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Western Wolf Coalition Challenges Nationwide Wolf Delisting

Thursday, January 14th, 2021
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Today, a coalition of Western wolf advocates challenged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to prematurely strip wolves of federal protections in the contiguous 48 states, in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

The most recent data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its state partners show an estimated 4,400 wolves inhabit the western Great Lakes states, but only 108 wolves in Washington state (with only 20 outside of eastern Washington), 158 in Oregon (with only 16 outside of northeastern Oregon), and a scant 15 exist in California. Nevada, Utah, and Colorado have had a few wolf sightings over the past three years, but wolves remain functionally absent from their historical habitat in these states.

“Wolves are a keystone species whose presence on landscapes regulates animal populations and improves ecosystem health – something the Service has acknowledged for at least 44 years,” said Kelly Nokes, Western Environmental Law Center attorney. “Allowing people to kill wolves in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana has already stunted recovery in those states. Applying this same death sentence to wolves throughout the contiguous U.S. would nationalize these negative effects, with potentially catastrophic ripple effects on ecosystems where wolves have yet to fully recover.”

“California’s wolves are just starting to return home, having been driven out of the state by 1924,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director at the Environmental Protection Information Center. “A politically driven delisting puts wolf recovery in jeopardy by stripping protections at the moment they are needed most.”

In delisting wolves, the Service ignored the science showing they are not recovered in the West. The Service concluded that because in its belief there are sufficient wolves in the Great Lakes states, it does not matter that wolves in the West are not yet recovered. The Endangered Species Act demands more, including restoring the species in the ample suitable habitats afforded by the wild public lands throughout the West. Indeed, wolves are listed as endangered under state laws in Washington and California, and wolves only occupy a small portion of available, suitable habitat in Oregon. Likewise, wolves have only just begun to recolonize their historical, wild, public lands habitat in much of the West, including in Colorado and the southern Rockies.

“From a scientific standpoint, wolves are nowhere near being recovered in the western United States,” said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist and executive director with Western Watersheds Project. “The federal government has the obligation to keep wolves protected until robust and secure populations are in place throughout the West, and we intend to ensure that wolves get the legal defense they need against premature delisting.”

“We have seen what happens when ‘management’ of wolves is returned to hostile state wildlife agencies disinterested in maintaining robust, stable, and genetically diverse wolf populations,” said Lindsay Larris, Wildlife Program director at WildEarth Guardians. “Idaho, which allows an individual to kill up to 30 wolves annually, saw the slaughter of nearly 600 wolves and wolf pups in a recent 12-month period and now other states are gearing up to allow wolf hunting and trapping this fall. Returning this type of unscientific and barbaric ‘management’ to states at this early juncture would spell disaster for true gray wolf recovery, plain and simple.”

The conservation groups have long been active on wolf recovery issues in the American West, including working with Western states to develop science-based wolf management plans, mounting cases to rein in rogue federal government wolf-killing programs, promoting recovery efforts in the Southwest for critically imperiled Mexican gray wolves, and working with local governments and landowners to deploy non-lethal tools that prevent wolf-livestock conflicts.

“With only a handful of wolves in California, western Oregon, and western Washington, wolf recovery is still precarious on the west coast,” said John Mellgren, Western Environmental Law Center general counsel. “A rush to delist the species across the entire country runs counter to the Service’s own peer review, and tells West Coast states that wolf recovery in their part of the country does not matter. We look forward to presenting the science to a federal court.”

While the Trump administration may believe it can disregard science to promote purely political listing decisions, the law does not support such a stance. The best available science says gray wolves are not recovered, and the coalition looks forward to having a court hear their science-based arguments for why wolves still need of Endangered Species Act protections to truly recover across the species range.

“In just the last year, we lost an icon to wolf recovery when OR-7 passed away. He and his mate represent the first generation of wolves in western Oregon in nearly a century,” said Joseph Vaile with the conservation group Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center based in southwest Oregon. “Delisting is clearly premature and obviously politically driven. It’s a last-ditch effort by the Trump administration to strip away protections for recovering wildlife.”

“Removing Endangered Species Act protections for any species should be based science, not politics, and the science tells us wolves are not there yet,” said Chris Bachman, Wildlife Program director at The Lands Council. “The gray wolf remains functionally extinct in 85% of its historic range, with 70% of suitable habitat remaining unoccupied across the lower 48 states. Legal protections must remain in place for the gray wolf to allow wider dispersal across a significant portion of its range.”

“Wolves were nearly exterminated from the lower 48. We should be celebrating the species’ ongoing recovery and the incredible success stories of the Endangered Species Act,” said Nick Cady with Cascadia Wildlands. “Instead, wolves have become another victim of the polarization and political game-playing in Washington D.C., and conservation groups are left battling to stem rising calls for active eradication of the species. Conservation of native species formerly enjoyed widespread bipartisan support. The actions of this administration toward wildlife are shameful.”

“The finger on the trigger of wolf slaughter is driven by anti-government fanatics who foment fear, lies and mistrust. The Endangered Species Act makes such hostility to wild nature more difficult, more closely watched,” said Timothy Coleman, director of Kettle Range Conservation Group and former member of the state Wolf Advisory Group. “Eighty-five percent of wolves we know were killed in Washington were in the Kettle River Range where gray wolf was delisted from the Endangered Species Act in 2009, though it remained state listed endangered. Had it remained Endangered Species Act-listed, entire wolf families would not have been repeatedly killed in northeast Washington. Regionally, this has meant wolves are not dispersing to Mount Rainier and Olympia National Park, or other public lands in the Pacific Northwest.”

“We must learn to coexist with gray wolves. These highly intelligent and social animals play a key role in balancing entire ecosystems,” said Kimberly Baker of the Klamath Forest Alliance. “Federal protection is paramount to safeguarding this nation’s rightful heritage.”

The coalition of western wildlife advocates launching this legal challenge includes WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project, Cascadia Wildlands, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), The Lands Council, Wildlands Network, Klamath Forest Alliance, and Kettle Range Conservation Group, represented by the Western Environmental Law Center. A separate lawsuit is planned by Earthjustice representing national wildlife groups.


USFWS Cuts Northern Spotted Owl Critical Habitat by 42% in Likely Death Sentence for Species

Wednesday, January 13th, 2021
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Northern spotted owl. Photo courtesy of Scott Carpenter

Today, with six days remaining in the Trump administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a final rule eliminating 3.4 million acres of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl in Washington state, Oregon, and California. This decision comes one month after the Service announced that the species should be uplisted from threatened to endangered, but the agency is too busy to provide these desperately needed protections. The elimination of 42% of the endangered species’ critical habitat would likely result in extinction for the northern spotted owl in the U.S. This final rule results from a sweetheart settlement between the Trump administration and the timber industry.

“On one hand, you have biologists acknowledging that northern spotted owls are extremely close to extinction and more must be done to prevent the extinction of the species,” said Susan Jane Brown, attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “On the other, you have the Trump administration catering to the demands of an out-of-touch timber industry. Placing commercial interests ahead of the continued existence of this iconic species is shameful, and thankfully, not permitted by the Endangered Species Act.”

Today’s final rule adds insult to injury by brazenly defying the Endangered Species Act to facilitate enormously expanded logging in northern spotted owl critical habitat, in particular on the entirety of Oregon and California Railroad Revested Lands, known as the O&C Lands, comprising 2.4 million acres. WELC and our partners will challenge this final rule in court to prevent the near-assured extinction of the northern spotted owl.

“Here in southern Oregon this is a death sentence for owls,” said George Sexton, conservation director for Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “This decision is intended to speed the clearcutting of the last remaining fragments of old-growth forests on Bureau of Land Management public lands.”

“The Trump administration claimed in December it was too busy to reclassify the owl as endangered. Today, it voluntarily removed millions of acres of critical habitat as a last-gasp gift to the timber industry,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director of EPIC. “This brazen hypocrisy would be staggering, if we hadn’t gotten used to it over the past four years of the Trump administration.”

“The Fish and Wildlife Service is charged with recovering imperiled species like the declining northern spotted owl, not with prioritizing private timber interests,” said Bethany Cotton, conservation director for Cascadia Wildlands. “We must return to following the law and the science if we are to prevent the extinction of iconic wildlife like the owl.”

