Posts Tagged ‘Coho salmon’

Caltrans Agrees to Reevaluate Impacts of Del Norte Highway Project on Endangered Salmon

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014
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SmithIn response to a lawsuit by EPIC and other conservation groups, Caltrans has agreed to reassess impacts of a controversial highway-widening project in Del Norte County on protected salmon and their habitat along the Wild and Scenic Smith River. A settlement agreement will keep in place a court-ordered halt of construction work until Caltrans completes consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service under the Endangered Species Act and Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation Act.

“The North Coast community deserves a project that does not put salmon and the Smith River at risk, as well as an honest assessment of the impacts of highway development on the region,” said Natalynne DeLapp with EPIC. “This is an opportunity for Caltrans to reassess whether this project is in the best interests of taxpayers and the environment.”

Caltrans is attempting to widen narrow sections of highways 197 and 199 along the Smith River in California’s remote Del Norte County to provide access for oversized trucks. Construction would increase erosion and delivery of sediment into the Middle Fork Smith River, harming habitat for threatened coho salmon runs that already face a high risk of extinction. The project would undermine public safety by increasing heavy and oversized truck use on narrow roadways along the Smith River Canyon; it would hurt tourism and local residents.

“Caltrans should reevaluate the whole premise of this expensive, unnecessary project that would cause erosion and sediment impacts to critical salmon habitat,” said Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Caltrans has already wasted more than $9 million of taxpayer money by starting major construction work along a pristine river without first doing a valid environmental review.”

Friends of Del Norte, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Protection Information Center filed lawsuits in state and federal court in 2013 challenging Caltrans’ approval of the $26 million “197/199 Safe STAA Access Project” due to inadequate review of the environmental impacts. The state agency began cutting trees and removing vegetation close to the Smith River in January and was scheduled to begin major earthmoving and construction work in May.

“Caltrans and the National Marine Fisheries Service should have pursued a scientific study to start this process rather than pay lip-service to written environmental law, said Don Gillespie with Friends of Del Norte. “The important issues of highway motorist safety on Highways 199/197 can be addressed on a smaller scale, without the massive erosive bank cuts required to allow STAA truck passage, that endanger the Smith River water quality and threaten our vital fisheries.”

A Northern District Court judge issued a preliminary injunction in early May stopping Caltrans from doing any further work, citing substantial violations of the Endangered Species Act, a “haphazard” consultation process with the federal fisheries agency, and the potential for irreparable harm to the Smith River and salmon habitat. The court characterized both agencies’ biological assessment documents for the project as “contradictory and unclear.”

As part of the new settlement, Caltrans has now reinitiated consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service to properly analyze whether the project would jeopardize threatened coho salmon and their critical habitat in the Smith River or adversely affect the essential fish habitat of all salmon species in the river. The conservation groups retain the right to challenge any further agency decisions or environmental documents for the project.

Caltrans has not considered alternatives besides widening the highway and tried to downplay project impacts on salmon habitat and water quality along the Smith River. The agency refused to evaluate safety hazards from increased truck traffic and ignored the cumulative impacts of numerous other associated Caltrans highway-widening projects in Northern California for oversized truck access. Despite the Fisheries Service’s own data on the imperiled status of coho salmon in the Smith, the fisheries agency rubber-stamped the original project without sufficient review. The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys Stuart G. Gross and Sharon Duggan and the nationally recognized firm of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy.

Background

Highway 199 is a scenic byway along the Smith River Canyon that passes through the Six Rivers National Forest and the Smith River National Recreation Area and provides access to Redwood National and State Parks. The Smith River is the only undammed river in California, with the longest stretch of designated “wild and scenic” river in the lower 48. A 1989 Caltrans report acknowledged the physical constraints of the narrow, steep and rocky Smith River Canyon and concluded that environmental concerns make Highway 199 “a poor candidate for extensive upgrading.”

Highway 197 is a seven-mile, two-lane country road that runs north to south along the lower Smith River just northeast of Crescent City. It is a rural-residential route with 72 driveways directly entering onto the road. In order to avoid Jedediah Smith State Park at the western edge of the project, oversized trucks would divert off Highway 199 and travel along Highway 197 to the north of Crescent City to reach Highway 101.

Court challenges to the related Caltrans road-widening project through Richardson Grove on Highway 101 in Humboldt County have resulted in rulings determining that Caltrans failed to adequately analyze the potential impacts of highway development on the ancient redwoods protected in Richardson Grove State Park.

