Biodiversity

EPIC Submits Comments on Destructive Logging in Jackson Demonstration State Forest

Monday, March 29th, 2021
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EPIC has been working to change the way CAL FIRE manages Jackson Demonstration State Forest (JDSF). Recently, we asked you to help comment on the Mitchell Creek Timber Harvest Plan, which will negatively impact important areas of JDSF. At the same time, we’ve been hard at work drafting our own comments, which you can read in full here.

The Mitchell Creek THP is located adjacent to the Jug Handle State State Natural Reserve. A unique area of the Mendocino Coast which offers visitors the chance to hike through half a million years of ecological history. The THP area also contains habitat for ESA two listed species, the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet. Originally, CAL FIRE had tried to hide the fact that there was marbled murrelet habitat, and it’s only because of a dogged inspection by CDFW that the public knows that it exists. 

As our comments explain, this THP has been written in a way that violates CEQA and will negatively impact the environment. For instance, after CDFW discovered that there was marbled murrelet habitat in the plan area, they requested that CAL FIRE consult with them about how to avoid damaging that habitat through timber operations. CAL FIRE agreed to do so, but the consultation won’t occur until after the THP has already been approved. That means the public won’t have a chance to comment on these protection measures or to understand the full extent of damage to marbled murrelet habitat envisioned in this THP.

And that isn’t the only time the THP punts on actually considering the environmental damage caused by timber operations. Northern spotted owl surveys won’t be fully completed until after approval and neither will a botanical survey for rare species of plants. The THP has also failed to adequately consider impacts to water quality from watercourse crossings and impacts to recreation from trail closures. Moreover, the THPs are imprecise, inconsistent and have failed to adequately analyze the environmental impacts of these projects. EPIC believes that if CAL FIRE, a public agency, wants to log our public lands they should have to comply with California’s laws. If CAL FIRE does not halt their plans to conduct these poorly considered logging operations, EPIC is prepared to use every tool in our quiver to stop them.

In order to accomplish this, we’ve partnered with local and national environmental organizations like the Mendocino Trail Stewards, Jug Handle Creek Farm & Nature Center, Mendocino Coast Audubon Society, Forests Forever Foundation, and Center for Biological Diversity. We are also working with the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians, the original stewards of the forest now called JDSF, to ensure that our advocacy is respectful of their connection to this land. Together, we are all committed to changing the way CAL FIRE manages JDSF for the better. That means focusing on wildlife conservation, carbons sequestration, and recreation, not logging. We’ll be sure to keep you updated about our fight to preserve JDSF and let you know if there are more ways you can help.


Your Comments Needed To Rescind Trump Rollbacks of Spotted Owl Critical Habitat!

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2021
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Take action! The northern spotted owl needs your help. At the close of the Trump  Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service slashed more than 3.4 million acres of Critical Habitat in a last minute gift to the timber industry. The Biden Administration is formally reconsidering the Trump-era withdrawal of over 3.4 million acres of northern spotted owl Critical Habitat.

The Biden Administration still needs to hear from YOU that protecting northern spotted owl habitat is a priority.

Comments are due March 31st. Pre-filled comments available at form below. Comment today!

Take Action Now!

 


BREAKING: EPIC & Allies Challenge Northern Spotted Owl Critical Habitat Ruling In Court! 

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2021
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Northern Spotted Owl Pair. Photo Credit: USFWS

Legal Action Seeks to Reverse Trump Administration’s Dismantling of Environmental Protections for Northwest’s Disappearing Old-Growth Forests

EPIC and conservation groups in the Pacific Northwest filed a legal challenge to reinstate federal protections on more than 3.4 million acres of federal old-growth forests, which are essential for the survival of the threatened northern spotted owl. The lawsuit asks the court to reject a rule issued in the last days of the Trump administration that eliminated one-third of the critical habitat protections for the species. The nonprofit law firms Earthjustice and Western Environmental Law Center represent Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), Audubon Society of Portland, Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Oregon Wild, Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society in the lawsuit.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Fish and Wildlife) protected the northern spotted owl, a bird found only in the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest, as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1990. In 2012, approximately 9.6 million acres of habitat necessary for the owl’s survival and recovery were protected on federally managed public lands in Washington, Oregon and Northern California.

