Archive for August, 2014

Victory: Wildlife Habitat Protected

Thursday, August 21st, 2014
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GardenGulchCritical habitat and old-growth reserves saved from post-fire “salvage” on the Wild and Scenic North Fork Salmon River!  EPIC and allies with Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, successfully stopped logging in some of the best habitat proposed in the Salmon Salvage timber sale.  Our efforts ultimately resulted in the elimination of larger stands of “salvage” and a renewed focus on roadside hazard treatments. This is great news for naturally recovering forests.

After decades of defending the old-growth surrounding Garden Gulch Trail from road building and logging, this perfect post-fire forest stand will again be spared.  The area serves as Critical Habitat for the Northern spotted owl and provides a linkage for wildlife under a swath of green canopy cover leading into the Marble Mountain Wilderness.

WARNING: If last year’s fires are any indication of what’s to come, we are sure to see more post-fire logging projects after the smoke clears from this year’s fires.  Burning in the North Fork Salmon River the 2014 Whites Fire is now twice as large, over 32,000 acres, as the 2013 Salmon Complex Fire.  EPIC will be providing updates from the multiple fires burning this summer and any proposals that may ensue.  Thanks to all of you who responded to our action alerts and submitted comments in defense of natural fire recovery.

More on the Salmon River Watershed

The Salmon River Watershed, located entirely within the Klamath National Forest, is within the heart of the Klamath Siskiyou Bioregion. This Bioregion is a global center of biodiversity and is designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and an Area of Global Botanical Significance by the World Conservation Union.  Deeply incised canyons, rugged terrain and highly erodible soils characterize the Salmon River watershed, comprised of two forks, the North Fork and the South Fork to form the mainstem.  The free flowing river is one of the largest most pristine watersheds in the Klamath River system, although it is listed under the Clean Water Act as a 303(d) impaired water body.  The Salmon River retains the only viable population of Spring Chinook salmon and retains the last completely wild salmon and steelhead runs in the in the Klamath watershed.  The Salmon River offers some of the best habitat on the west coast for salmon, steelhead, green sturgeon, rainbow trout, Pacific lamprey, and other fish. The Wild and Scenic Salmon River is one of the most sought after world-class whitewater rafting trips in the countryIt combines lush coastal scenery with emerald green waters, steep granite gorges and numerous waterfalls.

The North Fork Salmon River, containing highly erodible granitic soils is steep to very steep. The globally significant carbon dense forests provide important wildlife habitat connectivity, particularly the Garden Gulch area.  With the combination of unique geology, climate and biology the North Fork Salmon River watershed supports populations of deer, elk, black bear, mountain lion and provides habitat to many rare species, including Pacific fishers and pine martens.  Some of the most important features within the watershed, older forest stands and anadromous fish habitat, are considered at risk and need protection or enhancement.

You can review more pictures and past posts at: http://www.wildcalifornia.org/action-issues/fire/

 


Rally to Save Klamath Salmon

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014
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IMG_0277About 200 tribal members and river activists traveled from the Klamath River Basin to the Sacramento Valley on Tuesday to ask the Bureau of Reclamation to release more water to prevent a fish kill. The rally targeted David Murillo, who is the Regional Director for the Bureau of Reclamation — the individual who has the authority to order more water to be released into the Klamath and Trinity Rivers. The Bureau of Reclamation controls reservoir water and is currently sending about 85% of the water out of the Klamath Basin over to irrigators in the Sacramento Valley, and only 15% into the Trinity River.

The Klamath River is home to one of the most spectacular salmon fisheries on the planet, but in recent weeks, fish have been washing up dead and diseased. Several instances of dead fish have been reported near Klamath tributaries, but by the time scientists arrive to verify the carcasses, they are gone, likely eaten by scavengers. In July, during the Salmon River Cooperative Spring Chinook and Summer Steelhead Surveys, more salmon deaths were documented than had ever been seen in the thirty year period of record. According to Nat Pennington, member of the Klamath Fish Health Assessment Team, “these early signs of fish stress in the river are reminiscent of 2002, when the Klamath River was host to the largest fish kill in U.S. history. Many of the indicators, poor fish health and river conditions, that I remember in 2002 are considerably worse this year, if preventative measures are not taken, large-scale mortality is likely.”

So far, the Bureau has announced that they will not release preventative flows, which would prevent a fish kill. Instead, they have said they will only release emergency flows, which would only be triggered by verifying large numbers of dead or diseased fish. Once the deaths are reported, it takes at least 4 days to get water from the dam to where the fish are, which scientists say would be too late. When the 2002 fish kill happened and 60,000 fish died, once the fish started washing up, they all died within a few days. “The Klamath fish kill of 2002 was devastating for our tribal communities and to the West Coast Fisheries. Previously, Tribes, fisheries scientists, and the Department of the Interior have worked together to avert fish kills by releasing preventative flows during drought years,” said Frankie Myers of the Yurok Tribe Watershed Restoration Program, “We need these releases now more then ever.” After meeting with tribal members on Tuesday, Murillo said he would reconsider preventative flows, and would make an announcement later this week.

