Returning to a Natural Cycle of Wildfire

Contrasting Federal Legislation Shows How (and How Not) to Deal with Fire

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020
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Red Salmon Complex, July 27. Photo courtesy of Inciweb.

California federal legislators have offered dueling bills to respond to the recent large fires that have gripped the West. In one corner stands Senator Dianne Feinstein and her bill S. 4431; in the other are Sen. Kalama Harris and the Northcoast’s own Rep. Huffman, who have brought forward S. 2882 and its House companion, H.R. 5091. To be clear who we are rooting for: EPIC has joined our friends at Earthjustice, Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club, The League of Conservation Voters, The Wilderness Society, and Western Environmental Law Center in opposing Senate Bill 4431. EPIC also endorses Sen. Harris’ and Rep. Huffman’s bills. 

The two sets of legislation represent two competing schools of thought on addressing wildfires. Sen. Feinstein’s bill would weaken environmental laws to encourage more backcountry “fuels” treatments under the theory that by removing trees and other vegetation, we can influence fire behavior. The problem with Sen. Feinstein’s bill is that backcountry vegetation projects are enormously costly, require repeat treatments (because trees grow back), are ecologically impactful, and are not terribly effective at keeping people safe. Most large and high-intensity fires are climate and weather driven events, where a hotter, drier, and longer fire season (thanks climate change) along with high winds work together to create “megafires.” Sen. Feinstein’s bill, while perhaps a psychological salve as it feels like we are doing something, actually would do little to keep communities safe because the bill cannot fundamentally uncouple this relationship. (But it should come as no surprise that while the environmental community has overwhelmingly opposed Sen. Feinstein’s legislation, it finds many supporters in the timber industry, who are only too happy to take “fuels” off the government’s hands for cheap.) 

By contrast, the Sen. Harris/Rep. Huffman legislation (S. 2882/H.R. 5091) would provide funding, through grants to local and tribal governments, for community wildfire preparation, the development of critical infrastructure, and the hardening of structures and the creation of defensible space. These actions are the most effective measures to keep people and property safe from wildlands fire. It allows for a diversity of potential responses, as the program would pass money along to local governments to tailor projects to fit the needs of their communities.


Fire Facts and Fictions

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020
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Media coverage of fires is–how do we put it nicely?–problematic. Hyperbolic headlines help to fuel fire misinformation. It is somewhat forgivable. Fire ecology is a daunting subject. It escapes easy generalizations (and the following is also perhaps painted with too broad of brushstrokes). 

Fires are Dynamic and Many Things Influence Fire Behavior

There have been plenty of frustrating headlines that attribute one thing for this year’s fire behavior. Predictably, the main culprit changes by the story. In some, fuel accumulation from a lack of logging is to blame. In others, the history of colonization that has removed traditional cultural burning is at fault. The truth is that there are many, many variables that influence fire behavior. We humans have better control over some (like whether homes are to be constructed out of fire-resistant materials than others (like the weather). Be careful of oversimplification!

Wildfire is a More Accurate Term than Forest Fire

Did you know that more than half of all of the acreage that burned so far this summer in California was not in forested ecosystems? Grasslands, chaparral and other ecosystem types make up the majority of lands burned. Even in a “National Forest,” many times the lands that burned are not forested, such as the fire that burned through grasslands of the Mendocino National Forest, helping to keep these prairies free from conifer encroachment. 

California Forests are Born to Burn

Fire is as natural as rain for most of California’s forests, and as such, trees and ecosystems have adapted to this challenge. Some trees attempt to withstand the flames by developing thick, fire-resilient bark; others, like Lodgepole pines, have serotinous cones that require fire to open and release their seeds. Even the coastal redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), endemic to California’s dank, moist temperate rainforests of the North Coast, are adapted to fire. Walk through an old-growth redwood forest and you’ll notice the evidence: burn scars, bearing witness to historic burns either deliberately set by humans or naturally caused. That the redwoods of Big Basin Redwoods State Park survived the fire is no surprise. They have likely been through worse. 

And while forests are born to burn, in many circumstances, the forests help to temper fire conditions. The shade provided by a forest helps to cool an area and keep in moisture and retards the development of more flammable brush in the undergrowth. The trees themselves, while part fuel are also part water. That’s why even in a “megafire,” most of the time, fires tend to burn at lower severity, meaning that the trees will survive but much of the undergrowth will be removed. 

But death too is a natural event, part of the cycle of life: death, decomposition, and renewal. In their death, fire-killed trees give life to others. Fire-killed trees are an important habitat component–just ask a black-backed woodpecker, a burnt forest specialist–and provide important structure to regrowing young forests. 