“Protecting habitat is the most important thing we can do for the owl,” said Bob Sallinger, Audubon Society of Portland Conservation director. “If northern spotted owls are going to survive and recover, we must get all the habitat protections back in place.”

The drastic slashing of critical habitat protections came as a surprise, as an earlier proposed rule suggested eliminating protections for only 200,000 acres. The final rule also came despite the Fish and Wildlife’s science-based conclusion in December that northern spotted owl populations deserved to be protected as endangered due to continued habitat loss. The old-growth forests that support spotted owl populations also have an important role to play in the global climate crisis, as they absorb and store more carbon. As a result, scientists consider old-growth forests to be a part of the solution to reduce the impacts of climate change. 

“By cutting Critical Habitat, Trump not only hurt the northern spotted owl but the multitude of species that depend on these same rare and threatened old-growth forests,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director at EPIC. “Protecting the owl also means protections for the wide diversity of life—from salamanders to flying squirrels—that call our Western forests home.”

“It defies logic, not to mention spotted owl biology, to eliminate 3.4 million acres of protected habitat for this charismatic species,” said Susan Jane Brown, Western Environmental Law Center staff attorney.  “Owls are so imperiled that endangered status is appropriate, and yet the agency stripped the owl of essential habitat protections. That’s nonsensical.”

Earlier this month, the Biden administration extended the date at which the rule slashing habitat protections would go into effect and asked for further public comment on the millions of acres of owl habitat that would be opened for logging. In addition to spotted owl recovery, preserving old-growth forests, which serve as buffers against climate change, could help the Biden administration to achieve overarching national climate goals while supporting the Nationally Determined Contributions under the  Paris Agreement.

“The Trump administration looted the palace on its way out the door,” said Kristen Boyles, Earthjustice staff attorney. “The Biden administration is taking the right steps to fix the mess it was handed, and we want to ensure it continues to do so.”

“This habitat rollback, like so many Trump assaults on the environment, was inaccurate, sloppy and illegal,” said Ryan Shannon, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Our goal is to make sure the owl retains all the habitat protections it scientifically needs to recover.”

“The Trump administration eliminated protection for millions of acres of spotted owl habitat in areas that are essential for the recovery of the species,” said Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild. “For instance, scientists have said that the spotted owls cannot survive on the National Forest alone. Low-elevation Bureau of Land Management forests serve as vital stepping stones of suitable habitat for spotted owls moving between large blocks of habitat in the Cascades and the Coast Range.”

See the full Press Release here.

See the full complaint here. 


EPIC Uncovers Mendocino Redwood Company Violations That Endanger Northern Spotted Owls

Monday, March 22nd, 2021
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Northern spotted owl. Photo from Pixabay.

The Northern Spotted Owl (“NSO”) is an iconic species of the forest defense movement. And because of decades of activism and laws like the Endangered Species Act, timber companies are required to follow certain practices designed to protect the owl. But what happens when a private timber company decides to ignore those rules and CAL FIRE looks the other way? EPIC is there to call them out and make sure the law is followed. 

When a private timber company in California wants to conduct logging in NSO territory, the Forest Practice Rules require them to explain to CAL FIRE what measures they are taking to avoid harming or “taking” northern spotted owls. Helpfully, the USFWS has prepared a document colloquially called “Attachment A” which details the best practices for private timber companies to follow in order to avoid take of northern spotted owls. These practices involve not logging around known NSO nesting and roosting locations, conducting numerous surveys, and leaving enough habitat for NSO to nest and forage in after timber operations conclude. The guidance isn’t perfect, but it gives timber operators rules to follow and does help preserve NSO habitat that otherwise would be logged. Under the Forest Practice Rules, private timber companies are allowed to let CAL FIRE know that they are following Attachment A and then proceed with their timber operations.

Northern spotted owl flies in front of a tree marked for logging. Photo by Scott Carpenter.

However, the Mendocino Redwood Company has decided to invent their own rules. You see, Attachment A requires timber operators to map “activity centers,” areas of concentrated NSO activity, and protect those areas. Typically, this is a nesting area where northern spotted owls spend considerable time during breeding season. The thing is though, northern spotted owls don’t stay in one place their whole lives. In fact, they have been well documented to rotate between different nest sites and use different ones in different years. Researchers have even documented one NSO breeding pair using five different nest sites over the course of a decade. That’s why Attachment A makes clear that “[m]ultiple activity centers for an NSO home range are possible.” And that “[i]f one core use area does not encompass all known activity centers (current and historical), then multiple core use areas will need to be mapped and protected to avoid the likelihood of incidental take.” That way, loggers don’t harvest near nest sites that are only temporarily not in use or that have been reoccupied since they last conducted their surveys.

