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"Fritz vs. the feds" - a rebuttal.

Our November December profile of Texas environmental activist Ned Fritz, "Fritz Vs. the Feds," generated much comment from readers (for a sampling, see the "Forest Forum" column beginning on page 2). Much of the response came from people who have locked horns with Fritz in the past, particularly over the volatile Four Notch controversy. We print here an especially thoughtful reply from an official of the Texas Forest Service.--The Editors

Tom Wolf's profile of Ned Fritz in the November/December issue of American Forests failed to give this environmental activist all the credit he deserves. He may well have earned the title of "father of Texas wilderness" for his achievements. If so, Fritz merits equal recognition as "father of the 1983 Four Notch disaster," since no other single person was more responsible than he for this catastrophe. (Contrary to Mr. Wolf's claim, Four Notch never became a wilderness. For a more factual and detailed account of Four Notch events, I recommend the article by Texas State Forester Bruce Miles in the October/November 1987 issue of American Forests).

Like the Alamo, the true story of the Four Notch disaster deserves to be remembered. It was Fritz's lawsuit in 1976 (TCONR vs. Butz) that effectively halted clearcutting on all national forests in Texas. This included the 6,640-acre Four Notch unit of the Sam Houston National Forest, a former experimental forest of 80-plus-year-old loblolly pines. It was largely through Fritz's efforts that the Four Notch area was included as a further planning area for wilderness consideration under RARE II (the second Roadless Area Review and Evaluation). This designation further prevented the Forest Service from carrying out silvicultural treatments to reduce hazards to the southern pine beetle.

When beetle infestations were developing within the Four Notch area in early 1983, Fritz was the most vociferous critic of Forest Service plans to apply direct controls (that is, treat existing infestations to prevent their further expansion). He refused to recognize the seriousness of the exploding beetle population. In fact, he publicly accused the Forest Service of wanting to fell trees solely to destroy the wilderness potential of Four Notch (Texas Committee on Natural Resources news release dated July 8, 1983). On July 14, 1983, the Forest Service gave Ned and other interested individuals an on-site tour of the worsening beetle outbreak in Four Notch and explained the outcome of no control. By this time, the largest infestation covered more than 300 acres and was expanding at an alarming rate. Yet Fritz still questioned Forest Service motives .

To thwart Forest Service control plans in the Four Notch area, Fritz and his cohorts filed an appeal in July 1983. The Chief of the U. S. Forest Service was required to address this appeal before control could start. Although denied, this appeal created more delay. To address the beetle outbreak, the Forest Service planned cut-and-remove control operations, traditionally the most effective approach for suppressing large-scale beetle infestations. Before salvage sales could be carried out, this approach to control was stymied by a force even stronger than Fritz--Hurricane Alicia on August 18, 1983.

By September, the beetles had ravaged more than 2,000 acres and the largest infestation was advancing at 50 feet per day along a three-mile front. A 250-footwide buffer strip of recently infested and unattacked trees was used to successfully stop this unprecedented infestation spread. Still, a very large beetle population remained in the area as winter approached. In total disregard for this situation and the recommendations of professional entomologists, Fritz and the Sierra Club filed another legal appeal in October 1983 to stop winter control.

When the Chief denied this second appeal, helicopters were used throughout the following winter and spring to remove beetle-infested trees from the Four Notch area. Although expensive, helicopters were chosen for this task in a well-intentioned effort to minimize further disturbance to this potential wilderness. Ultimately, the Four Notch episode resulted in the loss of 3,500 acres of prime forest, at least 40 million boardfeet of timber, and five red-cockaded woodpecker colonies. Nevertheless, the Four Notch and adjacent properties would have suffered far greater losses had Fritz been successful in his repeated attempts to exclude beetle-control measures altogether.

Ironically, Fritz then succeeded in getting the scarred Four Notch unit dropped from wilderness consideration. In its place, five less-disturbed areas (including Little Lake Creek) were set aside for wilderness in late 1984. These areas, covering 34,346 acres of mostly mature pine forest, have been breeding bark beetles ever since.

Four Notch stands as a classic example of the consequences of not taking prompt control action in response to southern pine beetle outbreaks. Yet Mr. Fritz continues to condemn the very same beetle-control tactics that could have saved his beloved Four Notch, had the Forest Service applied them when the initial infestations were first detected.

Since 1970, when wide-scale use of insecticides was abandoned, control for the southern pine beetle has consisted of methods to stop the characteristic spread of beetle infestations and reduce potential timber losses. The most recommended control methods used on commercial forestlands have been cut-and-remove (when access with logging equipment and a market for infested trees are available) or cut-and-leave. To apply these infestation-control methods, all beetle-infested trees plus a 40 to 80 foot buffer strip of adjacent pines are felled. Felled trees are either removed and utilized (cut-and-remove) or left on site (cut-and-leave). The cut-and leave method, designed specifically for the southern pine beetle, takes advantage of limitations in this beetle's seasonal behavior and novel attack habits.

