Environmental Democracy

Will Justice Barrett Kill the Modern Administrative State?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


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

Wednesday, October 14th, 2020
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Written by Josefina Barrantes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donations for this movement are accepted through:

Cash app handle: $DefendOodhamJewed

PayPal: paypal.me/DefendOodhamJewed


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.


Action Alert: Tell Warren Buffett to Move Forward With Klamath Dam Removal Agreement

Saturday, August 22nd, 2020
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Four dams on the Klamath River have had devastating consequences for the environment, imperiled salmon, river communities and tribal people who have subsisted off of salmon since time immemorial. For over 20 years stakeholders have worked together in an agreement that would remove the dams and restore the Klamath River in what would be the largest river restoration project in history.

Billionaire Warren Buffet’s company Berkshire Hathoway and its subsidiary PacifiCorp has the opportunity to move forward with dam removal, and has collected hundreds of millions of dollars from shareholders and tax payers to protect its customers and shareholders for the purpose of dam removal, but now the company is threatening to back out of the dam removal agreement.

Please take action to sign a petition urging Warren Buffett, his company Berkshire Hathoway and its subsidiary, PacifiCorp to move forward with Klamath dam removal.


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.


BREAKING: EPIC Joins Nationwide Coalition to Defend People’s Environmental Law

Wednesday, July 29th, 2020
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EPIC, along with a nationwide coalition of organizations from the environmental justice, outdoor recreation, and conservation communities, filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s attack on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) this afternoon. 

The administration finalized its rules that will eviscerate core components of NEPA in mid-July. Under new regulations put forth by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), polluting projects of all kinds will be exempt from basic environmental reviews, and the public will be cut out of one of its best tools to prevent dangerous, shortsighted projects. 

“NEPA ensures that California’s forests remain verdant and our rivers stay clean by requiring that federal agencies understand the environmental impacts of their decisions. Trump’s new rule is a crushing disappointment to good government and to a healthy environment,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director, Environmental Protection Information Center.

“It has been more than 30 years since the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act and environmental justice communities continue to live with the impacts of decisions that precipitated its need,” said  Kerene N. Tayloe, Esq., Director of Federal Legislative Affairs at WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “The changes made to this bedrock environmental law will further undermine basic protections, including the public’s right to participate in decision making and the obligation of the government to fully and thoroughly study the cumulative impacts of health hazards on overburdened communities. They also reflect a disregard of Black, Brown and poor communities and the unwillingness of this administration to execute laws in a way that benefits all Americans. WE ACT for Environmental Justice is committed to pursuing every option available to preserve and strengthen NEPA for the betterment of everyone.” 

“NEPA matters,” said Tricia Cortez, Executive Director of the Rio Grande International Study Center. “Here on the border, we know what a world without NEPA looks like because of what we’ve experienced with the border wall. The U.S. government has waived NEPA and dozens of other federal laws to rush construction for a politically motivated and destructive wall project. We would not wish this on any other community in this country. The feeling is like having a train barreling at you with nothing to stop it. To protect our environment and our health, we the people must save NEPA.” 

“We will not allow the Trump administration to compromise our rights to protect our communities and public health from the harms associated with unscrupulous and destructive industrial developments such as mining, oil and gas, and military operations,” said Pamela Miller, executive director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics. “This is a grave environmental injustice and we aim to prevent this attack on one of our most fundamental environmental laws.”

“The Trump administration picked the wrong fight,” said Kristen Boyles, an Earthjustice attorney serving as co-counsel on the case. “They want to make it easier to silence people’s voices and give polluters a free pass to bulldoze through our neighborhoods. That’s why we’re taking them to court.” 

“We have consistently defeated this administration’s relentless, vicious dismantling of safeguards for people and the environment, and we will do so again for this critically important law,” said Susan Jane Brown, Western Environmental Law Center co-counsel. “A thriving economy is not at odds with worker protections and a healthy environment — it depends on both.”

See the full press release here.


Opening Brief Filed in Case to Save Humboldt Marten

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020
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EPIC Challenges Take Permit Issued to Green Diamond

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

Green Diamond clearcut along Redwood National Park border

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

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

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

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

 


The Attack On Environmental Safeguards Continues Amidst Global Crisis

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020
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The sheer amount of attacks on our environmental laws in the past three-plus years is stammering and has increased amidst the newest global crisis we are all facing. The current administration has orchestrated the largest reduction of protected public lands in U.S. history and has attempted to roll back nearly 100 environmental rules. The clean water, clean air, and the forests that all life depends are at risk, while our right to affect change is also being diminished.

