Biodiversity

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.


EPIC Petitions for Better Beaver Regulations: Proposed Rules Would Clarify Rules for Trapping

Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
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Photo by Bob Greenburg, Yellowstone NPS.

Last week, EPIC filed a rulemaking petition with the California Fish and Game Commission to ensure greater protections for beavers and to clarify existing legal rules concerning their trapping. Together on the petition were the Center for Biological Diversity, the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, and the Northcoast Environmental Center.

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. It further codifies federal law prohibiting the removal of beavers if that removal would harm a species protected by the Endangered Species Act.  

The North American beaver (Castor canadensis) is native to California. Accordingly, the flora and fauna of the state have co-evolved with the beaver, developing unique and complex interwoven relationships. Beavers, however, are currently missing from much of their historic range and the effects of their absence are felt by the species that co-evolved with beavers. Beaver create freshwater habitats used by a variety of wildlife, including fish, birds, and other mammals. Their dams filter stream water, improve water quality, raise the water table, increase water storage, and repair eroded riparian areas. 

“Beavers play an outsized role in creating healthy aquatic habitat,” said Tom Wheeler, Executive Director of EPIC. “Today’s rulemaking petition recognizes this important ecosystem role and affords greater protections for the beaver. We need more beavers, not more beaver trapping, to have healthy watercourses.”

Today’s petition will go before the Commission at the next scheduled hearing.  There, the Commission will consider the petition, together with staff’s recommendation as well as the evaluation of the Department of Fish and Wildlife together with all public comments received. If the Commission finds that the petition lacks sufficient information or is functionally equivalent to a regulation change in the past 12 months, the Commission may deny the petition. If the Commission finds that the petition may be warranted, then it may add the petition to its rulemaking schedule for future consideration.

A copy of the rulemaking petition can be found here


Loophole-ridden Proposal for Pacific Fishers Fails to Protect Forest Habitat

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019
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Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In response to a petition and lawsuit from conservation groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to protect Pacific fishers under the Endangered Species Act. Conservation groups are decrying loopholes in the proposal under a special “4(d)” rule that will allow ongoing logging of the forest-dependent carnivore’s habitat.

“Fishers deserve actual safeguards under the Endangered Species Act, not this weak proposal that doesn’t fully protect their habitat,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The exemptions to their protection are fuzzier than fishers themselves.”

The Service proposed protection for the fisher in 2014 but then arbitrarily withdrew its proposal in 2016. Groups then filed suit, asserting that the denial ignored science in a politically motivated bow to the timber industry. In September 2018 a judge in the Northern District of California ruled that the Service had to reconsider the denial of Endangered Species Act protection for Pacific fishers. Today’s proposed listing is a revision of the 2014 rule with exemptions from protection for forest-management activities.

“Once more the Fish and Wildlife Service is failing to implement the protections that fishers need to recover. They are clearly relying on politics instead of science, so we will continue to push for full protection for fishers,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director at the Environmental Protection Information Center.

A relative of minks and otters, Pacific fishers once roamed forests from British Columbia to Southern California. But due to intense logging and historical trapping, only two naturally occurring populations remain: a population of 100 to 500 fishers in the southern Sierra Nevada and a population of between 250 and a few thousand in southern Oregon and Northern California. Fishers have been reintroduced in Washington state.

“This rare forest carnivore still isn’t getting the protection it needs to be safeguarded for future generations. We urge the agency to issue a final listing that does not buckle to pressure from industry and that protects the fisher fully from logging activities,” said Susan Britting, executive director of Sierra Forest Legacy.

Pacific fishers continue to be threatened by loss of habitat due to logging, use of toxic rodenticides by marijuana growers, and increasing fire severity exacerbated by climate change. In a 2015 study, scientists conducting necropsies on fishers found that 85 percent had been exposed to rodent poison.

“These days it’s rare to find a fisher in southern Oregon that hasn’t been exposed to poisonous rodenticides,” said George Sexton, conservation director at KS Wild. “If we can’t get a handle on the widespread poisonings the future of the species is pretty bleak. We are appreciative that the Fish and Wildlife Service now recognizes that fisher populations are threatened and need protections. Hopefully we can all work together to strengthen the safeguards that fishers need if they are to survive into the future.”

