The summer season of 2004 is behind us now. As always, it’s brought a few memorable events. As the trail overseer for the Nicholson Hollow trail (below Indian Run), the responsibility to maintain my section of trail brings along with it the opportunity to observe nature in a very rich environment. This season, I’ve seen a bobcat (my third sighting in the Park), surprised a bear who was less than ten feet from me, digging up an ant nest next to the trail, oblivious to my presence due to the nearby sounds of the creek, found fruiting ginseng and a clump of Jack-O-Lantern mushrooms, whose bioluminescent qualities enable it to glow in the dark. Good stuff!
The long-term effects of some events of the summer of 2004 are not yet revealed. As Naturalist for the Club, I’ve obtained the Club’s approval to support an organization called MAGIC (Maryland Alliance for Greenway Improvement and Conservation). Like PATC, the objectives of MAGIC include the preservation and protection of our forested lands.
One of the major issues MAGIC is confronting (as are we) is the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. This rule, adopted by the US Forest Service in 2001, is designed to protect 58 million acres of roadless National Forest Lands from roadbuilding, logging, mining and other development. Roadless areas provide the candidates for potential wilderness areas. The rule was the result of the most extensive public comment process in history, spanning three years, 600 public meetings and a record-breaking one million public comments in support of protecting wild forests. Unfortunately, despite earlier pledges to uphold this rule, the current administration has decided to abandon the rule. In West Virginia alone, over 200,000 acres of roadless wild forests are currently protected under the roadless rule. Such areas include Canaan Mountain, Roaring Plains, Cheat Mountain, Tea Creek and potential expansions to most of the existing Wilderness areas.
Under the new administrative proposal, state governors will be able to petition the secretary to develop new management practices, which may include road construction or timber harvesting. Such petitions, if adopted by the Forest Service, would take precedence over management prescriptions established by existing Forest Management Plans.
Due to massive public outcry (the Forest Service has received more than 2.5 million comments; 95% supporting the existing rule), the comment period has been extended to November 15. If you wish to show your support of the existing rule, a formatted letter can be used at http://www.americanhiking.org/policy/fsroadless.html. More about this rule can be found at the American Hiking Society’s website (www.americanhiking.org).
Of course, the biggest event of 2004 will be the election of our next President. As PATC Naturalist, one of my stated objectives is to support regional environmental issues and provide relevant information to PATC audience. Over the past year, I’ve begun saving articles from magazines and newspapers that help frame the picture of what the current administration is doing with our environmental resources. With apologies to those I might offend, the following are some of these highlights.
LAND AND FOREST INITIATIVES
The “Healthy Forest Initiatives” Act opens lucrative stands of old-growth timber, often far from existing communities, to commercial timbering under the guise of fire protection, without addressing the underbrush, which poses the most serious fire threat. The Act calls for the thinning of 190 million acres of forest lands, despite administration estimates that only 1.9 million acres of private and federal forestland are both at high risk of fire and close enough to communities to ignite homes. This Act also excludes all public participation and comment on any “hazardous fuels reduction project” and suspends citizen’s rights to appeal projects. Further, using ‘Goods for services’, the Forest Service and BLM will give away trees to logging companies as payment for the ‘management activity’, thus assuring removal of the largest and most fire-resistant trees.
Of-road vehicles use in National Monuments, previously limited to designated roads and trails, under new administration regulations, now is allowed “on any track where a vehicle has been before”.
The administration has enabled old-growth timbering in the Pacific northwest by amending the 1994 Northwest Forest plan to 1) eliminate a requirement that federal agencies study planned logging sites to identify areas that needed to be protected to preserve rare and uncommon species, and 2) modify the aquatic conservation strategy to increase the amount of runoff from logging operations allowed to go into waters where salmon spawn.
When the West Virginia practice of mountaintop removal was successfully challenged in court by environmental organizations, the administration amended the Clean Water Act, reclassifying the mining waste as ‘debris’, thus ‘legalizing’ the dumping of mining waste into streams.
The current administration proposed rolling back federal water quality protection of interstate streams, ephemeral streams and certain wetlands currently protected under the existing Clean Water Act.
Enforcement of polluters by EPA dropped from 105 cases in 2000 to 26 in 2002. More than 60% of all major facilities exceeded their Clean Water Act permit limits, with 436 major facilities exceeding their permits for at least 10 of the 18 reporting periods, and 35 exceeding their permits during every reporting period.
90 million gallons of liquid nuclear waste were allowed to be left in concrete-covered tanks instead of deep-burial by reclassifying the waste from high-level to “incidental”, despite the fact that some tanks have already been found to leak.
The “Clear Skies” initiative delays reductions of key pollutants for years, while allowing smokestack industries to buy and trade pollution “credits”, instead of forcing the companies to curb their own emissions. Under the existing Clean Air Act, existing power plants were not allowed to expand without installing modern anti-pollution technologies. New administration rules changes the definition of expansion from 0.75% of a plant’s total costs to 20%, thus effectively enabling 17,000 old facilities to expand generating capabilities without installing pollution controls. This rollback assures the acid rain and smog that affects the Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks will continue to exacerbate air quality standard violations.
Mercury emissions from power plants, required by the existing Clean Air Act to achieve 90% reduction by 2008, will be relaxed to allow only 70% reduction by 2018 under administration proposals
Carbon dioxide emissions reductions, responsible for worldwide global warming, were signed by every major nation in the world at the Kyoto Protocol pact, yet the administration opted out of participation, making the US the only major nation in the world to reject such controls.
The Union of Concerned Scientists, a group of more than 4,000 scientists, including 48 Nobel laureates, joined in calling for a “restoration of scientific integrity in federal policymaking” charging the administration in packing scientific advisory panels with ideologues and imposing controls on collaboration with foreign researches.
The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), which helped draft 64 National Park business plans, has been eliminated from participation by the National Park Service. This due to recently prepared plans on various National Parks being critical of reduced operating budgets. Stating, “Core operations of the park are not funded sufficiently to meet the basic goals and mission of the park as defined by Congress”, the Olympic National Park Business Plan, as well as several other completed plans, have been shelved and withheld from public distribution.
Administration officials scrapped a draft 76- page management plan designed by the managers of Yellowstone National Park and other regional national parks and national forests. After the two key officials responsible for the draft – the regional forester and regional Park Service director – were transferred under protest to new jobs, the management plan was rewritten and released as an 11-page document, including removal of all opposition to commercial activities. One example; the original draft plan stated, “projects permitted will have to be shown to be without potential to harm to geothermal features”, which was changed to, “development projects on adjacent National Forests do not threaten geothermal features”.
After a ten-year study, two FWS biologists, who recommended changes in water discharges from dams to protect endangered species, were dismissed from the study. New members, who, after a 45-day study, recommending reduced water changes.