Returning to a Natural Cycle of Wildfire

Mendocino National Forest Backtracks on Logging Project Amidst Scrutiny

Tuesday, March 17th, 2020
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Kimberly Baker inspecting marked tree in timber sale.

1,284 Acres Spared from Logging Under Revised Plan

In response to criticism by the public, the Mendocino National Forest has drastically scaled back proposed logging in the “Green Flat Restoration Project.” Originally planned for 1,534 acres, the Forest Service has scaled the project back to 250 acres. The agency was criticized for its apparent attempt to characterize logging activities as other more benign actions, such as “reforestation.”

The Green Flat Project was proposed in response to the 2018 Ranch Fire. The project quickly elicited controversy because it appeared that the Mendocino National Forest was attempting to characterize commercial logging under other names to more easily facilitate environmental review of the project. Nearly all federal projects are subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which demands that projects be evaluated to consider potentially significant environmental impacts as well as alternatives and mitigation measures to reduce impacts. A small subset of actions—so-called “categorical exclusions”—are exempt from this longer environmental review process. The Forest Service has defined what types of activities can be pursued under a categorical exclusion. These include post-fire logging of 250 acres or less and “reforestation.”

In January, the Mendocino National Forest announced the proposed project. In a letter soliciting public comment, the Mendocino National Forest first proposed 250 acres of post-fire logging, 1,066 acres of “fuels reduction” associated with reforestation, and 218 acres of commercial logging coined as “forest health treatments.” Both fuels reduction and forest health treatments were effectively logging. In its comments on the project, EPIC outlined that this renaming of activities to fit under a categorical exclusion was illegal.

On March 11, the Mendocino National Forest withdrew the proposed project, announcing it would only pursue a smaller 250 acre commercial logging project. Further, the Mendocino indicated that it would reduce the number of living trees logged by taking trees that were estimated to have a 70%+ chance of dying in the future.

“Post-fire forests are ecologically sensitive and respond poorly to intensive logging–that’s why only smaller projects are allowed to utilize a categorical exclusion. Simply renaming logging something else to bypass the rules was clearly illegal and the Forest Service was caught, said Tom Wheeler, Executive Director of EPIC.

“It is clear to see the agencies disregard for science and ecology by prioritizing the extraction of large trees while it leaves the smaller vegetatation to fuel the next fire,” said Kimberly Baker, Public Lands Advocate for EPIC.

In response to the Ranch Fire, the Mendocino National Forest has aggressively tried to increase logging in the fire footprint. EPIC is in court to stop another series of misapplied categorical exclusions.


Action Alert: Say No To Mendocino Logging of Fragile Post-Fire Forests!

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020
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The Mendocino National Forest is attempting to hide a 1,300 acre clearcut as a “restoration” project. By its logic, there is a need to cut all trees in order to plant others. The agency is arguing that it is exempt from environmental laws that require a detailed consideration of the likely environmental impacts of the project. All of this is on the heels of a massive post-fire roadside-logging project done without adequate environmental review. EPIC’s staff has rarely seen this level of disregard for science, ecology, wildlife, water quality, or public participation. We need your help to shine a spotlight on this Orwellian abuse of our laws.

Take Action Now!

The “Green Flat Restoration Project” is in response to the 2018 Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Fire Complex. To justify its proposed project, the Forest Service critically muddies the facts about the severity of burned area. By the agency’s telling, the project site is a moonscape desolate of life—with 79% of the area burned at “high-severity.” More accurately, the broader project area burned at a mixed severity—with patches of lower-severity fire (i.e. less mortality and surviving green trees capable of providing a seed source for natural reforestation) near patches of high-severity (i.e., the vast majority of trees were killed by the fire).

Here’s why this matters: by adopting an expansive definition of “high-severity” area, the Forest Service justifies the necessity of the project. It claims that because nearly the entire project falls within a “high-severity” patch, it must be replanted. And, in order to “improve the success” of replanted trees and to reduce fuels, the agency claims it needs to remove dead and live trees that were affected by the fire.

All of this is hooey because the forest stands are entirely capable of natural regeneration. Fire is nature’s phoenix. The mixed-severity of the project area ensures that there is a sufficient seed source nearby, and with resprouting hardwoods, the area will naturally reforest in time. The proposed ground based logging with heavy machinery, by contrast, will eviscerate natural recovery through the churning and disturbance of the already fragile soils. Artificial reforestation is less preferable for numerous reasons: it is more expensive, results in less biological diversity, and spreads invasive species.

Snags are an important part of a post-fire forest.

Snags left behind without logging are biological legacies that help forests recover from one stand to the next. Snag forests provide valuable charcoal and will stand and store carbon for decades. Unlogged post-fire forests provide complex forest structures and biologically vibrant habitats. Often called “nurse logs” after they fall, snags provide future soil nutrients, create cooler micro-climates by casting shade and holding moisture, provide denning, resting and hiding areas for mammals and birds, and feed the millions of micro-organisms that are the base of the food chain.

There is no sound ecological reason for industrial post-fire logging. By misleading the public about the nature and the need of the project, the Forest Service then attempts to shuttle the project through using a “categorical exclusion” from the National Environmental Policy Act’s requirements to carefully study the potential environmental impacts of a project. No consideration of impacts to wildlife. No consideration of impacts to water quality. No consideration to impacts to future fire conditions. Nothing. This fits a trend from the Mendocino National Forest to mischaracterize projects to get out the cut—and one that EPIC sued them over in 2019.

We need your help. The Mendocino National Forest hopes that no one will notice that this “restoration” project is really a timber sale in disguise. We need to flood the Forest Service with opposition to this appalling project before the comment period ends on Friday.

Take Action Now!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To carry out this legal challenge to preserve owl habitat, clean water, fire resilient landscapes and our right to participate in public land management decisions, we need to raise substantial funding. Please help us see this case through by making a substantial donation today.

Click here for press release and contacts.


Base Camp Reflections

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

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

Day 1: Grazing Monitoring and Timber Sale Sleuthing

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

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

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

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

Day 2: Timber Monitoring Continues

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

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

THANK YOU! 

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

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

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

Photos by Amber Jamieson.

 

 


Westside Update: EPIC Back in Court to Fight for Project Remediation

Tuesday, April 11th, 2017
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Photo by Amber Shelton

For more articles about the Westside Timber Sale, click here.

EPIC is back in court to ensure that promised logging remediation will occur. EPIC is seeking to amend our original lawsuit to target some of the unfulfilled promises made by the Forest Service. The amended complaint is here and our motion to amend is here.

Broadly speaking, the Westside Timber Sale consisted of two components: a timber sale and project features to “recover” the forest post-fire and post-logging. The first part, the logging, has occurred. But the second, the recovery actions, may never occur because of the Forest Service’s failures.

Through the Westside Timber Sale, the Forest Service has denuded around 6,000 acres of mostly steep and unstable slopes in the Klamath National Forest. In its wake, the Forest Service has left a mess. Slash and logging debris litter the landscape. Roads are collapsing and washing into the Klamath River. Forest fuel conditions are worse than when the project started. (In short, this is what EPIC predicted would happen. But no one likes an “I told you so.”)

