Posts Tagged ‘EPIC’

Tolowa Dunes State Park Fence Mapping, Removal and Restoration Project Report

Monday, August 4th, 2014
By

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Tolowa Dunes State Park, in Del Norte County, is an ancient dune system that provides important habitat for migratory wildlife. EPIC and other conservation groups see a need to remove old livestock fencing from the Park for wildlife, cultural, and wilderness aesthetic improvements. Funded by the California State Parks Foundation, this report, written by Biologist Adam Canter, documents current ecological restoration and livestock fence removal efforts.

Project Abstract and Goal

Primary tasks completed during the project included mapping and first phase removal of old livestock fence line and debris occurring on Tolowa Dunes State Park land, from the Smith River mouth area by Yontocket Slough south to Cadra Point. Site locations, fence lines, and fence debris were mapped using a Garmin GPS unit. Other sites of biological interest, including wildlife sightings, rare species, and invasive species were also opportunistically noted and mapped when warranted or observed. Research on prior grazing practices was conducted. Data from this phase of the project will be used to plan and prioritize future ecological restoration projects and livestock fence removal.

Introduction

EPIC (Environmental Protection Information Center) had successes in 2013 working with Tolowa Dunes State Park (TDSP) on a project which focuses on restoration and improvements of natural and cultural resources in the park. A private funder along with public support from the Park, Tolowa Dunes Stewards (TDS) and other concerned citizens saw a need to remove old livestock fencing from the park for wildlife, cultural, and wilderness aesthetic improvements. One area with high priority for fence removal is Yontocket slough, which is an important wildlife site, but also a cultural sacred site to the Tolowa people who once had a village there. This was the site of the horrible massacre of the Tolowa people in 1853.

Tolowa Dunes State park, an ancient dune system, is composed of open and vegetated dunes on its western edge with the wave slope. Moving eastward from the Pacific Ocean these dunes transition into different successional communities, from dunal swales to dune forest and finally to a vast ephemeral wetland bottom (Smith River Plain) on it eastern border with the Alexandre Dairy. These bottoms adjacent to the Dairy, including the historic Yontocket Slough feature of the Smith River, were the primary areas grazed by permission of the State Park under illegal permit from 1996-2011 (230 acres).

Fence Inventory Summary

The highest priority areas for mapping and removal of the illegal grazing fence occur around Yontocket Slough, as suggested by TDSP and TDS. This area was heavily grazed and even modified by heavy equipment by the Alexandre Dairy under the illegal TDSP grazing permit (TDSP staff comm.). The slough itself acts as a water catchment and corridor for wildlife in the park, as well as being a cultural site of the Tolowa people.   Currently Yontocket Slough is bordered on all sides by the Alexandre’s five-stranded electric wire fence (currently powered off) (see photos and map).

Photo 1. Central Yontocket Slough with Alexandre fence obstructing lush wetland forage from megafauna.

Photo 1. Central Yontocket Slough with Alexandre fence obstructing lush wetland forage from megafauna.

Photo 2.  Alexandre Dairy electric wire fastening, Yontocket Slough.

Photo 2. Alexandre Dairy electric wire fastening, Yontocket Slough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is important to note that only the Alexandre livestock fencing and other old livestock fencing were mapped during this project. Park perimeter and infrastructure fencing were not mapped other than for “ground-truthing” with official state GIS layers.

The primary extent of Alexandre’s fence in the Yontocket area consists of a continuous line running south from approximately 0.25 mile west on the service road from the trailhead to the Yontocket Cemetery massacre site, around Yontocket Slough all the way to the historic and closed “Horse Camp” site. There is a small break in the fence just south of Horse Camp, which appears to provide one of only two small corridors for the Tolowa Roosevelt elk herd to commute between the dune forest, ponds, and swales and the forage of the vast Smith River Plain grass and wetland around Yontocket Slough (see photos 3-5 below). The span of Alexandre Dairy fence before the first accessible corridor for elk at Horse Camp is over 1.5 miles in length.

 

Photo 3 & 4. Two of the only small breaks and corridors in Alexandre fence at Yontocket, limiting and concentrating elk movement in the park.

Photo 3. The only small break in Alexandre fence at Yontocket, limiting and concentrating elk movement in the park.

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Photo 4. The only corridor in Alexandre fence at Yontocket, limiting and concentrating elk movement in the park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two perpendicular (west to east) segments of Alexandre Dairy livestock fence occur southeast of Horse Camp. South of East Pond, old barbwire fence runs along the forest/wetland edge for ~0.25 mile to Silva Road (see photo 5).

Photo 5.  Treacherous corridor for elk to enter the forest in TDSP lands north of Silva Rd. Notice the rust and forgotten barbwire by a public trail.

Photo 5. Treacherous corridor for elk to enter the forest in TDSP lands north of Silva Rd. Notice the rust and forgotten barbwire by a public trail.

South of Silva Rd., the old barbwire fencing continues along the ecotone for ~0.5 mile or more. The origin of this barbwire is unknown. It is likely that some of this fence is from before 1996 and may have been old park perimeter fence. The forest ecotone and grassy wetland just south/southwest of Silva Rd. was the most heavily used elk area observed during fieldwork for this project (Oct-Dec. 2013). One section in particular had visible sign of high use by elk, where decrepit barbwire impeded easy escrow to and from the forest (see photos, map). This small section (~200 ft.) of fence was removed by project efforts in January 2014, making the corridor more inviting to elk and other wildlife. This barbwire may continue along the ecotone all the way to Kellogg Road (~1.5 miles), but was not fully mapped during this phase of the project due to budget constraints. Mapping of old barbwire fence in this area may be a high priority in the second phase of this project, dependent on funding.

Other areas noted by TDSP and TDS with high priority for mapping included a survey for old fence on the northwest side of the park, in the open dunes and swales. No significant fence or fence waste were discovered in this part of TDSP from Yontocket to Kellogg Road, other than posts marking trail junctions and some mostly rotten and decomposed piles. Due to the large area of dunescape in this part of the park and budget constraints, it is estimated that ~80% of the area was inventoried. This area could be further surveyed in phase two.

Cadra Point, in the southern part of TDSP, is one of the only areas to have had fence removal take place at current date, primarily by TDS volunteers with park permission (Wendell Wood, Jeff Bombke (pers. comm.). This spectacular landscape, bordered by the Pacific Ocean, Lake Tolowa, and Lake Earl is a crown jewel of both the State Park System and Del Norte County. Management of the peninsula is split between TDSP on primarily the west side of Cadra Loop Road, with California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) lands on the north and east side (Lake Earl Wildlife Area).

