Archive for February, 2016

Who’ll Stand Up for the Northern Spotted Owl?

Thursday, February 25th, 2016
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Owl Self-Defense wings shadowFrom way back in time immemorial, a time long-lost in the annals of natural history, the northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina), has developed a highly specialized and remarkable niche in the moist primal forests of the redwood coast, the Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion, and up and down the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest. The northern spotted owl is an apex nocturnal forest predator that has evolved into a highly-refined specialist, occupying the deep, dark, dense, and dank forests along the rugged pacific coastline, feeding on small mammals, rearing its young, and helping to maintain the delicate balance of our forest ecosystems.

The northern spotted owl, once-abundant pre-European colonization and settlement in our region, has seen a significant decline range-wide in the 20th and 21st centuries, mostly due to radical human-induced habitat changes, and more recently, the arrival of a cunning competitor. Here, in the redwood region, there were once an estimated two million acres of old-growth primal redwood forest when European settlers arrived in the 1850’s, spanning the rugged and scenic California coastline all the way from Big Sur in the south, to the Oregon border in the north. Almost all the traditional range of the coast redwoods was once home to the northern spotted owl. However, by 1968, scarcely one hundred years later, at the time of the creation of Redwood National Park, only an estimated ten percent of the original old-growth coastal redwood forest remained. Today, only approximately five percent of the original redwood forest remains.

The story is the same, more or less, across the vast Pacific Northwest temperate rainforest ecosystems. European exploration and settlement eventually lead to logging of the old-growth forests, the very unique and irreplaceable ecosystems upon which the northern spotted owl, had come to depend, and to a devastating extent.

On June 26, 1990, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the northern spotted owl as “threatened,” under the federal Endangered Species Act, citing past, and ongoing habitat loss due to logging as the primary reasons for the original listing. In May 1991, Federal Judge William Dwyer ruled in favor of environmentalists who challenged the adequacy of the U.S. Forest Service’s 1986 Forest Management Plan, enjoining 75 percent of the proposed timber sales on public lands in spotted owl critical habitat, ultimately leading to the development of the Northwest Forest Plan in 1994.

The northern spotted owl unwittingly became a “canary in the coal mine,” for the timber industry, on both public and private lands from the late 1980’s and even into the early 2000’s, as the debate over old-growth logging devolved into the so-called “timber wars,” that raged up and down the Pacific Northwest, including, of course, here in Humboldt County’s redwood region.

Here in 2016, despite much-improved forest management on our public lands, the northern spotted owl still finds that there are precious few, and far between, places to hide, let alone thrive, on our private lands range-wide, and here in California. Despite over 20 years of federal ESA protections, very little has changed in terms of private lands forestry practices, even with the advent of the 1973 California Forest Practice Act and associated rules, which govern private lands logging in the state. Today, there are still those who believe old-growth logging is “illegal,” in California, including on private lands. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. What little high-quality habitat remains for the northern spotted owl on our private forestlands is at constant and perpetual risk, with virtually no on-the-ground nexus to protect it.

Recently, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) the agency that regulates private lands logging, admitted that it doesn’t even keep track of how much logging of spotted owl habitat it approves annually via discretionary projects, such as Timber Harvest Plans. This doesn’t even speak to how much logging of spotted owl habitat goes on in California on private lands under non-discretionary or “ministerial,” projects, such as exemption notices, and emergency notices.

As if all this logging of habitat wasn’t bad or alarming enough, the situation is even worse for our protagonist, the northern spotted owl. The arrival of the barred owl (Strix varina), a direct competitor to the northern spotted owl, into our Pacific Northwest forests, has served to combine with and compound the effects of habitat loss, and with grim consequences. The most recent range-wide long-term demographic study on the state of northern spotted owl populations, published in 2015, suggests that the devastating one-two punch of habitat loss and barred owl competition are serving to drive the spotted owl extinct, and at an exponentially-increasing rate in recent years.

EPIC has been at the forefront of advocating for the northern spotted owl, on both public and private lands in Northwest California and beyond, since the original listing. We work from the micro (project-by-project-level), to the macro (listing petitions and regulations/policy changes), providing access to perspective of the voiceless northern spotted owl in the board rooms and meeting rooms of industry and regulators, into the very halls of the legislatures and government, and even into the courtrooms.

