Archive for December, 2016

California Wolf Plan Sets Road Map for Conserving Small Population

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016
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California Wolf Pups 1-jpg

California Wolf Pups. Courtesy of California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Two Breeding Pairs for Two Straight Years Could Trigger Reduced Protections

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has released its final plan to guide conservation and management of a small population of gray wolves well into the future. One of the strengths of the plan, which was released late Tuesday, is its emphasis on nonlethal methods to deter conflicts with livestock. But it would also seek to reduce wolves’ federal protection status from “endangered” to “threatened” when the population reaches a threshold of only two breeding pairs for two consecutive years — far fewer than what independent scientists say is needed for a secure population.

In response to public comments on the proposed wolf plan, the agency stepped back from plans to initiate delisting of wolves once their population reached only 50 to 75 wolves. The agency also included in the final plan additional, current, best available scientific literature on key issues such as the vital ecological role of wolves.mmm

But conservation groups say the final plan should have included specific protections to shield wolves from clearly identifiable threats such as being mistaken for coyotes during coyote-killing contests. And the plan failed to identify key wolf habitat conservation priorities like connectivity corridors crucial to building healthy, sustainable populations — a feature that would benefit not only wolves but other California wildlife as well. The plan also proposes to initiate aggressive management actions, which could include killing wolves, for ungulate population declines “presumed to be influenced by wolf predation” without a scientific assessment to determine if wolves, in fact, are the cause.

“Because California is only in the early stages of wolf recovery, we need to give these animals a chance to become established in sustainable numbers rather than prematurely rushing to end protections that are vital to their survival,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer at the Center for Biological Diversity. “But we support the plan’s initial emphasis on restoring wolves to the Golden State and reliance on nonlethal methods to reduce loss of livestock.”

This month marks the five-year anniversary of the arrival in California of wolf OR-7, the first known wild wolf in the state in 87 years. His arrival launched the development of a state wolf plan with input from a stakeholder group representing conservation, ranching and sports-hunting interests. OR-7 eventually returned to Oregon, where he found a mate and has since sired three sets of pups. In August 2015 state wildlife officials confirmed the establishment of California’s first wolf family in nearly a century: the Shasta pack in Northern California’s Siskiyou County. And just last month, a pair of wolves was confirmed in western Lassen County. DNA-testing of scat collected from the pair shows that the male is a young adult from one of OR-7’s litters, while the female is of unknown origin.

“The ongoing arrival of wolves in California is cause for celebration and makes the state wolf plan’s provisions all the more important,” stated Kimberly Baker, public land advocate for the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC). “Wolf recovery will bring the essence of wild back to California and reiterates the need for landscape connectivity.”

The plan proposes a phased management approach, in which establishment of four wolf packs for two consecutive years will trigger consideration of more aggressive management of conflicts. After establishment of eight wolf packs for two consecutive years, management actions will become even less protective of wolves. Conservation groups say the reduced protections come too quickly under the plan, and call for an ongoing emphasis on time-proven, research-based nonlethal measures to minimize conflicts with livestock.

“It’s exciting that nonlethal methods of reducing wolf-livestock conflicts are such a foundational element of this plan, because we know they work,” said Damon Nagami, a senior attorney in NRDC’s Land and Wildlife Program. “We want to give these magnificent animals every possible chance to survive and thrive here in California. So we look forward to working with the Department to ensure that happens.”

The agency received significant public input last year when it released a draft plan for public comment. Changes requested included the need to acknowledge the best available current science on managing conflicts, social tolerance, the importance of protecting wolves from illegal killings, and wolves’ critical ecological role. During the comment period, 19 conservation organizations submitted a joint comment letter on behalf of 2.9 million California residents highlighting 27 key issues of concern in the draft plan. The vast majority of Californians wants wolves protected and also fully supports the joint efforts of the state, conservation groups, ranchers and hunters to implement nonlethal conflict-prevention measures.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) advocates for protection and restoration of Northwest California’s forests, using an integrated, science-based approach, combining public education, citizen advocacy, and strategic litigation.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment.

