Archive for September, 2013

EPIC Opposes Shasta Dam Expansion

Monday, September 30th, 2013
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Shasta DamFreshwater ecosystems are the most endangered ecosystem type on the planet, and a growing body of science has determined that dams are one of the largest threats to these ecosystems, and the human communities that depend on them.  The proposal to enlarge the Shasta dam goes against the best available science relating to conservation of the freshwater river ecosystems the proposed project would affect.

Expanding the Shasta Dam would result in flooding fish habitat in several rivers including the McCloud, Sacramento and Pit Rivers.  The McCloud would loose its eligibility to be listed as a Federal Wild and Scenic River if the project goes forward.  Additionally, most of the remaining sacred native American sites on the McCloud River belonging to the Winnemem Wintu tribe would be destroyed.  These sites are of significant cultural value to the already displaced tribe, which has already lost 90 percent  of their lands when the Shasta Dam was initially constructed.

The Bureau of Reclamation is not providing the public with information that describes how the Shasta Dam raising project is related to other statewide water infrastructure projects that are connected with the intention of sending water from Northern California to Southern California.  Of particular concern is the proposal by California Governor Jerry Brown and the State of California, along with the Bureau of Reclamation, to build the Twin Tunnels Project that would construct two large tunnels in order to divert large amounts of water to supply corporate agricultural farms and fracking operations in the Southern region of the state, at the expense of California taxpayers.  The National Environmental Policy Act requires that cumulative impacts from the related projects should be evaluated, considered and disclosed to the general public.  The current Draft Environmental Impact Statement does not reflect this mandatory process and is therefore inadequate.

This costly, unnecessary development would cause more environmental, cultural and economic problems than it would solve, benefiting a few farmers and power companies at the cost of California taxpayers, Northern California residents, indigenous communities and the environment on which they depend.  EPIC is committed to upholding environmental standards and will continue to publicly support community based efforts stop the ill-conceived Shasta Dam expansion.

Click here to read EPIC’s comments on the Shasta Lake Water Resources Investigation EIS.


Caltrans Fails to Follow Court Order, Provides Inadequate Richardson Grove Documentation

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013
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Photo by Jeff MusgraveOn Friday Sept 20, 2013, Caltrans published on their Richardson Grove Operational Improvement Project webpage new documentation for the project. On Monday Sept 23, 2013, the agency distributed a press release announcing the new documentation and the already opened public comment period. This new documentation is ostensibly in response to the April 2012 federal court order in which Caltrans was found to have been “arbitrary and capricious” in their use of “faulty data” in the environmental review documentation for the project. Caltrans has framed this new documentation as a “supplement” to the Final Environmental Assessment. Public comment on the new documentation will be received until October 21, 2013.

“Though we are still fully examining this new documentation to literally get to the root issues of how Caltrans is ignoring the substance of what the court told the agency to do in the April 2012 decision, we can immediately recognize on several fronts how Caltrans is still failing to abide by the law and provide adequate environmental review for this project that they are proposing in an extremely rare and sensitive environment,” said Gary Graham Hughes, executive director with the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC). “This irresponsibility on the part of Caltrans is a clear example of government waste,” continued Hughes, “as the inadequate project review and the failure to consider alternatives will ultimately only extend this stalemate, keeping community supported transportation and state park protection solutions out of reach.”

Amongst the deficiencies in the new documentation is the failure of the agency to act upon the order of the court stating that “(I)n its revised EA (or EIS), Caltrans should give serious consideration to the other significant arguments made by plaintiffs in their motion.” The new supplement to the environmental documentation completely fails to look at the cumulative impacts of facilitating STAA oversize truck access to North Coast communities, as well as other serious issues described in previous litigation. As EPIC has just this week filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the Caltrans Hwy 197/199 STAA oversize truck project on the Smith River in Del Norte County, it is clear that Caltrans is developing large truck highway infrastructure to provide for an alternate route for Interstate 5 truck traffic down the North Coast of California on Highway 101. The cumulative impacts of increased oversize truck traffic merit analysis, yet Caltrans has refused to be forthright with North Coast residents about the direct impacts of their highway development projects on specific sensitive environments, much less been willing to engage the public on considering and understanding the cumulative impacts of increased oversize truck traffic on our regions highways and on the streets of our communities.