Efforts to gain federal protection for the fisher now span decades. The Center for Biological Diversity first petitioned to protect the animal in 1994, and again in 2000 with the Environmental Protection Information Center, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Sierra Forest Legacy. Earthjustice represented the groups in challenging the 2016 withdrawal of the proposed listing. The Service first put the fisher on a waiting list for Endangered Species Act protection in 2004.

“The Endangered Species Act is our nation’s bedrock environmental law, but sadly the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is sacrificing our most imperiled wildlife to appease industry interests with this loophole-ridden proposal,” said Elizabeth Forsyth, an Earthjustice attorney.

Click here for the press release.


Bee a Zombie this Halloween!

Tuesday, October 29th, 2019
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Photo by Wildwise studios

Looking for a spooky Halloween costume? Look no further! Bee a Zombee this Halloween and share a cool ecological story as you trick-or-treat.

Zombie bees, or zombees, buzzing through the neighborhood on a cold Halloween night. Sounds like fiction (or a great Halloween costume!), but it’s real. While not undead, the bees are controlled by a parasite growing inside their bodies. It starts like this: A parasitic fly about the size of a fruit fly, Apocephalus borealis, lands on a bee. Quickly it deposits its eggs in cracks in the bee’s abdomen. As the eggs hatch, they migrate deeper into the bee, feeding on its muscles. As the parasite continues to grow, the bee will exhibit weird behavior. It may venture out on cold, dark nights in search of artificial light. (Why? Scientists are not sure but speculate that the parasite is controlling its host, causing it to look for a more-suitable place to complete its incubation.) Other strange behavior includes loss of normal muscle function (look for bees that are falling over or having trouble standing) or disorientation (look for bees walking aimlessly in circles).

This parasite is native to North America, although its infection of European honeybees is thought to be recent. Some have speculated that the parasitic fly may be a vector for colony collapse disorder. Our knowledge of zombees is still evolving, as this phenomenon was only discovered in 2008.

See any bees acting funny? Become a citizen scientist and record your sightings at zombeewatch.org. Place bees found near artificial light sources in a sealed container (one bee per container) and wait. Small, pill-shaped fly pupae may emerge (usually somewhere around 5-14 days later). Take a photo of your results and share with the world! One zombee was already recorded in Fortuna, CA, so they may already bee in your backyard.


BREAKING:EPIC Litigates Mendocino National Forest’s Latest Attempt To Evade Environmental Review

Thursday, October 17th, 2019
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Mendocino National Forest bulldozer lines are linear clearcuts harmful to wildlife and ecosystems but are ineffective at stopping the fire. Photo courtesy of Kimberly Baker

The Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) is suing the U.S. Forest Service for approving a series of timber sales on the Mendocino National Forest that shortcut public participation and environmental review in violation of federal law. In a complaint filed today, EPIC alleges that the Forest Service expedited seven timber sales, totaling up to 7,000 acres, by mislabeling the logging as a “road maintenance” project. At risk from the logging are clean water, northern spotted owls, and increased fuel conditions.

All Forest Service timber sales are subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The core of NEPA is a requirement that agencies take a “hard look” at the environmental impacts of their proposed actions, typically done through an environmental impact statement or environmental analysis. The timber sales were approved using what is called a “categorical exclusion.” Categorical exclusions do not require environmental impact review or public comment.

Unnecessary bulldozer line the fire never reached fragments intact wildlands. Photo Courtesy of Kimberly Baker.

Here, the Forest Service argues that a commercial timber sale is “road maintenance” because the logging would remove dead and live trees affected by the 2018 Ranch Fire along roads, reducing the odds that the trees may fall and block the road. A separate categorical exclusion exists for post-fire logging, although that is limited to 250 acres, as anything larger in scale is assumed to be able to produce significant impacts to the environment. All timber sales in this proposed project are larger than 250 acres. Furthermore, many of the roads proposed for logging are closed to motor vehicle use.