As promised to the public in their environmental impact statement, the Forest Service indicated that it was going to come back in and clean up this mess through fuels reductions projects and treatment of “legacy” sources of sediment pollution. The Forest Service predicated this remediation work on selling timber for exaggerated prices—$240 per thousand board feet of timber. In reality, the Forest Service sold owl critical habitat for as low as $.50 per thousand board feet, as the market for these fire-killed trees dried up. (At that price, a log truck full of trees would cost less than a cup of coffee.)

When the Forest Service realized that the project was no longer economically viable, it should have stopped logging and reevaluated the Project. It didn’t. Now EPIC is asking the court to force the Forest Service to think critically about what it can feasibly do by revisiting its environmental impact statement.


Horse Creek Project: Losing Taxpayer Money to Harm Spotted Owls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Leave A Legacy! Westside – Old Growth and Implementation

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016
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DSC00534The Klamath National Forest (KNF) repeatedly stated in its Westside documents that all legacy trees would be kept standing. From what we have seen, KNF has been cutting and removing these biological legacies at a rapid pace and more are threatened.

Legacy trees, i.e. old growth snags and live trees are defined as disproportionately large diameter trees that are often remnants of the previous stand on a given site. They are old standing trees that have persisted on the landscape after man-made and natural disturbances. For example, large trees containing one or more of the following characteristics: split or broken tops, heavy decadent branching, large mistletoe brooms, otherwise damaged to the degree that a cavity may form such as basal fire or lightning scars, or other features that indicate decay or defect. If the legacy component tree or snag was to be felled for safety reasons it was supposed to be left whole on the ground.

The alternative that KNF chose was specifically developed because of the effects of logging on spotted owl and fisher habitat, habitat connectivity, and legacy components and concerns about treatments in late-successional reserves. This alternative was chosen because it was supposed to emphasize the development of future late successional habitat, habitat connectivity, northern spotted owl habitat and legacy habitat components within the post fire landscape. It was designed to retain legacy components for future habitat development, reduce effects to owl nests, and lessen the effects of clearcut logging on watershed connectivity.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have also had concerns about the logging of legacy trees. In fact the Biological Opinion and the non-jeopardy decision for Northern spotted owls was partly based on the assumption that old growth trees would be left on the landscape. To date, the issue of removing legacy trees has not been resolved and they continue to be cut without public oversight – due to forest closure – or immediate action from the USFWS. EPIC has been communicating these concerns to the USFWS and has sent the KNF a notice of intent to litigate on this matter, which would be in addition to our current lawsuit.

Legacy tree retention is not the only issue currently going wrong with Westside implementation. In early August this year EPIC requested a visit to see if the project design features were being adequately implemented. We saw; many old growth trees stacked for hauling, no dust abatement, logging in Riparian Reserves as well as trees stacked in the reserves, damaged soils, no washing stations for equipment to deter the spread of non-native invasive plant species, roads and hillsides on the verge of wash out and more. Below is a photo gallery showing the current implementation of the Westside project, which was documented by EPIC staff on August 4th 2016.

Below is a photo gallery of legacy trees still standing, but critically threatened as they are not marked for saving, in the Grider and Cold Springs Westside Timber Sales and implementation as of August 4 in the Walker Creek watershed, which includes Walker, Salt, Slinkard and a small portion of Blue Mountain Timber Sales.

 

 


Westside Rip-off

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016
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The Westside salvage logging project on the Klamath National Forest (KNF) is having more than severe ecological costs. The Forest Service forecasted making over ten million dollars in timber sale revenue. In reality, the agency brought in less than 5% of that estimate. Timber corporations paid $457,000 to log 13,000 acres in the heart of the Klamath Siskiyou bioregion.

Westside implementation on steep and unstable slopes with small trees left behind. Photo courtesy of KS Wild.

Westside implementation on steep and unstable slopes with small trees left behind. Photo courtesy of KS Wild.

“Required costs to restore the project landscape through site preparation, planting and fuels reduction are estimated as $27,487,000.” -Westside Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

That leaves twenty-seven million more dollars needed to pay for 8,000 acres of replanting, 23,000 acres of fuels reduction treatments and for cleaning up logging slash. Replanting clear cuts, known as plantation forestry, creates highly flammable conditions for decades. The KNF claims it is accelerating reforestation and recovery; however natural regeneration is and was already taking place. Fuels reduction on 23,000 acres is needed to remove the smaller trees and shrubs with no commercial value, which will likely not happen, due to a lack of funding. It is these smaller and finer fuels that are shown to exacerbate fire behavior. The entire premise of the project was based on fuels reduction. Less than 2% of the money needed for these activities was made though timber sale receipts.

Westside logging implementation newly constructed landing site. Photo courtesy of KS Wild.

Westside logging implementation: newly constructed landing site. Photo courtesy of KS Wild.

Patty Grantham, KNF Supervisor and decision-maker for Westside, stated in a recent federal court declaration that without restoration (plantation creation) and fuels treatments, the area would remain at heightened risk for landslides and burning again at high severity. She stated that, funding for fuel reduction work is tenuous, typically very limited and must be appropriated by congress (your tax dollars), and therefore not guaranteed. Grantham also said that, a primary purpose of treating the project area is to restore the forest.

On top of those costs, the cost of repairing one third of the nearly 1,000 legacy sediment sites in the project area, which are road related chronic sources of sediment to our waterways, was estimated at over twelve million dollars. All 802 miles of the rivers and streams, including 101 miles of Coho critical habitat in the Westside project are listed as impaired under the Clean Water Act, which means that current conditions do not meet water quality standards. The KNF stated that, controlling legacy sediment sources and design features would offset much of the increase in cumulative disturbance. In order to get a water quality waiver, the Forest Service came up with a schedule for repairing only 350 legacy sites over the next twenty five years without a guarantee for any funding.

The Westside: Record of Decision; the EIS; all of the supporting reports (hydrology, geology, wildlife, aquatics, recreation, botany et.); consultation with US Fish and Wildlife; National Marine Fisheries Service and approval by the North Coast Water Quality Control Board all relied on plantation creation, fuels reduction and legacy sediment site repair actually taking place.

The claimed purposes of the Westside “recovery” project are for public and firefighter safety for community protection, economic viability, benefiting local communities and restored and fire-resilient forested ecosystems. Without further funding, river communities are more at-risk of high severity fire and have not benefitted, the economics are not viable, thousands of acres of natural restoration and recovery are being damaged and forest ecosystems are less resilient with a higher risk of severe wildfire, chance of landslides and loss of soil stability. At two dollars per truckload of the largest trees, the only benefit went to timber corporations.

The ecological costs of Westside salvage logging deserve attention. Westside will harm or kill an important source population of the Northern spotted owl, which was known to be one of the most productive populations in the entire range of the species. Creeks providing cold water refuge for wild and suffering salmon will be affected. The Caroline Creek bald eagles are expected to abandon their nest site, after decades of re-populating the mid-Klamath region. Endemic Siskiyou Mountain Salamanders, fishers, hawks and nearly every wildlife species in these watersheds may be negatively impacted. Logging is within Wild and Scenic River corridors, mature forest reserves, streamside areas, adjacent to the Pacific Crest Trail and on 2,000 acres of unstable slopes. Implementation of the project will disturb water quality, landscape connectivity and natural recovery. The loss of big trees impacts complex forest structure, carbon storage, shade, cooler microclimates, soil nutrients, and high quality habitat and slope stability.

