Biodiversity

EPIC & Allies File Notice of Intent to Sue For Failure In Trespass Cannabis Grows

Monday, June 21st, 2021
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Trespass grow site in Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Photo by US Forest Service.

EPIC and allies including Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics [and the] Northcoast Environmental Center, filed a formal notice of intent to sue the [U.S.] Forest Service for failing to clean up hazardous waste associated with trespass cannabis grows on Forest Service lands in California.

At the heart of the lawsuit is a novel legal question: Is the federal government obligated to remove hazardous waste on its property? By deliberately leaving hazardous waste in the forest, often without warning or marking, conservation groups assert that the Forest Service is putting the public and the environment at risk.

Trespass cannabis cultivation is routine on public lands in California and the Forest Service—the largest landowner in the state—busts dozens of grow sites per year. While trash and other solid waste is often removed from grow sites after law enforcement, deadly pesticides, including some that are banned for use in the United States, are routinely left at the former grow site because of the cost and complexity of removal. This presents a legacy problem for humans and the environment.

“Our public lands should not be warehouses for toxic chemicals,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center and the author of the notice letter. “The Forest Service has an obligation under the law to deal with hazardous waste left on their lands. Their failure to do so harms the environment and puts human lives at risk.”

Hazardous waste discovered yet left in the forest include carbofuran, warfarin, zinc phosphide, strychnine, methomyl, carbaryl, and aluminum phosphide. The risk to humans is acute. Take carbofuran for example. Carbofuran, a potent neurotoxic insecticide, is so hazardous that it can kill an adult human with “just a drop” —1/16th of a teaspoon—and is “one of the most toxic carbamate pesticides ever produced.” Carbofuran is found at approximately 32-34% of trespass grow sites in California. Often found in unmarked containers, like chemical sprayers and Gatorade bottles, simply picking up a bottle of carbofuran without gloves exposes a person to the poison. Carbofuran is so dangerous that as of 2009, there are no legally permitted uses for carbofuran. The risk is also not abstract, as law enforcement officers have been injured by pesticide exposure at trespass grow sites.

“Access to our National Forests is a minefield for campers, hikers and wildlife with extremely hazardous toxic chemicals left dumped and leaking downstream who knows how far,” said Patty Clary of Californians for Alternatives to Toxics. “With its huge footprint in California, the Forest Service is completely remiss and cannot be allowed to ignore the ongoing poisoning of our land and water caused by unfettered criminal marijuana grows as if this horrendous problem doesn’t exist.”

Hazardous waste also continues to make its way into the environment. Recent research shows that pesticide residue is commonly found in the blood endangered species, such as the northern spotted owl and the Pacific fisher, so much so that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recognized toxicants associated with trespass cannabis production as a threat to these species.

By filing the notice of intent to sue, conservation organizations hope to forestall actual litigation by forcefully encouraging the Forest Service to budget and plan for the full remediation of all known grow sites on their lands in the state.

Conservation groups are represented by William Verick of the Klamath Environmental Law Center.

See the full Notice of Intent here.


Take Action: Call For An Immediate Halt To Logging In Occupied JDSF!

Thursday, June 10th, 2021
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Logging commenced yesterday on the highly contested timber harvest plan called Caspar 500 in Jackson Demonstration State Forest (JDSF) where a tree sit in an almost two-hundred-year-old redwood known as the “Mama Tree” has captured the public’s attention since April. Trees are being felled despite people being present in the forest in the same location in an effort to protect the trees.

Early yesterday morning, tree sitter Alder reported hearing chainsaws and heavy thuds as big trees were being cut at a “fast and furious” rate in multiple locations. Alder immediately notified Cal Fire State Forests Program Director, Kevin Conway, as well as contractor, Anderson Logging, of people’s presence on the ground in vicinity. Many community members, trail hikers and bikers have flocked to the woods in a last ditch attempt to keep standing the trees they love.

Concerned community members called on Kevin Conway, Cal Fire State Forests Program Director, to immediately halt logging operations while people are in the woods. Previous negotiations for dialogue broke down recently when Cal Fire refused to agree to halt logging while talks were initiated.

While the Mama and Papa trees have focused public attention on JDSF, activists emphasize that they are “not the only trees in the forest” and that it is the entire forest in the context of climate change, cultural and tribal protections and current environmental and economic issues affecting Mendocino County and the world.

