Monday, January 30, 2012

Tom McKinney, conservation chairman of the Ozark Headwaters Group of the Arkansas Chapter of the Sierra Club, submits comments on the Bearcat Hollow Habitat Enhancement Project Phase II

   ARKANSAS SIERRA CLUB
Not Blind Opposition to Progress but
   Opposition to Blind Progress


TO:    Bruce Davenport, Big Piney Ranger District, 12,000 SR
    27 Hector, Arkansas  72843
     
FROM:    Tom McKinney as an individual and a member of the
    Sierra     Club, Ozark Headwaters Group of the Sierra Club and
    the Arkansas Chapter of the Sierra Club

DATE:    January 10, 2012

RE:    Comments of the Bearcat Hollow Habitat
          Enhancement Project Phase II
     
     
Project Comments and Recommended Course of Action:

    Please enter the following comments and recommendations
into the record for the Bearcat Hollow Phase II project from Tom
McKinney as an individual and a member of the Sierra Club, the
Ozark Headwaters Group of the Sierra Club and the Arkansas
Chapter of the Sierra Club. I as an individual as well as
members of the Sierra Club, a grassroots environmental
organization, regularly and routinely recreate in the Ozark
National Forest and within the boundaries of the Bearcat Hollow
Phase II project.


    After reviewing the proposed project we have seen many
problems that have either not been addressed or ignored in the
document and other issues where the foundation of the suggested
alternatives desired by the Ozark National Forest have been
misinterpreted and misrepresented. These are detailed in our
comments.


The relief sought:

    That the "No Action" alternative be chosen as the Preferred
Alternative until a full Environmental Impact Statement has been
conducted on the full Bearcat Hollow (BCH) Project area
documenting the cumulative impacts of the Forest Service
Actions, both past, present and planned, for the reasons
contained in our comments on the project and that all actions
within the boundaries of the Bearcat Hollow Project, both Phase
I and Phase II be halted. Also, though one of the project issues
specifically eliminated from further study in this project was
the fact that the Rocky Mountain Elk introduced into the Buffalo
National River in the 1980s and since spread to Ozark National
Forest Lands, was not to be considered as a non-native species
(Page I-8) when, in actuality, it is a non-native species for
which no EIS was prepared and for which federal policies
established by the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) were
not followed.

COMMENT ITEM 1 ñ No Cumulative Impact Study for BCR Phase II or
the Entire 38,000 Acre Project Area Incorporating BCR Phase I
and II

    Bearcat Hollow Phase 2 (BCH2) is the second phase of a
project initially projected to be 16,000 acres (see Bearcat
Hollow Phase 1 EA). However, with the incorporation of the
"buffer zone" (compare Bearcat Hollow Phase 1 EA map with Phase
2 EA map), the project is now expanded to 38,000 acres. No
explanation is given for the elimination of the buffer zone, and
a 100 percent + increase in the project area. The project borders
Richland Creek Wild and Scenic River and Richland Creek
Wilderness Area in the Piney / Bayou District of the Ozark
National Forest. Part of the project area is transected by the
Ozark Highlands Hiking Trail.

Proposed actions include extensive use of herbicides, large-scale prescribed burning in any season, forest clearing for
timber production and to create "wildlife ponds and openings"
oriented towards creation of pasture in deeply forested areas
for introduced elk and other species. These actions, considered
individually and collectively, would have significant direct and
indirect adverse environmental impacts within the project area
and throughout the region. For these and other reasons presented
in these comments, we oppose the proposed action as outlined in
the project EA and endorse the "No Action" alternative.
Specifically, the reasons for our objections include the
following factors:

*    Individual Environmental Assessments (EAís) for Bearcat
Hollow Phase 1 and Phase 2 failed to assess the combined
cumulative impacts of both phases of the project, now
covering approximately 38,000 acres (up from 16,000 acres
as projected in Phase 1). This constitutes a failure on the
part of the USFS to take a "hard look" (or any look for
that matter) at combined and cumulative environmental
impacts of both phases of the project as required under the
National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).

*    Implementation of the Bearcat Hollow Project is causing
now, and will continue to cause degradation of water
quality in Dry Creek, Richland Creek, and the Buffalo
National River in violation of the both the Federal Clean
Water Act and State Regulation 2 governing Arkansas'
Extraordinary Resource Waters.

COMMENT ITEM 2 ñ Rocky Mountain Elk is a Non-Native Species

    There is no existing Environmental Impact Study or
comparable assessment for introducing Rocky Mountain Elk onto
the Ozark National Forest via Bearcat Hollow Project Phase I and
II or within the Forest Plan. In the Environmental Analysis for
the project, the USFS declined to comment on the expansion of
the elk herd onto USFS lands, but placed the discussion under
"ISSUES ELIMINATED FROM DETAILED STUDY" stating, "[these] are
not key issues in the analysis. The 10-year plan for the Ozark
National Forest states that, "increases in habitat [for the elk]
would continue over a 50-year period with an ever-expanding elk
population." (Forest Plan EIS 3-276). Yet neither the USFS nor
the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has conducted any
detailed study of the cultural or environmental impacts of
expanding introduced elk on USFS land in the Ozark National
Forest.