EPIC will continue to examine the new documentation for the Caltrans Richardson Grove project closely, and the organization will follow up in early October 2013 with an online action and technical analysis related to this documentation. It is part of the mission of the organization to provide opportunities for public comment on natural resource management issues of importance to our local communities, and to people all across the state, the nation, and the planet. The public comment deadline is October 21. The documents for the project are available at the Eureka and Garberville Branches of the Humboldt County Library, as well as online. However, to secure a paper copy of the supplement from Caltrans one has to be prepared to pay $40 to purchase the materials. Some stakeholders are already submitting comments to RichardsonGroveImprovement@dot.ca.gov to request an extension in the comment period in order that the public have sufficient opportunity to review and assess these documents and thereafter provide meaningful input.

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Lawsuit Filed to Protect Wild and Scenic Smith River From Destructive Caltrans Highway-widening Project

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013
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Smith River NRA

Smith River NRA
Photo Credit: Amber Shelton

CRESCENT CITY, Calif.— Conservation groups filed a federal lawsuit yesterday challenging a California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) highway-widening project that threatens endangered salmon runs, ancient redwoods and public safety along the wild and scenic Smith River Canyon in California’s remote Del Norte County. Caltrans approved a project to widen narrow sections of Highways 197 and 199 to provide access for oversized trucks without adequate review of the impacts. The groups had filed suit in state court in May for inadequate environmental review under state laws.

“Caltrans would have us believe allowing oversize trucks to drive faster through the tight Smith River canyon will make this scenic highway safer, yet it will do the opposite,” said Don Gillespie with Friends of Del Norte. “We are challenging this project to protect motorist safety and defend our treasured Smith River.”

Friends of Del Norte, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) are challenging the $26 million “197/199 Safe STAA Access Project.” It would increase unsafe heavy and oversized truck use on narrow roadways along the designated “wild and scenic” Smith River Canyon, increasing the likelihood of deadly accidents and toxic spills, especially during dangerous winter conditions. The project would harm old-growth trees and habitat for protected salmon runs, as well as harm tourism and local residents.

“The Smith River is one of California’s natural wonders and the last major undammed river in California,” said Gary Graham Hughes, executive director of EPIC. “At a time when our river systems are under incredible stress, the Smith River is an oasis for humans and fish alike. The river corridor and coho spawning grounds deserve full protection from unnecessary and destructive highway development.”

“Caltrans is trying to sacrifice the pristine and ecologically important Smith River for its ill-advised network of routes for oversized trucks through coastal Northwestern California,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This type of major roadwork is inappropriate along these narrow, rural roads and critical salmon habitat.”

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires public evaluation and disclosure of environmental impacts, consideration of reasonable alternatives with less damaging impacts, and development of mitigation measures to minimize environmental harm. Caltrans’ approval of the project violates several federal laws, including NEPA, the Magnuson-Stevens Act protecting “essential fish habitat,” the Wild and Scenic River Act and the Department of Transportation Act. The lawsuit also charges the National Marine Fisheries Service with failing to determine whether the project will jeopardize protected coho salmon and green sturgeon, in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

Caltrans failed to properly evaluate threats to salmon habitat and water quality along the Smith River and safety hazards from increased truck traffic. Caltrans refused to consider alternatives besides highway widening and adopted unsubstantiated findings about impacts and mitigation measures. The agency avoided looking at the cumulative impacts of numerous associated Caltrans highway-widening projects in Northern California for oversized truck access.

Background

Highway 199 is a scenic byway along the Smith River canyon, through the Six Rivers National Forest and the Smith River National Recreation Area. It provides access to Redwood National and State Parks, one of only two UNESCO World Heritage sites in California, and the Smith River — the only undammed river in California, with the longest stretch of designated “wild and scenic” river in the lower 48. A 1989 Caltrans report acknowledged the physical constraints of the narrow, steep and rocky Smith River Canyon and concluded that environmental concerns make Highway 199 “a poor candidate for extensive upgrading.”

Highway 197 is a 5-mile long, two-lane country road that runs north to south along the lower Smith River, and just east of Crescent City. It is a rural-residential route with 72 driveways directly entering onto the road. In order to avoid Jedediah Smith State Park at the western edge of the project, oversized trucks would divert off Highway 199 and travel along Highway 197 to the north of Crescent City to reach Highway 101.

This project would facilitate a growth in truck traffic that will degrade the safety and quality of life of residents. Routing oversized trucks to these roadways during winter, when Interstate 5 can be closed by snow and ice, will pose significant threats to motorist and bicyclist safety. Caltrans is ignoring its own safety guidelines for the project and did not adequately assess these impacts in the environmental documentation.

