Biodiversity

New Rodenticide Law – A Win For Wildlife

Tuesday, October 6th, 2020
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On September 29th, Governor Newsom signed into law AB 1788, the California Ecosystems Protection Act, which prohibits the use of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs) until the Department of Pesticide Regulation completes a reevaluation and adopts additional restrictions necessary to ensure that use of rodenticides will not result in significant adverse effects to nontarget wildlife.

Rodenticide use often leads to a domino ‘death’ effect in nontarget wildlife: when small mammals such as mice, squirrels, rats, and rabbits are targeted, their poisoned bodies are often then eaten by larger animals such as foxes, bobcats, raccoons, cougars, and many large predatory birds where the poison is then secondarily ingested with a negative and often deadly effect. 

As well, data from state pesticide regulators and the federal Environmental Protection Agency document that approximately 15,000 children under age six are accidentally exposed to rat poisons each year across the country. The EPA says children in low-income families are disproportionately exposed to the poisons. Thousands of incidents of pets being poisoned by rodenticides have been reported, many resulting in serious injury or death.

Anticoagulant rodenticides interfere with blood clotting, resulting in uncontrollable bleeding that leads to death. Second-generation anticoagulants — including brodifacoum, bromadiolone, difethialone and difenacoum — are especially hazardous and persist for a long time in body tissues. These slow-acting poisons are often eaten for several days by rats and mice, causing the toxins to accumulate at many times the lethal dose in their tissues, which subsequently results in the poisoning of animals that feed on their carcasses. 

As a result, these powerful poisons have their greatest impact on wildlife. The exposure and harm to wildlife from rodenticides is widespread. Poisonings have been documented in at least 25 wildlife species in California alone, including: San Joaquin kit foxes, Pacific fishers, golden eagles, bobcats, mountain lions, black bears, coyotes, gray foxes, red foxes, Cooper’s hawks, red-shouldered hawks, red-tailed hawks, kestrels, barn owls, great horned owls, long-eared owls, western screech owls, spotted owls, Swainson’s hawks, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, opossums, turkey vultures and crows.

In 2014 regulations were put into place to ban over the counter consumer sales and use of SGARs restricting use to certified pesticide applicators. However, between 2014 and 2018, the Department of Fish and Wildlife found SGARs in over 90 percent mountain lions, 85 percent of Pacific fishers, 70 percent of northern spotted owls, and 88 percent of bobcats that were tested, showing that the 2014 pesticide ban was not proven to be effective. 

The law does provides exemptions for agricultural activities, public health activities, invasive species on offshore islands, scientific studies, or to control rodent infestations associated with public health needs in certain locations and under specified conditions. The bill declares violation of new law is a misdemeanor. Essentially, AB 1788 will prohibit the use of these deadly poisons in California, with some exceptions, until a definitive study is conducted to examine the effects of the poison, which could take years. In the meantime, misdemeanor penalties will be applied if the law is violated. We hope that this law will be effective in protecting the lives of wildlife in the years to come. 


Stop the Salvage Logging of Post-Fire Forests

Monday, September 21st, 2020
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Post-fire logged area

Written by Clary Greacen Montagne

Get ready, because a massive timber-industry push will begin shortly to “recover” the timber “lost” from fire-killed trees. Post-fire logging, euphemistically referred to as “salvage logging,” is the practice of cutting and removing both live and dead or damaged trees following a large-scale natural disturbance to a forest like wildfire, floods, or insect kills. Post-fire logging is sold as a way to recover at least some of the economic value of timber the trees can be made into. But, while private timber companies do profit from the cheap raw materials logging provides, the costs to the public and to our forests are immense. Not only is it an economic ripoff, post-fire logging is also an ecologically disastrous practice that does not protect us or forests. As we face the effects of a changing climate, including more intense wildfire across the west, it is essential that we invest our limited resources into programs that will both increase wildfire resilience and protect habitat.

Timber interests seek to justify post-fire logging with the belief that standing dead trees simply “go to waste.” In fact, post-fire forests are some of the rarest and most important habitats in western forests. Wildfire has played a role in the forests of the west for hundreds of millions of years, and dead trees are an essential component of a healthy forest ecosystem. Standing damaged and dead trees, or snags, form important habitat for a variety of species, such as the black-backed woodpecker and the spotted owl. Trees that survive wildfire are critical seed sources. If these survivors are immediately logged, there is no opportunity for the forest to recover on its own. Dead treefall boosts soil fertility by bringing less-weathered soil up to the surface, where fallen logs and root mounds then provide places for trees and other plants to sprout. By removing dead and damaged trees and compacting soils, post-fire logging prevents the natural recovery process of a forest ecosystem. 

New plant life blossoming in a post-fire landscape.

Beyond the apparent environmental consequences, post-fire logging is a huge waste of taxpayer money for the benefit of private timber companies. One recent example, the 2016 Westside Salvage Project in the Klamath National Forest, shows how post-fire logging projects often end up costing much more in restoration than they could ever provide in timber revenues. In its planning documents, the Forest Service projected that the project would sell for ten million dollars. But, after timber corporations paid only $475,000 to log 13,000 acres in the heart of the Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion, the KNF’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) listed restoration costs at $27,487,000. While the KNF made a $475,000 profit, taxpayers were responsible for restoration costs, with twenty-seven and a half million dollars needed in order to replant 8,000 acres of forest, clean up logging slash, and implement fuels reduction treatments on another 27,000 acres. Without further funding, natural recovery has been impeded over thousands of acres, loss of soil stability means greater potential for landslides, and the area is at increased risk of severe fire. Not only did the Westside Project create conditions for worse wildfire, it also didn’t pay for its own fuels reduction costs, the entire premise of the project. Meanwhile, taxpayers are on the hook for millions of dollars to address the environmental impacts of the project. Read more about the Westside Rip-Off at our previous blog post here

Western forest ecosystems depend on natural fire in myriad ways. Post-fire logging often undoes the benefits of fire while creating conditions for more intense and destructive fires. With the complete disruption of a post-fire ecosystem’s natural recovery process, it’s the opposite of what we need to do most: maintain the integrity of forests while defending human lives and “hardening” structures, as well as implement treatments such as intentional, prescribed fire near at-risk communities. Plantation forestry used with the “restoration” of post-fire logging clearcuts is fundamentally incompatible with healthy forests. By disrupting the natural cycle of recovery, it creates highly flammable conditions for decades to come. As fire season in the west grows longer, drier, hotter, and more destructive, we must realize that when striving to manage a fire-adapted landscape, post-fire logging makes very little sense. 

