Archive for July, 2015

Final Push for the Protection of Pacific Fishers

Thursday, July 30th, 2015
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Pacific Fisher FWS.gov

Take Action: The Pacific fisher needs your help. The fisher is a candidate for protection under the California Endangered Species Act. The Department of Fish and Wildlife has recommended, however, that the fisher not receive protection in the vast majority of its range. The Fish and Game Commission has the last word though and they need to hear your voice. Please tell the Fish and Game Commission that you support protecting all fishers, not just some.

Protecting the fisher is important. California is home to the majority of the remaining fisher populations on the West Coast, but historic impacts, such as logging and trapping, together with new threats such as rodenticide associated with marijuana production, are threatening the fisher with extinction. California needs to act fast to ensure that fisher populations stabilize and eventually recolonize their historic home range.

The Pacific fisher is experiencing a downward trend in population size across California for numerous reasons. Over the past 200 years, logging and trapping pressures dramatically reduced the California Fisher population. Today, fishers are still recovering from past decimation while they face a handful of new challenges such as forest fragmentation, increased predation, and toxicant exposure.

Pacific fishers are sensitive to forest fragmentation. Fishers prefer to make their dens in old-growth trees due to their structural complexity and dense canopy structures that provide necessary protection to help fishers evade their natural predators, like the bobcat and coyotes. Flat open spaces, such as those resulting from clearcut logging, makes it very difficult for fishers to migrate because of a lack of natural coverage from predation. Furthermore, fragmentation creates new openings and passages for predators like coyotes and bobcats to migrate into previously secure fisher habitat. Natural understory, such as downed logs and snags are important for coverage and also provide habitat for prey, small mammals like rodents, birds, rabbits and the nearly extirpated porcupine. While logging green trees has diminished on our national forests in the past two decades, new fragmentation threats are emerging, such as post-fire “salvage” logging.

A “green rush” is underway in California’s forests: Northern California and the Sierras are inundated by marijuana grows. In order to prevent pests from infiltrating their crop, growers will spread anticoagulant rodenticides around their property. Fishers, especially the foraging male, will sometimes ingest these poisons or will be exposed by preying on animals which had ingested the poison. Females that nest in riparian zones are especially prone to contact with the rodenticide because of their close proximity to marijuana farm’s irrigation lines. Exposure to this rodenticide is wreaking havoc on local fisher populations, either directly killing the fisher or by reducing its survival fitness, making them more susceptible to predators and more difficult for them to catch their prey.

 


Take Action: Klamath River Runs Brown!

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015
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Klamath River Near Mouth 7.13.15 by Mark Harris

Near the mouth of the Klamath River. July 13, 2015. Photo Courtesy of Mark Harris

Take Action Now to stop Westside: A few short but intense rain storms hit the 2014 fire areas on the Klamath National Forest causing massive sediment events that turned the mighty Klamath and Salmon River systems muddy and brown. On July 5th, 7th and 12th rainstorms brought over an inch of rain in less than an hour causing road damage, intense debris torrents with slurries of mud, rock, water and trees to sliding for miles, filling in pools and creeks that serve as some of the best salmon spawning habitat. These watersheds are located within the same steep and unstable hillsides that are targeted for logging in the Westside project.

Salmon

Juvenile and adult salmon struggle to survive in oxygen-depleted lethal water temperatures with high rates of disease and algae. The storm events greatly increased turbidity and lowered oxygen levels in the water for nearly two weeks. Massive amounts of sediment dumped into some of the most important spawning habitat and cool water refuges. There appears to be considerable reduction in size, volume, and depth of pools. It is uncertain how salmon and other aquatic life will survive this onslaught of impacts, especially with the hottest summer temperatures soon to come and the proposed clearcutting and logging activities.

Coho salmon are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. There are 101 miles of coho Critical Habitat in the project area. This includes the rivers affected by recent storms, Klamath and North Fork Salmon Rivers and many of the cool water tributaries vital for fish survival, including: Grider, Beaver, Elk, South Russian Creeks and Whites Gulch.

Roads

Road systems were blocked and sliding mud, trees, rock and debris clogged dozens of culverts and ditches. Thousands of cubic yards of sediment came down hills and hundreds have already been cleared from roads with heavy machinery, but much more debris continues to be suspended on the hillsides waiting for the next rain event.