    Implementation of this project is in violation of the
Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). Representatives of the
US Forest Service and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
initiated a series of meetings beginning in 2002 with a focus on
expanding elk habitat onto the Ozark National Forest adjacent to
the Gene Rush Wildlife Management area. The only Non
Governmental organization notified and invited to attend these
meetings were representatives from the Rocky Mountain Elk
Foundation. These meetings continued into 2005 and resulted in
plans for an expanded elk herd in the area of Richland Creek.
This project became known as the Bearcat Hollow Project. The
Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) defines an advisory
committee as "any committee, board, commission, council,
conference, panel, task force, or other similar group, or any
subcommittee or other subgroup thereof . . . which is
established or utilized by one or more agencies in the interest
of obtaining advice or recommendations for the President or one
or more agencies or officers of the Federal Government." 5
U.S.C. app. II ß 3(2). Under the FACA, advisory committees must
also "file a charter; announce their upcoming meetings in the
Federal Register; hold their meetings in public; and keep
detailed minutes of each meeting." Finally, the "committee must
be fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented
and may not be inappropriately influenced by the appointing
authority or by any special interest." Id. (quoting 5 U.S.C.
app. II ßß 5(b)(2), (3) & (c)).  These "elk committee" meetings
were not announced to the public, nor were their deliberations
published in any public format after they occurred. The meetings
lacked a balance of perspectives, as all participants were
interested in the goal of expanding elk habitat onto the
National Forest. The deliberations and outcomes of these
meetings had a significant influence on the final revised forest-management plan while the general public and other interested
stakeholders and groups had no opportunity to participate in
these discussions. The project could not be challenged within
the forest plan, leaving the EA comment period as the only
opportunity to formally challenge the BCH project. This
circumstance demonstrates an abuse of agency authority and
agency discretion and is a violation of the FACA. It furthermore
undermines the validity of the forest plan.

    The USFS is also being inconsistent in how it applies its
Non-native species status to different animals, particularly if
it is an animal for which the USFS does not want to manage the
public lands. Though there have been numerous documented
sightings and pictures of cougar in the Ozark National Forest
and in other parts of Arkansas, the USFS refuses to acknowledge
those sightings and refuses to change the status of the cougar
on its public lands in Arkansas (extirpated) because they claim
the cougars are introduced by former pet owners and are not true
Eastern cougars. However the USFS wants to claim that Rocky
Mountain Elk, which are not true Eastern elk extirpated from
Arkansas in the 1840s, which were introduced onto non-USFS land
in the 1980s but have since spread to USFS land, are a native
species of elk. The contradiction is very apparent and we feel
that the introduced Rocky Mountain Elk are an introduced non-
native species and that a full EIS on the biological effects of
that  introduction and expansion onto USFS lands should be
conducted.

COMMENT ITEM 3 Designation of 3.K Wildlife Emphasis Area is
Arbitrary and Capricious and an Abuse of Agency Discretion as
are the Actions to be Taken within the Boundaries of the
Improperly Designated Area:
   
We feel that the designation of this area, 3.K Wildlife
Emphasis Area, as a separate unit for establishing habitat for
the expansion of the elk population in the Ozark National
Forest, and for the supposed benefit of other wildlife species,
was arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of agency discretion.
This designation is directing on-the-ground activities that will
convert a moist, upland hardwood forest, which is the historic
and climax forest type for this area, into an oak savannah and
pine savannah habitat with a grassy understory, large openings
converted to grass and various forbs (not specified in the
document), and which will entail the use of unnatural and
accelerated mass burns and large amounts of expensive mechanical
treatments. Challenging this designation is not out of the scope
of these comments because the proposed project is driven and
tiered to that designation and, since the project level is where
legal decisions are made on projects and the project is driven
by this designation, it IS within the scope of these comments
and must be addressed.

   It is our belief that the USFS has established this
designation because the habitat manipulations necessary to make
conditions favorable for increasing the population of introduced
elk is massive, incredibly expensive and causes great disruption
to the native, moist upland hardwood forest of the project area
by attempting to convert thousands of acres to an oak-savannah
habitat more favored by Rocky Mountain elk. There is no better
example in the ways the USFS keeps itself busy as this: using
millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours to establish and
maintain an artificial habitat to the extent they desire in an
area where it does not belong.
  