Several old fence debris piles from TDS fence removal activities have never been hauled off TDSP lands, as staff ascertain, “They were too difficult to locate” (Jeff Bombke, pers comm.). At the request of TDSP, these piles were located and mapped to assist with the refuse removal, as they are a hazard to people and wildlife. Along with mapping these piles, TDSP perimeter fencing was “ground-truthed” with a CDFW grazing parcel bordering it to the north, adjacent to Lake Tolowa. While some fence was removed from the within TDSP by the CDFW border, posts are still deployed and need to be removed (map). Ironically, this profoundly scenic, ecologically, and culturally significant CDFW parcel is the only one in the public lands complex to still allow a grazing allotment, which was grossly overgrazed (Nov. 2013, see photos 6 and 7 below).

Photo 6.  CDFW grazer fencing by scenic Lake Tolowa.

Photo 6. CDFW grazer fencing by scenic Lake Tolowa.

Photo 7. Overgrazing sign in CDFW parcel (adjacent to TDSP lands).

Photo 7. Overgrazing sign in CDFW parcel (adjacent to TDSP lands).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CDFW also has a service barn along the Cadra Point trail by McLaughlin Pond which is unkempt with old refuse piles, posts, and debris scattered about (photos 8 and 9).

Photo 8. Refuse pile in scenic area by CDFW barn.

Photo 8. Refuse pile in scenic area by CDFW barn.

Photo 9.  Debris around CDFW barn.

Photo 9. Debris around CDFW barn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roosevelt elk (Cervus canadensis roosevlti) and other Wildlife Observations

The Roosevelt elk (Cervus canadensis roosevlti) once ranged from San Francisco to Alaska along the West Coast. They were hunted to near extinction to the point that in 1925 the only remaining herd in California numbered as few as 15 individuals (Elk in the Redwoods, 2004). This small remnant herd, which survived in Prairie Creek State Park in Humboldt County, slowly re-populated the North Coast. Tolowa Dunes is blessed to host a herd of Roosevelt elk, numbering an estimated 35-40 individuals. This herd has recently immigrated to TDSP, and at the time of this writing there is little knowledge about their demography and behavior other than personal accounts and data from this project.

Photo 10. Roosevelt elk in ecotone southwest of Silva Rd.

Photo 10. Roosevelt elk in ecotone southwest of Silva Rd.

The elk herd was sighted on the first day of fieldwork, 15 October 2013, grazing along the border of TDSP and Alexandre property, in the grassy wetland plain south of Silva Road (see map). The herd occupied the same area on 28 October 2013, when several behavior and location observations were made. Rutting behavior and bugling were also observed from bulls on this day in the dune meadows, just west of Horse Camp. The herd was observed using a small corridor through an abandoned and treacherous barbwire fence, just southwest of the Silva Rd. residence (noted in previous section).

Photo 11. Giant King Bolete, Tolowa dune forest.

Photo 11. Giant King Bolete, Tolowa dune forest.

It was apparent from the heavy use of the elk trails at this low-spot in the fence-line, that this was a major egress for the elk herd between the lush forage of the wetland plain and the cover habitat of the dune forest (photo 11). Elk were observed using the North and East Pond trail system, which is a highly diverse habitat matrix of hypermaritime conifer forest, riparian hardwood forest, wetlands, and ponds. This area stands out as being the densest area of forested habitat in TDSP, with the greatest amount of interior forest conditions. This habitat provides critical cover and resting areas for the elk. It also provides alternate and additional forage sources other than grass and forbs, such as huckleberry, salmonberry, salal berry, mushrooms (i.e. Boletus edulis, photo), and lichens. This variety of forage and cover types at TDSP makes it exceptional habitat for elk on the North Coast. The Tolowa elk heard was observed in the park from Oct.-Dec. 2013, but were not seen during the January 2014 visit.

Photo 12. Elk hair snagged in old barbwire, primary corridor near Silva.

Photo 12. Elk hair snagged in old barbwire, primary corridor near Silva.

Photo 13. Elk corridor with old barbwire obstruction, near Silva Rd.

Photo 13. Elk corridor with old barbwire obstruction, near Silva Rd.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other Wildlife Observations

Tolowa Dunes is a Mecca for wildlife due to the variety and quality of habitat found there. Several notable sightings occurred for species other than Roosevelt elk, which are worth mentioning.

By far the most exciting and significant wildlife sighting during this project was that of a yellow-haired porcupine(Erethizon epixanthum ssp. epixanthum). This sighting took place in the late afternoon on 14 January 2014 in an isolated patch of riparian hardwood and Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) within the grassy Smith River plain wetland, about 0.3 mile north of Silva Rd., near the TDSP border with the Alexandre Dairy (photos 14 and 15 below).

Photo 14. Yellow-haired porcupine at TDSP.

Photo 14. Yellow-haired porcupine at TDSP.

Photo 15. Porcupine in Sitka spruce riparian habitat at TDSP.

Photo 15. Porcupine in Sitka spruce riparian habitat at TDSP.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Porcupines have become a less common sight in California in recent years, sparking concern from biological experts throughout the state. For example, in 2011 the entire Sierra Nevada range had only 13 reported sightings (Weiser 2012). Porcupines that were commonly seen in similar habitat to TDSP, at nearby Lanphere Dunes on Humboldt Bay, have not been sighted for over a decade now.

Correspondences and metadata about this sighting were made with the Northern California Porcupine Project. This project is a recent effort to assess the status of porcupines in northern California, run by wildlife biologist Tim Beam, PhD at Humboldt State University, who expressed enthusiastic interest about the sighting. Dr. Beam also hypothesized that Tolowa Dunes may be the current local hotspot for porcupines on the North Coast (pers. comm.).

While porcupines do eat the living cambium of trees, which can lead to tree mortality, there was no obvious sign of this in TDSP. Porcupines do utilize other types of forage, “including raspberry stems, grasses, flowering herbs, and a large amount of apples. Herbivory has an effect on the sodium metabolism of porcupines, which results in a lust for salt. Porcupines will chew on the wooden handles of human tools, other human-made wood structures, and areas of collected roadside salt runoff” (Roze, 1989). Due to the hypermaritime environment at TDSP, salt is readily deposited by fog and wind on vegetation, which may provide salt to porcupines.   It has been noted that porcupine in the Pacific Northwest prefer lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) and ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) to other conifers. TDSP is unique on the North Coast in having one of the largest populations of beach pine (Pinus contorta ssp. contorta) in California, a close relative and subspecies of lodgepole pine. Possibly the presence of this conifer along with other diverse forage options that TDSP provides (and protects) contribute to the porcupine’s success and persistence there, as it may have been extirpated from some other regional habitat types.

Avifauna, particularly birds of prey, have notable abundance and diversity at TDSP. Sightings that stand out include two bald eagle observations, one around Yontocket and one by the Cadra Point CDFW parcel. A barn owl was seen flying south from the forest edge by the Yontocket Massacre Memorial Cemetery. Accipiters seen included Cooper’s and sharp-shined hawks. The small aggressive falcon, the merlin, was sighted on several occasions. Other raptors worth mentioning include the white-tailed kite, red-tailed hawk, red-shouldered hawk, and the northern harrier. This diversity of raptors is supported by the abundance of waterfowl and small mammals that TDSP hosts which facilitates a healthy food web.