The Coalition to Save Jackson State Forest in JDSF is calling for a moratorium on logging until a new Environmental Impact Report for the JDSF Management Plan is completed, stating: “The old report, drafted 2007, is woefully out of date”.

Please join us in urging Cal Fire State Forests Program Director, Kevin Conway, to halt logging operations immediately so negotiations can continue and until proper dialogue has been reached. An easy to fill out template letter can be found at the link below! Sign today!


The Duty To Protect Our Redwood Relatives

Tuesday, May 25th, 2021
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My name is Crista Ray and I am a Sinkyone descendant. I am a member of the Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians and represent my Tribe on the board of the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council (Sinkyone Council). The Sinkyone Council is a Tribal non-profit consortium comprised of ten federally recognized Northern California Indian Tribes with cultural connections to the lands and waters of traditional Sinkyone and neighboring Tribal territories. Richardson Grove comprises an important area of Sinkyone traditional territory, and is a Sinkyone cultural heritage area of immense significance to Tribes and Tribal Peoples of the region.

Today, Richardson Grove continues to hold great cultural significance as an important place of prayer, ceremony and cultural lifeways. This is in part because Richardson Grove is one of only a few remaining ancient redwood groves, a critical part of the surviving 2% old-growth redwood still standing. Gááhs-tcho (coast redwood tree in Sinkyone language, also referred to as Na-Gááh-tcho) is a special relative whom Indigenous Peoples are taught to never harm. Tribal leaders throughout the redwood region often have spoken of the duty to honor and protect the Gááhs-tcho, and warned about the consequences of harming them. The Sinkyone, along with many other Indigenous Peoples, relate to Gááhs-tcho as communities of sacred beings who provide protection, abundance and balance for the world. If the Grove is harmed, then so are the Sinkyone People and this world.

That is why we are opposed to Caltrans’ so-called “Richardson Grove Improvement Project”. While Caltrans insists that no old-growth Gááhs-tcho would be removed if the project were implemented, the project’s plans require severing significant numbers of large old-growth tree roots, paving them over with concrete, and removing many neighboring trees. This is unacceptable and would permanently harm these trees and Tribal cultural heritage.

Anyone who has ever walked through an old-growth Gááhs-tcho grove knows the grandeur of these incredible beings. But, something you don’t get to fully appreciate when walking above ground is their incredible root systems. Unlike many other trees, Gááhs-tcho roots are relatively shallow, usually only about 6-12 feet deep. How does the tallest tree on earth stay upright with such shallow roots?

Instead of burrowing down, Gááhs-tcho roots spread out over a large area. As they do, they intertwine with their neighbors and form an interlocking root system that holds up the individual trees. This strategy is what prevents Gááhs-tcho from falling over during the many strong windstorms and earthquakes they experience over their incredibly long lives. So, cutting a significant number of large old-growth Gááhs-tcho roots, particularly old-growth Gááhs-tcho whose root system have developed over centuries or even millennia, will endanger the entire Grove by weakening its support structure. Even if the Grove survives the immediate effects of the cuttings, Caltrans will have forever weakened the resiliency of the Grove.

Photo by Murray Cooper.

There is another reason why cutting significant numbers of Gááhs-tcho roots is a threat to the health of the entire Grove. Western science has recently duplicated what Indigenous Peoples have known since time immemorial, that every tree in a forest is linked, even trees of different species. A complex symbiotic relationship between the root systems of trees and fungi, known to scientists as a mycorrhizal network, allows trees to share a vast store of knowledge and understanding—as well as support, love and nutrients—with one another. Scientists have documented trees sharing carbon, water, nitrogen and other nutrients via this underground network. Researchers have even documented chemical alarm signals being shared from tree to tree that warn of drought or beetle infestation.

Trees are not inanimate objects, indifferent to the world around them. They are part of a community that depends upon its members in order to survive and thrive. For decades, foresters who traditionally viewed every tree as an individual have dismissed or rejected this research because of its implications. As such, researchers are still learning much about how mycorrhizal networks operate in Gááhs-tcho forests. Given the scientific community’s lack of understanding on this issue and the sacred and irreplaceable nature of old-growth Gááhs-tcho, Caltrans has a duty not to damage their root systems.

Written by Crista Ray and shared with her permission .


The InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council Calls For A Halt To Richardson Grove Project

Tuesday, May 11th, 2021
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On May 7th, 2021 the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council (Sinkyone Council) and the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) sent a letter requesting that Caltrans halt the Richardson Grove Improvement Project (the project). The letter, which you can read here, outlines the cultural significance of Richardson Grove and the old-growth redwood trees to the Sinkyone People and other Tribes of the region.

To the Sinkyone People, Gááhs-tcho (Redwood Tree) is a special relative whom they were taught to never harm. “As Indigenous Peoples, our responsibility is to respect and care for places like the Grove because of their inherent sacredness and importance within the larger Gááhs-tcho temperate rainforest of this region and beyond. The Grove is an irreplaceable part of the cultural landscape and identity of the Sinkyone People,” asserts Mary Norris who is Chairwoman at the Cahto Tribe of Laytonville Rancheria, the Tribal community situated closest to the Grove today.

The Sinkyone Council’s commitment to defending nature and supporting revitalization of Tribal traditional lifeways and relationships with cultural landscapes and seascapes is guided by the long continuum of Tribal presence in places like the Grove. The Council has a long track record of demanding state and federal agency compliance with cultural protection laws. Agencies have legal requirements to protect Tribal cultural heritage and values, and to prevent harmful impacts to Tribes’ cultural properties and ways of life, including cultural places. This principle is underscored by Sinkyone Council Chairwoman Priscilla Hunter, who asserts “Caltrans has a duty to honor and uphold protection for cultural places such as the Grove.”

Richardson Grove is one of only a few remaining ancient redwood groves, a critical part of the surviving 2% old-growth redwood still standing. Tribal members maintain cultural relationship with the Grove as an important place for the continuation of traditional ways of life, as Sinkyone ancestors for millennia did. For these and other reasons, it is vitally important that the Grove be accorded sufficient protections that in turn will ensure Indigenous Sinkyone cultural heritage and lifeways are respected and protected.

EPIC has long opposed the project because of its negative impacts to old-growth redwoods and our belief that alternative solutions are available. We are proud to stand alongside the Sinkyone Council in continuing to call for this project to be abandoned.


Leaked Memo Shows Trump Administration Knew Slashing Spotted Owl Habitat Would Cause Extinction

Thursday, May 6th, 2021
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On the same day as the Trump administration announced the elimination of 3.4 million acres of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s top owl expert formally objected to the decision in a document recently unearthed as part of ongoing litigation. The Jan. 15 memorandum, written by Oregon State Office Supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Dr. Paul Henson, found that “it is reasonable to conclude that [the reduction in critical habitat] will result in the extinction of the [northern spotted owl].” The Henson memo references other documents, as yet unreleased, indicating this was not the first warning of the dire consequences of the proposed rule. On Dec. 9, 2020, Dr. Henson likewise warned, “Most scientists (myself included) would conclude that such an outcome will, therefore, result in the eventual extinction of the listed subspecies.” 

“We suspected that political favors, not science, guided the last-minute rulemaking change by the Trump administration,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC). “Now we know that it was made clear to the Trump administration that its planned cuts to northern spotted owl critical habitat would result in the owl’s extinction. They knew but didn’t care.”

“We now know what we suspected all along, which is that the Trump administration actively disregarded the best available science when making wildlife and land management decisions,” said Susan Jane Brown, attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “Seeing in writing that callous disregard for the continued existence of this iconic species is sobering, to say the least, and revolting at worst. This is a clear example, and unfortunately not the first, of the prior administration giving out gifts to political allies rather than following the law. Thankfully, experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stood up for the northern spotted owl, and WELC and our clients are in court to ensure that the best available science rules the day.”

The Henson memo was written in response to a separate memo, signed by then-U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipwith, which outlined the legal and scientific justifications for the reduction in critical habitat. The Jan. 7, 2021 memorandum was reportedly not provided to Dr. Henson until the day before the formal rulemaking, making a more timely objection impossible. 

This is not the first time that political appointees have personally inserted themselves into controversial decisions. In 2007, Julie MacDonald, then deputy assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Department of the Interior, was found to have manipulated decisions and agency science to benefit the Bush administration’s political agenda. The Interior Department under Interior Secs. Ryan Zinke and David Bernhardt have also been subject to a number of high-profile ethics scandals. Given this history, after the Jan. 15 critical habitat rule, eight Western lawmakers requested a formal investigation as to whether any government official improperly “inserted themselves into the scientific process in order to achieve preferred policy outcomes….”