COMMENT ITEM 4 ñ The Improper Use of Fire to Establish and
Maintain 3.K Wildlife Management Areas and for Efforts Claimed
to be For Re-establishing Rare and Endangered Species and/or
Habitat

    The USFS has carried out controlled-burn programs in the
Ozark National Forest that makes use of improper burning
intervals and which, in our opinion, purposefully misinterprets
published fire research to legitimize the agency's burning
programs and goals. We enter into the record the following study
conducted by members of the Arkansas Sierra Club for the record
and as evidence that all of the burns planned for the 38,000
project be canceled:


Sierra Club Analysis of U.S. Forest Service
Rationale for Conducting Massive Burning Program
in the Ouachita and Ozark National Forests

The Conclusions do not fit the Facts

April 17, 2004
Updated May 2005
Further Updated January 2012

      The Ozark and Ouachita National Forest Service are
currently engaging in a program of controlled burning in these
National Forests for the stated purpose of reducing wildfire
risks and of returning the Ozark and Ouachita forests to their
natural "pre-settlement" condition. They are doing this by
conducting massive controlled burns using very short intervals
between burns. Forest Service plans and personnel have
repeatedly stated that they would like to have the funding to
burn over 125,000 acres annually in each national forest on
short 2- to 4- or 5- to 7-year burning cycles. This has now been
incorporated into their Final Environmental Impact Statements
for both National Forests. In conversations with Forest Service
personnel they have expressly wished that they had the funding
to burn as much as 150,000 acres. No one seems to have done the
simple math to point out that, over a short period of three to
five years the Forest Service wants to intensively burn 500,000
to 700,000 acres in each forest. That is well over half of the
entire Ozark National Forest and almost half of the Ouachita
National Forest.

      After examining the limited documentation provided by the
U.S. Forest Service for this massive burning program we have
come to the conclusion that, if the burns are conducted as
planned, this is an attempt to convert an existing upland oak-
hickory climax forest to a prairie-oak savannah forest not
naturally native to the Ozark Highlands in Arkansas within the
boundaries of the Ozark National Forest for the past 4,000
years, except in scattered small pockets of exposed rock and
thin soils. The cumulative result of the burning is not
adequately discussed in any document nor is the ecosystem
conversion. In the Ouachita National Forest the burning and
associated mid-story hardwood removal is an attempt to convert
mixed pine-hardwood forests to a pine-savannah which did exist
in the Ouachitas but not to the extent that the Forest Service
is attempting to re-create.
     
      We believe that this burning program is actually an attempt
to alter the forest ecosystem to one that will not have a
typical Ozark or Ouachita forest understory and forest floor but
will use repeated burning to establish a grass understory with
an oak overstory, basically an oak-savannah habitat. This forest
type only became more prevalent when an artificial and non-
natural amount of burning was conducted by the influx of
displaced Native American population and white settlers that
moved into the Ozarks from the East.

      As an example, past Environmental Assessments (EAs) and the
Final EIS for burning projects in the Ozarks state that fire is
necessary for the propagation and survival of the oak-hickory
hardwood forests and for the restoration of grassy woods. It
also claims that repeated fires by Native Americans helped
sustain this imaginary oak-savannah ecosystem that the Forest
Service is attempting to establish. This is not correct and this
assertion is backed-up by the Forest Serviceís own cited
research.

    In Restoration of Old Growth Forests in the Interior
Highlands of Arkansas and Oklahoma, and article entitled Late-
quaternary Vegetation History of the Interior Highlands of
Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, by Hazel R. and Paul A
Delcourt, they state that warm and dry climactic conditions
present between 8,000 and 4,000 years B.P. (Before Present)
allowed the spread of xeric (dry) and savanna vegetation
eastward from the Great Plains to the eastern Ozarks and
Quachitas. However, as the climate grew warmer after 4,000 year
B.P. the oak-hickory forest we are familiar with began to
develop and is with us today. Basically, the Ozarks are a moist
oak-hickory climax forest because the climate and soil makes it
so, not because of some imaginary multi-million acre burning
campaign carried out by early Native Americans.

    Additionally, in all of our examinations of the Land Survey
Records of the original surveys conducted in the 1820s-1840s for
numerous projects (including BCH I and II), we have not found
one mention of a burned over area and have found only limited
references to ìglades,î ìbarrens,î or ìopen and grassy woods.î 
Those references do exist, but they are only scattered
occurrences, not an ecosystem that covers hundreds or thousands
of acres, as the Forest Service now seems to claim or imply. In
fact, when asked by members of the Sierra Club how much ìfire
dependentî forest existed in the Ozark National Forest and was
to be burned,  the Forest Service personnel in charge of the
fire program told us it was 400,000 acres. We then asked to see
the documentation for that figure, where the areas were located
in the Ozark National Forest, when they were to be burned and
what the actual breakdown of the money that was to be used for
the burning program, the U.S. Forest Service could not provide
us with that information. This lack of extensive oak-savanna
forests in the Ozarks is also born out in the same publication
on old growth forests by Gary E. Tucker in an article he wrote
entitled Pre-settlement Vegetation of the Ozark National Forest.
He states, ìThere is little way to assess the importance of fire
in the GLO (Government Land Office) records. Not once in GLO
records for the Ozarks have I seen direct reference to fire.î

      We can further state that in the hundreds of records we
have studied from the Big Piney, Buffalo and Bayou Districts of
the Ozark National Forest, not once did we ever see a reference
to an area having been subject to a fire. There is no
prehistoric reference that the Ozark National Forest can cite to
legitimize the conversion by fire from an upland hardwood forest
to an oak-savannah forest and it should be stopped immediately.

