Eye on Green Diamond

Green Diamond: Climate Change “Skeptic”

Tuesday, October 6th, 2020

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.

Win For Conservation Groups: Illegal “Crawford” Old-Growth Timber Sale Withdrawn

Tuesday, August 11th, 2020

In the face of litigation brought by EPIC and other conservation organizations, the Klamath National Forest has withdrawn its approval of a timber sale that threatened old-growth forests in the cold water tributaries of the Klamath River. The “Crawford” timber sale would have removed large-diameter thick-barked old-growth trees that are resilient to fire, provide crucial wildlife habitat, and regulate streamflow and temperature of mountain streams that are critical to the health of the Klamath River. The Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild), Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA) and the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) filed suit in April in the Eastern District Court of California alleging that the timber sale violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act.

“It is time that the Forest Service work with communities and stakeholders to restore forests, protect homes and communities and safeguard watersheds,” said Tom Wheeler, Executive Director at EPIC. “The Crawford timber sale could and should be changed to thin existing timber plantations while utilizing prescribed fire to restore these forests from past mismanagement.”

The Crawford Creek watersheds, located between the Siskiyou and Marble Mountain Wilderness Areas are a stronghold of low elevation temperate rainforest. The area provides vital habitat connectivity for wildlife and serves as a corridor for animals dependent on mature intact forests, like the pacific fisher and northern goshawk. For species adapting to and surviving the climate and biodiversity crisis, these closed-canopy virgin forests provide much needed refuge.

“We are relieved to know that two of the only remaining reproductive northern spotted owl pairs on the Klamath National Forest, will keep their habitat,” said Kimberly Baker, KFA’s Executive Director and EPIC’s Public Lands Advocate. “This species is so close to extinction, protecting reproducing pairs must be a priority. And, in this day and age, ancient and mature forests should remain standing. They are our first line of defense in guarding against global warming.”

“It is unfortunate that the Klamath National Forest refuses to work with the public to create projects that restore rather than harm forests and watersheds” said George Sexton, Conservation Director at KS Wild. “It shouldn’t take a federal lawsuit for the Forest Service to acknowledge that it is a bad idea to log old-growth trees in the backcountry when there is so much work that could be done to help fire-safe homes, ranches and communities.”

While the Forest Service has withdrawn its approval of the project, it is not immediately clear what will become of it. The agency may attempt to cure the deficiencies outlined in litigation and repackage the timber sale. However, the conservation community wants to see the Forest Service stick to non-controversial work that will help protect communities while respecting the old-growth watersheds of the Mid-Klamath basin.

Meriel Darzen and Oliver Stiefel of the Crag Law Center represented the conservation groups in their litigation.

For more information on this litigation and project, see our previous blog post here.

Find the full Press Release here. 

BREAKING: EPIC Win For Mendocino National Forest at the Ninth Circuit!

Monday, August 3rd, 2020

In a major victory, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has sided with EPIC in a case impacting the Mendocino National Forest. The court found that the Forest Service’s use of a “categorical exclusion” to avoid an environmental impact assessment for a timber sale following the 2018 Ranch Fire was likely a violation of the law and that EPIC should have been awarded an injunction by the lower court to stop logging. The Ninth Circuit’s decision is available here. For more on this case, check out some of our past blog posts here and here.

In 2018, the Ranch Fire burnt a significant portion of the Mendocino National Forest. In response, the Mendocino National Forest authorized a series of commercial timber sales near roads within the forest. To avoid environmental review required by NEPA, the Mendocino National Forest attempted to shove these timber sales under a “categorical exclusion” to the ordinary requirements to prepare a document. Although a categorical exclusion for post-fire timber operations existed, the Forest Service did not employ this exclusion because they would be limited in the total acreage they could log. Instead, the Forest Service employed a different, ill-fitting categorical exclusion that allowed for “[r]epair and maintenance of road” including “[p]runing vegetation” to authorize these timber sales. 

EPIC challenged this project and sought an injunction to ongoing timber operations. The Northern District of California denied EPIC’s injunction and we appealed (with an oral argument by Zoom and livestreamed to Youtube) to the Ninth Circuit. Ultimately, the Ninth Circuit sided with EPIC, with a 2-1 decision finding that EPIC should have been awarded its injunction. The Court ultimately found that “Under no reasonable interpretation of its language does the Project come within the [categorical exclusion] for ‘repair and maintenance’ of roads.” 

With simple math, the Ninth Circuit exposed the pretextual nature of the Mendocino National Forest’s use of the categorical exclusion. In many areas, the court noted, the average tree height was only 100 feet, yet the National Forest established a once-size-fits-all prescription allowing for the logging up to 200 feet on either side of the road, and thus the project would allow targeting trees that posed no risk to road users.

This ruling has big implications for our National Forests moving forward. Under the Trump Administration, EPIC has seen a widespread abuse of the rejected faulty logic to log without environmental review or public participation.

What’s next? The case is remanded back to the Northern District Court for further proceedings consistent with the Ninth Circuit’s decision. We will update you when we know more. 

EPIC is able to bring litigation like this because of members like you. A donation is deeply appreciated.

View the full Press Release here

Opening Brief Filed in Case to Save Humboldt Marten

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020

EPIC Challenges Take Permit Issued to Green Diamond

In late May, EPIC submitted an opening brief in the case to overturn a permit that threatens California’s last remaining Humboldt martens. Read it here. With fewer than 200 likely in the state, the marten is teetering on the edge of extinction. Necessary to the long-term survival of the species is to connect the largest population of martens, found on Six Rivers National Forest in Del Norte County, to prime habitat in the Redwood National and State Parks complex to the southwest. Standing in the way is Green Diamond, which owns the majority of this area.

Green Diamond clearcut along Redwood National Park border

Green Diamond’s clearcut-heavy management is antithetical to the needs of the Humboldt marten. Martens require mature forests and thick layer of herbaceous undergrowth to slink through the forest undetected by predators. Clearcutting destroys this undergrowth and leaves martens exposed. Clearcutting also provides prime habitat for the marten’s number one predator, bobcats, whose populations explode because of the woodrats and rabbits that enjoy clearcuts. With so many bobcats present, Green Diamond’s lands become uninhabitable for martens and, where clearcuts are near occupied marten habitat, bobcats begin to tread further into these occupied areas. That’s why it is curious that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife gave the company a free pass to “take” martens through their management.

As we’ve previously recounted, through funny math and a promise to relocate martens, Green Diamond convinced higher ups at the Department to issue a permit. And as we’ve now discovered through Public Records Act requests and through litigation, the actual scientists who work closely with Green Diamond were aghast—one writing that “this [Safe Harbor Agreement] sounds absolutely Orwellian” and that the permit “will, as a whole, actually be harmful.” Political interference to benefit a powerful timber company and plodding through the objections of staff scientists is something that we’ve come to expect from the Trump administration, not California’s wildlife agency.

The case is being heard in Humboldt County Superior Court by Judge Kelly Neel.

