Climate Change

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


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 2020 Election: Environmental Implications

Tuesday, November 10th, 2020
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Although votes are still being counted, it appears that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be our next President and Vice-President. It is likely that they will serve over a divided government, with the Republican Party likely to retain control of the Senate and the Democratic Party will to maintain a majority in the House of Representatives. (Note, it is possible that the Democratic Party could win both run-off elections in Georgia, effectively giving them control of the Senate too.) This swing of power has major implications for federal environmental law and application. 

Young Sequoia grows post-fire. Photo by Matt Holly, National Park Service.

Rolling Back the Trump Era:

To be blunt: the past four years of the Trump Administration have been bad for the environment, and particularly bad for our climate crisis. But it could have been much, much worse. First, to federal environmental law, Trump failed to land a major legislative rollback of federal environmental law. The first two years of the Presidency, a lack of unified vision within the Republican Party and record turnover of political appointees stalled legislative movement and after the 2018 midterms, Democratic control of the House thwarted major legislative changes. Instead, the Trump administration had to rely on rulemaking and executive orders to change the interpretation of existing environmental law. Thankfully, much of this can be undone in the first years of a Biden administration. Executive orders can be undone most immediately and rulemaking can be reversed, although this will take more effort and time to get rules through following the appropriate process (which shouldn’t be avoided, lest we get these rules invalidated by a rushed error). 

The Trump era was also marked by a lack of enforcement of environmental laws. More vigorous enforcement can be expected by a new administration, particularly once political appointees are filed for the various agencies. Enforcement is also moderated by the budgets approved by Congress. This is an unknown moving forward.

The most lasting damage was done to the judiciary. This will be the hardest to fix. Obama notably was able to push through very few federal judges in his last years, thanks to obstructionism in the Senate. This gave Trump more seats with which to fill. Republican control of the Senate, the loss of the filibuster for judicial appointments, and a prioritization of appointing judicial nominees by Senator Majority Leader McConnell means that Trump has radically reshaped the judiciary. (For example, Trump was able to appoint ten judges to the purportedly “liberal” Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in four years; Obama was able to appoint seven judges in eight years.) With a court more ideologically opposed to federal environmental law, we might see the lingering effects of the Trump administration for decades to come.

We also lost four years of action on climate change. The Trump administration fairly well neutered government action to minimize greenhouse gas emissions and expanded federal drilling for the past four years. The total effect of all this was offset in part by unforced changes in the economy, such as the reduction in coal production, that resulted in relative greenhouse gas emission reductions in 2019. (Strangely enough, Trump’s actions may have helped the environment, although not as intended, as France refused to purchase liquid natural gas from the United States because Trump reversed the Obama-era rule limiting methane emissions. Hoisted by his own petard!) Still, May 2020 set the high-water mark for carbon concentrations, at 417 parts per million. Scientists warn that global carbon dioxide saturation levels in the atmosphere above 400 ppm makes it far more difficult to arrest global warming below 2 degrees celsius. There is a lingering effect to this inaction as well. Cars, for example, that were not required to have as robust of fuel economy standards under Trump will continue to be on the road for many years. The carbon dioxide that was emitted but could have been avoided will hang around the atmosphere for 20-1,000 years.

Federal Legislation Affecting the North Coast:

The North Coast has its eyes on the PUBLIC Lands Act, the large Wilderness bill proposed by Representative Jared Huffman and co-sponsored in the Senate by Senator Harris. The bill successfully passed out of the House twice, where it has stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. It is unclear whether it will continue to flounder in the Senate or whether Vice President Harris will be able to exercise greater pressure to get the bill through. We at EPIC are optimistic at its chances. 

EPIC has also been watching dueling federal fire response bills, one from Senator Harris (S. 2882) and the other from Senator Feinstein (S. 4431). In our view, Sen. Harris’ bill, which considers community wildfire protection holistically and provides communities with funding to implement safety measures tailored to their communities is worlds better than Sen. Feinstein’s, which is focused almost exclusively on logging as a solution.