In the face of a changing climate, we must do everything we can to protect and restore our forests and return to a natural cycle of wildfire. This means changing the way we think about fire and forest management. EPIC encourages the incorporation of the traditional ecological knowledge of the region’s indigenous peoples alongside a new scientific approach to wildfire management, including prescribed burning and selective thinning. We know that a dramatic increase in forest protection is essential in addressing climate change, and we cannot allow destructive practices like salvage logging to proceed unchallenged. We must value forests for their ecological role more than we value them as a site for resource extraction and economic revenue. 


Victory! Old-Growth Redwood Saved from Caltrans Project

Tuesday, September 8th, 2020
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By Josefina Barrantes

In response to our previous post about the old-growth redwood at risk of removal through a Caltrans project, Caltrans has reached out and decided to modify their project’s plans to be more mindful of the environment in the surrounding area of their proposed project. Before this intervention, their project titled “HUM-36 Three Bridges Project” was set out to rebuild a bridge that went over Hely Creek at Van Duzen County Park. 

The original plans for the Hely Creek bridge would have negatively altered a half-acre of the forest, a six-foot-wide old-growth redwood, other large trees along with their root systems, as well as pruning sacred old-growth redwoods. We are pleased to announce that the liaison between Caltrans and EPIC informed us that they will now be cutting their previous 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. 

In addition to this, their plans that had previously set out to impact the root zones of another large redwood tree have been altered so that a temporary access road will not be intruding on them. In response to stakeholder input Caltrans has modified its project of replacing a 93-year-old bridge on State Route 36 so that it is accessible to standard California legal trucks, without harming our first line of defense against climate change– old-growth trees. Thank you to all who submitted comments on behalf of preserving this incredible redwood!


BREAKING: Humboldt Martens Receive Long-Awaited Endangered Species Act Protection

Tuesday, September 1st, 2020
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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the Humboldt marten will receive protection as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The decision comes after EPIC and the Center for Biological Diversity sued the Trump administration for its long delay in finalizing protections for this rare species.

Humboldt martens are an elusive, cat-sized member of the weasel family. Once common in coastal forests in northern California and southern Oregon, the population was decimated by unchecked trapping and logging of its habitat. Today, fewer than 400 of these fascinating carnivores remain in four highly isolated fragments of the species’ historic habitat.

“It’s about time Humboldt martens got the protections they so desperately need,” said Quinn Read, Oregon policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We are perilously close to losing this incredible species forever. These protections provide a pathway to recovery, and we’ll do everything we can to hold the Trump administration accountable to its responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act.”

The protections announced this week come 10 years after EPIC and the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to list the Humboldt marten as a protected species under the Endangered Species Act. In its final determination, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognized that Humboldt martens remain at grave risk from ongoing habitat loss and fragmentation due to unchecked logging and the increased frequency of wildfires.

“It is unfortunate that critical habitat for these rare forest denizens will be delayed. Protecting landscape connectivity and intact mature forests should be a priority,” said Kimberly Baker, EPIC’s public land advocate. “It is especially frustrating knowing that a great amount of time and money has been spent on research, which has already determined vital habitat areas needed to help ensure their survival.”

Photo by Mark Linnell, U.S.Forest Service.

Unfortunately the Fish and Wildlife Service undercut some of the protections for Humboldt martens in today’s designation by including an array of broad and vague exemptions for forest management activities. The Service also stopped short of designating critical habitat for the species, opting instead to conduct an economic analysis on an undetermined timeline.

Background

The EPIC and the Center petitioned to list the Humboldt marten as a protected species under the Endangered Species Act in 2010, but the Service caved to pressure from the timber industry and issued a negative decision in 2015. The groups successfully challenged that decision, and a federal judge ordered the agency to reevaluate the marten’s status.

The Service subsequently announced its proposal to list the marten as a threatened species in October 2018. That decision triggered a deadline for a final listing by October 2019, but after failing to act, the Center and EPIC filed suit to require the agency to finalize protections.

Martens are threatened by the ongoing logging of mature forests, loss of closed-canopy habitat to wildfires, rodent poison used in marijuana cultivation, and vehicle strikes. California banned trapping of Humboldt martens in the 1940s, but Oregon did not follow suit until 2019 after a petition and lawsuit from conservation groups. The animals have been wiped out from 93% of their historic range.

Martens have triangular ears and a bushy tail, and are related to minks and otters. They grow up to 2 feet long but weigh less than 3 pounds and must eat a quarter of their body weight daily to keep up with their high metabolism. Martens eat small mammals, birds, berries, reptiles and insects, and are eaten by larger mammals and raptors.

See Full Press Release Here.


Action Alert: Tell Warren Buffett to Move Forward With Klamath Dam Removal Agreement

Saturday, August 22nd, 2020
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Four dams on the Klamath River have had devastating consequences for the environment, imperiled salmon, river communities and tribal people who have subsisted off of salmon since time immemorial. For over 20 years stakeholders have worked together in an agreement that would remove the dams and restore the Klamath River in what would be the largest river restoration project in history.

Billionaire Warren Buffet’s company Berkshire Hathoway and its subsidiary PacifiCorp has the opportunity to move forward with dam removal, and has collected hundreds of millions of dollars from shareholders and tax payers to protect its customers and shareholders for the purpose of dam removal, but now the company is threatening to back out of the dam removal agreement.

Please take action to sign a petition urging Warren Buffett, his company Berkshire Hathoway and its subsidiary, PacifiCorp to move forward with Klamath dam removal.


Wolf Update: California’s Lassen Pack Grows

Monday, August 10th, 2020
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Female gray wolf after being fitted with a satellite tracking collar in Lassen County, June 2020. Photo by CDFW

The Lassen Pack has had a fourth consecutive litter of pups. California’s only known gray wolf family welcomes a minimum of eight new pups this year. Genetic testing revealed there were at least four males and two females. 

A new breeding male replaces OR-7’s son, who has not been documented since the spring of last year. The newcomer is a black wolf who was first seen with the pack last summer. His origin is currently unknown, however he is unrelated to any other known California wolves. 

Two of the Lassen Pack members have been fitted with radio collars: LAS01F, the packs alpha female; and a yearling male, LAS03M. In September of 2019 a female pup was captured and collared, however the collar did not remain functional. There are no other wolves in the state being tracked with GPS. 

The pack now consists of a minimum of six adults and yearlings, which brings the pack to at least fourteen wolves. Not including this year, the past three litters combined totaled thirteen pups, though not all survived. While it could be assumed that at least some of these animals may be dispersing throughout the state, there is no known documentation as to their whereabouts.

California gray wolves are currently protected under both the state and federal Endangered Species Act. However, this administration has proposed to end federal protections and remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list. A decision by the US Fish and Wildlife Service is expected this year and will be met with great opposition should the decision be unfavorable to wolves.

 


BREAKING: EPIC Win For Mendocino National Forest at the Ninth Circuit!

