P.O. Box 1749, Ouincy, CA 95971

July 31, 1996

Laura F. Kuh
Project Manager
North State Resources, Inc.
P.O. Box 492137
Redding, CA 96049-2137
      for comments related to the Wheel Fuelbreak Project.

John Baas
EA Engineering, Science, and Technology
3841 North Freeway Blvd., Suite 145
Sacramento, CA 95834
     for comments related to the Bailey Creek and Mineral Fuelbreak Projects.

Dear Ms. Kuh and Mr. Baas,

QLG submits these comments on the Wheel, Bailey Creek, and Mineral projects of the Lassen National Forest in one document, because we wish to address several issues that can best be illustrated by comparing and contrasting certain aspects of the three projects. Issues of great concern to us include the following:

Healthy Forests & Stable Communities for Lassen, Plumas, and Sierra Counties, California

Page 2       QLG comments on three LNF fuelbreak projects.

First we'll offer comments that apply in common, then for each project we'll add individual comments.

1. Fuelbreak design considerations and decisions must be revealed and justified. There is a lack of site-specific design. In many places these fuelbreaks should be wider. The TFR is information, not planning authority.

All three projects are described as fuelbreaks, and all three refer to the TFR for fuelbreak specifications. The TFR says that "[DFPZ] design will be site specific and will vary with fuel type and terrain," and that "DFPZ's are based on local fire management experience, values at risk, fire occurrence, fire history, fire behavior, access, and topography." Regarding CDZs the TFR says that "Involvement and cooperation of local communities is necessary in the development of CDZ's," and that one form of CDZ is a DFPZ that protects a community. That is, all three projects must be designed as DFPZs, and the specific location and configuration of the Mineral make it a CDZ.

Regarding the Wheel and Bailey DFPZs, very little evidence of "site-specific design" appears in either EA or its supporting documentation. In a few places the Wheel proposes treatment widths narrower than the project area, for example treating only a narrow roadside strip in a brush field that extends the full project area width, but for the most part the Wheel DFPZ is the same width as the project area. The width of the Bailey project area is generally greater than the proposed DFPZ width, so in some places DFPZ routing was said to have been modified to avoid PACs and Nest Cores. Otherwise, the near-constant width indicates the probable absence of site-specific consideration for fuel type, terrain, fire history, or fire behavior through about 64 miles of quite varied forest. Lack of site-specific design is also indicated by the fact that the 700-ft approximate width was established by the Forest Service before the contractors started their analyses, which effectively prohibited full consideration of tradeoffs between fuel type, terrain, and fire behavior versus the potential for matching the effectiveness of the DFPZs to local conditions through stand-specific changes in their width. The TFR shows a range of DFPZ width in its diagrams, but this was not intended to justify an arbitrary choice, it was to permit appropriate reasoned responses to site-specific situations.

QLG believes that for at least two reasons it would have been appropriate to widen the fuelbreak in many places on the Wheel and Bailey projects. First, a wider fuelbreak would reduce the need to depend on uncertain analyses of fire risk and fire behavior. As we note later in these comments, available methods are not well developed for use in site-specific fire risk analysis, and in the face of this uncertainty it is better to opt for wide fuelbreaks instead of narrow. Second, the cost of fuelbreak construction can be supported more efficiently, and therefore more fuelbreak length constructed in a shorter time, if DFPZ locations that yield adequate commodity values are widened, perhaps even by adding similar areas to their edges as Fuel Reduction Zones. This would improve fuelbreak effectiveness, give appropriate treatment to areas that need to be treated in the long run anyway, and enable the Forests to construct more fuelbreak at less net cost.

Page 3 QLG comments on three LNF fuelbreak projects.

Regarding the Mineral CDZ, there is no indication in the BE or the EA that the community was involved in planning this project, and it does not seem that rational design criteria could have been employed in choosing the location for most of the CDZ south of Highway 36. A QLG member contacted JoAnn Perkins, a prominent long time resident of Mineral, who said that (1) while a few individuals had received the scoping letter, the community in general had never heard of the CDZ project, (2) the large meadow SSE of Mineral is irrigated pasture, and (3) there has been no history of fire moving either direction across that meadow to threaten the community or the forest. A mutual exchange of information by the community of Mineral and the Forest Service would have been very useful in the planning of this project.

