Northern Spotted Owl

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.


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


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.


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. 


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.


Action Alert: Proposed HCP for SPI a Bad Deal for Spotted Owls, Comments Needed!

Monday, June 17th, 2019
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Spotted Owl. Photo by Len Blumin

A proposed Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) that would authorize “incidental take” of both Northern Spotted Owls and California Spotted Owls on California timberlands owned and managed by Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) has been released in its draft form along with a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for public comment.

SPI owns nearly two million acres of private, industrially-managed timberlands in California, and the ownership is squarely within the range of both the federally-threatened Northern Spotted Owl, and the federal-candidate for listing, the California Spotted Owl, much of which is situation in the “checkerboard,” lands, i.e., lands where SPI and the U.S. Forest Service, respectively own alternating square parcels.

The Draft SPI HCP proposes to establish and create so-called, “Potential Habitat Areas,” (PHAs) on SPI ownership for both Northern Spotted Owls and for California Spotted Owls for SPI ownership in the Sierra-Nevada. These PHAs and the habitat retention and other conservation requirements for PHAs proposed in the Draft SPI HCP would allow SPI to rely heavily on adjacent federal and public lands, most notably lands owned by the U.S. Forest Service, for the purposes of the HCP. According to the Draft HCP, SPI could account as much as 75-percent of its PHAs to lands not actually owned or controlled by SPI.

A similar approach to Spotted Owl conservation and impact mitigation were proposed by Fruit Growers Supply Company and approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service previously, only to have the approved-HCP nullified by federal courts upon litigation brought by concerned conservation groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildands Center, and the Klamath Forest Alliance. Yet, SPI and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seem bent on creating the exact same HCP framework that failed to pass legal muster in the Fruit Growers’ example.

The Draft SPI HCP and Draft EIS rely heavily upon the notion that approval of a companion permit to lethally-remove, control, and experimentally-study barred owls (Strix varina), a non-native and invasive competitor to both the Northern and California Spotted Owls would garner key conservation benefits as a reason why the HCP is necessary and will work. The trouble here is that issuance of such a permit pursuant to the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) for the duration proposed (50-years), is actually not legal currently either. MBTA permits can only be issued on a five-year basis currently under federal law.

The Draft SPI HCP also proposes to “front-load” its “incidental take,” of Northern and California Spotted Owls, meaning that the greatest impacts to both species proposed in the DHCP would occur in the first two-decades of the 50-year proposed-permit, while the conservation benefit is backloaded to the last two decades of the proposed-permit, and is predicated heavily on the presumption of re-growth and regeneration of SPI timberlands.

The Northern Spotted Owl has been listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act since 1990, and the most recent range-wide demographic study indicated that Northern Spotted Owls were continuing to decline range-wide and that the rate of the decline is increasing due to a combination of continued habitat loss and competition from barred owls. In 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a 90-Day Finding on an EPIC petition to “uplist” or “re-classify” the Northern Spotted Owl as an “endangered,” species under the ESA, finding that the action may be warranted, meaning that the Northern Spotted Owl may actually be endangered.

The California Spotted Owl is currently a candidate for ESA listing in response to two petitions brought before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by conservation groups based in the Sierra-Nevada. Currently, far greater protections exist for Northern Spotted Owls in conjunction with SPI timber operations in California than exist for the California Spotted Owl. This is largely a function of California Forest Practice Rules and regulations and not U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ESA implementation and administration.

Comments on the Draft SPI HCP and the Draft EIS must be submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by Monday, July 1.

Take Action Now!


EPIC Files Formal Complaint and Appeal of Green Diamond Certification by Forest Stewardship Council

Wednesday, January 9th, 2019
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EPIC filed a formal Complaint to appeal the decision of the Re-Certification of Green Diamond Resource Company as in conformance with the standards and criteria of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) on December 24, 2018.

The Complaint and Appeal were presented to the independent certification company, Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), based in Emeryville, CA. SCS initially certified Green Diamond in 2012 amidst great local opposition and controversy, and then re-certified Green Diamond in early 2018.