One species of fowl which was not noted, that once used the Smith River plain as winter feeding grounds, is the Aleutian cackling goose (Branta hutchinsii leucopareia). This goose was at the brink of extinction by the 1970s due to Arctic fox introductions by Russian fur trappers, which easily predated the geese. Conservation efforts and removal of the foxes helped the geese to rebound and they were removed from the Endangered Species List in 2001. From 1996-2011 the Alexandre Dairy along with TDPS used a permitting scheme, where “the Department allowed the Dairy to graze cattle on these 230 acres by impliedly extending a Temporary Use Permit that was first issued in 2006, even though its stated purpose is no longer valid. The stated purpose of the 2006 Permit – and, by incorporation, the amended version and all subsequent implied extensions – was “to provide a high quality habitat for Aleutian Canada [Cackling] Geese (Letter, 16 May 2011). Ironically, Alexandre continued to graze this 230 acres under this permit (to enhance Aleutian goose habitat) even though there is documentation that the Dairy heavily hazed the Aleutian’s off his pastures and those belonging the to TDSP from 2001-present, possibly contributing to their emigration from the Smith River plain. Also ironic is that the Alexandre Dairy credits themselves on their website that this “plan has ultimately taken the goose off the Endangered Species List…and this environmental success story is yet another example of the Alexandre’s ability to maintain an environmentally-friendly agricultural business.” (Alexandre EcoFarms Dairy 2008). In 2001, in an interview with the L.A. Times, Alexandre had a different tone stating that the goose repopulation is “Obviously not sustainable. It’s got to be fixed,” Blake Alexandre said. And if it isn’t? “We’ll chase the geese out of this community.” (Boxall 2001). The observations, or lack of rather, show that the Dairy may have done just that after they grazed State Park land under the guise of Aleutian Goose Enhancement (for free) from 1996-2011.

Finally, the Smith River willow riparian buffer, just north of Yontocket, is known for hosting the largest colony of Banks swallows in northwestern California, a threatened species in the state. This population attracts many birders and tourists from out of the area who come to witness its unique ecology (pers. comm., Rob Fowler).

Invasive and Native Plant Observations

Though floral observations were not a component of this project, several opportunistic sightings were made that are worth noting, including further proof of a recent species range extension.

One management issue in the Yontocket area is the invasive reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea) which is abundant and even a monoculture in some parts of the Yontocket wetland. While livestock grazing has been used as a form of “greenwashing” management for a way to deal with this invasive grass, elk could also consume this forage, which is more akin to their preferences for heartier sedges, rushes, and forbs, than are cattle.

The invasive European beach grass (Ammophila arnaria) forms a monoculture in the open dunes and foredunes. Invasive species noted in the forest included cotoneaster, English ivy (Hedera helix), and English holly (Ilex aquifolia). Some small patches of ivy and cotoneaster were mapped and removed in route to fence mapping areas.

Photo 16. Erysimum concinnum. Yontocket. 11 Nov. 2013.

Photo 16. Erysimum concinnum. Yontocket. 11 Nov. 2013.

Uncommon native plants that were noted include Viola adunca, the symbiont with the threatened Oregon silverspot butterfly (Speryeria zerene hippolyta). Sceptridium multifidum, a primitive fern in the Adders tongue family, is abundant throughout TDSP swales and forest. The entire TDSP seems to host excellent habitat for the bluff wallflower, (Erysimum concinnum), which is listed by the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) as a 1B.2 plant, being rare, threatened and endangered in the state. This wallflower was found blooming in several places during the late/early season field work for this project. One site was along the forest ecotone near Yontocket. The other site which is worth noting, was in the Cadra Point CDFW grazing parcel (see map). This parcel was being actively grazed during the period of wallflower observation, which could severely impact or extirpate the plants in that area. Considering the threatened status of Erysimum concinnum, this type of mixed management in a habitat that is mandated to protect such species seems negligent.

Photo 17. Two Chimaphila menziesii individuals with Russula mushroom, Usnea sp. And cyanolichens, near Yontocket.

Photo 17. Two Chimaphila menziesii individuals with Russula mushroom, Usnea sp. And cyanolichens, near Yontocket.

One of the more exciting and unexpected plant discoveries during the project field work at TDSP was that of the Little Prince’s Pine, (Chimaphila menziesii). While this plant is listed as uncommon, occurring in montane conifer forest, according to the Jepson Manual (2012), the plant was discovered in the North Coast sub-region of Northwest California at Lanphere Dunes in Humboldt County in 2011. The Humboldt coastal population was only the second known coastal site in California (the other being the Big River estuary, Mendocino Co.), while the only other known coastal site doesn’t occur for over a thousand miles north, in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia (Canter 2012). This detection at TDSP is only the forth documented C. menziesii population along the immediate west coast. The population was detected along the forest/swale ecotone along the N/S trail just southwest of Yontocket Cemetery. Habitat was a beach pine (Pinus contorta ssp. contorta)/wax myrtle (Myrica californica) overstory with a sparse herbaceous layer consisting of rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera oblongifolia), cyanolichens, and bryophytes. Only 12 total individuals in 3 separate groups were observed. The Humboldt State Herbarium is being contacted about this observation to further document its range extension into the North Coast sub-region. It is worth mentioning that native tribes used C. menziesii for renal problems and kidney stone removal (Pojar and MacKinnon 1994). Both the TDSP site by Yontocket and the Humboldt Bay populations are located by known native village sites.

Discussion

Yontocket and TDSP are clearly shown from this short (3 month/part time) field project to serve as a key habitat sanctuary for many species, including Roosevelt elk, porcupines, endemic wallflowers, rare butterflies, and unusual and rare plant communities. Beyond these resources, Yontocket, TDSP, and the Lake Earl Wildlife Area are cultural sacred sites and homelands to the native Tolowa people, where in 1853 most of their remaining society was massacred by white settlers.

The village of Yontocket was burned along with living babies and many of the dead were thrown into Yontocket Slough (Norton 1979). Today this slough is obstructed and defaced by the illegal private property of the Alexandre Dairy. Not only is the fence an obstruction to megafauna, such as elk, and park recreationists, but it serves as a constant reminder of the white domination and genocide upon the Tolowa people at Yontocket (Burnt Ranch Massacre).

While the importance of infrastructure fencing is critical to protect TDSP from OHV use, the Alexandre’s old livestock fencing does not serve this function and is a relic of the illegal grazing that took place there from 1996-2011, under the guise of Aleutian goose habitat enhancement. This fencing limits wildlife movement in and around a critical ecotone/edge corridor between the forage of the Smith River plain and the protective cover and alternate forage sources of the dune forest and swales. The cultural and ecological impacts of the Alexandre livestock fencing are in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the California Coastal Act, and various California State Parks Statutes.