      After examining a paper referenced in the EA for the
Woodland Restoration Project and other projects in the Ozark
National Forest, Fire history of oakñpine forests in the Lower
Boston Mountains, Arkansas, USA, by R.P. Guyette, M.A. Spetich,
Department of Forestry, 203n ABNR Bldg., University of Missouri,
Columbia, MO 65211, USA, Southern Research Station USDA Forest
Service, 523 Reserve Street, Hot Springs, AR 71901, USA, and
their previous study in the Missouri Ozarks on the Current River
Dynamics of an Anthropogenic Fire Regime, 2001, (both here
included by reference) we became aware of specifically what the
U.S. Forest Service was attempting to do.

    What the two studies showed was that there was a positive
correlation between the frequency of fire and an increase in
population. The bigger the influx of people the more fires
occurred until the fuel ran out and the population became more
dense, making fires more threatening to the existing
populations. This increased burning frequency caused by
population growth is the mechanism the Forest Service wants to
cite for returning the forest to its ìnatural state.î  But there
was nothing natural about this state or of the increased fires
that brought on the extensive grassy woods the Forest Service
claims are natural. They are not natural except in the limited
pockets of suitable habitat that did burn on a natural cycle.
The 2003 paper states in the Abstract:

      ìPerspective on present day issues associated with wildland
fire can be gained by studying the long-term interactions among
humans, landscape, and fire. Fire frequency and extent over the
last 320 years document these interactions north of the Arkansas
River on the southern edge of the Lower Boston Mountains.
Dendrochronological methods were used to construct three fire
chronologies from 309 dated fire scars that were identified on
45 shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) remnants. Fire frequency
increased with human population density from a depopulated
period (the late 1600s and early 1700s) to a peak in fire
frequency circa 1880. Fire frequency then decreased as human
population continued to increase. Fire frequency and human
population density were positively correlated during an early
period (1680ñ1880) with low levels of population, but negatively
correlated during a later period (1881ñ1910) with high levels of
population. We hypothesized that this difference is due to
limits on fire propagation and ignition caused by land use and
culture, as well as human population density. Relatively high
human population densities (>5 humans/km2) were associated with
a peak in the maximum number of fires per decade in this highly
dissected,ëbluff and benchí landscape compared to less dissected
regions of the Ozarks.î

    So, yes, there were more fires as population increased
which did significantly alter the Ozark and Ouachita forests.
However, this was not a natural state of the forest. As stated
in the Delacourt paper, the oak-hickory dominated Ozarks have
been developing for over 4,000 years with significant human
population being present only in the last 400 years or so. The
same can be inferred in the Ouachitas. What the Forest Service
is attempting to do is to recreate the forest, as it was when it
was artificially altered by increased burning due to increased
population, particularly during the mid to late 19th Century when
the burning was at its most intense.  They are not attempting to
take it back to its pre-settlement or prehistoric condition. In
a very telling remark in the 2003 paper, Guyette and Spetich
make a very clear assertion as to fire frequency:

      ìAnthropogenic (man caused) ignitions have overwhelmed the
influence of natural ignitions in much of the central hardwood
region including the Ozarks (Dey and Guyette, 2000a). Despite
50ñ70 thunderstorm days per year (Baldwin, 1973), only about 1ñ5
natural ignitions (my emphasis) per year occur per 400,000 ha
(approx. 800,000 acres)(Schroeder and Buck, 1970). In contrast,
humans have caused an average of 105 fires per year per 400,000
ha in the Ozarks of southern Missouri (Westin, 1992).î
     
    This fact is further reinforced by a third 2006 paper
entitled Fire Regime in an Ozark Wilderness Area, Arkansas by
Michael C. Stambough and Richard P. Guyette. In the study
conducted at the confluence of the White and Buffalo Rivers in
northern Arkansas they state the following, ìMany of the present
day issues associated with fire management in wilderness areas
are addressed by studying past interactions among fire, humans,
vegetation and climate. In this paper we describe three
centuries of the fire regime in the Lower Buffalo River
Wilderness Area, Arkansas, USA. We reconstructed fire events
from 159 tree-ring dated fire scars on 26 shortleaf pine (Pinus
echinata Mill.) remnants and live trees. During the late-17th
Century and early 18th Century the mean fire return interval
(MFI) was 7.7 y. Fire frequency increased abruptly circa 1820
with fires burning every 2 y on average until 1920. The number
of fires decreased during the 1900s as cultural values changed
to favor fire suppression over multiple-use burning. Analyses of
the influence of human ignitions and drought on the fire regime
resulted in two important findings: (1) that fire frequency was
positively correlated to human population density up to 1920 and
(2) the influence of drought seemed to be masked by frequent
anthropogenic fires and fire suppression. Fire events were
associated with droughts only prior to Euro-American settlement.
Studies of climate-fire relationships should consider the
potential for anthropogenic influence and future studies should
attempt to quantify the historic role of humans in the fire
regime.î

    We would also like to note that this study area more than
likely had increased incidences of fire since it was at the
confluence of two heavily traveled rivers where overnight
camping and campfires were more numerous and, thus, more likely
to escape and cause wild fires.
     