The health of Klamath salmon runs are used to determine ocean harvest levels in California and Oregon and are of great importance to the Klamath Tribes who depend on them for subsistence, and for a way of life. “Klamath Salmon runs significantly affect ocean fishery regulations, another fish kill in the Klamath would be devastating for our livelihoods, and fishermen feed America,” said Mike Hudson, President of Small Boat Commercial Salmon Fisheries Association.

The poor river conditions negatively affecting the Klamath salmon are caused by four dams that breed toxic algae, heat water and block fish passage. In April of 2013, a final environmental impact statement recommended that all four aging hydroelectric dams be removed from the Klamath River to help struggling wild salmon runs. A Congressional bill titled the Klamath Basin Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act, which is in committee now, would remove all four hydroelectric dams, but the prognosis indicates it only has a 5% chance of passing through U.S. Congress.

EPIC advocates for the protection and restoration of Klamath River Basin and the fish that depend on the health of the River. Our staff has been reaching out to tribes, elected officials and resource agencies to do everything we can to get water into the river and avert another fish kill. If you have not done so already, please send a letter to decision-makers and let them know that fish need water.

 

 

 

 

 


Take Action to Avoid Another Catastrophic Klamath River Fish Kill

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
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DSCF3762Click here to take action now: Right now, an estimated 93,000 fall Chinook salmon are in the ocean off the Northern California Coast waiting to enter the Klamath. The conditions they will be met with as they begin their journey to reproduce are currently equivalent to a death sentence. In 2002, low flows and warm water temperatures caused by dams and diversions in the Klamath Basin resulted in the largest fish kill in U.S. history, when an estimated 60,000 fall Chinook perished. Since the fish kill, the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) has released a preventative pulse flow into the Trinity River from Lewiston Dam when conditions existed that were similar to 2002. Currently, Klamath River flow is lower than it was in 2002 and temperatures are consistently higher than the acute stress level for Chinook, 72 degrees Fahrenheit. If this trend continues, a large-scale fish kill is likely and the Klamath could lose the entire run, which would have huge implications, environmentally and economically, costing taxpayers millions in relief and mitigation costs.

Last week, the BOR announced that it would not release the preventative flows needed to avert a fish kill. Instead, they will wait until salmon show signs of disease and start dying, and would only release an “emergency flow” that would take at least four days to reach infected salmon in the Lower Klamath. It is widely accepted fact that once salmon are diseased and dying to the extent that the emergency flow criteria is met, an attempt to minimize losses will be too late and a large-scale fish kill in the Lower Klamath would already be well underway.

The water is available, but according to the BOR saving the lives of 93,000 spawning salmon is not a priority. Of the 2,900 cubic feet per second (cfs) flowing through the Trinity system from Clair Engle Lake, only 490 cfs are being released into the Trinity River downstream of Lewiston Dam, roughly 17%. The BOR is sending the rest of the available water, roughly 2400 cfs or 83% to the Central Valley Project to meet the demands of large-scale agriculture like the Westland’s Water district, and to meet recovery requirements for the endangered Delta Smelt that are facing extinction due to large ag interests including Westlands diverting water in the Smelt’s native habitat—the Sacramento and San Joaquin Deltas.

The Klamath River is home to the third largest salmon run on the West Coast and is thought to have the highest potential for complete salmon recovery in the United States. Currently, the Klamath River is blocked by six dams. Efforts are underway to remove the four largest dams that obstruct fish passage through historic agreements between tribes, environmental groups, fishing groups, government agencies and the company that owns the dams, PacifiCorp.  The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and Klamath Basin Hydro-Settlement Agreement have been combined and introduced in Congress as the Klamath Basin Community and Economic Recovery Act. While these worthy efforts are underway and the prospect of a restored Klamath Basin is becoming a reality, it is critical that the remaining salmon and steelhead runs are protected until the dams come out, which is expected to happen around 2020.

Klamath salmon need your help! We need to convince the Bureau of Reclamation, the Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, and President Obama to release preventative flows into the Trinity River to save the fall salmon run from river conditions that are even more severe than those that caused the country’s largest fish kill in 2002. Please click the link below to send a letter to decision-makers, asking them to reduce flows to irrigators and increase flows into the Trinity River from Lewiston Dam, and into the Klamath River from Link River Dam.

Click Here to Take Action!


EPIC Advocates for Northern Spotted Owl Using Best Available Science

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
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NSOEPIC relies upon an integrated science-based approach to environmental advocacy. Consistent with our mission statement, we apply the best available science at the legislative, regulatory, and policy levels of government and industry. In our ongoing efforts to protect, enhance, restore, and conserve the Northern Spotted Owl, EPIC uses the best available science to inform our advocacy and decision-makers.