Click here for before and after photos of road work in the Walker Creek drainage. At least 24 different road locations on roads 46N64, 46N65, and 46N67 were blocked by mud, rock, and debris flows, and numerous culvert inlets are still buried under mud and rocks.

Roads are the leading contributor of sediment into our creeks and rivers. There are over 950 “legacy” sites, which are chronic sources of sediment in the Westside project area. The Klamath National Forest is proposing to treat only 150 legacy sites in one watershed, leaving over 800 sites untreated.

The Forest Service proposes to open miles of decommissioned and self-decommissioned roads. These roads also contain legacy sites. For instance, road 16N41 up Little Elk Creek is approximately 2 miles long and completely grown over, which would require intense forest clearing and reconstruction just upstream of coho Critical Habitat. Further, there are over 280 miles of level 2 roads, passable by high clearance vehicles only, which would require reconstruction in order to accommodate for the proposed use by heavy machinery and large trucks. These are few of many road issues that were not adequately considered, addressed or disclosed.

The Past the Future and Westside

As temperatures and extinction rates soar globally and climate change brings more extreme weather, like summer rainstorms – our water, wildlife, salmon and wild places need extra protection. Low to no snow pack and higher temperatures means increasingly low and warm summer flows in our rivers. Extreme wind, rain and fire leave behind fragile ecosystems susceptible to severe damage from industrial activities on the landscape.

The Klamath Mountains are some of the steepest and most erodible hillsides on the west coast. For decades we have witnessed and documented major impacts to our watersheds during large storm events. The decomposed granitic soils in the Westside fire areas will slide downhill and into our rivers. The entire watersheds of Grider and Walker are unstable, which is where the highest concentration of Westside units are proposed!

Click here now to tell Patty Grantham to stay off geologically unstable slopes, disclose the extreme amount of roadwork proposed, to learn from the past and allow for the natural recovery of our fragile and fire dependent watersheds.

Rivers and Creeks up Close 

A few short and intense summer storms brought massive debris flows choking the Klamath and Salmon Rivers and many of its tributaries with thick sediment and mud. The Klamath Mountains are some of the steepest and most erodible lands on the west coast. The rivers listed below support a suffering salmon population- all are proposed for clearcut logging by the Klamath National Forest in the Westside project and all are listed as impaired under the Clean Water Act, mostly from temperature and sediment. Many of them are supposed to be federally protected designated or eligible for designation as Wild and Scenic Rivers.

Klamath River

The Wild and Scenic Klamath River (Karuk: Ishkêesh,‪ Klamath: Koke,‪ Yurok: Hehlkeek ‘We-Roy,‪ Hupa: k’ina’-tahxw-hun’) flows 263 miles southwest from Oregon and northern California, cutting through the Cascade Range to empty into the Pacific Ocean. It is listed as impaired under the Clean Water Act for Nutrients, Organic Enrichment/Low Dissolved Oxygen, Temperature and Microcystin.

It was once the third most productive salmon-bearing river system in the country. Today, thanks to habitat blocking dams, logging, mining, grazing, agriculture, poor water quality and too little water left in the river, the once abundant Klamath salmon runs have now been reduced to less than 10% of their historic size. Anadromous species present in the Klamath River basin below Iron Gate Dam include Chinook, coho, pink, and chum salmon, steelhead and coastal cutthroat trout, eulachon, white and green sturgeon, and Pacific lamprey. Some species, such as coho salmon, are now in such low numbers in the Klamath River that they are listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

North Fork Salmon River

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 for high temperatures. The Wild and Scenic Salmon River provides over 175 miles of anadromous fish habitat and 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. It is home to one of the most sought after world-class whitewater rafting trips in the country. It 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 released roadless areas within the Westside project 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 is home to many rare species, including Pacific fishers and pine martens. The North Fork Watershed Analysis notes that, “the watershed has habitat critical to wildlife and fish species that are listed or petitioned for listing through the Endangered Species Act. Some of these habitat features may be at risk and need protection or enhancement. Older, late successional forest stands and anadromous fish habitat are considered some of the most important features within the watershed.”

This watershed has a total of 1,035 miles of roads, and over 73 stream crossings. These roads—along with timber harvesting in this area—have increased landslide potential, and have therefore increased the potential for negative impacts on the streams. Logging in this area has also led to a decrease in shade along the entire North Fork of the Salmon River. As a result, the Salmon River is now listed under the 303(d) Clean Water Act for temperature. This increase in water temperature has resulted in fish kills of Chinook salmon and steelhead during drought conditions, such as in the years 1994 and 2014.

