Survey and Manage Background: "Look Before You Log" FAQ & Chronology
Frequently Asked Questions about the Northwest Forest Plan's Survey & Manage program, and the history of Oregon Wild's work to uphold protections for sensitive species.
Summary of Oregon Wild's Legal Work to Uphold "Survey & Manage"
The Northwest Forest Plan included provisions, recommended by the scientific team that drafted the policy, that require agencies to survey for certain rare and sensitive species before logging or other development, and to provide buffers for them when they are found. From the start, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) fought the requirements, claiming it was too expensive and difficult to perform, and implementing internal directives that significantly weakened the requirements and violated the NWFP. The timber industry also argued that the program interfered with necessary timber targets in the NWFP.
Conservation groups who cared about wildlife filed suit. In August 1999, a federal judge ruled in favor of the conservation groups finding that the USFS/BLM violated the law by (1) failing to complete surveys for more than 70 wildlife species that require special protection from logging, and (2) failing to follow the Northwest Forest Plan requirement to survey western Oregon and northern California timber sales for red tree voles, a major prey species for the northern spotted owl.
Over the next two years, the USFS and BLM drafted and decided on a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) to amend the Northwest Forest Plan to reduce the number of required wildlife surveys and to increase logging. Surveys for about 70 species were dropped or curtailed, allowing hundreds of thousands of acres of mature and old-growth logging to move forward. Both the timber industry and conservation groups filed suit against this decision, one arguing that there were still too many protections for wildlife and old-growth forests, the other that the new plan dropped too many protections.
A settlement between the timber industry and the USFS/BLM led to the Annual Species Review process, dropping survey requirements for many more species in 2002 and 2003. Meanwhile, protections for the Red Tree Vole (an important prey species for the threatened Northern spotted owl) were also significantly reduced at the request of the timber industry. In 2006, the Annual Species Review process was invalidated by a federal judge for violating the National Environmental Policy Act, thanks to Oregon Wild’s involvement in the lawsuit.
In 2004, the agencies issued a new decision proposing to eliminate the already weakened Survey & Manage program altogether. Oregon Wild and other groups sued again, winning in a court which invalidated the government’s decision. However, the USFS/BLM fixed the procedural errors in the decision and reissued the plan to do away with Survey & Manage again in 2006. We are currently awaiting the decision, and again plan to challenge the government’s violation of the laws and policies that protect forests and wildlife.
What is "Survey & Manage"?: Frequently Asked QuestionsBy Doug Heiken
Wildland Advocate, Oregon Wild
1. What's this lawsuit about?
ONRC Action v. US Forest Service is about the failure of the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to fulfill the promises made in 1994 to survey and protect rare species. The lawsuit also seeks a comprehensive review of the forest plan to consider new information about the effect of the forest plan on threatened salmon, water quality, and changes made to the plan since it was approved in 1994.
2. What laws are being violated?
The National Forest Management Act requires the Forest Service to prepare and adhere plans for managing the National Forests. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act is a similar law that applies to lands managed by the BLM. In this case, the Forest Service and BLM are not following the "survey and manage" requirements of the Northwest Forest Plan jointly adopted in 1994.
The National Environmental Policy Act requires that the Forest Service and BLM prepare a supplemental EIS whenever there is significant new information about the impacts of ongoing plans such as the Northwest Forest Plan.
3. What's survey and manage?
The Northwest Forest Plan required that certain rare species be surveyed prior to ground-disturbing activities so that the location of these rare species can be considered in the design of the projects. If the surveys are not done, the impacts of timber harvest cannot be "mitigated" as promised in the forest plan. There are actually four different survey strategies that apply to specific species. "Strategy two" requires surveys prior to ground-disturbing activities. The other strategies require surveys sometime within ten years after the forest plan was approved.
4. How many species are we talking about?
The Northwest Forest Plan considered over 1,000 species associated with old-growth forests west of the Cascades in California, Oregon, and Washington. About 590 of those species were subject to "additional analysis" because there was some concern that the forest plan would not adequately provide for long-term needs of the species. About 420 of those species were included in one or more of the survey and manage categories and/or the "protection buffer species" program. About 80 species are included in the strategies that require surveys prior to ground-disturbing activities.
In any give timber sale, only a handful of species would need to be surveyed, because most of the species are not widely distributed and the surveys are only required within the range of the species and within the habitat types and vegetation communities associated with the species.