Will Justice Barrett Kill the Modern Administrative State?

Monday, October 26th, 2020
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Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

While concerns about the access to reproductive care and the fate of the Affordable Care Act dominate the national conversation about the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) is concerned: What are her views on Chevron deference? If you have no idea what that is or what it means, don’t worry, you are not alone.

Environmentalism relies on the modern administrative state—the alphabet soup of agencies that interpret and apply statutes passed by Congress. That administrative state, the fundamental basis of modern government, is under threat by attempts to chip away at the power of the administrative state to regulate. At the core of these attacks by conservative judicial activists are attempts to overturn the longstanding principle of Chevron deference (named after the 1984 Supreme Court case, Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.).

Here’s what Chevron deference is about: The world is complicated. Too complicated for Congress to pass extremely detailed legislation. Instead, Congress often leaves the details to the experts: the agencies created and charged by Congress to regulate certain areas. Whether it is determining the safe levels for an airborne pollutant or determining what qualifies as a “distinct population segment” when thinking about endangered species, Congress often leaves these critical judgments to the experts within each agency. Thus, the EPA figures out what are safe levels for pollutants and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers questions of endangered species. Chevron deference recognizes that when Congress isn’t clear, the agencies are best equipped to interpret the statute, and provided that their interpretations are reasonable, they are entitled to “deference,” meaning that a court cannot supplant its own interpretation over the agency’s.

It may come as a surprise that EPIC would rise to be a champion of Chevron deference—after all, EPIC currently has seven ongoing lawsuits that challenge the decisions of federal agencies when interpreting federal law, such as our lawsuit challenging new regulations to implement the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). But the same legal doctrine that helps to insulate government agencies from criticism from the environmental community also protects the agencies from attack by extractive industries and conservative business interests.

The modern conservative judicial movement has put a bullseye on Chevron deference precisely because it enables a modern regulatory state. Despite it being long standing legal precedent-—and therefore somewhat immune to challenge—Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Gorsuch, Alito, Thomas and Kavanaugh have all questioned Chevron deference to a degree, although there clearly have not been five votes to overturn the doctrine…yet. Judge Barrett, a dyed-in-the-wool conservative and proud member of the Federalist Society may be that fifth vote to axe the doctrine or her presence could provide greater breathing room for its gutting. Judge Barrett has indicated, in academic writing, that she does not believe that precedent should bind judges when they believe that something clearly violates the Constitution—and the Chevron deference doctrine has been attacked by the conservative legal movement as unconstitutional, as it (theoretically) cedes the power to interpret the law from the Judicial to the Executive Branch. However, in her time on the 7th Circuit, Judge Barrett did invoke Chevron deference to defend a Trump Administration rule limiting immigration. Or it may be that the court continues its current trajectory of “distinguishing” individual cases from Chevron, thereby minimizing its effect. In this future, the court can chip away at Chevron until the exceptions swallow the rule and the doctrine has been de facto overturned.

Other essential foundations of the modern administrative state may also be on the chopping block. The Supreme Court might revisit and constrain the Legislative branch by more narrowly interpreting the Commerce Clause, the part of the Constitution that provides the legal grounds for nearly all federal environmental laws. The Supreme Court could revive Lochner-era theories about the “freedom to contract,” to limit regulations. The Court could also attempt to resuscitate the “nondelegation doctrine,” something considered dead after the New Deal, but has been revived by the Trump-era packing of the judiciary. Or the Court could throw up new roadblocks to litigants who attempt to enforce environmental laws, such as heightened requirements for public interest groups to show “standing,” as the teeth of federal regulations often are found in groups like EPIC willing to actually enforce the law (a power that the federal government often abdicates).

Our planet can’t afford Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court.

 

*This was originally published in the Times-Standard on Oct. 17, 2020. 


An Ode to an Indigenous Justice Movement During Indigenous People’s Week

Wednesday, October 14th, 2020
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Written by Josefina Barrantes

Happy Indigenous People’s Week! A great activity you can do that helps you become more aware of your local indigenous community is finding out who’s land you’re on! If you text your city and state or zip code to (907)312-5085 the hotline will tell you whose land you occupy. Most of our team occupies Wiyot land here in Humboldt.