Throughout these three EAs, the TFR is treated as a source of authority for DFPZ specifications, when in fact it has no such authority. The TFR has not been incorporated into the Forest Land and Resource Management Plan, and it is not fully consistent with LRMP Standards and Guidelines, so at best it is technical information, not planning authority. When the TFR says "site specific design will be required," it can only mean that all design specifications must be described and justified in site specific documentation.

One response (Terhune letter of April 29th) to the Wheel scoping notice (and to the other two notices in nearly identical form) is reproduced in Appendix A of the Wheel EA. It asks "On what basis was the ... fuelbreak width established?" and raises the issue of "the performance you expect of the fuelbreak if fire enters it, (i.e. details of your assumptions, designs, and prescriptions)." These issues were not addressed in any of the EAs.

2. All three projects propose deviations from the CASPO Interim Guidelines, but none of the BEs provides the required justification for such deviation. There are both procedural and substantive deficiencies. The TZAMS is without planning authority.

The Wheel and Bailey projects propose to deviate from the CASPO IGs in PACs, SOHAS, selected strata and other strata. The Mineral proposes to deviate in selected strata and other strata.

Each project seeks to employ the "Adaptive Management Strategy" (AMS) provision of the CASPO Decision Notice which says that "Adaptive management is allowed in two situations: (1) When a project-specific biological evaluation demonstrates that the objectives of the CASPO recommendations may be better achieved through an alternate prescription, and (2) when projects are designed as administrative studies..." These projects are not administrative studies, so provision (1) would apply.

Page 4       QLG comments on three LNF fuelbreak projects.

specific justification offered is that deviation from CASPO is necessary in order to implement a fuelbreak according to TFR specifications. However, as noted above, the TFR is without authority to justify any such deviation, and to accept that claim of necessity would turn all legal forest planning processes upside down. Project plans are normally required to conform to Forest and Regional guidelines, not the other way around.

"The Bailey project is located in the transition zone vegetative type (Bliss et al 1996). Current AMS direction for the transition area of the Lassen is provided by The Adaptive Management Strategy for Managing the California Spotted Owl in the Transition Zone of the Plumas, Lassen, and Sierraville Ranger District of the Tahoe National Forests (Bliss et al. 1996). As the purpose of this AMS is to provide direction for implementation of fuel treatments in spotted owl, goshawk, and forest carnivore habitat it was followed for guidance in conducting site-specific analysis for this report." [ Note that the AMS referred to above is the Transition Zone AMS, not the CASPO AMS. ]

This claim is completely invalid, because (1) the "transition zone vegetative type" is not mentioned in, and is not consistent with, the LNF LRMP, and (2) the TZAMS has not been incorporated into the LNF Forest Plan, so at best it is information, not direction or planning authority. Therefore, as with the TFR, any use of the TZAMS must be in context of full independent justification in project-level documentation. That justification is not provided.

3. In PACs and SOHAs there should be no treatments that are not fully consistent with the CASPO Interim Guidelines.

If the proper better-than-CASPO comparisons and findings were made, it seems likely that deviation from CASPO could be justified to the extent of relaxing the requirements for snag and down woody material retention in DFPZs and CDZs outside of PACs and SOHAS. However, there is no valid justification on the basis of information provided in the Wheel and Bailey EAs or BEs for deviation inside a PAC or SOHA. The CASPO decision was intended to provide minimum protections for this critical habitat until population studies and other scientific

Page 5       QLG comments on three LNF fuelbreak projects.

investigation could support longer term decisions on how to manage that habitat. QLG believes that deviation inside the PACs and SOHAs at this time would require very strong and detailed justification, and such justification has not been provided for these projects.

Regarding the Wheel project, referring to maps in Appendix B of the BE:

Regarding the Bailey Creek project, several criteria are stated for deciding how to handle PACs and SOHAS, including: (1) avoidance of PACs and SOHA Nest Cores "wherever possible;" (2) but if not possible, then "the PAC/Nest Core will be treated “if maintenance of a continuous DFPZ is considered critical for protection of the area-," (3) however, "if maintenance of a continuous DFPZ in a PAC/Nest Core is not considered critical..., non-treatment... will be considered." First, these are not objective criteria, in that they depend entirely on findings of where possible" and whether or not continuity is "considered critical." Second, in listing the PACs and SOHAs being proposed for treatment, neither the BE nor the EA states whether re-routing was "not possible," or treatment of the PAC/Nest Core was "critical for protection."