Changes that have already occurred include eliminating rules to reduce methane emissions from drilling on public lands, rolling back regulations to increase the safety and transparency of hydraulic fracturing, watering down offshore drilling safety rules enacted after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, dramatically shrinking national monuments, and weakening enforcement of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Furthermore, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has suspended enforcement of environmental laws during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, signaling to corporations they will not face any sanctions for polluting the air or water as long as they can claim in some way these violations were caused by the pandemic.

Sage-Grouse on the Curlew Grassland, Caribou-Targhee National Forest. Photo Credit: US Forest Service.

There are over seventy more sweeping policy changes just within the Department of Interior (DOI) alone. These proposals add to a destructive record of rolling back protections for wildlife, suppressing public input, and dramatically expanding drilling and mining throughout the country. There are too many to comprehensively list, however, one in particular that would greatly affect our region is the removal of 10 million acres of critical habitat focal area for the greater sage grouse. The sage grouse is a hugely important “umbrella species” that has long been a signifier of environmental health across the west, including northeastern California.

Not only that, but the nation’s most effective law at protecting wildlife, the ESA, has been dramatically weakened. In May this year, a United Nation’s panel on biodiversity released a massive, troubling report on the state of the world’s animals. The bottom line: As many as 1 million species are now at risk of extinction. It is a biodiversity crisis that spans the globe and threatens every ecosystem. ESA species listed as “threatened” are defined as “any species, which is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future.”

These new rules constrain what is meant by “foreseeable future” and give significant discretion in interpreting what that means. The agencies that enforce the ESA have had to base their decisions of whether to protect a species solely on scientific data, “without reference to possible economic or other impacts of such determination.” The new rule removes that phrase and allows economics to be a consideration. Individual species are also targeted. Gray wolves, across the nation, are currently proposed for removal from the endangered species list when they have not even begun to recover in places like Colorado and California.

Perhaps the greatest threat to the forests of Northern California is the proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA allows the public to participate in land management decisions and requires that agencies consider environmental impacts from activities, such as logging. It also requires that different alternatives be considered. Here, the proposed changes would diminish all of the above: removing the requirement for alternatives, allowing larger projects to move forward without analyzing effects (as we have seen too often on the Mendocino National Forest), and eliminating public comment, forcing litigation as the only recourse. To add insult to injury, Trump has appointed 1 of every 4 appellate judges and two justices to the Supreme Court, tipping the favor against environmental and public interest.

It is time to turn the tide and sweep away this onslaught of harm. The breakdown of environmental laws and public interest is the breakdown of society. We must defend the natural world- the water, air, forests, and wildlife to thrive and survive. It is comforting to see that we have the ability, even globally, to move people to act in unison, toward a common goal. We must protect the web of life to safeguard our quality of life.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sharon Duggan – Kin to the Earth

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017
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California’s forest practice rules—often described as the most protective in the nation—largely stem from one woman: Sharon Duggan. Sharon is a one-woman force-of-nature, a potent combination of caring and cunning. For 35 years, Sharon has provided legal muscle to help individuals and grassroots organizations challenge the status quo and preserve our North Coast. She is a kin to the earth.

Sharon started practicing environmental law in 1982. Having grown up in Humboldt, Sharon took inspiration for her work from her roots. She remembered what the landscape was once like: rivers with fish, big trees, and a vibrant, locally-based timber industry that was the lifeblood for the small towns in which she lived. And she saw the change that occurred when Big Timber started taking over the local timber companies.

Relatively fresh out of law school, Sharon took on her first forestry case, the storied EPIC v. Johnson, in 1983. Georgia-Pacific had filed a timber harvest plan to clearcut old-growth redwoods in Little Jackass Creek near what is now the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park along the Mendocino Coast. On behalf of EPIC, Sharon challenged the state’s approval of the logging plan, arguing that the state did not consider the cumulative effects of the logging. The case may have seemed like a longshot to some—environmentalists up against the good ol’ boys in local court—but that didn’t stop Sharon. With a thoughtful yet tough prosecution of her case, Sharon won. The lawsuit helped generate enthusiasm for the protection of the Sinkyone, eventually leading to its preservation in perpetuity.