FSC certification, monitoring, and issuance of additional specific criteria to maintain FSC conformance and certification, known as “Corrective Action Reports” are all conducted and administered by independent third-party certification companies, like SCS. SCS is also the certification company responsible for Humboldt Redwood Company’s FSC certification.

EPIC’s Complaint to SCS comes out of an investigation into Green Diamond’s re-certification under FSC for forest management and the legitimacy of Green Diamond’s network of “High Conservation Value Forest” (HCVF). FSC standards require certified companies like Green Diamond to establish and maintain an HCVF network of lands classified as “core-interior habitats,” and to voluntary conserve, enhance, and maintain all lands designated as HCVF.

EPIC found that Green Diamond is not including lands in its HCVF network that do not meet the definition of a “core interior habitat,” such as the Riparian Management Zones (RMZs) established along Class I and Class II watercourses on Green Diamond lands. These RMZs are thin strips of forested lands left behind after Green Diamond clearcuts. Even if Green Diamond’s RMZs are appropriate to include in its HCVF network, evidence found in SCS’s own audit and certification and re-certification reports indicates that the total acreage of RMZ accounted by the company as HCVF has steadily declined since 2012, and that thousands of acres once accounted as RMZ HCVF have not been maintained as HCVF and instead have been subject to active commercial timber management.

EPIC further found that Green Diamond was accounting something it calls, “NSO Core-Areas,” as HCVF. Aside from the fact that no clear definition of “NSO Core-Areas” seems to exist, there is also no indication of where these areas are located on the Green Diamond commercial timber landscape, or if they exist at all. And, if all that’s not suspicious enough, SCS’s own audit and certification reports show a steady decline in the acres accounted by Green Diamond as “NSO Core Areas” in its HCVF network since 2012. It appears that thousands of acres of “NSO Core Areas” once accounted by Green Diamond as part of its HCVF network have since been lost to active commercial timber management, which is expressly antithetical to the requirements to protect, enhance, and maintain lands designated as HCVF and to preclude active commercial timber management in such areas.

EPIC also Appealed Green Diamond’s re-certification by SCS under FSC standards on the basis that the company has not lived up to FSC standards or genuinely addressed Corrective Acton Reports calling on the company to create a program to solicit, intake, and integrate input into its management practices from a broad spectrum of public and community stakeholders. Green Diamond claims that the funding of local civic clubs and recreational community sports teams are sufficient to meet the letter and intent of FSC’s standards for intaking and integrating public stakeholder input. Suffice to say, EPIC disagrees.

SCS has initiated its process to formally investigate and respond to EPIC’s Complaint and Appeal of Green Diamond’s 2017-2018 re-certification under FSC’s standards and has promised to provide a full written response from its investigation within 90-days of the filing date.

Nobody peels back the layers of the onion like EPIC. We do the dirty work in-the-trenches, all to protect our forests, fish, wildlife, water and this amazing place we call home.  Click here to support our efforts.


Logging, Not Wildfires is a Greater Threat to Northern Spotted Owls

Wednesday, September 12th, 2018
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Science in action: Defying current assumptions, a new scientific review of northern spotted owl studies discovered that current forest management practices meant to protect them may instead be hurting them. In a recent meta-analysis, Pennsylvania State University researcher and quantitative ecologist Dr. Derek E. Lee examined 21 published scientific studies on the spotted owl and found that wildfire impacts were less than previously believed, challenging the narrative that fuel-reduction logging is necessary or helpful for their survival. The study found that mixed-severity fires may in fact be beneficial to their habitats

This summer, as the West Coast continues to be scorched by multiple infernos, the wildfire risks to human life and property are not to be underestimated. Wildfires (or the mere potential for them) near cities and towns can be extremely deadly, and must be proactively managed for human safety. However, in the wilderness and away from human habitation, mixed-severity fires may actually have complex ecological effects that warrant a second look.