As part of our efforts to see the spotted owl listed as either a “threatened” or “endangered” species under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA), EPIC has commissioned a wildlife researcher  to conduct an independent status review and prepare an independent status report to be submitted to the California Fish and Game Commission. This report is based upon the best available science regarding the status and population trends and threats for the spotted owl, and will consider possible management recommendations designed to protect, enhance, conserve, and restore the spotted owl in California.

EPIC has pursued this independent review and report to allow for critical evaluation of the available evidence, including scientific, and timber industry-based information. The report will be subject to rigorous outside independent peer-review from a broad array of stakeholders, including independent scientists, researchers, and even timber industry biologists.

This report will be defensible and credible.

The independent review and report will be juxtaposed against the status review and report produced by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The Department is charged by CESA with conducting a status review and preparing a status report that will include a recommendation to the Fish and Game Commission as to whether or not it believes the listing “is warranted.” EPIC has chosen to commission an independent review due to the highly political nature of the inner workings of the Department, which has been evidenced in its recent recommendations against species’ listings, most notably the Gray Wolf. In the case of the Gray Wolf, the Department erroneously based its decision on a lack of ‘certainty’ in the science surrounding the wolf, thus dismissing the numerous threats to the species and the enormous opportunities for wolf restoration and conservation in California. Such rationale on the part of the Department leaves many questions as to its ability to review and consider the best available science and to make recommendations regarding species’ listings that are not politically-charged and influenced.

EPIC’s independent status review for the spotted owl is a key cog in our efforts to see the species listed under CESA. The benefits of CESA listing are many. Such benefits include requiring all state boards and agencies to work to protect, enhance, conserve, and restore the spotted owl in California. The practical effects of CESA listing would include the reintroduction of independent agency biologists into private lands timber harvest project review, and to impart upon the state a mandate to consider appropriate management activities to protect, enhance, restore, and conserve the spotted owl, including potential management activities aimed at addressing some of the major threats to the species in California, including the aggressive and invasive barred owl.

The State of California has a responsibility under CESA to protect, enhance, conserve, and restore “threatened” and “endangered” species in California. The best available science, which clearly demonstrates the threats to the species and identifies opportunities for conservation and enhancement supports the proposition that listing “is warranted” under CESA.


EPIC in Review

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
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Hole in Headwaters Hike ReducedAs the summer heats up, so have some of EPIC’s ongoing projects. This past week, EPIC along with other environmental organizations, wrote letters opposing H.R 1363 and H.R. 4742, two bills that seek to circumvent the National Environmental Policy Act process and threaten fisheries. Additionally, H.R. bills 5021 and 2363 attempt to open loopholes in the environmental review process and public involvement that undermine our checks and balances. The EPIC team is hard at work trying to ensure that the appropriate avenues continue to exist so that we can fight for the wild. The importance of protecting a legal framework cannot be understated when saving our ecosystems, and our natural resources. The input, concern, and passion from the community help drive the campaigns we fight for. For more on the projects we’ve been up to lately, check out the links below.

EPIC Bay Delta Conservation Plan Comments 

Comments have been submitted fighting for the abandonment of the Bay Delta Conservation Project. An antiquated, disingenuous, and grossly expensive project that’s based on over-allocated water rights and serves only to benefit large industrial agriculture. The 67 billion dollar, Bay Delta Conservation Project, a grand misnomer, severely threatens the habitat of a number of threatened and endangered species from the salmon runs of Northern California to the Delta Smelt in San Francisco Bay.

Letter to Evans & Chesbro Regarding Groundwater Regulations

Letter to California Senator Noreen Evans and Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro requesting assurance that the Scott River will be removed from the list of basins exempted from groundwater planning and regulations.

Community Letter Opposing H.R. 1363

EPIC and other environmental organizations, have sent a letter opposing section two of H.R. 1363 for blatantly violating the processes in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that fully disclose the impacts of an action.

Oppose HR 4742 Community Letter

In this letter, we urged a no vote on H.R. 4742. The bill strives to weaken the Magnuson-Stevens Act and halt the rebounding of many fisheries that have benefited from recent conservation efforts.

Oppose the Anti-National Wildlife Refuge Rider

The potential for expansion of the National Wildlife Refuge system is coming under fire in the form of a 2015 appropriations bill. The rider would require congressional approval for new refuges when congress already controls the financial backbone. This shift goes against the spirit of the original bill and could open the door up to refuges being used in political horse-trading.

Oppose Toomey Amendment

The Toomey Amendment to H.R. 5021 seeks to avoid any environmental review or consideration for reconstruction efforts in areas after a disaster. Currently, there are already proven avenues for post disaster construction that are more environmentally friendly, transparent, and flexible.

Opposition letter S 2363 Sportsmens Act 2014 – 7.8

This letter also opposes the Senate Bill 2363 and represents the option of a large coalition of 105 groups from around the country. The so-called “Bi-partisan Sportsmen’s Act” seeks to roll back various environmental laws including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Wilderness Act, and the National Forest Management Act. In addition, the bill removes the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to control toxic substances in ammunition or fishing equipment.