This scenario—a longshot case that was won because of hard work— has repeated itself throughout the rest of Sharon’s career. In court, Sharon is a ruthless litigator. She is diligentin her preparation, often tasked with the needle-in-the-haystack work of reviewing banker-boxes of documents to find a smoking-gun. She is creative in her writing, massaging the narrative of a case to appeal to a certain judge or to catch favorable political winds. And she is dogged, pressing every angle and avenue she can find in pursuit of justice. To opposing counsel, Sharon must seem like a pit bull. But to her friends and clients, she is a saint.

She has been a mentor to many. Rob DiPerna, Forest and Wildlife Advocate at EPIC, counts himself as a disciple of Sharon’s. “Sharon Duggan is a master-strategist and staunch supporter of the rights of public engagement and enforcement in environmental decision-making,” said Rob. “I have been so very blessed to account Sharon as a friend, colleague, and my primary mentor as I have grown into my professional capacity over the years.”

Phil Gregory, co-counsel for Richardson Grove, says of Sharon, “Sharon constantly inspires me not merely to save our planet but to do everything I can to preserve our natural resources as our sacred heritage. Sharon has made a fundamental impact in my life both as the role model of a true environmental attorney and as a loving, compassionate soul.” Phil adds, “Go Giants!”

Rachel Doughty, Attorney at GreenFire Law, also counts Sharon as a mentor. “Sharon is a tireless advocate for the places and people she cares about. She has been a tremendous mentor to me. There is one thing she is terrible at: retirement. She continues to dedicate herself to the future of our children and to mentor the next generation of attorneys, even while maintaining a docket protecting the wild spaces that are so loved and such a part of our identity as Californians.”

Despite her threats at retirement, Sharon has not slowed down. Sharon continues to work as counsel to EPIC, most recently back in court in EPIC’s challenge to Caltran’s proposed widening of Richardson Grove at the expense of old-growth redwoods. Sharon is a board member at Our Children’s Trust, developing innovative legal doctrines to take on climate change. And she provides limitless advice to the attorneys, young and old, who call her out of the blue to pick her brain.

Outside of her legal work, Sharon is a passionate advocate for Palestine, women’s rights, and a liberal democracy. She is a longtime volunteer with Redwoods Monastery in Whitethorn and is often found there on weekends, putting in hard labor to help the people and place that she loves. Sharon is buoyed by her longtime partner, Anne.

This article was published in the August 2017 EcoNews.


Action Alert: Defend Public Lands; Defeat Trump’s Environmental Agenda

Thursday, June 29th, 2017
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TAKE ACTION! On the 4th of July, you can help save our forests by halting bad legislation. A new bad forest bill, the ironically named “Resilient Federal Forests Act” (HR 2936), is quickly heading to a vote. The bill recently escaped the House Natural Resources Committee through a party line vote. Now, Trump’s lawless logging bill will soon come up for a vote before the House.

This is the worst federal forest legislation in EPIC’s lifetime. And scarily, it might pass. Here’s four reasons why we are freaked out:

(1) Up to 30,000 Acres of Lawless Logging

The bill gives a free pass to lawless logging by exempting logging plans up to 30,000 acres—nearly 47 square miles—that are developed through a “collaborative process” from having to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). By comparison, under the existing law only logging projects 70 acres or less are exempted from NEPA. In one fell swoop, Congress could rollback decades of work by EPIC and allies to protect federal forests.

(2) Weakens Endangered Species Act Protections

Under current law, whenever the Forest Service proposes a project that could harm threatened or endangered species, the agency needs to consult the National Marine Fisheries Service and/or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The proposed legislation would change the law to remove this consultation requirement by allowing the Forest Service to choose whether or not to consult on a project. Further, the bill would exempt other forest management activities entirely from the Endangered Species Act.

(3) Closes the Courthouse Doors

The bill also limits the ability of citizens to challenge bad agency action in court. The bill would prohibit temporary injunctions and preliminary injunctions against “salvage” logging projects, virtually guaranteeing that logging will occur before a court can hear a challenge. The bill prevents plaintiffs from recovering attorneys’ fees if they win. While money is never the object of a lawsuit, the ability to recover fees is critical to enable public interest environmental lawyers to take cases for poor nonprofits like EPIC. Finally, it moves many forest management activities out from our federal courts to a “binding arbitration” program, whereby an agency-appointed arbitrator’s decision would decide the fate of projects.