On wildfire impacts to the spotted owl, Dr. Lee writes, “[These results were] not a surprise to me as this species has been living with forest fire for thousands of years. But, it was fascinating to see the positive effects of wildfire on the owls. The positive effects of forest fires on spotted owls indicate mixed-severity fires, including so-called mega-fires, such as have been receiving lots of media attention lately, are within the natural range of variability for these forests. The fact that spotted owls have adapted to these types of fires over evolutionary time tells us that they have seen this before and learned to take advantage of it.”

Click for full infographic by Derek E. Lee. Used with permission.

In the examined studies, fewer than 1% of spotted owl breeding sites were found to be affected by fires. In contrast, the wildfires produced mixed habitats that drew in new owls (increased “recruitment”) and provided more foraging opportunities in the recently-burned areas.

According to Dr. Lee’s press release, “The idea behind these logging projects is that the risks from wildfire outweigh the harm caused by additional logging, but here we show that forest fires are not a serious threat to owl populations and in most instances are even beneficial. This reveals an urgent need to re-evaluate our forest management strategies.”


Base Camp Reflections

Thursday, June 15th, 2017
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Over the weekend, EPIC staff and volunteers ventured out into the remote wildlands of the Klamath Mountains for EPIC Base Camp; a three day “groundtruthing” training that focused on data gathering to help reform grazing and timber sale practices on public lands. Outdated laws allow for private timber companies and ranchers to use public lands for private profit, and the fees collected for these destructive activities do not cover the costs of the impacts, regulation, or oversite associated with the practices.

Because regulatory agencies tasked with protecting our natural resources are under staffed, they do not have the capacity to visit all of the sites in a timber sale or grazing allotment, so they depend on public citizen monitoring to report inconsistencies between what is proposed and what is happening on the ground. In essence, agencies are complaint driven, meaning that they don’t act unless someone files a formal complaint.

Day 1: Grazing Monitoring and Timber Sale Sleuthing

On Saturday, June 10, Felice Pace, Project Coordinator of the Grazing Reform Project took the group on a field tour of the Horse Creek Grazing Allotment, and the Horse Creek post-fire timber sale in the Klamath National Forest. A site visit of the Horse Creek Grazing Allotment revealed illegal felling of a large old-growth tree that had been cut  and likely used for fire wood. Environmental impacts, including damage to water quality, impairment of meadow hydrology and degradation of fish, amphibian and wildlife habitat are a common occurrence in these allotments, which are located on public lands.

Next, the group ventured up into the mountains to monitor the Horse Creek timber sale, which was burned in the 2016 Gap Fire. These burned areas were already regenerating with tree seedlings and new plants sprouting up all over the forest floor. In the units that were visited, the landscape was extremely steep with a slope of 30%-70%. It was clear that logging, tractors, skid trails, and new roads would tear up and compact these steep fragile soils, resulting in erosion and delayed regeneration of the fragile post-fire ecosystem years to come. The low gradient of Horse Creek makes it one of the best coho salmon habitats in the Klamath Basin. Logging and road building above critical coho habitat will result in sediment entering the stream, which degrades salmon habitat and smothers baby salmon. The total amount of logging in the Horse Creek watershed is massive.

Several of the timber sale units were located within Late Successional Reserves. The objective of Late-Successional Reserves is to protect and enhance conditions of late successional forests (think: old-growth), which serve as habitat for old-growth dependent species, including the northern spotted owl. However, most of the largest trees visible from the roadway within these areas were marked for logging, a violation of the law.

The federal timber sale is immediately adjacent to massive private timber operation, compounding the impacts to fish and wildlife. As of June 1st EPIC identified 21 emergency notices in the Gap Fire area totaling 4,863 acres from private land owners (primarily Fruit Growers Supply Company) in addition to the Horse Creek timber sale. Emergency notices are private post-fire logging projects that are exempt from environmental review. On the way to investigate Unit 115.34 of the Horse Creek project, the neighboring parcel, owned by Fruit Growers Supply Company, was being actively logged under an exempt emergency notice. Volunteers noted that the riparian areas within Fruit Growers’ land were being logged. Emergency timber operations can be conducted in riparian areas, including adjacent to streams known to provide critical habitat for threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead species without environmental review by the CAL FIRE or agencies responsible for administering the California or Federal Endangered Species Acts.