General background:

Timber harvesting in the Northwest has resulted in a widespread loss of spotted owl habitat across its range, which was a main reason for prompting the listing of the species in 1990. Owls depend on habitat provided by the dense canopy of mature and old-growth forests; unfortunately, those forests are still a target for logging throughout the bird’s historic range. The northern spotted owl is already functionally extinct in its northernmost range, with only one recognized breeding pair left in British Columbia.

In response to a court order, in 1990 the Service listed the northern spotted owl as threatened, citing low and declining populations, limited and declining habitat, competition from barred owls, and other factors in the bird’s plight. Even after its listing, northern spotted owl populations have declined by 70%, and the rate of decline has increased.

“Reduced long-term distribution of spotted owl habitat linking the Oregon Coast Range, Klamath Mountains, and Oregon Cascades … is highly likely to reduce chances of spotted owls moving among these provinces. The distribution [reserves] on National Forests alone will not meet the … requirements for well-distributed blocks of habitat connected by dispersal habitat.” (1993 Scientific Analysis Team (SAT) Ch 2 p 69. Citations omitted).

“When FWS first identified critical habitat for the northern spotted owl in 1992 it said- “The majority of owls and owl habitat (about 85 percent) are currently found on Federal lands. These lands are particularly important in the State of Oregon because very little owl habitat remains on non-Federal lands in that state. The Oregon and California lands, managed by the Bureau are more crucial to owl conservation than many other lands.” (Fed. Reg. Jan 15, 1992. Final rule designating critical habitat for the northern spotted owl.)

Additional background from the Service:

“Habitat loss was the primary factor leading to the listing of the northern spotted owl as a threatened species, and it continues to be a stressor on the subspecies due to the lag effects of past habitat loss, continued timber harvest, wildfire, and a minor amount from insect and forest disease outbreaks.”

“On non-Federal lands, State regulatory mechanisms have not prevented the continued decline of nesting/roosting and foraging habitat; the amount of northern spotted owl habitat on these lands has decreased considerably over the past two decades, including in geographic areas where Federal lands are lacking. On Federal lands, the Northwest Forest Plan has reduced habitat loss and allowed for the development of new northern spotted owl habitat; however, the combined effects of climate change, high severity wildfire, and past management practices are changing forest ecosystem processes and dynamics, and the expansion of barred owl populations is altering the capacity of intact habitat to support northern spotted owls.”

“Based on our review of the best available scientific and commercial information pertaining to the factors affecting the northern spotted owl, we find that the stressors acting on the subspecies and its habitat, particularly rangewide competition from the nonnative barred owl and high-severity wildfire, are of such imminence, intensity, and magnitude to indicate that the northern spotted owl is now in danger of extinction throughout all of its range. Our status review indicates that the northern spotted owl meets the definition of an endangered species. Therefore, in accordance with sections 3(6) and 4(a)(1) of the Act, we find that listing the northern spotted owl as an endangered species is warranted throughout all of its range. However, work on a reclassification for the northern spotted owl has been, and continues to be, precluded by work on higher-priority actions—which includes listing actions with statutory, court-ordered, or court approved deadlines and final listing determinations.”


2020: Looking Back On Victories and Moving Forward With Challenges

Thursday, December 31st, 2020
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Looking Back On Victories and Moving Forward With Challenges

This past year has been a challenge. Given that we’ve had one of the least environmentally friendly administrations in history with the backdrop of a global pandemic, EPIC has overcome some major hurdles and secured important victories for old growth forests, native wildlife, and public lands. We are so thankful for our members to helping us achieve so much this year and we wanted to share with you what we’ve accomplished in 2020 and where we plan to go in 2021!

Green Flat Timber Sale

In March, the Mendocino National Forest drastically reduced proposed logging in the Green Flat project by 84 percent in response to public scrutiny of the project from EPIC. Originally 1,534 acres were planned for logging, but the project was scaled back to 250 acres. The agency was criticized for its apparent attempt to mischaracterize logging activities as other more benign actions, such as “reforestation.”

Wildlife Services

In May, EPIC and a coalition of environmental and animal rights groups scored a big win for Humboldt County wildlife. Wildlife Services, a federal agency that operates under the US Department of Agriculture, has a mission to resolve wildlife conflicts to allow people and wildlife to coexist. Despite their name, the agency is radically anti-wildlife. They are the folks responsible for killing wildlife. 

For nearly a decade, Humboldt County has paid tax dollars to Wildlife Services to kill hundreds of native animals under contract. Data from that federal wildlife-killing program shows that in the period from 2008-2017, Wildlife Services killed at least 178 coyotes, 54 black bears, 43 gray foxes, 23 mountain lions, 483 raccoons, 880 skunks, and 112 opossums in Humboldt County. 

Since 2014, EPIC and others have attempted to get the county to withdraw funding from Wildlife Services. That didn’t work so we changed tactics. EPIC approached Agricultural Commissioner Jeff Dolf with a proposal that involved dropping a legal challenge in exchange for changes to the policy. Now if there is a problem animal—a raccoon eating chickens or a bear eating garbage—Wildlife Services has to attempt non-lethal solutions first and these have to fail before wildlife can be taken in Humboldt County.

Crawford Timber Sale

 In August, EPIC and allies secured a legal victory saving hundreds of acres of critical habitat for two of the last reproductive northern spotted owl pairs on the Klamath National Forest, southwest of Happy Camp. The Crawford Project planned to remove 70% of the forest canopy in this important wildlife corridor, linking the Siskiyou and Marble Mountain Wilderness areas. The project was soon cancelled after we filed litigation against the Klamath National Forest, avoiding a long legal battle and safeguarding old-growth and mature forest habitat for the near future.

Ranch Fire Timber Sale

In August EPIC set a legal precedent for public lands. The Mendocino National Forest attempted to get away with lawless logging,  by disguising a 5,000 acre roadside commercial timber sale  as “road maintenance”, bypassing National Environmental Policy Act procedures; consideration of environmental impacts; consideration of alternatives; and  public participation in the management of our public lands. 

EPIC wouldn’t stand for this and filed litigation. We motioned for a preliminary injunction to stop the logging, which ultimately went to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  There we had a resounding victory, establishing good precedent that will hopefully deter the Forest Service again from this trickery. This is going to be massively important in upcoming years as we confront a large amount of post-fire logging on our public lands. 

Humboldt Marten

In September, after 10 years of persistent advocacy and two lawsuits,  the  Humboldt marten was finally listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. This is a huge milestone as we were fought by the timber industry and even the US Fish and Wildlife Service. For a species that was once so rare that it was thought to be extinct, this is great news!

Three Bridges Project

In September, in response to public pressure from EPIC, Caltrans modified its project by cutting an eight-foot shoulder down to a four-foot shoulder on the new bridge to preserve the lives of several large trees, including a six-foot-wide old-growth redwood. Before this intervention, the project titled “HUM-36 Three Bridges Project” was set out to rebuild a bridge that went over Hely Creek at Van Duzen County Park. 

Richardson Grove

In October, EPIC’s attorneys argued on behalf of the ancient redwoods in Richardson Grove to defend the federal court ruling and protection of Richardson Grove that invalidated Caltrans’ Environmental Assessment, which Caltrans has overturned on appeal. At the federal level, we are considering whether to ask for a rehearing at the Ninth Circuit. At the state level, Caltrans has not yet completed the new public comment and review period mandated by the state court.  Until they do so, the project cannot move forward. 

Northern Spotted Owls

In December, EPIC filed a lawsuit against the US Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to “uplist” the owl to endangered status and for failing to complete a 5-year status review. In response to the lawsuit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a finding on the northern spotted owl’s listing status, spurred by a lawsuit filed last week by EPIC and other wildlife advocates. The finding states “reclassification of the northern spotted owl from a threatened species to an endangered species is warranted but precluded by higher priority actions to amend the Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. 

LOOKING AHEAD

As we embark on a new year under a new administration, we will continue to stand up and speak out on behalf of wild places and the creatures that call them home. In 2021, we plan to secure more protections for wildlife and challenge harmful projects to ensure that environmental laws are followed.

Secure More Protections for Wildlife

We will continue advocating for more protections for listed species before the California Fish and Game Commission and submitting new listing petitions. Our staff is hard at work on a listing petition for hoary bats and continues to push forward on our existing petitions for Siskiyou salamanders and to increase protections for the Northern spotted owl.