A recently released independent review of Caltrans called for sweeping reforms of the agency and cited a “culture of fear” within Caltrans when it comes to deviating from standard policies. The statewide Caltrans Watch coalition has highlighted the agency’s pervasive refusal to consider reasonable alternatives to massive highway projects, shoddy environmental review, lack of transparency, reliance on flawed data and disregard for public input.

Click here to view the Order of Stipulation

Click here to view the Official Press Release


Smith River Threatened by Strip Mining

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014
By

Smith-River

Update9/29/14: Based upon its findings and comments received, the Oregon Department of Water Resources “finds that with the data available there is no basis for appropriate conditions that can be applied to mitigate likely impacts to water quality and sensitive, threatened, and endangered species.” Read the full Final Order to Deny Red Flat Nickel Mine here: Final Order to Deny Red Flat Nickel Mine

Take Action! The Wild & Scenic North Fork Smith River is being targeted for a large nickel mine that would devastate the area for recreation, pollute public drinking water in California, damage critical habitat for the federally threatened coho salmon and other fisheries, and destroy the purest waters in the West.

Red Flat Nickel Corporation, a foreign-owned mining company, has submitted plans to the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest to conduct exploratory drilling in the Baldface Creek/North Fork Smith River watershed. The company has also applied to Oregon Water Resources Department for a five-year limited license (LL-1533) to extract thousands of gallons of public waters from tributary streams of the North Fork Smith River.

In the plans, Red Flat Nickel Corporation has proposed flying equipment and personnel into the mining site by helicopter to drill 59 three-inch-diameter core samples 50 feet into the ground. The proposed mining site is 3,980 acres of federal mining claims, which are also in the watershed of the Wild & Scenic North Fork Smith River and the Inventoried South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in Curry County, Oregon.

The information gathered from this exploration will be used to advance mine development of the area. The EPA says the threat of metal mining is the largest toxic polluter in the United States. If one mine starts operating, thousands of acres of other nickel claims could be developed on nearby federal public lands—impacting designated and eligible Wild & Scenic Rivers, and turning one of North America’s most important rare plant centers, imperative habitat for fisheries, and clean water supplies into an industrial wasteland.

A foreign corporation should not be allowed to pollute and despoil the public waters and land resources relied on by local citizens, fisheries, and our ecosytems. Help protect the Wild & Scenic Smith River from devastating foreign strip mining exploration.

This article was composed by Taylor Morrison, an intern with EPIC for the 2014 summer. Thank you to the Kalmiopsis Coalition and the Smith River Alliance for contributing content for this action alert.


Federal Court Halts Caltrans Highway-widening Project Along Smith River

Monday, May 5th, 2014
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SmithCites Potential Impacts to Smith River, Coho Salmon in Granting Injunction

Northern District Court judge James Donato issued a preliminary injunction late Friday enjoining Caltrans from any further work on a controversial highway-widening project along the wild and scenic Smith River Canyon, until a court hearing scheduled for November 19. The judge cited substantial procedural violations of the Endangered Species Act and the potential for irreparable harm to endangered coho salmon and their critical habitat in the Smith River if the project goes forward.

“Caltrans should let this expensive and unneeded project die. Major excavation shouldn’t occur on such steep slopes along narrow, rural roads and within critical salmon habitat,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The court agreed that halting the project is in the public interest to protect endangered salmon.”

Caltrans is attempting to widen narrow sections of highways 197 and 199 along the Smith River in California’s remote Del Norte County, to provide access for oversized trucks. Construction would increase erosion and delivery of sediment into the Middle Fork Smith River, harming habitat for endangered coho salmon runs that already face a high risk of extinction. The project would undermine public safety by increasing heavy and oversized truck use on narrow roadways along the Smith River Canyon. It would negatively impact tourism and local residents.

“This project with its huge cuts in our narrow Smith River Canyon, was ill-conceived from the start, as is confirmed by Judge Donato’s decision,” said Don Gillespie with Friends of Del Norte. “The Coho Salmon Recovery Plan, when implemented, will have a much greater positive economic impact on our local economy than allowing oversized trucks to have unsafe access to our local highways.”

Friends of Del Norte, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) filed lawsuits in state and federal court in 2013 challenging Caltrans’ approval of the $26 million “197/199 Safe STAA Access Project” due to inadequate review of the environmental impacts. Caltrans began cutting trees and removing vegetation close to the Smith River in January 2014 and was scheduled to begin major earth-moving and construction work this month.

“This decision by the federal court should be a wake up call to our elected officials regarding public concerns about Caltrans playing fast and loose with environmental laws,” said Gary Graham Hughes, executive director of EPIC. “A thorough and adequate review process is needed to resolve the environmental and public safety concerns that our communities have about this project.”