South Russian Creek and Music

South Russian Creek, fed from the Russian Wilderness, is eligible for designation as a Wild and Scenic River and is recognized for its magnificent stand of old growth Engleman Spruce and for pristine water quality. Music Creek is a tributary to South Russian Creek that leads to the Russian Wilderness and the Pacific Crest Trail. Both of these watersheds are comprised of highly erodible decomposed granitic soils and have seen huge landslides and road impacts from past storms. In August, 1996 a thunderstorm triggered a debris torrent that scoured 2.6 miles of stream in Music Creek. The resulting plume of sediment impacted the North Fork and Mainstem of the Salmon River for several weeks.

Whites Gulch

Whites Gulch is a tributary to the North Fork Salmon. It is critical cold water refugia and spawning habitat for juvenile and adult Coho salmon, spring and fall Chinook salmon and steelhead trout. Whites Gulch watershed contains Critical Habitat for Coho salmon and the Northern spotted owl. This watershed is also home to one of the four Northern goshawks nest areas that would have a high risk of abandonment because of the Westside clearcutting units.

The outer ridges were used extensively for fire suppression operations during the 2014 fires and the road system, with its many sediment sources, also saw a large amount of traffic from heavy trucks.

In October 2008, the Salmon River Restoration Council, in cooperation with the California Department of Fish and Game and NOAA Open Rivers Initiative, removed two dams from the upstream reaches of Whites Gulch. Both of the dams were remnants of the historic mining activity that had occurred within the watershed. The removal of the dams and the subsequent removal of the culvert barrier on Whites Gulch Road, restored access to 3.5 miles of refugia, rearing and spawning habitat in Whites Gulch.

 

Grider Creek/ No Name Creek (Grider Tributary)

Upper Grider Creek watershed contains one of the most important roadless areas, which provides a vital north to south wildlife corridor that connects the Marble Mountain Wilderness with the Siskiyou Crest and Red Buttes Wilderness. The entire watershed contains the largest expanse of geologically unstable areas of the Kla math National Forest and is where the highest concentration of clearcut units in the Westside project are proposed.

Grider Creek is a key watershed, meaning that it contains crucial for salmon survival. It provides spawning, rearing, and holding habitat for Steelhead, Coho, and Chinook salmon. In fact, the mouth of Grider Creek used to provide one of the largest and most important cold water refuge areas on the Klamath River. Unfortunately, the storm of 1997 raised water temperatures in this area and degraded its function as a cold refuge.

It is eligible for designation as a Wild and Scenic River recognized for its undisturbed old growth mixed conifer forests, high water quality and for wildlife because bald eagles and peregrine falcons nest there. These eagles would have a high risk of abandoning their nest areas because the Westside project would decimate the area.

While Grider Creek still has large areas with minimal human activity, it is clear that managed areas of the creek are being degraded. Areas that previously provided the connectivity necessary for the wellbeing of many sensitive species in the area have turned into patchy forests unusable by many animals. If human activity increases throughout this pristine area, habitats will quickly diminish and already threatened species will suffer.

 

Walker Creek

Walker Creek provides high quality water to the Middle Klamath River and acts as a thermal refuge for anadromous salmonids during warm months. Additionally, Walker Creek provides spawning, rearing, and holding habitat for fall and spring-run Chinook salmon, winter and summer-run steelhead and threatened Coho salmon.

The Walker Creek area contains many large, active earthflow landslides and with Grider, contains the largest expanse of geologically unstable areas of the Klamath National Forest and is where the highest concentration of clearcut units in the Westside project are proposed. This along with strong seasonal storms makes this creek particularly susceptible to large amounts of sedimentation. Past management of this area has not been successful in combating this unique feature, and has made stream sedimentation worse. These high levels of sedimentation can have devastating effects on sensitive aquatic species, and therefore must be properly controlled in order for the creek and the surrounding habitat to thrive.

Elk Creek 

The Elk Creek watershed is 60,780 acres of steep slopes and large dispersed benches. It is the municipal water supply for the town of Happy Camp. This watershed provides 51.6 miles of habitat for Steelhead, Coho, and Chinook salmon, Pacific lamprey, Klamath small-scale sucker, and other native fish species. In fact, Elk Creek provides one of highest quality spawning and rearing habitats for Coho salmon in the Middle Klamath River. Its low water temperature also makes Elk Creek an important thermal refuge for many aquatic species during warm periods.

