Archive for June, 2016

Documenting Bovine Degradation in Wilderness: A Call for Volunteers From the Project to Reform Public Land Grazing in Northern California

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016
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Project Volunteer Luke Ruediger surveys bank trampling and riparian shade reduction on the Silver Fork of Elliot Creek within the Siskiyou Ridge portion of Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest.

Project Volunteer Luke Ruediger surveys bank trampling and riparian shade reduction on the Silver Fork of Elliot Creek within the Siskiyou Ridge portion of Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest.

By Felice Pace, Project Coordinator

This summer and fall volunteers with the Project to Reform Public Land Grazing in Northern California will again be in the field monitoring conditions on public lands where cattle and other livestock are permitted to graze. Our task will be to document with photos, measurements and field notes how the cattle are managed and the resulting degradation of water quality, riparian and wetland habitats.

This will be the seventh year Project volunteers are in the field. So far we’ve monitories 17 grazing allotments on three national forests; many allotments we’ve monitored multiple times and in multiple years. Here’s what we’ve found: District Rangers, the Forest Service officials responsible for assuring that grazing on their districts is done responsibly, are not getting the job done. Those officials are allowing livestock owners to place cattle on public land and leave them there, without management, until the snow flies and it is necessary to bring the cattle to lower elevation. That results in degradation of water quality, riparian areas and wetlands, and that is what the Project aims to stop.

Project monitors record their observations and document the destruction photographically. We then use those observations and findings in monitoring and other reports and presentations which we provide to agency grazing managers and regulatory agencies. Project sponsor organizations like EPIC and me as the Project’s coordinator use that documentation to advocate specific management changes on the allotments volunteers monitored and for systemic grazing management reforms. We especially target the State Water Resources Control Board and Regional Water Boards which are responsible for assuring that public land management complies with the Clean Water Act. We want the State and Regional Water Boards to tighten Clean Water Act requirements for public land grazing, including requiring modern rest-rotation grazing management systems, regular herding and other best management practices.

Our ability to monitor public land grazing is limited by the number of volunteers working with the project. That’s where you could play a role. If you are familiar with the wilderness and able to walk off trail in the mountains you could monitor with the Project; or you could train with the Project and monitor grazing on your own and with friends. Often national forest grazing takes place in spectacular wilderness environments. And one can usually find a quite place, away from the destructive bovines, to camp. Many grazing allotments can be monitored via day trips from wilderness trailheads.

Monitors are especially needed for the Mendocino, Six Rivers, Lassen and Modoc National Forests and for BLM administered public lands. The more places we can document poor grazing management resulting in water quality, riparian and wetland degradation, the better the case we can make that systemic reform of public land grazing management is needed.

The destruction

When cattle are left unmanaged for months in mountains where the headwaters are replete with springs, wet meadows and willow wetlands, the result is a disaster. The photos below tell the tail to some extent, but photos can capture the full impact.

Season-long grazing without herding results in the elimination of dry meadow bunchgrasses and the trampling of springs. 

Streambanks are trampled, riparian vegetation destroyed and headwater willow wetlands are fragmented and dried out

Neglectful management of national forest grazing violates water quality standards, including EPA limits on nutrient pollution and the North Coast Regional Water Board’s limits on fecal bacteria pollution. Water quality monitoring by The Quartz Valley Indian Reservation, a federal tribe, citizen groups and the Forest Service itself show that wilderness streams which should provide the highest quality waters are instead being fouled at the source.

Wilderness headwater basins that should produce critical late summer and fall baseflow in salmon streams below are being relentlessly trampled year after year by cattle weighing up to1200 pounds. When wet headwater meadows are degraded in that way they dry out; their ability to store water for slow release during the dry season is damaged and, if the trampling continues long enough, destroyed. As hydrologist Jonathan Rhodes and Fish Ecologist Chris Frissell point out in a recent report, one of the three best ways to restore California’s dry season water supply would be to eliminate grazing from Northern California’s national forest headwater basins.

Our Strategy

Our Project does not insist that grazing be eliminated from Northern California public lands. But we do insist that those who enjoy the privilege of grazing their livestock on the people’s land manage those livestock responsibly.