While forests are born to burn, we have settled the landscape in ways that mean that normal burn behavior can put lives and structures at risk. 

Mismanagement of Forests Affects Fire Risk

Understanding the historic and ongoing mismanagement of California’s forests is necessary to understand, in part, what is happening. Although California’s forests are born to burn, for many decades (and still to this day), we have aggressively attempted to put out every fire as soon as possible. As a result, some forests may have conditions that make high-severity fire more likely to occur: ladder fuels, dense thickets, and a pile up of undecomposed “fuel” on the forest floor. Unfortunately, the mismanagement continues. CALFIRE, and to a lesser extent the U.S. Forest Service, still prioritizes extinguishing fires instead of letting them (safely) burn. Aggressive efforts to put out fires, even when they pose little to no risk to humans, while maybe a balm to calm the nerves of a frightened public, often produces greater environmental impacts than doing nothing and furthers our fire deficit.

Similarly, we have deliberately managed forests for timber production, producing plantations more similar to midwest corn than a forest: a monoculture of densely packed trees with a uniform and unbroken canopy. If a fire is to reach a plantation, the odds are that it will burn hotter and faster than a more naturally occurring adjacent “reference” stand.

“Mega-Fires” are Weather Driven Events

While there are many factors that influence the severity of a wildfire, weather, beyond anything else, is the prime driver of large and intense fires. As a general rule, with low humidity and high winds, fire tends to burn hot and fast. The recent fires are examples of this behavior. High-winds and dry conditions whipped up the fires and caused their fast expansion. We have also seen the limits that fuels reduction efforts, such as prescribed burning and forest thinning, when fire conditions are right. Climate change also influences fire behavior both by creating drier, hotter forests and through producing more extreme weather. 

Preparing for the Next Fire: What Strategies Should We Prioritize?

To briefly reiterate: fire is a natural occurrence and healthy for California forests, although it can be undesirable because of impacts to humans and property; the hottest, fastest moving and most destructive (to humans) fires are primarily weather-driven events (and humans can’t control the weather); historic mismanagement of forests and climate change have further contributed to fire effects. So what is there to do? (Especially in a world of limited funding.)

Land use plans should discourage or prohibit new development in the wildland urban interface. Just like how it is a bad idea to build housing in a floodplain in an area that receives frequent floods or hurricanes, it is likewise a bad idea to build residences and other structures in high-fire areas divorced from larger settlements. (In some areas likely to be inundated from climate change or susceptible to flooding, “managed retreat” is already being pursued.) 

Where development has occurred, we need to “harden” structures. Most houses burn because of wind-blown embers, not from a moving fire. Choice of ignition resistant building materials, such as composite or metal roofing, screening of vents to prevent embers from entering the house, and an adequate water supply and infrastructure to reach all areas of your property, are the most effective way to guarantee that a structure will survive a fire. 

After investing in structure hardening, spatially-limited “fuels reduction” can be useful to influence fire behavior. But as a warning: it is expensive, impactful, requires repeat treatment, and does not wholly remove the possibility of fire. (As an example, around 21% of the Hennessey Fire burned just in 2018.) That’s why fuels reduction work should be prioritized only around communities.

What Should We Not Do? Landscape Level “Fuels Management”

It is inherently costly, people and machines in the woods, chopping and grinding vegetation. It also requires repeat treatment because, obviously, plants regrow–and depending on the circumstance, fuel reduction without repeat treatments can make more aggressive fuel conditions. These “treatments” often result in significant impacts, including the taking of endangered species (who are among the supposed beneficiaries of this work). 

The desire to “do something” about fire often results in bad decisions, wasted money, and degraded ecosystems. What doesn’t work is landscape-level “fuel management” to reduce vegetation to influence fire behavior. Fuel management does have a role, though. Around communities, targeted projects can influence fire intensity, allowing more time for defense or evacuation. Outside of limited work around communities, fuel reduction cannot be broadly pursued without significant cost to taxpayers and our ecosystems. 

 


Forging Fire Strategies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Stop the Salvage Logging of Post-Fire Forests

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

Written by Clary Greacen Montagne

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

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

New plant life blossoming in a post-fire landscape.

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

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

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


One Step Closer To National Forest Plan Revisions

Monday, August 10th, 2020
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The Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), just got one step closer to revising forest plans throughout the Northwest. The Bioregional Assessment (BioA) spans about 24 million acres across 21 National Forests that are primarily within the range of the northern spotted owl covered under the Northwest Forest Plan. The BioA is a review of the current conditions and trends across a broad regional landscape and will serve as a foundation for land management plan revisions.