In addition to aquatic species, this watershed is home to many threatened, endangered, and sensitive species listed under the Endangered Species Act. These species include Northern spotted owls, marbled murrelets, bald eagles, and peregrine falcons. Other sensitive species include goshawks, willow flycatchers, fishers, western pond turtles, great grey owls, and martens.

Elk Creek is eligible for designation as a Wild and Scenic River and is recognized for its fisheres, geologic and wildlife values because the Siskiyou Mountains Salamander has been found there.

Logging and road building activities throughout the watershed have disturbed habitat crucial to the survival of both aquatic and terrestrial species. For example, 9,833 acres of Elk Creek watershed have experienced harvest activity over the last 40 years, 7,445 of which were clear cuts or other types of regeneration harvest. This, along with other activities has caused the creek to exceed the Mass Wasting threshold of concern, which indicates an increased risk for hillslope sediment production. It has also led this important thermal refuge to range from “properly functioning” to “at risk” for proper stream temperatures. Once a cool water safe haven for aquatic species, increased water temperatures throughout this creek may lead to increased wildlife mortality. And while storm events and landslides are natural disturbances throughout this watershed, road building, timber harvesting, and other human activities have made it so storm events have much higher impacts on downstream aquatic resources than they naturally would.

The current goals for the Elk Creek watershed include maintaining and restoring the following: spatial and temporal connectivity, physical integrity of the aquatic system, water quality necessary to support healthy ecosystems, and sediment regimes in which aquatic systems evolved. In order to meet these goals and protect important wildlife throughout Elk Creek, it is critical that human activity is kept to a minimum.

Beaver Creek

Beaver Creek after storm. July 15, 2015. Photo courtesy of Bruce Harlow

Beaver Creek after storm. July 15, 2015. Photo courtesy of Bruce Harlow

The Beaver Creek watershed is checkerboarded with forests used as industrial timberlands. Extreme logging has taken place since the 2014 fires. Logging operations were still active up to the time of these recent storms. The Klamath National Forest has had the sense to cancel commercial logging in the watershed in the Westside project.

Beaver Creek is an important tributary to the Klamath River. This watershed makes up approximately 70,000 acres of steep sloped habitat dominated by mixed conifer and true fir forests. Beaver Creek is home to several sensitive species such as Northern spotted owls (threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)), northern goshawks, martens, fishers, willow flycatchers, Siskiyou mountain salamanders, and great grey owls. Additionally, Steelhead, Coho, and Chinook salmon are dependent on Beaver Creek habitat for spawning, rearing, and holding for adult and juvenile fish. Due to its ecological importance, this watershed includes designated Special Interest Areas, and Late-Seral Reserve land allocation areas. These areas provide important habitat for sensitive species, and help protect the integrity of this rich watershed.

Over the years the quality of the Beaver Creek has been greatly degraded. Roads, mainly created to access timber harvest areas, are the current largest impact on the drainage. Approximately 440 miles of roads and an unknown amount of skid trails now occur within the drainage. These roads, as well as timber harvesting, has negatively impacted the watershed and degraded high quality habitat in many ways. Accelerated erosion associated with roads and logging leads to extremely high levels of stream sedimentation, which in turn results in loss of aquatic habitat for many species. In fact, Beaver Creek is on the 303(d) Clean Water Act list as impaired for sediment, and it has been reported that the likelihood of aquatic habitat being damaged due to debris is likely, and may influence the surrounding habitat for as long as ten years.

Roads and timber harvest also decrease connectivity and makes it more difficult for wildlife to easily move across the landscape. Connectivity is extremely fragmented but important for many species in this area, such as the spotted owl. There are 20 known spotted owl activity centers distributed throughout the Beaver Creek watershed. Without sufficient connectivity throughout the landscape, these owls and other late-seral dependent species are at an increased risk of endangerment.

The forests and rivers need your voice: Click here now to tell Patty Grantham to reconsider post-fire logging sensitive watersheds in the Westside proposal!


Conversion of Forests for Commercial Marijuana Cultivation–an Invitation to Disaster

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015
By
16,000 square feet of cultivation on 100 acres, plus road infrastructure.

16,000 square feet of cultivation on 100 acres, plus road infrastructure.