This week, we are to remember the lives taken and the relatives (natural resources) that are plundered to this day. It is also important to remember the people who have fought and continue to fight to end violence and the exploitation of nature. Because of this, we wanted to make an ode to highlight an incredibly important Indigenous justice movement in our country. 

Photo by Rafael Samanez, O’odham Anti Border Collective.

An Indigenous Land Protection Ceremony in O’odham this Monday (on Indigenous People’s Day) was violently interfered with when Border Patrol and Arizona State Police attacked them with tear gas and rubber bullets. The ceremony was held to pray for sacred sites and graves that were demolished with the creation of the border wall. Of the land and water protectors holding this ceremony, 8 were arrested.

 Although they were all released, they are asking that reparations are made to those who were injured at the incident. In addition to this, they are asking for the discontinuation of border wall construction at Quitobaquito Springs and through all of the O’odham lands. The construction of the Mexican-American border wall harms them in many ways, one being that it is depleting the resources in Quitobaquito and throughout O’odham lands. Quitobaquito is a sacred water spring in Hia-Ced O’odham territory that is having wells drilled into its aquifers by the constructurres of the wall so they can steal the water and mix concrete for the border wall. 

This, in turn, has been negatively affecting the already endangered Desert Pupfish and Sonyta Mud Turtle that reside in these waters. The people of O’odham are doing incredible work by fighting for the protection of their sacred land and water. We stand with them as they continue to be fighting on the frontlines everyday.

Donations for this movement are accepted through:

Cash app handle: $DefendOodhamJewed

PayPal: paypal.me/DefendOodhamJewed


Green Diamond: Climate Change “Skeptic”

Tuesday, October 6th, 2020
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Aerial view of Green Diamond clearcut.

Our planet is getting hotter. That is clear to the over 650,000 people displaced across the West during this year’s fire season. Climate change likely exacerbated this year’s fires, lengthening the fire season—it is now drier and warmer for longer—and by causing more extreme weather that helps to drive the large, fast-moving fires often to blame for the loss of life and property. Climate change is felt elsewhere locally. Humboldt Bay has experienced more severe sea level rise than anywhere else in America, threatening portions of Highway 101 with inundation in a little over a decade. Changing fog patterns could result in more stress to the region’s iconic redwoods, including shifting their range further north. Heat-sensitive species, like our coho salmon, fear the warmer water temps caused by a decline in winter snowpack. And so on.

All of this is obvious. Except apparently to Green Diamond Resource Company, whose clearcuts pockmark the North Coast. In every timber harvest plan (THP) submitted for approval to CALFIRE, Green Diamond begins the discussion of the impacts of harvest on climate change by questioning whether climate change is real. I kid you not. Take this recent excerpt from THP 1-20-21HUM:

The magnitude, causes, and effects of global climate variability are the subject of intense scientific inquiry and considerable scientific debate and uncertainty. (U.S. Senate 2008). Many scientists and policymakers have concluded that the earth’s climate is currently warming at a rate that is unprecedented in human history. Their conclusions are based on temperature data, samples of carbon dioxide (CO2) content in prehistoric ice and sediment and climate models. However, some scientists question this conclusion because global temperate data has only been collected for a brief time, and there are potential errors in climate models and measurements and inferences drawn from samples of CO2 in prehistoric ice and sediment. They argue that global warming trends must be viewed in the context of climate variability, which can be used to demonstrate or disprove global warming depending on the chosen time period. 

To be clear, EPIC did not cherry pick one offensive quote. The THP is replete with climate skepticism—“scientific inquiry and uncertainty concerning the condition and causes of climate variability continues”; the “causes and effects [of climate change” are also the subject of scientific uncertainty and debate”; “[t]here is some evidence supporting scientific theories that variability in global climate conditions is caused by solar activity and variability in the earth’s electromagnetic field”; and so on. 