Data from this project would not have been collected without the funding and concern of the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), the Sperling Foundation, Tolowa Dunes Stewards (TDS), and Tolowa Dunes State Park (TDSP). It is clear that this project benefited from having a vigilant biologist in the field, who was able to make significant opportunistic observations of animal and plant species of concern. Work will continue to remove the illegal fence in the next phase of the project, which would not be possible without the support of the North Coast Redwoods State Parks District and the California State Parks Foundation.

Literature Cited

Alexandre Family EcoDairy. Stone Cold Media, 2008. Aleutian Canadian Geese. http://www.ecodairyfarms.com/Goose.html (March 12, 2014).

Boxall, Bettina. “Taking a Gander at Geese’s Comeback”. The Los Angeles Times. 10 April 2001. http://articles.latimes.com/2001/apr/10/news/mn-49209 (March 12, 2014).

Canter, Adam. 2012. Noteworthy Collection, Chimaphila menziesii. Madroño. Vol. 59, No. 4: p. 220.

Horrel, Holly and Sibris, Debra A. Private Grazing on Tolowa Dunes State Park Lands in Violation of State Law. 2011. Standford Law School Environmental Law Clinic letter. http://www.wildcalifornia.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/EPIC-Letter-to-Parks-and-Recreation-Final-Version.pdf (March 12, 2014).

Elk in the Redwoods 2004, brochure, Redwood National and State Parks, National Park Service. Department of Interior http://www.nps.gov/redw/planyourvisit/upload/elk.pdf (March 12, 2014).

Norton, Jack. 1979. Genocide in Northwestern California: When Our Worlds Cried. San Francisco: Indian Historian Press.

Pojar, J. and MacKinnon, A. 1994. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Vancouver, BC: Lone Pine Press (p. 226).

Roze, U. 1989. The North American Porcupine. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Weiser, Matt. “Porcupines an increasingly rare sight in California forests, scientists say.” The Sacramento Bee. 03 March 2012.   http://snamp.cnr.berkeley.edu/static/documents/2012/03/28/Porcupines_an_increasingly_rare_sight_in_California_forests_scientists_say.pdf. Web. (March 12, 2014).

 


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

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014
By

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


Old Growth, Climate Change and Connectivity

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014
By

Old Growth.K.BakerGlobal warming is changing the planet’s ecosystems. The largest oldest trees store the greatest amounts of carbon and play a major role in regulating the Earth’s climate. The movement to protect our vital forests is building rapid momentum.

More than 75 scientists recently requested that the President direct his Secretary of Agriculture and Chief of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to craft a National Old Growth Conservation Policy that fully protects the remaining old-growth forests on all national forests. The signatories include PhD professors from throughout the country and Canada, retired state and federal resource agency biologists and two former USFS Chiefs.

The Federal Forest Carbon Coalition—a new first-of-a-kind consortium of over 60 national, regional and local organizations, including EPIC, focused on forests, biodiversity, fisheries, rivers, faith and spirituality, Native American treaty rights, youth, rural communities and climate disruption—recently issued a suite of science-based recommendations to the Obama Administration. Entitled Modernizing Federal Forest Management To Mitigate and Prepare For Climate Disruption, the recommendations for our public lands include permanently protecting all high-biomass forested areas (older forests; live, dead and fallen) from logging, recognizing carbon as a significant public resource, increasing carbon storage, restoring mature forests, promoting more natural fire regimes and a moratorium on fracking.

The U.S. Forest Service manages some of the highest density carbon stores on earth—our  remaining old growth and mature forests. Large old fire resilient trees are the guardians of our air, water, wildlife and forests.  Connecting and protecting older forests will provide refuge and crucial habitat linkages for a wide range of species, allowing for the movement of plants and animals in response to a warming climate.

Federal forest agencies need to make a major shift in policy and practice. While extensive research and collaborative climate adaption strategies have been completed, there has been no significant change in law. Environmental laws are essential to provide the framework and safeguards necessary to protect the thousands of species that make up the web of life.

Climate Change demands political change. Be part of the movement. Please sign and share the Connecting Wild Places petition.

The goal is to reach 50,000 signatures by Sept. 3, the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act.


Off Road Vehicles Proposed by Forest Service in the Smith River National Recreation Area

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014
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Smith River NRAEPIC, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center and other conservation allies submitted comments regarding the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Smith River National Recreation Area (NRA) Restoration and Motorized Travel Management on June 9th, supporting a travel management decision that protects the outstanding natural values found in the Smith River NRA by reducing road maintenance costs, protecting and restoring aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and reducing the spread of Port Orford cedar root disease through road and route decommissioning.

The Forest Service needs to refrain from adding routes and motorized trails to the road system that occur within occupied sensitive plant habitat as well as fully analyze and disclose the impacts of foreseeable illegal off-road use. In addition, the Forest Service must disclose the actual efficacy of agency road gating, blocking, and closure mechanisms. Furthermore, the final travel management decision must contain meaningful and substantive protections for Port Orford cedar populations across the planning area.

The DEIS for the Smith River NRA Restoration and Motorized Travel Management was released to the public on April 11, 2014. The aim of the project is to make changes to the National Forest Transportation System (NFTS) and Motorized Vehicle Use Maps , including adding, upgrading, downgrading, and decommissioning roads to provide for recreation opportunities, administrative needs, and to reduce risk.

In the Smith River NRA DEIS, six alternatives were identified. The Forest Service prefers Alternative 6. Unfortunately, Alternative 6 is primarily based upon the preferences of a collaborative group whose stated purpose was to determine how to add “high risk” controversial user-created routes to the Smith River NRA NFTS. These “high risk” routes provide no administrative or recreational purpose other than to fulfill the desire to engage in extreme off-road travel. In addition, the preferred alternative would add routes and motorized trails to the NFTS that occur within occupied sensitive plant habitat. It is undeniable that the existing network of roads and routes within the NRA are major causes of chronic sedimentation problems in streams, cause damage to rare and endemic plant populations, contribute to the loss of roadless wildland recreational opportunities, and increase the spread of Phytophthora lateralis (plant pathogen that causes Port Orford cedar root disease). Although the Forest Service acknowledges these problems, it plans to monitor less than 1 in 5 of these “high risk” routes over the next 10 years if funding is even available.

Under the Smith River National Recreation Act, the Forest Service has a responsibility to preserve, protect, and enhance the unique biological diversity of the NRA. EPIC and its supporters feel that the Forest Service’s preferred alternative, which favors the interests of 1.1% of the Six Rivers Forest visitors, does not adequately protect the significant ecological, recreational, and hydrological values the Smith River NRA is charged with protecting. EPIC and its allies  hope that the preferred action is not pre-ordained and that its substantive, technical, and site-specific comments are adequately acknowledged and addressed.