We are somewhat strange bedfellows — the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) is a non-profit group based in Arcata devoted to the defense of the North Coast’s forests; the Humboldt Redwood Company is a forestry company devoted to managing its large blocks of forestlands to provide for long‐term ecological, social, and economic vitality. Although we don’t always see eye-to-eye, we do agree on this: the marijuana “regulation” being forwarded by California Cannabis Voice Humboldt (CCVH) is bad for our forests. And what’s bad for forests is bad for Humboldt County.

Forests are important to California. Not only do they provide us humans with jobs, wood products, and recreation, they also provide important habitat for California’s rare and native species, like the Humboldt marten and the northern spotted owl; fight climate change by sequestering carbon; and help to supply clean, cool water. But our forests are at risk. Increased forest fragmentation — the breaking of large intact tracts of forests into smaller clumps — is driven by the desire to make way for new residences or commercial ventures by clearing forest land. And fragmentation poses a serious threat to the values our forests provide.

To promote the conservation of California’s forested landscape, in 1976 the state ordered counties to identify forestlands where timber management is the “highest and best use of the land” and categorize them as Timber Production Zones or TPZ. By law, use of TPZ land is restricted to timber harvesting and other “compatible uses” — those activities, as defined county-by-county, that do not “detract from the use of the property for, or inhibit, growing and harvesting timber.” In exchange for limiting the uses of TPZ land, and knowing that sustainable timber management is not a “get rich quick” scheme, the state offers TPZ landowners significant breaks on property taxes. As a whole, the TPZ system has worked: forest conversion slowed dramatically and responsible landowners could expect a profit from forest management.

While purportedly a marijuana regulation, the CCVH initiative would do more than regulate pot — it would further open our forests to development. Under the initiative, commercial marijuana cultivation would become a “compatible use” with forestlands in Humboldt County. This little change in the law could have drastic consequences. By opening TPZ land to commercial marijuana cultivation, those growing marijuana — California’s most lucrative crop — on TPZ land would receive a tax break. In turn, because of this preferential tax treatment for those growing marijuana on TPZ as opposed to other types of land, the price of timberland would jump as more growers flock deeper into the TPZ land in the hills. Therein lies the problem.

This article was written by Natalynne DeLapp and Mike Jani and published in the Myword column of the Times Standard on July 9th


Action Alert to Protect the Wild & Scenic Smith River from Strip Mining

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015
By

Smith River by Amber Shelton SM

Take Action Now: Mining companies want to develop large-sale industrial nickel strip mines in the headwaters of the Smith, Illinois and Pistol Rivers. Last year, a mining permit was denied by Oregon Department of Water Resources, but a Canadian based nickel mining company has appealed the decision. Unfortunately, the outdated mining law of 1872 prioritizes mining over all other land uses, and it is possible that the mining industry could have their way with these world class rivers if additional measures are not taken to protect them.

We need your help to ask the Obama administration for maximum temporary protection by withdrawing these rivers from mining while Congress considers the Southwest Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act, which has been proposed by Senators Wyden and Merkley and Representative DeFazio of Oregon, and Representative Huffman of California.

Nickle strip mines would negatively impact some of the highest quality rivers left in the United States, and the native fish and wildlife that depend on them. These pristine watersheds deserve protections from mining operations, haul roads, cesspools, and nickel processing facilities.

Help us keep our wild and scenic rivers pristine. The Interior Department is taking comments on the proposed mineral withdrawal now. Please click here to send a letter of support to protect our clear, emerald waters from industrial mining operations.

 


Legendary Landmark—EPIC v. Johnson turns thirty

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015
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Sally.Bell.GroveEPIC has long been recognized as the regional leader in environmental advocacy for Northwest California’s forests. Our three-pronged approach of education, outreach, and strategic litigation has led to improvements in land management, law, and policy. In EPIC’s 38-year history, we have filed an untold number of lawsuits aimed at holding government and the industry accountable and protecting our wild California.

EPIC has a demonstrated history of successful impact litigation. From EPIC v. Johnson and Sierra Club v. Board of Forestry (1988) (CA Supreme Court Case; THPs may not be approved that fail to include information on impacts to old-growth dependent species), to Marbled Murrelet and EPIC v. Pacific Lumber Company (1993) (Owl Creek federal case), to the more recent successes of Bair et al. v. CalTrans (2010) (Richardson Grove case), EPIC has used the courts to intervene where government has failed.