We want Forest Service and other public land grazing managers to require modern grazing strategies like rest rotation grazing and best practices like regular herding and seasonal fencing to keep livestock out of wetlands, prevent them from trashing streams and protect riparian vegetation and streambanks.

Because both managers and regulators have refused for six years now to reform grazing management which is clearly inadequate and irresponsible, we are going up the line to supervisors and considering administrative and legal challenges.

We are determined to see modern grazing management brought to Northern California’s public lands. If livestock producers want the privilege of grazing in the public’s meadows and headwaters they must be willing to manage their animals responsibly, including riding the range regularly, moving cattle out of wetlands and rotating grazing to prevent degradation of land and water.

If the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management required modern grazing methods, we believe most individuals and corporations now permitted to graze livestock on public lands would voluntarily relinquish the permits. They would not be willing to incur the time and expense necessary to graze livestock responsibly in mountains that are replete with springs, streams, wet meadows and willow wetlands.

If you want to volunteer with the Project or just want more information contact me, Felice Pace, by email (unofelice@gmail.com) or by phone (707-954-6588). And please take the time to get out and enjoy the lands we all own together.

Happy trails!


Fences Finally Removed in Tolowa Dunes State Park

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016
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ElkAfter years of assessment, documentation, mapping and planning, abandoned livestock fences in the Tolowa Dunes have finally been removed, and now a small heard of wild elk have been sighted in the area that was previously leased for cattle grazing.

Tolowa Dunes State Park is made up of ancient sand dunes, swales, dune forest, and an ephemeral wetland bottom called the Smith River Plain, along the coast of Del Norte County. The Park is used as a Pacific flyway stopover for migratory birds, serves as critical rearing habitat for juvenile salmon and provides grazing opportunities for wild ungulates. Tolowa Dunes State Park is also sacred to the Tolowa people, who once had a village there, a village that was the site of a horrible massacre of the Tolowa people in 1853.

From 1996-2011, about 230 acres of the bottoms along the Yontocket Slough were leased from Tolowa Dunes State Park for cattle grazing to the adjacent land owner, Alexandre Dairy, which modified the area with heavy equipment and built extensive fence lines throughout the Park. This area was heavily grazed and the dairy’s barbwire and electric fences remained after the termination of the grazing permit, preventing the movement of wild animals, including local wild Rosevelt elk populations.

With funding from the California State Parks Foundation, EPIC worked with Tolowa Dunes State Park, Tolowa Dunes Stewards and biologist Adam Canter to map livestock fencing and rare species, and to help plan and prioritize ecological restoration and livestock fence removal projects within Tolowa Dunes State Park. EPIC began working on this project in 2010, helping to end the illegal livestock grazing permit on State Park Lands, and now, six years later, the fences have finally been removed and wild elk have returned to the former grazing area of the park.

 


Forest Rules a Self-defeating Glut

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016
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Holm_Fay_date2008-04-09_time16.02.45_IMG_8035 copy

By Paul Mann, Mad River Union

Timber industry officials and environmental activists warn that the state’s logging safeguards have become a bureaucratic snarl that can drag out rule-making for a decade and a half and more.

Experts say that 43 years after the enactment of the Forest Practice Act, timescales are so out of joint that the pace of environmental damage far outruns preventive action on the ground. The 1973 act’s rule book has swollen to 300 pages.

Formulating a Timber Harvest Plan for a given property is expensive – $15,000 to $60,000 per plan, says Dee Sanders of Trinity Lumber.

Critics say the regulatory framework has recoiled on itself, leaving the system effectively broken.

“There’s no doubt about that,” Sanders declared in a telephone interview.

This forbidding reality demands a legislative overhaul, according to Natalynne DeLapp, executive director of the nonprofit Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), and her colleague Rob DiPerna, California forest and wildlife advocate. They  have documented what they view as an “unnavigable tangle of politics, paper and process” studded with regulatory thickets. EPIC serves the five counties of Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino, Siskiyou and Trinity.