QLG strongly supports the DFPZ/CDZ strategy for reducing the probability and hazard of large intense wildfire, but is also committed to legal implementation of existing Forest Plans and the CASPO Interim Guidelines. In our opinion, these three BE/EAs not only fail to follow correct procedure for obtaining a deviation from the CASPO IGs, but the Wheel and Bailey also fail to provide sufficient justification for implementing the proposed treatments in PACs and SOHAS, even if that justification had been argued through correct procedure.

4. One action alternative does not provide a sufficient range.

In each EA only two alternatives are considered: (1) no action, and (2) construct the proposed fuelbreak. This is not sufficient to meet the NEPA requirement to consider a reasonable range of alternatives. Other obvious alternatives exist; for example:

Page 6       QLG comments on three LNF fuelbreak projects.

5."Alternatives Considered but Eliminated" were improperly handled.

Under this heading, the Wheel EA lists "the CASPO EA without Adaptive Management" (i.e. straight CASPO), and "not treating any [PAC or SOHA]" (i.e. partial CASPO). The rationale for eliminating these alternatives before any further consideration was that straight CASPO “would not meet project objectives" and that partial CASPO "was deemed incompatible with the purpose and need for the Proposed Action." To say the least, that is a breathtaking view of how a Forest Plan relates to an individual project. According to that theory, when a proposed action at project level is not compatible with the Forest Plan, you just ignore implementation of the Forest Plan as an alternative.

The Bailey and Mineral EAs include sections labeled "Alternatives Considered but Eliminated from Further Analysis," but these sections do not consider other alternatives at all, they simply discuss a few modifications to the action alternative that were made during its development.

It is apparent that in none of these projects was there a serious attempt to develop the reasonable range of alternatives required by NEPA.

6. The fire risk analyses provided are not sufficient to establish the best locations or specifications of these fuelbreaks. Risk analyses for the Bailey and Mineral projects are not mathematically sound. Wider fuelbreaks would not depend so heavily on uncertain risk analyses. The latest published fire behavior modeling favors wider fuelbreaks.

The Wheel EA is supported by the Wheel Project Technical Fuel Memo, an unpublished report of June 1996. First, this memo is largely professional opinion, stated in qualitative terms, not

Page 7       QLG comments on three LNF fuelbreak projects.

numerical. If the qualitative assessments are accepted, they give a mixed message. In general the risk is said to be high, but regarding the PAC/SOHA units on Road 33N16 the EA says that most of these units "...are located in high elevation fir types with a relatively low risk of a stand-replacing fire." Units 27 to 29, which QLG suggests should not be treated as proposed, are in this area of relatively low risk. Second, the memo deals almost entirely with description of current conditions and expected effects of the proposed action, it does not provide a basis for judging the effectiveness of the proposed fuelbreak location and design.

The Bailey Creek and Mineral EAs justify these projects by reference to a risk analysis in The X-Files, An Assessment of Fuel Conditions and Forest Health, Lassen, Plumas, Tahoe National Forests, Draft, (Olson et al. 1995). This is part of the unpublished "Tri-Forest Assessment" documentation, and it attempts to quantify the probability of catastrophic fire. Unfortunately, the PROBACRE computer model that was used for this analysis is not adequate to establish project-level fire risk. Compounding the problem is the near certainty that the Mineral and Bailey EAs depend on a misinterpretation of the Olson analysis. For example, both of these EAs cite the Olson assessment as the source for the following passage, identical in both EAs:

"During the next 80 years there is a 66 percent probability of at least a 100-acre wildfire in the project area. During the same time period there is a 12 percent probability of a 5,000 acre wildfire occurring in a westside or transition vegetation zone."