One lawsuit, however, seems to transcend the rest, standing as a hallmark accomplishment in changing the legal and regulatory landscape for environmental review and protection on private forestlands in California. EPIC v. Johnson (1985) 170 Cal.App.3d 604, has stood the test of time as one of the most significant legal victories in the effort to properly regulate the private timber industry. EPIC v. Johnson changed the legal and regulatory landscape for the timber industry in California and brought it into the modern age.

Setting the Stage

In the beginning5The State of California has struggled with how to regulate the private timber industry since its inception, the first Board of Forestry was appointed in 1885. After WWII, an ad valorum tax became law, a misguided policy to feed the building boom – landowners were annually taxed on their standing timber until they cut 70% of it. This law remained in effect until 1976. By the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, evidence was beginning to mount demonstrating that this policy and the timber industry was responsible for depleted forests, damaged watersheds, and diminishing fisheries and wildlife. To this point, the industry had basically been self-regulated. However two major events would inexorably change this dynamic.

First, in 1970, the California legislature enacted landmark legislation that became known as the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Through an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) process, CEQA requires that projects must evaluate potentially significant environmental impacts, and if such potential impacts are identified, must mitigate all significant adverse impacts to insignificance. The spirit of CEQA brought into being an environmental awareness and consciousness in the public debate about growth, development, and industry.

Secondly, legal action challenging the self-regulation of the industry shook the landscape. In 1971, Bayside Timber v. Board of Supervisors, the courts ruled that the existing Forest Practice Act was unconstitutional because the Board of Forestry, which regulated the private timber industry, was composed entirely of the industry itself.

In 1973, the State legislature enacted the modern Forest Practice Act. The modern Forest Practice Act created the contemporary review and regulatory system that we have come to know today. In order to harmonize the Forest Practice Act and CEQA, the Secretary of Resources certified the Forest Practice Act and extant Forest Practice Rules as a certified regulatory program under CEQA in 1976, thus exempting the private timber industry from the requirements to prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). A certified regulatory program is an alternative program under CEQA, which allows for exemptions from preparation of an EIR so long as the program contains all the substantive requirements of CEQA.

Georgia-Pacific, the Sinkyone, and the “Sally Bell” Grove
It is in the backdrop of this new legal and regulatory landscape that our story truly begins. EPIC was born out of the herbicide wars of the 1970’s. Soon, EPIC became involved in the struggles to protect and defend at-risk landscapes. In particular, the area that is now Sinkyone State Wilderness and Sinkyone Wilderness State Park on the northern Mendocino County coast, traditionally used by Native Americans, became a focal point of conservation efforts, and eventually, litigation.

The Sinkyone coast of northern Mendocino was a battleground for conservation efforts in the mid 1970’s. California State Parks designated two land management units as projects, the Bear Harbor unit in the north, and the Usal beach unit in the south. In 1975 most of the Bear Harbor unit was acquired with the purchase of the old Bear Harbor Ranch.

Sally Bell GroveIn 1977, Georgia-Pacific proposed to liquidate the old-growth forests of the Little Jackass Creek watershed. The California Department of Forestry convinced GP to conduct its logging operations in stages, as opposed to cutting the entire watershed at once. In late 1977, GP had it’s first THP in the watershed approved with 40 acre and 80 acre clearcuts on either side of what would eventually became known as the “Sally Bell” grove. GP carried out two more approved THPs in 1978 and 1979, one adjacent to the Sally Bell Grove area and the other above Bear Harbor mainly in Jackass (or Wolf Creek) watershed.

In the THP on the knoll and valley adjacent to the Sally Bell Grove area, which was mostly clearcutting, a designated significant archaeological site was bulldozed by GP to make a layout pad for falling an old-growth redwood. GP was taken to court and ended up having to do a complete archaeological inventory for their entire 50,000 acre Usal unit. The judge was pressed to, but did not, impose mandatory consultation with Native Americans as part of his ruling.

EPIC commented on all of the GP THPs along the Sinkyone Wilderness Coast between 1977 and 1986. In 1983, EPIC filed its first forestry-related litigation aimed at stopping GP from clearcutting the Sally Bell Grove. EPIC, the public, and tribal interests worked with the state legislature, State Parks, and land acquisition interests such as Trust for Public Lands to try and secure funding to purchase the GP holdings along the Sinkyone coast.