Beyond the thousands and perhaps millions of dollars taxpayers spent planning the project; we are now on the hook for forty million dollars more to pay for restoration and fuels reduction. Wild places, wildlife, water quality and communities are paying an immeasurable and long-term cost, while timber corporations benefit. The irreversible damage to the value of intact complex forest ecosystems and the services they provide has not been calculated. The Westside salvage project adds up to an unnecessary colossal waste and possible environmental catastrophe.

Click here to learn more about the ecological costs of the Westside project.

 Natural recovery taking place around these trees proposed for extraction in the Westside project. Photos courtesy of Kimberly Baker.


Westside Update

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016
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Stump of "hazard" tree in Grider Creek Campground. Photo by Rob DiPerna.

Logging is underway for the Westside Project on two separate units, Slinkard and Walker Creek. Two more units, Salt Creek and Blue Mountain, have received a high bidder, although the units have not yet been awarded. There is good news too. Most timber sale units have not received high bids. Absent new bidders, these areas may be saved from the chainsaw and will continue to provide habitat for Pacific fishers and northern spotted owls.

To pump the brakes on logging and maintain the status quo until a more in-depth hearing on the merits could be had, plaintiffs submitted a request for a temporary restraining order to stop salvage logging. On Monday, Judge Maxine Chesney denied plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order. EPIC has not given up the fight. The Klamath National Forest is too precious a resource to waste through ill-conceived timber sales. EPIC will continue to push all legal avenues to protect our wild “Klamath Knot.”

Below are some images of the post-fire landscapes that EPIC is working to protect. We will keep you up to date on further developments.


Tribe and Conservationists File Suit to Protect Wild Salmon, Rural River Communities

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016
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Westside LawsuitGroups Seek Alternatives to Flawed Forest Service Salvage Plan

Happy Camp, CA – Today the Karuk Tribe, along with the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild), Center for Biological Diversity, and Klamath Riverkeeper, filed suit in federal court challenging a massive post-fire logging plan in Klamath National Forest that will increase fire danger, degrade water quality, and harm at-risk salmon populations. The Tribe leads a diverse plaintiff group united by a common interest in restoring healthy relationships between people, fire, forests and fish.

ElkCreek, near Happy Camp, flows into the Klamath River

ElkCreek, near Happy Camp, flows into the Klamath River

The groups seek to protect rural communities from fire risks, restore watershed health, and provide economic opportunities for locals. The group is challenging a post-fire timber sale, the Westside Project, which fails rural river communities by implementing the same management practices that have for decades resulted in a landscape prone to dangerous fire events, degraded water quality, and contributed to declining salmon populations. The suit alleges the Klamath National Forest Plan, as approved by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, illegally increases the risk of extinction for threatened populations of coho salmon.

The Westside project would clear-cut 5,760 acres on burned forest slopes above tributaries of the Klamath River. This aggressive approach would fail to resolve long-term fire management issues and exacerbate wildfire impacts to recovering watersheds. The steep and rugged terrain contains old-growth forests and nurtures some of the most important salmon habitat on the West Coast. NOAA Fisheries is required to review Forest Service logging plans to determine if such projects will have harmful effects on ESA listed coho. In this case, NOAA Fisheries green lighted the Forest Service plan despite the obvious harm to coho spawning and rearing habitat.

“This project was ill-conceived from the start and failed to adequately take into account the input of the Karuk Tribe which has managed these forests since the beginning of time,” said Karuk Chairman Russell “Buster” Attebery. “We will not allow the Forest Service to further degrade our fisheries, water quality, or sacred sites while ignoring our call for community fire protection.”

The Tribe’s alternative proposal ensures that future fire events will be healthy for the environment and safe for local residents while providing marketable timber. The Forest Service did not analyze the Karuk Alternative because it rushed the environmental review process under the pretense of a “public emergency.”

“Unlike the massive Forest Service clear-cutting plans, the Karuk Alternative focuses on restoration,” explains George Sexton of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “It recognizes the need to restore watersheds and the natural fire regime while protecting homes and communities.”

“The Klamath River and its tributaries are strongholds for struggling salmon populations; they are also home to many rare and endemic species. Logging these steep slopes would only increase the perilous position our fisheries and wildlife are facing,” said Kimberly Baker of EPIC. “The Forest Service plan to clear-cut thousands of acres above the Klamath River disregards the reasonable Karuk Alternative and hurts at-risk salmon and river communities,” said Kerul Dyer of Klamath Riverkeeper. “A healthy Klamath River requires sensible forest restoration that addresses the needs of both fish and people, like that laid out in the Karuk plan.”

“We have a chance right now to restore healthy relationships among people, fire and forests,” said Jay Lininger, senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It requires a fundamentally different approach from what the Forest Service put forward.”

The groups are challenging the illegal harm to fish and watersheds that will result from the proposed post-fire clear cutting timber sales in hopes that the federal government will change course. Initial arguments will likely be heard by the District Court in the very near future. The Western Environmental Law Center represents all of the plaintiffs and EPIC is represented by in-house counsel.

Click here to read the complaint


Westside Project Update

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015
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Westside

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

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

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

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

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

 


Action Alert: Don’t let Congress Silence You and Clear-cut Millions of Acres of our Forests

Friday, December 4th, 2015
By

Willits Rein in Caltrans Slide

TAKE ACTION NOW:  Tell Congress to pass a clean fire suppression funding bill—No anti-environment riders!

Some in Congress are trying, once again, to take way our voice in decisions that affect our lives. The National Environmental Policy Act is the foundational law that gives every citizen the right to be involved in decisions that affect our environment and to stop illegal activities. But some in Congress are chipping away at that law and those rights. Backroom deals are taking place in Congress right now to allow the US Forest Service to log millions of acres of our public forests with little to no public input.

The US House of Representatives passed a very bad bill this year, HR 2647, ironically called the “Resilient Federal Forest Act.” The bill has nothing to do with making forests more resilient. This is a typical trick of the anti-conservation politicians. Those pushing HR 2647 want to use fires as an excuse to clear-cut millions of acres of our National Forests that have experienced fire and to silence critical voices. Let’s be clear: this legislation will not help with better fire management and prevention—the bill is about massive clear-cuts, and taking away our public voice.

Knowing that their extreme anti-environmental rhetoric is toxic, Big Timber is pushing politicians to sneak their bad bill in as a rider to a bill to fix the fire funding chaos. Tell Congress, “No Bad Logging Riders!” Pass a clean bill or no bill.

At the same time, there is strong bipartisan support in Congress and by citizens to fix the chaotic way we fund firefighting. It is clear that we need to find a more sustainable solution to ballooning fire suppression costs, which often far exceed the amount appropriated to the Forest Service for fire suppression. This in turn forces the Forest Service to pull money from other departments, such as recreation and forest health—a process known as “fire borrowing.”

You can stop these bad riders. The action has moved to the back rooms of the US Senate now and your Senators can help stop this.

Click here to take action now!