The judge ruled that there is a risk of irreparable harm to the Smith River if the project were to proceed before the case is heard on its merits. The court also ruled that there a valid argument has been raised by plaintiffs that the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the federal Endangered Species Act by failing to properly analyze whether the project will jeopardize protected coho salmon or their critical habitat. The court characterized both agencies’ biological assessment documents for the project as “contradictory and unclear,” citing “serious questions about the adequacy of the ESA review and consultation process” raised by the plaintiffs. The court noted that it “cannot rubber-stamp a haphazard consultation process.”

Caltrans tried to downplay the threat project construction poses to salmon habitat and water quality along the Smith River and failed to look at safety hazards from increased truck traffic. Caltrans has thus far refused to consider alternatives besides widening the highway and ignored the cumulative impacts of numerous other associated Caltrans highway-widening projects in Northern California for oversized truck access. Despite NMFS own data concerning the imperiled status of coho salmon in the Smith River, the agency rubber-stamped the project without giving it anything close to a sufficient review.

Background

Highway 199 is a scenic byway along the Smith River Canyon that passes through the Six Rivers National Forest and the Smith River National Recreation Area and provides access to Redwood national and state parks. The Smith River is the only undammed river in California, with the longest stretch of designated “wild and scenic” river in the lower 48. A 1989 Caltrans report acknowledged the physical constraints of the narrow, steep and rocky Smith River Canyon and concluded that environmental concerns make Highway 199 “a poor candidate for extensive upgrading.”

Highway 197 is a 7-mile, two-lane country road that runs north to south along the lower Smith River, just northeast of Crescent City. It is a rural-residential route with 72 driveways directly entering onto the road. In order to avoid Jedediah Smith State Park at the western edge of the project, oversized trucks would divert off Highway 199 and travel along Highway 197 to the north of Crescent City to reach Highway 101.

Court challenges to the related Caltrans project through Richardson Grove on Highway 101 in Humboldt County have resulted in rulings determining that Caltrans failed to adequately analyze the potential impacts of highway development on the ancient redwoods protected in Richardson Grove State Park.

A recently released independent review of Caltrans called for sweeping reforms of the agency and cited a “culture of fear” within Caltrans when it comes to deviating from standard policies. The statewide Caltrans Watch coalition has highlighted the agency’s pervasive refusal to consider reasonable alternatives to massive highway projects, shoddy environmental review, lack of transparency, reliance on flawed data and disregard for public input.

Order Granting Preliminary Injunction

EPIC Press Release: Federal Court Halts Caltrans Smith River Project


Panther Fire Salvage Project

Friday, February 12th, 2010
By
DSC09000

Shep is looking down a steep hill within a proposed unit of the Panther Salvage project just above Norcross campground.

1/8/13 EPIC fought the Panther Fire “Salvage” Timber Sale all the way to the 9th Circuit Court of Law in Sacramento, but despite our best effort logging moved forward.

The Panther Fire started from a lightning storm in July 2008.   A combination of topography and weather resulted in a run that engulfed 13,000 acres, in a single day, October 1st.

The Happy Camp District of the Klamath National Forest logged 254 acres of steep post-fire hillsides within the Elk Creek watershed.  Elk Creek is listed as impaired under the Clean Water Act and is also a Key Watershed, which is critical habitat for salmon recovery.  Despite the impaired nature, the creek is home to Coho and Chinook salmon, steelhead, resident trout and the Pacific lamprey.  All of these species rely on the streams within Elk Creek for all life stages (migration, spawning, incubation, rearing, and holding).  The Elk Creek Watershed is extremely sensitive to disturbance and has been affected by too many roads and intensive timber harvest.

Logging took place in Late Successional Reserves, areas set aside to protect and enhance old growth forest structure and species; in Riparian Reserves, waterways and unstable areas and within Recreational River boundaries.

The Panther post-fire logging project is within Critical Habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl a species listed as “Threatened”  under the federal Endangered Species Act. There is overwhelming scientific evidence that northern spotted owls roost and forage in post-fire habitats, and owl territories with severely burned stands in the Panther fire area may continue to be occupied by owls.  Fire-killed trees provide perch sites and future nest sites.  Recent scientific evidence found that survival and reproduction depended upon significant patches of high severity post-fire habitat because it is suitable for a key prey species, the Dusky-footed wood rat.  This habitat is not mimicked by logging as proposed by the Panther project, which would remove snags and prevent recruitment of large downed logs.