EPIC v. Johnson

In 1983 GP proposed to clearcut 75 acres of old-growth redwoods of the Sally Bell Grove, and some other areas, and CDF approved the THP. EPIC and the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) filed suit against the agency, CDFCDF, and its Director, Ross Johnson, as well as the Board of Forestry, the Secretary of Resources, Rex Timber, and GP.

EPIC v. Johnson brought four major claims. First, the suit contended that the six-page THP approved by CDF must comply with all provisions of CEQA from which they are not explicitly exempt that CDF abused its discretion by approving the THP without requiring GP to analyze the cumulative impacts of its combined old-growth logging projects in the Sinkyone coast. Second, EPIC argued that CDF abused its discretion by failing to require GP to consult with the Native American Heritage Commission over sensitive historic cultural sites. Third, there were insufficient steps taken to ensure that the heritage sites were adequately protected. Finally, EPIC argued that CDF abused its discretion by failing to provide a timely response to public comments when it approved the THP.

EPIC filed suit in state court. The case was heard in Mendocino County. The Mendocino County court denied EPIC’s request for a Writ of Mandate. EPIC appealed the decision to the California Court of appeals, and the Court granted a Stay until a decision could be made. The appeals court, unlike the trail court, agreed that CDF had abused its discretion and issued a Writ of Mandate setting aside the approval of the THP on July 25, 1985.

Legal Claims Analysis

EPIC prevailed on all four of its major claims against the approval of the THP. The court agreed with EPIC that all substantive provisions of CEQA apply to the approval of THPs unless such provisions had been explicitly exempt from application by statute. Two previous court cases also found that the Forest Practice Act and THPs must comply with CEQA, however, in EPIC v. Johnson, CDF itself argued that it only needed to approve THPs utilizing the criteria of the Forest Practice Act and Rules. The courts once again rejected this argument, and thereafter, there was little debate as to the applicability of CEQA to THP approvals.

The court agreed with EPIC that CDF had abused its discretion by failing to require GP to analyze cumulative impacts. Here, CDF argued that it need not consider cumulative impacts because there were no explicit rules requiring such analysis in the Forest Practice Rules. The court also rejected this argument.

Second, the court agreed with EPIC that CDF had abused its discretion by failing to consult with Native American representatives over potential impacts to cultural resources. Here again, CDF fell back on the argument that it need not consult because there were no rules in the Forest Practice Rules requiring it to do so. The courts rejected this argument, referring back to CEQA, which requires public agencies to consult with all agencies having jurisdiction over the affected natural resources.

Third, the Court agreed that adequate measures were not considered or implemented to ensure that the Native American Heritage sites were protected.

Finally, the court agreed with EPIC that CDF had abused its discretion by failing to provide a substantive response to public comments within the then required 10 days after THP approval. The court reasoned that CEQA called for a good faith, reasoned response to public concerns that showed why a particular comment was rejected or accepted. Responses to public concerns are now issued at the time of THP approval.

Enduring Legacy

After the landmark victory of EPIC v. Johnson, the same GP forester who had written the set-aside THP for the Sally Bell grove resubmitted the THP to CDF, changing only the date on the THP application. EPIC v. Johnson II was filed. This case never resulted in a decision, however, as EPIC’s victory in the original case, coupled with public pressure, legislatively-allocated funds, and funds from the Trust for Public Lands and the Save-the-Redwoods League resulted in the purchase of the 7,100 acres of GP lands on the Sinkyone Coast in December of 1986. 3,255 acres of this was transferred to State Parks and incorporated into Sinkyone State Wilderness and Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, with the rest acquired by the Sinkyone Intertribal Council in 1997 as Sinkyone InterTribal Wilderness.

Not only did EPIC v. Johnson save the old-growth of the Sally Bell grove, but, perhaps even more significantly, it forced CDF and the private timber industry to address the cumulative impacts of its logging activities on sensitive and irreplaceable natural resources. It took CDF and the Board of Forestry about six years to come up with a check-list process, and still thirty years after the EPIC v. Johnson decision adequate reform – despite report after report and blue-ribboned panel after panel – is still being held up. There were and continue to be efforts to improve the processes for protection of Native American Heritage, and compliance with CEQA, that have had some good results. There still is not an ongoing reality of true consultation with California Indians that is required by federal agencies.