Ultimately, after hemming and hawing over the science of climate change, Green Diamond acknowledges that its opinion doesn’t matter—that California, and CALFIRE as an agency of the state, recognizes climate change is real and that forestry can contribute to it. To complete a THP it is then necessary for Green Diamond to accept, ad arguendo, the existence of climate change. But that doesn’t improve their analysis.

Green Diamond’s analysis is long on “common sense” but short on science. Generally, Green Diamond’s argument is this: there are limited emissions attributable to the harvest equipment—the skidders, fellers, chainsaws, trucks and the like—and there are some emissions that result from decomposition or burning of the slash left in the forest, but most of the carbon from the forest will be left intact in the form of dimensional lumber and what emissions do occur will be offset by the growth of forests elsewhere on their property and through the regrowth of the logged stand.

Slash Pile. Photo by Oregon Dept. of Forestry, Flickr.

Of course, this is a far oversimplified picture of the carbon cycles at play from a timber harvest. As the best available science finds, forestry can result in significant greenhouse gas emissions, as it converts a relatively stable store of in-forest carbon in the form of trees and quickly releases a significant amount of carbon. The majority of carbon stored in a tree never ends up in lumber. Between branches and tops, a significant portion is left in the forest as “slash,” which is often burned or left to decompose, releasing carbon back into the atmosphere. The remainder of the tree is sent to a mill, where more is lost to sawdust or other unmerchantable “mill waste.” This mill waste is typically burned, such as at the biomass energy plant in Scotia. The remainder may turn into timber or other forest products, but the actual life of these products is remarkably short and the product typically ends up in a landfill, where its decomposition can release methane gas. Over time, a regrowing forest sequesters carbon but, given the urgency of climate change, do we have the luxury of waiting decades for the regrowth to balance the carbon ledger? Why does CALFIRE accept such slipshod work? 

While on one hand Green Diamond questions the scientific basis on climate change, it also attempts to cash in where possible. According to the California Air Resources Board, Green Diamond has sold carbon credits to “offset” the emissions from other polluters in the state. Between 2016 and 2019, Green Diamond put forward multiple projects to sell hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon credits. Environmental activists have criticized the use of forest carbon credits in offset or cap-and-trade programs as a paper exercise, resulting in little changes on the ground. EPIC intends a deeper dive into Green Diamond’s carbon credit projects in the future to investigate.

As the most aggressive timber operator in our region, Green Diamond demands scrutiny. EPIC is there to keep an eye on the company.


Forging Fire Strategies

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020
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The WKRP partnership reviews and discusses the effects from prescribed fire in the field.

The time to adapt and live with wildfire is here. There are many communities across the west working toward that goal. The climate crisis is thrusting change upon urban and rural towns alike. As the flames and smoke become more familiar, our relationship with fire must progress. Here in the Pacific Northwest corner of California, strategic fire planning is underway. 

EPIC participates in both the Smith River Collaborative and the Western Klamath Restoration Partnership (WKRP). The goals of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, in part, guide both of these efforts. Completed in 2014, the National Strategy represents a push to work collaboratively among all stakeholders and across all landscapes, using best science, to make meaningful progress towards three goals: resilient landscapes; fire adapted communities; and safe and effective wildfire response.

Based on 20 years of collaborative work between diverse partners, WKRP formed in 2013. The partnership is a watershed and fire management effort between EPIC, the Karuk Tribe, Six Rivers National Forest, the Mid-Klamath and Salmon River Watershed Council, community fire-safe councils, local stakeholders, and other agency and non-governmental organizations. The mission is to establish and maintain resilient ecosystems, communities, and economies guided by cultural and contemporary knowledge through a truly collaborative process that effectuates the revitalization of continual human relationships with our dynamic landscape. 

The WKRP held workshops multiple times a year for over four years to complete the Plan for Restoring Fire Adapted Landscapes.