Challenging Timber Sales

This year’s unprecedented fire season is expected to bring us a tsunami of post-fire logging, both on public and private land. Post-fire logging is environmentally harmful, stacking one disturbance on top of another. It removes the last remaining forest structure, which is heavily utilized by wildlife, compacts the soil and harms natural regeneration. Most often, logged areas are replanted with densely packed mono-crop tree farms and we are left with artificial forests that are unable to support a diversity of wildlife or  withstand high-intensity fire events. Inevitably, these projects create a landscape that makes our wildlands less resilient and puts taxpayers on the hook for the costs of cleaning up.

You Are Part of the Solution

Our work would not be possible without the help of our community. We rely on online activists to participate in the public process by providing comments on projects, and we depend on donations from our members to ensure that we can pay our staff to keep the pressure on the agencies and ensure that the public process remains effective. Without watchdog organizations like EPIC, who have the expertise and tools to challenge government agencies and big industry, we would have a much different landscape in our wild backyards. We understand that these are hard times, but in moments like this we need folks who are able to step up and help out. If you have the ability to contribute, please consider making a donation to EPIC to help secure victories, for wildlife and the wild places they depend on, for future generations.


Santa’s Naughty and Nice List Sneak Peek: Environment Issue 2020

Thursday, December 24th, 2020
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Santa’s 2020 Naughty and Nice List

We here at EPIC are close with Kris Kringle. (He is an environmentalist after all, using reindeer to power his sleigh instead of fossil fuels.) We are so close that EPIC has an exclusive sneak preview at his naughty and nice list. To those on the nice list, we are incredibly grateful to all of those that work hard to protect our habitat, Earth. Thank you for your generosity, kindness, and inspiration this year. We look forward to a brighter future ahead. 

To those on the naughty list… well, Santa usually gives out coal to bad boys and girls, but given their track records, these foes of the environment would probably just try to sell it to coal power plants.

Nice

EPIC Members: Our members are the best. 2020 was a no-good, very bad year, but you have stood by EPIC and your generosity has kept our doors open, lights on, and staff working. Thank you for supporting us ❤️

Deb Haaland: One of the first Native American women elected to the United States Congress, Deb Haaland has spent her legislative career forwarding environmental protection, from leading the federal charge on the 30×30 effort (to permanently protect 30% of the land and water in the U.S. by 2030) to fighting back against oil and gas leases on public lands. President-elect Joe Biden has announced that he is nominating Deb to lead the Department of the Interior. We couldn’t think of a better pick. 

Supervisors Mike Wilson and Steve Madrone: Mike and Steve are a powerful duo on the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors. Both smart, sciency dudes–Mike is an environmental engineer and Steve is a leader in restoration ecology–they put in the hard work at the Board to push the county to be more environmentally responsible. 

Eileen Cooper and the Friends of Del Norte: Our dear friend, Eileen Cooper, passed away in 2020. She was a force to be reckoned with in Del Norte County, with a crisp memory of the intricacies of the Coastal Act and an activist’s passion for community organizing. Eileen was also one of the prime movers in the Friends of Del Norte, a scrappy group of environmentalists committed to protecting Del Norte’s wildlife and wild places. Before she passed, Eileen established the EPIC Del Norte Chapter at the Humboldt Area Foundation to ensure that EPIC’s work in the county would be funded into the future. 

Mark Andre: Since 1984, Mark Andre has been in charge of the Arcata Community Forest. Through his vision and leadership, Mark has demonstrated modern sustainable forestry on the Arcata Community Forest, both improving wildlife habitat and recreation on the forest while also producing saw timber. When people ask us what sort of logging we support, we can always point to Mark’s work. Mark is retiring from the City of Arcata at the end of 2020 so there is no better time than now to recognize his good work. Thanks Mark!

Naughty

William Perry Pendley: Santa doesn’t take kind to people hurting his reindeer. As the acting head of the Bureau of Livestock and Mining Bureau of Land Management, Pendley has greenlighted oil and gas leases in the National Petroleum Reserve, Alaska (the sister to the more famous Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, which the Trump administration is also trying to drill). This last minute rush to issue drilling leases is intended to tie the hands of the incoming Biden administration and give the oil industry one last gift. Drilling in the Reserve will put at risk over a half-million reindeer and the largest concentrations of grizzly bears and wolverines in the Alaska Artic. Santa would give Pendley coal, but he would be too pleased.

Senator Dianne Feinstein: From shouting down schoolchildren concerned with climate change to her atrocious federal wildfire legislation, Senator Feinstein is bad for the environment. 

Leadership at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife: To say we are disappointed in the leadership of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is to understate our feelings. We are livid. We are disheartened. We want change. The Department charged with the protection of our wildlife, from giving sweetheart deals to Green Diamond to hiding information about a new disease in elk (before a vote on expanding elk hunting) to shady backroom deals with private developers, it appears that the higher you rise within the agency is correlated to the extent you are willing to sell out wildlife. (The staff scientists–the nerdy grunts that do the hard work of the Department–are decidedly on Santa’s good list. Perhaps for Christmas, they will get less political interference from their bosses.)

Climate Deniers at CAL FIRE: CAL FIRE has a nasty habitat of endorsing climate skepticism in THPs. We put Green Diamond on blast earlier this year for questioning the science of climate change, which was approved by the agency. We were even more disappointed to find that CAL FIRE embraces climate skepticism in their own management of the Jackson Demonstration State Forest. Shame!

A sneak peek into Santa’s naughty and nice list is a good reminder that someone is always watching, so be good for goodness sakes!

And don’t let those naughty kids get away with it, donate to your favorite forest watchdog organization today here. 

Happy Holidays from EPIC!


Take Action For Richardson Grove!

Monday, December 14th, 2020
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We need your support at the Board of Supervisors weekly Zoom meeting on the morning of Tuesday, December 15th. Staff have provided the Board with an alternative statement expressing community opposition to the Richardson Grove Project and highlighting that the county takes no formal position on the project. This is BIG!

Please let the Supervisors know that you support the alternative statement!

The meeting starts at 9am and this item will likely be heard in the morning session. (There is no time certain.)

How to Zoom public comment: When the Board of Supervisors announce the agenda item that you wish to comment on, call the conference line and turn off your TV or live stream. Please call 669-900-9128, enter Meeting ID 931 8995 1592 and press star (*) 9 on your phone, this will raise your hand. You’ll continue to hear the Board meeting on the call.

We need you to let them know that you love Richardson Grove State Park and that you don’t support highway widening that threatens old-growth redwoods. Share why you feel passionately about the grove–perhaps you have a favorite memory of the park, or that when you hit the park after a long road trip you feel like you are home again–why you are opposed to the project, and politely ask that they remove support from the project from the document. Positive comments are much more effective than negative or angry responses to the Supervisors. 

How to watch: You may access the live stream of the meeting by using the following link: Watch live: http://humboldt.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?publish_id=2

Agenda: https://humboldt.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=A&ID=736535&GUID=DD19A2F4-6FF5-49E6-BA94-C955867B50A5

Can’t make it? It is important that Supervisor Fennell and Supervisor Bass hear from their constituents. Please write them at [email protected] and [email protected]


Are Toxic Tires Killing Salmon?

Monday, December 14th, 2020
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Coho Salmon Spawner. Photo by K. King, USFWS.

A new study published in the journal Science may help explain why California’s coho salmon runs continue to decline. The study examined “urban runoff mortality syndrome,” a disconcerting phenomenon where stormwater runoff produces large mortality events. Clearly there was something in the water. But what? Researchers started by looking at over 2,000 chemicals routinely found in car tires and eliminated potential killers until one remained: 6PPD-quinone (pronounced “kwih-known”), a byproduct of a tire preservative. This chemical is now thought to be the primary driver in stormwater-related mortality events. EPIC’s podcast, the EcoNews Report, recently featured Warner Chabot from the San Francisco Estuary Institute to discuss the report. Listen here! (P.S. Subscribe to the EcoNews Report on your favorite podcast app!) You can also read the full report here

Listen Here

Arriving at this conclusion took hard work and good science. First, scientists began with a list of chemicals found in stormwater runoff and noticed that all problem areas shared a common feature: chemicals found in tires. Then they began grouping chemicals together and testing. They were able to find that metals were not an issue, for example, by testing whether a concentrate with just metals found in tires killed the salmon. Through this repetitive process, they eliminated classes of chemicals and individual chemicals until just a few remained, including one that didn’t appear to be related to tires–at least at first. Scientists knew the constituent parts of the chemical–18 carbons, 22 hydrogens, two nitrogens and two oxygens–but nothing like that matched the known chemicals in tires. It then required an “a-ha!” moment to solve for the mystery chemical.