Sage Grouse Rider Letter

Representative Moran of Virginia is seeking to prevent a delay in protection for declining Sage Grouse populations. Next year’s appropriations bill, in its current form, includes a rider that would postpone U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s inclusion of Sage-Grouse in a final Endangered Species Act listing.

TRI_Slider_comments

EPIC has submitted comments regarding the “Slider” Timber Harvest Plan (THP) that underlines the inadequacies in CAL FIRE’s assessment of significant impacts. Additionally  CAL FIRE fails to disclose the correct information pertaining to the pre and post harvest stock levels required for demonstration of Maximum Sustained Production (MSP).

Native American Notification Comments EPIC

Comments have been submitted regarding rules for the notice of harvesting in Native American archeological sites. EPIC is calling for rules to be amended so that seven business days or ten total days of notice are given before timber harvesting commences.

Passenger Pigeon Proclamation Request Letter from 137 Organizations and Institutions

In conjunction with 136 organizations, EPIC is urging President Obama to issue a proclamation recognizing the centennial of Martha, the last Carrier Pigeons’, death. The overall goal is to raise awareness of the cost of our environmental actions and to remind Americans of their civil duty to be good stewards of wildlife and nature.

OSV Rule – Comment Letter

Along with a number of organizations, EPIC submitted comments to the National Forest Service regarding proposed rules for over-snow vehicles (OSV). Regulating OSVs on Forest Service land itself isn’t called into question but rather, the scale, types of impacts and violations of a number of executive orders resulting in unenforceable policies.

Thanks to EPIC Interns Nathan Fisch and Taylor Morrison for developing content for this page.

 

 

 


Tolowa Dunes State Park Fence Mapping, Removal and Restoration Project Report

Monday, August 4th, 2014
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photo6

Tolowa Dunes State Park, in Del Norte County, is an ancient dune system that provides important habitat for migratory wildlife. EPIC and other conservation groups see a need to remove old livestock fencing from the Park for wildlife, cultural, and wilderness aesthetic improvements. Funded by the California State Parks Foundation, this report, written by Biologist Adam Canter, documents current ecological restoration and livestock fence removal efforts.

Project Abstract and Goal

Primary tasks completed during the project included mapping and first phase removal of old livestock fence line and debris occurring on Tolowa Dunes State Park land, from the Smith River mouth area by Yontocket Slough south to Cadra Point. Site locations, fence lines, and fence debris were mapped using a Garmin GPS unit. Other sites of biological interest, including wildlife sightings, rare species, and invasive species were also opportunistically noted and mapped when warranted or observed. Research on prior grazing practices was conducted. Data from this phase of the project will be used to plan and prioritize future ecological restoration projects and livestock fence removal.

Introduction

EPIC (Environmental Protection Information Center) had successes in 2013 working with Tolowa Dunes State Park (TDSP) on a project which focuses on restoration and improvements of natural and cultural resources in the park. A private funder along with public support from the Park, Tolowa Dunes Stewards (TDS) and other concerned citizens saw a need to remove old livestock fencing from the park for wildlife, cultural, and wilderness aesthetic improvements. One area with high priority for fence removal is Yontocket slough, which is an important wildlife site, but also a cultural sacred site to the Tolowa people who once had a village there. This was the site of the horrible massacre of the Tolowa people in 1853.

Tolowa Dunes State park, an ancient dune system, is composed of open and vegetated dunes on its western edge with the wave slope. Moving eastward from the Pacific Ocean these dunes transition into different successional communities, from dunal swales to dune forest and finally to a vast ephemeral wetland bottom (Smith River Plain) on it eastern border with the Alexandre Dairy. These bottoms adjacent to the Dairy, including the historic Yontocket Slough feature of the Smith River, were the primary areas grazed by permission of the State Park under illegal permit from 1996-2011 (230 acres).

Fence Inventory Summary

The highest priority areas for mapping and removal of the illegal grazing fence occur around Yontocket Slough, as suggested by TDSP and TDS. This area was heavily grazed and even modified by heavy equipment by the Alexandre Dairy under the illegal TDSP grazing permit (TDSP staff comm.). The slough itself acts as a water catchment and corridor for wildlife in the park, as well as being a cultural site of the Tolowa people.   Currently Yontocket Slough is bordered on all sides by the Alexandre’s five-stranded electric wire fence (currently powered off) (see photos and map).

Photo 1. Central Yontocket Slough with Alexandre fence obstructing lush wetland forage from megafauna.

Photo 1. Central Yontocket Slough with Alexandre fence obstructing lush wetland forage from megafauna.

Photo 2.  Alexandre Dairy electric wire fastening, Yontocket Slough.

Photo 2. Alexandre Dairy electric wire fastening, Yontocket Slough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is important to note that only the Alexandre livestock fencing and other old livestock fencing were mapped during this project. Park perimeter and infrastructure fencing were not mapped other than for “ground-truthing” with official state GIS layers.