EPIC would like to extend a special thanks to our excellent attorneys, Marie Logan and Greg Loarie, of Earthjustice for representing us and our friends at the Center for Biological Diversity, who are our co-plaintiffs in the case. #TeamMarten


Green Diamond’s THP Fails Forests, Watersheds and Wildlife in Sproul Creek

Tuesday, May 19th, 2020

When Green Diamond Resource Company obtained 9,400 acres in the Sproul Creek watershed in late 2018, we knew our work would be cut out for us, as a landowner that makes massive clearcuts and sprays herbicides is not generally appreciated by neighbors. In February of 2019, EPIC organized a community meeting to discuss Green Diamond’s logging practices and what that would mean for its newly acquired land in the Sproul Creek watershed. The thirty community members who attended the meeting eventually formed a new group called “Sproul Watershed Advocates”.

On February 27, 2020, Green Diamond submitted the “Gibson Ridge” Timber Harvest Plan (THP) # 1-20-000-24-HUM to clearcut over 200 acres in the Sproul Creek watershed. The document was deemed unacceptable and returned by Calfire due to a lack of evidence that Green Diamond owns all of the parcels contained in the THP. Again, on March 18, 2020, Green Diamond resubmitted the THP without documentation to prove ownership, but Calfire has accepted Green Diamond’s word over the phone that it owns the parcels in question. 

The deficiencies of Green Diamond’s plan are numerous. The THP fails to analyze the cumulative effects of the past hundred years of logging impacts that the watershed is still recovering from. It fails to describe the specifics of herbicide use that is anticipated to be applied in the THP units. It also proposes to abandon old roads and instead build new roads in watersheds that are sediment impaired under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act, and claims that gravel and sediment will not be increased from the project.

Adding insult to injury, Green Diamond’s analysis of the cumulative effects of this project fails to appreciate the seriousness of climate change and uses false and misleading climate skepticism. It asserts that direct greenhouse gas emissions from logging operations are offset by Green Diamond’s timber program that it believes will result in significant net carbon sequestration through increased carbon storage! 

EPIC has been working with residents in the Sproul watershed and its neighboring communities to track the proposed logging project and we have submitted extensive comments on the plan. Logging and herbicide spraying in the Sproul Creek Watershed is what brought concerned community members together 43 years ago to form EPIC and bring an end to aerial spraying of herbicides. We are committed to ensuring that the land and wildlife has a voice and will continue to advocate on behalf of them.

Action Alert: Green Diamond Clearcuts Threaten Humboldt Marten in Klamath Glen

Thursday, January 10th, 2019

Take Action: Green Diamond clearcuts—that’s pretty clear-cut. What’s not, perhaps, are the consequences of its clearcuts, as the company strives to spin whatever mythology it can muster to convince agency regulators and the public at-large that there’s nothing to be seen and no harm being done.

In late November 2018, Green Diamond submitted THP 1-18-177DEL, “Arrow Mills,” THP, totaling 125 acres of timber harvest in Upper and Lower Turwar Creek at Klamath Glen, just up-river of the town of Klamath, CA. Of the total 125-acre THP, 104 acres is proposed for clearcutting.

The “Arrow Mills” THP threatens significant adverse impacts to a number of rare, threatened, and endangered species, including northern spotted owls, marbled murrelets, osprey, and even ruffed grouse, all of which are known to exist and have been observed in the vicinity of the THP. Of particular concern to EPIC are the potentially significant adverse impacts the THP will have on the critically-imperiled Humboldt Marten.

The “Arrow Mills” THP and its over 100 acres of clearcutting are proposed within the known Extant Population Area (EPA) for the Humboldt Marten, and within a Green Diamond-designated, “Marten Special Management Area,” (MSMA). Sadly, there’s absolutely nothing “special” about what Green Diamond will do here, as its clearcuts will not be modified in any way to accommodate the known-presence of Humboldt Martens.

Indeed, the only thing that’s “special” in any way in this scenario is the treatment afforded to Green Diamond by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). In late 2018, and nearly simultaneously with the California Fish and Game Commission’s determination that the Humboldt Marten warranted listing as an “Endangered Species” under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA), the Department gave away a “Safe Harbor Agreement” to Green Diamond that gives the company a pass on protecting the Humboldt Marten or having to change its management practices in any meaningful way.

The “Safe Harbor Agreement” framework in the California Fish and Game Code was created with the caveat that any such agreements entered into with private landowners by CDFW must be shown to afford a, “net-conservation benefit,” during the life of the agreement for the agreement to be valid. Safe Harbor Agreements, unlike Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) under federal law or Native Communities Conservation Plans (NCCPs) established in the California Fish and Game Code, allow landowners and CDFW to agree to actions that result in a net-conservation benefit during the life of the agreement, with the understanding that the landowner has the right to return the lands under the agreement back to the baseline condition when the agreement expires or is terminated.

Green Diamond timberlands in the Lower Klamath and Upper Redwood Creek watersheds are critical habitat connectivity areas and areas important for natural dispersal, and perhaps eventually, assisted re-introduction and dispersal of Humboldt Martens between two of the only three known Extent Marten Population Areas on the Six Rivers National Forest to the east, and Redwood National and State Parks to the west.

The “Arrow Mills” THP will create clearcuts that will create massive dead-zones in marten connectivity and dispersal opportunities and could result in direct mortality and indirect mortality of Humboldt Martens known to exist on Green Diamond lands and on adjacent conserved lands on both sides.

The “Arrow Mills” THP is currently still under review lead by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), the CEQA Lead Agency for approving private timber harvesting plans in California. CAL FIRE cannot approve a THP that will violate other applicable laws under its authority, even if another agency, like CDFW, reaches agreement with a private timberland owner on certain practices.

Click here to request that Cal Fire to deny Green Diamond’s plans to log Humboldt marten habitat!


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

Wednesday, January 9th, 2019

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.

State of the Redwoods – Remembering the Past, Envisioning the Future

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015

RNP RDWhat did Jedediah Smith think when he came here as the first-known European-American to explore the majestic coastal redwood forest, back in 1828? Did he know, or care about the Pandora’s Box that he’d opened by leading European settlers into this remote region? When Smith first arrived in Northern California, an estimated two million acres of native old-growth coast redwood forest spanned from Big Sur to the Oregon border, and these were certainly no ordinary forests. The coastal redwood forest is home to the tallest living organisms on earth, reaching over 300 feet tall at their peak. These giant trees live an average of 500-700 years-of-age, and some have been documented to live in excess of 2,000-years-old. These massive trees can grow as large as 25 feet in diameter or more, sequestering huge masses of carbon, while, at the same time, providing essential habitat for innumerable species of plants, animals, birds, lichens, and others species.

The coastal redwood forests are considered part of the larger temperate rainforest system that once blanketed the coast of the Pacific Northwest states. However, European exploration, combined with the gold rush of the 1850’s, ushered in the era of old-growth logging in the redwoods that continues to this day. By the time Redwood National Park was created in 1968, an estimated ten percent of the original forest remained. Today, approximately five percent of the original old-growth temperate coastal redwood forests remain. About 23 percent of the original range of the redwoods is preserved in parks and reserves, while a whopping 77 percent of the redwood region land base is still privately owned and managed. In Humboldt County today, the two largest timberland owners, Green Diamond Resource Company and Humboldt Redwood Company, own a combined 600,000-acres of forestland, much of which constitutes the original range of the coast redwood forest.