Or contact your Representatives in Congress directly:

Senator Diane Feinstein

Northern California (San Francisco) Office: (415) 393-0707

Washington, D.C. Office: (202) 224-3841

Email: https://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/e-mail-me

 

Senator Barbara Boxer

California District Office (Oakland): (510) 286-8537

Washington, D.C. Office: (202) 224-3553

Email: https://www.boxer.senate.gov/contact/shareyourviews.html

Twitter: @SenatorBoxer

 

Congressman Huffman (California 2nd District )

District Office (Eureka): (707) 407-3585

Washington, D.C. Office: (202) 225-5161

Email: https://huffman.house.gov/contact/email-me

Twitter: @RepHuffman

 

Congressman LaMalfa (California 1st District)

District Office (Redding): (530) 223-5898

Washington, D.C. Office: (202) 225-3076

Email: https://lamalfa.house.gov/contact/email-me

Twitter: @RepLaMalfa


Exposed: Post-fire Logging Harms Endangered Owl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fire as an Excuse for Logging

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015
By
Wet Weather Logging in Klamath National Forest October 2014

Wet weather “salvage” logging in Klamath National Forest 2014

Fire is a difficult subject because it defies easy or generalized characterizations. Fire is powerful and scary. That statement probably rings true to most folks. Fire is also natural. And for the most part, fire is good for our forests and wildlife—fire helps clear debris on the forest floor, encourage new growth, produces important habitat elements like snags (standing dead trees), and helps accelerate the development of old-growth characteristics (like deformed branches and cavities) in younger forests. That fire is natural and more often than not good for forest health is something most people don’t know (and that the mainstream media has no interest in discussing).

The timber industry has long used the specter of fire as an excuse to log. The language used regarding fire is deliberately chosen to reinforce their clearcut agenda.   (The science to justify this claim, coincidentally, is largely funded by the timber industry.) To justify logging post-fire, Big Timber says it needs to “salvage” the standing dead trees or else it will go to “waste.”

In California, the way fire is managed depends on who owns the underlying lands. On private lands, timber companies have wide discretion and very little oversight when managing their lands either for fire prevention or for post-fire logging. (Both activities, to varying degrees, are exempt from the requirement to prepare a Timber Harvest Plan.) On federal lands, however, Big Timber is bound by federal law which has traditionally placed greater restrictions on timber harvests, both for undisturbed green trees and for post-fire forests.

Big Timber wants to capitalize on logging our national forests (for, among other reasons, logging on federal lands is heavily subsidized). To do so, Big Timber has its eyes set of weakening federal environmental laws, particularly the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires federal land managers to consider the environmental impact of a project before acting.

The timber industry’s logic—that a tree is nothing more than a pile of fuel—has found champions in federal legislators. In 2002, following a string of large fires in a drought year, the Bush Administration, at the behest of Big Timber, passed the “Healthy Forest Restoration Act.” The Act, which has been mocked as the “Leave No Tree Behind Act,” weakened environmental laws for “fuels reduction” projects by, among other things, limiting the public’s right to comment and object to projects and limiting and in some cases removing environmental impact analysis.

Big Timber is at it again. In response to this summer’s fires and the lingering anti-fire sentiment, House Republicans are pushing to pass a new law which will weaken or remove environmental laws. H.R. 2647 or the “Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015,” would, among other things:

  • Shift money devoted to environmental restoration to logging.
  • Categorically exempt many destructive activities—including pre- and post-fire logging up to 15,000 acres—from environmental impact analysis.
  • Fast-track projects to bypass public participation.
  • Increase the road network on our national forests and make road decommissioning more difficult.
  • Require environmental groups to post bonds before litigating projects.

It is not clear whether H.R. 2647 will pass the Senate or if its authors will attempt to sneak it into another “must-pass” bill. What is certain is that Big Timber and its friends in Congress will continue to use fire as a vehicle to get the cut out, whether in this Congressional session or the next.

Where does this end? With an educated public. So when someone tells you that fire is a problem and that “active management” is the solution, call them on it! Or when a friend repeats a line about how environmental groups are standing in the way of healthy forests, politely correct them. Together, some conversations over coffee or in the comment section on Facebook, we can change the narrative that the mainstream media and Big Timber is trying to sell us.


Westside Community Meeting in Orleans September 11th

Monday, September 7th, 2015
By

Westside from BR Lookout

This Friday, concerned community members will be meeting to discuss impacts of the Westside project on our communities. In the coming days, the Klamath National Forest plans to auction off 14 timber sales, that have been analyzed as part of the Westside post-fire logging project, a large commercial salvage logging proposal that covers over 30,000 acres of management including logging on about 10,000 acres of forests affected by the Whites, Beaver and Happy Camp fires of 2014. Areas proposed for logging are adjacent to wilderness areas, the Pacific Crest Trail, within Wild and Scenic River corridors, critical habitat for coho salmon and northern spotted owls and wildlife corridors that are important for providing linkages between the islands of protected areas. The timber sales proposed in the Westside project are all located within the blue circle on the map (below). The Klamath National Forest has not yet released the Record of Decision, which was expected this week, and has not completed formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service. The Klamath National Forest has not yet received a water quality permit from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.

EPIC Connecting Wild Places with Westside IDsmallOver the past year, our staff has read and commented on the Westside Environmental Impact Statement and attended the informational meetings put forward by the Klamath National Forest, and we have all agreed that the information and format that has been provided is less than helpful.

In order to better understand the landscape that will be affected by the proposed Westside Project, we have used the shape files for the project boundaries to illustrate aerial images from google earth. These maps more accurately depict the scale, magnitude and context of the proposed project by showing the project in relation to the watersheds that are at stake. These maps will be available at the community meeting.

The Karuk Alternative maps that were developed by the Karuk Tribe have proposed to reduce the project scope to focus on strategic ridge-top fuel breaks to protect rural communities so that fire can be reintroduced to the landscape. The Karuk Alternative is a third of the scale of the Klamath National Forest’s proposal.

Since the beginning of time, fire has shaped the landscape of the region, and it is well documented that cultural burning was used to thin the understory, and allow for healthy larger trees to thrive. prescribed fires were also used to encourage the growth of important resources such as acorns and bear grass, which is used by local tribes to make baskets. Over the last century, these mountains have endured the ecologically damaging practices of clear-cut logging, fire suppression, and plantation forestry, which shape most of the landscape we see today. If you live in or visit the Klamath-Siskiyou mountains and observe your surroundings, you have probably noticed the vicious cycle of:

1. clear-cut logging of the big old fire-resistant, shade-producing trees;

2. plantations that quickly become brush fields due to lack of funds to maintain them in an ongoing way;

3. fire suppression policy that continually increases the size and severity of fires that get away;

4. fire-fighting strategies that increase the size of the burned area; and

5. salvage sales that cost taxpayers more than the government makes on the sale, and in many cases leave huge amounts of slash on the ground, setting us up for the next fire. (And setting the fish up for a hot, sediment-choked, disease-prone environment.)

If you would like to learn about the size, scope and specifics of the Westside salvage sale and discuss potential consequences and community responses, you are cordially invited to come to this important informational meeting for Westside post-fire logging project on Friday, September 11, 2015 at 6:30 pm at the Karuk DNR-Department of Natural Resources Community Room, 39051 Highway 96. In Orleans, CA. All are welcome. Refreshments and dinner included, but bring a potluck dish to share if you can.

