Archive for November, 2015

This Holiday Season, Give the Gift of Healthy Forests

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015
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Giving Tuesday TreeThis Thanksgiving holiday, after you’ve gorged yourself on turkey or tofurkey, after you’ve been trampled for door buster savings on Black Friday (or righteously protested mass consumerism by strolling through a park instead), and after Cyber Monday is just a fleeting electron, give big on December 1st for Giving Tuesday!

There is a long tradition in Humboldt County of supporting locally owned businesses and artisans. We know to buy local and to support local businesses because we care about the vitalizing effects of investing locally. We subscribe to this practice because we know it is good for our economy, our environment, and our community. By adhering to these beliefs we are tangibly improving Humboldt County’s resiliency and sustainability into the future.

Giving Tuesday is a nationwide movement to support local institutions, which help to make your world a better place. This Giving Tuesday, give big to support EPIC and its critical work to protect Northwest California’s forest ecosystems. As a membership organization, EPIC is dependent on its network of small donors. We are your voice, slogging through dense government documents and attending tedious meetings in far-flung corners of the state to make sure your interests are heard. (The environment does not have a lobbyist, unlike Big Business).

We all have a choice in how we spend our hard-earned money; during this season of thanks and generosity, please give to your local public interest organizations like EPIC because you value and benefit from their mission, and because you believe in humanity’s ability to positively impact the world.

Click here to donate and help the people-powered EPIC.


Exposed: Post-fire Logging Harms Endangered Owl

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015
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ScottHarding-KlamathNF-SHP_9598

Mixed-severity fire, like that shown, provides functional habitat for northern spotted owls. Photo credit, Scott Harding.

Private landowners, in particular Fruit Growers Supply Company, recently cut thousands of acres of northern spotted owl habitat, likely killing or harming the protected owl in violation of both federal and state law. And they got away with it. Here’s the story of how a timber company likely violated the law and how no one caught it.

Spotted owls utilize post-fire landscapes, including those that burn at high-severity—that is the conclusion of numerous recent scientific papers. High-severity areas, marked by significant numbers of dead or dying trees, provide excellent foraging grounds for spotted owls. The surge of dead wood and new shrub growth forms ideal habitat for wood rats, deer mice, and other spotted owl prey. The standing dead trees, or snags, provide branches for owls to roost while scanning for dinner. And because fires generally burn in a mixed severity pattern, with high-intensity burns close to areas that fire barely touched, there are often nearby trees for the owls to roost. This is informally known as the “bedroom/kitchen” model of habitat usage.

This finding, that spotted owls utilize post-fire forests, is somewhat new. It also runs counter to generalized statements about spotted owl habitat, which has generally been associated with complex mature forests. The Forest Practice Act was certainly written before this was well recognized.

While most logging in California is accomplished through a Timber Harvest Plan (THP), substantial logging can evade the environmental review provided by a THP. Under an “emergency notice,” a timberland owner can clearcut an unlimited number of acres by declaring an “emergency”—a broad loophole, which includes almost all conditions that render a tree “damaged, dead or dying.”

In 2014, the Beaver Fire burned some 32,496 acres, including 13,400 acres of private timberlands in Siskiyou County, much of which is owned by Fruit Growers. Based on the available information, between 2014 and 2015, Fruit Growers filed 32 emergency notices with CALFIRE totaling 8,644 acres. Other nearby landowners similarly filed emergency notices totaling 1,166 acres.

From surveys conducted by the U.S. Forest Service, we know that individual owls were harmed in violation of federal law by Fruit Growers. After the fires but before most logging had begun, a curious male northern spotted owl, identified as KL0283, responded to the hoot of an owl surveyor; he had survived the fire and was living amongst the dead trees. KL0283 was proof that spotted owls utilize post-fire forests.

Sadly, the Forest Service reports later surveys attempting to locate KL0283 after logging failed to yield any positive survey results. The Forest Service notes that logging reduced the owl’s habitat far below minimum acceptable levels, and given the lack of nearby habitat, it was unlikely that he had moved to somewhere better. KL0283 is likely dead, killed by the impacts of logging.

On a facial level, Fruit Growers followed the law—they filed emergency notices telling CALFIRE that they were planning on logging and logged pursuant to those notices. However, upon investigation, it appears that Fruit Growers harmed northern spotted owls in violation of both federal and state law. How was Fruit Growers able to log spotted owl habitat without detection for so long? Turns out, it was pretty easy.

First, it is unclear whether Fruit Growers knew it was violating the law. In each emergency notice, it wrote, “Due to the severity and intensity of stand replacing fire, [the] area can no longer be considered Suitable NSO Habitat.” As explained above, this is a common misunderstanding. By regarding all burned forest as non-habitat, it provided Fruit Growers an easy way to avoid having to evaluate and state the potential impacts to spotted owls.

Second, CALFIRE dropped the ball. It is CALFIRE’s job to evaluate emergency notices and reject any notice which may cause more than a minimal environmental impact. CALFIRE obviously failed at this.

Third, it is unclear whether anyone else was paying attention. It does not appear that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife reviews emergency notices—the Department only recently was able to hire sufficient staff to even review ordinary THPs, let alone emergency notices. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency charged under federal law with the protection of the owl, does not review California timber harvest implementation. EPIC, I freely admit, failed to put the pieces together until too late.

But never again. EPIC is on a mission, spurred by the likely death of KL0283, to reform post-fire logging on private land in California. For more on the environmental impacts of post-fire logging, please visit wildcalifornia.org.