After a century-and-a-half of logging, road-building, and urban and agricultural development, the original coast redwoods are a shadow of their former selves. Of the five percent or so that remains of the original forest, the largest chunks are preserved in Big Basin State Park, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and the Redwood National and State Parks system. Much of what remains in the Redwood National and State Parks system is fragmented and disjointed.

On private lands, the largest remaining patches of old-growth redwood forest are found on the former Pacific Lumber Company lands, now owned and managed by Humboldt Redwood Company, most of which are “set-aside” and protected from logging for a period of 50 years as a result of the 1999 Headwaters Forest Agreement. However, these “set-asides” are not protected into perpetuity.

Following the signing of the Headwaters Forest Agreement in 1999, the commonly-heard narrative was that the redwoods had, at long last been “saved.” However, this is much more myth than fact. Logging, agricultural and urban development, human recreation, and of course, climate change, all remain as stressor on the redwood ecosystem.

The advent of global as well as localized climate change now poses a significant threat to the survival of the coastal redwood forest, and the people, plants and animals that depend upon them. The signs of localized climate change are readily apparent. Fog levels on the north coast have decreased by as much as one-third since the early 20th century, while temperatures continue to rise, and rainfall declines in the face of California’s unprecedented drought. A recent study published by the global research journal Global Change Biology notes that increasing temperatures will likely significantly alter the climate in the southern extent of the redwood region in the coming decades, putting the survival of the redwoods in those regions at-risk. In the northern part of the redwood range, research conducted by Dr. Steve Sillett suggests that old-growth redwoods are currently growing at an unprecedented rate, likely as a result of decreased fog and increased sunlight. However, research on the fate of large, old trees on a global level suggests that climate change, particularly the effects of drought and disease, are an increasing threat to these ancient ecosystems.

The redwoods region’s temperate rainforest is globally significant for its biodiversity, as well as for its potential capacity to resist, adapt to, and become resilient to, the progress of climate change. Here in Humboldt County, we occupy the northern extents of the redwood range, where the opportunities for restoration and connectivity for the redwoods remain strongest.

In 2013, EPIC, along with the Geos Institute and others sponsored and participated in the very first Redwood Climate Symposium, which brought together stakeholders and land managers to discuss possible strategies for steeling the redwood region against the progress of climate change. Symposium participants from diverse backgrounds identified four primary strategies to increasing the resilience of redwood ecosystems in the face of climate change. These included:

  1. restoring old-growth characteristics that protect stands from many stressors;
  2. improving connectivity among intact redwood forest patches throughout the range of redwoods;
  3. reducing stressors that exacerbate the impacts of climate change, such as roads, fragmentation, development, and fire exclusion; and
  4. coordinating management across the redwood range, and across land ownership, allowing for conservation and/or restoration of climate change refuges and areas of connectivity.

These four strategies form the basis of a collective way forward for managing the redwoods into the future, and form the basis of EPIC’s Connecting Wild Places Campaign in the region, which largely focuses on existing parks and reserves, as well as privately-held forestlands with significant ecological, connective, and restorative value.

The coastal redwood forest of Northern California has been here for some 20 million years. If it is to persist into the future, a new holistic approach to ecosystem restoration and preservation must take hold. EPIC is dedicated to working towards this more holistic future for the benefit of the forest, the species that depend upon it, and for humanity itself.

EPIC Advocates for Northern Spotted Owl Using Best Available Science

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

NSOEPIC relies upon an integrated science-based approach to environmental advocacy. Consistent with our mission statement, we apply the best available science at the legislative, regulatory, and policy levels of government and industry. In our ongoing efforts to protect, enhance, restore, and conserve the Northern Spotted Owl, EPIC uses the best available science to inform our advocacy and decision-makers.

As part of our efforts to see the spotted owl listed as either a “threatened” or “endangered” species under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA), EPIC has commissioned a wildlife researcher  to conduct an independent status review and prepare an independent status report to be submitted to the California Fish and Game Commission. This report is based upon the best available science regarding the status and population trends and threats for the spotted owl, and will consider possible management recommendations designed to protect, enhance, conserve, and restore the spotted owl in California.

EPIC has pursued this independent review and report to allow for critical evaluation of the available evidence, including scientific, and timber industry-based information. The report will be subject to rigorous outside independent peer-review from a broad array of stakeholders, including independent scientists, researchers, and even timber industry biologists.

This report will be defensible and credible.

The independent review and report will be juxtaposed against the status review and report produced by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The Department is charged by CESA with conducting a status review and preparing a status report that will include a recommendation to the Fish and Game Commission as to whether or not it believes the listing “is warranted.” EPIC has chosen to commission an independent review due to the highly political nature of the inner workings of the Department, which has been evidenced in its recent recommendations against species’ listings, most notably the Gray Wolf. In the case of the Gray Wolf, the Department erroneously based its decision on a lack of ‘certainty’ in the science surrounding the wolf, thus dismissing the numerous threats to the species and the enormous opportunities for wolf restoration and conservation in California. Such rationale on the part of the Department leaves many questions as to its ability to review and consider the best available science and to make recommendations regarding species’ listings that are not politically-charged and influenced.

EPIC’s independent status review for the spotted owl is a key cog in our efforts to see the species listed under CESA. The benefits of CESA listing are many. Such benefits include requiring all state boards and agencies to work to protect, enhance, conserve, and restore the spotted owl in California. The practical effects of CESA listing would include the reintroduction of independent agency biologists into private lands timber harvest project review, and to impart upon the state a mandate to consider appropriate management activities to protect, enhance, restore, and conserve the spotted owl, including potential management activities aimed at addressing some of the major threats to the species in California, including the aggressive and invasive barred owl.

The State of California has a responsibility under CESA to protect, enhance, conserve, and restore “threatened” and “endangered” species in California. The best available science, which clearly demonstrates the threats to the species and identifies opportunities for conservation and enhancement supports the proposition that listing “is warranted” under CESA.

Who Will Stand Up for the Northern Spotted Owl?

Monday, April 7th, 2014

9-OwlBanding-FWSIn the remote forests of Northwest California dwells an iconic raptor seemingly from a bygone era. The Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) stealthily inhabits old growth and ‘mature’ forests, preying on wood rats, flying squirrels, and other small mammals in the dead of night with its keen vision and devastating talons.

Once an abundant and prosperous species, the Northern Spotted Owl has been in decline since at least the 1970’s and 80’s, primarily resulting from the logging of its old growth and mature forest habitat on both public and private lands. The Northern Spotted Owl was listed as a “threatened” species under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) in June of 1990, thus becoming the poster-child for the ongoing timber wars in the Pacific Northwest.

In May 1991, Federal Judge William Dwyer ruled in favor of environmentalists who challenged the adequacy of the U.S. Forest Service’s 1986 Forest Management Plan, enjoining 75 percent of the proposed timber sales on public lands in spotted owl critical habitat, and ultimately leading to the development of the Northwest Forest Plan. While the Northwest Forest Plan has somewhat curtailed logging of suitable owl habitat on public lands, habitat loss on these lands is still ongoing, while habitat loss for the owl on private lands continues virtually unabated to the present day.