(4) Shifts Money from Restoration to Logging

In a sneaky move, the proposed legislation would move money earmarked for forest restoration projects to logging. By adding one small phrase—“include the sale of timber or other forest products”—the bill would mandate timber sales as part of at least half of certain stewardship projects.

CLICK HERE TO TAKE ACTION NOW TO STOP BAD FOREST LEGISLATION


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.


Action Alert: Congress Threatens Public Input for BLM Lands

Friday, February 17th, 2017
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Headwaters Forest Reserve 20 Anniversary Hike

Take Action Now: The Senate is considering S.J. Res 15, a resolution to overturn the Bureau of Land Management’s “Planning 2.0” land-use planning rule, which gives the public a voice in large-scale planning for public lands. If the resolution is passed, public input in the management of our public lands would be drastically limited. the U.S. House of Representatives already voted in favor of the resolution, and the Senate will be voting any day. Senators need to hear that we value our public lands and we should have a say in how these lands are managed.

The BLM manages over 245 million acres of land mostly within Western states, with over 15.2 million acres in California, and 86,000 acres in Humboldt County alone, including the King Range National Conservation Area and the Headwaters Forest Reserve.

Arcata and Redding BLM Field Offices are currently undergoing their Resource Management Plan updates for managing 20-25 years out, and they have combined updates to create a more regional approach for Northwest California planning, which is referred to as the Northwest California Integrated Resource Management Plan.

Hunters, anglers and conservationists support Planning 2.0 because the rule ensures important migration corridors and other intact habitats are identified so these areas can be conserved throughout the planning process.

Click here to send a letter to your Senators asking them to preserve public participation in the planning process for public lands by voting no on S.J. Res 15. Its best if you personalize your letter to reflect your experiences and highlight the places you care about.

OR for those of you in California, please send your comments to the email addresses below, or call:
Senator Feinstein’s office: [email protected]senate.gov 202-224-3841
Senator Harris’s office: [email protected] 415-355-9041 and 202-224-3553


Keep California Great!

Thursday, January 26th, 2017
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img_4386California did not exist at the founding of our country, but we are the future of America.

Look: we are going to experience losses at the federal level. Since our federal environmental laws were passed, they have been chipped away at; now, they be wiped off the books entirely. We can no longer rely on federal environmental law to protect the clean air and water, biodiversity, and ecosystem health that we need and cherish.

Now is time for California to take charge and ensure that our state environmental laws are strong enough to keep California great.

EPIC calls on the Legislature to review and revise California’s foundational environmental laws—the California Endangered Species Act, the California Environmental Quality Act, and the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act, among others—to ensure that we have a safe and healthy California, for all its residents (both humans and critters alike).

California has led the nation before in setting environmental policy. California was among the first to move to protect biodiversity, passing the California Endangered Species Act in 1970, three years before the federal Endangered Species Act. Before the creation of the U.S. Forest Service, California recognized the public importance of our forests and charged the Board of Forestry, first founded in 1885, with the enforcement of forestry laws.

What we do in California has an outsized importance not just in our country, but around the globe. If it were its own country, California would boast the 6th largest economy in the world—ahead of France and just below Great Britain. Our laws can help shape federal environmental policy, even if they only apply within our own state.

EPIC is heartened to hear that Governor Brown has pledged to take up the slack left by the Trump administration and join with other states and countries to fight climate change and the declaration by California Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León and California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon that California will “set an example for other states to follow.


Grazing Reform Project Works Toward Responsible Grazing Practices

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017
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bigmdws_cattle-trail-in-wetlands-2EPIC is excited to announce the launch of the new website for our Project to Reform Public Land Grazing in Northern California, located at www.grazingreform.org. On the site you can access lots of information about the impacts of public land grazing, including 28 photo-illustrated reports which span the seven years during which Project volunteers have monitored and documented the manner in which livestock grazing, all by cattle, is being (mis)managed within 15 separate grazing allotments in wilderness areas and on other national forest lands within the Klamath, Rogue-Siskiyou and Shasta National Forests. If you like the work we are doing, please consider making a donation to the Project.  All donations will keep our intrepid grazing monitor, Felice Pace, out in the field documenting problems. We are also looking for volunteers to help perform grazing monitoring, in particular grazing allotments in the Mad River Watershed of the Six Rivers National Forest.

