Archive for the ‘National Parks’ Category

On the Yosemite Fires, Spending, and Public Image Issues

Photo by Capt Darin Overstreet. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Capt Darin Overstreet. Some rights reserved.

Wildfires are a strange and sad and often mesmerizingly beautiful phenomenon. Every summer, somewhere in the American south, west, or Southwest, hundreds of Americans band together to fight against one of nature’s most potent defense mechanisms (or call them what you will). This summer, over the last week especially, the nation has watched (mostly through convenient web-based slideshows) as the seventh largest fire in California history raged across the Stanislaus National Forest and into the treasured and revered Yosemite National Park and Hetch Hetchy valley, covering a total of over 280 square miles so far. More than 3,700 individuals have been summoned to help contain the fire with more than a dozen water dropping helicopters at their disposal, but only 20% of the fire has been contained.

Despite the size, the park remains open and naturalists remain cautiously optimistic that the fire will be contained without any dire, lasting consequences to the area. The park remains open for tourism, as the fire continues to blaze in the somewhat remote northwestern corner of the park, a (somewhat) safe 20 miles from the Yosemite Valley, the heart of the park-as-tourist destination.

But some good info has also been dished out on the financial toll the fires will take on the already-tight California state budget, as well as on the behind-the-scenes strategies being employed in how the containment efforts are being handled. The LA Times takes a worthwhile look at how, having already used 15% of the $172 million set aside for wildfires, the state plans to handle the financial end of things if this fire continues to grow. The state budget includes a $1.1 billion reserve for emergencies, and FEMA has agreed to reimburse the state for up to 75% of “eligible firefighting costs,” but the point remains that these efforts always involve a price tag, and for a state that has been painted as “in trouble” for some time now, I’m sure this is not welcome news.

Meanwhile, NatGeo published some good reporting on the crafty PR strategies being employed. Specifically, how containment efforts have included placing sprinklers around two groves of giant sequoias, some of the parks most popular attractions, when the reality is that these older, larger trees have a much better chance of surviving the blaze than younger, weaker trees. However, officials worry that the fires could cause cosmetic damage to the giant sequoias that would make them “ugly” to the public and could hurt tourism in the immediate future.

Protecting Utah’s Red Rocks

Photo by frango. Some rights reserved.

Photo by frango. Some rights reserved.

Having never been to southern Utah, everything I know about its natural beauty I’ve learned through second hand reports and the film 127 Hours. Man-eating crevices aside, even a cursory Google image search for “Utah red rocks” make it pretty clear that it’s a special place, full of labyrinthine alien rock formations sculpted over millions of years by wind and rain. However, like all other scenes of extreme beauty, red-rock country in Utah is susceptible to the elements, especially when coupled with heavy tourism.

However, in the great tradition of John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt, Democratic Utah state senator Jim Dabakis has proposed setting aside 1.5 million acres of the red-rock area as under federal government protection. This area is currently adjacent to but outside the jurisdiction of the Canyonlands National Park, which means it’s currently managed at the state level. Mining entrepreneurs have had eyes on this territory for some time, which alarms conservationists who would see this are endure. Hence, Mr. Dabakis’ resolution to protect these lands from any sort of development, save for an unspecified amount of land in eastern Utah that while be used for energy development.

“The recreation people aren’t going to be happy, the drill-baby-drill crowd isn’t going to be happy,” Dabakis said to the New York Times. “But it will be a giant victory with some individual losses.”

Last Week In Environmental Impact Statements: Fluorine Extraction, Jackson

Photo by lordsutch. Some rights reserved.

While Federal agencies are required to prepare Environmental Impact Statements in accordance with 40 CFR Part 1502, and to file the EISs with the EPA as specified in 40 CFR 1506.9, the EPA doesn’t yet provide a central repository for filing and viewing EISs electronically. Instead, each week they prepare a digest of the preceding week’s filed EISs, which is published every Friday in the Federal Register under the title, “Notice of Availability” (NOA).

We’ve done the dirty work for you. Below, we’ve located and linked to the EISs referenced in last week’s NOA. Please note that some of these documents can be very large, and may take a while to load.

You can read any available EPA comments on these EISs here.

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EIS No. 20120000, Draft EIS, USFS, OR, Jackson Vegetation Management Project, Implementation, Pauline Ranger District, Ochoco National Forest, Crook County, OR, Comment Period Ends: 02/27/2012, Contact: Jeff Marszal (541) 416–6500.

EIS No. 20120001, Draft EIS (Vol. 1, Vol. 2), NRC, NM, Fluorine Extraction Process and Depleted Uranium Deconversion Plant, License Application to Construct, Operate, and Decommission Phase 1, Lea County, NM, Comment Period Ends: 02/27/2012, Contact: Asimios Malliakos (301) 415–6458.

EIS No. 20120002, Draft EIS, USFS, NM, Taos Ski Valley 2010 Master Development Plan, Phase 1 Project, Implementation, Carson National Forest, Taos County, NM, Comment Period Ends: 02/27/2012, Contact: Audrey Nes Kuykendall (575) 758–6212.