Agency Delays May Cook Owl’s Chance at Protection

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015
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spottedowlhelper_1It is thanksgiving time here in Northwest California, a traditional time for giving, for caring, and for sharing. For the wild creatures that call our forests home, such as the northern spotted owl, it is a time for preparing to endure the long, wet winter. However, as we know, things are much different in the halls of Sacramento government and politics, where the rule of the day seems to be “if you aren’t at the table, you are on the menu.”

Such seems to typify the plight of the northern spotted owl in California, a species in precipitous decline with no voice to defend itself against the march of human progress and its disregard for the natural world. For 37 years, EPIC has served as a voice for the voiceless, willing to take the fight to protect our forests and the life that depends upon them to the halls of Sacramento, to the courtrooms, and beyond.

In accordance with our mission to give a voice to the forest, EPIC filed a petition with the California Fish and Game Commission to list the northern spotted owl under the California Endangered Species Act, in September 2012. In California, as with elsewhere in the species’ range, the northern spotted owl is in great peril of extinction as a consequence of human activities that have modified the forests it once knew and widely inhabited. Today, industrial logging practices continue to destroy and degrade habitat for the northern spotted owl on both public and private forestlands, despite over 25 years of federal protections afforded by the federal Endangered Species Act.

CESA protections for the northern spotted owl are warranted and necessary if the species is to continue to persist in the wild. However, after more than three years of advocacy for the owl to be listed under CESA, the listing process has stalled, primarily due to the willful refusal of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to complete a review of the scientific and commercial information to assist the Fish and Game Commission in making a final decision on whether or not the listing is warranted under the law.

CESA calls upon the Department to complete a so-called “status review and report” within one year after a species is designated as a “candidate” for listing to help guide the Commission’s decision-making during the listing process. The status review and report was first due by the Department in December, 2014. The Department missed this deadline. The Commission, at the request of the Department, extended the deadline by six months, to June, 2015. The Department likewise missed this deadline; however, this time the Commission did not authorize additional extensions. EPIC considered suing the Department at this juncture but were dissuaded by the Department’s claims that it was hard at work and a final was forthcoming. This week, EPIC learned that the Department will now also fail to submit its report to the Commission at its upcoming December 2015 meeting, despite assurances that it would do so. Consequently, it appears that the Commission will once again kick the can down the road on deciding whether or not to protect the northern spotted owl.

Behind these seemingly inexplicable delays being perpetrated by the Department, and by extension, the Fish and Game Commission, is the ugly specter of big-money Sacramento politics and timber industry influence to extend the “business as usual” model indefinitely.

Scarcely a month after the Fish and Game Commission adopted findings to ratify its decision that the northern spotted owl may be either “threatened” or “endangered” under California law and afforded it the protections of a “candidate” species, the Department of Fish and Wildlife sent a letter to the Director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the agency responsible for approving private lands logging projects, to assure it that no changes in the existing review process or resultant protective measures would be necessary or required to conserve the northern spotted owl during the candidacy period. What’s more, we know that the Department of Fish and Wildlife has held several meetings and workshops with timber industry groups to discuss the northern spotted owl. None of these meetings were publically noticed or publically accessible. Department of Fish and Wildlife Director, Charlton H. Bonham, openly questioned the necessity of the spotted owl listing petition during the course of a formal Commission hearing on the merits of the petition, further betraying a bias on the part of the agency.

As a consequence of the long and unnecessary delay by the Department in producing a status report to guide the Commission’s decision-making, EPIC has been compelled to take more aggressive actions in hopes of expediting the listing process for the critically-imperiled northern spotted owl. On November 24, 2015, EPIC submitted a letter to the Fish and Game Commission detailing the long and sordid history of delay tactics perpetrated by both the Department and the Commission itself, and requested that the Commission simply proceed with a hearing on the merits of our petition in the absence of the Department’s report. EPIC is considering legal alternatives should this administrative appeal fall short.

And so, as you hunker down to partake in the wonderful feast and bounty of the land this thanksgiving, please remember those that are not at the table, but rather sadly, on the menu.

 


Environmental Groups File Suit to Challenge Implementing Regulations for In-Perpetuity Logging Plans

Sunday, November 15th, 2015
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Holm_Fay_date2008-02-25_time17.36.52_IMG_9998 copyFor Immediate Release:

Two North Coast environmental groups filed suit in state court on Friday challenging the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection adoption of regulations that fail to meet standards of environmental protection or to ensure long-term sustained yield of forest products for in-perpetuity logging plans as required by state law.

The Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) and Coast Action Group (CAG) jointly filed suit in in Alameda County on Friday, to challenge the adoption of regulations by the Board of Forestry to implement the mandates of Assembly Bill 904 (Chesbro 2013), which requires, among other things, assurances of unevenaged management, long-term sustained yield of forest products, and environmental protections to be built into the regulatory permitting structure for an in-perpetuity timber harvesting permit, known as a “Working Forest Management Plan.”

Assembly Bill 904 created the framework for the development of a “Working Forest Management Plan” for logging on private land. The “Working Forest Management Plan” offers a landowner with less than 15,000 acres and who qualify for the program a logging permit in perpetuity, in exchange for a commitment to superior forestland management, practicing unevenaged forest management, attaining maximum sustained production and long-term sustained yield of forest products, and providing enhanced environmental protections.

The regulations adopted by the Board of Forestry in June, 2015 to implement the mandates of Assembly Bill 904 fail to contain essential standards or provisions that would ensure attainment of unevenaged management, long-term sustained yield, or environmental protections.