On the website you can access, read and download reports which document the poor manner in which public land grazing is managed and the resulting degradation of water quality, riparian areas and wetlands. On the site you can also access research on grazing impacts, best management practices for managing grazing, specialist reports, like the report of hydrologist Jonathan Rhodes on the Big Meadows Grazing Allotment in the Marble Mountain Wilderness, and several videos Felice and other Project volunteers have made in the field to highlight the negative impacts of grazing on riparian areas, wetlands, water quality and meadows.

Click here to donate to the grazing monitoring project

Click here to volunteer

A little background: 

The Project to Reform Public Land Grazing started over seven years ago in support of water quality testing by the Quartz Valley Indian Reservation (QVIR) in streams like Shakleford Creek and East Boulder Creek in the Scott River Basin. Using an environmental justice grant from the EPA, QVIR began testing water quality in streams issuing from grazing allotments within the Marble Mountain and Trinity Alps Wilderness Areas. QVIR testing documented violation of water quality standards for fecal coliform bacteria and excessive nutrients; both are associated with water pollution from poorly managed grazing.

Inspired by this QVIR effort, our project coordinator, Felice, decided to go onto the grazing allotments themselves to document the bad grazing management that resulted in the water pollution QVIR found and to use that information to advocate for improved grazing management. Over the past seven years, we’ve logged 1,210 hours monitoring grazing on-the-ground in our national forests—that’s over 150 person days of volunteer grazing monitoring!

While it is certainly impossible to eliminate all the negative impacts of grazing on water quality, riparian areas and wetlands, negative impacts within Northern California’s wet meadow headwaters could be substantially reduced if Forest Service managers would require that grazing permit holders implement modern grazing management methods, including regular herding to rotate grazing among the various pastures on an allotment. Presently, however, permit holders place their cattle on the public lands in the spring or summer and don’t return until mid to late October when the snow flies and cattle must be taken to the home ranch. Some grazing permit holders have become so lax that they do not even collect their cattle in the fall. Instead they allow their livestock to wander home on their own while continuing to graze on national forest land.

Allowing cattle to remain unmanaged on public land for months on end always leads to degraded water quality, trashed riparian areas and trampled wetlands. This is just one of the many instances of lax Forest Service grazing management which the project hopes to change. Trampled springs like the one in the photo below are a common sight on Northern California’s public land grazing allotments and a clear indicator of inadequate Forest Service grazing management.

Donate Now!

Sign up as a volunteer!


Three Victories for the Crown and Coast of California!

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017
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Lost Coast Headlands. Photo courtesy of Mark Harris

The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is expanded to 100,000 acres! Before leaving office, President Obama added 48,000 acres to the monument, which lies mostly in southwestern Oregon and now includes 5,000 acres in Northern California. The expansion will provide vital habitat connectivity and added landscape scale protection. The convergence of three geologically distinct mountain ranges, the Cascade, Klamath, and Siskiyous, has created a truly unique landscape, home to many rare and endemic plants and animals. It is the first monument set aside solely for the preservation of biodiversity.

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Trinidad Head. Photo courtesy of Mark Harris

The California Coastal National Monument now includes six new sites totaling over 6,230 acres. Three of them are in Humboldt County, Trinidad Head, Waluplh-Lighthouse Ranch and 440 acres of Lost Coast Headlands south of Eureka and the Eel River. The other areas include the 5,785-acre Cotoni-Coast Dairies parcel on the slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Piedras Blancas lighthouse in San Luis Obispo County; and offshore rocks and small islands off the Orange County coast. The monument designation ensures the protection of all islets, reefs and rock outcroppings along the entire 1,100-mile long coastline of California within 12 nautical miles.

A recent Public Land Order has secured a 20-year Mineral Withdrawal just north of the state border in the Klamath Mountains. Covering 100,000 acres of land managed by the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and Bureau of Land Management the order will protect some of the region’s most pristine rivers from large-scale strip mining and new mineral development, although it does not prohibit ongoing or future mining operations on valid pre-existing mining claims. The defining characteristic of the proposal is the Wild and Scenic North Fork of the Smith River, which originates in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and runs through the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area.