But the Mendocino Redwood Company thinks they know better than the scientists who wrote Attachment A. They have proposed their own alternative practice that protects only the most recent location known to be occupied by NSO. This direct violation of Attachment A has the potential to result in take of NSO because it allows MRC to log in areas that NSO may have returned to nest in. This practice will also cause cumulative negative impacts on NSO habitat. Northern spotted owls do not build their own nests. Instead, they rely on naturally occurring nest sites like tree snags or other raptor’s abandoned nests. Imagine if every time an owl leaves a nest site (with the intention to return in future years) timber harvesters harvest the tree the nest site is in or the area around that tree. Eventually, there won’t be any high quality nest sites left for NSO to use. That means that this practice could seriously reduce the capacity for NSO on Mendocino Redwood Company’s lands to breed and raise young in the future.

Unfortunately, CAL FIRE has decided to look the other way regarding this practice. This is despite the fact that they are the agency responsible for ensuring timber harvest plans have adequate NSO protections. EPIC recently submitted comments outlining why this practice is both illegal and harmful to NSO (read the comments here). And we are hopeful that, now that they’ve been caught, Mendocino Redwood Company and CAL FIRE will cease this troublesome practice.


Action Alert: Support The Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation Repatriate Unceded Land

Tuesday, March 9th, 2021
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The Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation needs your support today! After 160 years of colonization, approximately 1,600 acres of their traditional cultural property has been listed for sale by the long-standing settler family. Due to decades of destructive commercial agricultural use and unpermitted development of ungranted tidelands and navigable waterways, the property owners have been issued a slew of egregious violations from the California Coastal Commission, California State Water Resources Board, National Marine Fisheries Service and California State Lands Commission.

The property, which is now known as Reservation Ranch, is a Traditional Cultural Property of the Tolowa Dee-ni’. It is the heart of the original 40,000 acre Smith River Indian Reservation. Located along the wild and scenic Smith River in northern California, this property also lies in the heart of the Smith River Estuary and provides crucial habitat for a variety of flora and fauna, including Roosevelt Elk, waterfowl and Coho Salmon, an endangered species.

Check out their incredible story map for the full history and story of the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation’s relationship with this land here, Selling Stolen Land: Unceded Territory of Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation.

 The Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation needs your help to return this unceded property back to their rightful ownership and to work towards the long overdue environmental and tribal justice this land and watershed deserves. Please sign their petition today and share with your community to get the word out! Shu’ shaa nin-la (thank you in Tolowa Dee-ni’).


More California Wolves!

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021
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OR-85 (right) and traveling companion in California. Photo credit Scott Summer.

California may have a new wolf pack this spring! In November of 2020 a young male, approximately 1.5 years old, entered the golden state. OR-85, born into the Mt. Emily Pack, traveled all the way from far northeastern Oregon. After being here for just one month, trail cameras and tracks indicated that the young wolf was traveling with a companion. The gender of the second wolf is uncertain but given their nature, it is entirely possible that we could see pups in April.

OR-93 in June 2020 captured and fitted with GPS collar. Photo credit: Austin Smith, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

Another male yearling, OR-93, entered the state in January this year. In just two short months, after a brief return to Oregon, this young traveler has covered over 350 miles looking for a mate. OR-93 was born into the White River Pack and was fitted with a collar last summer. He has found his way south, through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, all the way down past Lake Tahoe.

OR-93 is the 16th gray wolf known to have dispersed into the state in the last decade. The disappearance and death of many wolves in the region attests to the fact that survival is extremely difficult. There is still reason to trust that this keystone species will recover. Since 2017, the Lassen Pack has sired twenty-two offspring. It is only a matter of time until more packs are established throughout the millions of acres of suitable habitat in their native territory of California.

 

 

 


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.


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.


