14125 Hwy C.
Ely Field Office
Bureau of Land Management
HC 33 P.O. Box 33500
Ely, Nevada 89301-9408
August 16, 2001
Attn: Mike Main
AMMENDED COMMENTS ON THE MOUNT WILSONGUEST RANCH COMMUNITY URBAN INTERFACE PROJECT EA NV-040-01-067 and ELYURBAN INTERFACE PROJECT
Dear Mr. Main:
I would request a 30 day extension forcomment, based on the procedural errors and deficiencies in this EnvironmentalAssessment. These errors are such glaring abuses of the NEPA procedure,that litigation may be imminent.
Scientific and Professional Integrity
The proposed action lacks professionalintegrity, especially scientific integrity, in its discussions and analysesof the environmental assessment. The lack scientific integrity in thisplan is glaringly apparent. As a person trained in fire fighting, and havingthe resource of fire management personnel, I ask:
What happens when you place literally tonsof small, dried up pieces of wood in an semiarid environment with a bimodalprecipitation pattern ranging from 8 - 14 inches a year? What happens whengreen vegetation is converted into tiny pieces of deadfall? Can you thinkof any other action, which could possible enhance the risk of fire, morethan putting tons of kindling chips, two inches deep on the desert floor?How in heavens name, can this project be implemented under the guise offuel reduction?
The project converts green vegetation intofire starter. The list of 17 prepares includes 6 contributors from ArgonneNational Lab. I understand that Argonne was the BLM contractor on thisproject. It is unfathomable, that this many educated people could be involvedin the preparation of a proposal seeking, "to restore ecological healthto the treatment area" and "reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire andprotect human health and safety," through chipping up trees and leavingthem in two inch deep piles of dead wood in middle of the desert. Sucha proposal is utterly comical. The proposal greatly enhance the risk ofcatastrophic fire. It does absolutely nothing to "reduce hazardous fuelloads".
A. Wood Chip Dynamics
Organic materials require nitrogen to fuelthe organisms that break down the fibers. Anyone who has delved in organicknows better than to spread raw chips or sawdust on our the earth or tillthem into the earth. Ground wood products purchased from a nursery areusually fortified with ammonium sulfate.
Raw wood shavings and fresh ground barkrequire a lot of added nitrogen or the decomposition process will takeit from the soil, robbing roots of whatever nitrogen is available. Oneneeds to add one pound of ammonium sulfate for each inch-deep layer ofwood chips spread over 100 square feet for the first year. After that youneed to decrease it by half for the same area for several years. (4 years= 1.875# per 100 sq.') In other words the BLM has not considered the impactof the chip, and other actions needed. Further treatment of the areas wherethe chips are spread would be required for at least four years, perhaps,longer as these sites are in dryer areas.
Wood chips or sawdust also lower the soilpH. In areas where soil is already neutral or acid this can result in avery acid soil. Depending on the type of trees, wood chips can also releasetannins that may be toxic to some of the soil organisms. I see no considerationin the EA for the chemical released from the chips. Or, the potential impacton such releases into streams, creeks or upon sagebrush and other nativevegetation.
Layers of chips and sawdust will help holdin moisture once it reaches the soil, but in low moisture areas they preventdry site adapted plants with extensive surface roots from getting moisturethrough dew and light rains. The chips prevent new vegetation from regeneratingand will further damage the ecological health of the region. The proposedaction is in complete contradiction to 1.2 Need For The Proposal,"improve and protect public health and safety by reducing the fire threatand restoring ecological health to the proposed project area."
This propose action fails miserably toconsider the its own impacts upon the environment. The reference list inthe Environmental Assessment provides no indication that the prepares haveany clue as to the impact of the wood chips, upon the soils, water or plants,in short the environment . There is no analysis of the biomass to be convertedinto fire starter, nor any indication of the area within each unit whichwill be covered in a 2 inch chips. The analysis clearly illustrates thatthe prepares focused singularly upon the action of removing the trees andnot the consequences. A list of biomas question to be answered followsin this document.
B. Urban Interface Criteria:
The BLM and its contractor failed to documentthe need for this proposal. What is the human populations in the proposedproject areas? How has that changed? How many homes are being built andfrom what materials. The prepares must revisit the basic criteria for anUrban Interface Project. Then document the urban aspect of their proposedaction.
In Reducing the Wildland Fire Threatto Homes: where and how much? A summary of home defensible space researchby Jack D. Cohen, US Forest Service, one discovers:
Wildfire must be close enough for its flyingbrands or flames to contact the flammable parts of the structure.