Forest visitors regularly use the area for many reasons including the Sulphur Springs and Norcross Campgrounds and to access the Bear Lake and Bear Creek Trailheads, the Kelsey National Recreational Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, which lead to the Marble Mountain Wilderness.

Panther Pre-Salvage Logging

Panther Pre-Salvage Logging

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Panther Pre-Salvage Logging

Panther Pre-Salvage Logging

Large snags on steep slopes
Panther Pre-Salvage Logging

Panther Pre-Salvage Logging

Looking out into the Marbled Mountains
Panther Pre-Salvage Logging

Panther Pre-Salvage Logging

Panoramic Viewscape
Panther Post-Salvage Logging

Panther Post-Salvage Logging

Wet weather logging next to Elk Creek
Panther Post-Salvage Logging

Panther Post-Salvage Logging

Denuded hillsides
Panther Post-Salvage Logging

Panther Post-Salvage Logging

Denuded Riparian Reserves
Panther Post-Salvage Logging

Panther Post-Salvage Logging

Dedunded Riparian Reserve
Panther Post-Salvage Logging

Panther Post-Salvage Logging

Panoramic Viewscape
Panther Post-Salvage Logging

Panther Post-Salvage Logging

Rutting and erosion

 

 

6/3/10 Once again, the Klamath National Forest has proposed a heavy handed post-fire logging project in the Elk Creek watershed, amidst controversy. This project, the Panther Fire Salvage represents the third attempt the Happy Camp District has organized a sanitary-sounding plan to log within the Panther fire area. If approved, the Forest Service would give the thumbs up to log 536 acres of steep post-fire hillsides right above the Norcross campground, a popular recreational destination. The fire itself started from a natural ignition during a lightning storm in July, 2008.   A combination of topography and weather resulted in a run that engulfed 13,000 acres, in a single day, October 1st.

In the days of recovery, when soils are sensitive and young seedlings are emerging in their natural cycle, the Forest Service planned to remove large snags in what they continue to call “restoration.” This type of logging not only threatens future forest health through commercial logging on steep slopes and could impact critical habitat for decimated coho and chinook salmon,  it also could undermine the benefit of fire on this fire-dependent landscape.

Please take a moment and submit a comment letter to Patty Granthum and Ken Harris, who could turn this project around and address the critical issues within their management areas. Also, it really helps if you take the extra two minutes and customize your comments to include your personal reasons for opposing destructive post-fire salvage logging projects like this one.

Some legal reasons why this project should be stopped:

The Panther Salvage project is within the steep slopes of Elk Creek Watershed, which is listed as impaired under the Clean Water Act.  It is also a key Watershed, which is critical habitat for salmon recovery.  Despite the impaired nature, the creek is home to Coho and Chinook salmon, steelhead, resident trout and the Pacific lamprey.  All of these species rely on the streams within Elk Creek for all life stages (migration, spawning, incubation, rearing, and holding).  The Elk Creek Watershed is extremely sensitive to disturbance and has been affected by too many roads and intensive timber harvests.

Logging is proposed in “Late Successional Reserves,” (areas set aside to protect and enhance old growth forests and species), in “Riparian Reserves,”(waterways and unstable areas), Roadless Areas and within Recreational River boundaries.

The Panther post-fire logging project is within critical habitat for the northern spotted owl (a species listed as “Threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act). There is overwhelming scientific evidence that northern spotted owls roost and forage in post-fire habitats, and owl territories with severely burned stands in the Panther fire area may continue to be occupied by owls.  Fire-killed trees provide perch sites and future nest sites.   Recent scientific evidence found that survival and reproduction depended upon significant patches of high severity post-fire habitat because it is suitable for a key prey species, the Dusky-footed wood rat.  This habitat is not mimicked by logging as proposed by the Panther project, which would remove snags and prevent recruitment of large downed logs.

EPIC’s ongoing campaign to educate the public on why forests need fires includes fighting bad projects like the Panther, and working with the agencies as much as possible to prevent bad, post-fire logging and promote plantation thinning and other remediating techniques like prescribed fire.

Forest visitors regularly use the area for many reasons including the Sulphur Springs and Norcross Campgrounds and to access the Bear Lake and Bear Creek Trailheads, the Kelsey National Recreational Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, which lead to the Marble Mountain Wilderness.

Click here to send a letter to Forest Service representatives telling them you oppose the destructive project.

 

2/12/10 The Happy Camp District of the Klamath National Forest is planning to log 254 acres of steep post-fire hillsides. The hillsides were burned during the Panther Fire started during a lightning storm in July 2008. A combination of topography and weather resulted in a run that engulfed 13,000 acres, in a single day, on October 1, 2008. (more…)