Monday, August 3rd, 2020
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In a major victory, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has sided with EPIC in a case impacting the Mendocino National Forest. The court found that the Forest Service’s use of a “categorical exclusion” to avoid an environmental impact assessment for a timber sale following the 2018 Ranch Fire was likely a violation of the law and that EPIC should have been awarded an injunction by the lower court to stop logging. The Ninth Circuit’s decision is available here. For more on this case, check out some of our past blog posts here and here.

In 2018, the Ranch Fire burnt a significant portion of the Mendocino National Forest. In response, the Mendocino National Forest authorized a series of commercial timber sales near roads within the forest. To avoid environmental review required by NEPA, the Mendocino National Forest attempted to shove these timber sales under a “categorical exclusion” to the ordinary requirements to prepare a document. Although a categorical exclusion for post-fire timber operations existed, the Forest Service did not employ this exclusion because they would be limited in the total acreage they could log. Instead, the Forest Service employed a different, ill-fitting categorical exclusion that allowed for “[r]epair and maintenance of road” including “[p]runing vegetation” to authorize these timber sales. 

EPIC challenged this project and sought an injunction to ongoing timber operations. The Northern District of California denied EPIC’s injunction and we appealed (with an oral argument by Zoom and livestreamed to Youtube) to the Ninth Circuit. Ultimately, the Ninth Circuit sided with EPIC, with a 2-1 decision finding that EPIC should have been awarded its injunction. The Court ultimately found that “Under no reasonable interpretation of its language does the Project come within the [categorical exclusion] for ‘repair and maintenance’ of roads.” 

With simple math, the Ninth Circuit exposed the pretextual nature of the Mendocino National Forest’s use of the categorical exclusion. In many areas, the court noted, the average tree height was only 100 feet, yet the National Forest established a once-size-fits-all prescription allowing for the logging up to 200 feet on either side of the road, and thus the project would allow targeting trees that posed no risk to road users.

This ruling has big implications for our National Forests moving forward. Under the Trump Administration, EPIC has seen a widespread abuse of the rejected faulty logic to log without environmental review or public participation.

What’s next? The case is remanded back to the Northern District Court for further proceedings consistent with the Ninth Circuit’s decision. We will update you when we know more. 

EPIC is able to bring litigation like this because of members like you. A donation is deeply appreciated.

View the full Press Release here


Opening Brief Filed in Case to Save Humboldt Marten

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020
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EPIC Challenges Take Permit Issued to Green Diamond

In late May, EPIC submitted an opening brief in the case to overturn a permit that threatens California’s last remaining Humboldt martens. Read it here. With fewer than 200 likely in the state, the marten is teetering on the edge of extinction. Necessary to the long-term survival of the species is to connect the largest population of martens, found on Six Rivers National Forest in Del Norte County, to prime habitat in the Redwood National and State Parks complex to the southwest. Standing in the way is Green Diamond, which owns the majority of this area.

Green Diamond clearcut along Redwood National Park border

Green Diamond’s clearcut-heavy management is antithetical to the needs of the Humboldt marten. Martens require mature forests and thick layer of herbaceous undergrowth to slink through the forest undetected by predators. Clearcutting destroys this undergrowth and leaves martens exposed. Clearcutting also provides prime habitat for the marten’s number one predator, bobcats, whose populations explode because of the woodrats and rabbits that enjoy clearcuts. With so many bobcats present, Green Diamond’s lands become uninhabitable for martens and, where clearcuts are near occupied marten habitat, bobcats begin to tread further into these occupied areas. That’s why it is curious that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife gave the company a free pass to “take” martens through their management.

As we’ve previously recounted, through funny math and a promise to relocate martens, Green Diamond convinced higher ups at the Department to issue a permit. And as we’ve now discovered through Public Records Act requests and through litigation, the actual scientists who work closely with Green Diamond were aghast—one writing that “this [Safe Harbor Agreement] sounds absolutely Orwellian” and that the permit “will, as a whole, actually be harmful.” Political interference to benefit a powerful timber company and plodding through the objections of staff scientists is something that we’ve come to expect from the Trump administration, not California’s wildlife agency.

The case is being heard in Humboldt County Superior Court by Judge Kelly Neel.

EPIC would like to extend a special thanks to our excellent attorneys, Marie Logan and Greg Loarie, of Earthjustice for representing us and our friends at the Center for Biological Diversity, who are our co-plaintiffs in the case. #TeamMarten

 


Klamath-Siskiyou Pacific Fishers Denied Protections by US Fish and Wildlife Service

Tuesday, May 19th, 2020
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Photo by USFWS Pacific Southwest Region

After acknowledging in 2019 that Pacific Fishers are threatened with extinction by a combination of logging, rodenticide poison use by marijuana growers, climate change and forest fire the US Fish and Wildlife Service once again reversed course and denied protections for most Fishers while only listing a small subset of the species as threatened in the southern Sierra Mountain Range. Remnant fisher populations in southern Oregon and Northern California remain unprotected.

Conservation groups petitioned to list the Pacific fisher in 2000. In 2004, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a rule finding that listing was warranted but did not finalize listing. Conservation groups sued in 2010 to force the Service to complete the listing process. Again, the Service proposed federal protection for the fisher in 2014, but then arbitrarily withdrew the proposal in 2016. Conservation organizations then filed suit alleging that the denial ignored the science in a politically motivated bow to the timber industry. As the result of today’s rule, the Service again put politics over science and ignored its own recommendations to protect Pacific fishers in the Klamath-Siskiyous.

A relative of minks and otters, Pacific fishers once roamed from British Columbia to Southern California. They have few natural predators, and are one of the only animals able to prey on porcupines. But due to intense logging and historical trapping, only two naturally occurring populations remain today: a population of 100 to 500 fisher in the southern Sierra Nevada and a population of between 250 and a few thousand in southern Oregon and Northern California. In a 2015 study, scientists conducting necropsies on fishers found that 85 percent had been exposed to rodent poison.

“Protection can’t come soon enough for the fisher because old-growth timber sales continue to whittle away habitat the species needs if it is to recover and thrive,” said George Sexton, conservation director for the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild). “Southern Oregon should be a key refuge for the fisher, yet the Fish and Wildlife Service refuses to protect this population at the same time that the BLM is ramping up clearcutting of Fisher habitat.”

“Saving fishers will require better habitat protections,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center. “We both need to maintain more old, large trees and snags and make sure our forests are free from rodenticides. Over 85% of fishers have tested positive for rodenticide exposure. Fishers are our indicator that something is deeply wrong in California’s forests. The Service has thrown the needs of the fisher under the bus by ignoring the needs of the southern Oregon and northern California population.”

See full Press Release here.

 


EPIC Files Lawsuit to Defend Old-Growth In Klamath National Forest

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020
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View from Crawford project area looking over the Klamath River watershed into Marble Mountain Wilderness.