Day 2: Timber Monitoring Continues

On Sunday, June 11, EPIC volunteers braved the weather and poor roads to investigate the largest timber sale unit. Volunteers walked a road proposed to be punched in to facilitate logging. Again, life was everywhere in this “dead” forest. Hardwoods were sprouting from stumps, conifer seedlings provided a green carpet, and many trees the Forest Service considers to be dead were alive, with green boughs and branches. After hours of documenting the forest, EPIC volunteers ended the weekend with a cheer and a promise to return.

It is important to note that most projects like these don’t get monitored, and therefore private companies get away with violating environmental laws and standards that are in place to protect common pool public resources, like clean water we rely on for drinking, critical habitat for species such as salmon that feed our local communities, forests that provide us with clean air, and other ecosystems that support the web of life that we all depend on.

THANK YOU! 

Although EPIC has been groundtruthing for years, this is the first EPIC Base Camp. Our inspiration came from Bark, an Oregon based non-profit that has held an annual Base Camp event for years. Bark was kind enough to send expert ground-truther, Michael Krochta, to share techniques, and lead some of the trainings. EPIC would like to thank the 17 volunteers who came out to the boonies in a rain storm to document these projects, and the information they gathered, will be used in our comments to improve the Horse Creek project to minimize impacts to these wild places. EPIC has the best members. THANK YOU!

If you would like to check out our timber sale unit notes click here.

To view the photos we took in the project areas, click here.

Photos by Amber Jamieson.

 

 


Horse Creek Project: Losing Taxpayer Money to Harm Spotted Owls

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016
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Low severity fire in upper Buckhorn Creek. Small snag patches such as this one in upper Buckhorn Creek are being targeted for logging by the KNF. The damage to soils, forest regeneration, and habitat complexity will degrade some of the watershed's only remaining old-growth forest. Photo courtesy of Luke Ruediger www.siskiyoucrest.blogspot.com

Low severity fire in upper Buckhorn Creek. Small snag patches such as this one in upper Buckhorn Creek are being targeted for logging by the KNF. The damage to soils, forest regeneration, and habitat complexity will degrade some of the watershed’s only remaining old-growth forest. Photo courtesy of Luke Ruediger www.siskiyoucrest.blogspot.com.

Take Action Now: Meet the Horse Creek Project, the Klamath’s new boondoggle that will log sensitive areas while losing taxpayer money. (There’s something in it for everyone to hate!)

The Klamath National Forest cannot let a fire go to “waste.” Following the 2016 Gap Fire, the Klamath National Forest is trying to log areas that should be off-limits: Late Successional Reserves, forests set aside from commercial timber harvest so that they can develop into old-growth forests; Riparian Reserves, areas around streams that are supposed to be off-limits to logging to prevent water pollution; and northern spotted owl habitat. The Klamath National Forest argues that logging large diameter snags, (which will stand for decades until new forests grow up around them all the while providing critical wildlife habitat) is good for the forests and for wildlife—paradoxical logic that has been rejected by both science and the courts.

If history is any guide, the Klamath National Forest will lose money in logging owl habitat—what’s known in Forest Service parlance as a “deficit sale.” Burned forests are worth more to owls and fishers than they are to timber mills. To make a profit, timber companies need to purchase trees from the Klamath National Forest for next to nothing. In several timber sales from earlier this year, the Klamath National Forest sold a logging truck’s worth of timber for about $2.50—less than the price of a cup of coffee. The Klamath will lose untold thousands or millions of dollars on this timber sale, money that could go to protecting local communities or improving wildlife habitat.

The Klamath National Forest has also tied important measures such as the removal of roadside hazard trees and the reduction of fuels near private property, to the controversial logging units. By doing so, the Klamath National Forest will not only delay this important work by several months through more complicated environmental review, but may tie up this work for years in court.