    It comes to our attention that the decreased fire frequency
rate that has been present since the Forest Service started its
fire education programs in the 1920s probably represents the
actual pre-settlement and prehistoric fire regime in the Ozarks.
Hardwoods are here because the climate and soils say that they
should be and the oak-hickory hardwoods are the dominant species
in the Ozark forests because, over time and through droughts,
they out-compete more shade tolerant species and reach the
overstory. They are not here because of frequent fires covering
millions of acres that were started by Native Americans. The
Ozarks are not a fire dependant forest as the Forest Service
claims. It was admitted to me, personally by USFS personnel that
they had improperly labeled the Ozark National Forest as ìfire
dependentî when it is actually ìfire tolerantî which is an
entirely different classification and thus does not support the
conclusions reached for legitimizing the burning of 125,000
acres annually in each national forest. As an example, if people
are arsenic dependent then their very survival is dependent upon
the intake of arsenic. However, is people are arsenic tolerant,
as humans are, the arsenic is not necessary for their survival
but the person can tolerate a certain amount of it until
increasing levels cause sickness and, finally, death. It is also
as if the USFS wants to ignore the fact that it routinely rains
40 to 60 inches in Arkansas annually.

    The U.S. Forest Service is attempting to convert the moist
upland hardwood forest of the Ozarks to an oak-savannah
ecosystem, which is not natural to this region in the amounts
they want to establish. It is an ecosystem conversion with no
cumulative impact study and is improper. The same can be said
for the pine-savannah ecosystem in the Ouachitas. Though this
ecosystem did exist, it did not cover hundreds of thousands of
acres of the Ouachita National Forest.

    In reading the 2003 Guyette and Spetich paper I also came
across an interesting point of discussion regarding mixed pine
and hardwood complexes. On page 9 of the study they state:

ì4.1. Hardwoodñpine complex - The fact that shortleaf pines grow
in a matrix of hardwoods in this forest allows us to examine
fire frequency throughout the complex. Once a fire starts, it
burns through both hardwood and pine. However, significantly
scarred hardwoods often continue to decay, do not readily record
subsequent fires, and eventually die due to the combination of
decay and other stresses, leaving few remnants. This makes
deriving fire histories from hardwoods more problematic than for
shortleaf pine. Shortleaf, once scarred, is predisposed to
recording subsequent fire events through scarring, due to resin
secretions at the injury site. This resin also impregnates wood,
significantly reducing decay. Historic evidence of this
hardwoodñpine complex is documented in research notes by Harvey
who studied Arkansas vegetation from 1875 to 1885. Harvey (1883)
noted that ëëNorth of the Arkansas River a great many deciduous
trees grow with pines. The percentage of pine increases as you
go south, but there are no forests exclusively in pine. . .íí.î

    This discussion seems to refute the conclusion that
frequent fires in the Ozarks are necessary for the propagation
and survival of hardwoods. In fact this paper seems to directly
imply the opposite - Fire eventually kills hardwood trees. This
observation is further reinforced by the stated management
practice used by the U.S. Forest Service for decades. In pine
sites that are under intensive management to eliminate competing
hardwoods the area is burned so that the fire will kill those
hardwood trees, not preserve them. Such a reference was also
made directly in another U.S. Forest Service study - Southern
Forest Resource Draft Report, Background Paper Fire: Fire in
Southern Forest Landscapes, by John A Stanturf, Dale W. Wade,
Thomas A. Waldrop, Deborah K. Kennard and Gary L. Achtemeir,
Southern Research Station, USDA Forest Service. In Section 5.1.3
entitled ìManagement Competing Vegetation (sic), the authors
plainly state that fire is one of the best ways to kill
hardwoods and control their growth in pine stands. Fire
basically kills the hardwoods so that the pines can grow better.

    It also became apparent that the only trees Guyette used in
his research for all three studies were pine trees - there were
no hardwood trees studied. From this fact alone it can be
convincingly argued that any fire history discussed in this
study only applies to areas predominately populated with pine
trees and not the upland hardwood forests that the U.S. Forest
Service is burning in the Ozarks.   

    Based upon the short burning cycles that the USFS wants to
use in its prescribed fire program tied with the late 19th and
early 20th Century frequent fire cycles documented in the three
papers mentioned above, it is our conclusion that the USFS does
not want to return the Ozark National Forest to a prehistoric
natural condition as they claim but to a condition that existed
from 1880 to 1920 when the residents of the area burned the
woods so frequently that they changed the character of the
forest which did not return to its more natural state until the
USFS actually convinced people to stop burning.

