Posts Tagged ‘endangered species act’

Take Action to Stop the Bay Delta Conservation Plan

Thursday, June 19th, 2014
USBR Construction of pump station at Delta-Mendota Canal

USBR Construction of pump station at Delta-Mendota Canal

Take action now to stop the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. The $67 billion infrastructure project proposes to construct two massive tunnels that would funnel water from Northern to Southern California. The Plan calls itself a comprehensive conservation strategy aimed at protecting dozens of species of fish and wildlife, but in reality the 40,000 page document fails to disclose major irreversible impacts to fish, rivers and the economic stability of the state of California. River systems throughout California have been experiencing extreme drought conditions, and historic water rights have not been honored due to the lack of water in our rivers and reservoirs. Building two giant tunnels to transport water from the San Joaquin Delta is not going to carry out either of the Plan’s two main goals: to reliably transport more water to San Joaquin farms and Southern California cities, or to restore the fisheries and ecology of the delta.

The Draft Environmental Impact Report/Statement (DEIR/S) uses models based on over-allocated water rights to analyze the Plan’s environmental impacts, which would result in severe environmental consequences. Building more irrigation infrastructure, as the Plan proposes, is not going to fix drought problems in California. Instead, these projects will exacerbate drought conditions, resulting in greater impacts to endangered fish by reducing flows to impaired watersheds, draining estuaries that are essential to healthy river ecosystems, and allowing the continued operation of pumps that will kill fish that are protected under the Endangered Species Act. The “conservation plan” should instead reduce exports that take water out of rivers, prioritize delta recovery, and improve water conservation measures.

EPIC is part of the Environmental Water Caucus (EWC), which is a collective of environmental and water rights organizations that have joined forces to deal with water issues throughout the state of California. The comments we have developed are abbreviated and adapted from the EWC’s collective comments on the massive DEIR/S that has stirred controversy over the state’s scarce water resources. Help us stop this damaging project before irreversible harm is done to our rivers, fish and the state’s economic stability. Please click here to submit your public comment.


Historic Agreement Reforms Trinity River Fish Hatchery

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Trinity_hatcheryToday a federal court approved the settlement agreement in a lawsuit challenging operations at the Trinity River Fish Hatchery. The agreement between EPIC, state agencies and Tribes allows the hatchery to continue to operate, but with needed reforms to restore imperiled wild coho salmon.

The suit alleged that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) operated the hatchery illegally because it lacked an approved plan from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The suit also alleged that the millions of hatchery fish released into the Trinity harm threatened wild salmon runs.

“This settlement shows the commitment of a broad array of stakeholders in the Trinity basin to insure that hatchery operations support recovery of wild salmon,” said Gary Graham Hughes, Executive Director at EPIC. “There is still a long road to travel,” said Hughes, “yet this agreement is an historic moment in the process of bringing back our wild salmon.”

Represented by the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) in Eugene, Oregon, EPIC filed suit last year to curb the number of hatchery fish released into the Trinity, alleging that they harm naturally producing coho salmon, listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as threatened with extinction. On the eve of a motion to the court, the parties – EPIC, CDFW, the Bureau, and the Hoopa Valley and Yurok Tribes – reached agreement that the hatchery could continue to operate, but in 2015 would release fewer hatchery-bred coho salmon and steelhead trout, and release the trout later in the season, so they do not prey on young coho. The agreement also requires the Bureau to submit to NMFS a new plan for hatchery operations by May 31, 2014.

“After decades of saturating the Trinity with hatchery fish, this agreement is a first step toward recovering wild coho runs that are so important in the system,” said Pete Frost, attorney for EPIC.

Principle amongst the terms of the settlement agreement is that the Bureau will consult with NMFS to develop in a timely manner a long-overdue Hatchery Genetic Management Plan (HGMP), which the agency must complete as a requirement of fish hatchery management under the ESA. Genetic considerations are of great importance in fish hatchery management. Hatchery coho salmon harm wild coho salmon when the two populations interbreed. Hatchery coho salmon alter the genetic composition, phenotypic traits, and behavior of wild coho salmon. Genetic introgression—the transfer of genetics from stray hatchery fish to wild populations—lowers the fitness and genetic variability of wild coho salmon populations, decreasing productivity and abundance. The release of hatchery-raised Chinook and coho salmon and steelhead trout can also have harmful ecological effects on wild coho salmon and their habitat. Hatchery fish prey on wild coho salmon. Hatchery fish can introduce and transmit disease to wild coho salmon. Hatchery fish compete with wild coho salmon for food and spawning and rearing habitat. These ecological effects decrease the fitness and abundance of listed wild coho salmon.

