Archive for December, 2013

Action Alert: PG&E Complicates Climate Emergency on the Eel River

Thursday, December 19th, 2013
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NOAACAPrecip JAN-NOV copyTake Action for Salmon and River Ecosystem Health! The 12-month period from January to December 2013 has been the driest year on record. Watersheds across the North Coast of California are feeling the stress from recent drought, the undeniable onset of local and planetary climate change, and an increasing intensity of human economic activities that rely on the exploitation of scarce water resources. The hydrological conditions in the Eel River are of particular concern to the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), as well as many other stakeholders in the region.

In response to these clearly extreme and dry conditions in the Eel River basin, drastic reductions in flow releases from the Potter Valley Project (PVP) have been requested by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), operator of the PVP, of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency with authority over permitting conditions for the PVP. Late last week, on Thursday, December 12, FERC ordered that the urgent PG&E request would be granted and that PG&E would be allowed to implement the “critical” water year flow releases for the Eel River below Scott Dam and into the East Fork of the Russian River through at least the end of January 2014.

What this means for the Eel River is that minimum flows out of the PVP dams, which would in a “normal” or “dry” year remain above a minimum of 100 cubic feet per second (cfs), are permitted by the federal government to drop as low as 25 cfs, flows which will clearly present serious challenges for recovering salmonid populations in the mainstem and lower sections of the Eel River.

Potter Valley Project on EelEPIC is gravely concerned about the precedent being established by this management decision. Though there are several elements of the justification for this decision that could support a temporary reduction of releases below the agreed upon Reasonable and Prudent Alternative of 100 cfs for this time of year, we are very concerned about the manner in which this decision was made, as well as the ramifications of a severely reduced flow regime on the health of aquatic systems in the Eel River.

Foremost amongst EPIC concerns in regards to this decision is the manner in which public participation is being solicited AFTER the decision has been made. As FERC states in their order granting the flow variance (i.e. severe reductions in flows), “given the historical public interest in the Potter Valley Project and the associated fisheries resources, the general public should be afforded the opportunity to review and comment on a proposal of this nature.” FERC goes on to explain that though the “urgency” of the matter required them to approve the action even as they open a 30-day comment period regarding the flow variance, they would be prepared to integrate public comment into future decisions about any flow deviations deemed necessary beyond January 31, 2014.

Our team at EPIC is sounding the alarm at the precedent that this process is setting as treasured North Coast rivers such the Eel River come under increasing stress from the onset of the local and planetary climate emergency. It is untenable that residents of the Eel River basin, of the North Coast, and of the State of California would not be consulted in a timely manner concerning such drastic changes in the management of flow regimes in the Eel River. Please take action today to request that FERC prioritize the health of the Eel River when authorizing changes in minimum flow standards, and that the public be given the opportunity to participate in a meaningful and well informed manner.

The threats that the dams of the Potter Valley Project present to the health of the Eel River are becoming increasingly evident, as these emergency situations expose the underlying weaknesses of the aging dam infrastructure, out of control sedimentation in the respective reservoirs, and archaic water management vision that is still predicated upon unsustainable water transfers from the Eel River to the Russian River. Tell FERC today that you want the public to have a meaningful voice in the management of our Eel River, and that the health of our river ecosystems must be the number one priority as our society grapples with the impacts of increasing drought and climate change.

To take action follow the steps outlined below:

1. go  to the ferc online page and sign up to make an ecomment: https://ferconline.ferc.gov/QuickComment.aspx

2. wait for them to send an email back to you, and then click on the link in that email

3. fill out the form as necessary, and copy and paste your comment (or the sample comment text below)

4. don’t forget to search for and select docket P-77-266

5. once all of that is in order submit your comment

 

SAMPLE COMMENT:

Mr. T.J. LoVullo,  I am gravely concerned about the recent order granting the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) permission to greatly reduce flows out of the Potter Valley Project (PVP) into the mainstem of the Eel River. The flow variance that has been authorized is a drastic measure that presents clear dangers to returning chinook salmon and other salmonids in the Eel River system. Maintaining aquatic system health is an imperative as our landscapes and watersheds are increasingly stressed by reduced water resources, a changing climate, and the incessant pressures of human economic activity. To take measures that result in significantly reduced flows without having consulted appropriately with local communities is flirting dangerously with an authoritarian decision making style that will result in an erosion of the public trust in the ability of government agencies to manage water resources and energy infrastructure with the best interest of all citizens and our ecosystems in mind. When consulting with stakeholders regarding the authorization of the flow variance PG&E was informed that it is of particular concern that out-of-basin water transfers may be receiving a higher priority than the maintenance of ecosystem health in the Eel River. I thereby request that any future discussion of flow variance insure that priorities by placed on the maintenance and recovery of listed species in the Eel River, in the facilitation of meaningful public participation in decision making, and holistically planning for and pro-actively anticipating the implications of the rapid onset of local and global climate change on our North Coast river systems.