Whatever Olson originally intended or said about those numbers, in these EAs they do not support the claims made for them. If the 100-acre-fire risk pertains to each project, how can that risk come out to be identical for both the Bailey and the Mineral projects? The Bailey proposes to treat about 3,400 acres of one type of forest, and the Mineral less than 1,800 acres of a quite different forest type. The Bailey DFPZs enclose very large forested areas, while the Mineral surrounds a much smaller and quite different area. It is virtually impossible for these two projects to have identical fire risks. Furthermore, if there were truly only a 12 percent probability within 80 years of a 5,000 acre fire in the whole westside and transition zone (about a million acres in the area Olson was considering), we should just declare victory and go home, because that would be too small a risk to worry about.

In the Bailey and Mineral EAs further questionable use of the Olson analysis occurs when potential impacts for each project are computed using Equivalent Roaded Acre methodology. ERAs are computed for a 100-acre fire and for a 5, 000 acre fire, implying that these are somehow meaningful numbers, when in fact there is no valid way to relate those computations to these projects.

Common sense and most professional opinion says there is a high and growing risk of catastrophic wildfire, so QLG has no doubt that a fire protection strategy based on fuelbreak construction is sound policy. However, largely due to deficiencies in the analytical tools available, justifications made in these EAs are not based on adequate site-specific risk assessments. A new model for quantifying the effect of fuelbreaks on fire risk has been described in the SNEP Report, though it is not fully developed for use in site-specific design.

Page 8       QLG comments on three LNF fuelbreak projects.

Nevertheless, the SNEP study [Chapter 43, Wagtendonk] does indicate that a quarter-mile-wide fuelbreak can be effective in places where 300 feet would be too narrow. For this reason and others, QLG believes that DFPZ design should be based on a quarter-mile width, with narrower segments considered only when site-specific analysis clearly shows satisfactory performance with the narrower width.

7. Monitoring and Evaluation are not adequately provided for. Adaptive Management cannot be supported without specific provision for adequate effectiveness monitoring and its evaluation. Forest-level planning at landscape scale should be the basis for adaptive management, but it was not provided.

Regarding the Wheel EA, section 3.4.5 says a landscape architect should train marking crews and spot check initial operations for visual quality compliance. Section 3.6.4 says a person with archaeological training should be on site during operations to assure compliance with certain mitigation measures. There is no other provision for implementation monitoring, and no plan at all for effectiveness monitoring and evaluation. This project purports to implement Adaptive Management, but without a feedback loop that includes effectiveness monitoring and evaluation there is no valid way that management can be adaptive.

Regarding the Bailey and Mineral EAs, Appendix D of each is a Monitoring and Evaluation Plan, which assigns responsibility for various aspects of wildlife, watershed and soils, heritage resources, fuels, and forest health monitoring.

There is no specific mention of "evaluation" in these assignments, and as noted above, adaptive management cannot be a valid process without a feedback loop that includes both monitoring and evaluation of monitoring results.

The large difference in how monitoring and evaluation requirements are addressed, between the Wheel EA on one hand, and the Bailey and Mineral EAs on the other, indicates either that the contracts for writing these EAs did not have adequate specifications, or that compliance with

Page 9       QLG comments on three LNF fuelbreak projects.

those specifications was not adequately monitored.

The above deficiencies in monitoring and evaluation probably cannot be avoided when adaptive management is attempted only, at project level. In our view, adaptive management requires landscape-scale scope and forest-level planning, neither of which was properly implemented for these projects.

8. Units should be grouped so that sales directly support costs as much as possible.

Although this subject was not specifically dealt with in the EAs, QLG will use this opportunity to comment on the need to make all projects of this type self-supporting to the maximum extent possible. Long term success of the fuelbreak strategy depends on doing more fuel treatments in a shorter period of time than has ever been done before through sales, activity fuels mitigation, and natural fuels treatments, which have traditionally been separated in time and done under different budgets. On a stand-alone basis, some of the units in these projects would sell very readily, but many would involve a net payment for services if packaged separately. That would severely limit the total acreage of DFPZ/CDZ treatment in the long run, because any unit that did not produce good timber revenue would require full payment for the services from appropriated dollars. QLG believes that the fuelbreak strategy cannot succeed unless all saleable units are combined with service units to the maximum extent possible while still offering viable sales. Very likely there will be left-over service units, and these will have to be paid for in cash; but the strategy must be to maximize the acres treated by minimizing these net expenditures.

