Archive for May, 2012

Strategic Partnerships Key to EPIC Regional Initiative to Rein in Caltrans

Thursday, May 24th, 2012
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Photo by Jeff MusgraveIt has been more than four years that EPIC has been working in coalition with a large and diverse group of allies to challenge the Caltrans proposal to widen Highway 101 through Richardson Grove State Park. The effectiveness of this teamwork was proven in the broad grassroots campaign that provided a solid foundation of public support for litigation that has thus far resulted in a resounding judicial scolding of Caltrans with the remand order  provided by the Northern District Federal Court in early April 2012.

Amongst the important partnerships that EPIC developed in the Richardson Grove case were those with the group of citizens and the organizations that joined as co-plaintiffs. EPIC is pleased to still be working with Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATs) and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) as we await the decision that will be forthcoming in the state case before the end of June. Despite uncertainty, we have confidence in the strength of the case that has been presented.

As EPIC is working closely with CBD on a variety of issues, such as endangered species activism for the seriously at risk Humboldt Marten and reforming private lands forest policy, it has been exciting to step up and participate in a new coalition effort challenging Caltrans. EPIC is a part of the legal challenge to the unnecessary and out of touch Willits By Pass Project, an enormous and expensive 4-lane highway infrastructure project slated to cross sensitive wetlands in the Willits area. In this case there are four plaintiffs: Mendocino Lake Sierra Club, EPIC, CBD, and the Willits Environmental Center (WEC).

Though the necessity of having to take action on this issue is unfortunate, and forced by a Caltrans culture that refuses to let go of an expensive boondoggle, the honor of supporting Ellen and David Drell is immense. As a means of sharing with the citizens of the region their knowledge about the issue, EPIC’s Gary Graham Hughes spoke with David and Ellen about the Willits By Pass Project on the EPIC Edition of the KMUD Environment Show. (listen HERE) The show is an in-depth look at the history of the project design, the environmental considerations in terms of the wetlands loss, and why such venerated activists such as the Drell’s of the WEC would stand up to challenge the Willits By Pass project. Our colleagues at WEC are exemplary amongst exemplary partners.

On the north end of the region EPIC is in constant contact with Friends of Del Norte as we monitor the STAA access highway development proposal that Caltrans has been preparing to unleash along Highway 197/199 through the narrow canyons and ancient redwoods of the pristine Smith River. The growing realization of the environmental impact of the behemoth road building agency became acute throughout the planning process for the Richardson Grove highway development project, and has organically transformed into a regional initiative to Rein in Caltrans. This initiative seeks to to force Caltrans to alter or abandon their most environmentally egregious highway widening projects; and to publicize and reform the flawed decision-making and environmental review process that allow these wasteful and destructive projects to move forward.

EPIC is dedicating energy to building an active constituency and membership that supports our policy stances and legal actions on these issues. We know, especially when we converse with visionaries like David and Ellen at WEC, and Friends of Del Norte that this is a line of work that is important for protecting the natural qualities of our bioregion, and for directly addressing the obstacles that our communities face in the pursuit of a truly sustainable economic development that is appropriate for our region as well as a coherent response to the times in which we live.

This regional initiative to Rein in Caltrans will continue to grow. Stay tuned for updates, and for our efforts to contribute to a building movement. Listen to the interview with the Drells and get informed about the Willits By Pass Project.

Join us as we Rein in Caltrans!


SB455 Abandons Overreach on Watershed Scale Logging Plans

Thursday, May 24th, 2012
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In a vital victory for EPIC and other conservation groups, the Watershed Timber Harvest Plan (WTHP) provisions of Senate Bill 455 have fallen by the wayside. Early versions of Senate Bill 455 would have created watershed-scale Timber Harvest Plan documents and longer Timber Harvest Plan permits.

SB455 now will focus on policy concerning requirements for landowners to mitigate greenhouse gas increases associated with converting forest land to other uses such as housing tracts or vineyards. EPIC from early on suggested concentrating on this element of the bill and pursuing other available means to addressing needed reform in timber harvest review and regulation. We congratulate sponsor Senator Fran Pavley for stepping forward to protect open space through out the state, and look forward to working with her office directly on future natural resource issues.

EPIC and other conservation groups opposed the WTHP language in early versions of SB 455 because the bill would have allowed large logging corporations such as Green Diamond and Sierra Pacific Industries to lock up entire ownerships within a given watershed in a long-term permit. These “watershed THPs” would have been locked in without the ability of agencies or the public to revisit the plans.  The plans would have allowed large timber corporations to concentrate harvesting activities in watersheds already severely impacted by logging and other disturbance, severely reducing opportunities for restoration.