When the Northern Spotted Owl became a federally-listed species, the State of California’s Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (Board of Forestry) scrambled to enact Forest Practice Rules that would avoid “take” of the owl as defined under the federal Act on private forestlands in the state. In the beginning, the implementation and enforcement of the Forest Practice Rules by CAL FIRE was augmented by consultation with the then-California Department of Fish and Game (now the California Department of Fish and Wildlife). In 1999, CAL FIRE requested that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) provide “technical assistance” to the Department and private landowners to ensure that implementation of the Forest Practice Rules would not result in “take” of the owl.

The Service provided technical assistance to CAL FIRE and private landowners until 2008. At that time, the Service determined that it did not have the budget to continue providing technical assistance to CAL FIRE and private landowners, and requested that the budget-strapped state pay for the technical assistance program. When the state declined, the Service dropped out of providing technical assistance, and left the entire burden of review, implementation, and enforcement of individual timber harvest plans up to CAL FIRE.

In 2009, the Service provided CAL FIRE with a scathing review of existing Forest Practice Rules and the ability of the Rules to avoid “take” of the owl as defined under the ESA. This document, entitled Regulatory and Scientific Basis for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Guidance for Evaluation of Take for Northern Spotted Owls on Private Timberlands in California’s Northern Interior Region” provided a review of the best available science related to the owl, and detailed the Service’s years of experience with providing technical assistance to CAL FIRE and private landowners. The Service concluded:

…our combined experience with hundreds of THPs indicates that the cumulative effects of repeated entries within many NSO home ranges has reduced habitat quality to a degree causing reduced occupancy rates and frequent site abandonment. In a large proportion of technical assistance letters to CAL FIRE and industrial timberland owners during the past five years, we noted the lack of NSO responses at historic territories, and described habitat conditions considered inadequate to support continued occupancy and reproduction”(emphasis added).

The Service also provided CAL FIRE and private landowners with “take” avoidance guidelines that the agency believed would serve the needs of the owl better than existing Rules. This guidance, however, is only voluntary, and is not codified in existing regulation. Thus, private landowners have the alternative of relying on the existing and inadequate Rules.

Meanwhile, CAL FIRE, an agency with virtually no biological expertise, and virtually no independent biological experts, has been left to navigate the treacherous landscape of ensuring “take” avoidance on its own, knowing that existing Rules are not be adequate, but that the guidance provided by the listing agency is only voluntary. CAL FIRE thus finds itself in the precarious position of needing to determine that “take” has been avoided, while not having the expertise or authority to determine the likelihood of whether or not “take” will occur. What’s more, CAL FIRE has been left without the input of either the US Fish and Wildlife Service or the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The latter agency has virtually abandoned its review of projects that may affect the Northern Spotted Owl since the late 90’s.

While most private landowners have voluntarily shifted towards compliance with the Service’s “take” avoidance guidelines, some landowners, most notably Sierra Pacific Industries, have stubbornly clung to the old, and largely out-of-date existing Forest Practice Rules. Since the Service transitioned out of providing technical assistance, SPI has continued to clearcut log thousands of acres of suitable NSO habitat without the benefit of independent scientific expertise reviewing its projects.

The latest and best available science on the condition of Northern Spotted Owl populations indicates that the species is reeling from a precipitous decline in recent years, both in California and across the species’ range. In particular, apparent survival and reproductive rates are alarmingly low. Here on the redwood coast, as with elsewhere in the owl’s range, the incursion of the aggressive and invasive barred owl has likely contributed to these declines. In addition, the advent of increased use of rodenticides in egregious cannabis agriculture operations and other rural residential and industrial activities is now documented to be a significant problem for the owl. Meanwhile, habitat loss through timber harvest and fire continue to confound owl conservation and recovery efforts.

The science shows that the Northern Spotted Owl is in increasing peril. The decline of the owl is indicative of over a century of intensive forest management that has depleted our forests and inexorably altered the landscape that the owls once knew.

EPIC Steps Up To Advocate for the Owl

In 2010, EPIC launched its Northern Spotted Owl Self-Defense campaign. This campaign aims to use a multitude of tactics to conserve the owl. These tactics include monitoring, commenting on, and challenging logging projects that may affect the owl on both public and private lands, engaging with the Board of Forestry to improve rules regarding owl protections, and launching a campaign to end the use of “super-toxic” rat poison in cannabis agriculture operations. EPIC has also filed a petition with the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) requesting that it list the owl as either “threatened” or “endangered” under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA), parallel to filing a petition with the Service requesting that it “reclassify” or “up-list” the owl from a “threatened” to an “endangered” species under the federal ESA. Few organizations in the Western United States are as active in working for better protections for the owl than EPIC has been in recent years.

The politics around conservation of the Northern Spotted Owl remain fraught with a reluctance on the part of both the Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to ‘rock the boat’ in terms of enforcing the tenants of the ESA and CESA on private forestlands in California. The Service has thus far failed to provide us with an initial 90-day finding on our petition to “reclassify” or “up-list” the owl, despite the fact that the petition was filed over a year and a half ago. Meanwhile, the Commission, after much delay, voted to accept EPIC’s petition to list the owl under CESA in August 2013, with a one-year CESA “candidacy” period initiated in December 2013. Despite the “candidacy” for the Northern Spotted Owl under CESA, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has informed CAL FIRE that it intends to rely on existing rules and regulations to protect the owl against illegal “take” resulting from timber harvest activities on private lands.

So, who will stand up for the Northern Spotted Owl? With both responsible agencies either unwilling or incapable of reviewing plans for proper implementation and enforcement of CESA and the ESA, and CAL FIRE left virtually on its own to ensure that these laws are enforced, business as usual seems to be the mantra of the day for the timber industry. Meanwhile, the owl, faced with a wide-array of threats to its survival in the wild, hangs on the precipice, a precarious ledge, from which there may be no return.

The health of the Northern Spotted Owl is indicative of the health and condition of our forests, and indeed our watersheds. EPIC will continue its multi-faceted approach to owl protection and conservation, with the goal of seeing larger, older trees on the landscape, an elimination of the use of “super-toxic” rat poisons in our communities, and a return ultimately of more owls in the forest. EPIC aims to protect, conserve, and restore the owl in California and beyond.

Please join our efforts to protect, conserve, and restore the Northern Spotted Owl and our forest landscapes. The plight of the owl is a harbinger of peril for all of us. We must all work together to restore our forests and protect our wildlife.

Northern Spotted Owl Abandoned to Whims of CAL FIRE

Friday, February 7th, 2014

NSO ratThe California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has chosen to defer to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) timber harvest plan review and approval process in hopes of preventing “take” of Northern Spotted Owls as defined under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) during the candidacy period for the species. EPIC considers this to be an incorrect decision, a violation of public trust, and an inappropriate abandonment of duties considering the new lumber tax that has been imposed upon California consumers to specifically fund CDFW review of timber harvest plans for private lands logging in the state.

In a letter dated January 16th, 2014, to CAL FIRE, the CDFW, signed by Department Director Charleton H. Bonham, indicates that it intends to rely on the existing regulatory framework (i.e. the California Forest Practice Rules (CFPRs)) for review and approval of timber harvest plans to ensure that “take” of NSO is avoided on a plan-by-plan basis. The CDFW letter states that the agency believes that the current regulatory framework as administered by CAL FIRE is adequate to prevent “take” of NSO, and that no additional protective measures for the species will be required during the one-year candidacy period under CESA.