The primary extent of Alexandre’s fence in the Yontocket area consists of a continuous line running south from approximately 0.25 mile west on the service road from the trailhead to the Yontocket Cemetery massacre site, around Yontocket Slough all the way to the historic and closed “Horse Camp” site. There is a small break in the fence just south of Horse Camp, which appears to provide one of only two small corridors for the Tolowa Roosevelt elk herd to commute between the dune forest, ponds, and swales and the forage of the vast Smith River Plain grass and wetland around Yontocket Slough (see photos 3-5 below). The span of Alexandre Dairy fence before the first accessible corridor for elk at Horse Camp is over 1.5 miles in length.

 

Photo 3 & 4. Two of the only small breaks and corridors in Alexandre fence at Yontocket, limiting and concentrating elk movement in the park.

Photo 3. The only small break in Alexandre fence at Yontocket, limiting and concentrating elk movement in the park.

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Photo 4. The only corridor in Alexandre fence at Yontocket, limiting and concentrating elk movement in the park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two perpendicular (west to east) segments of Alexandre Dairy livestock fence occur southeast of Horse Camp. South of East Pond, old barbwire fence runs along the forest/wetland edge for ~0.25 mile to Silva Road (see photo 5).

Photo 5.  Treacherous corridor for elk to enter the forest in TDSP lands north of Silva Rd. Notice the rust and forgotten barbwire by a public trail.

Photo 5. Treacherous corridor for elk to enter the forest in TDSP lands north of Silva Rd. Notice the rust and forgotten barbwire by a public trail.

South of Silva Rd., the old barbwire fencing continues along the ecotone for ~0.5 mile or more. The origin of this barbwire is unknown. It is likely that some of this fence is from before 1996 and may have been old park perimeter fence. The forest ecotone and grassy wetland just south/southwest of Silva Rd. was the most heavily used elk area observed during fieldwork for this project (Oct-Dec. 2013). One section in particular had visible sign of high use by elk, where decrepit barbwire impeded easy escrow to and from the forest (see photos, map). This small section (~200 ft.) of fence was removed by project efforts in January 2014, making the corridor more inviting to elk and other wildlife. This barbwire may continue along the ecotone all the way to Kellogg Road (~1.5 miles), but was not fully mapped during this phase of the project due to budget constraints. Mapping of old barbwire fence in this area may be a high priority in the second phase of this project, dependent on funding.

Other areas noted by TDSP and TDS with high priority for mapping included a survey for old fence on the northwest side of the park, in the open dunes and swales. No significant fence or fence waste were discovered in this part of TDSP from Yontocket to Kellogg Road, other than posts marking trail junctions and some mostly rotten and decomposed piles. Due to the large area of dunescape in this part of the park and budget constraints, it is estimated that ~80% of the area was inventoried. This area could be further surveyed in phase two.

Cadra Point, in the southern part of TDSP, is one of the only areas to have had fence removal take place at current date, primarily by TDS volunteers with park permission (Wendell Wood, Jeff Bombke (pers. comm.). This spectacular landscape, bordered by the Pacific Ocean, Lake Tolowa, and Lake Earl is a crown jewel of both the State Park System and Del Norte County. Management of the peninsula is split between TDSP on primarily the west side of Cadra Loop Road, with California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) lands on the north and east side (Lake Earl Wildlife Area).

Several old fence debris piles from TDS fence removal activities have never been hauled off TDSP lands, as staff ascertain, “They were too difficult to locate” (Jeff Bombke, pers comm.). At the request of TDSP, these piles were located and mapped to assist with the refuse removal, as they are a hazard to people and wildlife. Along with mapping these piles, TDSP perimeter fencing was “ground-truthed” with a CDFW grazing parcel bordering it to the north, adjacent to Lake Tolowa. While some fence was removed from the within TDSP by the CDFW border, posts are still deployed and need to be removed (map). Ironically, this profoundly scenic, ecologically, and culturally significant CDFW parcel is the only one in the public lands complex to still allow a grazing allotment, which was grossly overgrazed (Nov. 2013, see photos 6 and 7 below).

Photo 6.  CDFW grazer fencing by scenic Lake Tolowa.

Photo 6. CDFW grazer fencing by scenic Lake Tolowa.

Photo 7. Overgrazing sign in CDFW parcel (adjacent to TDSP lands).

Photo 7. Overgrazing sign in CDFW parcel (adjacent to TDSP lands).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CDFW also has a service barn along the Cadra Point trail by McLaughlin Pond which is unkempt with old refuse piles, posts, and debris scattered about (photos 8 and 9).

Photo 8. Refuse pile in scenic area by CDFW barn.

Photo 8. Refuse pile in scenic area by CDFW barn.

Photo 9.  Debris around CDFW barn.