      This also brings us to the unsettling conclusion that this
burning program may not only be an attempt to convert the upland
hardwood forests of the Ozarks to an oak-savanna ecosystem but
may also be a covert method to expand the size of existing pine
stands so as to convert adjacent hardwood stands to pine, or to
directly increase the number of pines in the forest so a more
pine-dominated forest will result.

    It was also related to us in a legally recorded
conversation with USFS personnel in 2007 that when the burning
program first started in the Ozark National Forest they were
asked by personnel from the regional office in Atlanta, Georgia
not how many acres of old limestone glades or dry post oak
dominated bluff lines they had in the Ozark National Forest that
could be burned to help restore the native habitat but, rather,
how many acres in the forest they could burn annually. Thus, it
is obvious that the burning program was started not as a program
to reestablish rare and endangered habitats but an attempt to
spend as much money as possible burning as many acres annually
as they could.

    Also of concern is the possibility of a large rain event
occurring shortly after a burn has been conducted, causing
massive erosion and increased run-off. This is a particular
danger because the fire burns the duff layer of the forest
exposing the mineral soil to sheet and channel erosion, greatly
increasing the damage done to the forest ecosystem. Most of the
prescribed burns are conducted in the early spring and early
winter which is subject to the largest rain events of the year.
Just such a situation occurred on the 5,000 acre White Rock burn
in April of 2004. The prescribed fire occurred during the first
week in April followed two weeks later by a massive rain storm
that caused flooding across northwest Arkansas. Unfortunately
the U.S. Forest Service had no monitoring instruments in place
to measure the damage done to soils in the burned area. However,
Sierra Club volunteers did monitor the burn area through
personal observation and found widespread instances of massive
sheet and channel erosion in the area whose severity was far and
above that caused by similar storms in the past due to the loss
of the duff layer to fire.  

    Additionally, one of the main criteria used by the USFS for
burning huge expanses of the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest
(120,000 acres annually) is to restore native fire-dependent
vegetation. But, in response to a Sierra Club FONSI (File Code
6270 dated 4/6/2005), asking that the Ozark-St. Francis National
Forest provide us with ìA map indicating locations of fire-
dependant areas in the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest,
indicating whether those areas have been categorized as prairie,
savannah, woodland or some other fire dependant vegetation
type,î they responded ìWe have been unable to locate maps of
fire-dependant areas indicating whether those areas have been
categorized as prairie, savannah, woodland or some other fire
dependant vegetation types on the Ozark-St. Francis and Ozark-
St. Francis National Forests. Since we were unable to locate
records responsive to your request we have forwarded your
request to Andrea Csergei, Regional FOIA Coordinator in Atlanta,
Georgia, for further review.î We have heard nothing from the
USFS since then. No matter how much the USFS claims that there
are fire-dependant areas of the Ozark-St. Francis National
Forest that they can restore, if they do not know what they are
or were, where they are or were, if they ever existed, if they
can exist, can they be recovered, how much of the forest each
kind of vegetation covered and in what proportions, then agency
discretion does not give them the authority to engage in such a
huge management action as burning 120,000 acres annually costing
millions of dollars in tax payers money. Additionally, when the
Sierra Club also requested a detailed breakdown of the fire
budget in the same FONSI, the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest
could not provide those figures but only a total budget figure.
   
    End of Paper

    Additionally, they USFS can cite all of the studies and
figures it wants with the hope that nobody will actually
investigate what the research actually says. We have adequately
documented and pointed out in our comments many instances where
the USFS misapplies the stated research to rationalize actions
it wants to take rather than what the research actually shows.
This goes beyond agency discretion and borders on intentional
bad faith. For these reasons we feel that prescribed burns of
any kind for any reason should be dropped from the project.

    I can also again state that we have personally examined the
GLO records for the project area and have found no mention of
grassy woods, open woods, glades, grass or any indication of a
fire dominated or determinant ecosystem. What I did find were
extensive references to oak-hickory overstory and numerous
mentions of understories of oak, dogwood, leatherwood, spice
bushes and vines. I did find a few references to an oak-pine
overstory, but never where the pine was the predominant tree,
and never in the understory. I did find numerous references to
overstories consisting of oak, ash, elm, hickory, sweet gum,
sugar tree (maples) and a couple of pin oaks. Nothing indicates
a fire-dependant community.

    In fact, using the USFSís own logic, by the time of the
1840s there should have been an adequate influx of settlers as
to increase the amount of burning above what were the documented
natural cycles before the influx. However, since fire destroys
hardwoods and keeps the forest floor free from undergrowth,
saplings and propagates grasses, there should be ample presence
of these habitats, or at least a few signs that they were
present. There are none so the area was not fire dependant and
the effort to make it so is arbitrary, capricious and an abuse
of agency discretion.