However, the best available science and regulatory guidance provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service clearly points to a failure of the existing CFPRs to prevent “take” of NSO. Indeed, the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms on private forestlands in Northern California is one of a myriad of reasons why EPIC filed the petition to list the NSO as either “threatened” or “endangered” under CESA. The 2011 federal NSO Revised Recovery Plan for the NSO continues to identify inadequate regulatory mechanisms as a major factor driving the recent and precipitous declines of the NSO; this is true in California as well as other pacific states that are host to NSO.

This decision by CDFW ignores that even CAL FIRE itself has acknowledged that existing CFPRs are largely out-of-date, do not reflect the best available science or guidance, and that the agency does not in fact even rely on the existing CFPRs due to their lack of effectiveness. The CDFW’s initial evaluation of our petition to list NSO under CESA indicated that the agency believes that the influences of management-related activities are “varied and complex,” and that further study and consideration of these effects is necessary.

EPIC has responded to the CDFW’s letter by writing to the Department in order to remind the agency of its responsibilities under the California Endangered Species Act, the California Fish and Game Code, and the California Environmental Quality Act. These responsibilities should not and cannot simply be deferred to another agency, particularly an agency such as CAL FIRE that possesses no independent biological expertise, and that has no authority to make determinations as to the potential for “take” of species listed by responsible wildlife agencies.

The CDFW is failing to discharge its public trust, legal, and regulatory responsibilities by summarily relying on CAL FIRE and antiquated CFPRs to ensure that the NSO is protected, enhanced, and restored in Northern California. It is also important to recognize that with the passage of AB 1492 by the California legislature in 2012, a lumber tax was imposed in the State of California in order to insure that CDFW has the necessary resources to fulfill it’s obligations to carry out tasks related to timber harvest plan review. This decision by CDFW to pass the buck on review of logging plans and to not provide analysis of how the NSO as a CESA candidate species may be affected by timber harvest is particularly egregious in light of the agencies new revenue stream based in taxing wood product consumers. EPIC will continue to challenge the CDFW on this basis, and will continue our efforts to seek CESA protections for the NSO.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife Gives Green Diamond a Free Pass

Monday, February 3rd, 2014
green diamond logging in little river 2008

Green Diamond logging in Little River 2008

Green Diamond Northern Spotted Owl HCP Deemed “Consistent” with CESA

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recently declared the Green Diamond Resource Company (GDRCo) federal Northern Spotted Owl (NSO) Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) “consistent” with the provisions of the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).  The issuance of a so-called “Consistency Determination” by the CDFW to GDRCo leaves the company in the cat-bird seat in terms of CESA compliance when compared to other timber companies.

California Fish and Game Code section 2080.1 allows for private landowners who have already obtained federal HCPs and associated Incidental “Take” Permits (ITPs) to apply for Consistency Determinations with the CDFW for their otherwise lawful activities. Despite the fact that the statue characterizes the process of obtaining a Consistency Determination as an “application,” California state courts have ruled that issuance of these determinations does not constitute a “discretionary” project, and therefore are not subject to fully review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  This means that there is no opportunity for the public to review or comment on the Consistency Determination application, and that there is no recourse for the public to challenge the issuance of these determinations, either administratively or legally.

The CDFW has found the GDRCo HCP for NSO consistent with CESA despite the fact that standards for achievement of incidental “take” under the federal Act and state Act are quite different.  The federal ESA in section 10(a)(2)(B) of the Act provides that any “take” of listed species pursuant to a federal ITP “will, to the maximum extent practicable, minimize and mitigate the impacts of any such taking.” CESA, meanwhile, in section 2081(b)(2) of the California Fish and Game Code provides that the impacts of any “take” be minimized and “fully mitigated.”  A correct application of the “fully mitigated” standard under CESA would provide for a higher bar for the achievement of an ITP under the state Act.

The GDRCo NSO HCP, issued in 1992, is based on the premise that “take” will occur as a result of both direct and indirect displacement of NSO, at a rate of approximately 3 pairs per-year for direct displacement, and 2 pairs per-year due to indirect displacement.  Such “take” was intended to be minimized by the implementation of certain precautionary measures, and by the creation of “set-asides,” where no harvest would be allowed.

There are two basic fundamental premises underpinning the GDRCo NSO HCP.  These are 1) NSO habitat will increase over the life of the permit, and that harvest rates will not proportionally exceed such increased habitat growth, and 2) NSOs displaced by timber harvest activities would be replaced on the landscape as new habitat comes on line and new sites are established.

However, GDRCo’s own 20th annual report to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) notes that approximately 55 owls have gone “missing” in recent years. Further, as indicated by Forsman et al. 2011, apparent survival rates for NSO on GDRCo lands is showing a continuous decline.  Finally, GDRCo’s own report to the USFWS admits that the fundamental premise that owl sites lost to timber harvest would be replaced has borne out to be false: “The fundamental premise of the spotted owl HCP is that sites lost through timber harvest will be replaced in other areas as stands become mature and suitable for occupancy by owls. However, newly colonized sites have not offset the number of net displacements and other abandoned sites” (GDRCo 2012).

Clearly, despite the basic premises of the GDRCo HCP, the company’s activities pursuant to this permit have not “fully mitigated” the effects of “take” on NSO populations on its lands.  This runs contrary to the intent of CESA, and leaves substantial questions as to the approach of the CDFW in reviewing Consistency Determinations and ITPs.

Meanwhile, Humboldt Redwood Company (HRC) also holds a federal HCP and associated ITP for NSO.  Unlike the case of GDRCo, HRC will be required to augment its HCP in order for it to be deemed “consistent” with CESA.  HRC lands, like GDRCo lands, has shown a consistently low reproductive rate for NSO over the last several years, thus triggering re-consultation with the federal and state wildlife agencies over its 1999 federal HCP.

GDRCo continues to maintain that NSO populations are either stable or increasing on its lands, despite low apparent survival rates, low reproductive rates, lack of recruitment of new sites to offset lost sites, and the slow growth of new suitable habitat for the species. Issuance of a Consistency Determination for the GDRCo federal NSO HCP by the CDFW virtually ensures that these alarming trends will continue, and raises serious questions about public notification, process, and involvement in the issuance of these determinations.  It also raises further questions about the integrity of the GDRCo’s certification as a “sustainable” forestry operation by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), as a significant portion of the FSC certification award was based upon the Green Diamond HCP.

EPIC is dedicated to the conservation of the Northern Spotted Owl across the landscape in Northwestern California.  The precipitous decline of this iconic species due to a broad range of threats is indicative of a much larger ecosystem failure, and sounds the alarm for us all to consider.

For more information see

Department of Fish and Wildlife Solicits Comments and Information on Status of Northern Spotted Owls in California

EPIC Staff Squash Timber Industry Shenanigans at Fish and Game Commission

Northern Spotted Owl Achieves Candidacy Status Under California Endangered Species Act

EPIC Position Statement on Experimental Barred Owl Removal to Study Effects on Northern Spotted Owls

Monday, January 27th, 2014

The experimental lethal removal of Barred Owls from forested areas previously or currently inhabited by the native Northern Spotted Owl has received a fair amount of media coverage, and has even been the topic of a segment on the well-known Comedy Central show The Colbert Report (see embedded video below). EPIC has been approached on several instances by media outlets, conservation community colleagues, and members and supporters of our organization requesting an articulation of our position on this experimental lethal removal project. The text following the video is an EPIC position statement on this rapidly changing and important issue.