Sierra Club California promotes the preservation, restoration, and enjoyment of California’s environment, and enables chapters and grassroots activists to speak as one voice to promote California conservation.

Click here to view the official Press Release, which includes press contacts.


Horse Creek Project: Losing Taxpayer Money to Harm Spotted Owls

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016
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Low severity fire in upper Buckhorn Creek. Small snag patches such as this one in upper Buckhorn Creek are being targeted for logging by the KNF. The damage to soils, forest regeneration, and habitat complexity will degrade some of the watershed's only remaining old-growth forest. Photo courtesy of Luke Ruediger www.siskiyoucrest.blogspot.com

Low severity fire in upper Buckhorn Creek. Small snag patches such as this one in upper Buckhorn Creek are being targeted for logging by the KNF. The damage to soils, forest regeneration, and habitat complexity will degrade some of the watershed’s only remaining old-growth forest. Photo courtesy of Luke Ruediger www.siskiyoucrest.blogspot.com.

Take Action Now: Meet the Horse Creek Project, the Klamath’s new boondoggle that will log sensitive areas while losing taxpayer money. (There’s something in it for everyone to hate!)

The Klamath National Forest cannot let a fire go to “waste.” Following the 2016 Gap Fire, the Klamath National Forest is trying to log areas that should be off-limits: Late Successional Reserves, forests set aside from commercial timber harvest so that they can develop into old-growth forests; Riparian Reserves, areas around streams that are supposed to be off-limits to logging to prevent water pollution; and northern spotted owl habitat. The Klamath National Forest argues that logging large diameter snags, (which will stand for decades until new forests grow up around them all the while providing critical wildlife habitat) is good for the forests and for wildlife—paradoxical logic that has been rejected by both science and the courts.

If history is any guide, the Klamath National Forest will lose money in logging owl habitat—what’s known in Forest Service parlance as a “deficit sale.” Burned forests are worth more to owls and fishers than they are to timber mills. To make a profit, timber companies need to purchase trees from the Klamath National Forest for next to nothing. In several timber sales from earlier this year, the Klamath National Forest sold a logging truck’s worth of timber for about $2.50—less than the price of a cup of coffee. The Klamath will lose untold thousands or millions of dollars on this timber sale, money that could go to protecting local communities or improving wildlife habitat.

The Klamath National Forest has also tied important measures such as the removal of roadside hazard trees and the reduction of fuels near private property, to the controversial logging units. By doing so, the Klamath National Forest will not only delay this important work by several months through more complicated environmental review, but may tie up this work for years in court.

EPIC urges the Klamath to focus on the priorities. Protect local communities and drop logging in Late Successional Reserves, Riparian Reserves, and occupied owl habitat.

Take Action Now: Let the Forest Service know you oppose losing taxpayer money to log sensitive areas.


Water Board Buckles under Pressure in Fight to Protect Elk River

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016
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Courtesy of Elk River Residents.

Flooded home. Courtesy of Elk River Residents.

Although the dust is still settling from the eight hours of hearing in Eureka last week, it is clear that the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board members chose to defer to acquiesce to pressure from Humboldt Redwood Company and CAL FIRE instead of protecting, people, property, and water quality in Upper Elk River. The Regional Board, after months of delay, finally acted to adopt a new water quality control permit for Humboldt Redwood Company’s timber operations in the Upper Elk River watershed last week, but the product approved represents a gutted shell of the proposal that was originally brought for by staff earlier this year. The new water quality control permit does not contain sufficient control measures to prevent sediment pollution and is unlikely to lead to the attainment of water quality objectives specified in the watershed remediation and recovery plan adopted by the Board for Upper Elk River in May 2016.

Last week represented the third attempt by the Regional Board to adopt new regulations to control sediment pollution from Humboldt Redwood Company timber operations in the severely impacted Upper Elk River watershed. The proposed order brought to the Board members for consideration by staff last week has been systematically watered-down with each failed attempt at adoption at the behest of Board members. Any remaining value to the Proposed Order was gutted by Board members, from the dais, via successive motions, with no opportunity for public input.

