impacts from disease and insect infestation. The Reyes Peak Forest Health and Fuels Reduction Project lays within a federally designated Insect and Disease Treatment Area where declining forest health conditions have put the area at risk for substantial tree mortality over the next 15 years. The primary goal of this project is reduce tree densities to promote forest resilience to drought, insect and disease, and wildfire. To achieve this goal, professional Forest managers will selectively thin specific areas to enhance forest health across 755 acres on Pine Mountain between California Highway 33 and Reyes Peak in Ventura County

This project will improve forest health by removing small diameter (< 24”) and dead trees from densely packed stands and subsequently use prescribed burning to reduce the understory biomass. The proposed treatments would reduce hazardous surface, ladder and crown fuels, and include prescribed fire, piling and burning. High stocking levels, overlapping crown canopies, and a dense understory contribute to resource competition, leaving trees in these areas at an elevated risk from drought, insects and disease. Treating these areas would reduce competition, improve the health of the remaining trees, and increase the overall average stand diameter. Trees between the 24-inch and 64-inch diameter would be retained unless they are dead or dying and pose a safety risk.

The understory ladder fuels, existing hazardous fuel loads, and continued periods of drought also place these areas at an increased risk from high-intensity wildfire. The treatments we propose to enact will aid in reducing the risk of high intensity fire to natural resources within the project area, as well as the surrounding landscape. When completed, this forest health enhancement will also provide safe and effective locations for firefighters to perform direct suppression operations in the event of a future wildfire.

Because falling and leaving the trees in place does not help mitigate the fire hazard, this project includes a clause to remove the trees through a commercial sale. If a willing buyer is interested, the downed trees could be removed from the forest and any revenue generated through a sale would help offset a small portion of the project’s cost. This form of “logging” is one of the few available tools to reduce expenses and potentially treat additional at-risk acres. In the absence of commercial interest, the forest has previously used tub grinding or chipping contracts to remove downed trees.

Cultural resources within the project area were identified and discussed with the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians during initial tribal consultation to preserve these sacred sites.

 

CONGRESSIONAL CALL TO ACTION

The 2003 Healthy Forest Restoration Act authority as amended in 2018 will be used for this project to:

  • Reduce wildfire risk to communities, municipal water supplies, and other at-risk Federal lands through a collaborative process of planning, prioritizing and implementing hazardous fuels reduction projects;
  • Reduce risk and increase resilience to insect or disease infestation;
  • Enhance efforts to protect watersheds and address threats to forest and rangeland health;
  • Protect spotted owl habitat north of the project area from the effects of catastrophic wildfire.

In 2014, Congress authorized the U.S. Forest Service to prioritize work in Insect and Disease Treatment areas, and to expeditiously plan and implement those projects. Congress also specified that certain projects within insect and disease infested areas would be categorically excluded from the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The law specified that these Categorical Exclusion (CE) projects are exempt from the pre-decisional administrative review objections process. Certain timber stand and/or wildlife habitat improvement activities also may be categorically excluded from the need for an Environmental Analysis or Environmental Impact Statement as outlined under NEPA Handbook direction (Chapter 30, Categorical Exclusions).

 

HOW YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE

The public scoping period for the Reyes Peak Forest Health and Fuels Reduction Project is open through August 14. Project leaders strongly encourage interested groups and individuals to share comments and step forward to constructively collaborate on this project. Through public collaboration, the final design of this project will be determined prior to the signing of the Decision Memo.

 

Third virtual public meeting on Reyes Peak Forest Health Project scheduled for August 13

The next virtual public meeting for the Reyes Peak Forest Health and Fuels Reduction Project will be held on Thursday, August 13, at 12:00 pm on Microsoft TEAMS. Members of the public who are interested in learning more about this project which is designed to minimize the impacts from insect and disease infestations as well as wildfires are encouraged to participate in the virtual meeting.

This will be the third and final virtual public meeting for this project and will provide another opportunity for interested parties to hear directly from project managers and share ideas and ask questions about the project prior to the close of the scoping period August 14. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, in-person public meetings for this project could not be safely conducted.

To learn more about the project and the proper way to submit a comment, visit Los Padres National Forest’s Reyes Peak Forest Health and Fuels Reduction Project page at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=58012. The public is encouraged to visit the project area to get a better idea of the need to act to protect this treasured landscape from further impacts.

Anyone wishing to participate should log into the virtual public meeting via TEAMS to access the audio and video feeds for this meeting. Participants are encouraged to log into the meeting early to troubleshoot any technical issues, as some devices will require you to either download the Microsoft TEAMS Application or additional software prior to being able to join the meeting. The link to the meeting is Join Microsoft Teams Meeting.

For voice only a call in number is available via conference line 636-352-2946, Conference ID: 538 329 141#

This meeting will be 90 minutes long and will include a brief overview of the project, rationale for why the work is critical for enhancing habitat and forest health, allow for input, discussions and questions and answers. We look forward to seeing you August 13.

 

Link to the recording of the second virtual meeting for the Reyes Peak project: 

 

Question & Answer

Q: Why is this project necessary?
A: The project area lays within a designated Insect and Disease Treatment Area, which was identified as being at risk to increased tree mortality. In the 2014 Farm Bill, Congress authorized the U.S. Forest Service to prioritize work in these designated areas, and to expeditiously plan and implement those projects.