“The regulations enacted by the board simply fail the test of ensuring that the mandates of the legislature to attain unevenaged management and long-term sustained yield and environmental protection are achieved,” said Rob DiPerna, EPIC’s California Forest and Wildlife Advocate. “To the contrary, the regulations adopted by the board have the real potential to result in significant forestland degradation due to the lack of meaningful built-in safeguards.”

“To put it simply, the Board of Forestry is simply not doing its job,” said Alan Levine, of Coast Action Group. Levine called the “Working Forest Management Plan” regulations, “a planning device that evades the legislative intent of superior management, reasonable environmental standards, and legal requirements.”

EPIC and CAG are asking the State Court to set aside the Board of Forestry’s approval of the “Working Forest Management Plan” regulations, and to remand the regulations back to the Board to make significant improvements that would meet the intent of the enabling legislation to achieve unevenaged management, long-term sustained yield, and environmental protections as part of any approved “Working Forest Management Plan.”

Click here to read the complaint

Click here to read letter from Richard Wilson, the former director of CalFire to the Board of Forestry

Click here to read the second letter from Richard Wilson to the California Governor

Click here to read the press release


The Case for Restoration in the Redwoods

Thursday, November 12th, 2015
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Forest Thinning in Headwaters. Photo Credit BLM.2

Forest thinning project in Headwaters. Photo Credit BLM.

California’s coastal redwood forests are the stuff that myth and legend are made of, like a species of dinosaur that has somehow managed to persist into the modern age. At one time, redwood forests grew across the northern hemisphere, with the oldest-known fossil evidence dating back some 200 million years to the Jurassic Period.

Once, the ancient coastal redwood forests spanned some two million acres of California’s scenic and rugged coastline from Big Sur all the way to the Oregon border. And, these were certainly no ordinary forests. The coastal redwood forest encountered by Europeans in the 1850’s contained trees of as much as 300-feet tall, and as much as 25-feet wide.

Few forests in the world have comparable species assemblages, enormous tree sizes, rich and structurally-complex canopies, soil productivity or exceptional biomass, due to the temperate climate, fog, and precipitation which create ideal growing conditions for giant trees, fish, wildlife, and a stunning array of plants, lichens, and fungi. Iconic species such as coho salmon, the marbled murrelet, and the northern spotted owl were once abundant and thrived in the lush and rich old-growth coastal redwood forest ecosystem. These old-growth forests were able to sequester massive amounts of carbon dioxide and naturally regulated water abundance and availability. Time and evolution had created a seemingly-perfect balance in the redwood forest ecosystem.

Today, many still think of the coastal redwood forests as a dark, primeval rainforest, such as those depicted in the likes of Star Wars and Jurassic Park. However, the progress of human activity over the last 150 years has resulted in a reality which is in stark contrast to the idyllic images portrayed in Hollywood.

The “progress” of human activity over the last 150 years has resulted in a landscape that would be unrecognizable to those first European-American settlers. Once, the ancient coastal redwood forests spanned some two million acres of California’s scenic and rugged coastline, from Big Sur all the way to the Oregon border. By the time Redwood National Park was created in 1968, a mere 100 years after the advent of European-American settlement, the once vast and mighty coastal old-growth redwood forest had been reduced to an estimated 10 percent of its original range. By the close of the 20th century, it was estimated that only five percent of the old-growth coastal redwood forest remained. And so it is today.

Compared to the mixed-conifer forests to the east of the redwood belt, very little of the once vast redwood forest has been set aside as public land. According to estimates provided by Save the Redwoods League, approximately 23 percent of the original coastal redwood forest ecosystem land base is publically-held in parks and reserves, with the remaining 77 percent privately-held and managed for various other purposes. In Humboldt County, two timber companies, Humboldt Redwood Company and Green Diamond Resource Company, manage a combined 600,000-acres of industrial forestland, most of which is squarely situated in the historic range of the coast redwoods.

Historic and contemporary industrial logging in the range of the coast redwood forests has left an indelible mark on the condition of these once-pristine forestlands. Even our most precious remaining resources, our redwood parks and reserves, contain large areas where the scars of past logging and land management can be seen and felt. For example, Redwood National Park includes some 38,000-acres of forestland that was clearcut logged from1950 to1978. These second-growth forests are in varying states of disrepair and recovery in the wake of intensive historic forestry operations.

Similarly, some 60 percent of the land base in the 7,500-acre Headwaters Forest Reserve—set aside for its outstanding remaining old-growth redwood forests—was logged in the past and is not actually comprised of pristine old-growth forest. Instead, the majority of the land base in the Headwaters Forest Reserve is actually young, regenerating second-growth forest.

The ecological legacy of historic and contemporary forest management in the redwoods is all too apparent today. For example, following the initial clearcutting of the 1950–1970’s in what is now Redwood National Park, the cutover land was aggressively reseeded and replanted—all too often not with local seed sources. These industrial practices altered the composition of the forest. Because this land was being managed for timber production, what was once old-growth redwoods were often re-seeded with Douglas-fir. Douglas-fir grows faster than redwoods, which is ideal if you are trying to turn a quick profit off the land, but Douglas-fir’s rapid early growth means that it often outcompetes redwoods in their early stages of development. In what is now the Headwaters Forest Reserve, re-planting was aggressively pursued after industrial logging operations, with Douglas-fir trees outcompeting redwoods in the young, newly-regenerating stands.

The results of the previous logging and regeneration activities in Redwood National Park, the Headwaters Forest Reserve, and on privately-managed industrial timberlands in the region are forest conditions which are unhealthy and unnatural. While the timing, and methods of logging and regeneration have varied over time, regenerating coastal redwood stands in Redwood National Park, the Headwaters Forest Reserve, and even on privately-managed timberlands in the region bare several characteristics in common.

thinning pic_pre2. Photo Credit BLM

Pre-thinning in Headwaters Forest Reserve. Photo Credit BLM.