This article was written by Jason Landers, an intern with EPIC for the 2014 summer.

Click here to read the full comments.


EPIC in Review

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014
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EPIC Kate Wolf 2014-2The Environmental Protection Information Center has no problem keeping busy. This last weekend EPIC staff reached out to thousands of people at the Kate Wolf Festival, gathered hundreds of signatures to Connect Wild Places, and to oppose the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. At this event, we quickly realized that people are deeply concerned with the fate of our environment, and want to know what is going on, and how they can contribute towards safeguarding the ecosystems that we all depend upon. We greatly appreciate these opportunities where we get to know the roots of our community and build the lifelong bonds that fuel our work. For those of you who do not have the opportunity to meet with us in person and get updates on our work, we hope the digest below will keep you informed on some of the most contemporary issues that we are currently addressing.

Federal Forest Carbon Coalition letter to the Obama Administration to mitigate and prepare for climate disruption – Science-based recommendations in response to the President’s November 1, 2013 Executive Order: Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change.

Comment letter to Redwood National and State Parks for Bald Hills Road Pavement Project – This letter urges the consideration of an alternatives that would not include paving Bald Hills Road.

Comment letter regarding second growth thinning for Middle Fork Lost Man Creek – A letter of support for thinning over-dense second-growth forest stands in Redwood National Park.

Letter of opposition for the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act of 2014 – S. 2094 is a bill that would perpetuate a regulatory scheme that continues to place the economic burden associated with invasive species on the nation’s taxpayers rather than shifting it to the industry responsible for bringing those species into the nation’s waters. Click here to view the Fact Sheet relating to S. 2094.

Letter of support for the Mokelumne River Bill – SB 1199 would designate the Mokelumne River as a Wild and Scenic River, which would permanently protect 37 miles of river.

Letter opposing the Lowering Gasoline Prices to Fuel an America That Works Act of 2014H.R. 4899 would undermine how the Department of Interior manages federal lands to prioritize oil and gas development over alternative uses of federal lands and waters.

Letter of appreciation to the California Fish and Game Commission thanking the Commission for taking action to protect the gray wolf under the California Endangered Species Act.

Letter to Oregon Water Resources Department opposing the Red Flat Nickel Corporation’s mining proposal – The mining company has requested to use water for mining activities in the National Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River and Baldface Creek watersheds.

Comment letter regarding AB 2082 – The bill proposes minimum resource conservation standards or minimum stocking standards pertaining to forest practices on private forestlands in California.

Letter regarding Notice of Intent to prepare an environmental impact statement that evaluates an amendment to the 2008 Tongass National Forest Plan – This coalition letter encourages a land management plan for Tongass National Forest that ends large-scale old-growth logging.


Now Accepting Nominations for EPIC Board of Directors

Friday, June 20th, 2014
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join now buttonWANTED: Professional, assertive, creative, problem-solvers interested in joining the EPIC Board of Directors.

We are looking for people with experience in the following areas:

  • non-profit governance;
  • conservation science;
  • financial management;
  • environmental law;
  • policy development;
  • fundraising; and
  • event planning.

Current EPIC Members* may apply to become a Board Member between July 1 and July 31 for the next Board of Director’s year, which begins on January 1.

Prospective candidates are asked to fill out an application (available online or in hard-copy format at the office), describing qualifications, skills, and what they would bring to the Board. Applications must be submitted to the Executive Director (natalynne@wildcalifornia.org) by August 1.

Current Board of Directors can be viewed here.

EPIC Bylaws Amended

Shared democracy, transparent decision making and active community participation are important to EPIC.  Because of these values the Board of Directors proposed changes to the section of bylaws dealing with the nomination and election of the Board of Directors. In June, the membership voted and approved the changes. Click here to read the amended bylaws.

*Current member: an individual who has donated $35 or more between November 1 and to the following December 31 (14-month period).


Take Action to Stop the Bay Delta Conservation Plan

Thursday, June 19th, 2014
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USBR Construction of pump station at Delta-Mendota Canal

USBR Construction of pump station at Delta-Mendota Canal

Take action now to stop the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. The $67 billion infrastructure project proposes to construct two massive tunnels that would funnel water from Northern to Southern California. The Plan calls itself a comprehensive conservation strategy aimed at protecting dozens of species of fish and wildlife, but in reality the 40,000 page document fails to disclose major irreversible impacts to fish, rivers and the economic stability of the state of California. River systems throughout California have been experiencing extreme drought conditions, and historic water rights have not been honored due to the lack of water in our rivers and reservoirs. Building two giant tunnels to transport water from the San Joaquin Delta is not going to carry out either of the Plan’s two main goals: to reliably transport more water to San Joaquin farms and Southern California cities, or to restore the fisheries and ecology of the delta.

The Draft Environmental Impact Report/Statement (DEIR/S) uses models based on over-allocated water rights to analyze the Plan’s environmental impacts, which would result in severe environmental consequences. Building more irrigation infrastructure, as the Plan proposes, is not going to fix drought problems in California. Instead, these projects will exacerbate drought conditions, resulting in greater impacts to endangered fish by reducing flows to impaired watersheds, draining estuaries that are essential to healthy river ecosystems, and allowing the continued operation of pumps that will kill fish that are protected under the Endangered Species Act. The “conservation plan” should instead reduce exports that take water out of rivers, prioritize delta recovery, and improve water conservation measures.

EPIC is part of the Environmental Water Caucus (EWC), which is a collective of environmental and water rights organizations that have joined forces to deal with water issues throughout the state of California. The comments we have developed are abbreviated and adapted from the EWC’s collective comments on the massive DEIR/S that has stirred controversy over the state’s scarce water resources. Help us stop this damaging project before irreversible harm is done to our rivers, fish and the state’s economic stability. Please click here to submit your public comment.

 


EPIC in Review

Friday, June 13th, 2014
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Over the past few weeks, EPIC has worked to protect wolves in California, stood up to big timber companies, advocated for the Wild and Scenic rivers and endangered species, protected Northern Spotted Owls, opposed the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, requested amendments to groundwater legislation, and worked to protect water quality on timber lands. The documents below are a sample of our efforts to protect the wildlife, forests and watersheds of the North Coast. Several of these documents are the product of larger groups that we work with to develop coalition letters, and other documents are original works produced by EPIC staff. We hope that sharing these works with our readers will bring an awareness of some of the issues that we are addressing to protect the environment that we are rooted in.

EPIC Comments Regarding “Scorpion King” and “Boomer.” These two THPs are proposed by Sierra Pacific Industries and would result in take of Northern Spotted Owls as a result of the cumulative effects of multiple harvest entries over a short time.

Environmental Water Caucus Comment Letter on the 40,000 page Bay Delta Conservation Plan and EIR/EIS. This 259 page comment letter was developed by a coalition of water and conservation advocacy groups including EPIC. The letter outlines environmental impacts to endangered species populations, rivers, the San Joaquin Delta and to the state’s overall water supply.