In May 2016, the Regional Board finally adopted a 14-year delinquent watershed remediation and recovery strategy, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), in which it established that no further controllable sediment from human activities could be authorized due to the well-documented lack of capacity in the Upper Elk River to assimilate further pollution. Yet, the water quality control permit adopted by the Regional Board to control Humboldt Redwood Company timber operations and their contributions to sediment pollution in the watershed will clearly not attain the goal of a ‘zero’ addition to the sediment pollution problem.

EPIC has fought for Elk River for over 20 years and will continue to fight. EPIC and our allies are presently studying the order adopted last week and are evaluating possible redress options. EPIC will not stand by and allow the disinclination of individual Board members to regulate timber operations and their contributions to water quality pollution to win out over the mandates of the law, science, conscious, and plain common-sense.


Trump Administration Troubling for Public Lands

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016
By

trump-digs-coal-the-guardianOur nation’s public lands are more than just pretty places. Our public lands provide clean drinking water, are “home” to wildlife, clean our air and sequester carbon dioxide, and are the backyard in which we play. They are the crown jewel of America and our greatest legacy we pass down through generations. The Trump Administration is a threat to our public lands.

Trump says that he wants to “drain the swamp.” EPIC has two problems with this. First, it’s a bad turn of phrase—doesn’t he know that wetlands are critically important? Second, Trump is filing his administration with the same Washington insiders and industry apologists that already plague our political system.

Two picks in particular, the Secretary of the Department of the Interior and the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, are the most important to our public lands

The Department of the Interior

Trump’s choice for the Department of the Interior could be his most impactful. Within the Department of the Interior are three major landowners: the Bureau of Land Management, which owns forest and rangeland across the West, and has earned the moniker the “Bureau of Livestock and Mining” do to the coziness with the ranching and mining communities; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who are not only charged with implementing the Endangered Species Acts, but also manage our federal wildlife refuge system, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; and the National Park Service, the crown jewel of America’s public lands.

The consensus frontrunner for the job is Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma. Gov. Fallin is a cheerleader for the oil and gas industry. Her track record as Governor is scary. She’s questioned climate change, outlawed local jurisdictions from regulating fracking, cut taxes on Big Oil (at the expense of public schools), and signed an executive order stating that Oklahoma would not follow the Obama power plant regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If her record is any indication, our public lands may be auctioned off to the highest bidder. As Governor, she shuttered 18 parks; reducing the number of public outdoor spaces from 50 to 32 in a single day. In 2005, as Lieutenant Governor, she spearheaded an effort to sell 750 acres of Lake Texoma State Park to private developers—who just happened to be campaign contributors—to construct a billion dollar resort on the lake.

There have been other rumored candidates. Harold Hamm and Forrest Lucas, both oil and gas company executives, have been floated. From the Bundy public lands giveaway camp, Rob Bishop—the chief agitator in favor of giving away public lands and gutting the Endangered Species Act—is a favored candidate. Donald Trump Jr., a trophy hunter himself*, is another potential pick and could be the most pro-conservation pick. (What a world where I cross my fingers for Trump Jr. to be elevated into a position of power!)

Department of Agriculture

The U.S. Forest Service is, somewhat surprisingly, within the Department of Agriculture. This is an anachronism from when our federal forests were concerned primarily with timber production and not the full suite of values, from recreation to wildlife that our forests are now charged with promoting.

Most rumored candidates are from Big Ag. At the moment, there isn’t a clear frontrunner. Names that have been floated include Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas, and Chuck Conner, former Deputy Secretary of the Interior under George W. Bush. Both men are not from the West and issues of forestland management are unlikely to be at the top of their minds.

While most of the rumored candidates are from the world of Big Ag, that doesn’t mean our forestlands will be safe. For years, logging lobbyists have been crowing that federal environmental laws have been at the expense of good paying jobs, and that if we “streamline” laws, we can have “healthy forests” and “healthy communities.” Expect assaults on NEPA and expectations to “get the cut out.”

*EPIC is not opposed to hunting, per se, but is opposed to trophy hunting.