Thank you for considering this message, and I look forward to further engagement on this issue.

Sincerely,


Federal Court Allows Destructive Willits Bypass Project to Move Forward

Thursday, December 19th, 2013
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Willits Rein in Caltrans SlideSAN FRANCISCO— A federal judge ruled today that the California Department of Transportation’s environmental review and permits for the Willits Bypass were adequate and the agency can continue construction of a four-lane freeway around the community of Willits in Mendocino County. The disappointing ruling comes despite the fact that construction has destroyed and damaged sensitive wetlands, the headwaters of salmon-bearing streams, oak woodlands and endangered species habitats.

Earlier this year Caltrans began cutting mature oak forests and clearing riparian vegetation along critical salmon streams in Little Lake Valley, and began extensive draining and filling of wetlands, despite violations and improper issuance of federal and county quarry and fill permits.

“It’s disappointing that the court accepted Caltrans’ inadequate review and flawed rationale for the purpose and need of this project,” said Aruna Prabhala, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We disagree with the determination that the environmental impacts of the Willits Bypass project are not significant – Little Lake Valley is being devastated by the construction. Unfortunately this is just one of the irrational and expensive highway projects Caltrans is pushing throughout the state that will cause extensive environmental damage without solving traffic or safety concerns.”

“This is a painful lesson in how Caltrans operates with impunity to justify building unnecessary and oversized projects,” said Ellen Drell of the Willits Environmental Center. “Caltrans made false claims to permitting agencies and the courts saying that only a four-lane freeway bypass, with two enormous interchanges, would solve the traffic congestion in Willits, when smaller alternatives would have done the job.”

“The irregularities of the review and permitting process for this massive project have undermined the legitimacy of the Willits Bypass project,” said Gary Graham Hughes of EPIC. “It is a disappointment that the court did not hold Caltrans accountable for playing fast and loose with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act, two of our nation’s bedrock environmental laws.”

Conservation groups sued Caltrans and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in May 2012 for violations of the National Environmental Policy Act and Clean Water Act in approving the bypass project. Caltrans refused to consider two-lane alternatives and new information about lower traffic volumes, and failed to conduct adequate environmental review for substantial design changes resulting in more severe environmental impacts. Local residents have protested the destruction, occupied the construction site, chained themselves to equipment and sat in trees to stop the project.

Background

Caltrans and the Federal Highway Administration are pursuing a bypass on Highway 101 around Willits, supposedly to ease traffic congestion. The agencies insist on a four-lane freeway and have refused to consider or analyze equally effective two-lane alternatives or in-town solutions. The project will construct a six-mile, four-lane bypass including several bridges over creeks and roads, a mile-long viaduct spanning the floodplain, and two interchanges.

Although Caltrans documents show that traffic projected to use the bypass is not enough to warrant a four-lane freeway, the agency unilaterally discarded all non-freeway or two-lane alternatives. New information shows that Highway 101 traffic volumes through Willits are below what Caltrans projected when it determined a four-lane freeway was needed. Caltrans has used unrealistic traffic and growth projections in several projects around the state to justify large highway widening projects.

Bypass construction will harm wildlife habitat and biological resources in Little Lake Valley, including more than 80 acres of wetlands and more than 400 acres of farmland, and requires the largest wetlands fill permit in Northern California in the past 50 years. It will damage stream and riparian habitat for chinook and coho salmon and steelhead trout in three streams converging into Outlet Creek, harm the rare plant Baker’s meadowfoam, and destroy increasingly scarce oak woodlands.

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. The Caltrans Watch coalition 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 EPIC Rein in Caltrans campaign is focused specifically on challenging unnecessary and destructive Caltrans projects on the North Coast.

Click here to view EPIC press release.

 


EPIC Staff Squash Timber Industry Shenanigans at Fish and Game Commission

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013
By
Photo by Jeff Muskgrave

Photo by Jeff Musgrave

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That seemed to be the approach of the timber industry before the California Fish and Game Commission in San Diego last week. This time, it was the imperiled Northern Spotted Owl at risk.