One of the worst holdups stemmed from a set of “road rules” first bruited by the state Board of Forestry in 1999 to ward off the impact of construction on the North Coast’s fast-declining salmon and steelhead populations. The rules did not take effect until January, 2015, a 16-year hiatus.

In another instance, the forestry board took almost 10 years, until 1994, to act on regulations to address the cumulative impacts of logging on private lands. When the panel finally did act, it issued guidance that is merely “voluntary and suggestive,” not a real regulation, according to DeLapp and DiPerna.

Neither a 10-year nor a 16-year wait is the outside limit. The watershed of the Elk River, one of Humboldt Bay’s largest tributaries, was designated impaired in 1998 under the Clean Water Act.

Yet it took the regional water board until this past month to adopt a recovery plan – a lag of 18 years. That’s typical, said DiPerna, of the voluminous and time-consuming paperwork associated with rule making. He called it a “Frankenstein’s Monster.”

The tangle can add dozens of pages to a single Timber Harvest Plan. EPIC statistics show that a harvest blueprint averages 250 to 300 pages in length and sometimes many more. Formulating a plan is an arcane, costly and laborious exercise that balks public understanding and bedevils all the stakeholders, whether landowners, foresters, scientists or citizens.

By rights, drafting a plan should take 45 to 60 days, DiPerna estimated, but some of them get stuck in the system for years. Sanders said Oregon’s system, less rigorous than California’s, takes about two weeks.

Time is not the only debit. According to DiPerna, the average base cost of a Timber Harvest Plan for a given landowner has climbed to $30,000, midway between Sanders’ $15,000 to $60,000.

The $30,000 average does not include the many more thousands of dollars spent by state agencies such as CalFire for a harvest plan’s review, approval, administration and enforcement.

There is also concern that the public is shut out. DiPerna wrote in a recent EPIC monograph, “It is nearly impossible for the average citizen to read, navigate, understand or provide meaningful comment or engagement in the Timber Harvest Plan process.” It has taken him some 20 years to become fully informed about the issue.

Ironically, the purpose of the relevant statutes, like the California Environmental Quality Act and the Forest Practice Act, was to ensure that private citizens had meaningful information about, and open access to, the management decisions that affect air, forests, water and wildlife.

Exactly the opposite, said DiPerna and DeLapp. Forest protection plays third fiddle to an Orwellian regulatory chorus which fails in any meaningful way to effect “operational change or on-the-ground protection, enhancement, restoration or conservation of public trust resources.” The bureaucracy exalts legalism, they contend.

DiPerna freely acknowledged that EPIC’s lawsuits can at times, “unwittingly, actually make the [regulatory] situation worse,” generating more time-consuming analysis and explanation. But the avenues in the environmental laws “are really all we have,” he pleaded in extenuation.

DeLapp refuted accusations that EPIC is financed by lawsuits, saying it is funded by membership donations and private foundations. The only reimbursements received are for the costs of attorneys, many of whom work pro bono. “We do not recoup costs for staff time,” she added.

The intent and effectiveness of California’s landmark environmental laws have been co-opted by state agencies that are protecting themselves, DeLapp charged. “They insulate themselves from litigation not only by public interest groups, but by private industry and contractors as well.”

Moreover, “I find it offensive when public agencies blame public interest organizations for ‘costing taxpayers money’ when they lose court cases,” said DeLapp. “When courts find in our favor, it means the agencies failed to uphold their end of the bargain. Blaming us for catching them is 100 percent inappropriate.”

What results from bureaucratic overkill is classic “analysis paralysis,” DiPerna noted, as occurred in the Elk River fiasco. None of the staff’s fundamental findings – that the river was impaired by logging – ever changed, he said, across “reports and studies and studies of reports and peer reviews and hearing after hearing on the same issues, over and over again!”    

DeLapp stated that the solution lies in the consensus among timber harvest stakeholders, both industry exponents and conservationists, that the system needs a rebuild.

“Since we all agree what the problem is, we can figure out a way to turn this over. The system is designed for us to be diametrically opposed, conservation versus industry, economics versus ecology. Instead, we should be able to collaborate and mutually develop our own solutions.”