6PPD-quinone is produced when ozone reacts with 6PPD. This isn’t by accident, that is what is supposed to happen! Because 6PPD reacts with ozone, other parts of the rubber tire do not, helping to lengthen the life of the tire. Because we now know the problem, we can solve it. There is already a petition before the California Department of Toxic Substance Control to examine zinc, another toxic addition to tires. If the agency begins a regulatory process to address zinc, then 6PPD-quinone can be added to their list of things to consider as well. There is also interest from tire manufacturers, who worked cooperatively with researchers here, in addressing the issue.


USFWS Acknowledges Yet Continues To Delay On Protections For Northern Spotted Owls

Monday, December 14th, 2020
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Northern Spotted Owl. Photo by Scott Carpenter.

This Monday, December 14th, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a finding on the northern spotted owl’s listing status, spurred by a lawsuit filed last week by EPIC and other wildlife advocates. The finding states “reclassification of the northern spotted owl from a threatened species to an endangered species is warranted but precluded by higher priority actions to amend the Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. We will develop a proposed rule to reclassify the northern spotted owl as our priorities allow.”

The complaint, filed last week, came after the Service failed to take multiple actions required by the Endangered Species Act to protect the northern spotted owl from extinction over the course of nearly a decade.

“While we are glad that the Service has acknowledged the reality—northern spotted owls are rapidly going extinct—today’s announcement is also illustrative of the failures of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center. “The Service only acted under threat of lawsuit and the agency still managed to squirm out of any real action by complaining it has too much work to do. Delay and inaction are precisely how we are driving the spotted owl to extinction.”

“On the one hand, you have biologists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledging that northern spotted owls are extremely close to extinction and more must be done to prevent the extinction of the species,” said Susan Jane Brown, attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “On the other, you have the Trump administration catering to the demands of an out-of-touch timber industry. Placing commercial interests ahead of the continued existence of this iconic species is shameful, and thankfully, not permitted by the Endangered Species Act.”

Timber harvesting in the Northwest has resulted in a widespread loss of spotted owl habitat across its range, which was a main reason for prompting the listing of the species in 1990. Owls depend on habitat provided by the dense canopy of mature and old-growth forests; unfortunately, those forests are still a target for logging throughout the bird’s historic range. The northern spotted owl is already functionally extinct in its northernmost range, with only one recognized breeding pair left in British Columbia.

“We know that climate change and the loss of high-quality habitat are imminent threats to the spotted owl,” said Joseph Vaile, climate director at Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “If we wait years or decades for federal officials to address these issues, it will be too late.”

“The owl is biologically determined to be endangered, yet the agency continues to find excuses do nothing,” said Kimberly Baker, executive director of the Klamath Forest Alliance. “The Endangered Species Act demands action from the Service, not excuses.”

“The Fish and Wildlife Service says the spotted owl deserves protection as an endangered species but can’t be bothered to actually do it,” said Doug Heiken with Oregon Wild. “This makes no sense. The Service has already made the finding that the owl is endangered of extinction. The owl is already listed as threatened. The owl already has critical habitat, and already has a recovery plan. How much more work is it to move the check mark from the threatened column to the endangered column and start giving the owl the protection it deserves?”

“Despite today’s announcement that the northern spotted owl is ‘unofficially endangered’ and likely to go extinct, the Service has prioritized working against its recovery under the Trump administration,” Brown said. In August 2020, the Service settled a timber industry lawsuit by proposing to eliminate more than 200,000 acres of northern spotted owl critical habitat. Before January 20, 2021, the Service will make a decision that may diminish designated northern spotted owl critical habitat on a scale that dwarfs the aforementioned reduction proposal. “We will wait and see what further decisions the Service makes regarding the fate of the spotted owl before deciding how we move forward in light of today’s announcement,” Brown said. 

In response to a court order, in 1990 the Service listed the northern spotted owl as threatened, citing low and declining populations, limited and declining habitat, competition from barred owls, and other factors in the bird’s plight. Even after its listing, northern spotted owl populations have declined by 70%, and the rate of decline has increased.

Additional background from to the Service’s announcement today:

“Habitat loss was the primary factor leading to the listing of the northern spotted owl as a threatened species, and it continues to be a stressor on the subspecies due to the lag effects of past habitat loss, continued timber harvest, wildfire, and a minor amount from insect and forest disease outbreaks.”

“On non-Federal lands, State regulatory mechanisms have not prevented the continued decline of nesting/roosting and foraging habitat; the amount of northern spotted owl habitat on these lands has decreased considerably over the past two decades, including in geographic areas where Federal lands are lacking. On Federal lands, the Northwest Forest Plan has reduced habitat loss and allowed for the development of new northern spotted owl habitat; however, the combined effects of climate change, high severity wildfire, and past management practices are changing forest ecosystem processes and dynamics, and the expansion of barred owl populations is altering the capacity of intact habitat to support northern spotted owls.”

“Based on our review of the best available scientific and commercial information pertaining to the factors affecting the northern spotted owl, we find that the stressors acting on the subspecies and its habitat, particularly rangewide competition from the nonnative barred owl and high-severity wildfire, are of such imminence, intensity, and magnitude to indicate that the northern spotted owl is now in danger of extinction throughout all of its range. Our status review indicates that the northern spotted owl meets the definition of an endangered species. Therefore, in accordance with sections 3(6) and 4(a)(1) of the Act, we find that listing the northern spotted owl as an endangered species is warranted throughout all of its range. However, work on a reclassification for the northern spotted owl has been, and continues to be, precluded by work on higher-priority actions—which includes listing actions with statutory, court-ordered, or court approved deadlines and final listing determinations.”

Find the Full Press Release here. 


ACTION ALERT: Tell CAL FIRE Not To Log The Western Jackson Demonstration State Forest

Monday, December 14th, 2020
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Jackson State Demonstration Forest. Photo by the USFS Pacific Southwest Research Station

CAL FIRE intends to conduct extensive logging in the Western Jackson Demonstration State Forest. Let them know that California’s state lands are better used by wildlife, recreational users, and for carbon sequestration.

Take Action Today

The Jackson Demonstration State Forest (JDSF) was created by the state of California in 1949.  Before that, the land was owned by the Caspar Lumber Company.  More than 90 years ago, Caspar harvested most of the old growth trees and left behind a forest that was a shadow of its former self. Nearly all the old growth redwoods, Douglas fir, hemlock, and their companion ecosystems were gone. California purchased the land with the intention of using it as a place to demonstrate new timber harvesting techniques. While logging has continued under the state’s ownership, and 75% of the forest has seen one or more harvest incursions since then, some of the forest has remained untouched for the last 90 years. In that time, something miraculous has begun to happen: 10,000 acres of a new, second-growth forest has emerged which is beginning to take on some of the qualities of an old-growth redwood forest.  

Speckled Black Salamander in the Jackson State Demonstration Forest. Photo by Ken-ichi Ueda.

Because most private timberlands are operated as timber plantations where the timber is harvested every 40 years, second-growth forests like JDSF are exceedingly rare. Because they are so rare, second-growth forests provide critical habitat for a wide variety of threatened species.  Northern spotted owls depend on older forests for unique habitat and forests like JDSF are just beginning to take on the characteristics necessary for northern spotted owls to thrive.  The JDSF also contains some of the last remaining coho salmon in California and any logging operation will threaten the spawning of these crucial salmonids. With most of California’s timberlands unsuitable for these species due to extensive logging, CAL FIRE would do better to leave the second-growth forest within JDSF alone.   

Another reason CAL FIRE should refrain from logging JDSF is that it provides ample recreation opportunities for Californians. JDSF is located near the cities of Mendocino and Fort Bragg.  Because of this, the forest has developed into a place cherished by thousands of recreational users. Campers have been spending their summers at the Mendocino Woodlands camp since it was constructed in the 1930s. Now, CAL FIRE has plans to log more than four and a half square miles of the oldest remaining groves, all in the most popular and recreated Western segment of the forest, where campers will be forced to endure the sounds of chainsaws felling nearby trees. CAL FIRE’s timber harvest plans also call for the closure of a large number of trails within JDSF which will severely limit recreational opportunities in the coming years.  