 

Last Friday, EPIC and allies filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Klamath National Forests Crawford Timber Sale project. The project is located 15 miles southwest of the town Happy Camp and north of Dillion Creek, a salmon stronghold of the Klamath River. It proposes logging the forest canopy down to 30% in over 250 acres of mature and old-growth forests.

Mature forest stand. All trees in this photo without orange paint are proposed for logging.

The virgin forest in the Crawford Timber Sale is just outside the Siskiyou Roadless Area and provides an important wildlife corridor between the Siskiyou and Marble Mountain Wilderness Areas. Serving as Critical Habitat for the imperiled northern spotted owl the project area is home to two of the few reproductive owl pairs remaining on the Klamath National Forest. The Crawford timber sale would result in the “take” of these surviving pairs and would remove and degrade over 350 acres of Critical Habitat.

Old-growth Douglas fir 5 foot in diameter located in Northern spotted owl critical habitat and home range that is proposed for cutting.

The lawsuit focuses on three major claims: the agencies failure to comply with it’s own Forest Plan for the protection and recovery of northern spotted owls, especially reproductive pairs; failure to protect the Pacific fisher, which would lose 225 acres of habitat; and the failure to prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement, which is required when a major federal action may significantly affect the quality of the environment.

EPIC is joined by the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Klamath Forest Alliance and is represented by Meriel L. Darzen and Oliver Stiefel of the Crag Law Center.

If you love the denizens who rely on dense forest canopy cover for survival, like the Pacific fisher, please donate today and help support the defense of old-growth forests.

To carry out this legal challenge to preserve owl habitat, clean water, fire resilient landscapes and our right to participate in public land management decisions, we need to raise substantial funding. Please help us see this case through by making a substantial donation today.


Fish and Wildlife Service Sides with Timber Industry Over Owl Habitat

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020
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Spotted Owl. Photo by US Forest Service.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has sided with the timber industry, placing millions of acres of northern spotted critical habitat at risk, in a shady backroom deal unveiled earlier this month. Under the terms of this settlement, the Service has agreed to revisit their existing critical habitat rule by July 15, 2020 and finalize a new critical habitat rule by December 23, 2020. At risk is 9.5 million acres of habitat that the Service had previously decided was necessary for the recovery of the northern spotted owl. The story of how we arrived here is a helpful illustration of the ways that the Trump Administration has worked in lockstep with major extractive industries, including Big Timber.

The Service approved a critical habitat for the northern spotted owl in 2012. The habitat it designated represented that, which by the law, constituted those areas “essential to the conservation of the species” and was selected only on the basis of the best available science. Soon after the rule was approved, Big Timber challenged. Environmental groups sought to intervene in the lawsuit, arguing that we had an important interest in the litigation and that the federal government did not adequately protect our interest. Intervention was denied because, as the federal judge then found, the federal government supported the critical habitat rule and our groups therefore did not have a fundamentally different position from the federal government.

Then the Trump Administration happened. Despite briefing on the case being complete (and thus the case was ready for a judge to decide on the merits) the government caved: On April 13, in a settlement agreement filed with the court, the Service and the timber industry announced that the Service would re-do the critical habitat designation.

During the Obama Administration, anti-environmental forces claimed a grand conspiracy that enviros would sue and the agency would settle in favor of the environmental side. When Scott Pruitt was head of the Environmental Protection Agency (before he was “retired” under a cloud of ethics investigations), he famously declared that the agency would not settle any case with public interest groups. Now it is clear who is getting the favorable treatment in D.C.: Big Timber.

EPIC has been working to increase protections for the northern spotted owl, only to be hamstrung by delays and inaction. In 2012, EPIC petitioned the Service to “uplist” the owl from “threatened” to “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. The Service has since missed numerous deadlines to complete their evaluation of our petition, forcing EPIC to send the Service a letter threatening to sue in January 2020.

The owl hangs in the balance. Population modeling suggests less than 50 years before the owl is extinct in the wild, a product of the combined pressure of habitat loss from logging and competition from the barred owl. Political games and backroom deals can now be added to the list of threats facing the northern spotted owl.


The Legacy of OR-7

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020
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OR-7 Remote camera photo taken on May 3, 2014 (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

OR-7 captured the hearts of millions. He is the ambassador of wolf recovery in California. Born of the Imnaha pack in the Wallowa Mountains of northeastern Oregon in 2009, the young wolf was caught and fitted with a GPS collar in 2011 and soon set out to find a territory of his own. He was the first confirmed gray wolf in the golden state in nearly a century and has since sired many of the wolves that have traveled to California.

For three years he traversed thousands of miles between the two states, as many watched his epic journey, which he was affectionately named. Alas, in 2014, Journey met his mate and by spring they had pups in the Rogue River- Siskiyou National Forest. Settling down in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, the Rogue Pack had multiple litters. 

California’s Lassen Pack alpha male, CA08M, is the son of OR-7. The pack has had three litters and at least 12 pups since 2017. The presence of CA08M has not been confirmed since spring 2019, and in late spring the breeding female was detected with a black male wolf. 

CA10F, a female gray wolf, left tracks and scat in Siskiyou County in 2017. Genetic testing determined she was born into the Rogue pack in 2014 and a littermate to CA08M. Her current whereabouts are unknown. 

Photo of OR-54 when she was 1.5 years old. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

OR-54, Journeys daughter born in 2016, searched over 8,000 miles to find a mate. She spent two summers in Sierra County, traveled all the way down to Lake Tahoe and even stepped into Nevada before she was found dead in Shasta County in February of this year. Her death is under investigation but hopefully her siblings, wherever they all may be, share the same tenacity.  

This spring there is no evidence of Rogue Pack pups and there was no sighting of OR-7 in the winter count, although his pack remains. His collar stopped working five years ago so there is no way to trace his location. He may still be alive, as many wolves will leave their pack at the end of their days to go it alone. However, 11 years old is a long life for a gray wolf as the life expectancy is 6-8 years. Either way, OR-7 is an icon and his legacy will live on. 


Linking Habitat Requires Crossing Political Aisles

Tuesday, April 14th, 2020
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Due to the current climate and biodiversity crisis, there has been a surge of policy promoting the need to establish and protect wildlife corridors. Scientists estimate that globally over 1 million species are at risk of extinction. In the United States, it is estimated to be 1 in 5 animal and plant species and, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, well over half of California’s fish, amphibians and mammals and nearly half of all birds and reptiles are “at-risk.” Habitat protection and connectivity allows for species to migrate freely across large distances and is key to their survival. 

To adequately address landscape connectivity, politicians must cross aisles. This can be done. In 2019, New MexicoOregon and New Hampshire passed landmark wildlife corridor legislation and California could do the same. In February, Wildlife corridors and connectivity: Wildlife and Biodiversity Protection and Movement Act of 2020 (SB-1372) was introduced in the California legislature and has progressed to the Committee of Transportation. 