EPIC Motion for Stay filed with the State Water Resources Control Board. The motion requests a stay of the effect of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board’s approval of a property-wide forest operations Waste Discharge Requirement permit (WDR) order for Green Diamond property back in 2012. The motion for stay is in response to the State Board’s failure to address a petition to review the Regional Board’s approval of the order that EPIC filed in 2012.

HR 4272 Opposition Letter. The Forest Access in Rural Communities Act would modify motor vehicle use on public lands, which would tie the hands of Forest Service managers across the country who work to protect public safety, recreational experiences, and endangers protections for drinking water resources, wildlife and forest resources.

Northern California Prescribed Fire Council letter of support for AB2465. The bill would officially recognize the benefits of prescribed fire in California’s fire-adapted landscapes and facilitate new levels of professionalism for private lands burners throughout the state.

Letters to Senator Pavley and Assemblyman Anthony Rendon requesting amendments to ground water legislation to address the impact that groundwater extraction can have on California’s streams.

Letter of opposition for four House of Representatives bills that would damage the Endangered Species Act. These bills “would undermine the essential protections of the Endangered Species Act by obstructing the development and use of scientific research, squandering agency resources and chilling citizen enforcement.”


Tour of Mattole Timber Harvest Plans

Friday, June 13th, 2014
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group mattole

The group discussing forest policy.

This week, EPIC staff and interns visited active and proposed timber operations on Humboldt Redwood Company (HRC) lands in the Mattole Valley. Logging operations on HRC lands along the north fork the Mattole River have been at the center of recent protests and public scrutiny.

The controversy over HRC’s timber harvest operations on Long Ridge in the Mattole Valley has arisen out of concerns that the company is logging old growth and harvesting in unentered forest stands. HRC, for its part, insists that it is not logging old growth trees, and that harvesting in previously unentered stands will not alter the ecological function of those stands.

HRC agreed to a tour inviting EPIC, concerned members of the public and forest activists. Activists guided the tour, taking the group to the harvest areas of concern spending the entire day in the field viewing the active Long Ridge Cable and proposed Long Reach Timber Harvest Plans.

decadent fir

Unique and decadent trees such as this fir are marked Leave.

The group unanimously confirmed that the Long Reach THP intends to harvest in unentered stands of mixed age-class with varied types of hardwood and fir trees on steep and unstable slopes; however we saw no evidence that the company intends to log individual old growth trees or in old growth stands. The most unique, interesting and largest trees were marked with an “L” for leave and the late successional characteristics of the stand are to be preserved after harvest.

The question of whether or not previously unentered forest stands should automatically qualify as old growth or otherwise be protected is at the crux of the issues surrounding HRC timber harvest operations in the Mattole.

While HRC has a voluntary policy against the logging of individual old growth trees or in old growth stands, the company currently has no policy prohibiting the harvest of previously unentered stands if they do not meet the criteria of an old growth stand (age, size, structural component and density requirement of 6 or more per acre).

While large, these trees were between 100-120 years old.

While large, these trees were between 100-120 years old.

Also of great concern is the safety of forest activists while protesting in active logging areas. HRC has offered that forest defenders can observe timber operations from a safe distance and with appropriate safety gear.

EPIC commends Humboldt Redwood Company’s old growth protection, and efforts to continue working toward building positive community relationships. We are immensely grateful to the forest activists for their watchful monitoring, dedication to the protection of nature, and their ability to keep all parties honest and accountable.

We are committed to continuing to work with community members and Humboldt Redwood Company. Given the unique characteristics of the Mattole Valley, and especially Long Ridge, EPIC would like to see additional protection measures developed in the future for unentered forest stands.

For more information on this topic, tune into KMUD’s Environment Show on Tuesday, June 24th, from 7-8pm. We will be talking about the Mattole, Humboldt Redwood Company and taking calls from listeners.

Looking at the 200-acre High Conservation Value Forest on the north-slope of Long Ridge, immediately adjacent to the THPs in question.

Looking at the 200-acre High Conservation Value Forest on the north-slope of Long Ridge, immediately adjacent to the THPs in question.


Gray Wolf gets California Endangered Species Protections!

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014
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OR-7's pups_stephenson_usfws cropped

Two of OR-7’s pups peek out from behind the log. Rogue National Forest. Photo courtesy of USFWS.

Great news for wolves! Early this afternoon, the California State Fish and Game Commission voted three to one to grant protections to Gray Wolves under the California Endangered Species Act.

The decision came after three hours of testimony from nearly two hundred members of the public, many of who were dressed in gray and wearing paper hats shaped and painted like wolves. One especially endearing comment, which made the entire hall smile, was delivered by two-year toddler Madrone Shelton who clearly stated to the Commissioners, “protect wolves.”

Cuteness was in the air when a new photo from the Oregon Department of Wildlife surfaced that verified California’s famous wandering wolf, OR-7 and his new mate, had successfully sired a litter of puppies!

This announcement further cemented the need to list the wolf under the California Endangered Species Act. It is likely that OR-7 and his family will travel back into California once the pups are old enough, and protections under the law will help ensure their future safety.

The serendipitous humor of OR-7’s activities could not be better timed. Back in February, the very day that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife told Commissioners that listing was not warranted because there were no wolves present, OR-7 jumped the border back into California; and again, as if on cue, today’s news of OR-7’s puppies happened within minutes of the Department’s stating that there is still not a breeding pair of wolves in California and that the other wolf that has been spotted with OR-7, may not be female.

We think OR-7 was trying to tell us something—that California is wolf country and that we will have wolves within our state in the very near future, so be prepared!

Meanwhile, the process for developing a California Wolf Management Plan is still underway. EPIC, and other groups representing a diverse set of interests, are helping the Department of Fish and Wildlife develop a management plan that balances the biological needs of wolves and the needs of society.

For more than two years, we have worked to get protections put in place for Gray Wolves. We could not have done it without you. Together we have sent more than 4,000 comments to Commissioners and today we were delivered a sweet and satisfying victory for wildlife protection.

Let us celebrate this announcement by sending out a collective howl for the future of California’s wolves, “Ahh-wooooooo!”

Wolf Pack 2


EPIC In Review

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014
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HolmFayMG_8852-copy-1024x682When it comes to getting work done, our little organization packs a giant punch.  In recent days, we have been involved in numerous campaigns and are excited to be a part of these grass roots efforts that are shaping our environment and our future. To keep you informed of our happenings, we have provided a sample of the work that we have been involved with over the past few weeks.

Comments to urge Del Norte County to better analyze the Tryon Bridge replacement project – As proposed, this project would result in impacts to the Smith River and steelhead, coho and chinook salmon populations.

