Archive for January, 2015

Action Alert: Tell Caltrans to study impacts before advancing the Four Bridges Project

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015
By
Avenue of the Giants

Avenue of the Giants

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is proposing to upgrade four existing  bridges along the Avenue of the Giants, a world-famous scenic drive along old Highway 101, through the ancient redwood groves of Redwood State Park.

Take Action: Tell Caltrans that it needs to adequately study impacts, and adequately inform the public, before they move forward with the project.

Elk Creek Bridge

Elk Creek Bridge

Caltrans released an Initial Study with Proposed Mitigated Negative Declaration for the “Avenue of the Giants – Four Bridges Project” over the holidays, comments are due on Monday, February 2.  (A “Mitigated Negative Declaration” is a CEQA document that essentially says that environmental impacts will be mitigated below significant levels, and therefore that further study of the project impacts is unnecessary.) As proposed, this project would involve upgrades to bridge and guard railings and repaving of the existing roadway on each side of four bridges on Avenue of the Giants/Route 254, and all of this work would occur within and around ancient redwoods and important salmon habitat. Yet, despite the precious resources potentially threatened by this project, Caltrans is pushing the project through without adequately analyzing or disclosing to the public the impacts of the project.

 Tell Caltrans:
* Impacts to redwoods need to be fully analyzed, and all conclusions need to be fully explained to the public, before work begins in and around their roots.
* Adequate, and fully explained, measures to avoid spills or other stream disturbances need to be developed before Caltrans begins working over streams with important fish habitat.
* Caltrans needs to recirculate the Initial Study with Proposed Mitigated Negative Declaration with all underlying studies and documents in order to be transparent with the public about the project and its potential impacts to public resources, and in order to comply with CEQA which requires that the public be provided this information for comment.

Impacts to Trees
Caltrans maintains that the project area contains 46 coastal redwood trees. While the Initial Study and Proposed Mitigated Negative Declaration notes that “[i]t is difficult to develop a mitigation strategy that adequately offsets a project’s impacts to old growth redwood trees, due to their size and age,” it nevertheless concludes that the study will have “less than significant” impacts on these trees. The impacts on each tree in the area were rated on a 0-6 scale corresponding with the magnitude of impacts of the projects on the tree: eleven trees were rated “0” (no effect); fourteen were rated “1” (effect of root zone disturbance is extremely minor with no decline in foliage density or tree health); and twenty-two were rated “2” (effect of root zone disturbance is very slight with no decline in foliage density or tree health). Exactly how this rating system was developed, or how the trees were rated, however, was not disclosed. For trees rated “2,” for instance, the Initial Study indicates that there may be project activities closer than 10 feet from the base of these trees. Caltrans needs to explain why it believes that this work occurring so close to the trees would cause only “very slight”  root zone disturbance.

Various avoidance, minimization, and mitigation measures are proposed to reduce impacts to redwoods. Many, however, contain inadequate descriptions regarding how they will be carried out. For example, one such measure is “no roots greater than two inches in diameter will be cut,” however the Initial Study does not describe how work crews will achieve this.

In short, Caltrans has not demonstrated that it takes seriously the great responsibility of working near our precious ancient redwoods, and that it deserves our trust when they say that the project will leave these trees unharmed.

Impacts on Fish
The bridges at issue span Ohman Creek, Elk Creek, Bridge Creek and Bear Creek, all four of which provide habitat for Chinook and Coho salmon, among other aquatic creatures. As with its analysis of impacts on redwoods, Caltrans concludes that the impacts of the project on fish will be “less than significant,” but it provides little evidence to support this conclusion.

Furthermore, the document acknowledges that unexpected impacts to fish can occur from “unintended spills, increased sedimentation, and alteration of pH.”

Collapse Jan. 22, 2015. Photo Credit: Steve Eberhard Willits News

Collapse Jan. 22, 2015. Photo Credit: Steve Eberhard Willits News

As we have unfortunately learned from the recent collapse of the overpass at Willits Bypass, which spilled wet concrete into a nearby stream, raising the pH of the stream to a level that can kill fish immediately, unintended events can have huge impacts. But the “avoidance, minimization, and/or mitigation measures” provided in the Initial Study for the Four Bridges Project for potential impacts to anadromous fish are vague and inadequate. Before starting work above and around these streams, Caltrans should provide additional assurances that spills and other disturbances of the creeks in the project area will be prevented, and it should develop and circulate for public review a site-specific emergency response plan for spills or other disturbances of the streams.