Working together towards shared values and zones of agreement the partnership created a strategic fire plan for a 1.2 million acre area that includes the entire Salmon River watershed, a portion of the Middle Klamath River sub-basin between Weitchpec and Seiad Valley, and parts of the Siskiyou, Marble Mountain, and Trinity Alps wilderness areas. It spans two national forests—the Klamath and Six Rivers—and includes the communities of Weitchpec, Orleans, Somes Bar, Forks of Salmon, Cecilville, Sawyers Bar, Happy Camp, Seiad Valley, and much of the Karuk Tribe’s ancestral territory. 

Historically, the Western Klamath Mountains experienced fire every 3 to 10 years. That included cultural burning by indigenous tribes practiced since time immemorial. Northern California is fortunate that fire is still a vital part of the living culture here today, as shown by the Karuk, Yurok and Hoopa Valley Tribes and the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation. It is spreading more widely as understanding and cooperation grows. Traditional burning practices are helping to guide the strategies of our future. 

Fire rejuvenates and helps to balance forest ecosystems. The ecological benefits are immeasurable. The partnership aims to mitigate the current fire deficit by implementing their Plan for Restoring Fire Adapted Landscapes. Multiple values were spatially modeled over 1.2 million acres, resulting in a map highlighting prioritized areas needed for treatment. The most critical places identified were around towns, neighborhoods and along strategic ridge tops and roads. 

Implementation of the first demonstration project just began this year. The Somes Bar Integrated Fire Management project consists of nearly 50 miles of shaded fuel breaks and hand lines and 5,500 acres of manual, mechanical and prescribed fire treatments, concentrated around small communities. This and all future efforts will not only accelerate the development of fire-adapted communities and resilient forests they will: integrate Traditional Ecological Knowledge; integrate food security, food sovereignty, and forest food and fiber resources; build local restoration stewardship and work force capacity; increase cultural and community vitality; include maintenance to uphold effectiveness; advocate fisheries restoration; maintain and restore viable native plant and animal populations; build capacity for practitioner based research and monitoring programs; and include inter-generational education programs and activities.

The Western Klamath Restoration Partnership looks at restoring black oak in forest stands.

In addition, to put principle into practice, WKRP helps to host and organize the Klamath River TREX prescribed fire training and learning exchange. TREX trains people to implement prescribed burning, building their credentials and accomplishing restorative fire on hundreds of acres annually. The partnership coordinates the Klamath Fire Symposium, bringing together land and fire managers, researchers, scientists and interested stakeholders. The group is also working with fire planners to develop PODs, which outline resources to help prioritize and delineate fire suppression strategies. Restoring fire on a large landscape requires many levels of understanding and cooperation. 

Wildfires are sparking a national shift in law, policy and opinion. Social change in coping with the climate and biodiversity crisis is beginning to ignite. With the mission to revitalize our human relationship with fire and our dynamic landscape, WKRP is leading the path to increase the pace and scale of place based restoration. Recognized as a national model, the partnership is helping to facilitate changes in fire and land management for communities across the west living with fire.

 


Stop the Salvage Logging of Post-Fire Forests

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

Written by Clary Greacen Montagne

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

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

New plant life blossoming in a post-fire landscape.

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

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

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


Climate Change Anxiety Got You Down? Join Our Webinar!

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020
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Does thinking about climate change give you a sinking feeling? Does the Anthropocene keep you awake at night? Me too. Join EPIC, Friends of the Eel River, Humboldt Baykeeper, and the Northcoast Environmental Center on Tuesday, May 5 from 7-8pm for a special discussion with HSU Professor Sarah Ray, author of the new book, “A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet,” to learn how to become a more resilient person and a more effective activist. Register for the online webinar today!

Caring about the environment can be emotionally difficult. An environmental education has costs, including an acute awareness of what is wrong with the world. Or, as the ever-eloquent Aldo Leopold put it, “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.” To many, climate change is anxiety producing—and for good reason. How we deal with this anxiety is important. Do we burn out or burn brighter?

Register for the webinar today!

 Want to pick up a copy of A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety? Help support local bookstores! Eureka Books and Northtown Books have the book in stock for curbside pickup or delivery. If you live outside the area, you can also find the book online here.