To address these impacts the settlement agreement requires the timely development of the HGMP, and also includes terms that address the timing and number of the release of hatchery coho salmon and hatchery steelhead trout in order to best manage the resultant ecological interactions between hatchery and wild fish in a manner that promotes the recovery of wild Coho salmon.

Background on the Trinity River Fish Hatchery

The Trinity River flows north-northwest 165 miles from the California Coast Range Mountains to its confluence with the Klamath River at Weitchpec, approximately 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The South Fork Trinity River, which enters the mainstem Trinity River below any impoundments, is the one of the longest undammed stretches of river in California. Before reaching its confluence with the South Fork, the mainstem Trinity River flows into Trinity Lake, an impoundment created by the Trinity Dam, which stores water for the Central Valley Project. Seven miles downstream of the Trinity Dam is Lewiston Lake, an impoundment created by the Lewiston Dam, where stored water is diverted into the Sacramento River basin.

The Trinity hatchery is located at river mile 110 immediately downstream of the Lewiston Dam. It was built to mitigate for the loss of salmon and steelhead habitat due to the construction of the Trinity and Lewiston dams and the operation of the Central Valley Project. The Bureau funds the hatchery and CDFW runs it.

The Trinity River provides habitat for wild coho salmon. Wild coho salmon in the Trinity River and its tributaries are part of the Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast (SONCC) evolutionarily significant unit (ESU) and listed as threatened with extinction under the ESA. Critical habitat for the SONCC coho ESU includes all accessible reaches of the Klamath River and the Trinity River and the tributaries to each.

Recently, the California Fish Hatchery Review Project completed a comprehensive statewide review of fish hatcheries and found major problems in current operations throughout the state of California.  The leading scientific experts in this project recommended many important changes, of which several have been incorporated into the settlement regarding the Trinity River fish hatchery.

The consultation process for the HGMP for the Trinity fish hatchery under the ESA will result in hatchery operations that promote restoring genetic viability of wild fish.  This will further advance natural recovery of native fish species to their historical abundance. EPIC and WELC will continue to be engaged on crucial water and endangered species management issues on the Trinity, Mad, and Klamath Rivers, as well as other rivers in our bioregion.


EPIC-WELC Trinity Fish Hatchery Reform Press Release

Trinity Fish Hatchery Settlement Consent Decree

Who Will Stand Up for the Northern Spotted Owl?

Monday, April 7th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EPIC Steps Up To Advocate for the Owl

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

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

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

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

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

EPIC in review

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Holm_Fay_date2008-04-09_time16.02.45_IMG_8035 copyMuch of EPIC’s work involves staying up-to-date with local, regional and statewide natural resource management decisions and providing public comments to guide decision making in the interest of the best available science and with conservation in mind.

EPIC staff members have contributed the following comments and letters of support in the local, state and national environmental movements over the last few weeks:

*Letter to support the listing of Gray Wolves under the California Endangered Species Act

*Comments regarding waiver of waste discharge requirements related to timber harvest activities

*Letter urging agencies to end ongoing rollbacks of state and federal environmental protections for the Bay-Delta ecosystem

*Letter seeking to improve transparency and develop ecological performance measures for Timber Harvest Plans

*Letter to support a ban to keep super toxic rat poison out of environmentally sensitive areas

*Letter supporting bill that would free Orca Whales from California Amusement Parks

*Letter to ban fracking in Humboldt County

*Comments on Timber Harvest Plan that would log Spotted Owl Habitat

*Letter urging the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors to uphold the California’s Ban on Hound Hunting

Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for Rare Coastal Plant in Oregon and California

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Silvery Phacelia (Phacelia argentea) Silvery Phacelia Threatened by Off-Road Vehicles and Development

EPIC joined a coalition with seven other organizations to file a petition last week with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking Endangered Species Act protection for silvery phacelia, a rare plant that grows on a 130-mile stretch of coast from Coos and Curry counties in southern Oregon to Del Norte County in northern California. The flowering plant is at risk of extinction due to off-road vehicles, development and nonnative beach grass. There are fewer than 30 surviving populations of the silver-leaved plant.

