-I know this is natural resources and not pollution, but I thought this was an interesting local story.
Flash Back: Submerged Logs Are Natural Resources October 27, 2011
I know we talked about In re Tortorelli, the case that debated whether submerged logs were a natural resource that belonged to the state of Washington, forever ago but it is actually one of my favorite cases because it relates to a similar hot button issue in Florida right now. I am originally from Florida and while I was an undergraduate at UF one of my friends was doing her senior thesis on dead-head logging in the northern rivers of Florida (primarily the St. Johns, Choctawhatchee, and even the Caloosahatchee Rivers). And a lot of the issues she discussed were very similar to the In re Tortorelli case.
Logging in Florida was most prominent about 150 years ago, and like Washington logging companies floated its logs down rivers- mostly Cypress and Pine. It is estimated that about 10% of logs sunk to the bottoms of the rivers. Now after 150 years the logs have become part of the ecosystems in northern Florida Rivers.
Similar to Tortorelli, the State of Florida has claimed all submerged logs (called dead-head logs) as state natural resources under the Submerged Lands Act. However, also similarly many people in Florida have felt over the state’s history that they have a right to the logs and have harvested them illegal. Because most dead-head logging in Florida is done in very remote areas of Florida (which do exist) there had been very little enforcement in protecting the underwater logs. It was not until the 1970’s when fishing groups protested that dead-head logging was substantially turning up the riverbeds and hurting the fish and marine ecosystems that the State officially made dead-head logging illegal and enforced it. However, dead-head logging in Florida did not stop, it just went underground. Now the state allows limited dead-head logging through purchase of expensive permits (although many logger go without- claiming they have a right to the logs), but the industry of dead-head logging has still remained intensely confidential. It does seem some loggers have slowly begun to come out with websites, so the secrecy of dead-head logging may be shifting.
It seems as though permits are now allowed because there is little quality evidence that actually proves dead head logging harms marine environments (I could not find anything on how much NEPA process the State had to go through). In my opinion I can’t see how there would not be a major effect. Fishing groups are still very against the logging, so the permits are very controversial (fishing is obviously one Florida’s largest industry).
Through my research in the last few days I have found that many other states are dealing with evolving views of dead-head logging. For instance, Georgia seems more open to dead-head logging, and its practice is directly regulated by “Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources.” Maine seems to be another state with lots of dead-head logging. It seems there is no question anymore that submerged logs are considered a natural resource of the state.
Why all the fuss about dead-head wood? Because it is absolutely gorgeous and therefore very expensive. I guess wood that has been submerged as long as the wood in Florida has been have very rich colors and are actually more resistant to water and fire damage. I tried to find a good picture of finished dead-head wood but I couldn’t find anything that really shows off how pretty it is. My friend from undergrad had brochures on finished dead-head wood and they were just beautiful.
I would agree that dead-head logs should be covered under the Submerged Lands Act as natural resources. I also believe the Tortorelli courts use of the definition “anything supplied by nature” was valid. Dead-head Florida Cypress and Pine are not only from nature but they are an important part of my states history, and therefore should be protected as a unique natural resource. Also, since the logs are now imbedded into the marine landscape of Florida Rivers I think the State should have the ultimate authority to regulate them in order to properly protect Florida’s environment and wildlife.
About a week ago I had an interview with the Navy, and imagine my surprise that we (two lieutenants and myself) ended up talking about NEPA for about twenty minutes. Apparently environmental law is the fastest growing concentration in the Navy JAG Corps. I had no idea and was really surprised how excited they were when I told them I was taking an environmental law class on Natural Resources. This prompted me to do a little research on the Navy and NEPA and I was a little surprised about what I learned.
During my interview one of the lieutenants was telling me about how almost all of the Navy’s actions must go through some level of the NEPA process. Of course he said they try to get a Catex for everything but when that is not possible they have to do an EIS- and that takes a lot of legal man power and resources. Even something as seemingly simple as moving a ship usually requires an EIS. When you think the aggregate effects of moving a ship as large as a Naval Battle Ship you realize that dredges probably have to be made (effecting ecosystems), the ship has to go somewhere else and that means new building and pollution to the new area (even if it is just more pollution from new cars driving to the area), and marine life can easily be affected. So to even move a ship requires public comment, alternative considerations, and lots of research. And very cleverly, the public around bases has become aware of the power of NEPA and is quick to challenge any move by the Navy that they may not like (even if their primary concern is not really the environment, but more their standard of living).
The lieutenant did not try to hide the fact that he thought EIS’s were a lot of work and the Navy would prefer to get Catex’s whenever possible. Of course the Navy JAG environmental law website is much more optimistic sounding than he was. The Navy JAG Corps states its mission is “protecting human health, the environment, and historic and cultural resources” when dealing with environmental legal issues. And the Navy in general states it has an overall commitment to “environmental stewardship.” This seems true enough since there are plenty of websites with various Environmental Impact Statements for various projects easily available for public view. I believe you can even submit your comments via its websites. A Navy NEPA process website for a new training program in Hawaii even mentions that the Department of Defense often has to go through even more rigorous environmental protection measures than other agencies do. A former Air Force chief has even stated “the mission of the Department of Defense is more than aircraft, guns and missiles. Part of the defense job is protecting the lands, waters, timber and wildlife — the priceless natural resources that make this great nation of ours worth defending.”
However, on the flipside, for as many military websites there are spewing about goals of environmental protection there are just as many, if not more, websites about the Navy seeking exemptions from complying with NEPA. I guess the claim is that realistic training for soldiers is absolutely necessary to national safety (good point) and in many situations such training is not environmentally friendly. So what comes first- national safety or protection of the nation’s natural resources? For instance, under the Bush administration the Navy got exemption from the NEPA process when using sonar for training, despite evidence that sonar might be harmful to whales.
It also seems as though the Navy receives more permanent Catex’s than the other branches for the military. For instance, I found an Army training power point that listed the Navy has Catex’s for: the testing of weapon systems as long as it is similar to past actions that had no significant impact, training with weapon systems as long as it is similar to past actions that had no significant impact, and decommissioning/disposal of military equipment as long as it is IAW applicable regulations. The Army and Air Force do not have Catex’s for any of these operations.
The military also seeks exemption from the Endangered Species Act from time to time. One of the links posted is an interesting article which discusses the Endangered Species Coalitions concerns with the Navy resistance to deviating from its traditional training practices and looking for alternatives that would impact endangered species less. The Coalition argues that the military cannot protect endangered species if they themselves are exempted from complying with the law. The article is a little one sided, but an interesting perspective to read.
So what’s the conclusion? Is the Navy one of our greatest environmental protectors or destructors? I think the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. I am sure there is compromise on both sides, and I do believe there can be a way to have both effective training and protect and abide by environmental laws. It is important to see both sides of the situation, especially when it involves an institution as big and as powerful as the Navy, and be informed of what is going on.