Photo 9. Debris around CDFW barn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roosevelt elk (Cervus canadensis roosevlti) and other Wildlife Observations

The Roosevelt elk (Cervus canadensis roosevlti) once ranged from San Francisco to Alaska along the West Coast. They were hunted to near extinction to the point that in 1925 the only remaining herd in California numbered as few as 15 individuals (Elk in the Redwoods, 2004). This small remnant herd, which survived in Prairie Creek State Park in Humboldt County, slowly re-populated the North Coast. Tolowa Dunes is blessed to host a herd of Roosevelt elk, numbering an estimated 35-40 individuals. This herd has recently immigrated to TDSP, and at the time of this writing there is little knowledge about their demography and behavior other than personal accounts and data from this project.

Photo 10. Roosevelt elk in ecotone southwest of Silva Rd.

Photo 10. Roosevelt elk in ecotone southwest of Silva Rd.

The elk herd was sighted on the first day of fieldwork, 15 October 2013, grazing along the border of TDSP and Alexandre property, in the grassy wetland plain south of Silva Road (see map). The herd occupied the same area on 28 October 2013, when several behavior and location observations were made. Rutting behavior and bugling were also observed from bulls on this day in the dune meadows, just west of Horse Camp. The herd was observed using a small corridor through an abandoned and treacherous barbwire fence, just southwest of the Silva Rd. residence (noted in previous section).

Photo 11. Giant King Bolete, Tolowa dune forest.

Photo 11. Giant King Bolete, Tolowa dune forest.

It was apparent from the heavy use of the elk trails at this low-spot in the fence-line, that this was a major egress for the elk herd between the lush forage of the wetland plain and the cover habitat of the dune forest (photo 11). Elk were observed using the North and East Pond trail system, which is a highly diverse habitat matrix of hypermaritime conifer forest, riparian hardwood forest, wetlands, and ponds. This area stands out as being the densest area of forested habitat in TDSP, with the greatest amount of interior forest conditions. This habitat provides critical cover and resting areas for the elk. It also provides alternate and additional forage sources other than grass and forbs, such as huckleberry, salmonberry, salal berry, mushrooms (i.e. Boletus edulis, photo), and lichens. This variety of forage and cover types at TDSP makes it exceptional habitat for elk on the North Coast. The Tolowa elk heard was observed in the park from Oct.-Dec. 2013, but were not seen during the January 2014 visit.

Photo 12. Elk hair snagged in old barbwire, primary corridor near Silva.

Photo 12. Elk hair snagged in old barbwire, primary corridor near Silva.

Photo 13. Elk corridor with old barbwire obstruction, near Silva Rd.

Photo 13. Elk corridor with old barbwire obstruction, near Silva Rd.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other Wildlife Observations

Tolowa Dunes is a Mecca for wildlife due to the variety and quality of habitat found there. Several notable sightings occurred for species other than Roosevelt elk, which are worth mentioning.

By far the most exciting and significant wildlife sighting during this project was that of a yellow-haired porcupine(Erethizon epixanthum ssp. epixanthum). This sighting took place in the late afternoon on 14 January 2014 in an isolated patch of riparian hardwood and Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) within the grassy Smith River plain wetland, about 0.3 mile north of Silva Rd., near the TDSP border with the Alexandre Dairy (photos 14 and 15 below).

Photo 14. Yellow-haired porcupine at TDSP.

Photo 14. Yellow-haired porcupine at TDSP.

Photo 15. Porcupine in Sitka spruce riparian habitat at TDSP.

Photo 15. Porcupine in Sitka spruce riparian habitat at TDSP.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Porcupines have become a less common sight in California in recent years, sparking concern from biological experts throughout the state. For example, in 2011 the entire Sierra Nevada range had only 13 reported sightings (Weiser 2012). Porcupines that were commonly seen in similar habitat to TDSP, at nearby Lanphere Dunes on Humboldt Bay, have not been sighted for over a decade now.

Correspondences and metadata about this sighting were made with the Northern California Porcupine Project. This project is a recent effort to assess the status of porcupines in northern California, run by wildlife biologist Tim Beam, PhD at Humboldt State University, who expressed enthusiastic interest about the sighting. Dr. Beam also hypothesized that Tolowa Dunes may be the current local hotspot for porcupines on the North Coast (pers. comm.).

While porcupines do eat the living cambium of trees, which can lead to tree mortality, there was no obvious sign of this in TDSP. Porcupines do utilize other types of forage, “including raspberry stems, grasses, flowering herbs, and a large amount of apples. Herbivory has an effect on the sodium metabolism of porcupines, which results in a lust for salt. Porcupines will chew on the wooden handles of human tools, other human-made wood structures, and areas of collected roadside salt runoff” (Roze, 1989). Due to the hypermaritime environment at TDSP, salt is readily deposited by fog and wind on vegetation, which may provide salt to porcupines.   It has been noted that porcupine in the Pacific Northwest prefer lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) and ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) to other conifers. TDSP is unique on the North Coast in having one of the largest populations of beach pine (Pinus contorta ssp. contorta) in California, a close relative and subspecies of lodgepole pine. Possibly the presence of this conifer along with other diverse forage options that TDSP provides (and protects) contribute to the porcupine’s success and persistence there, as it may have been extirpated from some other regional habitat types.

