Archive for July, 2012

State Parks Director Resigns Amidst Finance Scandal

Monday, July 23rd, 2012
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Over the past week, the Sacramento Bee has unearthed a trove of evidence that has revealed that officials at the California State Parks administration have been sitting on “hidden assets” that are worth at least $54 million. This breaking story, set with a backdrop of more than a year’s worth of desperate community scrambling to respond to the threat of park closures, as well as a park’s maintenance backlog of more than $1 billion, has resulted in the immediate shakeup of State Parks management. Last Friday, July 20, Ms. Ruth Coleman, who had served as director of California State Parks since 1999, offered her letter of resignation to Governor Brown. The Governor immediately accepted the letter, making Ms. Coleman’s resignation immediate.

For the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) this news confirms what we have long contended–that Ms. Coleman offered highly questionable and less than competent leadership for the globally valuable California State Parks System. In several instances during 2011, EPIC specifically requested her removal and replacement in letters to Governor Brown. The concerns that we have raised have been related to management shenanigans at Tolowa Dunes State Park, where Ms. Coleman made backhanded attempts to facilitate illegal hunting near Lake Earl, as well as largely turning a blind eye to inappropriate off-road vehicle (OHV) use, and illegal grazing permits. Last year, and only due to the threat of imminent litigation, EPIC was able to leverage State Parks management to end the illegal grazing permits at Tolowa Dunes.

During the spring and summer of 2011, as more information became available concerning the creation of a list of 70 state parks to be closed due to budget problems within the State Park System, EPIC was amongst the first to question the legality of the closures, and the process by which those closure decisions were made. EPIC has also questioned the manner in which State Parks has been largely silent on the Richardson Grove issue, failing to effectively act upon the Caltrans project planning process, essentially acquiescing before the highway construction behemoth. Our organization has also vocally questioned the failure of State Parks to fulfill the promise of the Headwaters Deal that was intended to acquire lands contiguous with the two separate parcels of Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park and expand the park to refortify the protected area network for the redwood ecosystem. Ms. Coleman was director of California State Parks for nearly the entire period of time that has passed since the Headwaters Deal was signed. These issues, and more, have lead EPIC over time to question her leadership, and ultimately to request a change in the directorship. We are truly disappointed that the change in leadership had to occur in these circumstances.

Our organization stands behind the demand of State Senator Noreen Evans that every department and division in the state government be audited. We support robust and well-funded public agencies dedicated to the stewardship of our public trust resources, and we insist that transparency and accountability be the foundations upon which these agencies fulfill their duties. We hope that this development is a wake up call to decision makers in Sacramento, including Governor Brown, to recognize that their lackadaisical attitude regarding citizen group concerns about the management of our state agencies only results in scandal and harm to our natural and human communities. In the meantime, the stewardship crisis in our state parks continues unabated, while public faith in the institution charged with their protection is eroded, only promising a devaluing of the protected places themselves in the public’s eye. The vicious down trending circle of Ms. Coleman’s poor leadership has been greatly exacerbated by the scandal. It will require the ongoing advocacy of EPIC and our broad community of supporters to continue to support our parks as globally treasured jewels that we must protect for the future generations.


SPI Gets Off Cheap

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012
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2007 Moonlight Fire, Plumas National Forest

Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI), the largest landowner in the state of California settled a lawsuit for negligently causing a fire in 2007 that burned over 65,000 acres, including public lands in the Plumas National Forest.  The Moonlight Fire started on Labor Day, September 3, 2007, near Westwood in Lassen County.  According to the authorities, SPI’s contractor caused the fire as result of negligent logging operations on SPI’s lands southeast of Mountain Meadows Reservoir.  More than 3,000 firefighters and over $22.5 million was spent on fighting the fire.  Over 500 homes were threatened by the Moonlight Fire and at least 100 residences were evacuated.  Many old-growth trees on national forest lands were lost.  The case was brought by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Sacramento for damages to the Plumas National Forest that extended from firefighting costs, restoration costs and the value of ecosystem services lost. The case was set to go to trail this month.

