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E-M:/ Win on Appeal of Interior Wetlands LTA Project
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The Sierra Club Mackinac Chapter has won a significant appeal of the Forest
Service District Ranger's Decision on the Interior Wetlands LTA Project. This
process, from comments, to meetings with the Forest Service to resolve the
issues, to the writing of appeal were led by Marvin Roberson, Program
Consultant for the Michigan Forest Biodiversity Program, with assistance from
Tim Flynn, Carol Ward and Anne Woiwode. The Sierra Club has appealed only one
other Forest Service project in Michigan (the Borrowed Time Project jointly
with UPEC, Northwoods Wilderness Recovery and the Michigan Forest Biodiversity
Project) since the Forest Plans were adopted in the mid-1980's, and in both
cases the appeals have resulted in a reversal of the decision.
The successful appeal of the Interior Wetlands LTA Project is a precedent
setting decision regarding a new type of larger scale project being pursued on
the eastern side of the Hiawatha National Forest. These projects are based on
the ecological classification system of the forest, at the "Land Type
Association" level. What this means is that the Forest Service has been
looking at management on this project and others based on ecological
boundaries, instead of timber sale boundaries, roads, or other arbitrary
boundaries unrelated to the ecosystems involved.
The Sierra Club's concern, however, is that the projects have been larger and
more complex, but the level of environmental review has been the same as on
previous, smaller projects. The appeal claimed that environmental review has
been inadequate to fully disclose the effects of this project, and thus
cannot give the public and the decision makers in the National Forest enough
information to make a good decision. The success of this appeal backs up
exactly that point. As Marvin Roberson wrote in the appeal, the decision
effectly said that "really smart people thought there would be no negative
effects", without telling who those people were, what information they had
used or how they reached that conclusion. The Regional Forester agreed with
us, and has reversed the decision. That means the project will not go ahead
without further environmental review and opportunity for public comment.
Our expectation is that this will assure that the next LTA project, which will
be the most complex and environmentally sensitive of all, should be
significantly better reviewed as a result of this decision granting our
appeal. I want to thank Marvin for quarterbacking this issue, particularly
since the appeal needed to be pulled together quickly after we received only
late notice from the Forest Service that our informal request for the project
to be withdrawn was not acted upon. Thanks to Tim and Carol who have both
been following the evolution of this issue for quite some time as well.
RESPONSE TO SIERRA CLUB'S APPEAL:
United States Forest Eastern Region 310 West Wisconsin Ave.
Department of Service Suite 580
Agriculture Milwaukee, WI 53203
File Code: 1570-1 Date: October 22, 1999
CERTIFIED RECEIPT REQUESTED
Ms. Anne Woiwode
Sierra Club, Mackinac Chapter
300 N. Washington Square, Suite 411
Lansing, MI 49833
RE: Interior Wetlands, Appeal 99-09-0057 A215, Hiawatha National Forest
Dear Ms. Woiwode:
Pursuant to 36 CFR 215.17, I have reviewed the appeal record for District
Ranger Stevan Christiansen's Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant
Impact signed on July 22, 1999, for the above referenced project on the
Eastside Administrative Unit, Sault Ste. Marie and St. Ignace Ranger
Districts of the Hiawatha National Forest. I have also considered the
recommendation of the Appeal Reviewing Officer (ARO) regarding the disposition
of your appeal. In accordance with 36 C FR 215.19(b), the Appeal Reviewing
Officer's review focused on the decision documentation developed by the
Responsible Official, District Ranger Stevan Christiansen, and the issues
raised in your appeal filed on September 13, 1999. The Appeal Reviewing
Officer's recommendation is enclosed with this decision for your information.
The Appeal Reviewing Officer found no evidence that the Responsible Official's
decision violated law, regulation or policy. He found a lack in the
documentation for the cumulative effects disclosures discussed in the
Environmental Assessment to support the Responsible Officials decision Based
on his review the Appeal Reviewing Officer recommended that the decision be
After careful review of the project file and the appeal, I concur with the
Appeal Reviewing Officer's analysis and findings regarding your specific
appeal issues. To avoid repetition, I adopt his rationale as my own and
refer you to the enclosed ARO recommendation for farther detail.
It is my decision to reverse District Ranger Stevan Christiansen's Decision
Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact to approve the Interior Wetlands
Environmental Assessment on the Hiawatha National Forest. Pursuant to 36 CFR
215.18(c) this decision constitutes the final administrative determination of
the Department of Agriculture.
