Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Cayuga Project

It would appear that we have our own version of the spotted owl in the Clam Lake area of Northern Wisconsin. This story was in the Ashland Daily Press, reporting on a 5,000 acre timber sale near Clam Lake that's been tied up for years due to concern over the habitat of the endangered pine marten. As a guy in the midst of a timber sale of my own I have, predictably, a few opinions on the topic.

It would appear that this sale has been tied up in the courts and government bureaucracy for years already. Phrases in the article like 'Federal judge ruled in 2005', 'revised draft environmental impact statement', 'the agency combined parts of alternative 5 with parts of alternative 6 to create alternative 7', all point to a lawyer and bureaucrat full employment plan rather than a well thought out timber management plan. To get a handle on the area being discussed, 5,000 acres would be a hair under 8 square miles. The area is shaped roughly like the top of Homer Simpson's head so lets call it 2 miles by a bit less than 4 miles. This is not a huge area by any means; I've been there a number of times. The creature in question, the American Pine Marten, had been extinct in Wisconsin since 1925. The reintroduction effort began the year before I was born, in 1953, with an attempt to reintroduce them on our beloved Stockton Island in the Apostles. This didn't work so well. Stockton is apparently much more hospitable habitat for stunted black bears than pine martens. The current effort began in 1975 and continues today. These little two pound creatures are apparently not very social. The males have a range of two square miles, the females one square mile and both, "are highly territorial and neither males nor females will tolerate another American marten of the same sex in their territory". My third grade arithmetic skills tell me that if this is true, the entire area in question could hold a maximum of 4 males and 8 females.

If we boil this thing down to the basics, the controversy and arguing is over a small area, 5,000 acres, (8 square miles, less than a fourth of a township), that we want to do a combo select/clear cut on and there are a maximum of a dozen martens that could be displaced. This parcel has been in the administrative and judicial system for years with slash and burn logging advocates, tree fondling environmentalists, half a dozen agencies of state and federal government, a gaggle of lawyers, and a judge or two, all pissing away tax dollars like an incontinent wino full of cheap white port in a dark alley. It would seem that there is no one who has to power and authority to say enough is enough and just pull the trigger one way or the other. There seems to always be the time and money for another appeal or four. This process is like trying to eat a piece of dry toast while suffering from a monster hangover. The bite of toast is chewed and chewed and chewed but its very difficult to finally gulp it down, even though its perfectly swallow-able. In the case of this Cayuga Project, someone needs to swallow.

For a bit of perspective, our own little sale involved 6 landowners and 320 acres. Some of us contracted with the Living Forest Cooperative in Ashland, WI to mark the timber, manage the sale, and provide other services as professional foresters. A timber sale is a lot like getting a haircut; you can either have the buzz cut, a little off the top, or somewhere in between. We opted for clear cutting pockets of mature aspen (to regenerate as aspen) and balsam of 'two sticks' or larger. All hardwoods, spruce, and other conifers were left standing. This will maximize food and cover for deer and grouse, our ultimate goal. The sale will be completed this winter, the money will be paid, and the forest will be healthier for it. My guess is that our entire net from the sale might equal 2 or 3 days of litigation on the proposed Cayuga sale. Our woods actually houses the big brother of the pine marten in the weasel family, the fisher. This was one of many successful reintroduction programs undertaken by the Wisconsin DNR. The photo at the top of the post is fisher tracks on a beaver pond on our land. Fisher are voracious predators and eat things like skunks, red squirrels, and are one of the few animals to kill and eat porcupines, crucial if you want healthy, live hardwoods. They also enjoy a tasty stray cat or two whenever they encounter one. This helps the grouse, songbird, and other ground nesting bird population, since irresponsible jerks don't seem to mind dropping off their unwanted cats in the area. The cut looks ugly now but new stems are beginning to emerge already. A few hundred white pine were planted and in just a couple years things will look great as well be excellent wildlife habitat.

At this point in the debate over the Cayuga Project, it is my humble opinion that due diligence has been done and its time to cut a tree down. The injunction in 2005 forced the forest service to agree that A) national forests are not for maximizing pulp production and paper mill jobs and also B) to defer half of the harvest for four years. This would give the Wisconsin DNR, an agency that has successfully reintroduced a number of native species including the fisher, turkey, and the grey wolf, time to make sure the pine martens were in good shape in the area. The DNR agreed that this was plenty of time. Yet some environmental groups, notably the Habitat Education Center, based in Madison, still oppose the timber sale, blaming Bush in part for the plan that's just been approved and ignoring the compromises that the new plan embraces. I for one am sick of the BS. Quit pissing away time, money, and energy on this thing and lets execute the compromise plan. It really is time to swallow.


Anonymous said...

As someone who is involved in the litigation over the Cayuga sale, I just want to note that the scientists challenging the Cayuga project aren't opposed to all logging. If the Forest Service had properly planned the Cayuga sale, with a reasonable amount of logging in the right locations, there would be no argument.

As you say, the Forest Service's proposal could negatively impact perhaps a dozen marten or more. What you may not know is that there are less than 30 marten TOTAL on the Chequamegon side of the forest. This is Wisconsin's only endangered mammal. Any impacts to its habitat could be disastrous for the species. The Cayuga sale would happen right in the middle of their best, highest-quality habitat, where the greatest number of marten live. The Forest Service just hasn't used good sense here. There are much better places to cut trees.

However, aside from the marten issue, the Cayuga litigation is about bringing balance back to forest management. The Bush administration has adhered to a policy of cutting too much, too fast, in too many bad places for clean water, wildlife, recreation, and other important values. The Forest Service needs to take a more balanced approach. Logging has great value and it can be done right, as it sounds like you have done. The Forest Service could take a lesson from you.

I appreciate your comments on the article.

DaveO said...

Thanks for the comment. Its gratifying to see that someone actually reads this drivel from time to time. From what I've read and discussions I've had with friends in Ashland close to the issue, it would seem the original USFS proposal was indeed a bad one. No huge surprise there. However with the timber plan compromises, the two stage cutting plan to allow 100 more marten to be introduced, and the blessing of the wildlife guys at the Wisconsin DNR (the guys, who along with the tribe, are running the reintro program), I guess I don't see a problem. If the marten population is so fragile that it can't adapt, maybe the Chequamagon isn't the place for marten. Come to think of it, what was wrong with the Rainbow Lake or Gaylord Nelson wilderness areas for marten reintroduction in the first place? I'd love to see them thrive there and in our area in western Bayfield Co. The wildness that the fisher, grey wolf, black bear, and, with luck, the marten add to our area out in western Bayfield County is priceless. But the national forests aren't wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, nor are they tree farms for the pulp mills. The initial lousy plan was thwarted, compromises were made, and, in my opinion, its time to cut a tree down.