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive

EPIC Position Statement on Experimental Barred Owl Removal to Study Effects on Northern Spotted Owls

EPIC chose not to oppose the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) proposal to experimentally remove barred owls from the wild to study the effects on Northern Spotted Owls (NSO). Our organization has assessed the project plan, and monitored implementation. EPIC has come to the conclusion that the proposed use of lethal removal methods is cruel, will most likely prove to be ineffective over the long term without very serious habitat conservation mechanisms, and failing to prioritize habitat conservation the lethal removal of barred owls will most likely prove over time to be extremely expensive to implement. We also have come to the conclusion that the use of non-lethal removal methods remains impractical. Fundamentally, the USFWS has incorrectly chosen to focus its efforts on trying to solve the barred owl invasive competition problem, while failing to include adequate recovery measures to address chronic and ongoing NSO habitat loss. The USFWS has failed to provide NSO critical habitat designation to millions of acres of private industrial forestlands across the northwest, and has failed to provide adequate protective measures for NSO habitat on public lands. These failures assure that NSO habitat loss will continue to be the primary threat to the survival and recovery of Northern Spotted Owls in the wild. Recovering the NSO requires a more aggressive effort to protect existing habitat, on public and private lands. EPIC therefore recommends that the USFWS focus its efforts, as well as limited financial resources, on improving recovery measures and regulatory mechanisms to protect Northern Spotted Owl habitat across the landscape.

Department of Fish and Wildlife Solicits Comments and Information on Status of Northern Spotted Owls in California

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

NSO fem&juv _0397On January 21st, 2014, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) issued an announcement soliciting comments on the proposed listing of Northern Spotted Owls (NSO) as either “threatened” or “endangered” under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).  The comment period is designed to allow stakeholders and the general public to provide input to the Department to be considered as part of its status review for NSO in California. Comments must be submitted to the CDFW by May 1st, 2014 in order for the information to be considered by the Department as part of its status review and preparation of a status report.

In September 2012, EPIC filed a petition with the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) requesting that the Commission list Northern Spotted Owls as either “threatened” or “endangered” under CESA.  In August 2013, the Commission voted to accept EPIC’s petition, finding that the requested action “may be warranted” thus making NSO a candidate species for listing under CESA. In December 2013, the Commission adopted its formal findings for the decision, thus triggering a one-year period in which the CDFW is charged with conducting a status review for NSO in California and preparing a status report with a recommendation for the Commission to consider at the final listing decision hearing.

“We are confident that the best available science and information will show that Northern Spotted Owls face a multitude of severe threats to their survival in the wild in California, and that listing the species under CESA will be deemed warranted by the CDFW” said Rob DiPerna, EPIC’s Industrial Forestry Reform Advocate. “All of the numbers indicate that NSO are in real trouble in California and indeed range wide. Listing under CESA is clearly a necessary component of our approach to conservation of this iconic and imperiled species range wide.”

Prior to making its final listing decision, the California Fish and Game Commission will solicit further comments on the status report produced by the CDFW. EPIC will continue to engage in this process and will continue to advocate for listing NSO under CESA, and for conservation and recovery of this iconic species in the wild in California and range-wide.

Visit http://cdfgnews.wordpress.com/2014/01/21/cdfw-seeks-public-comment-related-to-northern-spotted-owl/ for more information.


EPIC Staff Squash Timber Industry Shenanigans at Fish and Game Commission

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013
Photo by Jeff Muskgrave

Photo by Jeff Musgrave

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That seemed to be the approach of the timber industry before the California Fish and Game Commission in San Diego last week. This time, it was the imperiled Northern Spotted Owl at risk.

At their August 2013 meeting the Fish and Game Commission had accepted a petition filed by EPIC to list the Northern Spotted Owl (NSO) as either “threatened” or “endangered” under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA), and designated the species as a candidate for listing pending a full status review by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Candidate species under CESA are fully protected from “take” unless a project proponent secures an Incidental Take Permit from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), or a Consistency Determination from CDFW for pre-existing federal Habitat Conservation Plans that cover the candidate species.

As you might expect, there’s additional red-tape associated with the owl candidacy becoming official and effective.  First, the Fish and Game Commission must draft and adopt findings for the candidacy decision. It took the Commission until their December 2013 meeting to prepare the findings for adoption, but the Commission ultimately adopted them. Still, there is another hoop. The State Office of Administrative Law must review the findings and assure that they are consistent with the requirements of the state Administrative Procedures Act. Whew!

So, back to the timber industry. Having been thwarted in its attempts to prevent the Commission from designating Northern Spotted Owls as a candidate for listing under CESA and offering the species interim protections under state law, the industry decided to turn its attention to securing regulations that would allow the killing of owls under specified circumstances during the one-year candidacy period. So, the industry, led by the California Forestry Association, filed a petition with the Commission asking for the regulatory body to authorize “incidental take” (i.e. the killing of owls) on an emergency basis. The regulations they proposed to use as “incidental take” regulations? Why none other than the California Forest Practice Rules, which are purportedly designed to avoid “take” (i.e. the killing of owls) as a result of timber operations.

A little over a year and a half ago, the industry had filed a nearly identical petition to allow the killing of then-listing candidate Black-backed woodpeckers on an emergency basis. In the case of the Black-backed woodpecker, the petitioners, Center for Biological Diversity and the John Muir Project, filed suit against the Commission for adopting the petition on an emergency basis. The argument: The industry could not show that an actual “emergency” existed under the definition attributed under California law. Long story short, the Commission declined to defend itself, and agreed to a Stipulated Judgment that set aside the regulations instituted as a result of the emergency petition.

So, back to San Diego last week. The Fish and Game Commission was to consider adopting the industry’s emergency regulations proposal for NSO. EPIC staff made the long trip to San Diego. This, it appeared, was a great surprise to the timber industry. Calforests was not expecting the grassroots and community based EPIC, clearly short of resources for a travel budget, to be at the meeting. At the hearing on the petition, EPIC staff presented the argument that, as with the Black-backed woodpecker, the timber industry could not show an emergency as defined under California law.

The timber industry, lead by the California Forestry Association, Green Diamond, and SPI, all attempted to persuade the Commission to adopt the petition. What’s interesting here is that not one of those that testified for the industry actually used the word “emergency” in the context of their testimony.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the California Forestry Association representative, in the midst of his testimony in favor of the petition, announced that the industry would retract it. The CFA representative also said that the industry would come back with a new more “narrowly focused” petition for the Commission to consider at the February Fish and Game Commission meeting in Sacramento. So, while now twice slain, this beast will rise again, or it appears.

The importance of this development cannot be understated. The timber industry was vying to gain permission under state law to kill Northern Spotted Owls during the candidacy period for the species.  EPIC’s success in this matter means that the full protections of the California Endangered Species Act will be afforded to Northern Spotted Owls, while the Department of Fish and Wildlife conducts its status review and prepares a full status-report for the species.