In April 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a positive 90-day finding on our petition under the ESA to “reclassify” or “uplist,” the northern spotted owl from a “threatened,” to an “endangered” species, citing ongoing habitat loss, and increasing and devastating effects of barred owl competitive presence. Earlier this month, February 2016, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife finally produced its extremely delinquent status report on the northern spotted owl in California, in response to a listing petition filed by EPIC in 2012 to list the owl under the California Endangered Species Act. The Department found that the northern spotted owl is “threatened” with extinction in California, and has recommended listing the owl under CESA to the California Fish and Game Commission. The final decision on the northern spotted owl CESA listing is anticipated later this year.

In a society where our forests and wildlife are reduced to assets, commodities, and of course, liabilities, by industry and government, it is citizen’s groups such as EPIC, advocating for the rights of the forest, and all the life the depends on the forest, that serve a crucial and understated role in enforcing the law, shaping the policies, and moving the discourse of this so-called “civilized,” world. For the northern spotted owl, of course, the world must seem anything but “civilized,” and instead, more like a world turned upside down. EPIC will continue our tireless efforts to protect, restore, and conserve the northern spotted owl, and the unique forest upon which it depends.


The Owl Massacre of 2016: Proposed Timber Sale to Take Over 100 Northern Spotted Owls

Thursday, February 25th, 2016
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NSO Juvenile Oregon Fish and Wildlife Service

In the past year, EPIC has talked a lot about the proposed Westside Project—a massive logging project on the Klamath National Forest. In case you haven’t heard, the Klamath National Forest has proposed logging approximately 6,800 acres of clearcuts near the Klamath River. The majority of these clearcuts—upwards of 70%—are scheduled for northern spotted owl critical habitat and/or “Late Successional Reserves,” lands set aside for northern spotted owls. You can find more at our archives, located here.

On Friday, February 19, 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued its Biological Opinion on the Westside Project which detailed the amount of carnage this logging project would cause to northern spotted owls. The numbers are grim. All told, the Westside Project would “take” up to 103 owls; 74 adults and between 12–24 juveniles.

To put this number in perspective, this represents 1–2% of all northern spotted owls left. While this might not seem like a lot, rangewide populations of northern spotted owl are in increasingly steep decline. A recent demographic study estimates that northern spotted owl populations have declined by 3.8% per year from 1985 to 2013 and suggests the rate of decline appears to be increasing. You can read more about the plight of the northern spotted owl and EPIC’s efforts to help save the owl on our new blog post, located here.

The Westside Project has drawn widespread condemnation. Over 13,000 people have written to the Forest Service asking for the project to be pulled. The Karuk Tribe, which has lived in the project area for time immemorial, has expressed deep concerns over the project and submitted their own proposal to the Forest Service for consideration, which was rejected by the Service.

The Klamath National Forest justifies such horrific impacts on the premise of improved future conditions for the owl. In their logic, by logging, the Forest Service will be able to start a new forest faster, one that has a lessened risk of reburning in the future because fuel (i.e., owl habitat) is removed. Even if you buy the Forest Service’s speculative argument—that guaranteed short-term harm is outweighed by possible long-term benefit–there is still a catch: the Forest Service does not have the money to do the forest restoration work they promise. Receipts from timber sales will not cover the myriad of promises the Forest Service has made to get this project through and the Service admits that future funding is “uncertain” and likely “insufficient to accomplished all needed restoration work.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has expressed skepticism of the Forest Service’s propose. Last fall, the top official charged with spotted owl recovery wrote to the Forest Service stating that the Westside Project should be “minimized” where owls remain after fire because large, dead trees will “greatly improve” the quality of forest habitat as it naturally recovers over time.

The Service continued, “In general, most scientists agree that salvage logging does not contribute positively to the ecological recovery of naturally disturbed forests,” Henson wrote. “It is important for (land managers) to seek ways to implement important fuel reduction work without over-utilizing salvage logging that can adversely affect the restoration of natural conditions.”

It’s not too late to stop the Westside Project. We encourage the Klamath National Forest to withdraw its proposal.

 


Brief Update on Northwest Forest Plan Revisions

Thursday, February 25th, 2016
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What is one of the largest environmental issues that few people are talking about? The updates to the Northwest Forest Plan, the landscape level plan that impacts national public lands within the range of the northern spotted owl. EPIC is keyed in on the forthcoming Plan revisions and we are here to share the details. You can read about our previous updates here.

Forest Plan Revision Process

 

We are at the very beginning stages of the Northwest Forest Plan revision.