Perhaps most shocking of all, CAL FIRE has decided to participate in climate denial. Scientists have known for decades that climate change is manmade. However, with language one would expect from the Trump Administration, the greenhouse gas emissions section of the timber harvest plans begin with the following equivocation: “exactly how and to what extent human activity plays a role in global climate change appears to be unknown.” CAL FIRE needs to be held accountable for this climate disinformation contained within its timber harvest plans.  We believe that instead of denying that humans cause climate change, CAL FIRE should be  demonstrating how a forest can sequester carbon most effectively.

The upcoming “Mitchell Creek” timber harvest plan is the first of many timber harvest plans slated for the JDSF. Let CAL FIRE know that instead of “demonstrating” how to damage a second-growth forest, they should begin the long work of restoring the landscape for wildlife, recreation, and carbon sequestration. Perhaps one day our descendants will be grateful that we preserved JDSF and helped create one of California’s first new, old-growth forests. 

For more information, visit www.MendocinoTrailStewards.org


Richardson Grove: A Setback But Not A Loss

Thursday, December 10th, 2020
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A setback but not a loss. That’s what I told my board and staff after we received news on Wednesday that the Ninth Circuit reversed our lower court victory. Don’t worry. Bulldozers are not set to start ripping into the roots of old-growth redwoods…yet. But this setback should inspire us to work harder to stop the project, something that will demand concentrated grassroots advocacy and political action. In other words, we need you.

Here’s how we got here:

In 2017, Caltrans sought to restart the Richardson Grove Project, which had been on hiatus since 2014 because of previous litigation, by issuing a new “addendum” to the project file. EPIC immediately filed two lawsuits, one at the Humboldt County Superior Court (state court) alleging violations of CEQA and one at the Northern District Court of California (federal court) alleging NEPA and other federal law violations. In 2019, we won at both the state and federal level. At the state level, Judge Kelly Neal of the Humboldt County Superior Court found that the addendum contained significant new information that required Caltrans to offer a new public comment period. At the federal level, EPIC and allies won on a number of our NEPA claims, with Judge William Alsup finding that Caltrans failed to consider a number of impacts from the project on old-growth redwoods in their review of impacts. (Importantly, the Northern District Court did not rule on all of the claims that EPIC brought, only certain NEPA claims.) Caltrans appealed the federal case but not the state case and in October 2020, the Ninth Circuit heard oral argument on Caltrans’ appeal.

On Wednesday, the Ninth Circuit reversed the lower court. In each place that Judge Alsup found that Caltrans had inadequately reviewed potential impacts to old-growth redwoods, the Ninth Circuit found that Caltrans had adequately considered those impacts. While we disagree with the decision, the reversal was not wholly stunning, as courts are generally deferential to agency determinations about what environmental impacts they must consider. Four judges considered the issue. One agreed with us, three did not. If we had drawn a different panel, it may have bounced the other way. So it goes. Importantly, the Ninth Circuit did not rule on any of our other claims, leaving them for resolution by Judge Alsup on remand.

Here’s where we are going:

It is not over for our litigation to save Richardson Grove. Not even close. At the federal level, we are considering whether to ask for a rehearing at the Ninth Circuit, but whether or not we do so, we still have our other claims to pursue and we are going to vigorously prosecute them. As this most recent decision shows, there is no way to guarantee how courts will decide things, but we are confident in our chances. At the state level, Caltrans has not yet completed the new public comment and review period mandated by the state court.  Until they do so, the project cannot move forward.

Beyond the courts, we will need you to continue to voice your opposition and outrage at this project. The next steps and strategies are in the works and we will shortly call upon you for help.

Thank you all for your support over the past ten years in the fight to save Richardson Grove.

We press on!

Tom Wheeler, Executive Director

Background
Richardson Grove State Park, is considered the gateway to the Redwoods, where tourists often first encounter large Redwoods when heading north on Highway 101. It is home to one of the last protected stands of accessible old-growth redwood trees in the world. The park has essential habitat for protected species and its creeks support runs of imperiled salmon and steelhead trout.


Time’s Up: Feds Missed Deadlines For Years, Harming Imperiled Northern Spotted Owls

Tuesday, December 8th, 2020
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Today, EPIC and a coalition of wildlife advocates filed a complaint in federal district court against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the Service) for failing to take multiple actions required by the Endangered Species Act to protect the northern spotted owl from extinction.

In 2015, wildlife advocates petitioned the Service to increase protections for the owl by “uplisting” the species from threatened to endangered due to declining habitat, effects of climate change, and competition from the invasive barred owl. The Service stated uplisting is warranted, committing to publish an analysis of the issue that would also satisfy a legal obligation to complete a five-year status review of the species. Since then, the Service has produced no such analysis, nearly a decade has passed since the last northern spotted owl species status review, and the northern spotted owl continues to slide towards extinction.

“The word for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s approach to northern spotted owl recovery is ‘negligent,’” said Susan Jane Brown, Wildlands Program director with the Western Environmental Law Center. “We’re at an inflection point for these iconic birds: with urgent action they can recover, but without it they could be wiped off the face of the Earth. Nine years of dithering from our wildlife managers is unjustifiable.”

“All the best available information suggests that the spotted owl is going extinct and doing so quickly,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director at the Environmental Protection Information Center. “The most recent survey data shows that the owl is in decline across its entire range and that the rate of decline is increasing. If we don’t act now and with great urgency, the other thing our grandchildren will inherit is the story of how we failed this owl.”

Timber harvesting in the Northwest has resulted in a widespread loss of spotted owl habitat across its range, which was a main reason for prompting the listing of the species in 1990. Owls depend on habitat provided by the dense canopy of mature and old-growth forests, unfortunately, those forest stands are still a target for logging throughout the bird’s historic range. The northern spotted owl is already functionally extinct in its northernmost range, with only one recognized breeding pair left in British Columbia.

“The mature and old-growth forest habitat that this species depends on is continually diminished, particularly from logging on our public lands. Every year there are fewer and fewer reproductive owl pairs,” stated Kimberly Baker, Executive Director of the Klamath Forest Alliance. “Despite this fact, the Service has allowed habitat destruction to continue for nearly a decade without considering population numbers on a regional scale. It’s beyond time for the Service to check the owls’ status and guard them from extinction.”

In 1990 and in response to a court order, the Service listed the northern spotted owl as threatened, citing low and declining populations, limited and declining habitat, competition from barred owls, and other factors in the bird’s plight. Even after its listing, northern spotted owl populations have continued to decline, and the rate of decline has increased. In August 2020, the Trump administration settled a timber industry lawsuit by proposing to eliminate more than 200,000 acres of northern spotted owl critical habitat, further precluding this magnificent raptor’s recovery.

“Climate change-driven wildfires and the barred owl are new threats to the spotted owl,” said Joseph Vaile, Climate Director for the southwest Oregon-based Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “These new threats demand that we save every bit of ancient forest owl habitat that we have left.”

The organizations challenging the Service’s dilatory actions are the Environmental Protection Information Center, Cascadia Wildlands, Conservation Northwest, Klamath Forest Alliance, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Oregon Wild, and Audubon Society of Portland.  They are represented by the Western Environmental Law Center.


Giving Tuesday 2020: Giving Back & Moving Forward

Monday, November 30th, 2020
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Giving Tuesday, the international day of charitable giving, is an international movement. Founded in New York in 2012 as a response to the commercialization and consumerism of the holiday season, the event has spread worldwide. Having a single day of concentrated giving has been important to nonprofits.

Last year, American nonprofits were given an estimated $1.9 billion on this single day—the largest single day of donations in the year. Giving Tuesday is an annual tradition, the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving, and the humble alternative to the shopping frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. On this day, you are encouraged to give to the nonprofits like EPIC that you believe are making this world a better place. 

On this all-important day of Giving, I wanted to share with you why I care so deeply about the work we do at EPIC and why I believe EPIC makes a difference.

In 2010, EPIC became alarmed because population surveys of Humboldt martens showed that the population of this cute coastal marten was in major decline. So EPIC got to work. We submitted a petition to list the species under the Endangered Species Act and pushed for more protections for the marten.

It took 10 years and multiple lawsuits but we were successful in finally getting new safeguards for the marten just this year. But more than just new protections, the listing process has resulted in significant investment in science and conservation planning for the species, which will hopefully put the species on the fast-track for recovery. 