At their August 2013 meeting the Fish and Game Commission had accepted a petition filed by EPIC to list the Northern Spotted Owl (NSO) as either “threatened” or “endangered” under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA), and designated the species as a candidate for listing pending a full status review by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Candidate species under CESA are fully protected from “take” unless a project proponent secures an Incidental Take Permit from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), or a Consistency Determination from CDFW for pre-existing federal Habitat Conservation Plans that cover the candidate species.

As you might expect, there’s additional red-tape associated with the owl candidacy becoming official and effective.  First, the Fish and Game Commission must draft and adopt findings for the candidacy decision. It took the Commission until their December 2013 meeting to prepare the findings for adoption, but the Commission ultimately adopted them. Still, there is another hoop. The State Office of Administrative Law must review the findings and assure that they are consistent with the requirements of the state Administrative Procedures Act. Whew!

So, back to the timber industry. Having been thwarted in its attempts to prevent the Commission from designating Northern Spotted Owls as a candidate for listing under CESA and offering the species interim protections under state law, the industry decided to turn its attention to securing regulations that would allow the killing of owls under specified circumstances during the one-year candidacy period. So, the industry, led by the California Forestry Association, filed a petition with the Commission asking for the regulatory body to authorize “incidental take” (i.e. the killing of owls) on an emergency basis. The regulations they proposed to use as “incidental take” regulations? Why none other than the California Forest Practice Rules, which are purportedly designed to avoid “take” (i.e. the killing of owls) as a result of timber operations.

A little over a year and a half ago, the industry had filed a nearly identical petition to allow the killing of then-listing candidate Black-backed woodpeckers on an emergency basis. In the case of the Black-backed woodpecker, the petitioners, Center for Biological Diversity and the John Muir Project, filed suit against the Commission for adopting the petition on an emergency basis. The argument: The industry could not show that an actual “emergency” existed under the definition attributed under California law. Long story short, the Commission declined to defend itself, and agreed to a Stipulated Judgment that set aside the regulations instituted as a result of the emergency petition.

So, back to San Diego last week. The Fish and Game Commission was to consider adopting the industry’s emergency regulations proposal for NSO. EPIC staff made the long trip to San Diego. This, it appeared, was a great surprise to the timber industry. Calforests was not expecting the grassroots and community based EPIC, clearly short of resources for a travel budget, to be at the meeting. At the hearing on the petition, EPIC staff presented the argument that, as with the Black-backed woodpecker, the timber industry could not show an emergency as defined under California law.

The timber industry, lead by the California Forestry Association, Green Diamond, and SPI, all attempted to persuade the Commission to adopt the petition. What’s interesting here is that not one of those that testified for the industry actually used the word “emergency” in the context of their testimony.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the California Forestry Association representative, in the midst of his testimony in favor of the petition, announced that the industry would retract it. The CFA representative also said that the industry would come back with a new more “narrowly focused” petition for the Commission to consider at the February Fish and Game Commission meeting in Sacramento. So, while now twice slain, this beast will rise again, or it appears.

The importance of this development cannot be understated. The timber industry was vying to gain permission under state law to kill Northern Spotted Owls during the candidacy period for the species.  EPIC’s success in this matter means that the full protections of the California Endangered Species Act will be afforded to Northern Spotted Owls, while the Department of Fish and Wildlife conducts its status review and prepares a full status-report for the species.

Northern Spotted Owls face a wide array of threats to their survival and recovery in California. From habitat lost to timber harvest on both private and public lands, to competition from invasive barred owls, to the ingestion of rat-poison laden prey that is the increasingly toxic fallout from egregious cannabis agriculture operations, to adapting to climate change and drought, this species finds itself on the edge. The position of EPIC is that the State of California has a responsibility to offer the protections of state law to this species. EPIC staff will continue to persevere and monitor the ongoing events at the Fish and Game Commission related to Northern Spotted Owl, until a final listing decision is made.


Proposal to Strip Federal Wolf Protections Faces Strong Opposition

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013
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Over 100,000 Pacific West residents urge U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to maintain protections for gray wolves

Wolf_Face_by_Ray_RafitiSEATTLE— Demonstrating Americans’ broad opposition to the Obama administration’s plan to strip Endangered Species Act protections from gray wolves, members of the Pacific Wolf Coalition submitted 101,416 comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today favoring continued wolf protections. The comments on behalf of the coalition’s members and supporters in the Pacific West join 1 million comments collected nationwide expressing Americans’ strong disapproval of the Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to remove federal protections from gray wolves across most of the continental United States.