EIS No. 20120003, Final EIS, NPS, DC, White-Tailed Deer Management Plan, To Develop a White-Trailed Deer Management That Supports Long-Term Protection, Preservation and Restoration of Native Vegetation and Other Natural and Cultural Resources in Rock Creek Park, Washington, DC, Review Period Ends: 02/13/2012, Contact: Tara Morrison (202) 895–6000.


Amended Notices

EIS No. 20110386, Draft Supplement (halfway down in the Analysis section), USFS, ID, Upper Lochsa Land Exchange Project, Updated Information on New Alternative F, Proposes to Exchange National Forest System Land for approximately 39,371 Acres of Western Pacific Timber Land, Federal Land Exchange, Clearwater, Nez Perce and Idaho Panhandle National Forests, Clearwater, Latah, Idaho, Benewah, Kootenai, and Bonner Counties, ID, Comment Period Ends: 02/15/2012, Contact: Teresa Trulock (208) 935–4256. Revision to FR Notice Published 11/18/2011: Comment Period Extended from 01/17/2012 to 02/15/2012

EIS No. 20110394, Draft EIS, NPS, 00, Appalachian National Scenic Trail, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River, Proposal Susquehanna to Roseland 500kV Transmission Line Right-of-Way and Special-Use-Permit, NJ and PA, Comment Period Ends: 01/31/2012, Contact: Morgan Elmer (303) 969–2317 Revision to FR Notice Published 11/25/2011: Extending Comment Period from 01/23/12 to 01/31/2012.

EIS No. 20110429, Draft EIS, FTA, NJ, Northern Branch Corridor Project, Restoration of Passenger Rail Service in Northeastern Hudson and Southern Bergen Counties, NJ, Comment Period Ends: 02/21/2012, Contact: Anthony Lee (212) 668–2170 Revision to FR Notice Published 12/23/2011: Extending Comment Period from 02/06/2012 to 2/21/2012.

EIS No. 20110440, Revised Draft EIS, USFS, ID, Idaho Panhandle National Forests, Land Management Plan, Revises the 1987 Forest Plan, Implementation, Boundary, Bonner, Kootenai, Benewah, and Shoshone Counties, ID and Pend Oreille County, WA, Comment Period Ends: 04/04/2012, Contact: Mary Farnsworth (208) 765–7223 Revision to FR Notice Published 01/06/2012. Extending Comment Period from 02/21/2012 to 04/04/2012

EIS No. 20110441, Revised Draft EIS, USFS, MT, Kootenai National Forest Land Management Plan, Revises the 1987 Forest Plan, Implementation, Lincoln, Sanders, Flathead Counties, MT and Bonner and Boundary Counties, ID, Comment Period Ends: 04/04/2012, Contact: Paul Bradford (406) 293–6211 Revision to FR Notice Published 01/06/2012: Extending Comment Period from 02/21/2012 to 04/04/2012.

Friends of Animals Don’t Want Deer Shot; Want Deer Eaten by Coyotes

Photo by angies. Some rights reserved.

White-tailed deer density in Pennsylvania’s Valley Forge National Historical Park has increased an estimated 600% in the past two and a half decades, grazing on more than their share of a variety of undergrowth and leaving the forest without the necessary diversity of seedlings and saplings that keeps it healthy.

What to do about the deer?

About five years ago, the National Parks Service (NPS) notified the public of their intent to prepare a deer management plan. Many meetings, public comments, a draft EIS, more meetings, and many more public comments later, NPS published the Final White-tailed Deer Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement.

Based on the final EIS, NPS prepared a Record of Decision cementing their plan to move forward with Alternative D, as laid out in the final EIS. Alternative D (“Combined Lethal and Nonlethal Actions”) called for a mix of chemical reproductive control and spy-thriller-worthy sharpshooting “by specially trained professionals.” The reproductive control, however, would only be used “when an effective chemical agent [becomes] available on the market.” The alternatives laid out in the EIS were largely based on a study concluding that the reintroduction of predators such as Coyotes has “been shown not to exert effective control on white-tailed deer populations.” Predator reintroduction didn’t even make the cut.

So sharpshooting* it is!

Or…not so fast. Shortly after the Record of Decision was published, animal-friendly Friends of Animals (FOA) filed a complaint in a district court, arguing that “NPS failed to adequately consider the reasonable alternative of increasing the local coyote population,” among other things. The court sided with NPS. FOA followed up with an appeal to the Third Circuit, and on June 20, 2011, the Third Circuit affirmed the decision.

During all this back and forth (minus a short stay after the initial complaint), the National Park Service was moving forward with the lethal part of their plan. According to a deer FAQ on the NPS website, more than 600 deer were “removed” from Valley Forge between November 2010 and March 2011. But the best part? More than 18,000 pounds of venison were donated to food pantries, soup kitchens, and other organizations across Pennsylvania.

 * * *

* Lest you worry that humans be sharpshot, check out this excerpt from the EIS:

Sharpshooting would primarily occur at night (between dusk and dawn) during late fall
and winter months when deer are more visible and few visitors are in the park. In some
restricted areas, sharpshooting may be done during the day if needed, which could
maximize effectiveness and minimize overall time of restrictions. In this case, the areas
would be closed to park visitors. In both cases, qualified federal employees or
contractors would be located in elevated positions (e.g., tree stands) or in clearly marked,
high clearance government vehicles on park-owned roadways or trails as appropriate.
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