It is clear that SPI got off cheap.  The U.S. Attorneys were seeking compensation in excess of $700 million, and SPI will get out of it for roughly one-sixth of that amount, a good deal by any measure.  As part of the $122.5 million settlement, SPI will transfer 22,500 acres of land to the U.S. Forest Service.  In addition, and probably more important, SPI will avoid the negative publicity and attention of a contentious public trial.  SPI succeeded in keeping it all behind the scenes.  Based on the Court’s preliminary rulings, the U.S. Attorney had SPI dead to rights on negligence and liability for damages.  Unfortunately, the public has been denied the right to know how and why SPI’s operations caused and probably exacerbated the fire’s impact on our public forests.

Rather than stand trial for their negligent acts, SPI has repeatedly attempted to change the rules in their favor.  Indeed, one likely factor leading to the settlement was the concern over a high profile federal trial.  Instead of risking the negative publicity of a trial, SPI chose settlement so that the matter could be disposed of out of the public’s eye.  In the meantime, SPI continues to pressure the Governor and the California Legislature to change the law.  There is absolutely no reason for this change in law, it is simply a giveaway and certainly counter to the public interest.

The larger issue surrounding this controversy is not simply about who caused the fire, but how SPI’s land management activities contributed to higher severity fire.  SPI engages in very intensive clearcutting and even-aged management resulting in a sea of young, dense tree plantations across 2 million acres in California.  The best available science shows that these dense tree plantations are prone to higher severity fire than comparable natural forests with older trees and greater ecological complexity.  A recent study by the U.S. Forest Service (Miller et al 2012) clearly indicates that these tree plantations are prone to high severity, stand replacing fires.  This contrasts sharply with low and moderate severity fire behavior generally displayed within natural forests on public lands with older trees and complex structure.

Beyond causing the spark that started the fire to begin with, SPI should be held liable for creating forest conditions on their lands that fuel higher severity fires than would occur naturally.  Therefore, EPIC is disappointed that this settlement will allow SPI to avoid accountability for their forestry practices.

As the land transfer terms of the settlement are implemented, we urge the Forest Service to acquire high quality forest lands, and not settle for SPI clearcuts.  EPIC is very skeptical about which lands will be offered up by SPI.  We fully expect SPI to offer cut-over lands with very little ecological value and probably in need of expensive restoration efforts.  We urge the Forest Service to reject SPI’s clearcuts, and demand the transfer of high quality lands containing older forests.

EPIC is committed to holding SPI accountable to the law, even when the government chooses another path.  This is abundantly clear in EPIC’s Northern Spotted Owl Self-Defense Campaign, where we’re moving forward with an initiative to hail SPI into court for illegally harming Spotted Owls in violation of the Endangered Species Act.  Read more about EPIC’s work to defend the Spotted Owl from damaging SPI clearcutting.

 


EPIC Continues to Hold Caltrans Accountable to the Law

Thursday, July 12th, 2012
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Photograph copyrighted 2010 Jack Gescheidt, TreeSpiritProject.com

The legal proceedings for Richardson Grove continue, this time with a State Court decision, which appears to agree with Caltrans.  However, there has yet to be a final decision on the merits of the case.

Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Dale Reinholtsen handed down a 30-page order that found that Caltrans made “no violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) at this time.” The judge said that there is substantial evidence to show that the project will have no significant effect on ancient redwoods in the park, and ruled against all, but possibly one count brought by EPIC and fellow petitioners.  A violation may be found if Caltrans has not adopted a “reporting or monitoring program” that is “designed to ensure compliance during project implementation.”

“It is disappointing that the State Court did not find the legal errors that we believe are well documented, said Natalynne DeLapp, EPIC spokesperson. “However, we are thankful that the federal judge found that Caltrans was in the wrong when they based their findings of no significant impact on ‘false data’ and ordered them to go back and redo critical aspects of their analysis, including surveying and describing the environmental issues to each and everyone of more than 70 old growth redwood trees in the project area. This firm ruling on the part of the federal court still stands, and there is nothing in the state court ruling that can or will change that fact.”