CEQA violations
CEQA requires that all documents referenced in a proposed mitigated negative declaration be made available to the public. (See Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 21092; CEQA Guidelines  § 15072). In this Mitigated Negative Declaration, however, many conclusions rely entirely on referenced documents and surveys, which were not made publicly available, in clear violation of CEQA.

While ultimately it may be that Caltrans believes it has put adequate measures in place to reduce environmental impacts of this project to acceptable levels, it needs to prove this to the public by publicly releasing all underlying documents so that the public – as a participant in the process for informed decision-making – can review and comment on all the information.

This must be done before Caltrans can act to decide this project.

Click here to be directed to Caltrans’ website for technical studies.


Take Action—Tell the Fish and Wildlife Service to Protect the Pacific Fisher

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015
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Pacific FisherAfter 15 years of delays and subsequent litigation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to list the West Coast population of the Pacific fisher, a small, weasel-like forest carnivore, as a “threatened” species under the federal Endangered Species Act. In 2000, EPIC and 16 other conservation groups petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) to list the West Coast population of the Pacific fisher under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Now, the end is almost in sight; our goal is almost achieved.

The Pacific fisher faces many threats to its survival and conservation. From logging to roads, stand-replacing wildfires and overly-aggressive fuel reduction programs, and the explosion in illegal marijuana growing and the associated use of anticoagulant rodenticides, the small, isolated populations of West Coast fishers have long needed the protections afforded by the ESA. However, EPIC is concerned with certain proposals put forward by the Service and big-timber interests.

First, EPIC is concerned about the designation of critical habitat for the fisher and the development of a subsequent fisher recovery plan. The ESA normally requires the Service to designate critical habitat for a listed species concurrently with a listing determination. The Service has indicated it will not do so for the fisher. Instead, the designation of critical habitat will be pushed out into the future. In developing future critical habitat, it is essential that the Service pay close attention to the conservation needs of the fisher and not rely on the conservation strategy for the northern spotted owl to adequately protect the fisher.

Like the northern spotted owl, the fisher primarily relies on old, mature forests and complex forest structures, like snags and mistletoe brooms, for denning, feeding, and dispersal behaviors. Because of these similarities, there is pressure to rely on the conservation strategy developed for the northern spotted owl—most notably, relying on northern spotted owl critical habitat and the system of late-successional reserves on our public lands for the conservation of the fisher. However, reliance on the extant conservation strategy for the northern spotted owl will not likely be sufficient to protect and conserve the fisher across the species’ range. While the owl and the fisher do use some similar habitats, the best available research shows us that the habitat for these two species does not entirely overlap, and that conservation of the fisher will rely on a more comprehensive strategy.

Second, EPIC is concerned with attempts to redefine which populations should be afforded protection under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering several listing configurations for the west coast population of the fisher. When only a portion of a larger species is proposed for listing, the ESA provides for the ability to list what is known as a Distinct Population Segment (DPS). At present, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether or not to include the entire West Coast population of the fisher into one DPS, or if it will break out the Sierra, Northern California, and Washington and Oregon populations into smaller listable units. EPIC supports the designation of the entire West Coast population of the fisher as a single DPS. Listing of the entire West Coast population of the fisher under the ESA will increase the likelihood that the small, isolated populations of the fisher can persist, and perhaps even reconnect. In addition, listing of the West Coast population of the fisher will serve to improve landscape management, which in turn, will aid in our goals of protecting and connecting our wild and forested landscapes.

Lastly, EPIC is concerned that the Service may attempt to weaken the normal protections afforded to a threatened species to lessen the sting of the ESA on industries which degrade fisher habitat. In addition to the failure to promptly designate critical habitat for the fisher, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has indicated that it is considering the promulgation of a “4(d) rule” which would allow the Service to weaken the default ESA protections for the fisher in favor of promoting so-called “fisher-friendly forestry.” EPIC opposes any such rule which serves only to weaken ESA protections afforded to the fisher.