Q: What is the purpose and need of this project?
A: The purpose of the project is to thin surface and ladder fuels to reduce potential fire intensities and create landscapes more resilient to the impacts of drought, disease and insects, and future wildfires. In addition, some of the treatment areas are strategic in terms of suppressing future wildfires and conducting prescribed fire management actions.

Q: What type of actual work is being proposed as part of this project?
A: The proposed work will include a combination of mechanical thinning treatments, mastication of brush and smaller trees, and hand treatments such as pruning, hand piling of material and subsequent burning. The most cost efficient and effective treatment within each stand will be chosen based on timing, equipment availability, and post-treatment results.

Q: What are the intended outcomes of this project?
A: The intended outcome is to create stands more resistant to drought, insects and disease, and devastating crown fires; encourage a mix of species and stand densities resembling the pre-fire suppression era; and encourage a stand structure that emphasizes large-diameter trees. The project is designed to reduce overstocking in selected stands and to improve the structure of live and dead material in treated stands.

Q: Is an Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) being prepared for this project?
A: The Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations allow Federal agencies to exclude from documentation in an EA or EIS certain actions that do not individually or cumulatively have significant effects on the human environment. The preliminary analysis indicates that the proposed project may not require documentation in an EA or EIS under the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003 and subsequent laws passed by Congress. Under Forest Service policy, certain timber stand and/or wildlife habitat improvement activities may be categorically excluded from the need for an EA or EIS. The project is still being analyzed and public input and collaboration will help determine if there are any extraordinary circumstances which would warrant further analysis under an EA or EIS. If an action fits within a category and the analysis shows there are no extraordinary circumstances, then the action would not have significant effects and would not warrant further analysis in an EA or EIS.

Q: Is this project exempt from compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)?
A: Categorical exclusions are not exemptions, waivers or “loopholes” to avoid a NEPA review; it is simply one way to comply with the NEPA. The CEQ regulations provide for categorical exclusions to implement NEPA for the purpose of reducing delay and paperwork.

Q: Was an environmental analysis undertaken for this project?
A: In order to utilize a categorical exclusion, resource conditions must be reviewed to determine whether extraordinary circumstances exist that may result in significant environmental effects. A science-based review of resource conditions was conducted for this project and no extraordinary circumstances were identified. A summary of this review will be recorded in the project Decision Memo.

Q: This project has been described in certain social media posts and news articles as a “commercial logging operation” or timber sale. Is it the aim of this project to sell timber under the auspices of a thinning project?
A: The sale of timber and other wood by-products is not the purpose for this project, however it’s another tool available to help move that area toward desired conditions. The trees will need to be removed to reduce fire fuels on the forest floor. We may be able to sell some of this material to help offset operational costs that would allow for treatment of additional acres. Although the value of any timber sold would be considerably less than the cost of the treatments, any cost offset would be beneficial to the public by reducing the overall cost of the project.

Q: What type of wood products could be sold through this project?
A: Commercial sale of wood products is not just focused on and limited to logs. Other by-products include firewood, biomass, poles, chips and logs.

Q: Is there recent research that supports the project’s purpose and need?
A: A 2014 report by the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station compiled research demonstrating that managing forest densities through mechanical thinning treatments and prescribed fire resulted in forested lands being less susceptible to stand-replacing wildfires or insect and disease outbreaks, as well as making ecosystems more resilient to climate change.

Q: What steps are being taken to safeguard sensitive and endangered species within the project area?
A: The project was designed with operating restrictions to avoid or minimize impacts to federally listed plants and wildlife, critical habitat, and Forest Service sensitive species. We are currently analyzing whether there are any extraordinary circumstances for plants and wildlife. One federally listed endangered species, the California condor, is within range of the project area and any impacts will be considered in consultation with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Additionally, approximately 1,200 acres of suitable California spotted owl (listed as a Regional sensitive species) roosting and foraging habitat located to the north of the Reyes Peak Forest Health and Fuels Reduction Project boundary would be enhanced. Protecting this habitat is a priority to help reduce habitat loss from high intensity fires

Q: When will the work begin on this project?
A: The project can be implemented immediately at the conclusion of public collaboration and when the Decision Memo is signed.

 

Cited literature

Long, Jonathan W.; Tarnay, Leland W.; North, Malcolm P. 2017. Aligning smoke management with ecological and public health goals. Journal of Forestry. 116(1): 76-86. https://doi.org/10.5849/jof.16-042

North, M, Collins, B., Keane, J. Long, J., Skinner, C. and Zielinski, B.  2014.  Synopsis of emergent approaches.  Pages 55-70 in in J.W. Long, L. Quinn-Davidson, C. Skinner (eds.) Science synthesis to support socioecological resilience in the Sierra Nevada and Southern Cascade Range.  USDA Forest Service, PSW-GTR-247. 737pp.

Roche, J.W., Goulden, M.L, & Bales, R.C. (2018). Estimating Evapotranspiration Change due to Forest Treatment and Fire at the Basin Scale in the Sierra Nevada, California. Ecohydrology, April 2018.





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