 Based on Ray’s decade-plus of experience as a college educator and program leader, A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety is not just another self-help book: it draws on research in psychology, sociology, cultural studies, mindfulness insights, social justice movements, and the environmental humanities. The result is an accessible and relatable resource for anyone struggling with climate anxiety. Chapter themes include:

— How to identify the signs and symptoms of climate anxiety, and where they come from;

— Finding your place in the climate movement;

— Parsing journalism and sensational media representations of environmental crises;

— Resisting the urge to argue and be “right”;

— Allowing yourself to have fun and experience joy despite the state of things.

Register Now!


Linking Habitat Requires Crossing Political Aisles

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

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

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

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

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


Action Alert: EPA Suspends Industry Regulations During COVID-19

Thursday, April 2nd, 2020
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We need your help! During this crisis, the Trump administration is silently sneaking through more and more environmental rollbacks that bolster industrial profits over environmental and human health. On March 13th, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an order to indefinitely suspend enforcement actions for companies normally regulated under the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. While facilities such as refineries and chemical plants continue to operate during the pandemic, they are no longer required to report when their factories discharge certain levels of pollution into the air or water.

From the order itself:  “In general, the EPA does not expect to seek penalties for violations of routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations in situations where the EPA agrees that COVID-19 was the cause of the noncompliance and the entity provides supporting documentation to the EPA upon request.”

This gives a free pass to companies to pollute in violation of environmental laws for an indefinite period. This is unacceptable, especially given that many industrial hotspots are centered in already vulnerable at-risk communities.

Please take a moment to let EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler know how you feel by sending him a letter expressing your disappointment with him for relaxing industry regulations instead of safeguarding the environment and our communities.

Take Action


Some Climate Lessons From COVID-19: Can Working From Home Reduce GHG Emissions?

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020
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COVID-19 has shaken up the way America works. In response to the threat, offices across the country are locking their doors. Millions of workers are learning to work from home, having staff meetings by video and figuring out how to juggle conference calls and crying kids. This unplanned experiment has already yielded a helpful finding: millions are discovering that teleworking not only works, but often we are more productive. This realization holds significant potential because teleworking is one way we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Transportation is Humboldt’s largest category of greenhouse gas emissions. Commuting to and from work represents 30 percent of all vehicle miles traveled. Overwhelmingly — 76 percent of the time — we drive to work to work alone. And the average commute distance is 16 miles each way. Cumulatively, these trips represent a significant amount of carbon emitted. To reduce the environmental impact of transportation, we not only need to quickly switch to electric vehicles, we also need to reduce the total vehicle miles traveled.

Telecommuting, even if just a day or two a week, would cut a substantial amount of greenhouse gas emissions. A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that, based on this data, individuals would save on average of over 1,300 kg of carbon dioxide emissions — about one-twentieth of an average American’s total emissions. (Again, this is all based on averages and the individual savings could be lower or higher.)

Working from home can provide more time with family members!

Working from home has advantages beyond carbon savings. For employees, working for home gives more time for the worker. Teleworking is an excellent example of a sustainability initiative that also sustains people. I’m not speaking to the oft-spoken (and true) narrative, “if we take care of the planet, it will take care of us.” I’m speaking to the fact that people are happier when they have more quality time to spend with their loved ones. Most Americans spend more time with their coworkers than with their families. The average American commute involves 30 minutes in the car each way — an hour of unpaid life away from family, away from hobbies, away from the other parts of life that we work to support. If working from home means we get more work done in less time, then we have more energy to dedicate to our non-work relationships and non-work passions. Teleworking gives inherent flexibility to a schedule, allowing for you to, say, get dinner on the oven on your break or flip the laundry between emails. (I have a loaf of bread in the oven as I write this.) The ability to work from home is especially important for individuals with disabilities or for others who find travel difficult.

For employers, the benefits are also stark. Workers are actually more productive because they are able to better concentrate. Workers take shorter breaks and more hours are spent working. Job satisfaction rises and worker retention rises. Sick days drop.