This year’s Giving Tuesday will be more important than ever for making sure EPIC’s work continues for critters like the marten. 2020 has been tough for the local community and many of our area’s nonprofits feel the pinch as charitable giving has taken a hit along with the economy. If you have the means, consider doubling your annual donations this year to help make up for others who can’t afford to donate this year. There are also easy ways to increase your contribution. Your employer may have a matching donation program or other incentives for you to give. Facebook is also going to match donations on Giving Tuesday if you donate through the platform

Not only will your donation sustain the nonprofit institutions, but it will make you feel better than if you spent the money on yourself. Seriously, there is hard science to back this up. A 2006 peer-reviewed study utilized MRI imaging to see how our brains react to charitable giving. Giving triggers the reward center of the brain, resulting in reaction similar to other stimuli like food or sex, and a flush of dopamine and oxytocin released—the donor’s high! Giving is also contagious. A 2010 study found that giving has a multiplier effect. You are more likely to inspire others to give. And it doesn’t end there. The correlation extends to three degrees of separation—your behavior can influence a third person’s behavior that you’ve never even met! 

We all have a choice in how we spend our hard-earned money; during this season of thanks and generosity, please give to your local nonprofit organizations because you value and benefit from their mission, and because you believe in humanity’s ability to positively impact the world. As the Executive Director of EPIC, I’d be thrilled if you donated to support our work. But I’d be happy if you gave to any local organization that shared your beliefs. The point is to give—be generous, be larger than yourself. 


Practice Green Friday: Buy Nothing Or Support Local!

Monday, November 23rd, 2020
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Skipping the madness of Black Friday and big box stores this year is an especially great idea considering the current circumstances. Instead of opting for online big business, check out other online options for supporting small, local businesses and non-profits, or spend nothing and get outside!

However, if it’s your day to get on top of holiday presents consciously, EPIC has you covered! We are excited to showcase our new 2020 merchandise that celebrates listing the Humboldt marten as threatened on the endangered species list with an incredible Humboldt marten woodblock design by artist Fiona Bearclaw. We have Unisex T-shirts and sweatshirts available in sizes S, M, L, and XL as well as a Women’s tank top option in M, L and XL.

Do you love them as much as we do? Please check out our purchasing options here. If you would like them shipped, add $5 per item onto your cost. Make sure to email [email protected] for shipping options or pick-up after your purchase.

Buy Now!

 


Egregious Violations in Smith River Estuary Block Public Access and Harm Tidal Wetland Habitat

Thursday, November 19th, 2020
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Reservation Ranch, owned by Steven Westbrook and located on the Smith River estuary in Del Norte County, has racked up multiple egregious public access and unpermitted development violations in and around the Smith River estuary that violate the Coastal Act and the Del Norte County Local Coastal Plan. These Coastal Act violations include grading and construction of roads, wetland fill, placement of fill in wetlands and tidal sloughs, damming of tidal sloughs, diversion and storage of freshwater for irrigation, dredging and channeling tidal sloughs, blocking public access to the ocean and public trust tidelands, removal of major riparian vegetation and placement of farm related structures. The owner has used manure, soil, straw, construction waste, trash, cow carcasses and other debris to fill wetlands, tidal sloughs and streams, which has essentially changed the course of stream flows and caused major modifications to the Smith River estuary. Additionally, the property owner has built canals and placed pipes and at least six pumps in tidal sloughs, streams and in the Smith River for diversion and irrigation without permits.

Prior to unpermitted development in Tillas Slough and Islas Slough, the public could access both sloughs from the Smith River. However, now several levees that cross the Tillas Slough completely block public access via the Smith River and have prevented the Smith River from washing through the slough, which has caused sediment build up within Islas Slough.

All of these activities have taken place within the aboriginal territory and the original Smith River Reservation of the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation, a federally recognized Indian Tribe of the Tolowa people who have lived for thousands of years off of the lands, rivers, and sea. The California Coastal Commission, which has jurisdiction over public access and unpermitted development violations has initiated proceedings that will propose to address the violations through issuance of Cease and Desist and Restoration Orders and administrative penalties. These sanctions would direct the owner of the property to cease from performing any additional unpermitted development activities, remove unpermitted items, restore the impacted area, mitigate for habitat loss, and pay administrative fines for loss of public access.

In cases involving public access violations, the Coastal Commission has authorization under the Coastal Act to impose administrative civil penalties that can be up to $11,250, for each violation, for each day each violation has persisted, for up to five years. If a person fails to pay administrative penalties imposed by the Commission, the Commission may record a lien on the property in the amount of the assessed penalty. Additionally, in cases involving development without a Coastal Development Permit, the Commission may impose penalties up to $30,000 and not less than $500 for each instance of development that violates the Coastal Act. Additional civil liability may be imposed on any person who develops without a CDP or inconsistent with a CDP intentionally and knowingly performing development, which can amount to $1,000 to $15,000 per day for each violation for each day the violation persists. Further, a violation of a Cease and Desist Order can result in penalties for up to $6,000 for each day and for each violation.

The 1,668 acre Reservation Ranch is currently listed for sale for $12,950,000. The listing boasts a dyke system, excellent water rights, 3 wells, main water pump from the Smith River, and an abundance of wildlife including trophy salmon and Roosevelt elk.


11th-Hour Attacks On NEPA

Thursday, November 19th, 2020
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Camp on the Sheenjek River, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo Credit: Alexis Bonogofsky for USFWS

We are witnessing the last gasps of the Trump administration–the frantic rush to get bad projects and harmful new regulations approved before their time ends on January 20. The Trump administration is rushing to issue oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Also in Alaska, the Trump administration appears ready to issue a permit for the controversial “Pebble Mine.” Today gives us another: new rules by the Forest Service for implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). As most of EPIC’s public lands program focuses on our National Forests, and as NEPA is our most important tool to advocate for better forest management, this is deeply concerning to us. 

The good news is that their ineptitude has forced them to jettison some things that were originally proposed in a draft rule from this summer. The proposed rules would have conflicted with a new, separate rule issued by the Council on Environmental Quality, showing the internal failures of the administration to coordinate their actions.

The bad news is that the Forest Service is still moving forward with other proposed changes, including the creation of six new “categorical exclusions” and the expansion of two others that are already on the books. Categorical exclusions are worrying because they allow the Forest Service to bypass normal environmental impact analysis to fast-track projects. Projects up to 4.4 square miles (2,800 acres), from things like commercial logging to new road construction, are exempted from project-specific environmental impact analysis and public engagement. Historically, categorical exclusions were limited to activities that would pose an extremely small risk to the environment–repainting a Forest Service building, for example–but have been gradually expanded as a way to avoid NEPA. While we have seen expansion of categorical exclusions in the past, the new rules stand out because of the massive new size and scope of this end-around.

The rules also adopt a new trick to avoid public participation in land management decisions: a “decision of NEPA adequacy,” whereby the Forest Service would rely on previous NEPA analysis in lieu of new review and public engagement. (That’s right: the Forest Service could use a timber sale from the past in the general vicinity of a project to approve a new timber sale without consulting the public.)

11th-hour attacks on our bedrock environmental law are concerning and cannot stand. Cumulatively, the rules silence local community involvement and shortcut the science-based management of public lands.


The Bounty of Tanoaks

Thursday, November 19th, 2020
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For many Americans, winter is associated with ham, eggnog, and pecan pie, but for the Indigenous Peoples of California, winter has traditionally meant acorns.  Since time immemorial, Indigenous Peoples of what we now call California have consumed this nutritious nut.  But don’t try to eat acorns right off the ground.  The tannins within raw acorns make them toxic if consumed raw.  Thousands of years ago, Indigenous women developed an ingenious system for safely preparing acorns which involves pounding them into a meal and then leaching out the tannins with water.  The process produces a semi-sweet soup, mush or bread depending on how it’s prepared.

In our corner of California, the tanoak tree (Notholithocarpus densiflorus) provides much of this bounty.  Tanoak acorns are uniquely suited to meeting people’s needs.  Tanoak acorns have a thicker shell than most other species which makes them more resistant to fungi and insects.  A properly stored tanoak acorn can last for years which makes them the perfect food for lean winter months.  In fact, tanoak acorns were the basis of the pre-colonization Northwest California economy.  Oral histories and firsthand accounts tell us that the Karuk regularly traded tanoak acorns for white deer skins, obsidian, dentalia shells, and sugar pine nuts with neighboring tribes.  Indigenous Peoples of California also use the tanoak acorn for medicinal purposes.  For example, the tannins in the acorn have cough suppressant properties and among the Kashaya Pomo the acorns are used as a natural cough drop.  