From research and historical records, we have learned that most large southern pine beetle infestations (those causing the greatest impact) are initiated during the spring. Once established, these infestations may expand continuously throughout the summer as concentrated numbers of beetles emerge from infested trees and attack additional trees on the advancing edge of the same infestation. This "infestation growth" process is governed by a mix of beetle-produced attractants (pheromones) and resin odors from freshly attacked, standing pines. The cut-and-leave treatment disrupts this continuous cycle of beetle emergence, response to pheromones, and mass attack. Felled pines cease to produce resin and rapidly lose their attractiveness to flying beetles. In the absence of pheromones, beetles emerging from felled trees disperse out of the treated area. Unlike during the spring or fall, beetles dispersing from treated centers during hot summer months generally fail to initiate new infestations due to various factors. These include reduced beetle vigor, insufficient beetle numbers, and greater tree resistance. (Pines typically produce more copious resin flow during the summer, enabling them to more successfully repel low-density attacks from scattered beetle populations) Texas, where southern pine beetle outbreaks have become notorious, the record on effectiveness of prompt direct control of beetle infestations speaks for itself. In 1983, when the Four Notch outbreak occurred, the number of infestations reported on all Texas national forests totalled only 745. (Most of the beetle activity was on or around the Four Notch area). Beetle populations increased to unprecedented levels throughout east Texas in 1985. In that year alone, the Texas national forests suffered 5,885 infestations.

Fortunately, the U.S. Forest Service took an aggressive approach to beetle control throughout 1985, even on newly designated wilderness areas (having learned a lesson from Four Notch). In response, TCONR, Sierra Club, and the Wilderness Society filed a lawsuit to keep the Forest Service from treating infestations on wilderness, but the District judge refused to grant an injunction. Accordingly, prompt control action was carried out as needed on all five wilderness areas. A total of 452 infestations was detected on 34,346 acres of wilderness during 1985. Trained Forest Service crews evaluated each for spread potential, and 214 were controlled using the cut-and-leave method.

Despite the most severe beetle outbreak in Texas history, beetle-caused losses in wilderness totalled 1,358 acres or less than 4 percent of total acreage (compared to 59 percent loss in Four Notch in 1983-84). Average acreage affected per infestation was 3.0 acres overall and 6.1 acres for the larger spots requiring treatment. Such small openings in pine-dominated wilderness serve in the long term to diversify the age and species makeup of existing forests. This needed diversification renders these areas less prone to widespread beetle outbreaks in future years.

In February 1987, the Forest Service completed and published the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Suppression of the Southern Pine Beetle. This document mandated a "no-control" policy for beetle infestations within wilderness except for very specific circumstances (primarily protection of endangered species). Even with endangered species at stake, however, Fritz's vendetta against cutting trees continued unabated. Later that year, the Forest Service controlled certain beetle infestations on wilderness areas to protect adjacent private lands and red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW) colonies. Once again, Fritz and the Sierra Club took the Forest Service to court in Tyler, Texas (Sierra Club et al. vs. Lyng et al., 1987) in protest of these actions.

In May 1990, the Forest Service applied controls according to EIS guidelines to protect eight RCW colony sites from rapidly encroaching beetle infestations in and around Little Lake Creek Wilderness, only to be enjoined again by Fritz and other environmentalists (Sierra Club et al. vs. Yeutter et al., 1990). In this case, the District Court approved the plaintiff's request for a temporary restraining order, halting ongoing control efforts. Fortunately, the Circuit Court in New Orleans overruled the lower court's decision within three days, and control was resumed. Although brief, the interruption contributed to the beetle-caused loss of 10 of 14 active cavity trees in one colony site. Because of Forest Service actions, the seven other colonies were spared from the beetle invasion (at least for the time being).

As Mr. Wolf implies, Fritz has made his mark on U.S. Forest Service policy. But given recent developments, the southern pine beetle is likely to become the ultimate "manager" of Texas, public forest lands. With increasing acreages of prime beetle habitat set aside in wilderness or preserves, forest plans that call for less harvesting and even longer rotations to favor survival of red-cockaded woodpeckers, an EIS that prevents timely control of most beetle infestations within wilderness, and Fritz's propensity to legally enjoin the Forest Service for beetle-control actions, the stage is set for a massive sequel to Four Notch. The public in general, and east-Texas forest landowners in particular, will be the biggest losers if and when this scenario is played out. Based on past experiences, I expect that Mr. Fritz will place blame entirely on the Forest Service. Finally, when the dust (generated by beetle borings) has settled, the "father of Texas wilderness" will begin searching once again for other "less disturbed" forests to remove from multiple use.

We should keep in mind that the national forests in Texas were created just 60 years ago from mostly barren, cut-over timberlands. These areas have been restored to productive multiple-use forests, with large acreages worthy of wilderness status. Today's national forests provide vivid testimony to six decades of successful stewardship. Those Forest Service professionals who have provided the care, nurturing, and protection of these prized public lands are the ones who most deserve our recognition and appreciation.
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Title Annotation:environmental activist Ned Fritz
Author:Billings, Ronald F.
Publication:American Forests
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Previous Article:Flee from the wrath!
Next Article:Rooted in time.

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