Interested in teleworking? Your employer may already have a policy. It is California state policy to encourage telecommuting and each state agency is directed to have a policy in place. Humboldt County likewise permits teleworking and is looking to further ease the paperwork required because of the pandemic. Check out your HR manual for more on how to petition to work remotely. For private businesses, Humboldt can’t mandate more flexible working arrangements but you can always ask your employer. (Remember: they benefit too. And a quick Google should give you all the facts to muster a strong argument in favor.)

An office is often a nice place. We can form friendships over copier errors and find a sense of shared purpose. I often work at the conference table because I love those little interactions in the course of a day. But what we have found in “social distancing” is that we can still be social from a distance. Telecommuting is one little way that we can change our behaviors to improve our lives and the climate. After the facemasks seem out of fashion and our hands are no longer pruney from washing, let’s hope that teleworking stays around.

This article was originally published in the Times-Standard on March 18, 2020. 


Humboldt County to Consider Climate Bond To Fund Renewable Energy

Wednesday, March 4th, 2020
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EPIC’s Executive Director, Tom Wheeler, commenting on the considered bond at the March 3rd Board of Supervisor’s meeting.

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, the Board directed staff to begin work towards a municipal bond to fund renewable energy and other efforts to combat climate change. A municipal bond would need to be approved by voters on the November 2020 ballot. The Board’s actions are in response to a public call for public financing of renewable energy development after the Humboldt Wind Project was denied by the Board in December.

“Humboldt County continues to lead on renewable energy development. By publicly financing renewable energy development, we can ensure that money stays local and that projects are broadly supported by the public,” said Tom Wheeler, Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Information Center. “Together with the forthcoming Climate Action Plan, 2020 will be a big year for climate action in the county.”

The exact projects to be financed through a municipal bond have not been identified yet. County staff are directed to work together with experts from the Redwood Coast Energy Authority to identify the highest priority projects that could be immediately funded. Projects could include: advance work to prepare for offshore wind development, like necessary upgrades at existing terminals; establishment of solar microgrid systems around critical infrastructure; and efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions from other sectors, like transportation.

“Renewable energy development is not only good for the climate, it is good for jobs—developing the clean energy economy here in Humboldt. And by supplying power locally, it is good for our security in the case of a natural disaster or another power shutoff, helping the county or critical infrastructure ‘island’ from the larger grid,” said Mr. Wheeler.

At the hearing, the Board heard from many citizens concerned about climate change and eager for the county to take bold and immediate steps to address greenhouse gas emissions.


Letter To Planning Commissioner John Ford: Reaching A CAP Emissions Target

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020
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This letter was submitted by email to Planning Commissioner John Ford on the forthcoming multijurisdictional Climate Action Plan in response to the recent Eureka presentation regarding the matter:

Dear Director Ford,

On behalf of the Environmental Protection Information Center and the Friends of the Eel River, please accept this letter on the forthcoming multijurisdictional Climate Action Plan.

In setting a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target, the county needs to be in line with the best available science, in line with state-mandated goals, and provide sufficient benchmarks that the public and county can gauge progress. We recommend that the Climate Action Plan set a goal of zero net carbon emissions by 2045, with a benchmark of 50% emission reductions from 2015 emissions levels by 2030 (hereafter “zero net target”).

A zero net target is in line with the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change, which found that to limit warming to 1.5°C implies reaching zero net emissions by 2050 and approximately 50% net reductions by 2030. (Rogelj 2018 (“In model pathways with no or limited overshoot of 1.5°C, global net anthropogenic CO2 emissions decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 (40–60% interquartile range), reaching net zero around 2050 (2045–2055 interquartile range).”).)

A zero net target is likewise in line with existing California state law. California has set various targets for global greenhouse gas emissions and the county is obligated to set a target that conforms with state requirements. Given multiple potential emission targets, we recommend that the county set the target in line with the most ambitious target yet issued and the most recently issued target. In 2018, Governor Brown issued Executive Order B-55-18 which ordered the state to achieve carbon neutrality no later than 2045 and maintain negative emissions thereafter. Our proposed zero net target builds off Governor Brown’s order by providing clearer intermediate direction of 50% emission reductions compared to 2015 emission levels.