Avifauna, particularly birds of prey, have notable abundance and diversity at TDSP. Sightings that stand out include two bald eagle observations, one around Yontocket and one by the Cadra Point CDFW parcel. A barn owl was seen flying south from the forest edge by the Yontocket Massacre Memorial Cemetery. Accipiters seen included Cooper’s and sharp-shined hawks. The small aggressive falcon, the merlin, was sighted on several occasions. Other raptors worth mentioning include the white-tailed kite, red-tailed hawk, red-shouldered hawk, and the northern harrier. This diversity of raptors is supported by the abundance of waterfowl and small mammals that TDSP hosts which facilitates a healthy food web.

One species of fowl which was not noted, that once used the Smith River plain as winter feeding grounds, is the Aleutian cackling goose (Branta hutchinsii leucopareia). This goose was at the brink of extinction by the 1970s due to Arctic fox introductions by Russian fur trappers, which easily predated the geese. Conservation efforts and removal of the foxes helped the geese to rebound and they were removed from the Endangered Species List in 2001. From 1996-2011 the Alexandre Dairy along with TDPS used a permitting scheme, where “the Department allowed the Dairy to graze cattle on these 230 acres by impliedly extending a Temporary Use Permit that was first issued in 2006, even though its stated purpose is no longer valid. The stated purpose of the 2006 Permit – and, by incorporation, the amended version and all subsequent implied extensions – was “to provide a high quality habitat for Aleutian Canada [Cackling] Geese (Letter, 16 May 2011). Ironically, Alexandre continued to graze this 230 acres under this permit (to enhance Aleutian goose habitat) even though there is documentation that the Dairy heavily hazed the Aleutian’s off his pastures and those belonging the to TDSP from 2001-present, possibly contributing to their emigration from the Smith River plain. Also ironic is that the Alexandre Dairy credits themselves on their website that this “plan has ultimately taken the goose off the Endangered Species List…and this environmental success story is yet another example of the Alexandre’s ability to maintain an environmentally-friendly agricultural business.” (Alexandre EcoFarms Dairy 2008). In 2001, in an interview with the L.A. Times, Alexandre had a different tone stating that the goose repopulation is “Obviously not sustainable. It’s got to be fixed,” Blake Alexandre said. And if it isn’t? “We’ll chase the geese out of this community.” (Boxall 2001). The observations, or lack of rather, show that the Dairy may have done just that after they grazed State Park land under the guise of Aleutian Goose Enhancement (for free) from 1996-2011.

Finally, the Smith River willow riparian buffer, just north of Yontocket, is known for hosting the largest colony of Banks swallows in northwestern California, a threatened species in the state. This population attracts many birders and tourists from out of the area who come to witness its unique ecology (pers. comm., Rob Fowler).

Invasive and Native Plant Observations

Though floral observations were not a component of this project, several opportunistic sightings were made that are worth noting, including further proof of a recent species range extension.

One management issue in the Yontocket area is the invasive reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea) which is abundant and even a monoculture in some parts of the Yontocket wetland. While livestock grazing has been used as a form of “greenwashing” management for a way to deal with this invasive grass, elk could also consume this forage, which is more akin to their preferences for heartier sedges, rushes, and forbs, than are cattle.

The invasive European beach grass (Ammophila arnaria) forms a monoculture in the open dunes and foredunes. Invasive species noted in the forest included cotoneaster, English ivy (Hedera helix), and English holly (Ilex aquifolia). Some small patches of ivy and cotoneaster were mapped and removed in route to fence mapping areas.

Photo 16. Erysimum concinnum. Yontocket. 11 Nov. 2013.

Photo 16. Erysimum concinnum. Yontocket. 11 Nov. 2013.

Uncommon native plants that were noted include Viola adunca, the symbiont with the threatened Oregon silverspot butterfly (Speryeria zerene hippolyta). Sceptridium multifidum, a primitive fern in the Adders tongue family, is abundant throughout TDSP swales and forest. The entire TDSP seems to host excellent habitat for the bluff wallflower, (Erysimum concinnum), which is listed by the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) as a 1B.2 plant, being rare, threatened and endangered in the state. This wallflower was found blooming in several places during the late/early season field work for this project. One site was along the forest ecotone near Yontocket. The other site which is worth noting, was in the Cadra Point CDFW grazing parcel (see map). This parcel was being actively grazed during the period of wallflower observation, which could severely impact or extirpate the plants in that area. Considering the threatened status of Erysimum concinnum, this type of mixed management in a habitat that is mandated to protect such species seems negligent.

Photo 17. Two Chimaphila menziesii individuals with Russula mushroom, Usnea sp. And cyanolichens, near Yontocket.