At this time, the federal injunction remains in effect, which prevents Caltrans from beginning work on the project, pending the resubmission of the new maps and analysis to the judge in order that the federal case can proceed.

Since 2007, EPIC and our allies have held Caltrans accountable to the law. Initially Caltrans was only going to do the bare minimum of environmental analysis for the Richardson Grove ‘Improvement’ Project—a Categorical Exemption, which is reserved for projects that do not have a significant impact on the environment.  Had EPIC not intervened on behalf of the Grove, it is likely the project would likely have already been built, with very little environmental analysis, and zero public input.

“Win or lose, EPIC has done its job,” said DeLapp. “We have held Caltrans accountable to the law and the people. With regards to the State Case, now there is a court ordered mandate that will make Caltrans fully comply with environmental law—if the project is actually implemented. ”


Take Action – Demand More Water for the Trinity River

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012
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Take Action Now!  As river levels continue to drop in the Klamath and Trinity River watersheds and temperatures rise, we may be looking at a repeat of lethal river conditions similar to those that killed tens of thousands of salmon in 2002.  After multiple requests from river advocates and Tribes, the Bureau of Reclamation has proposed to supplement flows in the Lower Klamath River with water from Trinity Reservoir to help protect returning adult salmon from a disease outbreak and mortality during late-summer 2012.  However, these flows are not guaranteed, so the Bureau needs to hear from you.

Click here to take action!

Or email comments by close of business Friday, July 27, 2012, to Don Reck at dreck@usbr.gov.

Comments may also be mailed to:

Don Reck at Bureau of Reclamation, Northern California Area Office, 16349 Shasta Dam Blvd., Shasta Lake, CA 96019, or faxed to 530-276-2005.

The Bureau’s Environmental Documents are available at: http://www.usbr.gov/mp/nepa/nepa_projdetails.cfm?Project_ID=10230


Navy Training Poses Grave Threat to Marine Mammals

Monday, July 9th, 2012
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Photo: 2005  Multispecies stranding North Carolina.
NMFS Southeast Fisheries Science Center

The US Navy is proposing to expand their training operations and increase weapons testing throughout both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, including the use of sonar, underwater detonations, and chemical discharges. These exercises will affect every coastal state. The Navy is expecting 2.3 million “takes” (an act which kills or injures wildlife) per year, which is a total of 11.7 million takes over the course of the five-year permit.  The Environmental Protection Information Center believes that this proposed expansion is unwarranted, and should be stopped.

The Navy’s proposed mitigation measures are to have a visual observer looking out for whales from the ship deck, which the Navy admits is effective only 9 percent of the time. Furthermore, National Marine Sanctuaries and endangered species breeding habitat will not be protected from these perilous activities.  In January, several environmental organizations filed a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service for failing to protect marine mammals and critical biological areas from the Navy’s training activities.

Whales and other marine mammals rely on their hearing for life’s most basic functions, such as navigation, communication, food and mating. The use of sonar and other weapons testing activities disorients them and can result in barotrauma that can cause severe injuries, mass strandings and sometimes death. These facts demonstrate that the US Navy’s proposed protection measures are completely inadequate; the cumulative effects of these activities on threatened and endangered species should be reassessed and mitigated.

EPIC would like to thank those that took the time to speak up for the marine life that would be harmed from the Navy’s proposed warfare testing.  In an effort to halt the proposal, EPIC has gathered about one thousand signed postcards from concerned citizens from Northwest California, and all around the nation, stating their opposition to this proposal. EPIC is forwarding these postcards to U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. We are asking Senator Boxer to hold congressional hearings to stop the unnecessary warfare testing that would harm marine mammals.