California Drought Bill letter – The Drought Bill (HR 3964), proposes to waive major elements of state and federal environmental laws and de-designates a portion of the Merced wild and scenic river. EPIC has joined the Environmental Water Caucus in calling on Representatives to reject this environmentally damaging legislation.

Letter of Support for Humboldt County No GMO Ordinance – This letter urges Humboldt County Board of Supervisors to pass an ordinance that would ban GMOs in Humboldt County. The County had the opportunity to enact the ordinance without going before voters, but voted instead to put it on the November Ballot.

Environmental Coalition Letter to Feinstein and Boxer – As written, Senate Bill 2198 would exacerbate impacts on the environment and the salmon industry without addressing the underlying causes of water shortages. This letter urges Senators Boxer and Feinstein to ensure that their legislation reduces the impacts of the drought on California’s environment and the salmon fishery.

Grassroots Fracking Letter – This coalition letter urges members of the California Legislature to support SB 1132, which will impose a moratorium on fracking, acidizing and other will stimulation techniques.

Request for comment time extension of Bay Delta Conservation Plan – As proposed, BDCP is lacking an implementation agreement, which defines obligations, provides assurances, ensures adequate funding, specifies responsibility for implementing measures, provides for enforcement and remedies for failure, and establishes the process for changes. In this letter, EPIC and others request an extension of the public comment period since the BDCP is incomplete without the implementation agreement because it does not specify any commitments the parties have made to fund and promote mitigation measures.

These efforts would not be possible without your financial contributions. Please consider making a donation to help us continue protecting your wild back yard.

 


Wolf Night Teach-in & Fish and Game Commission Hearing

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014
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wolf-event-flyer-final-CS5Join us for our “Wolf Night and Teach-in” on Monday, June 2nd, from 6-8pm at the D-Street Neighborhood Center (1301 D Street in Arcata), featuring a film screening, guest speakers, sign making, and tips on speaking to the Commission. This event is designed to prepared people for the upcoming California Fish and Game Commission hearing. Light snacks and refreshments will be provided.

The California Fish and Game Commission is coming to Fortuna and wants to hear from you. Attend the hearing in person on Wednesday, June 4th, at 8:30am at the Fortuna River Lodge (1800 Riverwalk Drive in Fortuna), and ask Commissioners to give wolves full state protection under the California Endangered Species Act. Come early for a rally starting at 7:30am, bring signs and wear gray to show your support for listing.

All events are kid friendly, free and open to the public.

Hosted by: the Environmental Protection Information Center, Bird Ally X, Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, Center for Biological Diversity, Northcoast Environmental Center.


Nesting Eagles Harassed with Helicopter Logging

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014
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IMG_2140Last week the Klamath National Forest took a calculated risk to knowingly harass a pair of Bald eagles and their babies with helicopter logging just 1,500 feet from their nest. Logging this close to the nest occurred continuously for over a week and is expected to continue in this general area.

A Happy Camp resident who has been observing this pair raising their young every year for the past 24 years, alerted EPIC last week. The adult eagles have shown very erratic behavior and have been heard screeching in distress every day logging has occurred. We contacted the ranger, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the wildlife biologist to understand why and by what legal authority allowed the Klamath National Forest to risk killing the nestlings.

Although there were limited operating periods designed and put in place to protect the nestlings, logging was taking place just outside of a Bald Eagle Management Area set up for this particular nest site. Eagles are no longer listed under the Endangered Species Act but are still protected by the Bald Eagle Protection Act, which can bring criminal and civil penalties for any person or organization taking or disturbing them. A violation of the Act can result in a criminal fine of $100,000 ($200,000 for organizations), imprisonment for one year, or both, for a first offense.

Management recommendations from the 2007 Bald Eagle Management Plan does allow some level of disturbance and is very lenient. Because of the public outcry and immediate attention from our organization the Happy Camp Ranger District has a wildlife biologist monitoring the nest during logging activity. The biologist has seen one nestling and the eagles are still tending to their babies.

Disruptive activities in or near eagle foraging areas can interfere with feeding, reducing chances of survival. Young nestlings are particularly vulnerable because they rely on their parents to provide warmth or shade, without which they may die as a result of hypothermia or heat stress. If food delivery schedules are interrupted, the young may not develop healthy plumage, which can affect their survival. Interference with feeding can also result in reduced productivity (number of young successfully fledged). Older nestlings no longer require constant attention from the adults, but they may be startled by loud or intrusive human activities and prematurely jump from the nest before they are able to fly or care for themselves. Once fledged, juveniles range up to 1⁄4 mile from the nest site, often to a site with minimal human activity. During this period, until about six weeks after departure from the nest, the juveniles still depend on the adults to feed them.

Where a human activity agitates or bothers roosting or foraging bald eagles to the degree that causes injury or substantially interferes with breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior and causes, or is likely to cause, a loss of productivity or nest abandonment, the conduct of the activity constitutes a violation of the Eagle Act’s prohibition against disturbing eagles. If observations show that the logging has resulted in any of these negative affects EPIC will look into pressing charges for violations of the Bald Eagle Protection Act.


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


2013 Annual Report Now Available

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014
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annual reportWe are proud to share with our members, supporters and extended family the 2013 Annual Report, which contains a wealth of information about what our grassroots environmental activist organization has been up to in the past year. For 36 years, our staff has worked tirelessly to advocate for the protection of the wild places and creatures that make up the unique redwood bioregion of wild California.

Since 1977, using an integrated science-based approach that combines public education, citizen advocacy and strategic litigation, EPIC has been working to ensure that state and federal agencies follow their mandate to uphold environmental law. If you are not already a member, please support our work by making a donation to help us protect and restore the ancient forests, watersheds, coastal estuaries and endangered species in Northwest California. Our organization has survived this long thanks to the support of our dedicated members who have continually believed in our work and ability to protect the environment that we all depend upon.

Click here to download the 2013 Annual Report


Wolf Recovery an Imperative for Ecosystem Restoration

Monday, April 28th, 2014
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Remote camera photo from July 21, 2013, documenting three pups in the newly formed Mt Emily pack. -Oregon Fish and Wildlife-

Remote camera photo from July 21, 2013, documenting three pups in the newly formed Mt Emily pack.
-Oregon Fish and Wildlife-

The importance of recovery of viable populations of wolves on the landscapes of Northern California has been clear to EPIC since before the first time the famous lone wolf “Journey” crossed over into California two years ago. Since that moment, EPIC has dedicated important time and resources to engaging in stakeholder processes and endangered species advocacy in order to contribute to a broadly shared conservation community objective of seeing wolves return to the wild and thrive in California. Our organization is part of a petition to the California Fish and Game Commission to have the gray wolf listed as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA), and North Coast wildlife advocates will have an unprecedented opportunity to provide public comment in support of CESA protections for the Gray Wolf when the Fish and Game Commission meets on Wednesday, June 4th at the River Lodge in Fortuna. EPIC has also had an active role in a nationwide coalition challenging the scientifically unfounded and clearly untimely proposal to remove Federal Endangered Species Act protections for the wolf throughout the majority of the predator’s current and potential range in the continental United States.