DIRECTIONS: Headed northeast on Highway 96, go one quarter mile past Orleans and cross the bridge over the Klamath. The parking lot is on the right hand side (Just after Red Cap Road). Cell phones and GPS Navigation systems do not work here, so you may want to map your route in advance. Allow ~2 hours of drive time from Arcata area.

RESOURCES:

Google Earth image maps with timber sale boundaries – Organized by timber sale and/or watershed.

Westside Fact Sheet and Agency Contacts for Westside Project – 1 page fact sheet for letter writing.

EPIC Guide to Groundtruthing trifold – An excellent guide for analyzing project impacts in the field.

The Westside Story – An in epic analysis of the wildlife, wild rivers, and wild places that would be affected by the Westside project.

Final Comments on Westside DEIS – EPIC, Klamath Forest Alliance and KS Wild comments on the Westside Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

The Westside Final Environmental Impact Statement – A link to all of the Klamath National Forest’s documents related to the Westside project.

Timber Sale Maps developed by the Klamath National Forest:

Whites Fire Salvage Heli Map

Walker Creek Fire Salvage Heli Map

Tyler Meadows Fire Salvage Heli Map

Tom Martin Fire Salvage Heli Map

Slinkard Fire Salvage Heli Map

Salt Creek Fire Salvage SBA Map

Middle Creek Fire Salvage Heli Map

Hamburg Fire Salvage Map

Greider Heli Fire Salvage Map

Cougar Heli Fire Salvage Map

Cold Springs Fire Salvage Map

Caroline Creek Fire Salvage Heli Map

Blue Mountain Fire Salvage Heli Map

Beaver Fire Salvage Timber Sale Map

 

FlyerWestsideMeeting


Northern California National Forests on Fire

Monday, August 10th, 2015
By
River Complex

River Complex

 

Last month’s storms in the North Coast resulted in hundreds of lightning strikes igniting forest fires across the region and throughout the Pacific Northwest. Now a combined total of approximately 102,755 acres are burning on the Shasta-Trinity and Six Rivers National Forests.

 

Shasta Trinity National Forest contains 7 fire complexes totaling 80,249 acres:

Route Complex            19,974                   15% contained       *Dozer lines & tree felling

South Complex            18,108                   5% contained         *19 Dozers

River Complex             18,235                   12% contained        *4 Dozers

Fork Complex              22,312                   19% contained         *54 Dozers

Shf Lightning               75

Saddle Fire                   1,542

Hog Fire “Saddle Fire”      3

Six Rivers National Forest contains 3 complexes totaling 22,506 acres:

Mad River Complex 19,189                  35% contained           *6 bulldozers

Gasquet Complex     2,335                    9% contained            *Dozers & tree felling

Nickowitz Fire             982                    17% contained

Hog Fire -Saddle Fire-dozer lines

Hog Fire -Saddle Fire-dozer lines

Thousands of fire fighters are on the ground, some in an effort to protect life and property and others are in the wilderness and backcountry. Fire suppression and the military style of firefighting can be more environmentally destructive than wildfire itself. Crews typically construct ridge top fire lines with bulldozers, dump fire retardant, ignite high severity back burns, fell trees and open up decommissioned roads to access and suppress the fires. These damaging efforts are often ineffective, for example yesterday a burning tree fell across a containment line on the Route complex, causing the fire to escape.

Route Complex

Route Complex

Techniques such as back burning purposefully result in high intensity fire consuming all of the vegetation in its path. Fire retardant can be toxic to fish, especially when it is applied into creeks and streams. Snags are felled throughout sensitive areas. The Six Rivers allowed an untold amount of chainsaw work to cut snags in the Siskiyou Wilderness in the Peak Fire. Perhaps the most destructive activity is the construction of often-ineffective firelines creating miles of ridge tops that are plowed to bare earth. In the Fork Complex alone, there are multi-agency crews operating 54 bulldozers.

Fire has shaped the region for millennia; it is a natural force that keeps our forests healthy by cleaning out the understory and opening the forest floor. Wildfires are most commonly started by lightning, which strikes on ridge tops, then creeps down the mountain side, most often over 85 percent of forest fires burn at low and moderate severity, and less than 15% burns at high severity. In this scenario, most of the largest trees are left alive and the smaller understory is cleaned out, allowing the larger trees more light and nutrients to grow.

Dozer Line on Castle fire in South Complex

Dozer Line on Castle fire in South Complex

Once the smoke clears, many of these burned forests will be considered for post-fire “salvage logging” timber sales, as we are experiencing on the Klamath National Forest in the Westside project, which is slated for a decision in early September. Post-fire operations usually propose to remove the largest (most profitable) trees, which are the most valuable to wildlife, soil stability, soil structure and carbon storage. Salvage logging on steep slopes leaves the sensitive landscape susceptible to landslides and erosion, removes important habitat and damages natural growth and recovery.

In order to allow our forests to undergo natural processes, fire suppression should focus around homes and communities by creating a defensible “fire safe” area. Landscape level fire strategies that include shaded fuel breaks and the widespread use of cultural and prescribed burning should be and are becoming a priority for national forest managers, tribes and rural communities.

Below are some maps of the fires as of August 10, 2015:

*Photos and maps and data courtesy of inciweb.nwcg.gov


Take Action: Klamath River Runs Brown!

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015
By
Klamath River Near Mouth 7.13.15 by Mark Harris

Near the mouth of the Klamath River. July 13, 2015. Photo Courtesy of Mark Harris

Take Action Now to stop Westside: A few short but intense rain storms hit the 2014 fire areas on the Klamath National Forest causing massive sediment events that turned the mighty Klamath and Salmon River systems muddy and brown. On July 5th, 7th and 12th rainstorms brought over an inch of rain in less than an hour causing road damage, intense debris torrents with slurries of mud, rock, water and trees to sliding for miles, filling in pools and creeks that serve as some of the best salmon spawning habitat. These watersheds are located within the same steep and unstable hillsides that are targeted for logging in the Westside project.

Salmon

Juvenile and adult salmon struggle to survive in oxygen-depleted lethal water temperatures with high rates of disease and algae. The storm events greatly increased turbidity and lowered oxygen levels in the water for nearly two weeks. Massive amounts of sediment dumped into some of the most important spawning habitat and cool water refuges. There appears to be considerable reduction in size, volume, and depth of pools. It is uncertain how salmon and other aquatic life will survive this onslaught of impacts, especially with the hottest summer temperatures soon to come and the proposed clearcutting and logging activities.

Coho salmon are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. There are 101 miles of coho Critical Habitat in the project area. This includes the rivers affected by recent storms, Klamath and North Fork Salmon Rivers and many of the cool water tributaries vital for fish survival, including: Grider, Beaver, Elk, South Russian Creeks and Whites Gulch.

Roads

Road systems were blocked and sliding mud, trees, rock and debris clogged dozens of culverts and ditches. Thousands of cubic yards of sediment came down hills and hundreds have already been cleared from roads with heavy machinery, but much more debris continues to be suspended on the hillsides waiting for the next rain event.

Click here for before and after photos of road work in the Walker Creek drainage. At least 24 different road locations on roads 46N64, 46N65, and 46N67 were blocked by mud, rock, and debris flows, and numerous culvert inlets are still buried under mud and rocks.