Northern Spotted Owls face a wide array of threats to their survival and recovery in California. From habitat lost to timber harvest on both private and public lands, to competition from invasive barred owls, to the ingestion of rat-poison laden prey that is the increasingly toxic fallout from egregious cannabis agriculture operations, to adapting to climate change and drought, this species finds itself on the edge. The position of EPIC is that the State of California has a responsibility to offer the protections of state law to this species. EPIC staff will continue to persevere and monitor the ongoing events at the Fish and Game Commission related to Northern Spotted Owl, until a final listing decision is made.

Forest Stewardship Council Audits Green Diamond’s Certification

Monday, October 14th, 2013

IMG_1583The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) audit team (Scientific Certification Systems – SCS Global Services (SCS)) was back in Humboldt County recently conducting its first annual surveillance audit of Green Diamond Resource Company’s (GDRCO) certification award.

GDRCO was certified as a FSC ‘sustainable’ timber operation in 2013, despite overwhelming community outcry and grave concerns over how the Company conducts business.  SCS and FSC have argued that GDRCO meets or exceeds certification standards, leaving substantial questions about the integrity of the audit process and concerns about the integrity of the FSC certification scheme itself.

Since receiving FSC certification in early 2013, GDRCO has continued to engage in practices that confound logic and would seem prima facia, to violate the intent of the FSC standards. At the heart of the conflict is that GDRCO continues to practice intensive evenaged management (i.e. clearcutting), while maintaining the bare minimum of trees required by FSC’s certification standards.  What’s more, GDRCO is concentrating its tree retention in areas such as watercourse buffers and unstable areas that are largely off limits as a result of its Aquatics Habitat Conservation Plan (AHCP).  Thus, GDRCO has changed little, if anything, in the way of its silvicultural and business practices in response to acquiring certification by FSC.

In addition to this, shortly after receiving FSC certification, GDRCO jointly filed a Timber Harvest Plan (THP) with Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI), California’s largest private industrial forestland owners and one of California’s worst timber industry actors. The “Nacho Libre” THP proposed clearcutting of old growth within a known Northern Spotted Owl (NSO) nesting area.  Shortly after the plan was filed, EPIC filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue GDRCO and SPI alleging that “take” of Northern Spotted Owls would occur if the plan were to be clearcut as proposed. GDRCO immediately withdrew the THP, but reserved the right to re-file the plan if it could determine that the operations proposed were consistent with its newly acquired FSC certification.

There are lingering social concerns about the impacts of GDRCO practices as well. Shortly after receiving FSC certification last February, GDRCO held a public meeting to announce the certification, and to hear the concerns of the greater community about its management practices.  The February 2013 meeting amounted to little more than a ‘dog ‘n’ pony’ show, with GDRCO failing to follow up with any community members, and failing to change any of its practices in response to feedback received from the community.  Indeed, the fact that GDRCO has filed plans to clearcut in the heavily impaired Elk River watershed, as well as adjacent to the immensely popular hiking spot at Strawberry Rock, despite outcry from local residents and the larger community, exposes the truly hollow nature of GDRO’s commitment to achieving a socially sustainable operation.

Finally, very serious economic concerns remain outstanding.  GDRCO continues to manage on short, intensive, evenaged rotations that fundamentally undercut the value of redwood forest products in markets nationally and internationally.   Furthermore, GDRCO continues to extract a great deal of wealth from Humboldt County that is hence funneled to corporate offices in Seattle rather than put back into the company or the local community.

EPIC submitted comments to SCS on September 30th 2013 raising these and other points, while reiterating our concerns that FSC’s indicators, standards, and overall audit process have been greatly devalued by the certification of GDRCO.  In sum, FSC standards allowing for evenaged management in the Pacific Northwest under certain conditions has opened the door for certification of GDRCO, and leaves substantial questions about what can truly be considered ‘sustainable’ in the context of industrial forestry operations.

EPIC will continue to monitor GDRCO and participate in the audit processes as they occur annually, as well as developing more integrated strategies for engaging with the FSC governance processes to bring our concerns to light and to have greater influence over the design of FSC standards and guidelines. EPIC maintains the position that clearcutting has no place in the redwoods, and that certification of such practices leaves a substantial stain on the FSC label.

Northern Spotted Owl Achieves Candidacy Status Under California Endangered Species Act

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

NSO-self-defenseThe California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) has moved to make the iconic Northern Spotted Owl a candidate for listing under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).  On August 7, 2013, the Commission voted 3-2 to advance the owl to candidacy status in response to a petition filed by the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) requesting the listing of Northern Spotted Owls as “threatened” or “endangered” under CESA, finding that the petitioned action “may be warranted.” This is an important procedural step in the listing process for endangered species under California law.

The Northern Spotted Owl is under siege on many fronts. Northern Spotted Owls are threatened with extinction by past and ongoing habitat loss, primarily to timber harvest, which can exacerbate competition from the aggressive and invasive Barred Owl. The increasingly rare and old growth forest adapted owls are now understood to be at risk from the use of rodenticides and other poisons used in large scale trespass marijuana operations, and there is increasing concern about what the impacts of climate change will be on the forest ecosystems that the owls call home.

“This is an important first step for the recovery of spotted owls,” said Rob DiPerna EPIC’s Industrial Forestry Reform Advocate. “The fact that the Commission moved to promote Northern Spotted Owls to candidacy status clearly shows that we have made a fair argument that the species is under extreme threat, and that protections under CESA are necessary to abate the risk of extinction.”

The Northern Spotted Owl is considered an “indicator” species, in that the presence or absence of the owl is a direct indicator of the health of the forest ecosystems in which the species resides. Due to the continuing decline of the owl through out its range, and a worrisome population trend forecast within its range in California, EPIC petitioned for CESA listing of the owl in August 2012. Though the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) had recommended the status review, the Commission postponed action earlier this summer, choosing to wait to grant the owl candidacy status at their August meeting.

The CESA candidacy period will remain in effect until the Commission makes a final determination as to whether or not listing of the spotted owl under CESA is warranted. At the direction of the Commission, the CDFW will now conduct a full status review of the owl to aid the Commission in making its final determination. The Department has one year to complete this review. EPIC will continue to monitor and engage in this process to ensure that Northern Spotted Owls are given a protected status and listed under California state law. In parallel to this initiative to increase protections for the owl under California state law, EPIC has also p

Click here to view EPIC’s Spotted Owl Achieves CESA Candidacy Press Release.

CAL FIRE and Water Board to Approve Green Diamond Clearcuts in Elk River

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

GDclearcut2The California Department of Forestry (CALFIRE) has recently indicated that it will move to approve Green Diamond’s plans to conduct damaging clearcut logging in the heavily impaired Elk River watershed.  Timber Harvest Plan 1-12-113HUM “McCloud Creek East #5” was recommended for approval at the local level on Thursday May 2nd.

Unlike other land managers in the Elk River watershed, Green Diamond continues to propose intensive clearcutting, road construction, and potentially the use of toxic chemical herbicides.  Clearcut logging as proposed will result in decreased canopy interception and transevaporation, resulting in increased water production and sediment transport to a watershed already suffering from intensive sediment impairment.  Please refer to our December 18th blog post for greater detail about the plight of Elk River and the destructive details of Green Diamond’s new McCloud Creek Timber Harvest Plan.

