Archive for January, 2014

EPIC Victory for Richardson Grove

Thursday, January 30th, 2014
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A Victory for Richardson Grove – Appeals Court Rules Caltrans Failed to Consider Highway Project’s Impacts on Old-Growth Redwoods

The California Court of Appeal today ordered Caltrans to reevaluate the environmental impacts of a controversial highway-widening project in Humboldt County that would harm irreplaceable old-growth redwood trees in Richardson Grove State Park. The appeals court unanimously found that Caltrans failed to follow the law in assessing impacts to ancient redwoods and providing mitigation measures to reduce potentially severe harm to the trees. Caltrans’ project—intended to allow bigger trucks to travel Highway 101 through the park—would require excavation, fill, and paving within the fragile root zones of Richardson Grove’s ancient trees.

“This is a victory for Richardson Grove’s ancient trees and for the generations of travelers, hikers and campers who have enjoyed their magnificence,” said Center for Biological Diversity attorney Kevin Bundy. “Caltrans owes the public a full and honest account of how its highway-widening plans could damage this irreplaceable state park.”

“The significance of this ruling cannot be overstated,” said Gary Graham Hughes, executive director at the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC). “Our ancient redwoods are invaluable, and we hope Caltrans gets the message that their survival cannot be put at risk by a careless highway development proposal.”

“This illustrates how important the California Environmental Quality Act is for ensuring that major projects are subject to a thorough environmental review,” said Patty Clary of CATs. “The court has made an important decision that respects our responsibility to protect Richardson Grove as a natural treasure for future generations.”

EPIC, Center for Biological Diversity, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics and local residents Trisha Lotus, Jeffrey Hedin, Loreen Eliason and Bruce Edwards challenged an Environmental Impact Report approved for the project by Caltrans in 2010. The Humboldt County Superior Court ruled in 2012 that Caltrans’ report complied with the California Environmental Quality Act. Today’s ruling overturns that decision.

A separate lawsuit filed in federal court resulted in a 2012 ruling that Caltrans must redo critical aspects of its environmental analysis under federal law. The court cited numerous errors in mapping and measurement of affected old-growth redwoods, and found that Caltrans had been “arbitrary and capricious” in their use of “faulty data.”

Background

Richardson Grove State Park is home to one of the last protected stands of accessible old-growth redwoods in the world, where drivers first encounter significant ancient redwoods when heading north on Highway 101. The park also contains essential habitat for threatened and endangered species such as the marbled murrelet and northern spotted owl, and its creeks still support runs of imperiled salmon and steelhead trout.

Caltrans first proposed the Richardson Grove highway-widening project in 2007. Opposition to the project has continued to grow, led by the Save Richardson Grove Coalition, a diverse group of community members including economists, business owners, scientists, and a consortium of 10 federally recognized Northern California tribes with longstanding ties to the grove.

The proposed Richardson Grove highway widening is one of several Caltrans projects that threaten sensitive environments on the North Coast of California. Caltrans is currently mired in controversy regarding the unnecessary and destructive Willits Bypass project, which has been fraught with permitting irregularities and is the largest wetlands fill project to be pursued in Northern California in 50 years.

Caltrans claims the Richardson Grove highway widening is needed to accommodate large-truck travel, yet Caltrans’ own statements and signage indicate that this portion of road is already designated for larger trucks and that Caltrans has exaggerated potential safety problems. Caltrans has not established that this project is necessary for safety or movement of goods and the economy. Smaller-sized commercial trucks already travel through the grove to deliver goods to Humboldt County and legislative exemptions have functioned to allow the passage of the passage of oversize trucks.

Plaintiff Trisha Lotus is the great granddaughter of Henry Devoy, who in 1922 transferred to California the redwood forest that became Richardson Grove State Park. Jeffrey Hedin is a disabled Vietnam veteran and a volunteer responder with the Piercy Fire Protection District. Bruce Edwards is a licensed contractor who travels the highway in both directions on a daily basis for his work. Loreen Eliason co-owned the popular Riverwood Inn in Phillipsville until her passing late last year.

The attorneys for the plaintiffs are Philip Gregory and Pete McCloskey of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, Stuart Gross of Gross Law, Kevin Bundy of the Center for Biological Diversity, and Sharon Duggan, a long-time expert on environmental law.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 675,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) works to protect human and natural communities on the North Coast of California. EPIC uses an integrated science-based approach, combining public education, citizen advocacy, and strategic litigation.