9. QLG wishes these projects to go forward when corrected, but notes that they rest on shaky foundations that must be firmed up for subsequent fuelbreak projects.

Several of our comments above point up instances of inadequate authority or misapplied authority for the proposed action. We believe that most of these difficulties arise from one source: the Lassen, Plumas, and Tahoe National Forests have not been willing to implement their defensible fuelbreak strategy through valid forest-level planning with full NEPA and NFMA compliance. Instead, they have spent well over a year in developing the TFR, TFA, and TZAMS, calling it "left side analysis," or "plan-to-project analysis," but instead going deeper and deeper into landscape-scale forest-level planning (in fact, tri-forest planning) with each step.

From the start of this process, QLG has urged good-faith compliance with NEPA and NFMA procedures during development and implementation of the defensible fuelbreak strategy. In December, 1994, in a letter to the three Forests regarding the proposed "$1 million" projects, QLG said

"We believe it would be cost-effective to develop the fundamental elements of fuel management on this multi-forest basis, including landscape-scale identification of priorities, fuels prescriptions specific to different vegetation types, Forest Plan Standards and Guidelines, and an EIS to support adoption of these elements into the Forest Plans."

Page 10       QLG comments on three LNF fuelbreak projects.

The first step of that process was the Technical Fuels Report, budgeted at $60,000 out of the $1 million, and written in early 1995. As the second step of the process, even before the TFR was published, QLG suggested a follow-on effort that would expand the scope of fuelbreak strategy development to include all ecosystem considerations, not just the fire and fuels viewpoints that dominated the TFR. This effort, budgeted at $168,000, eventually became known as the Tri-Forest Assessment, which to date has not been publicly released. The TFA is said to include papers that are referred to in these BEs and EAs, including the X Files an Assessment of Fuel Conditions and Forest Health, which is heavily relied upon for the Bailey and Mineral fire risk assessments, and the TZAMS, which is referenced in all three EAs and is a key factor in our comment above on the Bailey deviation from CASPO.

The fundamental problem is that the TFR-TFA-TZAMS sequence has not yet resulted in the revision of forest-level standards and guidelines, but these papers have nevertheless been cited as authority for decisions and actions not supported in existing LRMP documentation. This situation results either in excessive vulnerability to legal challenge, or in excessive costs to “reinvent the wheel" for each project in order to avoid legal vulnerability.

At this point, for these projects, our only choice is to insist on BEs and EAs that do not depend, as authority for decisions or actions, on any of the sources that have not been adopted through valid NEPA and NFMA processes. For the long run, and as a necessary foundation for addressing the fire hazard adequately, QLG will continue to insist that the defensible fuelbreak strategy must be subjected to the intense public involvement, professional scrutiny, and systematic decision making that it would get only in the process of LRMP amendment. Nothing short of that can support landscape-scale implementation of the best strategy, and without that we face the choice of continuing to waste a lot of money and human resources in futile attempts to deal with forest-level issues at project-by-project scale, or risking the even larger costs and wastes of legal blockade.

Comments on Individual Projects.

Comments are marked W for Wheel, B for Bailey, and M for Mineral.

W. Some parts of Units 15 to 18 appear to overlap the Bellow Sale area, which raises the possibility that DFPZ treatments would constitute a second entry prohibited under the CASPO Interim Guidelines.

W. In the Wheel BE, the two unit maps equivalent to sheets B and E of the EA do not agree on the boundary of the Marten Management Area. On sheet B the MMA adjoins Unit 10; on sheet E it stops nearly a half mile north of Unit 10.

W. Units 26 and 27 are separated by about I mile of the Chuckle Sale area. There is no indication of whether the Chuckle prescriptions are compatible with the DFPZ prescriptions. If not, the Chuckle prescriptions should be made compatible, in order to preserve fuelbreak

Page 11       QLG comments on three LNF fuelbreak projects.

continuity and avoid having new activity fuel compromise DFPZ integrity.

W. As noted in comments #3 and #6 above, Units 27 to 29 should either be relocated or receive only treatment that is fully consistent with the CASPO IGs, if they receive any treatment at all.