“The gray wolf is one of the most iconic creatures of the American landscape and wolves play a vital role in America’s wilderness and natural heritage,” said Pamela Flick, California representative of Defenders of Wildlife. “Californians, Oregonians and Washingtonians want to see healthy wolf populations in the Pacific West. In fact, recent polling clearly demonstrates overwhelming support for efforts to restore wolves to suitable habitat in our region. Removing protections would be ignoring the voices of the majority.”

Wolf RallyThe strong support for maintaining wolf protections was apparent in recent weeks as hundreds of wolf advocates and allies turned out for each of five public hearings held nationwide. At the only hearing in the Pacific West, Nov. 22 in Sacramento, Calif., more than 400 wolf supporters demanded the Fish and Wildlife Service finish the job it began 40 years ago.

“Wolves are wide-ranging species that don’t stop at state borders,” said Jasmine Minbashian, with Conservation Northwest. “They need the federal Endangered Species Act’s coordinated, big-picture approach if they are to recover throughout their range.”

Wolves are just starting to return to the Pacific West region, which includes the western two-thirds of Washington, Oregon and California. This area is home to fewer than 20 known wolves with only three confirmed packs existing in the Cascade Range of Washington and a lone wolf (OR-7) that has traveled between eastern Oregon and northern California. Wolves in the Pacific West region migrated from populations in British Columbia and the northern Rockies.

“Wolf recovery has given hope to Americans who value native wildlife, but remains tenuous on the West Coast,” said Rob Klavins, wildlife advocate with Oregon Wild. “Wolves are almost entirely absent in western Oregon, California and Washington. Especially as they are being killed by the hundreds in the northern Rockies, it’s critical that the Obama administration doesn’t strip wolves of basic protections just as recovery in the Pacific West begins to take hold.”

“The current proposal by the Fish and Wildlife Service to prematurely strip wolves of federal protection would limit recovery opportunities for the Pacific West’s already small population of wolves,” said Lauren Richie, director of California wolf recovery for the California Wolf Center. “Scientists have identified more than 145,000 square miles of suitable habitat across the region, including California, where wolves have yet to permanently return.”

“Wolves belong on the California landscape. They are deeply embedded in cultural traditions and as an apex predator provide valuable benefits to our ecosystems,” said Kimberly Baker, Public Land Advocate for the Environmental Protection Information Center. “We need to ensure that wolves are given the protections they deserve so they can recolonize California wilderness areas such as the Marble Mountains, Trinity Alps and backcountry areas around Lassen and Mt. Shasta.”

“It’s a powerful statement when nearly 1 million Americans stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the nation’s top wolf experts in their conviction that gray wolves still need federal protections,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Wolf recovery on the West Coast is in its infancy, and states where protections have been lifted are hunting and trapping wolves to bare bones numbers.”

To promote gray wolf recovery in the Pacific West and combat misinformation, the Pacific Wolf Coalition has launched its new website — www.pacificwolves.org. The site, which offers easy access to factual information and current wolf news, is part of the coalition’s ongoing work to ensure wolf recovery in the West.

“OR-7’s amazing journey shows us that wolves can recover to the Pacific West, if we give them a chance” said Joseph Vaile, executive director of Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center.

“Americans value native wildlife. Spreading the word on what is happening with wolves here and across the country has never been more important. That is why the Pacific Wolf Coalition is using the end of the public comment period as an opportunity to launch our new website,” said Alison Huyett, coordinator of the Pacific Wolf Coalition. “The website will provide the public with current, reliable information on what is happening with wolves and describe how citizens can become involved in protecting this majestic and important animal.”

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The Pacific Wolf Coalition represents 29 wildlife conservation, education and protection organizations in California, Oregon and Washington committed to recovering wolves across the region, and includes the following member groups:

California Wilderness Coalition – California Wolf Center – Cascadia Wildlands – Center for Biological Diversity – Conservation Northwest – Defenders of Wildlife – Endangered Species Coalition – Environmental Protection Information Center – Gifford Pinchot Task Force – Greenfire Productions – Hells Canyon Preservation Council – Humane Society of the U.S. – Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center – Living with Wolves – National Parks Conservation Association – Natural Resources Defense Council – Northeast Oregon Ecosystems – Oregon Sierra Club – Oregon Wild – Predator Defense – Project Coyote – Sierra Club – Sierra Club California – Sierra Club Washington State Chapter – The Larch Company – Western Environmental Law Center – Western Watersheds Project – Wildlands Network – Wolf Haven International