Lassen Pack Has Two Litters of Pups

Tuesday, November 10th, 2020
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Two females in the Lassen Pack had litters this spring, bringing the total of pups to a minimum of nine. LAS01F, the original matriarch of the family birthed at least five and LAS09F, her two-year old daughter had up to four. The new alpha male, who joined the pack last year, sired both litters. The origin of the black male is yet unknown. While multiple litters are uncommon, they most often happen when a genetically unrelated adult wolf joins a new pack.

LAS09 waking up from being captured and collared in June 2020. Photo by CA Department of Fish and Wildlife.

There is now only one collared wolf in California, LAS09 the two-year-old breeding female of the pack. The yearling male LAS13M, collared this summer, began to disperse from the pack in August. He spent a few weeks about 20 miles from his pack then traveled to Modoc County in late September. In early October he entered into Oregon.

This is the fourth litter of pups for LAS01F. Her first litter of four was in 2017, with five in 2018 and four in 2019. Currently the pack consists of three adults, three yearlings and nine pups, bringing the Lassen pack to fifteen.

 


Into the Haunted Forest: Ghost Pipe

Monday, October 26th, 2020
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Written by Clary Greacen Montagne

Cluster of Monotropa uniflora. Photo by Courtney Celley, USFWS.

Wandering through a dark and shady forest, perhaps foraging for mushrooms, you might happen upon a small cluster of ghostly pale flowers growing through the leaf litter. This curious and elusive plant is the Monotropa uniflora, also known as Ghost Pipe, Indian Pipe, or Corpse Plant. Formerly considered to be part of the Heath family (Ericaceae), recent evidence suggests they are worthy of their own classification, Monotropaceae. The single, bell-shaped flowers of Ghost Pipe grow on curved stems, Monotropa meaning “one turn.”  Each stem and flower resemble a small upside down pipe, hence the name “Ghost Pipe.” These plants can be found throughout most of the U.S., growing in the rich humus of mature forests at low to moderate elevations, and can also be found in some parts of Asia. While widespread in range, they are not commonly found. Ghost Pipe requires a very specific growing process and because of this, is practically impossible to cultivate or propagate. 

This mycotrophic wildflower grows at the base of trees where roots meet the mycelium network, getting all their nutrition through a symbiotic relationship with fungi. Ghost Pipe owes its waxy white appearance to a lack of chlorophyll, the green pigment that allows most plants to photosynthesize. Instead of photosynthesis, Ghost Pipe gets its necessary nutrients through a mycorrhizal association with a fungus. In this unique relationship, a fungus invades the roots of the plant, allowing the plant to get its energy from the photosynthesis of the fungus’ host tree. With no light dependency, Ghost Pipe is able to thrive in the dark, spooky environment of the forest floor.

Photo by Helen Lowe Metzman.

Spending most of their life underground, these plants flower in the small window between June and September, when they poke up through the leaf litter alone or in small stands. Ghost Pipe grows between four and eight inches tall, and is pale white in color with small black or pink specks, and can also have brightly colored pink stems. The plants have small, scale-like leaves and five parted white flowers, with a single flower per stem. Ghost Pipe is pollinated by bees, who hang on to its flower upside down. Upon first flowering and emerging from the ground, the flower hangs downward, but as the fruit capsule matures, the flower points upwards in line with the stem. Once the fruit has ripened, seeds are released through small slits and dispersed by wind. The Ghost Pipe will flower for about a week, before shriveling and turning black, hence its alternate name, “Corpse Plant.”

Ghost Pipe has been used by indigenous peoples of North America as a medicinal plant, primarily for its pain-relieving properties. A Cherokee legend about Ghost Pipe tells of a time long ago, when selfishness first entered the world, and people began quarreling. First, they quarreled with their own families and tribal members, and then with other tribes. The chiefs of several tribes met together to try to solve the disputes, and smoked a peace pipe together, while continuing to quarrel with each other for seven days and seven nights. In punishment for smoking the peace pipe before actually making peace, the Great Spirit turned the chiefs into grey flowers and made them grow where relatives and friends had quarreled.

Ghost Pipe is used today in Western Herbal Medicine as a nervine, or plant beneficial to the nervous system, and may provide benefits for epilepsy, psychological conditions, and physical pain. Unfortunately, the popularity of this plant in Western Herbal Medicine has caused it to be overharvested. Ghost Pipe is extremely delicate, so much so that when handled, it wilts very quickly and turns black. It’s best to admire this ghostly plant without attempting to handle or harvest it. 

 


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.