Roads are the leading contributor of sediment into our creeks and rivers. There are over 950 “legacy” sites, which are chronic sources of sediment in the Westside project area. The Klamath National Forest is proposing to treat only 150 legacy sites in one watershed, leaving over 800 sites untreated.

The Forest Service proposes to open miles of decommissioned and self-decommissioned roads. These roads also contain legacy sites. For instance, road 16N41 up Little Elk Creek is approximately 2 miles long and completely grown over, which would require intense forest clearing and reconstruction just upstream of coho Critical Habitat. Further, there are over 280 miles of level 2 roads, passable by high clearance vehicles only, which would require reconstruction in order to accommodate for the proposed use by heavy machinery and large trucks. These are few of many road issues that were not adequately considered, addressed or disclosed.

The Past the Future and Westside

As temperatures and extinction rates soar globally and climate change brings more extreme weather, like summer rainstorms – our water, wildlife, salmon and wild places need extra protection. Low to no snow pack and higher temperatures means increasingly low and warm summer flows in our rivers. Extreme wind, rain and fire leave behind fragile ecosystems susceptible to severe damage from industrial activities on the landscape.

The Klamath Mountains are some of the steepest and most erodible hillsides on the west coast. For decades we have witnessed and documented major impacts to our watersheds during large storm events. The decomposed granitic soils in the Westside fire areas will slide downhill and into our rivers. The entire watersheds of Grider and Walker are unstable, which is where the highest concentration of Westside units are proposed!

Click here now to tell Patty Grantham to stay off geologically unstable slopes, disclose the extreme amount of roadwork proposed, to learn from the past and allow for the natural recovery of our fragile and fire dependent watersheds.

Rivers and Creeks up Close 

A few short and intense summer storms brought massive debris flows choking the Klamath and Salmon Rivers and many of its tributaries with thick sediment and mud. The Klamath Mountains are some of the steepest and most erodible lands on the west coast. The rivers listed below support a suffering salmon population- all are proposed for clearcut logging by the Klamath National Forest in the Westside project and all are listed as impaired under the Clean Water Act, mostly from temperature and sediment. Many of them are supposed to be federally protected designated or eligible for designation as Wild and Scenic Rivers.

Klamath River

The Wild and Scenic Klamath River (Karuk: Ishkêesh,‪ Klamath: Koke,‪ Yurok: Hehlkeek ‘We-Roy,‪ Hupa: k’ina’-tahxw-hun’) flows 263 miles southwest from Oregon and northern California, cutting through the Cascade Range to empty into the Pacific Ocean. It is listed as impaired under the Clean Water Act for Nutrients, Organic Enrichment/Low Dissolved Oxygen, Temperature and Microcystin.

It was once the third most productive salmon-bearing river system in the country. Today, thanks to habitat blocking dams, logging, mining, grazing, agriculture, poor water quality and too little water left in the river, the once abundant Klamath salmon runs have now been reduced to less than 10% of their historic size. Anadromous species present in the Klamath River basin below Iron Gate Dam include Chinook, coho, pink, and chum salmon, steelhead and coastal cutthroat trout, eulachon, white and green sturgeon, and Pacific lamprey. Some species, such as coho salmon, are now in such low numbers in the Klamath River that they are listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

North Fork Salmon River

Deeply incised canyons, rugged terrain and highly erodible soils characterize the Salmon River watershed, comprised of two forks, the North Fork and the South Fork to form the mainstem. The free flowing river is one of the largest most pristine watersheds in the Klamath River system, although it is listed under the Clean Water Act as a 303(d) impaired water body for high temperatures. The Wild and Scenic Salmon River provides over 175 miles of anadromous fish habitat and retains the only viable population of spring Chinook salmon and retains the last completely wild salmon and steelhead runs in the in the Klamath watershed. The Salmon River offers some of the best habitat on the west coast for salmon, steelhead, green sturgeon, rainbow trout, Pacific lamprey, and other fish. It is home to one of the most sought after world-class whitewater rafting trips in the country. It combines lush coastal scenery with emerald green waters, steep granite gorges and numerous waterfalls.

The North Fork Salmon River, containing highly erodible granitic soils is steep to very steep. The globally significant carbon dense forests provide important wildlife habitat connectivity, particularly the released roadless areas within the Westside project area. With the combination of unique geology, climate and biology the North Fork Salmon River watershed supports populations of deer, elk, black bear, mountain lion and is home to many rare species, including Pacific fishers and pine martens. The North Fork Watershed Analysis notes that, “the watershed has habitat critical to wildlife and fish species that are listed or petitioned for listing through the Endangered Species Act. Some of these habitat features may be at risk and need protection or enhancement. Older, late successional forest stands and anadromous fish habitat are considered some of the most important features within the watershed.”

This watershed has a total of 1,035 miles of roads, and over 73 stream crossings. These roads—along with timber harvesting in this area—have increased landslide potential, and have therefore increased the potential for negative impacts on the streams. Logging in this area has also led to a decrease in shade along the entire North Fork of the Salmon River. As a result, the Salmon River is now listed under the 303(d) Clean Water Act for temperature. This increase in water temperature has resulted in fish kills of Chinook salmon and steelhead during drought conditions, such as in the years 1994 and 2014.

South Russian Creek and Music

South Russian Creek, fed from the Russian Wilderness, is eligible for designation as a Wild and Scenic River and is recognized for its magnificent stand of old growth Engleman Spruce and for pristine water quality. Music Creek is a tributary to South Russian Creek that leads to the Russian Wilderness and the Pacific Crest Trail. Both of these watersheds are comprised of highly erodible decomposed granitic soils and have seen huge landslides and road impacts from past storms. In August, 1996 a thunderstorm triggered a debris torrent that scoured 2.6 miles of stream in Music Creek. The resulting plume of sediment impacted the North Fork and Mainstem of the Salmon River for several weeks.

Whites Gulch

Whites Gulch is a tributary to the North Fork Salmon. It is critical cold water refugia and spawning habitat for juvenile and adult Coho salmon, spring and fall Chinook salmon and steelhead trout. Whites Gulch watershed contains Critical Habitat for Coho salmon and the Northern spotted owl. This watershed is also home to one of the four Northern goshawks nest areas that would have a high risk of abandonment because of the Westside clearcutting units.

The outer ridges were used extensively for fire suppression operations during the 2014 fires and the road system, with its many sediment sources, also saw a large amount of traffic from heavy trucks.

In October 2008, the Salmon River Restoration Council, in cooperation with the California Department of Fish and Game and NOAA Open Rivers Initiative, removed two dams from the upstream reaches of Whites Gulch. Both of the dams were remnants of the historic mining activity that had occurred within the watershed. The removal of the dams and the subsequent removal of the culvert barrier on Whites Gulch Road, restored access to 3.5 miles of refugia, rearing and spawning habitat in Whites Gulch.

 

Grider Creek/ No Name Creek (Grider Tributary)

Upper Grider Creek watershed contains one of the most important roadless areas, which provides a vital north to south wildlife corridor that connects the Marble Mountain Wilderness with the Siskiyou Crest and Red Buttes Wilderness. The entire watershed contains the largest expanse of geologically unstable areas of the Kla math National Forest and is where the highest concentration of clearcut units in the Westside project are proposed.