This bill would require the Department of Fish and Wildlife to investigate, study, and identify impacts to wildlife corridors from state infrastructure projects, including transportation and water and large-scale development projects. It would prioritize wildlife movement and habitat data development in areas of the state that are most essential as habitat linkages. Enacting the Wildlife and Biodiversity Protection and Movement Act of 2020 would require the state to build off of existing programs and plans, including the State Wildlife Action Plan, to proactively protect and enhance wildlife corridors and design infrastructure to maximize wildlife connectivity.

Nationally, the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act of 2019 (S.1499) was introduced in the Senate last year. The purposes of the act is to: establish National Wildlife Corridors to provide for the protection and restoration of certain native fish, wildlife, and plant species; to provide long-term habitat connectivity for native species migration, dispersal, adaptation to climate and environmental change, and genetic exchange; help restore wildlife movements that have been disrupted by habitat loss, degradation, fragmentation, or obstruction; facilitate coordinated landscape- and seascape-scale connectivity planning and management across jurisdictions; and to support State, Tribal, local, voluntary private landowner and federal agency decision makers in the planning and development of National Wildlife Corridors.

Connecting wild places will stave off extinction, while providing landscape connectivity, whether it is through intact habitat or road crossings, will benefit people, plants and animals. Positive action for the good of nature is possible across political party lines. We are living proof that when we are faced with a crisis we can, and must, unite to make change.


Your Comments Needed: Protect Roosevelt Elk From Increased Hunting

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020
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Roosevelt elk bull. Photo by Clinton Steeds, Flickr.

The Roosevelt elk (Cervus canadensis roosevelti) once ranged from the Bay Area to Alaska along the West Coast. Historically, prior to non-indigenous settlement, elk populations in California were estimated to be around 500,000. By the late 1800’s, elk populations had been completely decimated by the introduction of non-indigenous settlers and the subsequent hunting, habitat loss, and grazing competition from domesticated animals that followed. However, concentrated conservation efforts and the elk’s impressive ability to survive natural and human-induced pressures over time resulted in a rebound of the species, notably rising in the 1970’s. Currently, the three species of elk in California now have a combined population count of about 12,900 (less than 2.5% of the historical population estimate of 500,000). 

Today, California’s elk population is still working to recover from their historic decimation and occupy only a fraction of the territory they once occupied. Elk recovery has been further hampered by legacies of mismanagement, such as translocation of elk outside of areas they had once occupied, resulting in hybridization between elk subspecies. In Humboldt and Del Norte counties, the Roosevelt elk populations are estimated to consist of varying herds of only about 1,600 individuals (although these numbers are still largely unknown and unpublished). Despite these comparatively small population sizes, recreational hunting tags for elk are issued every year through the California Fish and Game Commission, even while collected data shows that elk herds overall do not seem to increase significantly each year and some herds even decline over time. In spite of that data, CFGC currently has a proposal on the table from California Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to increase the hunting tags for Roosevelt elk in Humboldt and Del Norte counties from 108 to 148 for the 2020-2021 season in order to reduce human-elk “conflicts”.

This tag increase is irresponsible when the population data that is relied on for this is anecdotal at best and while alternative solutions to these conflicts exist such as: providing financial assistance for elk fencing, conservation easements on larger ranches to support elk corridors to allow movement between coastal and upland environments, and elk road crossings. Without having accurate and transparent numbers on herd size available, the public does not have an overall realistic view of the populations of elk in this area.

CDFW is prioritizing elk hunting over other priorities. Elk management includes multiple considerations, some of which conflict with each other. Elk management includes many other important priorities such as improving existing habitat, developing new habitat, growing elk populations, conflict avoidance with humans, and improvements of sustainable enjoyment of elk as a public trust resource, through non-consumptive (wildlife viewing) enjoyment. Promoting elk hunting and promoting non-consumptive enjoyment (like viewing) are seemingly at odds, although CDFW is charged with providing for both uses. CDFW is pushing forward an increase in elk hunting tags despite bad data and competing interests that counsel against more hunting. Please let the Commission know that without more transparent numbers, alternative solutions, and increased public participation, this proposal should be opposed and tag numbers should not be increased.

Take Action Now!

 


Pacific Northwest In March: Native Blooms

Tuesday, March 17th, 2020
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Homebound and feeling antsy? As spring approaches, so many incredible native plants are blooming in Humboldt County. Take a walk, get some fresh air, and be prepared to be wowed by some of the new blooms out in the forest. As always, be respectful and careful of wild blooms, many animals and pollinators rely on them for their survival! ✨✨✨

Viola sempervirens, Trinidad Head.

Viola sempervirens, also known as the Redwood violet or the Evergreen violet, grow in moist forest areas along the California coast.These sweet little yellow blooms can be propagated and make great trailing additions to a shade garden. The flowers and leaves are edible (although it is advised to not eat more than a handful at a time) and are also used medicinally for bruises, soothing irritated tissue, and potentially even tumors.

Salix sitchensis, Arcata Marsh.

Salix sitchensis is a species of Willow that is native to Humboldt County known by the common name Sitka willow. It is a common plant in many types of coastal and inland wetlands, such as marshes, riverbanks, swamps, sand dunes, and springs (this was photographed at the Arcata Marsh). Native people in this area use the wood from willow trees for making baskets, drying fish, and stretching animal skins. Willows are also a natural source of salicylic acid (the base of aspirin). The bark can be smashed and applied to wounds to help with healing. Infusions of the stems can also be taken orally to help with stomach issues.

 

Trillium ovatum, Arcata Community Forest.

These redwood beauties, Trillium ovatum, are such special indicators of springtime soon to come. Our own HSU Professor Erik Jules is known for discovering the interesting way that these Trilliums are almost co-pollinated. First, vespid wasps do the initial pollination and then the seed/fruits are dispersed by ants. They are also a favorite food of the White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus).There are 48 different species of trillium worldwide, 38 of which are represented in North America! Trilliums can change in color with age, from pink to red and even purple.

 

Ribes sanguineum, Trinidad Head.

Ribes sanguineum, also known as Blood Currant or Pink Winter Currant. The name Blood Currant comes from the latin sanguis, which means “blood;” for the color although the flowers typically range from a rosy or pale pink. However, occasionally you can find flowers that are a deep crimson. Ribes sanguineum support a variety of creatures. They are pollinated by insects and hummingbirds, including the currently migrating Rufous Hummingbirds. Their foliage is eaten by Zephyr and other butterfly larvae, while their berries are eaten by various songbirds and small mammals.

Lysichiton americanus, Arcata Community Forest.