Research indicates that effective residentialfire loss mitigation must focus on the home and its immediate surroundings.This research indicates that home losses can be effectively reduced byfocusing mitigation efforts on the structure and its immediate surroundings.
Home ignitability is defined by the characteristicsof a structure's materials and design, and the surrounding flammables thatdetermine the potential for a home to ignite during wildland fires (orany fires outside the home).
Research models indicate that large wildlandflame fronts (e.g., forest crown fires) will not ignite wood surfaces (e.g.,the typical variety of exterior wood walls) at distances greater than 130feet. Case studies found that vegetation clearance of at least 30 feetwas associated with a high occurrence of home survival
Given nonflammable roofs, Stanford ResearchInstitute found a 95 percent survival with a clearance of 30-60 feet. Duringsevere wildfires, firebrand ignitions are particularly evident for homeswith flammable roofs. Often these houses ignite and burn without the surroundingvegetation also burning. This suggests that homes can be more flammablethan the surrounding vegetation.
Extensive wildland vegetation managementdoes not effectively change home ignitability. The evidence suggests thatwildland fuel reduction for reducing home losses may be inefficient andineffective. Inefficient because wildland fuel reduction for several hundredmeters or more around homes is greater than necessary for reducing ignitionsfrom flames. Ineffective because it does not sufficiently reduce firebrandignitions.
Home ignitability ultimately implies thenecessity for a change in the relationship between homeowners and the fireservices. Instead of pre-suppression and fire protection responsibilitiesresiding with fire agencies, homeowners take the principal responsibilityfor assuring adequately low home ignitability.
These EA’s have done nothing to explorethe alternative of fire clearance codes, homeowner outreach, coordinationwith builders, insurance agents, building material suppliers and the publicat large in education effort . This is a viable and fiscally sound alternative,which has not been explored. Likewise, the alternative of doing nothingis sorely under analyzed.
C. Failure to Consider Alternatives
NEPA mandates that an agency "shall tothe fullest extent
possible: Use the NEPA process to identifyand assess the reasonable
alternatives to proposed actions that willavoid or minimize adverse
effects of these actions upon the qualityof the human environment."
40 CFR §1500.2(e). NEPA documentsmust discuss alternatives to the
proposed action in order to "provid(e)a clear basis for choice among
options by the decisionmaker and the public."40 CFR §§1502.14,
1507.2(d), 1508.9(b); 42 USC §4332(e).The purpose of this
requirement is "to insist that no majorfederal project should be
undertaken without intense considerationof other more ecologically
sound courses of action, including shelvingthe entire project, or of accomplishing the same result by entirely differentmeans." Environmental Defense Fund v. Corps of Engineers, 492 F.2d 1123,1135 (5th Cir. 1974); Methow Valley Citizens Council v. Regional 833 F.2d810 (9th Cir. 1987), rev'd on other grounds, 490 US 332 (1989) (agencymust consider alternative sites for a project). The court has ruled that:
The goal of [NEPA] is to ensure "that federalagencies infuse in project planning a thorough consideration of environmentalvalues ... The consideration of alternatives requirements furthers thatgoal by guaranteeing that agency decision makers "[have] before [them]and take into proper account all possible approaches to a particular project(including total abandonment of the project) which would alter the environmentalimpact and the cost-benefit balance.
There is an extensive body of case lawavailable on the subject of alternatives which an agency must considerin the NEPA process. This EA fails miserably .
On August 14, 2001 the 9th Circuit Courtof Appeals reversed a lower court decision in a case with similar elements.U.S.Forest Service officials argued the logging was necessary to remove treeskilled by insects and disease and to reduce fire hazards. The appeals courton Tuesday cited a government study that said the risk of fire during thefirst few years of timber harvesting was actually greater than if the damagedtimber was left in the forest. It enjoined the sale.
This proposed action greatly increasesthe risk of fires to the project area. It is a woeful abuse of the publictrust and tax payer money.
D. Other Unaddressed Issues
The EA provides no information about theexisting conditions in the proposed area. How many trees are to be removedfrom each area:
What is the biomass of the felled trees?
The EA notes biomass as, beyond the scopeof the proposal." The BLM may not dismiss such a critical element of theprocess by declaring it beyond the scope of the document. MarbleMountain Audubon Society v. Rice, 914 F.2d 179 (9th Cir. 1990).I would hereby request that the BLM utilize the biomass from the chips,and prepare the appriate separate NEPA analysis.
