Archive for February, 2011

EPIC stops SPI from logging near Spotted Owl nest

Friday, February 25th, 2011
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Please read the update below by Rob DiPerna, to learn how EPIC’s Industrial Forestry Reform program stopped Sierra Pacific Industry from logging near a spotted owl nest in Lassen County this week.

Conservation activists face an uphill battle to protect forest ecosystems and wildlife habitat from bad logging practices across millions of acres of corporate-owned forests in California. In fact, few environmental groups even attempt to fight big companies on their private holdings, because of the extreme challenge to see any success. EPIC and a handful of other organizations across the state continue to monitor and challenge the companies – and the agencies responsible for regulating them – by pushing for the state to simply enforce applicable laws.

It is clear that the largest forestland landowner in the state, Sierra Pacific Industries, proudly uses clearcut logging as their primary practice to extract timber across their ownership. Meanwhile the critters dependent on these complex forest ecosystems for their habitat suffer. Even at a time of record low timber prices, the company continues to rake in profits – while degrading habitat of forest-dependent Coho salmon, Northern Spotted Owls and many other species.

For over 30 years, EPIC has worked to hold timber companies accountable for their lawless activity, even when the battle seems next to impossible. Our Industrial Forestry Reform program staff comb through thick documents and follow the progress of individual timber plans and policy documents. All this effort is intended to review whether or not the companies are following current laws governing their activities.

EPIC’s Industrial Forestry Reform analyst Rob DiPerna engages in these processes with great diligence. His recent comments submitted to Cal Fire regarding a specific timber plan have interrupted an otherwise rubber stamped process.

In addition, the events exemplify Rob’s conclusion, “This serves to demonstrate once again that Cal Fire does not have the staff, the knowledge, the technical expertise, or for that matter the authority to maintain a program that will actually avoid harm to owls.”

EPIC stops SPI from logging near Spotted Owl nest

by Rob DiPerna

EPIC comments on Big Widow THP (2-090078 LAS) have prevented SPI from logging suitable northern spotted owl habitat within 500 feet of a known owl site. EPIC’s comments have also forced Cal Fire to recirculate the Big Widow THP.

The Big Widow THP proposed logging of essential nesting and roosting habitat for northern spotted owls within 500 feet of a known owl site.  EPIC commented to Cal Fire that there was no biological or regulatory justification to allow logging so close to a known owl site.  In response, Cal Fire has required that SPI change the Big Widow THP to exclude logging within 500 feet of the spotted owl site.

However SPI still intends to log within 1,000 feet of the owl site, also within suitable nesting and roosting owl habitat.  EPIC commented to Cal Fire that SPI had not demonstrated that logging within nesting and roosting habitat 1,000 feet from the nest site would retain appropriate habitat characteristics to prevent harm to owls.  Such potential impacts include loss of suitable nesting or roosting platforms, increased susceptibility to adverse weather and predators, and impacts to microclimate conditions within the nest site.  In response, Cal Fire required that SPI demonstrate how logging within 1,000 feet of a known nest site will maintain essential habitat characteristics to assure that harm to owls will be avoided.

In response to our concerns, Cal Fire has recirculated the “Big Widow” THP for 30 days.  Recirculation means that he public comment period is reopened due to the addition of significant new information to the plan.

The Big Widow THP threatens to effectively destroy an owl site by logging suitable nesting and roosting habitat in close proximity to the nest site.  This site is further at risk because SPI is trying to claim that the owl site is abandoned and no longer utilized by owls.  The US Fish and Wildlife Service refused to declare the site abandoned, but that could change based on future survey results.

The Big Widow THP is another glaring example of how the northern spotted owl take avoidance process is fatally flawed as administered by Cal Fire.

Only after EPIC raised significant concerns over possible harm to owls did Cal Fire act to protect the nest site from virtual destruction by restricting logging to the area outside of 500 feet from the nest. This serves to demonstrate once again that Cal Fire does not have the staff, the knowledge, the technical expertise, or for that matter the authority to maintain a program that will actually avoid harm to owls.  The ultimate agency responsible, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, must wrest the reigns from Cal Fire once again and enforce the endangered species act through the technical assistance process.

You can follow this link to download and review the Big Widow THP (2-09-078LAS) for yourself. To submit comments, e-mail reddingpubliccomment@fire.ca.gov.


Take Action Now to Support the Usal Redwood Forest

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011
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In solidarity with the ongoing efforts of the Redwood Forest Foundation (RFFI), EPIC wants to encourage you to support permanent protection for 50,000 acres of working forest by sending a quick email to decision-makers in Sacramento today. RFFI needs your support, on a matter that is vitally important to RFFI and the Northern California region. We must act now to tell the Wildlife Conservation Board to support funding for a conservation easement for the Usal Redwood Forest at a meeting this Thursday, February 24. To go straight to the action center and send the letter, click here.

The Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) is scheduled to hear and vote on the easement sale for the Usal Redwood Forest at their February 24 (Thursday) board meeting.  Funding of the easement by the WCB will permanently protect almost 50,000 acres of working forest from development, maintain sustainable forestry practices, restore degraded ecosystems and provide for permanent resource related employment.

This is the first and absolutely crucial step in RFFI’s vision to establish community-based forests that will provide critical habitat for increased biodiversity, address climate change and improve regional economic vitality.

For RFFI’s vision to become a reality, we need the WCB to approve funding for the sale of a conservation easement on the Usal Redwood Forest to The Conservation Fund without delay.

Please contact the WCB and tell them of your strong support for the Usal Forest easement.

To send a letter to all nine Wildlife Conservation Board members, please click here.


Diverse Community Needs Alternative to Richardson Grove Plan

Friday, February 11th, 2011
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Diverse and energetic opposition to Caltrans’ project to alter Highway 101 through Richardson Grove State Park emerged Monday with a well-attended rally and non-violent civil disobedience resulting in 12 arrests. The actions, held at the offices of Caltrans District 1 in Eureka, were organized by the Richardson Grove Action Now group and attracted over 200 people and multiple media outlets that covered the event.

The rally Monday represented much more than the mostly student contingent, that staged the civil disobedience. A broad diversity of voices in the group were united with a single goal that shook the offices of Caltrans in the form of a chant that rang out throughout the rally: “One Demand: Cancel the Plan!”

A range of people involved in the Coalition to Protect Richardson were asked to speak into the microphone during the rally, to offer brief words of inspiration, songs, and accurate information about the project to the crowd. One of the speakers, Barbara Kennedy, has been working to educate the public about the project since Caltrans began drawing up plans, back in 2007. Her words for the crowd were spoken in a characteristically measured tone, but the crowd’s enthusiasm grew as she spoke. Kennedy’s words of insight were followed by a long time Piercy resident named Cheri Porter, who explained the adverse impacts that businesses in the town of expect, should the project proceed.

In summary, Porter explained, “Every business in Piercy will be negatively impacted, if not destroyed through this project.  We just can’t afford it.  With two lumber mills closing in our community, we depend on tourism to survive and this project will hurt that.”

Withstanding debate between the needs of export-reliant businesses and the many voices of opposition to the project, most people agree that the State Park must not be harmed. This resolute stance by many in Humboldt and Mendocino Counties, the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond may outweigh vocal beneficiaries of the project, like Sun Valley Group Inc. and Emmi Holding Inc.’s Cypress Grove Cheese Company. Until now, these companies and a handful of others have seen no other alternative to fulfill their transportation needs then the widening of 101 through Richardson Grove State Park for larger truck access.

With only a few months before planned construction and a swelling number of defiant activists becoming involved in fighting the project, the time has come to identify an agreeable alternative and push for its implementation. The two sides of the debate could find common ground, by identifying a plausible solution to satisfy a few businesses’ shipping needs but without completing an expensive and risky construction project in the old growth redwood grove within the State Park. One immediate alternative to Caltrans’ Richardson Grove plan would be a new legislative exemption to allow certain industries to run larger trucks through the grove.  This could both offer relief to businesses burdened by expensive shipping costs and preserve the community of ancient trees for future generations.

Currently, cattle trucks are allowed through the grove, even though the trucks’ longer trailers exceed the 48 foot kingpin to rear axle restriction.  If new legislation was introduced that allowed for a permanent exemption for additional trucks, perhaps the heated debate of “trucks versus trees” could be resolved.

Meanwhile, the campaign is growing.

EPIC’s campaign to protect Richardson Grove State Park has gathered thousands of postcards to stop the project, mailed “activist packets” to campaign supporters across the state and hosted well-attended educational forums.  With the Californians for Alternatives to Toxins, the Center for Biological Diversity and five citizen plaintiffs, EPIC also filed two lawsuits challenging the project on legal merits.

The first of these lawsuits charges that the Environmental Impact Report prepared for this project does not meet California Environmental Quality Act standards, and that the project is unnecessary because equivalent trucks pass through the grove every day, without incident. The Federal case cites violations of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The attorneys representing the plaintiff group include Sharon Duggan, Kevin Bundy and the esteemed Cotchett, Pitre and McCarthy law firm. Former US Congressman Pete McCloskey and other well-known California public figures have also come forward opposing the plan, and supporting EPIC’s legal and campaign strategy.