“Silvery phacelia is a unique part of the natural heritage of our coast but we could lose it forever if we aren’t careful. Endangered Species Act protection is the best hope for protecting this beautiful plant for future generations,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The range of silvery phacelia extends from just north of Bandon, Ore., south to Crescent City, Calif. It grows on sand dunes where it is at risk of being crushed by off-road vehicles. It is also threatened by development on private lands as well as at Bandon State Natural Area where a proposed land exchange would carve out 280 acres of currently protected land to build a golf course. Another threat is competition from nonnative plants like European beach grass and gorse.

“Protecting silvery phacelia will not only ensure a future for this one plant species, but will also help safeguard our coastal environment for the quiet enjoyment of humans and for other rare species,” said Doug Heiken, conservation and restoration coordinator at Oregon Wild.

“Our organization is proud to support this important effort to secure legal protections for a disappearing species whose continued existence is threatened by inappropriate off-road vehicle and development activities,” said EPIC executive director Gary Graham Hughes.

Silvery phacelia is in the Forget-Me-Not family of flowering plants and grows to be 18 inches tall. It has white flowers that are a rich source of nectar and pollen for native bees. The number of bees and variety of bee species in dune vegetation is higher in places where phacelia grows. Its silvery hairs, an adaptation to the harsh coastal environment, keep salt off its leaves, decrease water loss and reflect excess light. The name “Phacelia” is from the Greek “phakelos” meaning cluster, for its lovely clustered flowers; and the Latin “argentea” meaning “silvery,” for the appearance of the leaves. Silvery phacelia blooms from March to September.

The petitioning groups are the Center for Biological Diversity, Oregon Wild, Friends of Del Norte, Oregon Coast Alliance, the Native Plant Society of Oregon, the California Native Plant Society, the Environmental Protection Information Center, and the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center.

Silvery phacelia grows on federal public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management including the New River Area of Critical Environmental Concern, Floras Lake, Four Mile Creek, Lost Lake, and Ophir Dunes in Oregon. It is also found on state lands including Lone Ranch State Beach, Bandon State Natural Area, Pistol River State Park, Humbug Mountain State Park, and Cape Blanco State Park in Oregon, and at Tolowa Dunes State Park in California. It also grows on some private lands along the very immediate coast.

Recent Press: Protection Sought for Rare Beach Plant Threatened by Off-Road Vehicles – KCET

Click here to view the complete silvery phacelia petition


Feinstein’s Water Grab Would Threaten Salmon Population

Friday, February 19th, 2010

Send an email to Senator Barbara Boxer asking her to oppose Diane Feinstein’s Water Grab Plan that Will Seriously Threaten North Coast Salmon Populations

chinook tinyOver the last week, EPIC has been working with fishing and conservation groups across Northern California and the Pacific Northwest to build resistance to California Senator Dianne Feinstein’s proposal to suspend Endangered Species Act protections for endangered salmon and other wildlife in California’s Sacramento Delta. Senator Feinstein’s proposal would send more water from Northern California’s Trinity and Sacramento Rivers to the Westlands Water District, despite the harm to crashing salmon populations and the people and ecosystems that depend on healthy fisheries. (more…)

EPIC and Allies Intend to Sue to Protect Pacific Fisher

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

PACIFICFARCATA, CA – The Environmental Protection and Information Center (EPIC), the Center for Biological Diversity, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Sierra Forest Legacy filed a notice of intent to sue the Department of the Interior last week, for its failure to protect the Pacific fisher. The fisher is a relative to the mink and otter with populations in northwest California and southwestern Oregon as well as the Sierra Nevada. (more…)

Marbled Murrelet Remains Threatened Under the ESA

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

bioMURRELETThe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday, January 20, that the marbled murrelet will remain a threatened species and continue to receive protection under the Endangered Species Act. The announcement came in response to a petition filed by the American Forest Resource Council, a timber industry lobbying group. The announcement is welcomed news for the Environmental Protection Information Center, which has worked for years to protect the dwindling population of the small seabirds. (more…)