Grider Creek is a key watershed, meaning that it contains crucial for salmon survival. It provides spawning, rearing, and holding habitat for Steelhead, Coho, and Chinook salmon. In fact, the mouth of Grider Creek used to provide one of the largest and most important cold water refuge areas on the Klamath River. Unfortunately, the storm of 1997 raised water temperatures in this area and degraded its function as a cold refuge.

It is eligible for designation as a Wild and Scenic River recognized for its undisturbed old growth mixed conifer forests, high water quality and for wildlife because bald eagles and peregrine falcons nest there. These eagles would have a high risk of abandoning their nest areas because the Westside project would decimate the area.

While Grider Creek still has large areas with minimal human activity, it is clear that managed areas of the creek are being degraded. Areas that previously provided the connectivity necessary for the wellbeing of many sensitive species in the area have turned into patchy forests unusable by many animals. If human activity increases throughout this pristine area, habitats will quickly diminish and already threatened species will suffer.

 

Walker Creek

Walker Creek provides high quality water to the Middle Klamath River and acts as a thermal refuge for anadromous salmonids during warm months. Additionally, Walker Creek provides spawning, rearing, and holding habitat for fall and spring-run Chinook salmon, winter and summer-run steelhead and threatened Coho salmon.

The Walker Creek area contains many large, active earthflow landslides and with Grider, contains the largest expanse of geologically unstable areas of the Klamath National Forest and is where the highest concentration of clearcut units in the Westside project are proposed. This along with strong seasonal storms makes this creek particularly susceptible to large amounts of sedimentation. Past management of this area has not been successful in combating this unique feature, and has made stream sedimentation worse. These high levels of sedimentation can have devastating effects on sensitive aquatic species, and therefore must be properly controlled in order for the creek and the surrounding habitat to thrive.

Elk Creek 

The Elk Creek watershed is 60,780 acres of steep slopes and large dispersed benches. It is the municipal water supply for the town of Happy Camp. This watershed provides 51.6 miles of habitat for Steelhead, Coho, and Chinook salmon, Pacific lamprey, Klamath small-scale sucker, and other native fish species. In fact, Elk Creek provides one of highest quality spawning and rearing habitats for Coho salmon in the Middle Klamath River. Its low water temperature also makes Elk Creek an important thermal refuge for many aquatic species during warm periods.

In addition to aquatic species, this watershed is home to many threatened, endangered, and sensitive species listed under the Endangered Species Act. These species include Northern spotted owls, marbled murrelets, bald eagles, and peregrine falcons. Other sensitive species include goshawks, willow flycatchers, fishers, western pond turtles, great grey owls, and martens.

Elk Creek is eligible for designation as a Wild and Scenic River and is recognized for its fisheres, geologic and wildlife values because the Siskiyou Mountains Salamander has been found there.

Logging and road building activities throughout the watershed have disturbed habitat crucial to the survival of both aquatic and terrestrial species. For example, 9,833 acres of Elk Creek watershed have experienced harvest activity over the last 40 years, 7,445 of which were clear cuts or other types of regeneration harvest. This, along with other activities has caused the creek to exceed the Mass Wasting threshold of concern, which indicates an increased risk for hillslope sediment production. It has also led this important thermal refuge to range from “properly functioning” to “at risk” for proper stream temperatures. Once a cool water safe haven for aquatic species, increased water temperatures throughout this creek may lead to increased wildlife mortality. And while storm events and landslides are natural disturbances throughout this watershed, road building, timber harvesting, and other human activities have made it so storm events have much higher impacts on downstream aquatic resources than they naturally would.

The current goals for the Elk Creek watershed include maintaining and restoring the following: spatial and temporal connectivity, physical integrity of the aquatic system, water quality necessary to support healthy ecosystems, and sediment regimes in which aquatic systems evolved. In order to meet these goals and protect important wildlife throughout Elk Creek, it is critical that human activity is kept to a minimum.

Beaver Creek

Beaver Creek after storm. July 15, 2015. Photo courtesy of Bruce Harlow

Beaver Creek after storm. July 15, 2015. Photo courtesy of Bruce Harlow

The Beaver Creek watershed is checkerboarded with forests used as industrial timberlands. Extreme logging has taken place since the 2014 fires. Logging operations were still active up to the time of these recent storms. The Klamath National Forest has had the sense to cancel commercial logging in the watershed in the Westside project.

Beaver Creek is an important tributary to the Klamath River. This watershed makes up approximately 70,000 acres of steep sloped habitat dominated by mixed conifer and true fir forests. Beaver Creek is home to several sensitive species such as Northern spotted owls (threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)), northern goshawks, martens, fishers, willow flycatchers, Siskiyou mountain salamanders, and great grey owls. Additionally, Steelhead, Coho, and Chinook salmon are dependent on Beaver Creek habitat for spawning, rearing, and holding for adult and juvenile fish. Due to its ecological importance, this watershed includes designated Special Interest Areas, and Late-Seral Reserve land allocation areas. These areas provide important habitat for sensitive species, and help protect the integrity of this rich watershed.

Over the years the quality of the Beaver Creek has been greatly degraded. Roads, mainly created to access timber harvest areas, are the current largest impact on the drainage. Approximately 440 miles of roads and an unknown amount of skid trails now occur within the drainage. These roads, as well as timber harvesting, has negatively impacted the watershed and degraded high quality habitat in many ways. Accelerated erosion associated with roads and logging leads to extremely high levels of stream sedimentation, which in turn results in loss of aquatic habitat for many species. In fact, Beaver Creek is on the 303(d) Clean Water Act list as impaired for sediment, and it has been reported that the likelihood of aquatic habitat being damaged due to debris is likely, and may influence the surrounding habitat for as long as ten years.

Roads and timber harvest also decrease connectivity and makes it more difficult for wildlife to easily move across the landscape. Connectivity is extremely fragmented but important for many species in this area, such as the spotted owl. There are 20 known spotted owl activity centers distributed throughout the Beaver Creek watershed. Without sufficient connectivity throughout the landscape, these owls and other late-seral dependent species are at an increased risk of endangerment.

The forests and rivers need your voice: Click here now to tell Patty Grantham to reconsider post-fire logging sensitive watersheds in the Westside proposal!


Guide to Groundtruthing the Westside Timber Sale

Thursday, May 21st, 2015
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Grieder Creek watershed is targeted in the Westside Project- Unit 535. Photo courtesy of Felice Pace

Grider Creek watershed is targeted in the Westside Project- Unit 535.

As summer is fast approaching, now is the time to get outside and explore your national forests. And if you need a recommendation of where to go, we encourage you to see for yourself what the Klamath National Forest is proposing in one of the most biologically significant and diverse temperate forests in the world.

The Klamath National Forest is proposing one of the largest post-fire logging projects in California’s history in an area that covers 210,000 acres of forest nestled in the heart of the Klamath-Siskiyou mountains between the Marbled Mountain, Russian and Red Butte Wilderness. You can read more about the proposed project here. These burned forests are alive and vibrant. More biologically diverse than unburned forests, they provide for an array of plant and animal species, and are considered to be one of the rarest and most ecologically important forest habitats in western forests.