Firstly, aggressive replanting activities have resulted in the establishment of an overly-dense forest with far too many trees-per-acre when compared to natural conditions. For example, in the Headwaters Forest Reserve, old-growth redwood forest contain between 69–78 trees-per-acre. By sharp contrast, previously-harvested regenerating stands in Redwood National Park have a density of 1,000 to even 3,000 trees-per-acre. These stands are structurally homogenous—all are approximately the same age and height. Unlike an old-growth forest, with breaks and variations in canopy cover which allows light to filter to berry bushes and other undergrowth, these regenerating stands are so densely packed with underperforming trees that very little light reaches the understory or the forest floor, thus further simplifying the forest. On industrially-managed forestlands in the range of the coast redwood, regenerating young plantations are often commercially thinned within the first 20 years after reestablishment in order to reduce stand densities and provide for less competition and more availability of light and growing space for residual trees, a process commonly referred to as “release.” However, the absence of such management in recovering forest stands has resulted in unhealthy forest stand conditions because far too many trees are regenerating at the same time.

Secondly, many regenerating stands in the range of the coast redwood forest are now out-of-balance in terms of tree species and their dominance. Forest species composition was significantly skewed towards faster-growing Douglas-fir post-logging, resulting in a diminishment of redwood trees. In the Headwaters Forest Reserve, for example, redwood dominates the stand component structure when compared to Douglas-fir in old-growth stands by a large proportion. In regenerating stands, by contrast, Douglas-fir makes up as much as 61 percent of trees, even post-restorative thinning.

Finally, these plantations may exhibit fire patterns unnatural for redwood forests. The excessive number of small, underperforming trees act as ladder fuels, allowing fire to spread from creeping surface fires to more severe crown fires. Because of the forest’s structural homogeneity, once fire reaches the canopy it can easily jump from tree top to tree top causing a stand replacing fire and setting the regenerating forest back to zero much like a clearcut. Old-growth redwood forests, by stark contrast, are much more fire-resistant due to large tree size with tight wood grain and thick bark, and sufficient spacing between trees to discourage crown fires from jumping from tree to tree.

Restorative forest management is ongoing in Redwood National Park, in Del Norte Redwoods State Park, and Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and in the Headwaters Forest Reserve. Restorative forest management activities are a far cry from the intensive, industrial-scale logging to which we have mostly become accustomed.

thinning pic_post2 Photo Credit BLM

Post-thinning in Headwaters Forest Reserve. Photo Credit BLM.

Restorative thinning was mandated for cut-over lands in Redwood National Park in 1978 when Congress, as part of the Redwood National Park expansion legislation, mandated that “a program for the rehabilitation of areas within and upstream from the park contributing significant sedimentation because of past logging disturbances and road conditions” be developed in light of the damage caused by ongoing logging operations within the Redwood Creek watershed that threatened to degrade park values and resources. In Headwaters Forest Reserve, restorative forest management has focused on thinning out smaller trees (less than 12” diameter at breast height), and has focused on the removal of Douglas-fir in an attempt to restore species balance. Importantly, other forest restoration activities, such as removal or remediation of poorly constructed roads, go hand-in-hand with restorative thinning activities as part of a holistic program of watershed restoration.

The long-term benefit of restorative forest management in the redwood region is that it can be tailored and implemented to re-grow lost old-growth forest stand conditions. Improving stocking levels, tree-spacing, species balance, stand structure and complexity, and understory vegetation development can all be accomplished through restorative forest management, and can, in turn, accelerate the recovery of the forest to more natural, pre-logging conditions.

Given that only five percent of our pristine old-growth forests remain in the redwood region, it is imperative to have a vision to protect what’s left and to restore the rest. This is a monumental undertaking that will require cooperation, coordination, and collaboration. And, the stakes could not possibly be higher—in an era where we face unprecedented drought and other effects of a changing climate, and with mass species extinction on a global scale, our coastal redwood forests represent a vestige of hope for the future of our planet and all the life that depends upon it.

November 10, 2015 – EPIC’s Rob DiPerna discusses restoration forestry in the Redwood Region. Rob interviewed Jason Teraoka, Forster for Redwood National Park, Ben Bloom, BLM Manager for the Headwaters Reserve, and Lathrop Leonard, Forester for California State Parks, who manages restoration forestry activities in the Mill Creek Addition in Del Norte, and Humboldt Redwoods State Park.


Thank You for a Fabulous EPIC Fall Celebration

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015
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EPIC's Fall Celebration 2015The staff and board of the Environmental Protection Information Center would like to thank all of the attendees, businesses, sponsors and artists who helped make this year’s Fall Celebration a fun and successful event. Each year we look forward to this event that resembles a family reunion for those of us who are the heart and soul of the environmental movement of the Pacific Northwest. The legacy that the EPIC family has made lives on through generations of grassroots activists and continues with the vibrant new energy of those who seek our efforts out to help keep our little corner of California the special place that we all know and love. Attendees included past and current staff, board, volunteers, colleagues, sempervirens award winners, and fresh new faces that are eager to participate in the contemporary environmental movement.

FullSizeRender (1)Sempervirens Lifetime Achievement for Environmental Activism Award Winner Betty Ball

We were honored that Betty Ball was able to travel all the way out from Colorado to accept EPIC’s 2015 Sempervirens Award for her grass roots activism efforts that helped secure protections for the famed Headwaters forest during the redwood summer era. It was a pleasure to hear her speak about the historical events that helped to shape our region and its environmental movement. Betty Ball gave an incredible acceptance speech that we are delighted to share with you.