 Court of Appeal Decision for Richardson Grove

Press Release


EPIC Advocacy Secures Reforms at Mad River Hatchery

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014
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DSC_0214An important settlement agreement has been reached regarding the genetic management of steelhead trout reared at the Mad River Hatchery for release into the river system. This settlement is another important step in a legal action by the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) that addresses long-standing inadequacies in hatchery management, and will guarantee immediate improvements in hatchery operations that will strengthen the contribution of the hatchery to the recovery of wild fish in the Mad River basin, while still supporting a valuable and robust commercial and recreational fishery. Ongoing negotiations between EPIC and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), with important contributions by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), have successfully resulted in an agreement which will immediately improve the manner in which hatchery managers integrate wild fish into hatchery operations.

EPIC’s advocacy efforts for restoring wild fish populations in Northwest California includes many years of work defending forests and headwaters that provide clean water and valuable habitat for wild fish. Last year EPIC undertook a new initiative to reform fish hatcheries that had operated for too long without proper oversight and that were out of compliance with federal law.  EPIC took action to compel state and federal agencies to incorporate the best available science into updated management plans for all fish hatcheries, and to specifically develop legally required Hatchery Genetic Management Plans (HGMP), which had not yet occurred at North Coast California hatcheries, but had been completed at numerous other hatcheries across the Pacific Northwest. With this initiative, the hatchery operations at the Mad River Hatchery will have to ensure compliance with the federal Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws. It is the steady progress towards full compliance by the agencies responsible for the Mad River Hatchery which encouraged EPIC to maintain a principled stance in the negotiation process, and in good faith show a capacity to arrive at solutions that are agreed upon by all parties.

“To be clear, EPIC is definitely not advocating that all fish hatcheries be closed immediately, nor in the near future,” said EPIC executive director Gary Graham Hughes. “Instead,” continued Hughes, “by leveraging legal action to encourage state and federal agencies to abide by the law, incorporate the best available science, and respond to public concerns, everyone will benefit in the long run.”

The eventual consultation process regarding the establishment of a proper Hatchery Genetic Management Plan under the federal Endangered Species Act at the Mad River Hatchery will result in hatchery operations that promote the restoration and genetic viability of wild fish populations. This will further advance natural recovery of native fish to their historical abundance.

Working with experts in the field, and with the invaluable assistance of the Western Environmental Law Center, EPIC has been challenging the state and federal government to better manage fish hatcheries on three North Coast river systems. EPIC filed notice letters for hatcheries on the Mad River, Trinity River and Smith River. Settlement negotiations on the Mad River are concluding, and final details on successful settlement regarding management of genetic resources at the Trinity River Hatchery will be available to the public once the confidential process comes to a close. EPIC work to protect fisheries on the Smith River has recently more closely focused on state and federal legal actions challenging the proposed Caltrans widening of Hwy 197/199 through the Smith River Canyon, and the Rowdy Creek hatchery issue still remains to be resolved. The Smith River is California’s only undammed river, and hosts the longest stretch of designated Wild and Scenic River in the lower 48-states.

Details specific to settlement negotiations regarding the Mad River Hatchery include the following:

*Due to the lack of a proper legally required Hatchery Genetic Management Plan (HGMP) for the Mad River Hatchery, EPIC action in 2013 secured a stay that prohibited the capture of wild steelhead for broodstock at the hatchery pending the development of the HGMP.

*Being informed in late 2013 by NMFS that good progress was being made on the HGMP, EPIC was willing to renegotiate the terms of the settlement, and to provide for the collection by the Mad River Hatchery of natural-origin (non-hatchery) broodstock for the coming brood year.

*The terms of the modified settlement permit CDFW to collect, trap, and/or use natural-origin steelhead trout at Mad River Hatchery between Jan and March of 2014 providing that 1) for each spawning pair of broodstock the hatchery use at least one natural-origin steelhead; 2) the goal for the broodstock captured in Jan – March 2014 is to breed 150,000 steelhead for release in 2015, but only off-spring of at least one natural-origin parent will be released; and 3) if enough natural-origin broodstock are available the hatchery will try to match natural-origin steelhead with natural-origin steelhead for rearing hatchery fish.