Lysichiton americanus, Yellow Skunk Cabbage, is one of the few native species in the arum family in the Pacific Northwest. When you see Skunk Cabbage, you can know that you are near water, so watch your step! It only grows in wet areas, such as swampy bogs, wet forests, and near streams.The name “Skunk Cabbage” derives from its distinctive “skunky” odor that permeates throughout the area when its bright yellow flower emerges. The odor is important, as it is there to attract the scavenging flies and beetles that pollinate it.


EPIC Beaver Rules Move Ahead

Monday, March 16th, 2020
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Beavers are nature’s restoration specialists. Beavers benefit salmon and steelhead by building better habitat conditions, including creation ponds used by salmon and by increasing stream flow in summer months. Beavers’ roles are so important that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) included beaver population restoration as a goal of the recovery plan for the Southern Oregon/Northern California coastal coho salmon.

But in California, it is absurdly easy to kill beavers. That may change soon. In November 2019, EPIC, together with friends, petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission to revise the rules under which beavers may be legally trapped. At the February Fish and Game Commission meeting, the Commission moved forward on our rulemaking petition, referring the petition to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for review and comment.

The proposed regulations would impact the 700+ beavers killed each year because of conflict with the human environment, and would require individuals to exhaust non-lethal methods to deter or diminish conflict before a permit could be issued that would allow their lethal removal. In many cases, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has already required this, although they have no clear regulatory grounds to do so, placing the Department at risk whenever they work to protect beavers. The rulemaking petition further codifies federal law prohibiting the removal of beavers if that removal would harm a species protected by the Endangered Species Act. In sum, common sense stuff.

EPIC has been hard at work for California’s beavers. In addition to the rulemaking petition, we threatened to sue Wildlife Services for their publicly-subsidized beaver killing program. (This resulted in an agreement to reduce the trapping of beavers in the state.) You can help support our efforts to protect our favorite riparian rodent by donating today.


Spotted Owl In Jeopardy: More Protections Needed

Friday, January 31st, 2020
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Family of Northern Spotted Owl. Photo by USFWS Pacific Region.

The longtime icon of the forest defense movement, the northern spotted owl, is quickly headed towards extinction. The cause? A fatal combination of historic and current habitat loss and out-competition by the invasive barred owl, together with other, smaller stressors, like rodenticide exposure. A 2015 demographic study of the owl—the most recent meta-analysis of the species performance—produced alarming results: the spotted owl is functionally extinct in British Columbia, and populations have declined 55–77 percent in Washington, 31–68 percent in Oregon and 32–55 percent in California. Population declines are now occurring on study areas in southern Oregon and northern California that were previously experiencing little to no detectable decline through 2009. The rate of decline is also increasing across the owls’ range.

In 1994, the Clinton Administration passed the Northwest Forest Plan, a long-term strategy to deal with old-growth associated species (like the northern spotted owl) on public lands in the Pacific Northwest. Among other things, the plan created a system of reserves called “Late Successional Reserves.” These reserves were intended to provide well-distributed owl habitat across public lands. The Northwest Forest Plan’s reserve network was largely successful in protecting owl habitat on federal lands, however, the owls continued decline demonstrates that existing efforts are insufficient to protect the owl. The Plan estimated that after passage the owl would continue to decline, but that populations would eventually stabilize and the owl would recover. Instead, the rate of decline has increased, suggesting that the Plan alone is not sufficient for owls on public lands.

Locally, the owl is not meeting performance measures. The most recent publicly available annual report (2018) for the Humboldt Redwood Company helps illustrate some of the challenges. Humboldt Redwood Company operates under a “Habitat Conservation Plan” or HCP. Because of this HCP, Humboldt Redwood Company is authorized to “take”—harm, harass, kill, wound, trap, capture, etc.—northern spotted owls through the operation of their business. The HCP, however, was supposed to contain sufficient habitat protections to ensure that owls would continue to survive across the company’s property. This longtime survival was to be measured through performance objectives. Two of these measures are in question. First, the HCP was supposed to ensure that spotted owl pairs occupy 80% of owl sites. The 80% mark was chosen by taking the average number of owl sites from 1991 to 1998, and so provides a benchmark against which we can gauge performance. In 2018, occupancy by pairs was verified at only 76 of 108 nest sites, giving an occupancy rate of 70%. Another management objective is to maintain .61 fledge young per pair, a target again derived from data from 1994 to 1998. Of the 76 pairs, nesting activity was only verified for 31 of the 76 pairs, and of these 36 were fledged, for a total reproductive rate of .31. In other words, there are not as many owls occupying the property as desired, and of these still left on the property, they are not successfully reproducing.

Barred Owl. Photo by M.E. Sanseverino.

Humboldt Redwood Company lays significant blame on the poor spotted owl performance on the invasive barred owl. We agree, in large part, as the trends demonstrated on their land match those on other lands. However, if barred owls are inhibiting owls on their property, we expect that the company would implement a barred owl management program. Barred owl removal was shown to be effective in the redwood region through a trial experiment on Green Diamond Resource Company land. As barred owls start to occupy spotted owl habitat, the more timid spotted owls give up their former nest sites, becoming what biologists term “floaters.” These floater owls still are present in the forest but they do not display territorial behavior and do not readily vocalize (presumably to avoid drawing the attention of their aggressive cousin, the barred owl). As the redwood region was one of the last areas to be inundated with barred owls, we are thought to have more adult owls still silently floating in the forests, ready to reoccupy their former nest sites if barred owls are no longer present, providing a quicker response to treatment than in other areas. Humboldt Redwood Company will not commit to a barred owl management program on their lands—at least not yet. And similarly although the HCP has failed to achieve its targets, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not yet triggered adaptive management clauses to reexamine what additional measures are necessary for the owl’s survival.

Longtime survival of northern spotted owls in the area is likely only with both increased habitat retention and barred owl removal. EPIC has criticized recent actions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that has seemingly traded habitat protection for barred owl removal, best exemplified by the new Habitat Conservation Plan for Green Diamond Resource Company. As we approach an extinction event, we need to stop giving away owl habitat and we need to start restoring habitat, which includes barred owl removal.


EPIC And Others To Sue USFWS for Putting Northern Spotted Owls at Risk

Thursday, January 30th, 2020
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Northern Spotted Owl. Photo by Frank D. Lospalluto.

On Friday, EPIC and a coalition of conservation groups notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of its intent to take the agency to court for is failure to complete an evaluation on the status of the northern spotted owl and whether the owl warrants greater protection under the Endangered Species Act. The notice letter begins a 60-day window for the Service to comply with the law by evaluating whether existing protections for the owl are sufficient to stave off extinction.

“The science is dire and alarming,” said Tom Wheeler, Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Information Center. “The Service’s failure to act is placing the northern spotted owl in danger of extinction. Urgent action is required now to avert tragedy.”