COMMENT ITEM 5 ñ Off Site Impacts to Richland Creek and the
Buffalo National River   

     The USFS seems to pretend that the 38,000 plus acres of the
Bearcat Hollow Project will not overly affect Richland Creek or
the Buffalo National River. The USFS pretends that the effects
of their management activities magically stop at the boundaries
of the Ozark National Forest or at the edges of any of its soil
disturbing activity. This is nonsense. Detrimental erosional
events do flow downstream and out of USFS jurisdiction into
private land and other federal jurisdictional property, such as
the Buffalo National River, as the Sierra Club has documented
to the USFS in the past in sworn testimony by Dr. Robert Curry
from on the ground research and observation which he personally
conducted with the help of Sierra Club volunteers. The Sierra
Club conducted a three-year project (1994-96) examining actual
consequences of logging projects (Sand Gap and Round Hill) in
the Richland Creek watershed. This study was conducted by Dr.
Robert Curry PhD in Environmental Geology who is imminently
more qualified to conduct such studies than any personnel
currently employed by the Ozark National Forest. His findings
are summarized in the appeal and the Ozark National Forest has
his full comments on record in his sworn testimony in Newton
County Wildlife Association et al, VS George Rogers, et al,
(Declaration dated January 27 and March 4, 1997) and which I
now include in our comments by reference. This three-year study
found that actual erosion rates from roads constructed and
maintained by the Forest Service exceed their predicted erosion
rates by 1 to 10 orders of magnitude (1 to 10 times or 100 to
1000 percent). Actual studies by qualified personnel should be
used over theoretical (at least for the Ozark National Forest)
tables and graphs of the projectís erosion rates. It is not out
of the scope of this project to determine and measure the
effects of the USFS activities which will flow downstream into
the Buffalo National River as well as the federally designated
Richland Creek Wild and Scenic River. Not to do so, and across
the whole 15,712 acres of the 3.K area is arbitrary and
capricious and an abuse of agency discretion.


COMMENT ITEM 6 ñ Biodiversity

    The issue of biodiversity and forest fragmentation should
be addressed in an EIS with regard to all species over the
38,000 acre BCW II project.  This includes, but is not
limited to: mammals, invertebrates, plants, insects, microñ
organisms, reptiles, and amphibians.  Sampling effects and
minimum area requirements of all species should be addressed. 
Also, the impact of cowbird parasitism and predation to
forest interior birds should be prominently considered if the
USFS opens up grazing areas for elk in what is now an intact
forest canopy. The Forest Service should obtain baseline data
for all MIS species, forest interior birds, and reptiles and
amphibians.  This should be done with field surveys.  An
adequate monitoring plan should also be in place and data
made accessible to the public. The direct and indirect
impacts to all the nearby sensitive areas should be
considered. As an example, reptile and amphibian populations
have been dropping dramatically throughout the world. The
effects to these species should be evaluated.  Baseline data
should be gathered for the entire project area.  A monitoring
plan should be developed. The lack of such an analysis and
on-the-ground-monitoring plan renders this project inadequate
to proceed.

COMMENT ITEM 7 ñ Commercial Logging

   With regard for the commercial logging and timber removal
planned in this project, there is inadequate information
about the location and extent of commercial logging to be
done in this project. Forest Service research indicates dead
and decaying wood accounts for about 25% of a forest's
biodiversity. The impact of removing or burning trees on this
component of the forest ecosystem needs to be considered. The
Forest Service generally contends that trees are somehow
wasted when they die. Dead trees should be allowed to fulfill
their function and be recycled back into the ecosystem to
eventually become soil. Additionally we state that the
repeated burning of the forest will make the conditions more
favorable for the spread of pine trees which will replace the
native hardwoods in many portions of the watershed. The USFS
has made no bones about their love of pine trees and has been
sued in the past by the Newton County Wildlife Association
and the Sierra Club to stop the conversion of hardwood stands
to pine stands in the mid 1970s. Here the USFS has found a
way to convert hardwood stands to pine indirectly using
massive burning where they will not even have to admit that
they are doing so or measure the environmental consequences
of those actions. The no-action alternative should consider
these values, as well as the ability of an old growth forest
to hold more carbon than either a young forest, field, or, a
burned landscape. The lack of specific information regarding
the extent of logging or tree removal renders this EA
inadequate for the reasons stated repeatedly in this document

COMMENT TIEM 8 ñ Impacts on Recreational Use of the Forest

    The assumption that the forest conversion, repeated burning
and heavy machinery entries into this area of the forest would
not significantly impact existing recreational uses is an
unrealistic, arbitrary, and inaccurate assessment. There are
presently dozens of people who are recreational users of this
area of the forest who have read the EA and strongly object to
this project for the very reason that the impacts to the
environment and to existing recreational values are unacceptably
high. The mere fact that extensive efforts must be made during
the course of this project to minimize the effects on
recreational use of the forest belies those same minimal effects
the USFS says will exist. Also, I cannot think of a more
recreationally destroying action than the USFS attempting the
conversion of a moist upland hardwood forest into a xeric oak-
savannah forest.