ROBERT T. JACOBS
Appeal Deciding Officer
cc: Hiawatha NF, Responsible Official
United States Forest Eastern Region 310 West Wisconsin Ave.
Department Service Suite 580
of Agriculture Milwaukee, WI 53203
File Code- 1570-1 Date: October 13, 1999
Route To: *
Subject: Appeal of Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact
for the Interior Wetlands Environmental Assessment, Eastside Administrative
Unit, Sault Ste. Marie and St. Ignace Ranger Districts, Hiawatha National
Forest, Appeal 99-09-0057 A215
To: Appeal Deciding Officer
This lietter constitutes my recommendation on the disposition of the Sierra
Club, Mackinac Chapter, Anne Woiwode - representative appeal of the decision
to imple ment the project referenced above. District Ranger Stevan
Christiansen was the Responsible Official. His Decision Notice was signed
July 22, 1999.
My review was conducted pursuant to 36 CFR 215.19 and the Chief of the Forest
Service December 15, 1993 letter defining the role and scope of the Appeal
Reviewing Officer review. To ensure the analysis and decisions are in
compliance with applicable laws, regulations, policy and orders, I have
carefully reviewed and considered each of the points raised by the appellants
and the decision documentation submitted by the Hiawatha National Forest.
My review recommendation hereby incorporates by reference the entire project
file, including the Scoping letter and public comments, the appeal record,
including interested party letter(s), t he Environmental Assessment and public
comments, the Biological Evaluation, and the Decision Notice and Finding of No
The appellants raise seven (7) appeal points. Rather than address each one
individually, I have combined my response into a common theme present in all
of them. Point 7 best typifies the appellants' concerns. Please note that
the appeal points (issues) are not consecutively numbered in the appeal.
I have reached the following conclusion based on my review.
Point 7. Whether the action is related to other actions with individually
insignificant but cumulative significant impacts.
The appellants state, in part, that "the analysis is in a localized area with
implications only for the immediate area .... there is little evidence that
Forest Service has conducted any substantive analysis on cumulative impacts.
No literature citations are found regarding cumulative effects..."
Response: I found in this, and in other appeal points, the concern over
lack of documentation of effects or documentation of monitoring information
to support the conclusion in the effects was valid. The forest admits that
it primarily relies on experience and individual knowledge of cumulative
effects or monitoring information rather than any written documentation. I
reviewed the existing forest-wide monitoring reports, the latest one done in
1996, which provided useful information in demonstrating forest-wide
cumulative effects. However, this report did not address the Interior
Wetlands Land Type Association (LTA) in any specificity.
The EA does contain numerous sections addressing cumulative effects, but
limits the discussion to the LTA itself and the adjoining Raco Plains LTA.
The existing statements are fairly general in scope and unsubstantiated as to
degree of effect. For example, page 49 of the EA states "(t)he hydrological
functioning of the wetlands was likely affected by the development ofM-123
and other roads in the area. " There is no quantifiable information as to
what the result was or if the addition of new roads has or would create a
measurable change in the situation.
Under a separate appeal point (5) and in earlier responses to public comments,
another issue that relates to cumulative effects references that the actions
are "similar to many past actions. There is no documentation as to what the
effects of the similar actions were. The appellants point this out and I was
unable to find any written record of what the impact was aside from the
comment that the "effects were written by specialists based on their
education and experience and known research." While the courts defer to the
agency's professional knowledge, documentation of effects and past monitoring
activities provides the necessary support to make these types of statements.
Based on my review there is insufficient documentation to support the
conclusions in the EA in reference to cumulative effects. In addition, there
is no reference to what, if any, known research finding existed.
The appellants raised this concern during the comment period,- it should have
APPEAL REVIEWING OFFICER RECOMMENDATIONS
After a careful and diligent review of the decision documentation submitted by
the Hiawatha National Forest including the Project File and the Appeal
Record, the Scoping letter and public comments, the Environmental Assessment
and public comments, the Biological Evaluation, and the Decision Notice and
Finding of No Significant Impact, and after carefully considering each of the
points raised by the appellant, I conclude that I would have not have made
the same decision as the District Ranger based on information provided in the
EA. A key consideration is that the Ranger's decision would also be tiered
to a forest plan amendment to be made by the Forest Supervisor based on the
I recommend that the District Ranger's decision be reversed as to the adequacy
of the cumulative effects disclosures and lack of adequate documentation.
Appeal Reviewing Officer
Natural Resource Team
cc: Hiawatha National Forest
Responsible Official, Stevan Christiansen
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