The northern spotted owl was first listed as “threatened” by the Service in 1990 because of range-wide population declines primarily caused by habitat loss from timber operations. Since the species listing, the northern spotted owl has been further impacted by the expansion of the more aggressive barred owl in its range. As the barred owl has moved south from British Columbia, the northern spotted owl declined precipitously. Today, northern spotted owls are functionally extinct in British Columbia and face extinction in the wild through the owl’s entire range within the next 50 years.

“Mature and old-growth forests that provide essential habitat for this species continue to be aggressively logged and removed,” said Nick Cady, Legal Director of Cascadia Wildlands. “Urgent action is needed by the Fish and Wildlife Service and is long overdue.”“The science is dire and alarming,” said Tom Wheeler, Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Information Center. “The Service’s failure to act is placing the northern spotted owl in danger of extinction. Urgent action is required now to avert tragedy.”

The Service has not completed a status review for the owl within the statutorily prescribed timeframe of five years, with the last status review completed in 2011. Similarly, the Service has failed to complete rulemaking concerning whether to “uplist” the owl from “threatened” to “endangered” despite the increasingly dire outlook for the species.

The Service’s failure to complete these actions has hurt the owl’s recovery in that the Service and other governmental agencies may be relying on outdated data. This is particularly troublesome as the Bureau of Land Management has already completed resource management plans for forests in the range of the northern spotted owl and as the U.S. Forest Service has begun its process to revise land and resource management plans for forests within the owl’s range.

The conservation groups include the Environmental Protection Information Center, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Western Environmental Law Center, American Bird Conservancy, Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild, Pilchuck Audubon Society, Northcoast Environmental Center, Safe Alternatives for our Forest Environment, Forest Issues Group, Lassen Forest Preservation Group, Sierra Foothills Audubon Society, and South Umpqua Rural Community Partnership. The groups are represented by Susan Jane Brown of the Western Environmental Law Center.

Check out our full press release here. 


Superb Owls of Northern California

Monday, January 27th, 2020
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In honor of the SuperbOwl Sunday, we wanted to share a delightful compilation of facts, information, and photos of Northern California’s varied owl species. Included you will find the Northern Spotted Owl, the Great Horned Owl, the Short-eared Owl, and the Northern Pygmy Owl, among others. Sit back with a cup of tea and learn about the incredible owls you may hear or see in our area!  This article was written by our wonderful intern, Bente Jansen.

 

Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina)

 

Northern Spotted Owl fledglings. Photo by Tom Kogut.

Northern Spotted Owls reside in old-growth forests in northern California, southern British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. As one of three subspecies of spotted owl, the Northern Spotted Owl does not migrate, but will occasionally shift their range in response to seasonal changes. Northern Spotted Owls are also one of the few owls that have dark brown eyes in comparison to yellow or red. They are an indicator species for the health of the old growth ecosystems they reside in, along with many other species such as the Marbled Murrelet. Northern Spotted Owl pairs do not make their own nest as many other owls; however, unlike most owls the owl pairs also do not nest every year, and are also not successful everytime they do nest. Unfortunately, the Northern Spotted Owls have been experiencing an ongoing decline in their populations due to habitat loss from unsustainable timber practices and competition from the invasive Barred Owl. These large, territorial owls have been listed as “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act since 1990. Although there have been efforts to assist the Northern Spotted Owl, such as Barred Owl removal and critical habitat designations, their populations continue to decrease and their habitats destroyed. According to the American Bird Conservancy in 2015, “in Oregon’s Coast Range study area, the percentage of sites with spotted owl detection has declined from a high of 88 percent in 1991 to a low of 23 percent in 2013.” As an indicator and keystone species, the Northern Spotted Owl is an extremely important species for the perpetuation of biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem. 

Great-horned Owl. Photo by Mick Thompson.

Great-horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) 

Often seen perching high up at dusk, the Great-horned Owl is the most widespread owl in North America. These large owls, about 22 inches in length, reside in a variety of habitats including forests, urban areas and deserts. As a skilled predator with a large appetite, the Great-horned Owl often feasts on large prey such as rabbits and squirrels. The Great-horned Owls have one of the most diverse diets of all North American Owls; they have even been recorded to eat other Great-horned Owls. As most owls, they are clueless about nest building, and don’t build their own nest but rather use abandoned nest in a tree, cliff or rocky crevice. Once they are adults, the Great-horned Owl has no natural predators and has been recorded to live up to 28 years in the wild. 

Barn Owl pair. Photo by Airwolfhound, Flickr.

Barn Owl (Tyto alba)

Often mistaken as a Snowy Owl, Barn Owls are classically identified by their heart-shaped faces. Barn Owls do not build their own nests, but rather lay their eggs on bare surface in a cave or barn or attic. They are usually nocturnal hunters and mainly prey on rats and mice. Because of the shape of their wings and feather structure, Barn Owls are extremely skilled at flying silently and gliding for long periods of time. Because of its ability to hear the smallest rustle made by their rodent prey from up to ten feet above the ground and their stealthy flight ability, the Barn Owl is a talented predator. Unlike many bird species, an interesting characteristic of Barn Owls is their dedication to their partner. Typically Barn Owls will stay monogamous for life or until one of the partners passes away. 

Western Screech Owl. Photo by Tim Boyer.

Western Screech-Owl (Otus kennicottii)

Once considered to be the same species as the Eastern Screech-Owl, the Western Screech-Owl can be found in deserts, open woods and suburban parks. Although the Western Screech-owl avoids higher elevations and extreme desert conditions, their range is quite large and covers from Southeastern Alaska all the way to Arizona. Well-camouflaged in the cavities of trees, these owls often go undetected. When threatened, the Western Screech-owl will stretch its body and tighten its feathers so as to look like a branch stub. Although a smaller owl species, they have been observed taking prey larger than themselves, such as cottontail rabbits. 

Great Grey Owl. Photo by Rich Hoeg.

Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa) 

As the largest owl in North America, the Great Grey Owl is relatively uncommon and rarely seen by humans. They can be found in dense coniferous forests and wooden bogs across the Northern Hemisphere. Although mainly a nocturnal hunter, it has also been observed hunting during dawn and dusk, mainly for mice but also occasionally small mammals and birds. Because of their graceful and silent hunting techniques and the rarity of sighting, the Great Grey Owl is well known as the “Phantom of the North.” The population dynamics of these owls relies heavily on the abundance of voles since 80-90% of their diet is comprised of small rodents, especially voles. Largely deserving of its name, the Great Grey Owl can have a wingspan of up to five feet! 

Barred Owl. Photo by Fyn Kynd.