EPIC urges the Klamath to focus on the priorities. Protect local communities and drop logging in Late Successional Reserves, Riparian Reserves, and occupied owl habitat.

Take Action Now: Let the Forest Service know you oppose losing taxpayer money to log sensitive areas.


Show Your Support for the Northern Spotted Owl

Monday, March 14th, 2016
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NSO fem&juv _0397Take Action NowThe Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina), a once-abundant apex nocturnal forest raptor synonymous with the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest, has experienced precipitous declines in the 20th and 21st centuries, with the advent of intensive logging of its old-growth forest habitat, and the more-recent incursion of a cunning competitor. The latest long-term range-wide study of spotted owl populations clearly documents that the species continues to decline in the present-day, despite over 20 years of federal ESA protections, and that, alarmingly the rate of decline is increasing.

In August 2012, EPIC filed a petition to list the northern spotted owl as either a “threatened” or “endangered” species under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA), on the basis that federal protections have not been enough to curtail the declines of the northern spotted owl, to bring about recovery of the species.

On February 10, 2016, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) finally released its long-overdue status report detailing the somber state of the spotted owl’s plight in the state of California, a key step in the process to listing the owl under CESA. The CDFW status report outlines the grim status of northern spotted owl populations in the state, and the myriad and ever-increasing threats to the survival and recovery of the species in the wild. The CDFW status report recommends that listing of the northern spotted owl as a “threatened” species under CESA is warranted, citing past and ongoing habitat loss, the increasing and pervasive adverse effects of competitive presence of barred owls, impacts from cannabis agriculture and exposure to rodenticides, impacts from wildfire, fire suppression, and post-fire logging, changing temperature and weather patterns resulting from global and localized climate change, and the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms to protect the owl as reasons for the recommendation.

On April 14, 2016, the California Fish and Game Commission will meet in Santa Rosa to make a final determination on whether the listing of the northern spotted owl under CESA is warranted. The deadline for comments to be received by the Commission on the northern spotted owl listing determination is March 30, 2016. Click here to send a comment to the California Fish and Game Commission or send your own letter to: [email protected].


Westside Project Update

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015
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Westside

Russian Wilderness post 2014 Whites Fire Near north Fork Salmon River.

For the past year, we have discussed the proposed “Westside Project” on the Klamath National Forest. The Westside Project is an environmental disaster, proposing huge clearcuts across thousands of post-fire acres of the Klamath National Forest. The project would drastically impact northern spotted owls and would harm other wildlife, such as bald eagles and the Pacific fisher. You can read more about the Westside Project here.

Four major steps need to be made before logging could begin in earnest. First, the Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service need to complete their “consultation,” a process required by the Endangered Species Act, given the high magnitude of threats to the northern spotted owl. Second, the Forest Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service need to complete their consultation, also required by the Endangered Species Act, because of the potential harm to threatened coho. Third, after consultation is completed, we expect the Klamath National Forest to issue a decision on the project. Lastly, after it releases a decision, then the Forest Service can apply to the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board for a “waiver of waste discharge requirements”—a permit to pollute, to (overly) simplify. EPIC is engaging with all of these ongoing processes to provide the necessary critical oversight. Given the timeline with these steps, we do not expect the Forest Service to be able to log until early spring.

While most of the major activity will not be able to occur this winter, the Forest Service could complete other logging activities in the vicinity, including some major “hazard tree” removal on the Sawyers road between Whites Gulch and Robinson Flat, a roughly two mile stretch. This stretch of road is within the Wild and Scenic North Fork Salmon River corridor. In about 95 acres, the Forest Service estimates it would remove approximately 1,400 trees greater than 14” diameter at breast height. Smaller trees will be felled and not removed. The Klamath National Forest indicated that this road presents an immediate safety risk for the surrounding communities.

EPIC will continue to bring you updates on the Westside Project as they unfold.

 


Exposed: Post-fire Logging Harms Endangered Owl

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015
By
ScottHarding-KlamathNF-SHP_9598

Mixed-severity fire, like that shown, provides functional habitat for northern spotted owls. Photo credit, Scott Harding.