Action:

Tell the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

  • Listing of the West Coast population of the fisher is a warranted action.
  • List the entire West Coast fisher populations as a single Distinct Population Segment.
  • You oppose any rule that would weaken Endangered Species Act protections for the fisher in favor of “fisher-friendly forestry.”

Send Comments to Federal eRulemaking Portal:

http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=FWS-R8-ES-2014-0041-0148


Massive Timber Sale Proposed for Klamath National Forest – Public Meetings Announced

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015
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Photo by Nat PenningtonA massive 43,883 acre post-fire logging project is being proposed by the Klamath National Forest. Almost half of the project is within areas that are supposed to be set aside to protect and enhance old growth forest ecosystems called, Late Successional Reserves. The Forest Service is planning to streamline this unprecedented timber sale, which would shorten public comment opportunities, and speed up the environmental review process.

The proposal is dubiously named the Westside Fire Recovery Project, but instead of acting as a prescription for recovery; the proposal would devastate old growth forests, watersheds, salmon, sensitive animal and plant species, and proposes to plant 20,000 acres of even aged plantation forests that would increase the potential for high intensity fires in the future.

Recent post-fire “salvage” logging projects that have been carried out by the U.S. Forest Service on Klamath National Forest have not followed mitigation measures and have failed to implement project design features put in place to protect wildlife and fisheries, resulting in negative impacts to fish and wildlife.

We recognize the need for hazard tree removal for roadside safety along primary roads, defensible space around homes and communities, and strategic fuel breaks. However, proposed logging in the Westside proposal targets mature forests that are located on steep slopes with unstable soils in high value watersheds for at-risk salmonid populations. This is a region where salmon populations are already heavily impacted by many other factors including dams, diversions and drought, and millions of dollars have been spent on fisheries restoration projects. These irreplaceable ecosystems should not be traded for short-term economic gains.

Forests need fire. Post-fire landscapes are more biologically diverse than unburned forests are considered to be one of the rarest and most ecologically important forest habitats. Historically, Native Americans would use fire as a means to thin out the understory, open up the forests for fruit and nut producing shrubs, and enhance prairie grasslands and to cultivate basket weaving materials. Decades of fire suppression combined with post-fire logging, and uniform tree planting, has allowed for much of the region become densely overgrown and the forests have become less biologically diverse. After a fire burns through a forest, the large old growth trees usually don’t die, the small overcrowded trees are cleared out, the snags that are left become wildlife habitat, and the downed trees hold the slopes together, enhance soil complexity and eventually become fish habitat when they fall into the waterways. However, when roads are made on the sensitive burned soils and many of the largest marketable trees are logged, large sediment loads are sent into watersheds, and the soils, forests and watersheds have a difficulty recovering.

We need your voice to advocate for real recovery! The Forest Service has scheduled informational meetings to allow for public input on the Westside Project. Please come out and voice your concerns for this unprecedented large and hurried process that targets some of the most productive and best habitat for the last remaining run of wild spring Chinook salmon and other rare plant and wildlife species.

Westside Fire Open House Meeting Schedule:

Yreka– Friday, January 30 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Klamath National Forest Headquarters Office

Scott Valley– Saturday, January 31 from 12:00 to 3:00 p.m. at the Fort Jones Community Hall

Klamath River– Tuesday, February 3 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Community Center

Happy Camp– Wednesday, February 4 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Karuk Senior Nutrition Center

Scott Bar– Thursday, February 5 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Community Hall

Sawyers Bar– Friday, February 6 from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the Salmon River Restoration Council

Seiad– Friday, February 6 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Seiad Fire Hall

Please come to these meetings and be a voice for the wild!


Save Richardson Grove: Think Globally, Act Locally

Sunday, January 25th, 2015
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Madrone Hugging Ancient RedwoodIf everyone cared for their own wild back yard, the world would be a better place. Northwest California is known for having some of the wildest lands, including the Lost Coast and the tallest trees on the planet, which have been preserved behind the redwood curtain since time immemorial. With less than three percent of the planet’s old growth redwood trees remaining, it is imperative that every ancient tree is protected, especially if they are entrusted into a park system, which has vowed to protect them in perpetuity.