Fresh legislation could make them a reality.


Taking Stock, Taking Cover—Redwood Restoration, Reconnection, and the Humboldt Marten

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016
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Google Earth Image of Redwood National Park VS. Green Diamond clear cuts

Google Earth Image showing stark difference between protected lands in Redwood National Park adjacent to Green Diamond Resource Company land. An area containing one of the two remnant Humboldt marten population segments in California.

The coast redwood forests of Northern California are often perceived as a remnant of paleo-history, a land, and a place seemingly lost in time, and sheltered from the modern age by the pale shadow of the redwood curtain. For many across the country and the world, the coast redwood forests are a dark, impenetrable, and primeval place, where one may at once be lost, and found.

Sadly, the wild and iconic vision of a vast, mighty, and vibrant forest ecosystem set-aside from time and the march of human progress is far more hyperbole and fantasy than present-day reality here in the redwoods. A forest type that once spanned the majority of the northern hemisphere, growing and evolving for 18 million years or more, and that spanned some 2 million acres across Northern California’s rugged and scenic coastline has been reduced to small, isolated and disjunct remnant fragments in less than 200 years since European-American settlement. Today, Save-the-Redwoods League estimates that approximately 120,000 acres, or five percent, of the original old-growth coast redwood forest remains, with 95 percent of the land now in a previously-logged condition, and bearing scant resemblance to the forest that once was.

The vast majority of remaining old-growth coast redwood forest is now contained in our redwood parks and reserve systems, which according to estimates from Save-the-Redwoods League, constitutes only 23 percent of the original forest land-base. Slauson (2012) estimates that greater than 50 percent of the land-base in our redwood parks and reserve systems is actually comprised of previously-logged stands of second and third-growth forest and not old-growth.

Restoration of the forest itself in the range of the coast redwoods is a monumental and daunting task that is only now beginning to take place, and the art, science, and economic viability of forest restoration in the redwoods is experimental, at best. Slauson (2012) aptly describes the importance of this work, stating, “The management of second growth forests to accelerate the restoration of late-successional and old growth characteristics will be one of the greatest challenges for conservation in the redwood region over the next century.”

Marten map

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection GIS Map of Marten Population. Published April 7, 2016.

Enter the most unlikely of creatures, the seemingly long-forgotten resident of our coast redwood forest ecosystems, the Humboldt marten. The story of the Humboldt marten serves as a synergistic metaphor that runs parallel and is very complimentary to that of our coastal redwood forest ecosystem. The marten was trapped extensively for its pelts in the early years of European-American exploration and settlement in the redwoods, and with the advent of aggressive logging of the vast majority of the redwood forest old-growth, upon which the Humboldt marten depends, it was once thought that this small, cat-size member of the weasel family had been lost. That is, until 1996, when this stealth, highly allusive, and unassuming creature was accidentally captured on a wildlife survey camera in Prairie Creek Redwood State Park, one of the four parks that in the present-day make up the jointly-administered Redwood National and State Parks system. Contemporary monitoring and research suggests that the Humboldt marten, like the old-growth coast redwood forest, has been extirpated from 95 percent of its original range; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (2015) now estimates that less than 100 total individuals persist in the wild today, and that these individuals represent only two very small, extremely isolated population segments in California, and a small population along the coast in Southern Oregon.

Isolation and fragmentation of the coast redwood forest landscape, associated increases in road-densities, and the resultant degradation of the ecological integrity of the forest are as dangerous and damaging for the survival and recovery of the Humboldt marten as they are for our remnant coastal old-growth redwood forests. Logging and conversion of the vast majority of our complex old-growth redwood forest assemblages to young, even-aged, sterile, and homogenous early seral plantations threaten to cause the extinction of both the original redwood forest as a functional ecosystem, and of the Humboldt marten, whose small, fragmented and isolated populations are highly vulnerable to single catastrophic events, such as wildfire, due to the loss of ability for movement, dispersal, inter-breeding, and exchange of vital genetic diversity for the species.