The crown of California, also known as the Siskiyou Crest, is an extremely ecologically important east to west biological corridor that straddles our neighboring state of Oregon. With the newly designated National Monument to the east and added protections for roadless lands to the west, the crown jewel of the state just got wilder! Together in combination with the addition of the culturally significant areas along the coast to monumental status is a real win for the people, plants and wildlife of our wild places.


BLM Seeking Input for Public Land Management in NW CA

Monday, January 9th, 2017
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Full page photo

The Bureau of Land Management will be holding public scoping meetings to seek comments to help shape the Northwest California Resource Management Plan (NCIMP) and Environmental Impact Statement for public land management over the next 15 to 20 years. The plan process is expected to take up to four years to complete and would govern 400,000 acres of public lands and resources in Del Norte, Siskiyou, Shasta, Humboldt, Mendocino, Trinity, Tehama and Butte counties. Several meetings will be held throughout the region, including one in Eureka on Wednesday, January 11th at the Humboldt Bay Aquatic Center at 911 Waterfront Drive from 5 to 7 p.m. Other meetings will be held in Redding, Weaverville, Garberville, Willits, Chico and Yreka.

The planning area includes lands that are comprised of wilderness trails, hunting areas, off-highway riding areas, mountain bike trails and scenic vistas. Many of these lands provide habitat for fish and wildlife, as well as resource uses including mining, timber production, livestock grazing, and firewood collecting. Click here to find background documents that provide information about the planning area.

Specific areas of interest include Elkhorn Ridge, South Fork Eel River, Yolla Bolly, Middle Eel Ishi and Yuki Wilderness Areas as well as Samoa Dunes Recreation Area, Mike Thompson Wildlife Area, Lost Coast Headlands and Ma-l’el Dunes. We are urging our members to come out and advocate for habitat connectivity on these public lands as well as the protection of wildlife and vital ecosystems that could be affected by the plan.

We encourage our members to provide specific landscape-level comments and rationale including how you would like to see these places managed

Click here to comment and or find a meeting near you.


Public Land Giveaway

Monday, January 9th, 2017
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Sally Bell GroveOn the first day of Congress, the House of Representatives made it easier to give away public lands. In passing a “rules package”—the rules that are supposed to govern the rules for the 115th Congress—House Republicans included a provision that allows for the transferring of public lands without an accounting of the value that these lands provide.

Previously, rules required the Congressional Budget Office, a research arm of Congress, to determine how much a transfer would cost the U.S. Treasury by calculating the potential lost revenue from grazing fees or timber sales. Before a transfer could be approved, Congress would need to make budget cuts in other federal programs equivalent to the value of the land. The new rule change assumes that public lands are literally worthless, thereby eliminating the budgetary barrier to transfer land.

“It is alarming that giving away our public lands is apparently among the top priorities for this new Congress,” said Tom Wheeler, Program Director at EPIC. “Attempting to slip sneaky language into little-read legislation is not going to fly. We are watching.”

Our public lands are our nation’s key jewel, what filmmaker Ken Burns called, “America’s best idea.” Not only are our public lands a source of beauty and a backyard for recreation, they are key wildlife habitat and the source of clean drinking water. Public polling has shown that the vast majority of Americans are opposed to giving away our public lands, which helps to explain why Congress is trying to hide their actions in seemingly innocuous and mundane legislation.

Also worrisome, Trump’s pick for Secretary of the Interior, Rep. Ryan Zink (R-MT) voted for the rule change. Zink has previously stated that he is opposed to transferring ownership of federal lands to states, tribes, or private entities and his office said that, despite the vote, his position has not changed. To be fair, the land transfer provision was part of a larger rules package which included many other measures.


State Initiates Pilot Watershed Study of Timber Harvest Plan Process

Monday, January 9th, 2017
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The State of California has initiated the first of three planning watershed-scale pilot studies to evaluate the adequacy utility, and methods of representation and assessment of information that informs the modern-day Timber Harvest Plan review process. The Campbell Creek Planning Watershed Pilot Project is a subsidiary to the larger Timber Regulation and Forest Restoration Program that was created in the wake of 2012’s Assembly Bill 1492, that calls for ensuring efficiency, accountability, and transparency in the THP process, and the eventual development of “Ecological Standards and Performance Measures,” to ensure the overall effectiveness of the THP administration program.