Throughout the last year, over 35,000 people took online actions protesting the plan, and that number will continue to grow. As more people learn that the treasured, ancient trees marking the entrance to the redwood region face a risky construction project by Caltrans, the opposition will grow with the numbers of people informed. Social networking sites like Facebook help viral messages like these extend to unlimited numbers of potential supporters. Already, the Save Richardson Grove FB page has 1670 members, and this is without any assertive campaign to promote the social site.

Now campaign organizers are discussing proposals for massive rallies, action camps, major concerts and other big events to attract activists from around the state to show their strong opposition to Caltrans and the plan to widen 101 through Richardson Grove. All of these efforts could be redirected if either Caltrans cancels their project voluntarily, or another alternative with California lawmakers can be reached quickly.


EPIC Continues the Fight for Owl Habitat

Thursday, February 10th, 2011
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While California claims to have the strictest forest practice policies in the US, clearcuts and a labyrinth of bad roads continue to dominate the landscape on millions of acres of industrial forests across the state. These practices and their impacts create adverse conditions for threatened and endangered species that called these forests home long before corporations called them an asset to be liquidated.

California agencies charged with enforcing environmental laws have deep ties to timber interests. Recent decisions from California’s Board of Forestry including the adoption of the 2009 Spotted Owl Rules Package, make it clear that this relationship continues. Big Timber stands to gain the greatest benefit from the proposed NSO rules.  These rules allow Cal Fire to accept NSO take avoidance analysis from industry representatives who designate themselves “Spotted Owl Experts.”

In 2008 California declined to fund US Fish and Wildlife Service’s program offering technical assistance to Cal Fire’s take avoidance determination program. The Service had assisted Cal Fire in determining whether logging plans near Northern Spotted Owl habitat constituted “take” under the Federal Endangered Species Act since 1999. The Board of Forestry said the lack of technical assistance was stalling timber planners, and changed the Forest Practice Rules (FPR) to facilitate another alternative. Now natural resource professionals from the industry can be certified as Spotted Owl Experts. The assistance provided by these ”experts” includes guidance to comply with a set of standards in the FPRs that are designed to facilitate “take avoidance” for the Northern Spotted Owl.

These rules are not only antiquated and not based on the best available science, but the US Fish and Wildlife Service found the rules insufficient to avoid take of NSO in many instances.  For one thing, the rules do not provide for specific qualities of habitat to be retained in specific amounts. Rather, the rules rely on an aggregate total amount of habitat, which allows large industrial landowners to target the most valuable habitat and reduce it to marginal or non-habitat conditions. Furthermore, the way the FPRs define Northern Spotted Owl habitat do not represent what US Fish and Wildlife considers suitable owl habitat. The agency’s criterion requires that the habitat be capable of feeding, breeding, sheltering, reproduction, and dispersal for the Northern Spotted Owl.

EPIC has been addressing these issues, both through our Industrial Forestry Reform monitoring program and by joining the Center for Biological Diversity to challenge the bogus owl rules in court. Our lawsuit alleges that the “Northern Spotted Owl Take regulations violate the law in that they authorize the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (“Cal Fire”) to determine whether “take” of the Northern Spotted Owl will occur or be avoided, a determination that by law resides with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.” EPIC’s Industrial Forestry Reform monitoring program has been successful in slowing down the approval of Timber Harvest Plans (THPs).

Since the Board of Forestry approved the new owl rules in September 2009, Cal Fire approved THPs that simply complied with the inadequate standards established in the state forest practice rules in 1992.  However, in the last year, since EPIC has been monitoring and commenting on this process and individual logging plans, Cal Fire’s march to approve THPs that may affect northern spotted owls has slowed considerably.

For example, the Sierra Pacific Industry (SPI) THP called  “Uncle Jesse” (THP 2-09-068SHA) has yet to be approved by Cal Fire. EPIC submitted detailed comments regarding the potential impacts of utilizing the FPRs to ensure “take avoidance” under this THP.  These comments were submitted with the close of public comment in May of 2010.  To date, Cal Fire has not moved to approve this THP. Meanwhile, the Cal Fire review team process for other THPs has come to a screeching halt.  Numerous THPs have made it as far as the Cal Fire inter-agency review team meeting, only to have the process stall.

While it is abundantly clear that implementation of the inadequate state rules will not prevent “take” of Northern Spotted Owls, Cal Fire continues to evaluate “take” on the basis of these rules. In the face of substantial evidence to the contrary, Cal Fire still maintains that the FPRs can “avoid take” of Northern Spotted Owl habitat, if timber planners fully comply with the rules.