Gisele Albertine

Volunteer of the Year

It was with great pleasure to recognize Gisèle Albertine for her ongoing dedication to environmental protection through he volunteer work with EPIC throughout the past year. Gisèle graciously tackles just about every task we ask of her with a positive outlook and always keeps us laughing. Gisèle is an amazing woman and we are so lucky to have her as part of the EPIC family!

We are grateful to chef Leni Heil and her crew at Outlaw Kitchen for preparing the gourmet family style meal that we were able to share while we dined and laughed with our colleagues, friends and the EPC family.

We appreciate the contributions from the sponsors below that helped to make our event one of the most successful ever!

Thank you!

Business SponsorsFinal


An Ordinance for Humboldt County’s Medical Cannabis Cultivators

Monday, November 2nd, 2015
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frog on marijuanaTwo comment letters submitted to the Humboldt County Planning Commission responding to the proposed Humboldt County Commercial Cultivation of Cannabis for Medical Use Land Use Regulation. The first letter is a coalition letter from EPIC, NEC, SAFE and Humboldt Baykeeper; the second letter is from EPIC only.

October 30, 2015

Dear Planning Commissioners,

This letter is on behalf of the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), Humboldt Baykeeper, Northcoast Environmental Center, and Safe Alternatives for our Forest Environment.

We wish to thank the Board, staff, and the Planning Commission for their attention to this matter. We appreciate the opportunity to participate in the development of the county’s commercial cannabis and use ordinance and believe the open inclusion of multiple voices will ultimately result in an ordinance that will result in higher industry participation and ultimately yield greater conservation success.

Based on our review of the existing regulatory landscape, including the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board waiver, new statewide legislation and signing statements, Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations, and current Humboldt County land use regulations, we do not believe the current regulatory regime is sufficient to adequately ensure environmental resources are protected. In developing a land use ordinance, we urge the county to consider the following recommendations:

Place a Cap on Total Number of Operations: We suggest a total cap of operations within the county. We suggest after five years, the county could revisit if and where it could allow new cultivation areas. By limiting the total number of operations, we believe it will provide encouragement for existing operations to come into compliance and will limit the number of legal operations within the county.

Require Water Storage Between May 15 through November 12: Water diversions associated with cannabis production are one of the most pressing environmental issues facing the county. The county’s first draft ordinance proposed a forbearance period from March 1 to October 30. A forbearance period more likely to protect water quality resources should extend from May 15 to November 12.

Discourage “Generator Grows”: Off the grid generator use associated with “mixed light” operations are of great concern. Generators used to power artificial lights produce localized noise, land air pollution—a significant nuisance to neighbors and wildlife—as many off-the grid operations are within the wildland urban interface, and improper fuel storage and/or fuel spills are a threat to water quality. Because of the significant concerns related to so-called “generator grows,” we urge the Board and the Planning Commission to require mixed-light operations be properly contained, connected to the municipal power grid and/or have proof of an adequate supply of alternative energy

No New Cultivation in TPZ: We do not support the further conversion of working forests for commercial agriculture because it threatens our vision of creating a well connected and restored forest ecosystem. That said, we understand that many cannabis cultivators are already on TPZ land. A cursory GIS exercise conducted by our organizations estimates that around 25 percent of cannabis farms are on TPZ land. A successful ordinance should be to bring as many cultivators, including those cultivating on Timber Production Zone (TPZ), who are willing to take immediate action to ensure baseline environmental standards are met into compliance with all applicable laws and stop the further proliferation of cannabis operations on TPZ land by prohibiting new operations.

Discourage and limit Indoor Operations: We are generally opposed to indoor cannabis operations because of the high associated carbon costs. We believe the future of Humboldt’s cannabis economy should be based on sun-grown cannabis. However, given the importance of indoor operations for the cultivation of certain types of medical cannabis, we understand that a full ban on indoor operations is undesirable and that a full ban would likely go ignored, pushing otherwise responsible cultivators to the black market. As a reasonable compromise, we suggest the following responsible additional regulations designed to minimize impacts from indoor operations.

The county ordinance should restrict indoor operations to areas zoned commercial or industrial. By limiting indoor to these areas, we can ensure that prime agricultural land will not be converted to other uses.

The county should require all indoor operations be connected to the municipal power grid and to a municipal water supply with adequate surplus water to support indoor operations. By requiring connection to the grid, the county can limit impacts associated with generators and by requiring connection to a municipal water supply with adequate surplus water, the county can ensure that communities, such as Redway, who already struggle to supply adequate domestic water to their residents, will not add additional users it cannot support.

Lastly, the county should limit the total size of indoor operations to 10,000 sq. ft. in order to reduce carbon impacts associated with individual farms and to promote a small-scale, diversified cannabis industry for the region.

Discourage Water Trucking: Non-potable bulk water delivery has been identified as a major environmental concern. Water trucks increase sedimentation through heavy use and disturbance of dirt roads, contribute to greenhouse gas and other air pollution, and pose a danger to residents traveling on rural roads. A standard trip between Fortuna, the closest location to Southern Humboldt where non-potable bulk water can be purchased for individuals outside of a municipal water district, and Sproul Creek near Garberville, would emit approximately 240 pounds of carbon dioxide for the 70 mile trip. Non-potable water delivery has also been tied in several instances to illegal water diversions as trucks fill directly from streams or fire hydrants under the cover of night. The ease of water delivery also disincentives water storage and proper planning. The county should not allow water deliveries as part of demonstration of proper planning for adequate water storage.