Work Remains

Fulfillment of the full spirit and intent of EPIC v. Johnson remains elusive. Although the Board of Forestry did create a mechanism for the analysis of cumulative impacts from approved THPs, significant problems remain. According to EPIC co-founder, and EPIC v. Johnson plaintiff, Richard Gienger, the full intent of EPIC v. Johnson has never been implemented or realized. “The current system doesn’t work and no one wants to face it,” said Gienger. Specifically, Gienger calls out the gross inadequacy of restricting the cumulative impacts analysis only to projects conducted within the past 10 years. Gienger said that the legacy effects and cumulative impacts of historic logging activities are still being felt, some from the late 1800s, but especially since 1950 and right up to today. More troubling, however, is the institutional culture at CDF and other state agencies that results in unjustifiable decision-making. “Decisions aren’t being made based on the conservation and recovery of the forests, watersheds, and wildlife; nor on the long-term needs and balanced relationships with human communities,” Gienger said. “Decisions are being made based on current net economic value which basically forces cutting as soon as there is merchantable value.”

EPIC has proved itself as probably the singular most effective environmental advocacy group at changing law, regulation, and policy governing the private timber industry in California using strategic litigation. Today, EPIC is deeply engaged in the newly created “Timber Regulation and Forest Restoration Program” which is aimed at developing transparency, efficiency, and environmental integrity in the private timber industry regulatory process. EPIC will continue to advocate for our forests, watersheds, and wildlife on privately managed forestlands and will work to uphold the public trust and keep both public agencies and private industry accountable to the law.


Action Alert to Ban Bobcat Trapping in California

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015
By

bobcat-kitten flikrTake Action Now: Bobcats are still being trapped throughout California, and their pelts are sold in the international fur trade market. Recent spikes in demand from countries like Russia and China have increased prices for bobcat pelts, resulting in a boom in bobcat trapping throughout the State of California.

On October 11 2013, the Governor approved the Bobcat Protection Act of 2013 (AB1213), which directs the California Fish and Game Commission to increase bobcat protections, and now the Commission is considering two options for bobcat trapping restrictions: Option 1 proposes a partial closure of the state to bobcat trapping by establishing closure boundaries around protected areas; and Option 2, which EPIC supports, would implement a complete ban on commercial trapping of bobcats throughout California.

The Commission is slated to make a decision to adopt regulations at their August 5th hearing, which will be held at 8am at the River Lodge at 1800 Riverwalk Drive in Fortuna California.  EPIC will join bobcat advocates from around the state to rally for the protection of bobcats at 7:30am before the hearing.

Two days before the hearing, on Monday, August 3rd from 6-8pm, EPIC and our allies will host a teach-in and poster making session in the Arts & Crafts Room at the Arcata Community Center. 

The trapping industry  has openly opposed the state wide ban, and will likely send a spokesperson to speak at the August 5th hearing in favor of bobcat trapping. This is why it is important for bobcat allies to make a presence and show the Fish and Game Commission that the overwhelming majority of people are in favor of a statewide ban.  The law on the books allows bobcat trapping season to take place between November 24 and January 31, and anyone possessing an easy-to-obtain trappers’ license can trap as many bobcats as desired until a statewide total of 14,400 bobcats are killed for the season. The nearly unrestricted statewide cap is based on out of date population estimates from the 1970’s of 72,000 individuals. This baseline number is deeply troublesome. Over thirty years ago, in 1982, a court found that the science behind the 1970’s population estimate was too flawed to qualify as the basis for a bobcat management program. Yet, no additional surveys have been conducted since.

Bobcats are shy creatures that do not threaten public safety, and while no one knows what the current bobcat populations are, there is anecdotal evidence that trapping has greatly diminished localized bobcat populations, throwing ecosystems off kilter. In fact, the state legislature recognized that bobcats are important apex predators that play a significant role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem, reducing rodent populations and preying on populations of many animals that are considered “nuisance” animals such as raccoons, opossums and skunks. Bobcat trapping hurts more than bobcats; it hurts our forests and fragile ecosystems.

In addition to protecting bobcats for ecological reasons, there is a moral obligation to end the cruel and inhumane methods of killing bobcats. Because their pelts are worth more without bullet holes or other marks, trappers often strangle, stomp or bludgeon them to death. California should lead the nation and outlaw this cruel and harmful practice.
Click here to take action now!

P.S. The last time we attended a Fish and Game Commission hearing in Fortuna, we helped sway the Commission to protect gray wolves in California and with your help, we can do this again for the bobcats.