Archive for January, 2012

EPIC Grazing Reform Project—Protecting the Marble Mountain High Country

Thursday, January 26th, 2012
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As 2012 rushes forward, the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) continues to work around the clock to protect and restore Northern California’s treasured environmental resources. Not surprisingly, certain high-profile matters rightfully capture the public imagination and spotlight. From its flagship Save Richardson Grove Campaign, to its efforts to safeguard Northern Spotted Owl habitat, to its endless monitoring of timber harvest plans on private industrial forestlands, EPIC has proven itself to be an effective, hardworking, and enduring champion of Northern California’s beloved flora and fauna.

In the midst of these preeminent initiatives, it’s not hard to overlook EPIC’s work on less eye-catching sources of environmental degradation. Among the many unsung endeavors is EPIC’s effort, in cooperation with the Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA), to reform livestock grazing in the Klamath National Forest. Felice Pace of KFA spearheaded the collaboration in 2010. A longtime environmentalist, wildlands explorer, and resident of Scott Valley, Pace has witnessed firsthand for over 35 years the environmental impacts of public lands grazing.

Appalled by the conditions, Pace took matters into his own hands. He would begin conducting compliance monitoring across select grazing allotments in the Trinity Alps, Marble Mountain, and Russian Wilderness Areas of Klamath National Forest.

Streambank trampled by cattle resulting in reduced riparian vegetation, streambank instability and sedimentation, Shackleford Allotment.

Before we proceed, let me briefly sketch a picture of how public lands grazing works.

An individual or permittee pays a small fee – often below market value – to the United States Forest Service (USFS) in order to gain access to a piece of land or allotment on which they will have exclusive rights to grazing. On the one hand, the FS acts as the representative of the government and is thus responsible for implementing and enforcing applicable laws, regulations, and rules. On the other hand, the permittee is responsible for managing their cattle in a manner that is consistent with the terms and conditions of their contract.

However, with inadequate enforcement by the USFS, the permittees are not held accountable and our natural resources are degraded. Hence, the need for a third party to hold the FS accountable.

As a rookie intern with EPIC, I started working with Pace to reform the way in which this process manifested. We began by submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to the USFS soliciting myriad documents relating to each grazing allotment. Upon receiving this trove of information, we reviewed the documents bearing two chief objectives in mind: 1) learn the rules of the road; 2) identify any aberration from those rules. As relative outsiders, we had to educate ourselves in order to be effective agents of reform.

Cattle waste adjacent stream between Lower and Upper East Boulder Lake, Mill Creek Allotment.

Thereafter digesting this information, we selected particular grazing allotments on which to conduct compliance monitoring. This is truly when the fun begins.

During 2011, Pace and I spent many days hiking throughout the awe-inspiring landscapes of the Klamath National Forest. With only the bare essentials crammed into our backpacks – save the chocolate and cheese – we trudged up and down mountains, traversed streams, wandered through old-growth forests, and glided across rolling pastures. The extensive diversity and distinct beauty of the Klamath National Forest is spectacular to behold. Our objective was straightforward: identify patterns of degradation and mismanagement that are not permitted within the contours of applicable environmental protections, and thereafter present our findings to the FS so as to stimulate reform that ensured more controlled grazing practices. Initially this process of identifying unacceptable environmental conditions was challenging; however, with practice and guidance from Pace, the task progressively became second nature. In essence, we sought to illuminate in-the-field conditions in order to hold accountable responsible parties for ecological injuries as well as excite a grazing management regime that manifestly safeguards our natural resources.

Bovine waste in wetland with surface scum near Upper East Boulder Lake, Mill Creek Allotment

Our findings suggest a rather entrenched mismanagement regime that unfortunately renders at risk certain natural resources. The most ubiquitous and worrisome observations included: 1) cattle waste having been directly deposited in wetlands and/or adjacent waterbodies; 2) cattle trampling streambanks leading to erosion and sediment pollution; 3) overutilization of vegetation in preferred meadows; 4) mechanical damage to vegetation in wet pastures and wetlands; 5) browse lines on willow and alder brush stands. The signature shortcoming of the existing management regime is the absence of a rule requiring regular range riding and herding by permittees. Our research suggests this regulatory inadequacy permits cattle to concentrate in preferred – often-unsuitable – locations for extended durations of time. This inevitably translates into concentrated ecological injuries. It’s a rather straightforward concept: if cattle are left to their own devices, they will adhere to their inherent preferences, notwithstanding environmental implications. In order to mitigate these impacts, we recommend the FS implements a mandatory minimum herding requirement for all permittees as well as require all permittees to keep and submit to the FS an annual management log. We believe the former measure alone would curtail the degree to which livestock grazing negatively impacts natural resources, whereas the latter would provide greater transparency and accountability.