Evidence provided by the US Fish and Wildlife Service clearly shows that take of NSO has occurred at an alarming rate on private timberlands in California over the last twenty years, demonstrating the failure of the state rules to protect owls and their habitat.  Sub-par habitat retention standards, sub-par definitions, sub-par analysis by plan submitters, and ultimately Cal Fire itself, have continued to ensure that take of Northern Spotted Owl will still occur under the Cal Fire take avoidance determination program.

Unfortunately the Northern Spotted Owl population continues its decline throughout much of its historic range. In California, the owls are at risk from logging operations that degrade and destroy suitable habitat and home ranges, resulting in loss of reproduction and site occupancy, and ultimately to direct and indirect “take” of Northern Spotted Owls in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

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Humboldt Marten Update

Thursday, February 10th, 2011
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Good News for the Humboldt Marten

The US Fish and Wildlife Service took action this week on EPIC and the Center for Biological Diversity‘s petition to list the Humboldt Marten under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).  According to correspondence to the petitioners dated February 3, the agency aims to publish the 90 day finding –the first step toward potential ESA listing– either “late this fiscal year or during the first half of fiscal year 2011.“

This comes as a welcome development, departing from the October 2010 announcement by the Service that it would not be able to work on the petition this year, citing budgetary restrictions. See Scott Greacen’s article entitled, “Feds to Critically Endangered Humboldt Marten: You’re On Your Own”.

According to correspondence from the Service to the petitioners, funding has become available and the Arcata Office of the Fish and Wildlife Service will be the lead Office conducting the finding work.

The Humboldt marten is a cat-sized carnivore related to minks and otters that lives only in coastal, old-growth forests in Northern California and southern Oregon. Because nearly all of its old-growth forest habitat has been destroyed by logging, the Humboldt marten is so rare that it was believed extinct for 50 years.

To download the Petition to List the Humboldt Marten under the Endangered Species Act, click here.


Buck Mountain Action Alert!

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011
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The Six Rivers National Forest has planned another logging project disguised as fuels treatment within an old growth habitat reserve in the Mad River Ranger District, called the Buck Mountain Vegetation and Fuels Management Project.  The project proposes to commercially log 613 acres of natural forest stands up to 130 years old, construct and reconstruct up to 6 miles of “temporary” roads, log in riparian reserves (stream sides) and in Nesting habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl.

The project also proposes over 1,000 acres of fuels reduction.  EPIC supports small-diameter thinning of fire-suppressed forests, particularly tree plantations and forests prone to uncharacteristic wildfire near homes and communities; however, we do not support old growth logging masquerading as fire-risk reduction.  We know that you also value these irreplaceable resources on our National Forests and will do what it takes to protect them.

Please take a moment to email the Mad River Ranger District to let them know that they must remove elements of the project that threaten mature, large trees near streams, especially in areas reserved for old growth forest structure and regeneration. To take action now, click here.

The proposed project:

If approved, the Buck Mountain project would commercially harvest over 600 acres of natural forest stands up to 130 years old, construct over two miles of new temporary roads, reconstruct nearly four miles of existing roads, log near streams and in Nesting habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl.  Potential harvest is approximated at about five million board feet.  The Buck Mountain Vegetation and Fuel Management Project includes activities within the Eel River Late Successional Reserve (LSR), just south of Dinsmore, California. LSRs were set aside to provide habitat for animals that depend on old growth forest structure. 

The project also proposes thinning almost 400 acres of plantations (past clearcuts), 44 acres of oak restoration, almost 800 acres of non-commercial activity and over 1200 acres of non-commercial fuels treatment.  EPIC supports small-diameter thinning of fire-suppressed forests, particularly tree plantations and forests prone to uncharacteristic wildfire near homes and communities. So, while we stand firmly against the destructive elements of this proposed project, we do support the aspects that will accomplish the goal of fire risk reduction. In addition, we are deeply concerned about the Forest Service’s continued reliance on misleading rhetoric, including logging mature large trees in the name of “fuels reduction” and forest health.

Too often the Forest Service plans proposals that threaten old growth trees but are disguised as fire risk reduction projects. The business as usual attitude to “get the volume out” and reach timber targets by calling commercial timber sales “fuels reduction projects” and “restoration projects” must end. Only a tiny percentage of irreplaceable, old growth forests remain standing. Please let the Six Rivers National Forest know that you do not support logging older forests, especially near streams and in nesting habitat for Threatened species.

Take Action Now! CLICK HERE to send a letter to protect Buck Mountain.