Ensure Adequate Funding: The regulation of cannabis is dependent on adequate funding of inspection and enforcement. While we understand the desire to complete a land use ordinance first to meet the state March 1, 2016 deadline, we urge the county to diligently pursue a separate funding measure so it may be included on the June 2016 ballot for voter approval.

These recommendations reflect the joint policy recommendations of our organizations. Additional and more specific policy recommendations may also be made by our organizations in their individual capacity.

Thank you for your consideration of our comments. We look forward to cannabis farmers being able to come into the regulatory light, legitimizing the craft and custom of North Coast farmers and improving environmental conditions for all.

Should you have any questions or comments, Natalynne DeLapp of EPIC can act as a point person to communicate with the larger group. She may be reached at (707) 822-7711 or Natalynne@wildcalifornia.org

Sincerely,

Natalynne DeLapp

Executive Director, Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC)

Jen Kalt

Executive Director, Humboldt Baykeeper

Larry Glass

Board President, Northcoast Environmental Center, Executive Director, Safe Alternatives for Our Forest Environment

October 30, 2015

Board of Supervisors’ Chambers
Humboldt County Courthouse
825 5th St.
Eureka CA, 95501

Dear Planning Commissioners,

EPIC appreciates the opportunity to comment. Based on our review of the first draft commercial cannabis land use ordinance, we have the following thoughts and recommendations. These are in addition to and complimentary to those presented the joint recommendations presented by EPIC, the Northcoast Environmental Center, Humboldt Baykeeper, and Safe Alternatives for our Forest Environment. Because county staff is developing an additional alternative or alternatives, most of these comments are not directed towards the particular language of the first draft. Instead, these comments are broadly directed towards what we believe would be included in a successful land use ordinance.

Public Nuisance as an Enforcement Tool:

Public nuisance is an enforcement tool. EPIC appreciates the inclusion of public nuisance as an enforcement tool in the first draft and encourages its inclusion in subsequent drafts. The inclusion of public nuisance as an enforcement tool will allow the county to clean up problem areas swiftly without shifting costs to taxpayers.

Incorporate Elements of the Water Board Waiver:

We believe the County’s ordinance could strengthen water quality protections by requiring cultivators that fall within Tier 1 (operations between 500 and 5,000 square feet of cultivation area, on a less than 35% slope and not within 200’ of a waterway) to produce a plan similar to a Water Resource Protection Plan as defined in Section I.B. #4, 6 & 8 of the Water Board Waiver (Order No. 2015-0023). These elements would serve to improve water quality while imposing little burden on operators.

These elements, and their potential benefit, are described below:

Detailed list of Specific Management Conditions Designed to Meet Standard Conditions: The Water Board waiver contains a list of conditions that all sites must meet. However, only Tier 2 and 3 sites need to develop a plan on how to meet these conditions. We believe it is important that all sites consider how thy will meet these conditions. As with the water use plan, we believe that this “look before you leap” strategy will improve water quality conditions by requiring farmers to consider how they will address erosion control, stream crossings, riparian protection, road construction, spoils storage and disposal, chemical handling and management, waste disposal, irrigation runoff, and water storage and use.

Maintain List of Chemicals on Property: The NCRWQCB waiver does not require Tier 1 operations to maintain a list of chemicals kept on property and a record of their use, as it does for Tiers 2 and 3. All operations larger than 500 feet should be required to maintain such a document. We believe this will reduce pesticide usage on non-cannabis crops/property and reduce risk of cross-contamination of cannabis associated with pesticide drift.

Water Use Plan and Documentation: We believe that a water use plan and documentation is critically important for all operations greater than 500 sq. ft. for multiple reasons. A water use plan requires farmers to “look before they leap.” Pursuant to the Water Board waiver, a water use plan requires cultivators to “describe water conservation measures and document approach to ensure that the quantity and timing of water use.” In doing so, farmers will be able to more realistically predict their anticipated water needs and to plan for conservation measures at the outset. We believe that the inclusion of such planning requirements will result in better watershed conditions and a reduced likelihood of water diversions to supplement or “top off” stored water. Similarly, water use plan would discourage use of expensive and environmentally-costly trucked water by encouraging greater foresight into water sources, application rates, and amount stored. Water use plans would also provide better information on the amount of water actually used in cannabis cultivation on the North Coast and the sources for this water. Per the Water Board waiver, a water use plan “shall record water source, relevant water right documentation, and amount used monthly,” including “alternative sources such as rain catchment and groundwater, and/or hauled water.” With increased information, the county may be able to revise the ordinance in the future to better fit actual conditions on the ground.

Regulations and Stringency of Review Should Correspond with Relative Risks to the Environment:

The stringency of site-specific review—whether conditional use permit, special conditional permit, or zoning clearance certificate—should correspond to the relative risk of the operation. While numerous metrics may influence a farm’s potential risk, the clearest and easiest metric on which to base review of individual operations is based on cultivated areas, the perimeter around disturbed ground. As stated by the Water Board, “Size of cultivation areas is a relevant indicator of threat to water quality because level of threat is proportional to the area of disturbed or exposed soil, the amount of water used, the potential for storm water runoff, and the potential for groundwater impacts.” (Response to Public Comments at 13). It is unclear whether the initial county draft bases its site categories on cultivated area or canopy size. We urge the county to clearly define cultivated area to be consistent with the Water Board waiver: “Cultivation area: the sum of the area(s) of cannabis cultivation and/or operations with similar environmental effects as measured around the perimeter of each discrete cultivation area of a single parcel of land.” (Waiver at 6, n. 9)

We suggested the following tier structure for “Outdoor” and “Mixed Light” cultivation:

Cultivated Area Permit Type
500–5,000 sq. ft. Zoning Clearance Certificate
5,000–10,000 sq. ft. Conditional Special Permit
10,000+ Conditional Use Permit

 

We advocate for a graduated system of site-specific review based on the relative risks. This serves two critical purposes.