There is little question that the current Timber Harvest Plan review process is in disarray, and that substantial changes need to be made to the current process before another long-term permit is created.  To this end, staff working in Wesley Chesbro’s office have been working hard to maintain a high level of participation in a Timber Harvest Working Group from a very diverse group of stakeholders. The decision of the proponents of SB 455 to focus on land conversion mitigation is a mature gesture that EPIC takes seriously. This is a welcome development, and it insures that our organization will come to the timber harvest working group table with the energy and expertise necessary to contribute to a cost effective regulatory solution for those operators and landowners who have a demonstrated commitment to sustainable forestry and a high quality wood product. Be sure to stay tuned for updates about this and other elements of EPIC’s Industrial Forestry Reform program initiatives.


Help Save California’s Northern Spotted Owls

Thursday, May 17th, 2012
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Spring has arrived in the Northwest California forests, leaving only the glorious high country blanketed in the winter’s snow. The change in seasons brings with it the threat of increased logging in the wild forests of Trinity County. You see, as the snow retreats to the alpine reaches of the Trinity wild country, the billionaire timber baron Red Emmerson is firing up his Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) clearcutting machinery. Roads are being built now as a part of SPI’s summer plans to log some of the last old growth refuges of the Northern Spotted Owl. EPIC needs your help to stop this corporate dinosaur from destroying some of the very last wild forests in Trinity County.

Please help us defend the Northern Spotted Owl from SPI’s destructive logging by making a donation today to EPIC’s Northern Spotted Owl Self-Defense Fund.

We have been developing a strong case, and earlier this year, EPIC formally notified SPI of our intent to file a lawsuit against the company under the Federal Endangered Species Act for illegally harming Northern Spotted Owls. We have great confidence in our case, as we have spent the winter pouring over hundreds of pages of timber harvest plans, scores of maps, and all of the most contemporary science related to the Northern Spotted Owl. After all that work, we know with certainty that this summer is of critical importance for the survival of the Northern Spotted Owl, and many other sensitive wildlife species, from SPI’s destructive logging plans.

Donate to EPIC and join us in our work to put the brakes on Sierra Pacific Industries and defend the Northern Spotted Owl.

EPIC is taking SPI to federal court because the State of California is unable and unwilling to hold SPI accountable for their destructive activities. Instead of making efforts to reform SPI’s clearcutting, and bring them into the 21st century, Governor Jerry Brown’s Administration has been promoting some inexcusable give-aways to SPI. Hidden away in Governor Brown’s state budget revision is a change in existing law that promises to save the billionaire Red Emmerson, and SPI, millions of dollars, as well as extend logging permits and reduce the public’s opportunity for review of logging plans.

We need your help to hold SPI accountable for their destructive and unsustainable practices. We know that everyone wants to be a part of EPIC’s work to protect the unique wildlife and forests of Northern California. Become a part of this innovative, and industry changing, initiative to defend threatened species and stop SPI from clearcutting Northern Spotted Owl habitat.

Our members and supporters know that EPIC is a small yet power-packed organization. With partners we have just prevailed over Caltrans in our challenge to their ill-advised highway development project in Richardson Grove State Park. This is yet another David versus Goliath legal battle that EPIC has won to the benefit of rare and precious natural resources. With your support we can take on the behemoth corportations that threaten our wild heritage and the long-term integrity of the bioregion that we call home. We are on the verge of bringing SPI to justice, and with your help we can do it right!

Please donate today to our Northern Spotted Owl Self-Defense Fund and we will protect some of the last unprotected wild forests of the Trinity from SPI’s clearcutting.

Thank you very much for your support and dedication, the team at EPIC treasures working closely with all of our members and supporters, as we are all the guardians of our Wild California!

For the wild,

 

 

 

Gary Graham Hughes

 

P.S. EPIC has been fighting for more than twenty-five years to win protections for Northern Spotted Owls using an integrated, science-based approach, combining public education, citizen advocacy and strategic litigation. With your support now we can help the Northern Spotted Owl defend its home from the destructive logging of SPI. Please make a generous gift today and share this appeal with your friends


Stop Cruel Hound Hunting of Predators

Thursday, May 10th, 2012
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UPDATE: June 14, the California State Legislature is considering banning the use of hounds to hunt bears and bobcats. Please ask your state assembly member to support Senate Bill 1221.

UPDATE: Senate Bill 1221 passed the California Senate by a 22-15 vote May 21. The bill will now move to the Assembly for further discussion.

UPDATE: On April 24, the California Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water voted 5 to 3 to advance Senate Bill 1221—legislation which would prohibit the inhumane and unsporting practices of bear and bobcat hounding.  Nearly 200 humane advocates attended the hearing to show their support for the legislation and their efforts helped pass the bill out of committee. Now we need your help to support this legislation going forward.