The last day to submit public comments to the Navy on the Atlantic and Pacific expansions was July 10, 2012.  The next opportunity to comment on the proposals will be in the fall of 2013.  In the meantime, EPIC and our allies will continue to request congressional hearings to support an override of the Navy’s ill-advised proposal.  Stay tuned for further news about this critical issue.


Uphold the Clean Water Act on the Klamath River

Sunday, July 8th, 2012
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Algae blooms in the reservoir behind the Iron Gate Dam along the Klamath River near Hornbrook (Siskiyou County). Photo: Jeff Barnard, AP / SF

Take Action Now!  Tell The California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to uphold the Clean Water Act and move forward with the 401 certification process for PacificCorp’s Klamath Hydroelectric Project (KHP) at their July 17 meeting.

The Clean Water Act is one our nation’s most important laws. It has been undeniably effective in recovering fresh water resources throughout the nation, and in preventing further degradation of our rivers and streams. The State of California has a responsibility to uphold the law, they must move forward with the 401 certification process for the Klamath Dams.

In 2006 Warren Buffett’s PacifiCorp started the process of obtaining a needed Clean Water Act permit for their dams on the Klamath River. This permit is the last step in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) relicensing process for the Klamath Dams, which only happens every 50 years.

When these dams were originally permitted there were no laws such as the Clean Water Act or Endangered Species Act. Therefore, these antiquated dams have no fish passage, release toxic algae, and warm water to the point that is lethal to salmon. PacifiCorp admits that keeping these toxic dams would cost much more than dam removal. However, every year PacifiCorp avoids compliance with the Clean Water Act while they make millions to the Klamath’s detriment. People familiar with efforts to remove the Klamath Dams know that current timelines associated with the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) could allow PacifiCorp to stall for 8 more years, even though dam removal is currently not mandated by legislation. Furthermore, legislation is not progressing, and the opportunity for California voters to support dedicating public money to dam removal has been dropped from this year’s ballot.

Tell California — PacifiCorp Must be Held Immediately Responsible for their Toxic Klamath Dams.

PacifiCorp has already stalled compliance for over six years by filing and pulling their Clean Water Act certification applications. This permit is known as a 401 certification. The State of California has remained passive about holding PacificCorp accountable to the Clean Water Act. To PacificCorp financial benefit, the FERC process responsible for ensuring adequate water quality in the Klamath River has been held in abeyance. The Klamath River, and the endangered species that depend on clean, cold, and abundant water, cannot continue to suffer from regulatory apathy.

There is no way the state of California can give these dams a 401 certification, as they produce levels of the toxic algae Microcystis aeruginosa up to 3000 times what is considered safe for recreational contact, along with warm water that is lethal to salmon. Dam regulation could lead to dam removal; however, California is stalling this regulation.  Timelines in the KBRA could allow this stalling to continue until 2020, which means PacifiCorp can operate without regulations for fifteen years in addition to the fifty years they operated with immunity.

Support the Clean Water Act and the State of California’s right and responsibility to uphold the law to protect vital public trust resources.

Come out to the California Water Resources Board meeting in Sacramento on July 17, 2012.

Clean Water regulation will aid dam removal on all fronts — 401 processes have to go through public processes which can and will take several years. The Clean Water Act is designed to protect our rivers, protection that the Klamath Salmon desperately need, and application of the law could provide the catalyst that a hostile Congress needs to understand the legislation that lies before them. Therefore, the 401 process moving forward on the PacificCorp dams will not hurt the KBRA. However, if the KBRA, which is very controversial, continues to be stalled in this hostile congress, the eventual 401 permit denial further increases the chances for dam removal under proven public process, the FERC process. The FERC process can get the dams removed without legislation.

Moving to clean up the Klamath is a win-win for all who want the dams removed.

Take Action Now and Tell the State of California to Uphold the Clean Water Act on the Klamath River

Come out to the California Water Resources Board meeting in Sacramento on July 17, 2012 at 9:00 am. There will be a rally the day of the meeting:

State Water Resources Control Board — 1001 I Street, 24th Floor, Sacramento, CA 95814