First, it allows emphasis of greater site-specific attention to operations with greater risk potential. It allows limited staff resources—particularly given the lack of a funding mechanism—be directed more towards operations with greater potential risk. Additionally, it preserves for the Planning Commission review over operations with the greatest risk, those over 10,000 sq. ft., while still allowing site-specific review by the Planning Commission for operations between 5,001-10,000 sq. ft. if staff or neighbors feel that such additional site-specific scrutiny is warranted.

Second, it promotes smaller operations. In our discussions with CCVH, other cannabis advocacy groups, and individual farmers, they have expressed that there is a strong view within the cannabis community that conditional use permits are overly-burdensome. We suggest that requiring a conditional use permit may be an incentive for cultivators to either reduce their operations below 10,000 sq. ft. or to not expand their operations above 10,000 sq. ft.

The current county draft does not provide any incentive for smaller operations. Under the draft county ordinance, a person growing cannabis on 2,001 sq. ft. and a person growing on 43,560 sq. ft. would both need a conditional use permit. If a cultivator would need to go through the hassle and public affair of a conditional use permit, what incentive is there to stay small?

Cannabis Processing Plan

In addition to these size requirements, more stringent review should be given for facilities that process large amounts of cannabis—so-called “trim scenes.” Cannabis processing requires large numbers of workers and the work, unlike outdoor cultivation, stretches into late fall to winter. The increased number of workers and the prolonged season invites greater potential environmental risks not mitigated by the Water Board waiver. Large numbers of workers require sanitation facilities connected to an adequate septic system or sewer system to avoid issues of sewage seepage into groundwater and surface water. Additionally, large numbers of workers can impact sedimentation by the prolonged heavy use of dirt roads, often into the wet weather season.

For all operations larger than 5,001 sq. ft., the amount a “mom and pop” farm can reasonably process without significant hired help, the county should require as a condition a “cannabis processing plan.” This plan would either detail where off-site the farm will take its cannabis to be processed or, if processing on-site, will show that it has adequate facilities (hand washing stations, restrooms connected to adequate septic systems or sewer lines, ventilation and heating) to support workers in a safe environment while not otherwise contributing to environmental risks. .

Discourage Cultivation on Timber Production Zone:

As EPIC wrote in an op-ed in the Eureka Times-Standard:

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 further 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.

While EPIC is opposed to commercial cannabis production on TPZ, we believe to a large degree that the cat is out of the bag. It exists now and in large numbers. EPIC estimates that approximately 25 percent of cannabis farms in Humboldt County are on TPZ. We do not believe it is likely that banning these operations would actually cause them to leave. (Despite being federally illegal, against state law, and in violation of county zoning codes, many farms have existed on TPZ for decades.) Rather, for existing operations, it is more important to bring them into the regulatory fold. We believe that many operations on TPZ will voluntarily participate in regulatory programs, such as the Water Board waiver, and in doing so, many of the impacts associated with these operations will be minimized or mitigated.

As such, we believe that existing operations on TPZ should be allowed to participate under the same Standard Conditions of Approval as all other specifically enumerated zones in which general agriculture is permitted. New operations, by contrast, should be prohibited on TPZ.

Large Operations Should Be Located on AG Use Districts

EPIC supports the first draft’s requirement that all operations larger than 10,000 sq. ft. be located on “parcels over 5 acres in AG Use districts with Class I or II soils, on slopes of 15% or less, and with documented current water right or other non-diversionary source of water.” These lands are the most appropriate for commercial agriculture and will present the lowest risk for large operations.

Cannabis Land Use Ordinance Should Not Be Used as Vehicle for Other Code Enforcement:

The first draft cannabis land use ordinance requires that “violations of any building or other healthy, safety, or other state or county state, ordinance, or regulation” by abated or cured no later than “one (1) year after the date of the issuance of the clearance or permit.” (§ 55.4.11). We believe that it is inappropriate to use this clearance/permit program to enforce other code issues. While EPIC believes that code enforcement is important and serves environmental values, we are concerned that the inclusion of this provision would discourage participation in this ordinance and other regulations, such as the Water Board waiver. EPIC believes that maximum participation is important to minimize environmental impacts; unnecessary obstacles which keep farmers in the shadows will only cause further environmental harm.

* * *

EPIC is deeply committed to finding solutions that will meaningfully improve environmental conditions by fostering voluntary participation and compliance by the cannabis community. Should you have any questions, please contact me at (707) 822-7711 or Natalynne@wildcalifornia.org.

Natalynne DeLapp

Executive Director

Additional comment letters:

Click here to read EPIC’s comment letter to California Cannabis Voice Humboldt on July 30, 2015.

Click here to read the Environmental Coalition’s comment letter to California Cannabis Voice Humboldt September 2, 2015.

Click here to read, “Existing North Coast Cultivators Come Into Compliance” September 29, 2015. 