5. What kinds of species are we talking about?
Included in the survey and manage program are one mammal (the red tree vole), five salamanders, and scores of invertebrates such as wildflowers, mollusks, fungi, moss, lichen, and insects. The Canada lynx is a protection buffer species. The Northwest Forest Plan is supposed to be a new generation forest plan that looks at the whole forest ecosystem. The plan was intended to protect not just a few species "like the spotted owl and the salmon" but all forest creatures great and small.
6. Why are these species still vulnerable?
These species are thought to remain at-risk under the plan because they are either: (1) very rare (some have only been seen in a few locations), (2) very sensitive to clearcutting (which is still allowed on thousands of acres of our public land each year), and/or (3) relatively immobile (they are not able to move easily across clearcuts).
7. Why are these obscure species important?
The eminent biologist E.O. Wilson has said,
Why should we care? What difference does it make if some species are extinguished, if even half of all the species on earth disappear? Let me count the ways. New sources of scientific information will be lost. Vast biological potential wealth will be destroyed. Still undeveloped medicines, crops, pharmaceuticals, timber, fibers, pulp, soil-restoring vegetation, petroleum substitutes, and other products and amenities will never come to light. It is fashionable in some quarters to wave aside the small and obscure, the begs and weeds, forgetting that an obscure moth from Latin America saved Australia,s pastureland from over-growth by cactus, that the rosy periwinkle provided the cure for Hodgkin,s disease and childhood lymphocytic leukemia, that the bark of the pacific yew offers hope for the victims of ovarian and breast cancer, that a chemical from the saliva of leeches dissolves blood clots during surgery, and so on down the roster already grown long and illustrious despite the limited research addressed to it.
In amnesiac revery it is easy to overlook the services that ecosystems provide humanity. They enrich the soil and create the very air we breathe. Without these amenities, the remaining tenure of the human race would be very nasty and brief. The life-sustaining matrix is built of green plants with legions of microorganisms and mostly small, obscure animals" in other words, weeds and bugs. Such organisms support the world with efficiency because they are so diverse, allowing them to divide labor and swarm over every square meter of the earth,s surface. They run the world precisely as we would wish it to be run, because humanity evolved within living communities and our bodily functions are finely adjusted to the idiosyncratic environment already created. (E.O. Wilson, The Diversity of Life, page 347).
8. How does this affect timber sales?
Although surveys are required for any of 80 species that might occur within a timber sale area, usually only a handful of species, habitats overlap with any given timber sale area, so the survey burden is not overwhelming as is sometimes stated by opponents of the survey requirement.
9. Is there any truth to the claims that the surveys are not feasible?
The Forest Service and BLM say the surveys are not feasible because: (1) the surveys cannot be done in the field, (2) the surveys would take more than one year to complete, (3) or the expertise to perform the surveys is lacking within the agencies. When the plan was approved, the agencies knew that some of the species couldn,t be identified in the field. They knew that some would have to be surveyed for more than one year to know whether an area was likely to be occupied by some of the species, and they knew that they would have to train a lot of people to develop the expertise to get the job done.
The authors of the Northwest Forest Plan knew it would take a major effort to get the protocols written and the surveys done, so they allowed four years for the agencies to get the program up-and-running. The agencies were clearly instructed by the Record of Decision to begin developing and testing survey protocols beginning in 1994, even though the surveys were not actually required as a prerequisite to all timber sales for several years after that. Unfortunately, the agencies failed to develop and implement the surveys in a timely manner as required by the Northwest Forest Plan. Now they say that the surveys that were promised in 1994 are infeasible. Any impact on the timber sale program is mostly a function of poor resource allocation and agency mismanagement.
10. What happens when they find these species?
The discovery of a survey and manage species in a timber sale area is not an absolute barrier to timber sales. The Forest Service stated during a Congressional field hearing in Medford, Oregon that timber sales must be stopped if the survey and manage species are found in the path of proposed logging. While that may be an appropriate thing to do when dealing with rare and little-known species, that is not what the agencies are doing.
The management recommendations for the red tree vole and the "Candystick" plant allow many occupied sites to be destroyed. And while the Northwest Forest Plan recommends that occupied sites "on the order of tens of acres" be protected, the agencies often buffer many sites with only 1/10th acre buffers and some sites get no buffer at all.