California voters have expressed their views against mountain lion hunting in two statewide ballot measures in 1990 and 1996. While mountain lions are protected from the cruelty of hound hunting, other predators are not.  California does not currently prohibit hound hunting of black bear and bobcats — that could soon change.  State Senator Ted Lieu has introduced Senate Bill 1221 which bans hound hunting of bears and bobcats in the state.

Hounding is an inhumane and unsporting practice where trophy hunters use packs of radio-collared dogs to chase down bears and bobcats before the hunter shoots the terrified animal off a tree branch. It also leads to dog welfare problems and a drain on animal sheltering resources.

TAKE ACTION The bill cleared an important hurdle on April 24, when it passed the Senate Natural Resources Committee thanks to the efforts of our supporters. Now the California State Assembly is considering the bill and your assembly member is a key vote on this important issue. Please make a brief, polite phone call to your state assembly member asking for support for Senate Bill 1221 to ban the inhumane and unsporting practice of bear and bobcat hounding. Look up your legislators’ phone numbers.

After you make your calls, click here to take action and send a brief, polite follow up to your state senator. Elected officials receive a lot of email. Please be sure to edit your message so it stands out.

Facts:

  • Fourteen states—including Montana, Colorado, Washington, Pennsylvania and Oregon—allow bear hunting but prohibit hounding. Montana’s wildlife management officials consider prohibiting hounding a feature of the state’s “fair chase” principles.
  • Dogs can be struck by vehicles, die from dehydration or as a result of violent confrontations with wildlife, and many are abandoned, which puts a strain on local animal shelters.
  • Bears are very poor distance runners and may tire and be overtaken by the dog pack. In bobcat hounding, the bobcat may stop and attempt to confront the dog pack leading to possible injury and death from the conflict for both the dogs and bobcat.
  • S.B. 1221 is co-authored by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-6, Sens. Mark Leno, D-3, and Leland Yee, D-8, and Assemblymembers Toni Atkins, D-76, Bob Blumenfield, D-40, Mike Eng, D-49, Paul Fong, D-22, Anthony Portantino, D-44, Jose Solorio, D-69, and Das Williams, D-35.
  • Senate Members voting in favor of S.B. 1221 were Elaine Alquist, D-13, Ron Calderon, D-30, Ellen Corbett, D-10, Kevin De Leon, D-22, Mark DeSaulnier, D-7, Bill Emmerson, R-37, Loni Hancock, D-9, Ed Hernandez, D-24, Christine Kehoe, D-39, Mark Leno, D-3, Ted Lieu, D-28, Carol Liu, D – 21, Alan Lowenthal, D-27, Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-32, Alex Padilla, D-20, Fran Pavley, D-23, Curren Price, D-26, Joe Simitian, D-11, Darrell Steinberg, D-6, Tony Strickland, R-19, Juan Vargas, D-40, and Leland Yee, D-8.
  • Senate Members voting against S.B. 1221 were Joel Anderson, R-36, Tom Berryhill, R-14, Sam Blakeslee, R-15, Anthony Cannella, R-12, Bob Dutton, R-31, Noreen Evans, D-2, Jean Fuller, R-18, Ted Gaines, R-1, Bob Huff, R-29, Doug LaMalfa, R-4, Michael Rubio, D-16, Mimi Walters, R-33, Lois Wolk, D-5, Roderick Wright, D-25, and Mark Wyland, R-38.
  • Senate Members absent or not voting were Lou Correa, D-34, Tom Harman, R-35, and Sharon Runner, R-17.
  • Thousands of Californians including wildlife advocates, ranchers, hunters and landowners have written or called in support of S.B. 1221, as have dozens of animal protection, wildlife rehabilitation and animal sheltering organizations including The HSUS, Sierra Club California, ASPCA, State Humane Association of California, the Bear League, and Wildcare.

EPIC Joins Lawsuit Challenging Caltrans Willits By-Pass Project

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012
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Lawsuit Challenges Four-lane Willits Bypass Freeway That Would Destroy Wetlands, Salmon, Rare Plants

EPIC joined with Willits Environmental Center, Redwood Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, to file a lawsuit in federal court today challenging the approvals and environmental review for the Willits Bypass, a proposed four-lane freeway around the community of Willits, in Mendocino County, that would hurt wetlands, salmon-bearing streams and endangered plants.