We need your help. One of the most effective things we can do to battle this timber sale is to have a firm understanding of what is proposed on the ground. By documenting the precious areas at risk or by investigating whether the Forest Service is keeping its word, a forest-defense technique called “groundtruthing,” you can save forests from being clearcut. But because this project is so massive, EPIC’s staff cannot examine all corners of the proposed cut. And we know there is a lot to find. Our forays into the project area have already yielded troubling results: EPIC’s Public Land Advocate, Kimberly Baker, has documented big, large trees—those the Forest Service claims will not be affected by the project—marked for cut, and previously protected trees on steep, unstable slopes once again slated to be logged.

Here’s how you can help: If you have a background or knowledge of wildlife, botany, water quality, or just have the time to explore the remote reaches of the rugged Klamath Siskiyou bioregion, please apply your skills here. Photographs with GPS coordinates are incredibly important to illustrate the uniqueness and fragility of this post-fire landscape. To learn how to get the most out of your field trip, read Bark’s Guide to Groundtruthing and bring Bark’s Groundtruthing Survey Form, an excellent resource for citizens to use when surveying a particular area for timber sales.

Specific Markings for timber sale units in the Westside Project include:

  • blue paint for “hazard trees” that are intended to be logged; and
  • orange paint for trees that are marked for leave (with the rest in a marked stand to be logged).

Need maps on where to look?

Click here to view the Klamath National Forest’s website, which includes maps for the Westside Project, if you scroll down to the bottom, you will find the “Timber Sales Sold Current FY”, which includes maps of the timber sales that have sold.

Although the public comment period ended on April 27th, comments submitted after that date will still be included in the administrative record, and should be sent to [email protected] The Final Environmental Impact Statement and decision for Westside could be released as early as mid June or July.

UPDATE:  APRIL 25, 2015. The project has been approved and logging has begun in timber sale areas that received bids.

If you need additional information, contact the EPIC office at 707-822-7711, or email [email protected]

 


Thousands Speak Out Against Post-Fire Logging In Klamath Region

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015
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Concerned community members attend Forest Service meeting to oppose the Westside proposal.

Concerned community members attend Forest Service meeting to oppose the Westside proposal.

Westside Timber Sale Threatens Salmon and Wildlife

Over 12,000 concerned residents have submitted comments in opposition to a logging plan in Northern California that proposes to decimate protected old-growth reserves and recovering salmon-bearing watersheds.

The Klamath National Forest is proposing a massive plan to clearcut fragile post-fire forests. The Westside Project would authorize the logging of over 30,000 acres of forest that are currently protected by the Forest Plan. The Forest Service has requested permission to fast-track the project and limit public participation.

“It is disheartening that the Forest Service would attempt to bypass opportunities for public collaboration.” Said Morgan Lindsay of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “Rather than fast-track a heavy-handed logging outcome, the Forest Service should substantively collaborate with stakeholders to identify areas of agreement and priorities for treatment.”

“This region is one of the most biologically significant and ecologically rich areas in the country ” said Kimberly Baker of the Environmental Protection Information Center. “Our watersheds are worth far more than short-term monetary value. We would like to see the Forest Service work with affected river communities to develop a long term fire strategy that is best for wildlife, rivers and the people.”

“People from all walks of life are speaking up to oppose this project,” Said Laurel Sutherlin with the Rainforest Action Network. “Salvage logging should not be used a means to rush timber production at the expense of cultural, wildlife and watershed values.”

As proposed, the Forest Service would clearcut tens of thousands of acres located primarily in backcountry  “Late Successional Reserves” that were established to protect wildlife habitat and accommodate wildfires. The timber sale will harm approximately 70 Northern spotted owl nesting sites and log on steep unstable “Geological Reserves” located in “Key Watersheds” for salmon recovery. The Forest Service plans acknowledge that the project would violate the Klamath National Forest’s own management plan.

At the very least, when the Forest Service does propose pot-fire logging, they must follow the law. This means that creeks should be protected with riparian reserves as required by the Forest Plan, and that yarding on steep granitic soils should be avoided when possible. Unfortunately, some timber planners see fire as an opportunity to throw the rulebook out the window.

Over 12,000 comments from concerned Americans around the country have been submitted to the Klamath National Forest asking the Forest Service to protect, rather than log, the old-growth reserves and fragile watersheds in the Klamath Mountains.

The public comment period on the draft environmental impact statement closed on April 27, 2015.


Westside Fire Recovery Project a Hot Mess

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015
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Whites_RussiansWith over 30,000 acres of Klamath National Forest proposed to be harvested and sold, the Westside Fire Recovery Project is poised to be one of the largest ever post-fire timber harvests on a National Forest. This so-called “recovery” project places timber company profits over community safety and wildlife by clearcutting complex, habitat-rich forests and replacing them with fire-prone plantations.

The Klamath National Forest is special to a lot of people in this region, and for good reason. Its wild canyons and old, expansive forests support a wide variety of unique animals and plants including the endangered northern spotted owl, Pacific fisher, California wolverine, and Siskiyou Mountains salamander. It also hosts the most productive wild salmon and steelhead fisheries outside of Alaska. Because of its biological diversity and unique evolutionary history, the World Wildlife Fund refers to the Klamath-Siskiyou region as the “Galapagos of North America.” The rugged beauty and ecological importance of the area is recognized through the nation’s highest concentration of designated Wild and Scenic Rivers. Preserving intact forests in this region is also a local solution to climate change; the Klamath contains some of the most biomass-dense forests in North America, which sequester and store carbon long after a fire.

Fires produce some counter-intuitive results in forests. Post-fire areas are biological hotspots, having greater biodiversity than unburned forests, and critters like the infamous northern spotted owl appear to actively prefer burned forests for foraging. Fires also help forests develop old-growth characteristics faster, increasing the complexity and fecundity of the landscape. Despite this, many forest managers continue to operate under outdated and disproven ideas for how to help a forest recover after fire, as exemplified by this project.

While the fires were still smoldering last summer, the Forest Service hatched a plan to capitalize on them. By declaring the area an “emergency,” the Klamath National Forest could fast-track a massive timber sale, bypassing opportunities for public comment or participation. It is clear why the Forest Service wants to limit public scrutiny: the Westside Project is an ecological disaster. Miles of new roads would increase sediment in Coho bearing streams and the Wild & Scenic Scott, Salmon and Klamath Rivers. Logging would impact — by the Service’s own admission—over 90 spotted owl activity centers and remove thousands of acres of habitat.

The Westside Project also increases risky fire behavior. Helicopter logging will leave “jackpots” of fuel, ready to catch and burn in the dry summer months. Replanting will create dense, even-aged plantations prone to being ripped through by high-severity fires. Unmaintained fire suppression lines and fuel breaks will accumulated dense, thick fuels, and act as a vector for future fires.

EPIC and others are open to working collaboratively to draft a project that protects people and biodiversity. We have done so in the past, for example in drafting the post-fire response to the Little Deer salvage timber sale on the Goosenest Ranger District. And it is not too late. Forest Supervisor Grantham has broad power to shape the project to protect rural communities and the environment. She has heard from EPIC and other environmental groups. Now she needs to hear from you. Public comments close on the draft environmental impact statement on April 27. Let Supervisor Grantham that you support light-touch treatments, not clearcuts.

Published 4/7/15 in the Eureka Times-Standard