The Humboldt marten relies on complex old-growth forest assemblages here in the range of the coast redwoods, which are often characterized by far more than the iconic giant old-growth trees. In addition to the large, old trees, the marten also relies on large dead trees, both standing snags, and downed logs, branches, and other forest woody material in order to feed, breed, rest, and find cover. Additionally, the marten is known to prefer old-growth forest areas with thick, dense, and complex under growth layers comprised of ferns, forbs, berries, and flowers. Such features, while common in an old-growth setting, are not prevalent in previously-managed forest stands in the coast redwoods. This is not only bad for the marten, but also for the forest itself, as well as our bioregional and global climate. Old-growth coast redwood forests are now world-renowned for their tremendous densities of biomass, and incomparable ability to store and sequester carbon dioxide. These critical forest ecosystem processes are just as depended upon biomass comprising of the herbaceous undergrowth as they are upon the giant trees we all know and love.

Humboldt Marten at Bait StationThe conversion of the vast majority of our forested landscape to early seral conditions has resulted in a one-two-punch effect for the Humboldt marten. On the one hand, historic and contemporary logging and conversion of the forest from old-growth to early seral conditions have significantly reduced the range and available habitat for the species, and at the same time facilitating expansion in the historic range of two of the marten’s primary predators, the Pacific fisher, and the bobcat. Slauson (2012) theorizes that restoration in the coast redwood forest can and must go hand-in-hand with habitat connectivity and restoration for the Humboldt marten, stating, “[s]uccessful restoration of the old-growth forest mesocarnivore assemblage in the redwood region will require an increase in the amount and connectivity of old forest conditions and reduction of road densities which should result in the expansion of the remnant Humboldt marten population and decreases in the range and abundance of the fisher and bobcat.”

Restoration, regeneration, and reconnection of our coastal old-growth redwood forests simply cannot be accomplished by focusing on our pre-existent parks and reserves alone; similarly, conservation and recovery of the Humboldt marten cannot be accomplished by focusing on our public lands alone. Landscape-level restoration and connectivity across land use designations and ownership classifications and boundaries, public and private alike, will be necessary to protect and reinvigorate critical and highly-imperiled ecological functions and processes in our remnant fragments of old-growth redwood forest, and to maintain the biological and genetic viability of the Humboldt marten.

At first glance, it may seem that the solutions to how restoration and connectivity in the coast redwood forest can be accomplished are as stealth and allusive as the Humboldt marten, given that so little old-growth remains, and that vast tracts of our redwood forestlands are now privately-owned and primarily managed for industrial timber production. Here, the Humboldt marten may unwittingly be the devisor of its own rescue plan, and thereby the rescuer of our old-growth coast redwood ecosystems as well.

One of the key remaining small, but highly isolated populations of the Humboldt marten is quietly hanging on along the interface between the coast redwood forest and the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. Here, lands are owned and managed by the Redwood National and State Parks system, the Yurok Tribe, Six Rivers National Forest, and Green Diamond Resource Company. The overwhelming majority of the redwoods surrounding and adjacent to the Redwood National and State Parks system are owned by either Green Diamond or the Yurok Tribe. These lands are critical for the viability and recovery of both the Humboldt marten and our coastal redwood forests.

Since 2010, EPIC has advocated to protect and recover the Humboldt marten, and by extension, creating an impetus for landscape-level restoration and connectivity in the coast redwoods. We have used existing environmental laws designed to protect imperiled species like the marten as a proxy for trying to affect landscape management regime changes. EPIC’s 2010 petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Humboldt marten as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act spurred the creation of the Humboldt Marten Conservation Group, a working group comprised of agency, land owners, and scientists, all of whom are now working to draft a long-term conservation and recovery plan for the marten, a vital underpinning that involves landscape level forest habitat restoration and reconnection to help marten populations stabilize, facilitate greater movement and dispersal, and eventually help facilitate recovery.

In 2015, EPIC also petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission to list the Humboldt marten as an endangered species under the California Endangered Species Act, hoping to marshal the resources and direct involvement of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and create greater opportunities for cooperation, collaboration, and create more avenues for available funding through state-generated processes.