What area will the chips cover when spreadout in a 2 inch layer?
What is the cost of the operation ?
What is the timeline of the operation?
The EA notes that this is a 5 year plan.
What areas are to be treated when?
There is no cost anyalsis or break down.
What if there were 10 trees per acre chipped:300,000 trees
What if each of these immature tree produced35 pounds of pine nuts during its 7 year cycle? 1.500,000 pounds
What if each pound of pine nuts were worth$5.oo per pound retail?
$7,500,000 per year of taxable sales
What if each tree averaged 14" diameterand 40' high ?
What if each tree produced 400 board feetof chipboard?
120,000,000 board feet
What if each tree produced 265 board feetof dimension lumber?
The EA notes the area is used for harvestingpinenuts. How many pounds are harvested in these areas, yearly and by whom?What is the value of these harvests to the general public? Are there illegalcommercial harvests in these areas?
Who selects which trees to cut? There isno mention in the plan of a forester.
There has been a failure to document culturaland historical values prior to the plan. 2.1.5. Key Elements notes thata class III cultural inventory will be completed prior to the project implementation.How can you assess the impact if you have not yet completed an inventory?"It is anticipated that there should be no impacts to eligible culturaland historical resources", but the inventory is yet to be performed?
2.1.5 Key Elements
Reseeding - Native and non-native specieswould be used for reseeding areas as necessary. The EA states, "grass andshrub communities can develop soon after tree removal if the pinyon andjuniper canopy has not displaced the understory of perennial grasses andherbaceouse species." How can anything grow in an area covered in two inchesof wood chips? How do you determine when reseeding is necessary? What isthe cost of reseeding? How do you reseed without removing the wood chips?What would be the cost of removing the chips to reseed?
Post 1950’s Cultural Manifestationsand inventory-
Is this UXO’s, unexploded military ordinances?What is this???? If "cultural manifestations may need to be cleaned upand removed from their locations before project implementation", is therenot the potential for hazardous and solid wastes which are identified in4.1.1 as Environmental Receptors not Affected by the Proposed action. Thereis a conflict in this section of the document which must be fully exploredand discussed before any member of the public comment may comment. Thissection of the document is complete and total double-speak. Let’s try alittle more information here. Is the contractor suppose to go out and findthese "cultural manifestations" with their 65,000 to 75,000 lb feller bunchers?
E. Migratory Birds
The relationship between pinyon nuts andmigratory birds is well documented in Avian Impacts on Pinyon-Juniper Woodlands,Russel P. Balada. Pinyon- Juniper Conference, 1984 p. 525. Collectively70 species are known to breed in these woodlands. The larger the pinyonseed available, the better health one sees in these bird communities. Therelationship of the p.monophylla pinenut has not been fully taken intoaccount in the planning process.
F. Threaten and Endangered Species
The Elko BLM has an extensive list of threatenedand endangered species inhabiting the regions boarding the Ely district.Do you mean to tell the public, that those same species are not in Elydistrict? I would comment that one of the 17 people listed as preparesof this document, should reviewed it. The most recent copy, I have seenis incorporated into this Elko EA http://www.nv.blm.gov/Elko/nepa/minerals/cia/CIA_Summary.pdfChapter 7 address the topic.
G. Other Plans and Area History:
There has been no review of the Mt. Wilsonproject for conforming with other land use plans, including the Mt. WilsonForest Activity Plan. The EA fails to account for the fires and other vegititativeconversion projects which have occurred in this area. The EA must providehistorical overview of the Mt. Wilson area. The EA must contain an analysisof the region in 1970 and compare it with the current status of the thisvegetation I would request that the prepares review the vegetation conversionprojects, together with the fires in this area over the last 30 years priorto asserting as fact that p.j. species have expanded into sagebrush communities.Review of historical land inventory documents and maps will prove otherwise.
The entire NEPA process is being mockedby the BLM. The lack of professional competency in this process is grosslynegligent and boarders on malicious interference with the public’s rightto participate in public lands management. As a person with an economicinterest in pinyon pinenuts, I have suffered continual and repeated damageas the result of the BLM’s failure to exercise its professional responsibilitiesin land management.
This EA is just incredulous. I wish tohave a 30 day extension for the filing of additional comments. Please providea written response to my comments and this request as soon as possible.
Please note that these comments includethose faxed 8/15, and the letter faxed 8/15 is superseded by these comments.