“The Mendocino National Forest is taking a page from Trump’s playbook,” said Tom Wheeler, Executive Director of EPIC. “Calling a timber sale ‘road maintenance’ is a stunning way to stifle public participation and ignore environmental impacts.”

Science has widely recognized that post-fire logging is especially impactful, as logging adds an additional disturbance on top of the effects of the fire. Post-fire logging often results in degraded water quality, the spread of invasive plants, and loss of habitat for rare, threatened and endangered species. It can also increase the risk of high-severity fire since logging leaves behind a buildup of slash and finer “fuels.” If allowed to use a categorical exclusion instead of an environmental impact statement, these impacts may never be adequately examined and mitigation measures to reduce harm through better project design would not be incorporated.

“This is a massive project covering thousands of acres,” asserted EPIC’s Public Land Advocate, Kimberly Baker, “the Mendocino National Forest is breaking the law to meet timber targets and benefit timber corporations at a cost to fragile post-fire watersheds and threatened species. Public safety could be achieved in a more benign manner.”

EPIC is represented by René Voss of Natural Resources Law and Matt Kenna of Public Interest Environmental Law. The case will be heard in the Northern District Court of California.

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.

Click here for press release and contacts.


EcoNews Creature Feature: Hoary Bat

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019
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Hoary Bat on a branch. Photo by Tom Benson.

The hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus) is one of North America’s largest bats, boasting a solid 5.9 inches in length. Named for its “hoary” fur—meaning silvery or grayish-white—the bat’s body is encased in cinnamon brown fur tinged in frosty silver. Its tiny face is surrounded by a furry golden halo, making these bats even more recognizable and adorable.  The hoary bat is widespread throughout the U.S., found in 49 of 50 states.

Out of the thirteen species of bats that live in Humboldt County, the hoary bat is an especially unique bat due to the fact that it migrates and hibernates, when most bats do one or the other. This strange trait has befuddled scientists but one of the potential possibilities for this behavior comes from their roosting habits. Hoary bats are a tree roosting species, meaning they sleep and live outside in trees rather than caves, like many other bats. They are one of the only species of bats that hibernate in the open, such as on tree branches. This could explain why they are evolved for hibernation but choose to migrate in large numbers from the eastern states to northwest California in autumn to roost in the warm, moist, and sheltered redwoods.

Locally, Humboldt Redwoods State Park appears to be an important migratory hot spot for the hoary bat, with a seasonal concentration of mating of bats not yet seen elsewhere on the planet. There are so many hoary bat that this may mean that Humboldt Redwoods draws bats from all over western North America.

The diet of the hoary bat primarily consists of moths, but can include other small insects, such as dragonflies, mosquitoes, flies, crickets and beetles. They are an important predator of insects and a successful one at that, in a single meal the hoary bat can eat up to 40% of its weight. Their prime foraging times occur in the late evenings and, due to their low frequency echolocation, most of it occurs over wide, open areas. Unlike other bats, hoary bats appear to fly with a very low frequency of echolocation—think of a human with a heavy prescription driving at night without their glasses.  

This has come at a cost to these bats.  Since they prefer open, wide hunting grounds and rely on very little senses while flying, they are easily obstructed when there are artificial objects in formerly open areas, such as large wind turbines in high meadows. Sadly, hoary bats are the species most frequently killed by wind turbines in North America, with 38% proportion of bat fatalities at wind energy facilities in North America being hoary bats.

The proposed wind project outside Scotia presents obvious concerns, given the location near Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Among the worst case scenarios: the project would have the potential to create a “population sink” for the western North American population of hoary bats.  According to one recent study, impacts from wind energy projects are so great that the hoary bats population is expected to dip 90% in just 50 years.

Luckily there are measures that can be taken to reduce the risks posed by wind energy development on the species. Key among these is to curtail energy production during high risk periods, such as during migration or during nights with low wind speeds. Curtailment alone has the potential to reduce fatalities between 44-93%. Additional other measures, like acoustic deterrence, can further reduce potential fatalities.