Barred Owl (Strix varia)

Unlike most owls, the Barred Owl has large dark brown eyes and is one of the most vocal owls. Although they are mainly nocturnal, Barred Owl’s loud hooting, screaming and cackling can often be heard during the day. The belly feathers of some Barred Owls have been observed as pink: it is theorized that this coloration is a result of eating many crayfish similarly to how flamingos are pink because of large consumption of brine shrimp. Fairly common in southern swamps, Barred Owls habitat expanded into dense forests across northwest America around the turn of the 20th century. It is most commonly thought that this northwestern expansion was caused by human alteration to the landscape. In California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, the Barred Owls are invading the habitat and landscape of the Northern Spotted Owl, adding to the decline of this already threatened species. 

Short-eared Owl. Photo by Mick Thompson.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) 

Often well hidden, the Short-eared Owl hunts at night and on cloudy days, typically in an area that several Short-eared Owls share. Unlike many owls, these ground-nesters nest in a depression in the ground cushioned with short grasses. Short-eared Owls can be found in a variety of habitats such as marshes, forest clearings, grasslands, agricultural fields and tundra. Short-eared Owls are one of six owl species that reside outside of forested areas and have one of the most widespread distributions, residing on every continent besides Antarctica and Australia. Only about 15 inches in length on average, these little owls can travel large distances including over large bodies of water. The largest distance recorded was a migration of 1,200 miles! 

Sleepy Long-eared Owl. Photo by Beck Matsubara.

Long-eared Owl (Asio otus)

The Long-eared Owl has a large range over the North American continent, however as a species that prefers dense forested areas and are excellent at camouflaging themselves, the Long-eared Owl is uncommonly seen by humans. They are strictly nocturnal, and like many owls, do not build their own nests. Instead, they reside in the nest of a magpie, crow or squirrel forcing the previous inhabitants to build a new nest elsewhere. The Long-eared Owl is occasionally mobbed by smaller birds, but even so it rarely attacks them and mainly feeds on rodents. Although usually a quieter owl, the hoot of a male can be heard up to 0.7 miles away!

A Northern Pygmy-Owl with his lunch. Photo by Robin Horn.

Northern Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium californicum)

Northern Pygmy Owls are widespread in forested areas and can be found in a variety of tree species from blue oaks to conifers. As active hunters during the day, Northern Pygmy Owls have a large, diverse diet. They prefer to reside in abandoned woodpecker holes high up in trees, but can also be found nesting in debris at the bottom of trees. These owls are skilled hunters with an appetite for songbirds, and although they are quite small, they occasionally take prey up to three times their size! Mobs of songbirds can often be a good identifier for where a Northern Pygmy Owl may be hiding, since the songbirds use mobbing as a defensive tool against predation from the Pygmy Owl. Another good identifier of the Northern Pygmy Owl is the two yellow spots on the plumage on the back of their neck. It is theorized that these spots mislead a predator, such as a hawk or cat, into thinking the owl is watching them. 

Northern Saw-whet Owl. Photo by Rick Leche.

Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus) 

One of the smallest owls in the world, about seven inches in length, the Northern Saw-whet Owl resides in dense coniferous or mixed forests and wooded marshes, throughout the majority of Canada, the United States and parts of Mexico. Roosting in its nesting tree during the day, the Northern Saw-whet Owl hunts small rodents and large beetles during the night. Juvenile Northern Saw-whet Owls, looking like little puffs with eyes, are chocolate brown with tan bellies and a white triangular patch on the forehead. The coloration of the juveniles is vastly different from those of adults, and can easily be misidentified as separate species. After their first summer, around one year of age, juveniles will molt and gain the plumage of an adult Northern Saw-whet Owl. Another interesting characteristic of Northern Saw-whet Owl is that they will collect and store their prey. In the winter, when a cached rodent is frozen, the owl will sit on its prey to dethaw it before consumption. 

 

A full list of references can be found here. 


Kiss Me Under the Hemi-Parasitic Aerial Shrub

Wednesday, December 18th, 2019
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Mistletoe is the horror of many a person at the annual Christmas Party. Mistletoe may be associated with unwanted advances, but for the ecology nerds, we know that this weird shrub is fascinating and important.

Mistletoe is a hemi-parasitic plant, meaning that it draws some, but not all, of its nutritional requirements from its host plant. They attach to the host plant through its haustorium, the root-like structure that penetrates into the host’s vascular tissue to slurp up water and sugar. Infections can be so bad that they can kill the host tree, either by drawing too much from the host plant or by outcompeting the foliage of the host, practically replacing all of the growth but in most circumstances mistletoe adds complexity and diversity to our forests.

There are over 1,300 species of mistletoe worldwide, and California is home to many native species, including the oak mistletoe, American mistletoe, western dwarf mistletoe, Douglas fir dwarf mistletoe, and fir dwarf mistletoe. Some of their names suggest their preferred host, others are more generalist, like the American mistletoe that can infect ash, alder, oak, willow and more. Despite being a numerous and varied species, the physical form of mistletoe is generally similar: evergreen leaves and white fruit. California is now home to some invasive mistletoes as well, including the European mistletoe.

Given that mistletoe co-evolved with the wildlife of California, it comes as no surprise that mistletoe plays an important role in forest ecosystems. Mistletoe brooms provide an excellent structure for nesting birds, including the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelets, which appears to have a particular fondness for the dense foliage–so much so that 90% of owl nests in Southwest Oregon are reported to be in mistletoe.

Although mistletoe is ordinarily poisonous to humans, the white berries provide food for birds, deer, and other mammals. And just because it is poisonous doesn’t mean we can’t find uses. Mistletoe has a long history as a folk medicine, treating everything from infertility to arthritis, and there is ongoing research into whether the plant may contain anti-cancer properties that can be isolated.

Birds spread the growth of mistletoe. The fruit of the mistletoe is covered with a sticky substance called viscin. Depending on the species of bird and mistletoe, the seed may either be regurgitated or defecated. The sticky viscin will cause the seed to attach to the branch where it will wait until it germinates and the haustorium wiggles its way into the bark of the tree. Mistletoe is slow growing, as the haustorium pulls nutrients from the tree until, after around five years, the first leaves emerge.

But not everyone likes mistletoe. Despite its natural role in forests, the Forest Service routinely uses mistletoe infection as a justification for logging–including in old-growth and late-seral forests–despite the important nesting platform that dward mistletoe provides for owls. And timber companies hate that mistletoe can stunt the growth of trees grown for timber. If caught early enough, or if someone diligently removes the new growth, it is possible to remove mistletoe from an infected tree. Otherwise, the only way to remove mistletoe is to remove the infected branch.

It is not clear how mistletoe came to be associated with Christmas. The usual mistletoe tradition holds that a man can kiss whatever woman stands under the mistletoe, and a refusal by the woman would bring bad luck. The first written record is from famed American author Washington Irving, who wrote in 1820, “the mistletoe, with its white berries, hung up, to the imminent peril of all the pretty housemaids.”

 

*this article previously ran in the December/January issue of the EcoNews.