A statewide coalition of conservation organizations is challenging irresponsible and damaging highway-widening projects around the state by Caltrans, and calling attention to the agency’s pervasive refusal to consider reasonable alternatives to massive highway projects, shoddy environmental review, lack of transparency, reliance on flawed data and disregard for public input. On the North Coast of California EPIC works to Rein in Caltrans, and supports the statewide Caltrans Watch coalition, which aims to put the brakes on Caltrans’ wasteful spending, institutionalized disregard of environmental regulations designed to protect natural resources, and pattern of refusal to address local concerns.

The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys Stuart Gross and Sharon Duggan, and the nationally recognized firm of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy.

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EPIC Caltrans Smith River PR FINAL


Howl for the Wolves at October 2nd Federal Hearing in Sacramento

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013
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Wolf Donate ButtonWolf advocates will soon have an opportunity to speak out on behalf of wolves! One of three hearings to be held in the Western States on the federal government’s proposal to withdraw Endangered Species Act protection for the gray wolf will be held in Sacramento. In June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed removing the gray wolf from the endangered species list in 42 states, including California and Oregon. The wolves need your voice! Don’t let an iconic symbol of the North American wild and our shared natural heritage be silenced forever.

The California hearing will be held Wednesday, October 2nd from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Clarion Inn, Martinique Ball Room, 1401 Arden Way, in Sacramento.

Our best chance to stop this reckless delisting plan from going through will be by showing up in droves at these public hearings and speaking out on behalf of wolves! Even if you would prefer not to testify, your presence will make a huge difference and will show how strongly we support wolves!

Join us as we gather before the hearing to learn about the delisting proposals, rally with fellow supporters, and get tips on how to testify. Then we’ll head to the hearing together and ensure that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service hears our voices loud and clear!

Pre-hearing event starts at 3:30 pm at the Clarion Inn, Comstock Room.

Wear a gray-colored shirt to show you’re a pro-wolf supporter!

EPIC is proud to be co-sponsoring the pre-hearing training and rally with Defenders of Wildlife & Center for Biological Diversity.

We need your help to support our continued efforts to protect wolves and other wildlife of Northwest California. Please donate today.

Since de-listing of the wolf was announced, EPIC has engaged with more than 2,000 citizen advocates asking Secretary of the Interior Jewell and President Obama to protect our American gray wolf for future generations.

Early in 2012 EPIC petitioned with partners to list the wolf under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). As of October 2012, the Gray Wolf was designated as a “candidate species,” which garners full protections under CESA, and requires the state to do a full status review of the species.

EPIC is currently involved with the statewide stakeholder group working on a California Recovery Plan for the Wolf.

At EPIC, we advocate for wolves and prepare for their return by defending our national forests and wild areas, and by advocating for grazing reform to help native species such as Elk who are forced to compete with cattle on our public lands. EPIC will continue to participate in the statewide recovery plan and will keep our members and supporters aware of those efforts.

See you in Sacramento on October 2nd! And please consider making a donation today to support EPIC efforts to protect the iconic wildlife of North America.


Logging Industry Loses Latest Attack on Threatened Seabird

Thursday, September 5th, 2013
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MAMU_AlaskaFWSMarbled murrelets, a unique coastal bird, and their old-growth forest habitat will remain protected

A federal district court today maintained conservation protections for rare marbled murrelets, a unique coastal bird in the Pacific Northwest. The court rejected the remaining claims in a timber industry lawsuit that sought to expand logging of the seabird’s old-growth forest nesting habitat. The lawsuit was the timber industry’s fourth attempt in the past decade to eliminate protections for the old-growth forests that marbled murrelets call home, despite undisputed scientific evidence that murrelets are continuing to disappear from the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California.

“It is time for logging interests to move on. Science, law, and public opinion do not support their demand to log the old-growth forests that marbled murrelets call home,” said Kristen Boyles, staff attorney with Earthjustice.

The marbled murrelet is a shy, robin-sized seabird that feeds at sea but nests only in old-growth forests along the Pacific Coast. Murrelets don’t build nests, instead laying their single egg on natural, moss-covered platforms where large branches join the tree trunks of old growth Douglas fir, sitka spruce, western hemlock, and redwood trees. In 1992, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protected marbled murrelets in Washington, Oregon, and California as a threatened species due to logging of coastal old-growth forests. The timber industry has repeatedly set its sights on the small seabird in order to increase logging of some of the last remaining mature and old-growth forests.