The Forest Service is in the midst of its “Science Synthesis,” a review of the major science that discusses some of the key issues to be addressed in the upcoming Northwest Forest Plan revisions—issues like whether to let certain wildfires burn, whether our system of aquatic buffers is sufficient to support clean water, and how to plan for habitat corridors.

The Science Synthesis began with a collection of available science. EPIC, in collaboration with our sister environmental groups across the West Coast, submitted substantial science to the Forest Service for their consideration. This science will, in theory, be addressed in the Science Synthesis and will be considered in future plan revisions.

The Science Synthesis will be used by individual national forests to “assess” the current and possible conditions within each forest. After the assessment is completed, the Forest Service will develop proposed plan revisions—hopefully with significant public input.

EPIC will continue to monitor the Northwest Forest Plan revisions and provide you with updates. For more information about the Science Synthesis, please visit: http://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/research/science-synthesis/

 


Action Alert to Protect Wolves in California

Thursday, February 11th, 2016
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California Wolf Pups 1-jpg

Shasta Wolf Pack August 2015. Courtesy CDFW

Action Alert: The California Fish and Game Commission is accepting comments on the Draft Conservation Plan for Gray Wolves in California and they need to hear your voice. The two part document includes goals, strategies and phases for wolf management as their populations within the state begin to grow. The gray wolf is one of the most iconic species in the American West, where they lived for thousands of years before they were driven to extinction as the land was settled, and now we finally have the opportunity to allow them to return to their former habitat and restore the natural order of the land as an apex predator.

It is important to remember the brutal past wolves have survived, and it is essential that mechanisms are put in place to ensure their populations are allowed to increase until they are proven to have well-established viable populations within the state. EPIC is concerned that the inclusion of the phases contained within the wolf plan could lead to premature delisting or lethal management when only a hand full of breeding pairs are detected within the state, and before the gray wolf populations have had a chance to become stable.

The overall tone of the document seems to treat wolves as a burden characterizing their return to the state as a challenge, instead of celebrating this opportunity for wolf recovery.

Currently, it is not legal under the Federal Endangered Species Act or the California Endangered Species Act to kill wolves. The Draft Plan prematurely outlines a blueprint for delisting gray wolves, without sufficient information identifying what a “conserved” condition for gray wolves means in California.

Click here to ask the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to ensure that the Conservation Plan for Gray Wolves extends full protections for wolves in California.


California’s Humboldt Martens Gain Candidate List Protection Under CA Endangered Species Act

Thursday, February 11th, 2016
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In response to a petition from the Environmental Protection Information Center and the Center for Biological Diversity, the California Fish and Game Commission today voted to make coastal martens a “candidate” species under the California Endangered Species Act. As candidates, coastal martens cannot be killed or harmed and will receive a year-long formal “status review” that will most likely lead to them being formally listed under the Act a year from now. Also known as the Humboldt marten, the coastal marten is a cat-sized carnivore found in the old-growth forests of Northern California and southern Oregon. The marten’s forest habitat has been decimated by logging, likely leaving fewer than 100 coastal martens left in California.

Marten Press Release 2-11-16

“This is great news for coastal martens,” said Justin Augustine, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Candidate species receive some immediate protection under the California Endangered Species Act, and this help could not come too soon, given how few of these martens are left in California.”

The Environmental Protection Information Center and the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the state to protect the marten in June 2015, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife issued a report in December 2015 recommending that the martens be named as candidates under the Act. Today’s vote from the Fish and Game Commission formally adopts that recommendation and allows the martens to receive the Act’s protections. Over the next year the Department will conduct an in-depth review of the coastal marten’s status in California and issue a report recommending whether to formally protect the martens.

The coastal marten also lives in southern and central coastal Oregon, where it has also undergone a drastic population decline. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to protect the marten under the federal Endangered Species Act in response to a petition from the two groups, a decision now being challenged in court.

The historic range of the marten extends from Sonoma County in coastal California north through the coastal mountains of Oregon. Once believed to be extinct, the marten was rediscovered on the Six Rivers National Forest in 1996. Since that time researchers have continued to detect martens in California, but also determined that coastal martens declined substantially between 2001 and 2012 and have not rebounded.

“We once thought the coastal marten was extinct,” said Tom Wheeler, staff attorney for EPIC. “With its rediscovery, we have another chance to save the marten. We must act now to prevent it from drifting back toward extinction.”