For more information see:

Stay-Stipulation

Reforming hatcheries to recover wild fish populations

Lawsuit filed to protect wild coho salmon in the Trinity River from harmful fish hatchery operations


EPIC Position Statement on Experimental Barred Owl Removal to Study Effects on Northern Spotted Owls

Monday, January 27th, 2014
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The experimental lethal removal of Barred Owls from forested areas previously or currently inhabited by the native Northern Spotted Owl has received a fair amount of media coverage, and has even been the topic of a segment on the well-known Comedy Central show The Colbert Report (see embedded video below). EPIC has been approached on several instances by media outlets, conservation community colleagues, and members and supporters of our organization requesting an articulation of our position on this experimental lethal removal project. The text following the video is an EPIC position statement on this rapidly changing and important issue.

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive

EPIC Position Statement on Experimental Barred Owl Removal to Study Effects on Northern Spotted Owls

EPIC chose not to oppose the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) proposal to experimentally remove barred owls from the wild to study the effects on Northern Spotted Owls (NSO). Our organization has assessed the project plan, and monitored implementation. EPIC has come to the conclusion that the proposed use of lethal removal methods is cruel, will most likely prove to be ineffective over the long term without very serious habitat conservation mechanisms, and failing to prioritize habitat conservation the lethal removal of barred owls will most likely prove over time to be extremely expensive to implement. We also have come to the conclusion that the use of non-lethal removal methods remains impractical. Fundamentally, the USFWS has incorrectly chosen to focus its efforts on trying to solve the barred owl invasive competition problem, while failing to include adequate recovery measures to address chronic and ongoing NSO habitat loss. The USFWS has failed to provide NSO critical habitat designation to millions of acres of private industrial forestlands across the northwest, and has failed to provide adequate protective measures for NSO habitat on public lands. These failures assure that NSO habitat loss will continue to be the primary threat to the survival and recovery of Northern Spotted Owls in the wild. Recovering the NSO requires a more aggressive effort to protect existing habitat, on public and private lands. EPIC therefore recommends that the USFWS focus its efforts, as well as limited financial resources, on improving recovery measures and regulatory mechanisms to protect Northern Spotted Owl habitat across the landscape.


Department of Fish and Wildlife Solicits Comments and Information on Status of Northern Spotted Owls in California

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014
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NSO fem&juv _0397On January 21st, 2014, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) issued an announcement soliciting comments on the proposed listing of Northern Spotted Owls (NSO) as either “threatened” or “endangered” under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).  The comment period is designed to allow stakeholders and the general public to provide input to the Department to be considered as part of its status review for NSO in California. Comments must be submitted to the CDFW by May 1st, 2014 in order for the information to be considered by the Department as part of its status review and preparation of a status report.

In September 2012, EPIC filed a petition with the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) requesting that the Commission list Northern Spotted Owls as either “threatened” or “endangered” under CESA.  In August 2013, the Commission voted to accept EPIC’s petition, finding that the requested action “may be warranted” thus making NSO a candidate species for listing under CESA. In December 2013, the Commission adopted its formal findings for the decision, thus triggering a one-year period in which the CDFW is charged with conducting a status review for NSO in California and preparing a status report with a recommendation for the Commission to consider at the final listing decision hearing.

“We are confident that the best available science and information will show that Northern Spotted Owls face a multitude of severe threats to their survival in the wild in California, and that listing the species under CESA will be deemed warranted by the CDFW” said Rob DiPerna, EPIC’s Industrial Forestry Reform Advocate. “All of the numbers indicate that NSO are in real trouble in California and indeed range wide. Listing under CESA is clearly a necessary component of our approach to conservation of this iconic and imperiled species range wide.”

Prior to making its final listing decision, the California Fish and Game Commission will solicit further comments on the status report produced by the CDFW. EPIC will continue to engage in this process and will continue to advocate for listing NSO under CESA, and for conservation and recovery of this iconic species in the wild in California and range-wide.

Visit http://cdfgnews.wordpress.com/2014/01/21/cdfw-seeks-public-comment-related-to-northern-spotted-owl/ for more information.

 


EPIC Files Request to Extend Public Comment Period on BDCP Draft EIR/EIS

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014
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BDCP Delta Bureau of ReclamationStaff from the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) sent a letter this week to federal and state agency officials overseeing the development of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) requesting an extension for the public comment period of the Draft EIS/EIR for the project. The BDCP is the massive Sacramento-San Joaquin Rivers water management project being promoted by California Governor Jerry Brown and US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell that features the giant “Twin Tunnels” water conveyance infrastructure for pumping Northern California water to points south, largely to benefit corporate agriculture and energy interests.