A mature tanoak can produce as much as 200 pounds of acorns per year with estimates for the most productive old growth trees ranging as high as 1000 pounds. Indigenous Californians used fire to manipulate vegetation in order to maximize acorn production.  Many old-growth tanoak groves today are the result of meticulous planning by Indigenous Californians hundreds of years ago.  Tanoak acorns are also a staple for animals native to Northwest California.  Many tribes have long chosen to halt the acorn harvest towards the end of November, preferring to leave enough acorns to support the other species with whom they share the land.  Modern researchers have studied how tanoak acorns provide an irreplaceable food source to many species and that without them our forest ecosystems would be severely threatened.  

As Europeans colonized Northwest California, they made a great effort to disrupt Indigenous food practices.  Most directly, European Americans used violence to drive Indigenous Californians away from the best places to harvest acorns.  But a more subtle kind of disruption also occurred.  To European Americans, acorns were only good for hog fodder. And tanoak trees were more valuable after being cut down and used to tan leather.  As the timber industry developed, the value of tanoak in the eyes of the European Americans degraded even further and it became commonly referred to as a “trash tree”.  Government foresters and private landowners regularly employed (and continue to employ) herbicide in order to prevent these trees from taking up space that could be used by more economically valuable softwoods. Despite these challenges, tanoak remains a culturally significant tree to Indigenous Californians.  Actively resisting assimilation, tribal members have continued to harvest acorns even when threatened with violence by European Americans for doing so.  Many tribes continue to celebrate the harvesting of acorns with an annual acorn feast. 

Tanoak tree killed by Sudden Oak Death (Phytophthora ramorum) in southwest Oregon.

Today, a new invasive threat endangers tanoak.  The disease Sudden Oak Death (SOD) was first identified in the Bay Area in 1994.  Researches noticed that some tanoaks were developing cankers which bled profusely before eventually killing the tree.  SOD is caused by the pathogen Phytopthora ramorum which researchers believe originated in Asia.  The disease obstructs a tree’s xylem cells and reduces their water supply until eventually killing its host.   Since its arrival in California, it is estimated that SOD has killed more than 38 million tanoak trees and wreaked havoc on other oak species as well.  

California has convened an Oak Mortality Taskforce to work on solutions to the threat.  Their website www.suddenoakdeath.org/ contains information about how to spot SOD and how to make sure you don’t accidentally spread it.  Hopefully, we can stop the spread of this disease and finally listen to Indigenous Californians about the value of this giving tree.  


California’s Wild Turkeys

Thursday, November 19th, 2020
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Written by EPIC Intern, Clary Greacen Montagne

Brightly colored “Toms” or male turkeys are recognizable by their tail fans and facial wattles. Photo: October Greenfield

The wild turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, is an instantly-recognizable game bird closely associated with the Thanksgiving holiday here in the United States. This species has inhabited North America for over 11 million years, since the end of the Pleistocene era, or Ice Age. Wild turkeys have held a cultural role for peoples across the continent far before the first Thanksgiving celebration. Turkeys were revered in ancient Aztec civilizations as the manifestation of the trickster god Tezcatlipoca, and their feathers were used for spiritual practices and to adorn jewelry and clothing. The Navajo people may have been among the first people to domesticate wild turkeys, and they remained an important food source across North America throughout history. 

Prior to European colonization of North America, more than ten million wild turkeys roamed the continent, but by the turn of the twentieth century, wild turkeys were at the brink of extinction. Four hundred years of westward expansion and the overhunting, deforestation, and resource extraction that came with it left the population decimated. Today, due to conservation and reintroduction efforts, wild turkeys populations have rebounded to around seven million, and they inhabit about 18% of the state of California. While this successful reintroduction has often been deemed a conservation success story, there is debate over their place in California’s ecosystems. 

National symbol: bald eagle or wild turkey?
In 1776, Benjamin Franklin proposed the wild turkey as a national symbol, considering the proud, adaptable turkey to be more respectable and noble than the bald eagle, which often steals food or feasts on carrion. In the end, the bald eagle won out. Photo: Chris Stevenson

There are six distinct subspecies of Meleagris gallopovo; the eastern wild turkey, Florida wild turkey, Gould’s wild turkey, Merriam’s wild turkey, Rio Grande turkey, and Mexican wild turkey. The Rio Grande subspecies is the most widespread and is not native to California. Bones from a species of wild turkey once native to California, Meleagris californica, have been found in the La Brea tar pits in southern California, but this species has been extinct for thousands of years. From the 1950s through the end of the twentieth century, the California Fish and Game Commission (now the California Department of Fish and Wildlife,) imported thousands of non-native Rio Grande wild turkeys to California, releasing them in over 200 locations throughout the state. The turkeys quickly adapted and can now be found living everywhere from oak savannas to the Sacramento suburbs. 

With well-established populations, wild turkeys remain a highly valued upland game bird, but they may be having a negative impact upon California ecosystems. The California State Department of Parks and Recreation in 2007 identified wild turkeys as having the following potential negative impacts: competition with native ground-dwelling bird species, contribution to the spread of the sudden oak death disease, and consumption of endangered reptiles and amphibians. Wild turkeys are generalist feeders, meaning they eat a variety of plants, seeds, and small animals, creating competition for a variety of native species. A short-term study conducted in 2001 at a reserve in Sonoma County showed that turkeys directly caused an increase in soil disturbance and a decrease in terrestrial herbivores, decomposers, and invertebrates fundamental to the ecosystem. More research and long-term studies of wild turkeys in California are needed to fully understand their effects upon the environment, but interest and funding are both scarce. 

For now, population management falls to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which encourages hunting of wild turkeys where safe and legal. Currently, wild turkey populations are not increasing at a rate to elicit major environmental concerns, but overpopulation could become an issue in the future.


Wolf Coalition Launches Challenge To Nationwide Wolf Delisting

Wednesday, November 11th, 2020
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On Friday, Nov. 6, EPIC and a coalition of Western wolf advocates filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, launching a challenge of the agency’s decision to prematurely strip wolves of federal protections in the contiguous 48 states, in violation of the Endangered Species Act. This notice starts a 60-day clock, after which the groups will file a lawsuit in federal court.

“California’s wolves are just starting to return home, having been driven out of the state by 1924,” said Tom Wheeler, Executive Director at the Environmental Protection Information Center. “A politically-driven delisting puts wolf recovery in California at jeopardy by stripping protections at the moment they are needed most.”

The most recent data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its state partners show an estimated 4,400 wolves inhabit the western Great Lakes states, but only 108 wolves in Washington state, 158 in Oregon, and a scant 15 in California. Nevada, Utah, and Colorado have had a few wolf sightings over the past three years, but wolves remain functionally extirpated in these states. These numbers lay the groundwork for a legal challenge planned by a coalition of Western conservation groups.

“Wolves are a keystone species whose presence on landscapes regulates animal populations and improves ecosystem health – something the Service has acknowledged for at least 44 years,” said Kelly Nokes, an attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “Allowing people to kill wolves in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana has already stunted recovery in those states. Applying this same death sentence to wolves throughout the contiguous U.S., would nationalize these negative effects, with potentially catastrophic ripple effects on ecosystems wherever wolves are found today.”

In delisting wolves, the Service ignores the science showing they are not recovered in the West. The Service concluded that because in its belief there are sufficient wolves in the Great Lakes states, it does not matter that wolves in the West are not yet recovered. The ESA demands more, including restoring the species in the ample suitable habitats afforded by the wild public lands throughout the West. Indeed, wolves are listed as endangered under state laws in Washington and California, and wolves only occupy a small portion of available, suitable habitat in Oregon. Likewise, wolves also remain absent across vast swaths of their historical, wild, public lands habitat in the West, including in Colorado and the southern Rockies.


Are You A North Coast Co-op Member? Vote For EPIC By Nov. 19th!

Wednesday, November 11th, 2020
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EPIC is one out of twenty-seven local, nonprofit organizations that applied and qualified to be part of the Co-op’s Seeds for Change Round-up Program. There are eight openings for 2021. If you are a member of the North Coast Co-op, it’s time for you to help choose the EIGHT you most want to support and we hope EPIC will be one of them! The organizations selected by the membership will get a spot in the program and will be announced in December.