Honoring Betty & Gary Ball–the 2015 Sempervirens Award Recipients

Sunday, November 1st, 2015
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Betty and Gary Ball

Betty Ball and her late husband, Gary Ball, will receive the 2015 Sempervirens Lifetime Achievement Award at EPIC’s 38th Annual Fall Celebration on Friday, November 6th. Betty and Gary are the founders of the Mendocino Environmental Center, which became the hub for environmental and political activism in Mendocino and Humboldt County for more then a decade between 1987 and 1997. The issues in those years included abuse of forests on private lands, the Forests Forever ballot initiative, Redwood Summer and the campaign to protect the Headwaters Forest. Betty, the consummate networker and organizer was indispensable to the efforts to protect the environment of northern California.

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Sinkiyone Coast

Originally from Boulder, Colorado, Betty and Gary came to the Sinkyone Coast in 1986 to visit friends and fell in love with region. Upon learning that the timber company, Georgia-Pacific, was in pursuit of logging coastal ancient redwoods in the Sinkyone area, they were spurred into action.

Having long had fantasies about starting an environmental center where people could come together, work and cooperatively share resources, when Betty and Gary relocated to Ukiah in 1987, they were able to open the Mendocino Environmental Center (MEC) with little more than a $20 donation, a store front office and a phone line.

Very quickly the MEC became the central network for activism, with Betty becoming the connector between the local and regional groups. Working with and bringing together activists such as Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, Betty and Gary showed the way to organize the community. It was those connections—that were instrumental in building the movement to protect the natural communities of northern California.

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Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney

Gary Ball and Judi Bari used to collaborate on articles; one about the economic and environmental implications of militarism was called “Ground Beef to Ground War,” which connected military intervention and destroying El Salvadoran forests to the fast food industry. To spread awareness of the issue, activists marched through Ukiah with paper mache animal heads, singing songs and drumming. “The protest was all over the Ukiah Daily Journal,” said Betty. “It was probably the most outlandish thing that Ukiah had ever seen.”

Another early campaign that stands out for Betty was the effort to protect Trout Creek. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) had a logging plan to log Trout Creek in the Potter Valley area outside of Ukiah. “Activists developed a brilliant and highly effective strategy—they created postcards and distributed them liberally to people up and down the coast. Those postcards were sent to PG&E telling them that everyone was going to withhold money from each bill until the company agreed not to log Trout Creek,” said Betty. “PG&E was flooded with postcards and that led the utility company to being amenable to negotiations—and because of those efforts, Trout Creek is standing today.”

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Owl Creek, Headwaters Forest, Humboldt County

By the late 1980s Maxaam’s Pacific Lumber’s efforts to liquidate log one of the largest remaining tracts of old-growth redwood was in full swing in Humboldt County. Activists all across the state were working to bring attention to the issue. Groups such as EPIC were filing lawsuits, there was direct action, and organized protests coming out of the MEC. In 1989 the Mendocino Environmental Center, EPIC and other grassroots organizations decided to explore the California ballot initiative process as a means to protect private forests, specifically Headwaters. To pursue this, activists formed a new organization called Forests Forever and began crafting a ballot initiative of the same name. “Proposition 130, would have been the strictest forestry regulations anywhere. It would have restricted logging along stream beds, mandated canopy cover and no old growth logging at all, said Betty Ball. “The timber companies were going nuts about it. They knew what it would mean in terms of their ability to reap their fortunes—so they upped their harvesting.”

Tensions between environmentalists and loggers were reaching a climax. Betty and Gary Ball organized meetings between loggers, middle management and environmentalists to try to calm down the tensions. “Gary and Betty were incredible Peace-Makers, said Naomi Wagner. “They mediated many stressful situations that helped deescalate conflicts.”

Simultaneously, the organizing for Redwood Summer was underway. Modeled after Mississippi Summer, Redwood Summer was a statewide and nation wide effort to draw attention to Headwaters. Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, with the support of the MEC, traveled to colleges and universities to spread information and get people involved. The MEC helped established “base camps” so that people had places to stay, food to eat and would be able to plug into actions.

On May 24, 1990, Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney were driving through Oakland, California when a pipe bomb exploded directly under Bari’s driver side seat.

“Darryl was only slightly injured, but Judi was impaled and had to be removed with the Jaws of Life,” said Betty. “I received the call at the MEC, but didn’t believe it because there had been so many other pranks and threats that I didn’t believe the story. I thought, this had to be a hoax, but it wasn’t a hoax. Both Judi and Darryl were arrested for bombing themselves.”

“After the bombing happened it made some of the loggers wonder, said Betty. “We had to convince people that Judi and Darryl weren’t the perpetrators, but instead the victims.”

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Headwaters Rally

“It was horrible not to have Judi present, but Redwood Summer still happened. The tragedy caused the movement to grow bigger. People were so incensed by what happened that it galvanized the movement. People stood in solidarity with Judi and Darryl, said Betty. “The charges were never dropped, but eventually, the FBI and Oakland Police Department was forced to pay $4 million in a civil and constitutional lawsuit. The FBI and Oakland Police Department were found guilty of violating Judi and Darryl’s civil rights, which helped preserve the rights of activists everywhere.”

Meanwhile…“The Timber Industry used the bombing as a media tool to say, ‘This proposition is brought forward by Earth First!’ said Betty. “In November 1990, Proposition 130 narrowly lost after garnering 48.5% of the vote.”

As an organizing hub, the Mendocino Environmental Center used educational outreach, litigation, legislation and direct action to accomplish its goals. It is because of Betty and Gary’s efforts that northern California has a strong culture of activism and protected forests. Because of their lifetime of work, it is the pleasure of the Environmental Protection Information Center to present the 2015 Sempervirens Award to Betty and Gary Ball of the Mendocino Environmental Center.

“Without Betty and Gary we would not have saved Headwaters Forest, thanks to the MEC and its incredible networking,” said Naomi Wagner.