COMMENT ITEM 9 ñ Water Quality issues

    Cumulative water quality and aquatic impacts from the
overall project (from either one or both phases) is not
adequately addressed in the EA.  The name and location of Dry
Creek indicates a subterranean drainage pattern typical of karst
areas in the Ozarks. The commentors believe the proposed actions
may have negative impacts on water quality.  The effects of
sedimentation, nutrient removal, and increased temperatures
resulting from timber harvest along and above all waterways need
to be addressed. Also of concern is the possibility of a large
rain event, or stocatic event as the USFS has called it,
occurring shortly after a burn has been conducted, causing
massive erosion and increased sedimentation and ash run-off.
This is a particular danger because the fire burns the duff
layer of the forest exposing the mineral soil to sheet and
channel erosion, greatly increasing the damage done to the
forest ecosystem. This actually happened in the Mulberry River
water shed in 2004 where the USFS conducted a large burn in
March and then a stocatic event occurred in April in the form of
a huge rain fall over a short period of time causing, in places,
record flooding. Upon inspection of the watershed members of the
public noted massive and severe sheet and gully erosion on USFS
property. The Ozark National Forest could not officially measure
the damage because they had no monitoring devices in place. Most
of the prescribed burns are conducted in the early spring,
leaving large acreages exposed during the largest rain events of
the year. These large stocatic events happened again in 2006 and
2011, almost like it was predictable.

    Also, the lack of large woody debris in the project area
creek can be attributed to these same stocatic events. Any large
woody debris is simply swept downstream or deposited at a higher
elevation due to floodwaters and are no longer in the stream
bed. Any efforts to deposit such large woody debris as a part of
this project will be a waste of time, money and will possibly do
more harm by providing additional large woody missiles for the
flood waters to send downstream.

Also, though I did not find the following citation in this EA,
though I might have missed it, it was included in the Bearcat
Hollow Phase I project EA so I assume it is still relevant and I
am including it for the record here ñ In 2006 the Arkansas Dept.
of Environmental Quality issued comments on the proposed action
BCH I) that are now part of the public record. These comments,
submitted by the Water Division Chief within the lead agency
charged with protecting Arkansasí water quality, states in part:

ì Richland Creek is designated as an Extraordinary Resource
Water; as such there is a need to ensure the high water quality
is protected.  We are particularly concerned with the impacts
from sediment and herbicides.  The anti-degradation policy in
Regulation No. 2, Section 2.203 states,

ìWhere high quality waters constitute an
outstanding state or national resource, such as
those waters designated as extraordinary resource
waters, ecologically sensitive or natural and
scenic waterways, those uses and water quality
for which the outstanding water-body was
designated shall be protected by (1) water
quality controls, (2) maintenance of natural flow
regime, (3) protection of in-stream habitat, and
(4) encouragement of land management practices
protective of the watershed.î  Martin Maner, P.E.
Water Division Chief.î

      It is our contention that the separate and
cumulative impacts of BCH Phase II and its entire 38,000
acre area and its effects upon Richland Creek itself and
the Richland Creek Wilderness Area have not been
adequately and accurately documented and measured in this
EA and, thus, it should not go forward.

   

COMMENT 10 ñ Mineral Collection for Landscaping and
Building

    It is stated with no analysis or any documentation
in the EA that rock collecting in the project area will
have no adverse cumulative effect upon anything in the
forest. We totally disagree and feel that any and all
organisms, lizards, skinks, newts insects and snakes will
be harmed by this removal and such an analysis
documenting and measuring this possibility should be
included in the EA.

SUMMARY
The Commentors believe that the decision to choose any preferred
alternative other than the No Action Alternative would bring
about extensive alterations and management practices that would
clearly have a detrimental impact on natural flow regimes and in
stream habitat within the Richland Creek watershed and
downstream into the Buffalo National River. Especially harmful
would be the application of potentially toxic combinations of
herbicides over hundreds or thousands of acres, burning multiple
thousands of acres, bulldozing and logging hundreds of acres,
land clearing, disking, and, dragging large woody debris into
the stream channels of Dry Creek/Richland Creek watershed. For
these reasons and the reasons stated throughout these comments,
we ask that this project be withdrawn or that the No Action
Alternative be chosen as the Preferred Alternative. If the
project is resubmitted, an EIS is hereby requested addressing
the issues described herein.



These comments are hereby submitted on January 10, 2012 by:

Tom McKinney
105 Southwood St.
West Fork, AR  72774
479-839-8571
anvil2@cox.net


As an individual and also an elected officer representing the
Ozark Headwaters Group and the Arkansas Chapter of the Sierra
Club as organizations.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great work. So in summation, USFS is trying to turn the entire forest into a pine/hunting plantation.