“Today’s decision ends a dark chapter in the effort to ensure the survival of the highly endangered marbled murrelet,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Now we can move forward with recovering these unique seabirds.”

The district court rejected logging industry claims that murrelets in central California could not be considered part of the protected population. The court also refused to eliminate murrelet critical habitat protections during a three-year period when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will re-examine its 1996 critical habitat designation.

“The marbled murrelet is most endangered at the southern extent of its range,” said Gary Graham Hughes, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center. “The court’s decision keeps the murrelet protected down here in the redwood temperate rainforest.”

“There is strong scientific consensus that without old-growth forest protection, murrelets will disappear from our coast,” added Dave Werntz, science and conservation director with Conservation Northwest.

“It’s time to stop fighting over who will get to log the last of our old-growth, and focus on science-based management of our forests that improves habitat for wildlife, protects clean water, and safeguards the scenic beauty, outdoor recreation, and quality of life that drives Oregon’s modern economy,” said Steve Pedery, Conservation Director for Oregon Wild.

Earthjustice, Audubon Society of Portland, Seattle Audubon Society, Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Environmental Protection Information Center, Oregon Wild, and Sierra Club intervened in the lawsuit to defend the murrelet listing and critical habitat.

More information about the murrelet and its habitat, including audio recordings, can be found at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Marbled_Murrelet/sounds

EPIC Press Release

Final Order

Memorandum of Opinion

 


Unsustainable Cannabis Agriculture Practices Must Come to an End

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013
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x8bc240c1e4f6833428931f0180deb17f.jpg.pagespeed.ic.LNAV32JBmQAn undeniable point of fact is that industrial cannabis agriculture is having an increasingly quantifiable affect on local and global environments. EPIC is committed to contributing to a level headed engagement on this complex and important human economic activity on the North Coast, with the goal of contributing to the design and implementation of solutions that respect civil liberties as well as protect human and natural communities from the environmental degradation that can be associated with industrial grows. EPIC is engaging on this issue under the fundamental premise that the development of policy regarding marijuana on both a national and local level must take environmental ramifications into consideration in order that a sane, healthy, and ecologically sustainable marijuana agriculture paradigm be established. As a part of this effort, the following letter from EPIC was published this week in the Southern Humboldt and Northern Mendocino weekly newspapers.

To the Editor:

This letter is intended to serve as a public statement about marijuana agriculture in Northern California on behalf of EPIC -the Environmental Protection Information Center. Our organization wants to be clear about unsustainable and destructive practices associated with the marijuana industry. Cannabis obviously has the potential to contribute in a positive way to a viable and diversified local economy that does not degrade the natural qualities and authentic rural culture of our bioregion. Due to the egregious behavior of an increasing number of irresponsible cannabis growers, the positive potential of this industry is being squandered.

Based upon the information we have seen in media reports, the enforcement actions on Tuesday, Aug. 27 on Mattole Canyon Creek near Ettersburg exemplified the position of several conservation groups in our area that authorities must focus their marijuana enforcement actions on those operations that result in environmental crimes such as this one. The scale of the operation and the audacity of the water withdrawal, a result of what seems to be an absence of winter water storage, is very worrisome, in that it must be only one example of environmentally degrading operations under way in watersheds around the region. The apparent absolute abuse of scarce water resources is the type of practice that merits legal and media attention. Clearly, pumping water directly from a watercourse at this date, and in these unprecedented dry climatological conditions, is to cause serious harm to aquatic systems, including a variety of endangered species. This is completely unsustainable, and is a violation of the most basic fundaments of a stewardship based land ethic.

Responsible economic activity is a cornerstone to protecting our environment. For instance, EPIC has never been an organization that was opposed to logging per se. EPIC has always advocated for the establishment of a wood products industry that treats the landscape with care, that protects irreplaceable native ecosystems, and that democratizes economic opportunity. We advocate in the same vein around cannabis agriculture: unsustainable practices must come to an end, and responsible operations that promote the restoration of our watersheds must become the norm. EPIC hopes that a frank and open debate will arise of enforcement actions such as those carried out on Mattole Canyon Creek last week, in order that our community responds in an integrated and responsible manner to these behaviors that are putting our environment, our economy, and our future generations at risk.