The Biden administration has paused implementation of the Trump-era critical habitat rule until December, signaling its intent to formally reverse or revise the rule. Meanwhile, the timber industry has already filed suit against the delayed implementation and Congressional Republicans are lining up behind the timber industry, urging the immediate implementation of the Trump rule.

General background:

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

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

In response to a petition filed by the Environmental Protection Information Center, in December 2021, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that “uplisting” the owl from “threatened” to “endangered” was “warranted but precluded by higher priority actions.”

Materials For Reference:


Take Action: Stop Deceptive Water Project On The Shasta River!

Tuesday, April 20th, 2021
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Shasta River. Photo by Val Atkinson.

The Shasta River is one of the main tributaries to the Klamath River and one of the historic key spawning grounds for salmon and steelhead. The waters of the Shasta, drawn from the glaciers and snowmelt of Mount Shasta, together feeding year-round springs, have since time immemorial provided cool, clean waters and a great gravel bed that was perfect for spawning. So good that up to half of all salmon in the Klamath watershed came back to the Shasta to spawn.

A century plus of development has radically transformed the Shasta. A dam captures channel shaping winter flows and in summer the river is so over-allocated that it nearly runs dry during the height of the irrigation season. Now the Grenada Irrigation District wants to upgrade its diversion method—and they want you, the taxpayer, to foot the six million dollar bill. On Thursday, the Wildlife Conservation Board will be reviewing grant proposals for instream flow enhancement projects including the proposed Grenada Irrigation District Flow Enhancement Project (aka pipeline)—a project for which we have ample evidence showing should not be funded. Click here to take action.

While Grenada says that this pipeline will result in a more efficient delivery of irrigation water, the new pipeline is likely to increase demand by making it cheaper to irrigate. At present, while Grenada is generally prohibited by stream flow levels from pumping their full paper water right, they can pump some water in all years. But most properties in the district are not currently irrigated due to the high costs of lifting water plus the substantial leakage from their ditch on top of their inefficient flood irrigation. This makes agriculture uneconomical—the water cost is more than the value that the crop justifies. But if the delivered cost of water could be cut by reducing both the lift and the leakage, more people in the district will likely irrigate and Grenada could then pump continuously, rather than intermittently as they now do, ultimately depleting more river flow, not adding to it. Total diversion would actually increase, to the detriment of the fish and river.

All of this is to be funded with Prop 1 funds, which are directed to enhancing fish flows. This money could find a far better home than subsidizing the Grenada Irrigation District’s inefficient irrigation. Please write today to the Wildlife Conservation Board and urge them to deny funding to this irresponsible pipeline that threatens critical fish populations and the health of the Shasta River.

Take Action Today!

EPIC is proud to work with the Friends of the Shasta River to improve in-stream conditions for California’s rare and threatened fish.


Action Alert: Protect Forests for Earth Day 🌎

Monday, April 19th, 2021
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Our nation’s old growth forests are an incredibly important climate solution. Our temperate rainforests rival tropical rainforests in terms of the amount of carbon they store per acre, and large, old trees everywhere store the majority of carbon in forests. However, these bigger, older trees are still being logged when they should be protected for carbon storage, wildlife habitat, and clean water.

We have an exciting opportunity right now to change this trajectory. Through the Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is being asked to seek public input regarding USDA’s climate strategy. This public input will be considered as USDA prepares recommendations to expand climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices and systems.

We need the US Department of Agriculture to protect our forests!

And we need YOU to tell them why!

Take Action Now!

When we protect our forests from logging, we both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ensure these forests continue to store vast amounts of carbon —a win-win climate change solution! In California, our intact forests also offer unique and critical habitat for at-risk fish and wildlife, including the marbled murrelet, salmon, and the northern spotted owl. Healthy forests also filter water to keep our streams, rivers and lakes clean and cold, and these same forests protect watersheds and communities from flooding and landslides.

Please join us in calling on the US Department of Agriculture to incorporate permanent protections for mature and old growth forests, limit post-fire logging, and protect our watersheds as part of our nation’s strategy to address climate change and protect 30 percent of land and water by 2030.


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.