B & M. The maps provided are inadequate. The unit descriptions and proposed treatments (EA Appendix B) cannot be identified on the maps included in the EAs and BEs. For the Bailey project, word descriptions of locations can only partly be related to the LNF Admin map, and for the Mineral there is no location information at all. It is nearly impossible to verify descriptions or form an opinion on the validity of particular treatments, which severely limits our right to make informed comments on the basis of the planning information disclosed.

PACs and SOHAs are mentioned in the text, but not with enough detail to be sure which project areas are affected by which. The maps show only "Reduced Treatment Area [I]" and "Reduced Treatment Area [2]," which are labels not defined or mentioned elsewhere in the text. One page of each BE is nearly blank, noting only that Figure 2 was intentionally omitted from the public review draft. These omissions and obscurities are severe and unwarranted restrictions on our ability to suggest corrections or alternatives to the proposed treatments.

B. No unit descriptions are listed along road 32NI0 north of 30N21, or for most of 30N09.

B. The proposed fuelbreak along 30N09 between its intersections with 30NI0 and 29N55 divides the enclosed area in two, creating a parcel on the southwest of less than 4,000 acres including Star Butte, and a larger parcel to the north and east of about 13,000 acres including Swain Mountain. Dividing off that smaller parcel is questionable for two reasons: (1) it does not seem to be the most efficient and highest priority use of fuelbreak construction resources, and (2) about half its length is in either a PAC, a SOHA, and/or a Goshawk Management Area (GMA).

M. The west end of Mineral needs defense against fire, but there is no need for a new CDZ to the south and south-east. The full length of the community is already well defended on its SSE side by a continuous strip of meadow about 3 miles long that averages more than half a mile in width (about 1,500 acres total, according to John Spencer, a managing director of the Battle Creek Meadows Ranch, which owns the meadow and some adjacent forested area). The meadow is wet early in the fire season and both irrigated and grazed until late in the season. This is probably the best natural community defense fuelbreak in any forested area of the State, so it is difficult to understand how a Forest Service or contractor fire and fuels specialist who actually looked at this landscape with a CDZ in mind could fail to notice the meadow and its obvious impact on the rationale for this project.

Even if the meadow between the community and the forest continues to be ignored, most of the south side stands proposed for treatment do not justify the priority being given to them. The elevation, aspect, and condition of these stands imply a much lower risk of crown fire propagation than exists for many other high fire hazard areas of the Lassen NF. The Fuels and

Page 12       QLG comments on three LNF fuelbreak projects.

Fire History section of the EA gives no indication of special risk to these stands or to the community of Mineral. Almost all of these stands are already at or near the target crown closure, so most of the treatments would be only biomass removal and underburning, which would impose high costs with little or no offsetting revenue. For all these reasons it seems that scarce planning and treatment resources should have been employed in areas of higher hazard and priority, not to incur high costs to construct and mitigate a fuelbreak that isn't needed.

M. To the north of Highway 36 the ground rises steeply, so the need is less to protect the community from forest fire than to protect the forest from fire that might originate in the community. Primary treatment in the strip along 31Nl7 and continuing toward the NE to where it abuts Reduced Treatment Area [1] seems reasonable. The secondary treatment area on the uphill side of 29N71 may be justified, though there would seem to be adequate protection by the primary treatment area to its NW. Terrain on the downhill (south) side of 29N71 is too steep for treatment to be feasible.

In the SOHA and the area affected by a PAC, only hand treatments and light underburning are contemplated, which is acceptable under the CASPO IGs. However, these areas are in relatively good condition, compared to many other areas in the Lassen NF. It would seem that these treatments could better have been proposed for other areas in more urgent need of protection.

Closing remark.

It may seem inconsistent for QLG to ask for speedy implementation of fuelbreak projects and at the same time submit a lengthy and detailed critique of these particular projects. We do not see an inconsistency. Our very strong interest is to see that these projects succeed, not merely go forward. We hope you can take corrective action where needed, and make these projects the foundation for greatly improved and expanded implementation of DFPZs and CDZS, wherever they would be useful elements of fire protection strategy.



/s/                                  /s/
Linda L. Blum                       Edward C. Murphy
Corresponding Secretaries of the Quincy Library Group

Sunday, January ,(, /),( 0(:,(:,( AM