The concept behind the Planning Watershed Pilot Project study is to evaluate pre-existing information in Timber Harvest Plans over history in a specific planning watershed and to then “truth” the value, utility, clarity, and representation of the information against the physical on-the-ground conditions in the watershed via field examination. The study will evaluate the ability of the information as represented to accurately depict field conditions, identify and design mitigation measures, and to identify restoration opportunities and prioritization of restoration activities and funds. The Planning Watershed Pilot Project study is the brain-child of long-time EPIC associate, Richard Gienger.

The Planning Watershed Pilot Project study for Campbell Creek, a tributary to the Ten Mile River in Central Coastal Mendocino County, is being conducted by the Planning Watershed Pilot Project Working Group. The Working Group is comprised of an agency leadership team, a team of agency technical staff, and an appointed group of non-governmental stakeholders, including land owners, Registered Professional Foresters, scientists, fisheries restorationists, environmental non-profits including EPIC, and a tribal liaison from the Pomo tribe. The concept of having “multi-disciplinary” team and approach to evaluation is critical to the premise of the pilot project concept.

Another, though understated objective of the Planning Watershed Pilot Project study, is to evaluate the ability of existing information in the THP process to inform and guide methods of assessment and develop necessary mitigations to address cumulative environmental impacts of past and contemporary timber harvesting activities on private lands in the State.

The Pilot Project Working Group held its first meeting in Fort Bragg in December 2016. The location allows for easy access to field site visits in the Campbell Creek watershed on its timberlands. Timberlands in Campbell Creek are presently primarily under the ownership of Lyme Timber. Lyme is a Timber Investment Management Organization (TIMO), and is the successor to Campbell Global, itself a TIMO. Campbell Global acquired the property from Georgia-Pacific Corporation. The Ten Mile River in Central Coastal Mendocino County is one of the last vestiges of remaining native wild-run coho salmon in the Central California Coast, and is thus a critical watershed for study and assessment of restoration opportunities.

The Planning Watershed Pilot Project study concept has been subject of other legislative efforts in the past that subsequently failed, but is now built into the rubric of the larger Timber Regulation and Forest Restoration Program, with the hope that the study will contribute valuable information to the larger program, and aid in the development of Ecological Standards and Performance Measures. Ecological Standards and Performance Measures can be thought of as “Thresholds of Significance,” in the CEQA parlance, a set of objectives and measureable criteria to aid in the identification and avoidance of adverse cumulative environmental impacts from timber harvest and related activities on private lands in the State.

EPIC’s participation in the Planning Watershed Pilot Project Working Group is a circling back to the landmark 1986 court decision, EPIC v. Johnson, in which EPIC sued CAL FIRE for approving the logging of old-growth in the Sally Bell Grove in what is now the Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, without evaluating the cumulative impacts of successive harvests and the subsequent cumulative loss of old-growth forests.

While EPIC prevailed in forcing private forestry to be subject to evaluation of cumulative impacts via the creation of the modern-day cumulative impacts assessment process in the Forest Practice Rules, the requirements are weak at best, and in the present-day have resulted in little more than cut-and-paste boiler-plate conclusionary statements that are passed off as an “evaluation,” to support a finding of no cumulative impacts. In the 30 years since EPIC v. Johnson, CAL FIRE has never denied a Timber Harvest Plan on the basis of a finding of adverse cumulative impacts, despite the wide-spread loss of old-growth, continued declines in populations of threatened and endangered fish and wildlife, the listing of almost every major North Coast stream as water quality impaired, and now the advent of global climate change.

Long-time EPIC associate, Richard Gienger, has been advocating for a truly multi-disciplinary evaluation of the THP process and the information upon which is predicated for decades, and his vision and prints are all over the concept and structure of the Planning Watershed Pilot Project study and the Planning Watershed Pilot Project Working Group. The Pilot Project study is a foundational element to building an understanding and developing an information-based critique of the current process, identifying opportunities for much-needed reform.

40 years, and still going strong, EPIC is working as hard as ever to protect our forests, fish, air, water and wildlife against the damaging impacts of industrial-scale timber harvest on private forestlands in the State. Far from being finished, EPIC will hang tough and stay strong and vigilant in working for the place we love and call home.