Private landowners, in particular Fruit Growers Supply Company, recently cut thousands of acres of northern spotted owl habitat, likely killing or harming the protected owl in violation of both federal and state law. And they got away with it. Here’s the story of how a timber company likely violated the law and how no one caught it.

Spotted owls utilize post-fire landscapes, including those that burn at high-severity—that is the conclusion of numerous recent scientific papers. High-severity areas, marked by significant numbers of dead or dying trees, provide excellent foraging grounds for spotted owls. The surge of dead wood and new shrub growth forms ideal habitat for wood rats, deer mice, and other spotted owl prey. The standing dead trees, or snags, provide branches for owls to roost while scanning for dinner. And because fires generally burn in a mixed severity pattern, with high-intensity burns close to areas that fire barely touched, there are often nearby trees for the owls to roost. This is informally known as the “bedroom/kitchen” model of habitat usage.

This finding, that spotted owls utilize post-fire forests, is somewhat new. It also runs counter to generalized statements about spotted owl habitat, which has generally been associated with complex mature forests. The Forest Practice Act was certainly written before this was well recognized.

While most logging in California is accomplished through a Timber Harvest Plan (THP), substantial logging can evade the environmental review provided by a THP. Under an “emergency notice,” a timberland owner can clearcut an unlimited number of acres by declaring an “emergency”—a broad loophole, which includes almost all conditions that render a tree “damaged, dead or dying.”

In 2014, the Beaver Fire burned some 32,496 acres, including 13,400 acres of private timberlands in Siskiyou County, much of which is owned by Fruit Growers. Based on the available information, between 2014 and 2015, Fruit Growers filed 32 emergency notices with CALFIRE totaling 8,644 acres. Other nearby landowners similarly filed emergency notices totaling 1,166 acres.

From surveys conducted by the U.S. Forest Service, we know that individual owls were harmed in violation of federal law by Fruit Growers. After the fires but before most logging had begun, a curious male northern spotted owl, identified as KL0283, responded to the hoot of an owl surveyor; he had survived the fire and was living amongst the dead trees. KL0283 was proof that spotted owls utilize post-fire forests.

Sadly, the Forest Service reports later surveys attempting to locate KL0283 after logging failed to yield any positive survey results. The Forest Service notes that logging reduced the owl’s habitat far below minimum acceptable levels, and given the lack of nearby habitat, it was unlikely that he had moved to somewhere better. KL0283 is likely dead, killed by the impacts of logging.

On a facial level, Fruit Growers followed the law—they filed emergency notices telling CALFIRE that they were planning on logging and logged pursuant to those notices. However, upon investigation, it appears that Fruit Growers harmed northern spotted owls in violation of both federal and state law. How was Fruit Growers able to log spotted owl habitat without detection for so long? Turns out, it was pretty easy.

First, it is unclear whether Fruit Growers knew it was violating the law. In each emergency notice, it wrote, “Due to the severity and intensity of stand replacing fire, [the] area can no longer be considered Suitable NSO Habitat.” As explained above, this is a common misunderstanding. By regarding all burned forest as non-habitat, it provided Fruit Growers an easy way to avoid having to evaluate and state the potential impacts to spotted owls.

Second, CALFIRE dropped the ball. It is CALFIRE’s job to evaluate emergency notices and reject any notice which may cause more than a minimal environmental impact. CALFIRE obviously failed at this.

Third, it is unclear whether anyone else was paying attention. It does not appear that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife reviews emergency notices—the Department only recently was able to hire sufficient staff to even review ordinary THPs, let alone emergency notices. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency charged under federal law with the protection of the owl, does not review California timber harvest implementation. EPIC, I freely admit, failed to put the pieces together until too late.

But never again. EPIC is on a mission, spurred by the likely death of KL0283, to reform post-fire logging on private land in California. For more on the environmental impacts of post-fire logging, please visit wildcalifornia.org.