Since 1977, the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) has defended Northwest California’s forests and wildlife, including the rare and incredibly adorable Humboldt marten.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


Cannabis Ordinance, an Important First Step

Friday, February 5th, 2016
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frog on marijuanaA long time in the making, and sorely needed, Humboldt County now has the first land use ordinance in the state of California to regulate commercial cannabis agriculture. This is an important first step to begin rectifying the environmental destruction associated with unregulated cannabis cultivation, and providing a legitimate framework for legal economic activity that can benefit farmers and the general public. Only now can the divide between cultivators, regulators, and communities start to close, and mutual distrust begin to fade, as we work together to shape the industry’s future with our social and environmental values.

This is a monumental step taken at the behest of cannabis farmers, conservationists, government officials, members of the public and many others, who for the last five years have openly dialogued, deliberated, and educated the community about the problems of unregulated cannabis, while looking for solutions.

For nearly two decades, since cultivation for medical use was decriminalized, there have been very few rules and regulations to govern which activities are and are not acceptable. Unfortunately, few government officials outside of Humboldt County were willing or able to help find solutions to statewide problems associated with unregulated cannabis, such as water withdrawals, herbicide and pesticide use, threats to consumer and public safety, law enforcement and beyond.

Thanks to the efforts of a few brave cultivators, and Assembly member Jim Wood and Senator Mike McGuire, California adopted the California Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act in 2015, which at last provides a comprehensive statewide framework to regulate commercial cannabis. In addition, last summer the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board issued its groundbreaking water quality order, the first regulation by a California state agency designed to address environmental impacts from cannabis cultivation.

Finally, the components for effective regulation had to come together— Humboldt County could develop its own local ordinance to regulate land use, and what was accomplished was no small feat. The community came together to engage in the public process; and the Humboldt County Supervisors and planning staff accomplished the difficult task of balancing the needs of the environment, the industry, and the public. Having witnessed the process, I can say it is an example of the government and its citizens successfully working together to create a set of rules that most everyone can support.

The Humboldt County Commercial Medical Marijuana Land Use Ordinance establishes rules and performance standards designed to mitigate the harms associated with the unregulated existing industry. To be fully permitted as a legal commercial cannabis farmer, all twenty requirements must be satisfied, which include: enrollment in the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board water quality order; compliance with the streambed alteration program from the Department of Fish and Wildlife; water storage requirements to prevent dry season pumping; and strict rules for water trucking. Performance standards will begin to address noise and light pollution associated with generator use and mixed-light grows; streamside set-backs were incorporated to further protect water quality; and processing plans and allowance for off-site centralized processing centers were developed to increase safety for workers while reducing negative impacts associated with trim scenes. The Retirement, Relocation and Remediation Program incentivizes relocation of poorly situated grows to flat agricultural lands; and indoor cultivation is limited to on-the-grid power in existing structures. No new grows are allowed on forest resource lands i.e. TPZ, FR or U zones; and a sunset clause is included that limits enrollment in the county’s permitting plan to applicants who apply by December 31, 2016. In addition, the Supervisors have publically committed to completing a full Environmental Impact Report before expanding the breadth of the ordinance.

The county land use ordinance is an important first step, but it’s only the beginning. The county needs to begin immediately drafting a cannabis excise tax to fund inspection and enforcement, and provide other public services—so that it can be included on the June 2016 ballot for voter approval.

Cannabis thrived without regulation for decades. The time has now come for it to thrive with regulation. We need to help bring farmers into compliance. To assist with this task, EPIC and the Mad River Alliance are partnering with Humboldt Green, California Growers Association and the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District to create a 2016 Compliance Manual. We are hosting a series of six workshops across the county with presentations by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, Department of Fish and Wildlife, and experts on state and county laws. Click here to be directed to the Cannabis Farmer’s Workshop Series Facebook page. 

Through all these steps, we must remember that regulations and laws are not going to be perfect the first time around and that adaptive management strategies must be employed. The community must work together to provide feedback to agencies and elected officials regarding implementation of the new rules, and whether or not they are effective. EPIC will be there to work with anyone or any group who is sincere in promoting environmentally responsible cannabis cultivation, while ensuring environmental laws are upheld.

Workshops are scheduled for:

* February 28th at the Mad River Grange

* March 13th at the Mateel Community Center

* March 19th at the Willow Creek Country Club

* April 3rd at the Mattole Grange;

* April 17th at  “Cannafest” at Redwood Acres Fairgrounds

* April 24 at Ruth Lake Community Center

Click to view the cannabis compliance workshop flier

Compliance Workshop Flier-1