Take Action! Protest Destructive Post-Fire Logging on the Salmon River

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013
By
Photo#1_KellyGulch

Kelly Gulch Hillside- within the Salmon Fire Project

Take Action! The Wild and Scenic (W&S) North Fork Salmon River is threatened with post-fire “salvage” logging. The Salmon/Scott River Ranger District of the Klamath National Forest (NF) is proposing to streamline activities within Inventoried Roadless Areas and riparian reserves, including extensive new road construction over trails and overgrown roads.  Over 60% of the 1,872 acre project area is within Critical Habitat for the threatened Northern Spotted Owl.  The W&S North Fork Salmon River is designated a Key watershed, meaning it is critical for salmon recovery.  The river is also listed under the Clean Water Act as being impaired. This project jeopardizes the wild nature of the North Fork Salmon River and the well-being of the wildlife and communities that depend on it.

Photo#2

“Existing Road”

The Klamath NF deceptively claims that no new temporary roads are needed, however some of the “existing” roadbeds have not been used for decades, have completely grown over and are covered in trees, rocks and landslides. One of these very old unused roads, which is nearly a mile long, is located on a steep and extremely unstable hillside. A great deal of heavy equipment and severe earth moving would be required to make it ready for logging trucks and equipment. Further, when there is a road there is often a need for a landing at the end of the road to accommodate large trucks and heavy equipment.  Landings are bulldozed flats that are 1/2-acre to up to two-acre openings.

Photo#3_LookCloseFlaging

Same “road” look closely for the flagging which indicates location of the road.

Over 300 acres of the project is within larger forest stands.  One of these areas along the Garden Gulch Trail provides high quality Critical Habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl, and is a popular gateway that leads into the Marble Mountain Wilderness.  EPIC and the conservation community have been defending this beautiful forest stand for a decade, first fighting the Meteor Timber Sale, and then recently in opposition to the Little Cronan Timber Sale.  Again, the agency is calling the trail an “existing” road, and now proposes to open the trail, which is adjacent to a creek, to bulldozers, logging trucks and heavy equipment.

Garden Gulch Trail next to the creek and proposed road location

Garden Gulch Trail next to the creek and proposed road location.

This particular forest stand exemplifies high quality mixed conifer habitat and contains hundreds of big older trees, many of which are still very alive and green.  Only very small patches of the forest burned at high severity, which actually contributes to the ecological qualities of this ideal post-fire forest stand.  These trees are providing shade and contributing to a healthy complex forest structure, and they will be providing future nutrients to the soil.  It is all part of a natural process. Bulldozers, trucks, roads and landings do not belong on this trail or in this showcase forest stand.

Southern Boundary next to the Garden Gulch Trail

Southern Boundary next to the Garden Gulch Trail

There are four Northern Spotted Owl (NSO) nest sites (core areas) within the project vicinity.  Recent science shows that the owls benefit from burned forest stands and that post-fire logging has the potential to increase extinction rates, especially when done within core areas.  The NSO species Recovery Plans calls for “conserving and restoring habitat elements that take a long time to develop (e.g., large trees, medium and large snags, downed wood).

In their rush to implement this ecologically damaging project, the agency has sought an Emergency Situation Determination (ESD) from the regional forester.  If the request for an ESD were to be granted it would mean that trees can be cut down as soon as a decision is issued and a contract is signed, despite any appeal or claims brought in court.  Seeking an ESD circumvents judicial review, eliminating the public’s recourse in challenging a poor decision that threatens our public lands, making public participation a mere charade. This project not only threatens the ecological viability of forests on the edge of the Marble Mountain Wilderness, the Klamath National Forest is attempting to undermine democracy.

Take Action Today to Stop the Salmon River Salvage Project! Let the Regional Forester and the Forest Supervisor know that you oppose post-fire logging that results in habitat destruction and road construction in designated Key watersheds like the North Fork Salmon River.

Post-fire landscapes are considered to be one of the most rare, endangered, and ecologically important habitats in the western U.S.  They are rich, vibrant and alive and often provide more biodiversity than green forests.  Read more about the environmental effects of post-fire logging.  Take a walk in Garden Gulch.   See the overgrown unused Kelly Gulch A Spur Road on steep and unstable hillsides proposed for re-construction.  View more photos here.