Browse line on willow stand in Back Meadows, Big Meadows Grazing Allotment.

The politics of public lands grazing are not cut-and-dry. They are historically rooted in the contentious competition between the attainment of multiple-use objectives. Among these competing values are recreation, riparian management, wildlife habitat, endangered species management, and cultural resource protection. Understandably, stakeholders representing these various interests engage the decision-making process in order to buttress their particular use.

Meanwhile, the government strives to create a legal environment whereby multiple-use objectives are achieved. This balancing act, we recognize, is incredibly challenging and requires significant resources and commitment even in times of budget shortfalls and staff downsizing.

Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of government to adequately implement and enforce regulations that are on the books. This feature is cut-and-dry.

Victor Reuther overlooking Upper Albert Lake, Etna Creek Allotment.

At the end of the day, even environmental protection regulations crafted to perfection will fall short of safeguarding our natural resources if not adequately enforced. This realization is at the heart of our initiative. In the imperfect world in which we reside, civil society must learn to take matters into its own hands. As concerned critics of the existing grazing system in the Klamath National Forest, our vision isn’t one of eliminating grazing, but rather, ensures that an adequate enforcement regime exists so as not to leave vulnerable our precious natural resources. We believe it is the responsibility of mankind to safeguard the world’s treasured environmental diversity for future generations of all flora and fauna.

Victor Reuther has been interning with EPIC since September 2011. He is a recent graduate of Humboldt State University where he studied Political Science.  He will be attending law school this fall.

 


UPDATED! Stop SB 455 – Save Our Forests

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012
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UPDATE: Everyone’s efforts paid off, as we clearly changed the dynamics surrounding this bill. It did pass out of the California Senate, but with the bare minimum of 21 votes. We sent senators hundreds of email messages, and demonstrated leverage in Sacramento. This means that we are much better positioned to stop this bill in the assembly and promote a legislative proposal that offers true advances in the legal framework that guides forest management. Stay tuned as we keep working on this issue in our Industrial Forestry Reform Program.

Thanks for taking action to stop a dangerous new bill in the California Senate: SB 455 (Pavley).  This bill would dramatically expand the specific 3-year timber harvest plan required under current law, giving logging companies the option of preparing a very general 20-year plan covering up to 100,000 acres.  Astonishingly, the bill proposes no increased protections over existing law, no restrictions on clearcutting, and fails to meaningfully address cumulative impacts to watersheds and endangered species. Furthermore, the bill fails to provide for necessary public participation to ensure that our forests are managed in compliance with the law.  As EPIC and our members know well, but for the public’s watch-dogging efforts, hundreds of thousands of acres of precious native forests would be lost due to the lax oversight by regulatory agencies.  Nor does the bill provide the kinds of enforcement and monitoring provisions that would protect against abuse.  In exchange, industrial timber giants like Green Diamond Resources Company and Sierra Pacific Industries would be able to lock in 20-year plans for aggressive clearcutting across hundreds of thousands of acres in California.

Richard Gienger, longtime forest activist from southern Humboldt/ northern Mendocino, provided EPIC with his dire assessment of SB 455:

“SB 455 is misguided in so many ways – and takes energy away from the major, and often quite simple, reforms that need to happen on private and state forestlands in California. Instead of making sure that information is usefully organized and easily accessible to actually respond to legacy cumulative effects on all California forestlands, it empowers the large companies to make their own environmental documents in a process that is largely out of reach of the public and public trust agencies. Each huge so-called “watershed THP” would last for a human generation. Instead of improving existing long-term planning processes like the flawed Sustained Yield Plan process, a whole new ‘wheel’ is invented that facilitates a plantation-styled forestry that dooms vast acreages to homogeneous tree farms – with no forests being older than 45 to 55 years old. SB 455 does not ensure a sustained yield of high quality timber products, nor does it provide for recovery of invaluable wildlife, water, and fisheries resources. This is all being pushed forward under the guise of improving “carbon sequestration” on California’s timberlands – with the actual benefits being highly speculative, abysmally small or actually negative, and are not even enumerated in the version being considered by the State Senate on Monday. Despite ostensible good intentions of SB 455 supporters, the contents of the bill are a half-thought-out mistake, which may easily be construed as pandering of the worst sort. The people, forestland, and legislators of California deserve a better effort.”


ESA Protection Closer for Humboldt Marten

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012
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Endangered Species Act Protection Closer for Rare Forest Carnivore Once Believed Extinct

Humboldt Marten at a bait station for observation in Six Rivers NF.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the Humboldt marten, a rare forest carnivore found only in coastal old-growth forests in Northern California and southern Oregon, will be reviewed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The Environmental Protection Information Center and Center for Biological Diversity petitioned for protection for the marten in 2010. The Humboldt marten is a cat-sized carnivore related to minks and otters. Because nearly all of its old-growth forest habitat has been destroyed by logging, the Humboldt marten is now so rare that it was believed extinct for 50 years.