“Even a cursory glance of the oversized BDCP documentation reveals serious omissions,” said Gary Graham Hughes, executive director of EPIC. “The documentation is totally lacking in an adequate analysis on impacts of the BDCP on North Coast threatened species like Trinity Coho Salmon,” continued Hughes, “which demonstrates the geographic nearsightedness that is the unfortunate essence of the project.”

“To be clear, our small public interest organization, alongside many others across the state,” said Hughes, “needs more time to be able to comprehend the voluminous documentation, which adds up to more than 40,000 pages of material.”

The Environmental Protection Information Center late last summer filed comments opposing the Shasta Dam raise on the Sacramento River, and is very active with river and forest conservation advocacy throughout the Trinity and Klamath Basins. It is the position of EPIC that the BDCP has failed since it’s conception to properly account for and analyze the impacts of existing and proposed dam and water conveyance infrastructure on the long-term health and viability of North Coast river systems and human communities.

Currently the public comment period is open until April 15, 2014. Documentation for the BDCP Draft EIS/EIR was published in early December, and on December 13, 2013, a 120-day public comment period was initiated. EPIC, along with partners in the Environmental Water Caucus, has requested that the public comment period for the Draft EIS/EIR be extended until August 15, 2014.

Information about the BDCP can be found here

Information about BDCP Public Review is here

Public Meetings for the BDCP


EPIC Will Keep Pressure On Caltrans in 2014

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014
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EPIC will continue in 2014 to advance initiatives that challenge unnecessary, wasteful, and environmentally harmful highway development projects proposed by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) on the North Coast of California.

In late December 2013, EPIC and partners received a significant set back in our efforts to “Rein in Caltrans” due to an unfavorable federal court decision regarding the challenge to the Willits Bypass Project. Despite the unfavorable ruling, our campaign to reform the largest road building agency on the planet will continue in earnest in 2014. Whether it be demanding that the State of California and Caltrans come to terms with the real implications of our transportation habits for local and global climate change, defending site specific sensitive environments like Richardson Grove State Park or the precious Smith River, or protecting the right of our communities to meaningful public participation in the decision making that can affect our daily lives, EPIC will keep the pressure on Caltrans in the coming year.

EPIC will endeavor along with strategic partners to hold Caltrans accountable to environmental law, and to increase the effectiveness with which local communities can influence the planning and decision-making processes of this behemoth agency. Our legal challenge regarding the Willits Bypass Project may have been unsuccessful in convincing the federal court that our concerns regarding Caltrans merited intervention in the implementation of the project, but we are steadfast in our commitment to defend and protect irreplaceable natural treasures on the North Coast of California from poorly conceived highway development projects.

In that context, on Wednesday, January 15, 2014, EPIC and partners, the Center for Biological Diversity and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, will present oral arguments before the State of California Court of Appeal regarding our California Environmental Quality Act challenge to the Caltrans Richardson Grove highway-widening project. The oral arguments for this case will be heard at 9 AM on Wednesday January 15, 2014 on the Fourth Floor of the First Appellate District Court of Appeal at 350 McAllister Street in San Francisco.

Two lawsuits were filed challenging the unnecessary project, which intends to widen Highway 101 as it winds through the towering ancient redwoods of Richardson Grove State Park. EPIC and partners prevailed on the federal lawsuit when the federal court ruled in April 2012 that Caltrans had been “arbitrary and capricious” in their use of “faulty data” in the Richardson Grove project documentation, and the court ordered that Caltrans develop new documentation that would accurately assess the potential impact of the highway development project on rare ancient forest ecosystems protected in the State Park. A parallel state law case was developed challenging the permitting of the Caltrans project under the California Environmental Quality Act. Hearings for that case were originally held before the Humboldt County Superior Court on March 29, 2012, with a decision favorable to Caltrans issued at the end of June 2012. In the wake of that unfavorable decision, plaintiffs explored all of their options in the legal defense of the ancient redwoods against the unnecessary highway development, and in December 2012, EPIC filed a formal appeal of the Humboldt County Superior Court decision. It is that appeal that will be heard in San Francisco on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. We encourage defenders of Richardson Grove to come to the hearing and to be present in a respectful manner in support of our state parks and ancient redwoods.