The old quip that humans “can’t see the forest for the trees,” at times, serves as a sobering allegory as we revisit the history and implications of past intensive logging of our old-growth trees in the coast redwoods. Fortunately, if we look closely enough, there yet remains, hiding quietly and patiently in the deep, dark shadows, the most unlikely of creatures that can serve as the impetus for us to restore, rebuild, and reconnect.


Lawsuit Initiated Over Politically Motivated Decision Denying Protection to Pacific Fishers

Monday, June 13th, 2016
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Pacific Fisher FWS.govRare Carnivore Has Been Reduced to Two Populations in California, Oregon

EPIC and our allies filed a notice of intent today to challenge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision in April to deny Endangered Species Act protection to Pacific fishers, the latest species to fall victim to the Service’s efforts to cater to industry. Closely related to martens and wolverines, Pacific fishers are severely threatened by a number of factors, including habitat loss caused by logging and the use of toxic rodenticides on illegal marijuana growing sites. Although the Service had recently proposed federal protections for Pacific fishers, the agency reversed course at the last minute in a bow to the timber industry.

“Fishers are staring extinction in the face, so it’s deeply disheartening to see Fish and Wildlife deny them the protection they need to survive,” said Justin Augustine, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Science, not politics, is supposed to drive these kinds of decisions, and that didn’t happen here.”

Fishers once roamed from British Columbia to Southern California, but due to intense logging and trapping, only two naturally occurring populations survive today: a population of 100 to 300 fishers in the southern Sierra Nevada and a population of 250 to a few thousand fishers in southern Oregon and Northern California. They have been reintroduced in three populations in the northern Sierra, southern Cascades and Washington State.

The decision to deny protections to the Pacific fisher is the latest in a string of politically motivated decisions from the Fish and Wildlife Service, in which regional staff overruled decisions by Service biologists to protect species. Two months ago a federal judge in Montana criticized the Service for bowing to political pressures in illegally reversing a proposal to protect the estimated 300 wolverines remaining in the lower 48 states. And in December 2015 conservation groups filed a lawsuit against the Service for inexplicably denying protection to Humboldt martens, another rare West Coast carnivore on the brink of extinction.

A survey conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists last year indicated many Service scientists believe that increasingly there is inappropriate interference with science within the agency.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s denial of their own stated concerns and threats to this rare forest carnivore strongly suggests the agency has lost its professional courage to uphold its mission to protect biodiversity due to political pressure. Politics has no place in listing decisions,” said Susan Britting, executive director of Sierra Forest Legacy.

”Service scientists recently found that Pacific fishers are on the brink of extinction and face increasing threats from logging, climate change and especially from the indiscriminate use of toxic rodenticide poisons on marijuana grow sites,” said George Sexton, conservation director for the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “The Service acknowledged these challenges supported the need for federal protection before deciding that politics was more important than the survival of the species.”

“Today the Pacific fisher has been isolated to just two locations in the United States,” said Greg Loarie, an Earthjustice attorney who drafted the notice. “If this doesn’t justify the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service using our bedrock environmental law — the Endangered Species Act — to protect an animal that needs our help to survive, then I don’t know what does.”

Efforts to protect the West Coast fisher have been going on for decades. The Center for Biological Diversity first petitioned to protect the fisher in 1994, and the four conservation organizations seeking protection for the species today filed a second petition with allies in 2000. In 2004 the fisher was finally added to the candidate waiting list, when the Service determined that the fisher warranted protection but was precluded by higher priority species. In 2010 the Center sued over the delay in protecting the fisher and the Service agreed under a subsequent settlement decision to issue a decision this year. In 2014 the Service announced a proposed rule that would have protected Pacific fishers as a “threatened” species. But the Service abruptly withdrew its proposed rule in April of this year.

“The fisher has waited long enough for protection,” said Tom Wheeler, program director for the Environmental Protection Information Center. “No amount of agency delay, political pressure or obfuscation of science can change the truth: The fisher is threatened with extinction.”