“Fewer than 100 of these beautiful and secretive mammals survive,” said Tierra Curry, conservation biologist at the Center. “We are thrilled that the marten is moving toward the Endangered Species Act protection that it needs to have a real shot at survival and recovery.”

“Clearcut logging and short rotation forestry has replaced diverse native forests with oversimplified tree plantations across thousands of acres of industrial timberland, driving the Humboldt marten to the brink of extinction,” said Andrew Orahoske, conservation director at EPIC in Arcata. “In order to save this unique carnivore from oblivion, we need to ban this damaging forestry practice and promote the restoration of native forests immediately.”

The historic range of the marten extends from Sonoma County in coastal California north through the coastal mountains of Oregon. The Humboldt marten was rediscovered on the Six Rivers National Forest in 1996. Since that time, researchers have continued to detect martens using track plates and hair snares. In 2009 a marten was detected at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park by remote-sensing camera, the first to be photographed in recent times. Martens are 1.5 to two feet long and have large triangular ears and a long tail. They eat small mammals, berries, and birds, and are eaten by larger mammals and raptors

“The Endangered Species Act has been successful at preventing the extinction of 99 percent of listed species. The Humboldt marten is in dire need of this effective protection and we urge the Service to protect it without delay,” said Curry.

Following today’s “positive 90-day” finding, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will now conduct a one-year review of the animal’s status to determine if the marten will be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

 

Contact: Andrew Orahoske, Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC),

(707) 822-7711, andrew@wildcalifornia.org

Tierra Curry, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 522-3681


Wolf enters California: Wild California Just Got a Little More Wild

Thursday, January 5th, 2012
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For the first time since 1924, a wild wolf is roaming the State of California.
According to the California Department of Fish and Game and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, on December 29, 2011, a wolf crossed into a remote area of Siskiyou County north of Mt. Shasta.  The young male wolf was born in the Hells Canyon area of the Snake River in northeastern Oregon in 2009.  Biologists outfitted the wolf with a GPS tracking device in February 2011 and have been receiving location information ever since.  The map below shows the path of the wolf, dubbed OR-7 by researchers.

Wolf Recovery in Northern California
Many people are asking:  Can wolves live in California?  Most people think of Yellowstone National Park, Idaho or Montana when they think of wolf habitat.  While it may seem a little strange at first, California has extensive areas of suitable habitat for wolves.  In particular, large wilderness areas such as the Marble Mountains, Trinity Alps and backcountry areas around Lassen and Mt. Shasta have high potential to support wolves.  Furthermore, once re-established in northern California, wolves could feasibly repopulate the Sierra Nevada which contains a large amount of suitable habitat in its own right.  Researchers modeling the suitability of habitat for wolf recovery determined that the southern Oregon Cascades and vast areas of northern California’s wild areas would support wolves (Carroll et al. 2006).  For a comparison of our region to core wolf country in the northern Rockies, the maps below show suitable habitat if lands are managed for restoration of natural processes and wildlife populations.  Of particular importance is the removal of roads.  Darker green indicates the best habitat while light green and red show less suitable habitat that would act as linkage areas.

Suitable wolf habitat in Northern California and Southern Oregon

Suitable wolf habitat in Idaho, Montana and greater Yellowstone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The questions and answers about wolves returning to California are becoming clearer day by day.  As biologists learn more about wolf behavior in Oregon, this knowledge will be directly applicable to California.  As leading wolf researchers have argued, large predators can make a comeback to California (Carroll et al 2001).   We are now beginning to see the proof.

At EPIC, we intend to advocate for wolves as strongly as we advocate for all native biological diversity in northern California.  That means continuing our important work in defending our forests and wild areas from exploitation and destruction.  Because of this work and the tireless efforts of many individuals to defend and restore our wild landscapes, we can offer something to this wild wandering wolf.   Whether he remains in our region is anyone’s guess, but we hope that he likes what he finds and is joined by more wolves in the near future.

Literature Cited:

Carroll, C., Phillips, M.K., Lopez-Gonzalez, C.A. and N. H. Schumaker.  2006.  Defining recovery goals and strategies for endangered species: the wolf as a case study. Bioscience 56:25-37.  Available at: http://www.klamathconservation.org/docs/carrolletal2001b.pdf

Carroll, C., Noss,R.F., Schumaker, N.H.and P. C. Paquet.  2001.  Is the return of the wolf, wolverine, and grizzly bear to Oregon and California biologically feasible?  Pp. 25-46. In:  Maehr D, Noss RF, Larkin J, Eds. Large Mammal Restoration: Ecological and Sociological Challenges in the 21st Century. Washington (DC): Island Press.