“Bulldozing a freeway the size of Interstate 5 through precious wetlands would be wasteful and destructive — a four-lane road is just not needed for the traffic volumes through Willits on Highway 101,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“This is a wake-up call for Caltrans, which should be building efficient public transit and maintaining existing roads, rather than wasting our money and resources clinging to outdated visions of new freeways,” said Ellen Drell, board member of the Willits Environmental Center. “Global climate change, threatened ecosystems and the end of cheap oil are warning signs that we need to change course. The change needs to happen in every community, including here in Willits.”

For decades, Caltrans and the Federal Highway Administration have pursued a bypass on Highway 101 around Willits to ease traffic congestion. The agencies insist on a four-lane freeway and refuse to consider or analyze equally effective two-lane alternatives or in-town solutions. The current project is a six-mile, four-lane freeway bypass, including several bridges over creeks and local roads, a viaduct spanning the regulatory floodway and two interchanges. Construction would damage wildlife habitat and biological resources in Little Lake Valley, including nearly 100 acres of wetlands, and would require the largest wetlands fill permit in Northern California in the past 50 years. It would also affect stream and riparian habitat for chinook and coho salmon and steelhead trout in three streams converging into Outlet Creek, harm state-protected endangered plants (Baker’s meadowfoam) and destroy oak woodlands.

“In a time of devastating budget cuts to health, education, social services and the state park system, Caltrans proposes to spend nearly $200 million on an unnecessary project that will seriously degrade the headwaters of the Eel River,” said Gary Graham Hughes, executive director at EPIC. “This project is completely out of touch with the needs of the natural and human communities on the North Coast.”

“For three decades the Sierra Cub has promoted responsible transportation planning in Mendocino County, but requests to consider a two-lane alternative have been ignored by Caltrans,” said Mary Walsh with the Redwood Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We’re proud to challenge this wasteful and destructive highway project.”

The lawsuit is against Caltrans, the Federal Highway Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for violations of the National Environmental Policy Act and Clean Water Act. It seeks a court order requiring the agencies to prepare a supplemental “environmental impact statement” that considers two-lane alternatives and addresses substantial design changes and new information about traffic volumes and environmental impacts.

Background

For more than half a century, Caltrans has promoted turning Highway 101 into a four-lane freeway from San Diego to the Oregon border, with a four-lane freeway bypass around Willits. Caltrans first discussed potential bypass designs and routes through Willits in 1988, but by 1995 had unilaterally discarded all non-freeway or two-lane alternatives. An environmental review for a four-lane freeway was finalized in 2006.

The California Transportation Commission, the state funding authority, has repeatedly refused to fund a four-lane freeway, so Caltrans proposes to proceed in “phases,” grading for four lanes and constructing two lanes with available funds, then allegedly constructing two additional lanes when additional funding becomes available, a dubious prospect. Yet Caltrans and the Federal Highway Administration did not draft a supplemental “environmental impact statement” to look at impacts of this changed design or consider two-lane alternatives.

A 1998 Caltrans study found that 70 percent to 80 percent of traffic causing congestion in downtown Willits was local, and Caltrans internally conceded that the volume of traffic projected to use the bypass was not enough to warrant a four-lane freeway. Agency data showed the volume of traffic that would use the bypass did not increase from 1992 to 2005. New information shows actual traffic volumes are below what the agencies projected when they determined only a four-lane freeway will provide the desired level of service, and that a two-lane bypass will provide a better level of service than projected.

Phase I of the project will discharge fill into more than 86 acres of wetlands and federal jurisdiction waters. Caltrans purchased approximately 2,000 acres of ranchland in Little Lake Valley to “mitigate” for loss of wetlands, but the properties already had established existing wetlands, with no ability for Caltrans to “create” new wetlands. To obtain the required wetlands fill permit under the Clean Water Act, the state and federal agencies submitted a significantly deficient “mitigation and monitoring plan” to the Army Corps to “enhance” wetlands. This plan itself alters existing wetlands and causes significant new impacts to wetlands, endangered species and grazing lands, and makes design changes that were not analyzed or disclosed in the 2006 environmental review. The Corps improperly issued the permit in February 2012.

The Willits Bypass is the latest in a series of controversial, environmentally damaging, expensive and unnecessary highway projects Caltrans is pursuing while refusing to consider alternatives and ignoring public opposition. Last month, a federal court ordered Caltrans to redo critical aspects of its environmental analysis for a project to widen and realign Highway 101 to promote large-truck travel through the ancient redwoods of Richardson Grove State Park. Caltrans is also proposing a project on Highway 197/199 in Del Norte County that would fell protected ancient redwoods and threaten the pristine Smith River. In January, Caltrans was forced by a lawsuit to rescind project approval and cancel construction of the first phase of an $80 million highway widening “safety” project in Niles Canyon, Alameda County, that Caltrans now admits is not needed.

Click here to view the Complaint