2011 Annual Report
Lordy, what an ugly year—save for one shining highlight (see “Congress” below). I’ve not seen a Congress more dysfunctional since I started my professional conservation career during the Ford administration. The League of Conservation Voters said, “In 2011, the Republican leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives unleashed a truly breathtaking and unprecedented assault on the environment and public health, the breadth and depth of which have made the current House of Representatives the most anti-environment in our nation’s history.” It’s not just that Congress has worked against the environment but that it really hasn’t worked at all (fortunately for the environment, but not for the nation as a whole). The Obama administration has done a few good things but mostly has not been highly engaged in public lands conservation, save to want to put wind towers and solar panel farms—and the roads and powerlines to support them—where they should not be: on public lands. Despite all this, The Larch Company (with allies) achieved some conservation gains in 2011. Overall, though, it was—as they say in baseball—a building year for 2012 through 2014.
The Larch Company had one of its best years in Congress in 2011. Really? Yes, in the first session of the 112th Congress with the Republicans controlling the House and confounding the Senate. Among all the bad riders in the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2012 are a couple of very fine amendments:
• Sec. 122(b) provides that livestock grazing on any Bureau of Land Management grazing allotment within the California Desert Conservation Area may be permanently retired. Many of the BLM’s 11 million acres in the CDCA have grazing allotments.
• Sec. 431(e) provides that any domestic sheep grazing permit that conflicts with wild bighorn sheep management may be retired. This includes 169 BLM domestic sheep grazing allotments (totaling 13,604,542 acres) and 109 such Forest Service grazing allotments (totaling 1,832,347 acres) in the states of Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Montana, New Mexico, Washington, and California. The total is 278 allotments and 15,436,889 acres.
I started working on voluntary grazing permit retirement in 1996. Good ideas take time to implement. It took a while first for the conservation community and then Congress to warm to the idea. Someone else who has worked almost as long as I on voluntary federal grazing permit retirement is Mark Salvo of Wild Earth Guardians, who prepared the attached map.
In order to obviate the legal requirement to list the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service are undertaking to amend their management plans so that “adequate regulatory mechanisms” are in place to protect the creature. The National Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy will result in a plan in the style of the Northwest Forest Plan and the Sierra Nevada Framework that will afford a similar scope of protection to nearly 71 million acres of federal public lands in the Sagebrush Sea. It will not be perfect, but it will offer orders of magnitude better levels of conservation and restoration than are now the case. The payoff of this effort won’t come until 2014 or so, but the commitment by the Obama administration is huge.
The BLM and the Forest Service began this effort after several years of strategic prodding by a coalition of conservation organizations that were initially prodded with this idea by The Larch Company.
I worked on several other issues and made progress on many though didn’t yet reach success. Here’s a list:
• Westside forest conservation and restoration
• The Oregon Eastside Forests Restoration, Old Growth Protection, and Jobs Act
• Specific grazing permit retirement provisions pertaining to the designation of wilderness areas in central Idaho and an expansion of the Oregon Caves National Monument
• Expansion of the Wild Rogue Wilderness and the lower Rogue Wild and Scenic River
• The Chetco River Protection Act
• Establishment of the Devils Staircase Wilderness and Wasson and Franklin Creeks as wild and scenic rivers
• Establishment of the Molalla Wild and Scenic River
• Research on and education about raw log exports
• Production of a report for Conservation Northwest and others on the amount of timber that could be produced from the Northwest Forest Plan area as a byproduct of sound ecological restoration thinning
Most of this work has to do with special designations (wilderness and such) that are all in the congressional pipeline awaiting enough of a reduction in the congressional dysfunction level to allow enactment. The lack of action has nothing to do with these bills themselves; Congress is hardly passing anything. The eastside forests legislation will very likely be enacted into law in the 113th Congress, and there will likely be a westside forest legislative package as well. Some others could still be enacted into law in 2012.