Since 2007, EPIC has been working to protect some of the most well-known giant redwoods in the world from the California Department of Transportation’s destructive highway-widening project. A grass roots coalition of community members, business owners, economists, conservation and Native American groups have opposed the Richardson Grove Operational Improvement Project, which proposed tree removal and destruction of the root systems of ancient redwood trees in Richardson Grove State Park – trees that are supposed to be protected by the state park system.

Richardson Grove is the first cluster of old-growth redwoods people see as they head up the coast on Highway 101, it is essentially the “redwood curtain” that has allowed Humboldt County to retain its rural character. The redwoods in Richardson Grove also serve as critical habitat for Marbled Murrelets, Northern Spotted Owls and streams going through the Grove are critical habitat for endangered Coho Salmon. Maintaining the integrity of these trees is incredibly important not only to the ecosystem, but to the community, since these trees are the pinch point that do not allow for larger trucks serving corporate chains that are characteristic of sprawling urban areas, and which many people feel would change the essential character of Humboldt County.

For eight years EPIC and allies have organized community support, provided comments, and filed substantive lawsuits that convinced a federal judge to grant an injunction halting the Richardson Grove project citing that the agency had been “arbitrary and capricious” in its use of what the court called “faulty data.” This past December Caltrans revoked its approval of the project. If the agency decides to pursue the project, a complete and comprehensive environmental review and approval process will have to start over. This is a victory, we can all breathe a sigh of relief and rest assured that the trees in Richardson Grove State Park will not be harmed for now.

An important lesson has been learned because of this case, that Caltrans consistently breaks the rules, violating environmental laws and risking important public trust resources. For this reason, EPIC will continue to engage with Caltrans and hold them accountable to the environmental standards that have been put in place to protect our natural treasures.

A related proposal that should be watched closely is Caltrans’ “Last Chance Grade” project, located along Highway 101 ten miles south of Crescent City where the roadbed is sliding into the Pacific Ocean. Caltrans is in the beginning planning phases of this project and is looking at potential alternative routes to the east, away from the sliding cliffs, which includes multiple alternatives that would go through the middle of Redwood State and National Parks. EPIC is committed to finding the least environmentally destructive project alternative that meets the needs of the community, while holding Caltrans accountable to environmental laws.

The loss of large tracts of intact wild lands may be the single biggest threat to our way of life. Climate disruption will only compound the threats that future generations face. In order to secure a sustainable future, it is clear that protecting and restoring Northwest California’s forest ecosystems will provide necessary habitat, clean air and water, carbon sequestration, and improve quality of life for people and native wildlife for generations to come.

In order to hone EPIC’s effectiveness in protecting wild forestlands within our bioregion, we have restructured the organization, added two new attorneys to our staff, and developed a new strategic plan to focus on three primary campaigns:

•Achieving permanent connectivity of working and wild forestlands, a campaign called “Connecting Wild Places;”

•Ensuring best management of public forestlands; and

•Ensuring best management of private industrial forests with an emphasis on the Elk, Mattole and Freshwater watersheds.

With your help, we can protect wild places and ensure that public and private lands are managed responsibly to maintain healthy intact ecosystems. We have our work cut out for us, but we are dedicated and determined to leave our children with a legacy we can all be proud of.

 


Caltrans Setting Sights on Redwood National Park

Thursday, January 15th, 2015
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Last Chance GradeCaltrans is in the beginning stages of planning for the Last Chance Grade Project along Highway 101 (10-miles south of Crescent City), where the highway is slipping into the Pacific Ocean. This project would have significant environmental impacts, as the highway would likely be rerouted to the east through Redwood State and National Parks.

EPIC is committed to finding the least environmentally destructive alternative for this project and will work tireless to hold Caltrans to the law. We need your help. Please attend the meeting most convenient to you. We need to show Caltrans that the community is paying attention to this project and let them know we will protect our ancient redwood forests and coho salmon-bearing streams. Click here to learn more about the project.