The National Forest Management Act requires that every national forest develop and maintain a land management plan, known as forest plans. These individual plans set direction for the landscape and include- desired conditions, non-discretionary standards and guidelines, monitoring plans and wilderness and Wild and Scenic River recommendations. The national forests of the Northwest are well overdue for updates, which are guided by the 2012 Planning Rule.

The ninety-page BioA document includes an overview of management recommendations, what is working well, challenges and opportunities for change and next steps. 

The stated management recommendations include: maintaining and restoring ecosystem characteristics; addressing the dynamic nature of ecosystems to respond to uncertainties; updating and integrating aquatic strategies; reducing invasive species; prioritizing community and firefighter safety; recognizing that fire is a natural process which has an important role in reducing risk of uncharacteristic fire and promoting ecosystem health; expanding timber harvest as a restoration tool; evolving from single species focus; promoting active management; and recognizing the social and economic benefits from recreation. 

What is working well? The BioA in summary concludes— the reserve network of older forests, riparian areas, roadless, wilderness and Wild and Scenic River designations has worked to maintain the ecological integrity of our forests. Our national forests are also working to provide clean water, carbon sequestration, traditional ecological resources, and relatively stable timber production, other forest products and outdoor recreation. It also claims that overall the loss of old growth habitat from timber harvest has been “stemmed”.

The “need for change” chapter can be summed up by stating the agency will seek to justify forest extraction in every way possible, that we need logging a.k.a. “active management” by calling it restoration. There are multiple catchy explanations or “needs” such as: 18 million acres lack structural diversity and resilience and do not contribute to ecological integrity; 10 million acres need some type of restoration; 7 million acres need disturbance restoration; 5 million acres in old-growth forest, ungulate cover, wildlife habitat, and scenic corridors have multiple plan objectives that inhibit active management to reduce susceptibility to insects and disease; and 2 million acres have plan direction that emphasizes timber production and these acres need active management.

The BioA largely tiers to the 2018 USDA Scientific Synthesis, which was the previous step in forest plan revisions. Both of these documents lean heavily on in-house agency science while dismissing independent and best available science. The revisions, in their beginning stages, are already highly controversial. While this step in the forest planning is not open to public comment there will be “public engagement opportunities” coming soon.

The next step is the Forest Assessment stage, where individual forest roles and contributions will be defined. Candidate stretches for Wild and Scenic River designation will be identified. Wilderness inventory will be constructed and potential species of conservation will be determined.

We are still years away from seeing any formal revised plans. However, there is discussion that the Northern California national forests will be the first out of the starting gate due to the influence of wildfire. EPIC will continue to strategize with our state and regional conservation networks to advocate for the protection of clean water, carbon storage, intact old-growth and mature forests, region-wide habitat connectivity for plants and wildlife and real restoration of our public lands.


ACTION ALERT: Urge Forest Supervisors To Use MIST Guidelines In Trinity Alps Wilderness!

Sunday, August 9th, 2020
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Red Salmon Complex Fire, July 27. Photo courtesy of Inciweb.

The USFS has delegated authority to firefighters to bulldoze ridgetops in the Trinity Alps Wilderness on the Red Salmon Wildfire Complex. It does not stop there. To align with the “big box” approach there are also miles of dozer lines proposed outside of the wilderness on the Six Rivers and Klamath National Forests. Please act now to urge the agencies to use Minimum Impact Suppression Tactics, while there is still time.

The Red Salmon Complex in the Trinity Alps Wilderness started by lightning on July 26. The complex includes the 751 acre Salmon Fire, which is holding along lines in the Eightmile Creek drainage and Backbone Ridge and the 3,866 acre Red Fire, within the Red Cap Creek drainage. Hand lines and dozer lines have been constructed and firefighters are using trails and adjacent roads as well to ignite strategic burns, some of which is being done by drones.

The concept of Minimum Impact Suppression Tactics (MIST) is to use the minimum amount of force necessary to effectively achieve the fire management protection objectives consistent with land and resource management objectives. It implies a greater sensitivity to the impacts of suppression tactics and their long-term effects when determining how to implement an appropriate suppression response. The key challenge is to be able to select the tactics that are appropriate given the fire’s probable or potential behavior. There are multiple options available.

The USFS could be maintaining shaded fuel breaks in strategic places, rather than using heavy equipment in a rush in these highly sensitive areas. Proactive fire strategies would help allow some fires to burn, which provides essential ecosystem benefits. The planned dozer lines would eliminate years of recovery from past scars and would harm wilderness values, habitat connectivity and sensitive prairies, meadows and trail systems. Please urge land managers to protect wilderness values, commit to MIST guidelines and use less destructive methods.

Take Action Now!


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

Monday, August 3rd, 2020
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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


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
By
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
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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.