The recommended approval of the “McCloud Creek East #5” THP comes as a result of the near complete capitulation of the Regional Water Quality Control Board to Green Diamond’s contentions that the Company’s Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) and property-wide waste discharge requirement waiver agreement will ensure that no adverse impacts occur as a result of the proposed logging.  The Regional Board’s staff had requested that Green Diamond provide quantitative data to address how the harvest plan will avoid contributing to the ongoing significant adverse and cumulative watershed effects in the Elk River watershed.  Green Diamond failed to provide any data, and instead simply provided a narrative argument describing how its HCP and WDR order would avoid significant impacts to beneficial uses of water and water quality.

The recommended approval also comes in light of the impending release of the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) document by the Regional Water Board.  A TMDL is required by the federal Clean Water Act when water quality and beneficial uses of water are impaired due to some anthropogenic cause.  In the Elk River, excessive sediment generated as part of intensive timber harvest and other timber management activities has resulted in significant impairment and has lead to substantial increases in nuisance flooding of downstream residents’ property.

Once again, the State of California and its regulators are found to be complicit to the likelihood that the “McCloud Creek East #5” THP will add to the already impaired conditions of Elk River, and will likely continue to impede the slow recovery of the system.

EPIC will continue to challenge this damaging THP and others like it, and will continue to advocate for restoration and recovery in the Elk River watershed.

EPIC and Humboldt Baykeeper Comment Letter


EPIC Vigilance and Legal Action Cancels Harmful Logging Project in the Mad River Watershed – Adios “Nacho Libre”

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

SPI1-300x231-2Life can be precarious for imperiled species and old trees on an industrial forestry landscape, particularly on lands managed by Green Diamond Resource Company (GDRC) and Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI).  Even though these gigantic, privately-held companies spend massive amounts of capital on marketing schemes and public perception management, they are still teaming up to log old-growth redwoods and harm the few remaining imperiled denizens of the redwood temperate rainforest.

GDRC and SPI plotted, joined forces and filed the “Nacho Libre” timber harvest plan (THP) in late 2012, curiously choosing a name from a Jack Black movie without any explanation or due credit.  Unlike the movie, however, the “Nacho Libre” THP was a cynical attempt at humor that fell flat in the face of ecological reality and clear legal precedent.  The plan proposed to target old-growth trees for removal and to directly harm a breeding pair of Northern Spotted Owls by destroying important habitat within their immediate nesting territory.  EPIC sounded the alarm over the “Nacho Libre” THP earlier this year and mobilized available resources to contest the plan.

The public trust agencies tasked with reviewing this timber harvest plan (the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Regional Water Quality Control Board, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife) all recognized the rare and unique values of this remnant stand of old-growth in a watershed that has been severely and repeatedly logged.  The Department of Forestry and Department of Fish and Wildlife were in agreement that the forest stand was likely “late successional forest” habitat with a substantial old growth component within the meaning of the California Forest Practice Rules.   According to the Water Quality inspection report, old growth redwoods of six to ten feet in diameter were observed in the stand and threatened with felling.  Due to these facts, not only were Northern Spotted Owls in harm’s way, but the structural components of the forest stand are also suitable for the extremely imperiled Marbled Murrelet, a seabird that only nests in old-growth forests.

In the face of this impending threat, on March 18, 2013, EPIC filed a formal letter to GDRC and SPI notifying the companies of violations of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and requesting that “Nacho Libre” THP be withdrawn immediately.  Under the relevant laws and regulations, the proposed plan would have resulted in illegal “take” of Northern Spotted Owls and Marbled Murrelets in violation of Section 9 of the ESA.  In clear violation of the law, GDRC and SPI attempted to skirt around disclosure requirements and use an outdated incidental take permit to harm wildlife on the brink of extinction.

The very next day, on March 19, 2013, GDRC and SPI officially withdrew the “Nacho Libre” THP.  Caught in the act, GDRC and SPI had no other choice but to abide by the law, however, the companies reserved the right to re-file the harmful plan, but likely under a different name next time.

Today and during this breeding season, a productive pair of Northern Spotted Owls living up in the Mad River watershed can rest a little easier—for now anyway.  The withdrawal of the “Nacho Libre” THP comes on the heels of another recent victory for owls and murrelets after SPI withdrew the “Hiker’s Parade” THP in the Redwood Creek watershed.  EPIC’s continued vigilance in monitoring and commenting on industrial timber operations is absolutely essential to upholding the law and recovering endangered species.

Green Diamond and SPI Team Up to Log Old Growth Redwood and Harm Spotted Owls

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013
SPI Clearcut

SPI Clearcut

It is said that politics makes for strange bedfellows.  However, in the instance of the timber industry on the North Coast of California, it is not surprising to our team at EPIC to find Green Diamond Resource Company and Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI), two of the state’s worst industrial timber sector actors, joining forces to destroy old growth redwoods and harm native species.  Despite all the green-washing rhetoric spewing from the public relations and perception management departments of each company, both are revealing their true nature as they hold hands conspiring to violate the law and harm spotted owls and native forests in the recently filed “Nacho Libre” THP.

Timber Harvest Plan (THP) 1-12-114HUM “Nacho Libre” was recently filed jointly by SPI and Green Diamond.  The property is located in the Cannon Creek state planning watersheds high up in the Mad River basin.  SPI owns the land, but Green Diamond recently bought the timber rights.  The THP covers 87.4 total acres, including 58.8 acres of proposed clearcutting.

Of particular concern is Unit A of the plan, a proposed 38.1-acre clearcut threatening to eliminate a Northern Spotted Owl activity center.  Spotted owl activity center HUM0301 “Freeman” is contained within this unit.  This owl site has been active since the early 90’s with several nesting trees located in the clearcut unit. While the individual nest trees will be left, the rest of the unit is to be clearcut, which will result in “take” of spotted owls as admitted in the THP itself.

How is this possible, you ask?  The answer is quite insidious.  Since Green Diamond bought the timber rights to the unit, they and SPI are claiming that the Green Diamond Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) can be employed in order to invoke the company’s Incidental Take Permit (ITP), thus allowing the companies to “take” the owl site.  Activity center HUM0301 “Freeman” to this point has been protected from outright “take” by SPI, as SPI has never complied with federal law to develop a Habitat Conservation Plan for their extensive properties in California.  Now, SPI intends to use Green Diamond’s ITP to drive the birds from its property.

If this weren’t bad enough, a pre-harvest inspection conducted by CAL FIRE discovered that Green Diamond and SPI hid the fact that there is a substantial old growth component to the unit.  In fact, CAL FIRE indicates that the unit in question likely qualifies as “Late Successional Forest” under the Forest Practice Rules definition.  It also turns out that the unit may provide suitable Marbled Murrelet habitat in addition to providing essential habitat for Northern Spotted Owls.

Logging of old growth and “taking” Northern Spotted Owls is completely contrary to the public statements made by Green Diamond indicating that the company would not log old growth and that they are committed to maintaining owls on the landscape.  Furthermore, teaming up with the likes of SPI further damages the public credibility of Green Diamond and shows the true “profit by any means necessary” philosophy of both companies.

EPIC staff will continue to monitor the progress of the “Nacho Libre” THP as a key element of our work to expose the green-wash hypocrisy and underhandedness of Green Diamond and SPI’s behavior. Stay tuned for more updates as we involve our members in protecting wild forests and endangered species on the North Coast of California.