A series of community workshops will be held to get public input and ideas on a range of possible alternatives for Last Chance Grade. Come to a workshop to learn more and share your ideas:
Crescent City – Monday, January 26, 2015
5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Del Norte County Fairgrounds
Arts & Crafts Building
421 Highway 101 North

Eureka – Tuesday, January 27, 2015
5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Wharfinger Building
Great Room
Eureka Public Marina, #1 Marina Way

Klamath – Wednesday, January 28, 2015
5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Yurok Tribal Office
Klamath Community Room
190 Klamath Boulevard

These meetings are being characterized as a series of workshops, with small breakout groups. There are six different preliminary alternatives for consideration that will be further analyzed as part of the design engineered feasibility study that will be completed by July 2015. All meetings will be verbally recorded so that the content is sufficiently captured. We have seen no notification to the public regarding these meetings.


Spotted Owl Told to Wait (Again)

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015
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Owl-Self-Defense-wings-shadow-296x300The Northern Spotted Owl is an iconic corner-stone species that has called the forests of northwest California home since time immemorial. Despite over 20 years of enhanced protections afforded by the listing of the owl under the federal Endangered Species Act, the best available science continues to show alarming and precipitous declines in NSO vital statistics across the species’ range.

EPIC’s Northern Spotted Owl Self-defense Campaign has sought to achieve enhanced protections for the owl in California and beyond. Given the myriad and immediacy of threats to the species, EPIC believes that urgent actions are needed to prevent the extinction of the NSO.

In 2012, EPIC filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ‘up-list’ or ‘reclassify’ the NSO from a “threatened” to an “endangered” species under the federal ESA. Despite statutory obligations to produce an initial 90-day finding on our petition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to fulfill its responsibilities under the ESA. In 2014, EPIC reached a ‘handshake’ agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Service had committed to publishing its initial 90-day finding on our petition by December 12, 2014. However, the Service failed to meet this specified deadline, now indicating that it does not intend to publish the 90-day finding until March 31, 2015.

Meanwhile, EPIC also submitted a listing petition for the NSO under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) in 2012. After a great deal of delay, the California Fish and Game Commission considered the petition in August 2013. The Commission found that the proposed listing action ‘may be warranted,’ thus initiating a one-year ‘candidacy’ period for the NSO under CESA, during which time the species would be treated as if it were listed. The NSO is thus currently protected under California state law.

CESA requires the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to ‘promptly’ commence a full status review of the NSO in California, and to produce a status report for submission to the Fish and Game Commission to inform the Commission’s final decision on the listing proposal. The Department of Fish and Wildlife’s status review and report were to be completed by December 2014. However, the Department has sought, and successfully received a six-month extension for the submission of its status report for the NSO. The new release date for the Department’s status report is now June 26, 2015.

The failure of the wildlife agencies to address our listing petitions and the increasing threats to the NSO in a timely manner bodes poorly for the prospects for survival of the owl in California and elsewhere in the species’ range. Despite the fact that existing conservation measures for the owl have clearly failed, both the state and federal governments have shunned their responsibilities to ensure the conservation, survival, and recovery of the NSO in the wild. Instead, business as usual prevails in both our public and privately-held forestlands.
Preventing the extinction of the NSO is key to maintaining forest ecosystem health, maintaining species’ biodiversity in the forest, and for protecting and connecting our wild places and managed landscapes. EPIC will continue to use the tools available to advocate for the conservation and recovery of the Northern Spotted Owl.


Thank You Jared Huffman!

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015
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HuffmanEPIC would like to thank Representative Jared Huffman for his outstanding work on environmental issues affecting Northern California. Huffman has a long history of championing environmental causes. Prior to serving California’s Second Congressional District, he worked as an environmental attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Since first being elected in 2012, Representative Huffman has:

  • Protected Humboldt County’s water rights from encroachment from Central Valley irrigators;
  • Expanded the California Coastal National Monument off the Mendocino coast;
  • Fought trespass marijuana grows in public forestlands; and
  • Defended the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from development.

For these things, and many more, EPIC is thankful. Help us thank Representative Huffman by calling his D.C. office at (202) 225-5161 and telling him to continue the good fight!