Photo 17. Two Chimaphila menziesii individuals with Russula mushroom, Usnea sp. And cyanolichens, near Yontocket.

One of the more exciting and unexpected plant discoveries during the project field work at TDSP was that of the Little Prince’s Pine, (Chimaphila menziesii). While this plant is listed as uncommon, occurring in montane conifer forest, according to the Jepson Manual (2012), the plant was discovered in the North Coast sub-region of Northwest California at Lanphere Dunes in Humboldt County in 2011. The Humboldt coastal population was only the second known coastal site in California (the other being the Big River estuary, Mendocino Co.), while the only other known coastal site doesn’t occur for over a thousand miles north, in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia (Canter 2012). This detection at TDSP is only the forth documented C. menziesii population along the immediate west coast. The population was detected along the forest/swale ecotone along the N/S trail just southwest of Yontocket Cemetery. Habitat was a beach pine (Pinus contorta ssp. contorta)/wax myrtle (Myrica californica) overstory with a sparse herbaceous layer consisting of rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera oblongifolia), cyanolichens, and bryophytes. Only 12 total individuals in 3 separate groups were observed. The Humboldt State Herbarium is being contacted about this observation to further document its range extension into the North Coast sub-region. It is worth mentioning that native tribes used C. menziesii for renal problems and kidney stone removal (Pojar and MacKinnon 1994). Both the TDSP site by Yontocket and the Humboldt Bay populations are located by known native village sites.

Discussion

Yontocket and TDSP are clearly shown from this short (3 month/part time) field project to serve as a key habitat sanctuary for many species, including Roosevelt elk, porcupines, endemic wallflowers, rare butterflies, and unusual and rare plant communities. Beyond these resources, Yontocket, TDSP, and the Lake Earl Wildlife Area are cultural sacred sites and homelands to the native Tolowa people, where in 1853 most of their remaining society was massacred by white settlers.

The village of Yontocket was burned along with living babies and many of the dead were thrown into Yontocket Slough (Norton 1979). Today this slough is obstructed and defaced by the illegal private property of the Alexandre Dairy. Not only is the fence an obstruction to megafauna, such as elk, and park recreationists, but it serves as a constant reminder of the white domination and genocide upon the Tolowa people at Yontocket (Burnt Ranch Massacre).

While the importance of infrastructure fencing is critical to protect TDSP from OHV use, the Alexandre’s old livestock fencing does not serve this function and is a relic of the illegal grazing that took place there from 1996-2011, under the guise of Aleutian goose habitat enhancement. This fencing limits wildlife movement in and around a critical ecotone/edge corridor between the forage of the Smith River plain and the protective cover and alternate forage sources of the dune forest and swales. The cultural and ecological impacts of the Alexandre livestock fencing are in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the California Coastal Act, and various California State Parks Statutes.

Data from this project would not have been collected without the funding and concern of the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), the Sperling Foundation, Tolowa Dunes Stewards (TDS), and Tolowa Dunes State Park (TDSP). It is clear that this project benefited from having a vigilant biologist in the field, who was able to make significant opportunistic observations of animal and plant species of concern. Work will continue to remove the illegal fence in the next phase of the project, which would not be possible without the support of the North Coast Redwoods State Parks District and the California State Parks Foundation.

Literature Cited

Alexandre Family EcoDairy. Stone Cold Media, 2008. Aleutian Canadian Geese. http://www.ecodairyfarms.com/Goose.html (March 12, 2014).

Boxall, Bettina. “Taking a Gander at Geese’s Comeback”. The Los Angeles Times. 10 April 2001. http://articles.latimes.com/2001/apr/10/news/mn-49209 (March 12, 2014).

Canter, Adam. 2012. Noteworthy Collection, Chimaphila menziesii. Madroño. Vol. 59, No. 4: p. 220.

Horrel, Holly and Sibris, Debra A. Private Grazing on Tolowa Dunes State Park Lands in Violation of State Law. 2011. Standford Law School Environmental Law Clinic letter. http://www.wildcalifornia.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/EPIC-Letter-to-Parks-and-Recreation-Final-Version.pdf (March 12, 2014).

Elk in the Redwoods 2004, brochure, Redwood National and State Parks, National Park Service. Department of Interior http://www.nps.gov/redw/planyourvisit/upload/elk.pdf (March 12, 2014).

Norton, Jack. 1979. Genocide in Northwestern California: When Our Worlds Cried. San Francisco: Indian Historian Press.

Pojar, J. and MacKinnon, A. 1994. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Vancouver, BC: Lone Pine Press (p. 226).

Roze, U. 1989. The North American Porcupine. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Weiser, Matt. “Porcupines an increasingly rare sight in California forests, scientists say.” The Sacramento Bee. 03 March 2012.   http://snamp.cnr.berkeley.edu/static/documents/2012/03/28/Porcupines_an_increasingly_rare_sight_in_California_forests_scientists_say.pdf. Web. (March 12, 2014).