Our climate crisis demands bold and immediate action. We are committed to working with you and the county to address this existential threat. Thank you for your leadership on this issue.

Sincerely, Tom Wheeler Executive Director, EPIC

See Full CAP Emission Target Letter Here.


A Humboldt Solution To The Terra-Gen Aftermath

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020
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Terra-Gen’s Humboldt Wind Project was flawed but it would have offered this: a large and sudden pulse of low-carbon energy, enough to fill approximately 56 percent of Humboldt’s total electricity needs. With its demise, our odds at reaching our global climate goals become more distant while our challenge to achieve 100 percent clean, renewable energy from local sources is markedly more difficult. Its rejection now raises a new and more pressing moral imperative that we act, and quickly. If not this project, how will we meet our clean energy needs? We face a climate crisis that demands bold action now. We can’t wait.

There is a Humboldt solution: locally-created, locally-financed and locally-owned power. We can and need to invest as a county in our own energy production. Humboldt County is a bondable authority. Our county is underleveraged in terms of its debt-to-asset ratio and this project is capable of generating revenue that can pay off the debt incurred, two important criteria that would make Humboldt well-suited and attractive for a municipal bond. After our bond obligations are paid, we also have something special: community-owned energy that generates revenue that could be used to reinvest in more renewable energy production.

What would this project be? We will need to diversify our electric portfolio to provide a responsible and stable grid mix. This means investment in all of the renewable energy technologies as appropriate, including solar, new biomass systems, run-of-the-river hydro, and, yes, large-scale wind energy. In an age of information at everyone’s fingertips, it is easy to find fault in virtually any project. We must embark on a community project with the understanding that compromises will need to be made. That said, as the county would ultimately develop the project, compromises can be made deliberately and democratically. As we learned from the Humboldt Wind Project, energy development projects need to come from the community, be good for the whole community and include the community in the planning process.

During the public dialogue, many raised the need to invest heavily, if not solely, in distributed solar microgrid systems, such as the one installed at the Blue Lake Rancheria. These systems, while an important tool, are not sufficient to meet our energy needs. While the PG&E planned power shutoffs have demonstrated the need for more microgrid systems to support the necessary civil infrastructure that we are reliant upon — hospitals, wastewater treatment facilities, government offices, etc. — microgrid systems are currently too expensive to provide affordable power on a large scale.

We face a climate crisis and it is our moral imperative to do something about it. Decarbonizing our energy infrastructure is the lowest hanging fruit. Carbon emissions associated with energy production account for approximately 13 percent of Humboldt County’s emissions. These emissions are mostly attributable to those from the Humboldt Bay Generating Station, our large natural gas energy plant. By producing new renewable energy at scale, we can begin to depower the plant and eventually mothball the facility when we provide sufficient reliable energy to the larger grid.

Decarbonizing our energy infrastructure is also critical to reducing emissions in other areas. Far and away, Humboldt’s — and the nation’s — largest emission category is transportation, at over 50 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Here, achieving emission reductions is more challenging and involves both reducing total vehicle miles travelled by car and plane and electrifying transportation. Of course, however, electrifying our transportation fleet will only achieve the necessary emission reductions if that energy comes from low-carbon sources.

Humboldt is well suited to develop the kind of renewable energy projects we need to meet future energy needs. We are blessed to have local renewable energy experts at Schatz Energy Research Center, the Redwood Coast Energy Authority and in the private sector. Local investment in renewable energy will also provide new opportunities to pursue the green tech jobs of the future.

The Humboldt Wind Project electrified the passions of individuals on both sides of the debate. It is my hope that all of the energy put into the consideration of that project will now come forward to support a locally-produced clean energy future.

This article originally appeared in the NCJ’s “Letters and Opinions- Views” section as: “Terra-Gen Electrified the Conversation. What Now?”.