The groups issuing today’s notice are the Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Protection Information Center, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Sierra Forest Legacy. They are represented by Earthjustice.

Fisher Notice of Intent Press Release


Westside Truth on the Ground

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016
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Westside Cutting Boundary

Westside Cutting Boundary

Editor’s note: EPIC proudly presents this article from EPIC member Bryan Randolph. Bryan wanted to see what the Westside Project looked like on the ground, so he went! Many thanks to Bryan for sharing his findings and photographs. If you are interested in groundtruthing, click here  for more information. Just be careful out there and be aware of closed roads, which can be found here.

Until a few weeks ago I was unfamiliar with the term ‘groundtruthing.’ I knew I wanted to help in some way with the opposition of the Westside logging project and decided to use the skills I already have. Backpacking has been one of my favorite outdoor activities for years, so groundtruthing, which combines exploring the backcountry, naturalism, photography and activism quickly became my new favorite activity.

“Thank you loggers for cleaning up the mess”

I saw this sign in a front yard while driving through the small town of Seiad Valley. Located on the Klamath River on Highway 96 about 120 miles north of Willow Creek, Seiad Valley is very close to some of the largest project areas of the Westside project, these areas are also the first to see operations begin. Less than a mile outside of town I pass signs for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), cross the Klamath and head towards Grider Creek. I park my truck, pack my backpack with enough food for the next two days and head into the Salt Creek (a tributary to Grider Creek) watershed. I soon cross into the project boundary marked by a white and blue flag, this area has clearly been hit heavily by the wildfires of 2014; however, I would not describe this landscape as a mess. It was actually very easy to move around in, and very much alive with wildflowers, berry bushes, and oak shrubs sprouting from the base of burned specimen. I imagine deer, elk, and bears being able to move and forage in this area with ease.

A few hundred feet after entering the project boundary, I find two ponderosa pines much larger than the surrounding growth, because these trees did not have any green foliage they are not marked for leave and will be cut. As I pull out my camera and GPS to snap a photo and create a waypoint to go with it, the sound of woodpeckers carving out new homes in these ideal snags, and the babbling Salt Creek fills my ears. Over the next 24 hours I have a run in with the Caroline Creek eagles, document lots of large trees (many on steep slopes) predator and bear scat, roaming deer, and Elk tracks along Walker Creek about 200 feet away from active roadside logging. Although the project areas are all on public land, the forest service has closed the area to the public. Being aware of this I travel off road and along creeks as much as possible. In the Walker Creek area I come up to the road to photograph piles freshly cut logs. Seconds after snapping some photos, Forest Service law enforcement came around the corner and removed me from the area, making it known that the presence of law enforcement has been amped up due to “protestors” and that being here is a citable offense. A few weeks earlier work was stopped in Walker creek by a blockade of forest defenders and Karuk tribe members. As we ride through an active work zone I notice trees of larger size, or merchantable trees, line the road way while the smaller trees were left on the landscape.

“The Language of Industry”

My groundtruthing didn’t end there however, determined to explore other areas I head to the Marble Mountains where the PCT comes close to a few project areas. I hiked to the Tyler Meadows timber sale, bordering the northeast corner of Marble Mountain Wilderness and into the Grider Creek headwaters. Here I find more questionably large and some living trees to be cut on very steep slopes. I can now say I know these areas first hand. I can also say that the language the Forest Service has used goes against everything we know about the forest ecology of the Klamath-Siskyou bio region. The word salvage implies these forests were rendered useless by fire, what I found was a landscape cleared of impassable brush making it friendly to traveling and grazing ungulates (and bi pedal apes!). I found a large variety of plant life (no poison oak!) bursting to life in this post fire ecosystem, I wonder how these plants will fair with the trampling of industry, or the hot summer sun without snags to provide crucial shade. Instead of a thinning, the largest trees will be taken while the small, unprofitable trees will be left on the land. You would expect the opposite from a plan boasting ‘fuels reduction’ and ‘recovery.’

Bringing you the truth on the ground,

Bryan Randolph

 

All photos and text by Bryan Randolph.