Seeds for Change is a community-giving opportunity that allows customers to ‘round up’ their Co-op purchases to the nearest dollar. We take those extra cents and give them directly to local organizations that are doing important work to better our community. A different nonprofit organization is selected to benefit from the round ups each month. 

Vote before 9:00 PM on November 19th:

Online: www.northcoast.coop/vote

In-store: Ballots available at both Co-op locations

Please vote for EPIC today!


Thank You For An EPIC Virtual Fall Celebration!

Wednesday, November 11th, 2020
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Much like the willow tree, everyone this year has had to be flexible and bend to the strange winds we have been dealt. We weren’t sure how it would go having our Annual Fall Celebration––usually a raucous yet cozy affair with live bands and a full bar–– completely virtual. Yet, we bent and improvised and reassessed. Luckily, we found that we were able to offer much of what we usually have at our Fall Celebration. We had an online auction, two options for catered meal pick-ups, and a Zoom event complete with a Sempervirens Award celebrating the incredible life of Eileen Cooper, live performances from Casey Neill and Joanne Rand, and a Q&A with Congressman Jared Huffman. While we truly missed dancing and toasting in person, we were absolutely overtaken with how fun this year’s event still was. 

Thanks to Joanne Rand for your ballads.

This would not have been possible without the help of many hands and our extraordinary community. We want to extend our extreme gratitude first to our volunteers. For getting the word out, we are so thankful to our social media guru and intern, Clary Montagne Greacen, who kept the ball rolling for our social media accounts. We are also super thankful to Jenna Catsos of Pen & Pine who created the beautiful graphic for our Fall Celebration poster (which is now a rad EPIC sticker that you can purchase!).
On the radio, special thanks to Lauren Schmitt, Tanya Horlick, and Duff on KMUD for making sure the Southern Humboldt crowd heard about the event! On the ground, we want to thank Rob DiPerna, Dian Griffith, Bente Janssen, and Tanya Horlick for making the rounds with posters. 

For our catered meals, special thanks to Chef Natalia Boyce and Edward Hunter who prepared the delicious meal for our Northern Humboldt friends with bounty from Luna Farm, Jacoby Creek Land Trust, Cypress Grove, and Little River Farm. And in Southern Humboldt, huge thanks to the Mateel Community Center and the wonderful Babette Bach and Moses Danzer from Barbeque to You for creating a tasty fall meal with support from Chautauqua Natural Foods, North Bay Shellfish, Tree Nug Farms, and Mycality Mushrooms. Volunteers who braved the frost and rain to make the catered meal pick-up possible include Ann Wallace, Lauren Schmitt, Duff, Emily Ficklin-Wood, Adam, Nicole, and the awesome Rob DiPerna. 

Thanks to Casey Neill for a great performance!

For our silent auction: Gisèle Albertine and her partner Nancy Noll, Josefina Barrantes, Nathan Madsen, Tony Silvaggio, Destiny Preston, and Judith Mayer all helped to create an incredible array of items and getaways for you all to bid on by asking businesses far and wide for their support. We are also especially grateful for the many businesses, artists, and sponsors that made this event financially possible for us and helped our fundraising efforts be a reality after a summer of no events. 

We also want to extend our thanks to our Del Norte community who came together to help make the Sempervirens Award for Eileen Cooper a beautiful tribute. Because of our roots in Southern Humboldt, we have honored many of the great activists of that area with the award. Eileen is our first recipient from Del Norte County and sadly, she passed only a week away from the Celebration. However, of course, the award pales in comparison to the legacy that Eileen has left for Del Norte County.

Before she passed, Eileen helped to establish the EPIC Del Norte Chapter. The Chapter helps to empower local activists in Del Norte County and to be a louder, prouder voice for the environment. Eileen seeded the Chapter with an endowment to keep folks working on behalf of Del Norte County. This endowment is managed by the Humboldt Area Foundation. It will ensure that work is always funded in Del Norte County, and the larger the initial capital for the endowment, the more we can do year-in and year-out in the county. If you are interested in donating to the EPIC Del Norte Fund, please click on this link. All money in the Del Norte Fund goes to EPIC work in the county.

A video of Eileen Cooper singing at a town hall was played in her memory.

Lastly, we want to thank all of our supporters and members, the main reason and possibility behind our celebration and organization. What a year! We hope you were all able to participate in some form for our annual Fall Celebration reunion of our members, supporters, and friends. If we forgot anyone in this thank you, please let us know so we can correct our error. If you have any questions or grievances overall about the event, please contact [email protected].

  

 


The 2020 Election: Environmental Implications

Tuesday, November 10th, 2020
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Although votes are still being counted, it appears that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be our next President and Vice-President. It is likely that they will serve over a divided government, with the Republican Party likely to retain control of the Senate and the Democratic Party will to maintain a majority in the House of Representatives. (Note, it is possible that the Democratic Party could win both run-off elections in Georgia, effectively giving them control of the Senate too.) This swing of power has major implications for federal environmental law and application. 

Young Sequoia grows post-fire. Photo by Matt Holly, National Park Service.

Rolling Back the Trump Era:

To be blunt: the past four years of the Trump Administration have been bad for the environment, and particularly bad for our climate crisis. But it could have been much, much worse. First, to federal environmental law, Trump failed to land a major legislative rollback of federal environmental law. The first two years of the Presidency, a lack of unified vision within the Republican Party and record turnover of political appointees stalled legislative movement and after the 2018 midterms, Democratic control of the House thwarted major legislative changes. Instead, the Trump administration had to rely on rulemaking and executive orders to change the interpretation of existing environmental law. Thankfully, much of this can be undone in the first years of a Biden administration. Executive orders can be undone most immediately and rulemaking can be reversed, although this will take more effort and time to get rules through following the appropriate process (which shouldn’t be avoided, lest we get these rules invalidated by a rushed error). 

The Trump era was also marked by a lack of enforcement of environmental laws. More vigorous enforcement can be expected by a new administration, particularly once political appointees are filed for the various agencies. Enforcement is also moderated by the budgets approved by Congress. This is an unknown moving forward.

The most lasting damage was done to the judiciary. This will be the hardest to fix. Obama notably was able to push through very few federal judges in his last years, thanks to obstructionism in the Senate. This gave Trump more seats with which to fill. Republican control of the Senate, the loss of the filibuster for judicial appointments, and a prioritization of appointing judicial nominees by Senator Majority Leader McConnell means that Trump has radically reshaped the judiciary. (For example, Trump was able to appoint ten judges to the purportedly “liberal” Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in four years; Obama was able to appoint seven judges in eight years.) With a court more ideologically opposed to federal environmental law, we might see the lingering effects of the Trump administration for decades to come.

We also lost four years of action on climate change. The Trump administration fairly well neutered government action to minimize greenhouse gas emissions and expanded federal drilling for the past four years. The total effect of all this was offset in part by unforced changes in the economy, such as the reduction in coal production, that resulted in relative greenhouse gas emission reductions in 2019. (Strangely enough, Trump’s actions may have helped the environment, although not as intended, as France refused to purchase liquid natural gas from the United States because Trump reversed the Obama-era rule limiting methane emissions. Hoisted by his own petard!) Still, May 2020 set the high-water mark for carbon concentrations, at 417 parts per million. Scientists warn that global carbon dioxide saturation levels in the atmosphere above 400 ppm makes it far more difficult to arrest global warming below 2 degrees celsius. There is a lingering effect to this inaction as well. Cars, for example, that were not required to have as robust of fuel economy standards under Trump will continue to be on the road for many years. The carbon dioxide that was emitted but could have been avoided will hang around the atmosphere for 20-1,000 years.

Federal Legislation Affecting the North Coast:

The North Coast has its eyes on the PUBLIC Lands Act, the large Wilderness bill proposed by Representative Jared Huffman and co-sponsored in the Senate by Senator Harris. The bill successfully passed out of the House twice, where it has stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. It is unclear whether it will continue to flounder in the Senate or whether Vice President Harris will be able to exercise greater pressure to get the bill through. We at EPIC are optimistic at its chances. 

EPIC has also been watching dueling federal fire response bills, one from Senator Harris (S. 2882) and the other from Senator Feinstein (S. 4431). In our view, Sen. Harris’ bill, which considers community wildfire protection holistically and provides communities with funding to implement safety measures tailored to their communities is worlds better than Sen. Feinstein’s, which is focused almost exclusively on logging as a solution.