These advocacy actions for the wolf are imperative. At EPIC we see wolf recovery as an important goal of its own accord, as well as being an indispensable watermark for measuring progress towards objectives of true restoration of ecosystems in Northern California. What has become clear to those of us working for the wolf is that wolf recovery is an absolute necessity in California because bringing back the wolf would be one of the most attainable landscape level wildlife restoration accomplishments for working towards the reestablishment of natural processes, including predator-prey relationships, in our extended bioregion.

When comparing wolf recovery with the recovery of wild salmon runs, we believe that there is strong evidence that getting the wolf back onto the landscape is probably going to be much easier than bringing back the salmon. Thus, if we cannot as a society bring back the wolf it is highly unlikely that we will bring back the salmon. And taking this a step further, if we cannot bring back the wolf, and thus cannot bring back the salmon, it is pretty much impossible to contemplate a time in the future when we will be able to restore populations of grizzly bear to California wildlands.

Bringing back the griz would certainly require an amazing amount of preparation and planning, as well as commitment and willpower, on a cultural and political level. We now understand better than ever before, however, that if we cannot succeed in bringing the wolf back to California, then it is impossible to even contemplate bringing back the griz. Thus, wolf recovery is the moment of reckoning for Californian’s, because as goes the wolf so will go the grizzly. With the icon of the grizzly an integral part of state symbolism, especially with the grizzly is so prominently displayed on the state flag, this is not an irrelevant matter. What does it mean to have a world renowned symbol of wildlife on our flag when there is a total absence of vision or commitment on the part of California residents and our state government to make the griz more than just a colorful symbol and to restore the great bear to it’s rightful place on the landscape? This is why at EPIC we believe that recovery of the wolf is so important, because it comes at the crossroads of the myth vs. the reality of our wild California, one in which wildlife is glorified, but little is done to rectify the disappearance and absence of that wildlife from our ecosystems.

It is with a wry smile that we say then that we must bring back the wolf, we must bring back the salmon, and we must bring back the griz — and if we cannot commit to bringing back the griz, let’s get it off our flag! Let’s stop playing make believe games about how wild our state really isn’t. Now is the time. Bring back the griz– or get it off the flag. And the first step to keeping the grizzly on our flag and eventually someday back on to our landscapes is to show our commitment to having top predators in the wildlands of our state, and to commit fully to wolf recovery now. There is not a moment to lose.

SAVE THE DATE! California Fish and Game Commission will take public comment regarding the petition to have the Gray Wolf listed as “endangered” under the California Endangered Species Act when the Commission meets at the River Lodge in Fortuna on Wednesday, June 4. Plan now to come out on June 4th in Fortuna and “howl” for restoring wolves to California wildlands!


Historic Agreement Reforms Trinity River Fish Hatchery

Monday, April 28th, 2014
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Trinity_hatcheryToday a federal court approved the settlement agreement in a lawsuit challenging operations at the Trinity River Fish Hatchery. The agreement between EPIC, state agencies and Tribes allows the hatchery to continue to operate, but with needed reforms to restore imperiled wild coho salmon.

The suit alleged that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) operated the hatchery illegally because it lacked an approved plan from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The suit also alleged that the millions of hatchery fish released into the Trinity harm threatened wild salmon runs.

“This settlement shows the commitment of a broad array of stakeholders in the Trinity basin to insure that hatchery operations support recovery of wild salmon,” said Gary Graham Hughes, Executive Director at EPIC. “There is still a long road to travel,” said Hughes, “yet this agreement is an historic moment in the process of bringing back our wild salmon.”

Represented by the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) in Eugene, Oregon, EPIC filed suit last year to curb the number of hatchery fish released into the Trinity, alleging that they harm naturally producing coho salmon, listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as threatened with extinction. On the eve of a motion to the court, the parties – EPIC, CDFW, the Bureau, and the Hoopa Valley and Yurok Tribes – reached agreement that the hatchery could continue to operate, but in 2015 would release fewer hatchery-bred coho salmon and steelhead trout, and release the trout later in the season, so they do not prey on young coho. The agreement also requires the Bureau to submit to NMFS a new plan for hatchery operations by May 31, 2014.

“After decades of saturating the Trinity with hatchery fish, this agreement is a first step toward recovering wild coho runs that are so important in the system,” said Pete Frost, attorney for EPIC.

Principle amongst the terms of the settlement agreement is that the Bureau will consult with NMFS to develop in a timely manner a long-overdue Hatchery Genetic Management Plan (HGMP), which the agency must complete as a requirement of fish hatchery management under the ESA. Genetic considerations are of great importance in fish hatchery management. Hatchery coho salmon harm wild coho salmon when the two populations interbreed. Hatchery coho salmon alter the genetic composition, phenotypic traits, and behavior of wild coho salmon. Genetic introgression—the transfer of genetics from stray hatchery fish to wild populations—lowers the fitness and genetic variability of wild coho salmon populations, decreasing productivity and abundance. The release of hatchery-raised Chinook and coho salmon and steelhead trout can also have harmful ecological effects on wild coho salmon and their habitat. Hatchery fish prey on wild coho salmon. Hatchery fish can introduce and transmit disease to wild coho salmon. Hatchery fish compete with wild coho salmon for food and spawning and rearing habitat. These ecological effects decrease the fitness and abundance of listed wild coho salmon.

To address these impacts the settlement agreement requires the timely development of the HGMP, and also includes terms that address the timing and number of the release of hatchery coho salmon and hatchery steelhead trout in order to best manage the resultant ecological interactions between hatchery and wild fish in a manner that promotes the recovery of wild Coho salmon.

Background on the Trinity River Fish Hatchery

The Trinity River flows north-northwest 165 miles from the California Coast Range Mountains to its confluence with the Klamath River at Weitchpec, approximately 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The South Fork Trinity River, which enters the mainstem Trinity River below any impoundments, is the one of the longest undammed stretches of river in California. Before reaching its confluence with the South Fork, the mainstem Trinity River flows into Trinity Lake, an impoundment created by the Trinity Dam, which stores water for the Central Valley Project. Seven miles downstream of the Trinity Dam is Lewiston Lake, an impoundment created by the Lewiston Dam, where stored water is diverted into the Sacramento River basin.

The Trinity hatchery is located at river mile 110 immediately downstream of the Lewiston Dam. It was built to mitigate for the loss of salmon and steelhead habitat due to the construction of the Trinity and Lewiston dams and the operation of the Central Valley Project. The Bureau funds the hatchery and CDFW runs it.

The Trinity River provides habitat for wild coho salmon. Wild coho salmon in the Trinity River and its tributaries are part of the Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast (SONCC) evolutionarily significant unit (ESU) and listed as threatened with extinction under the ESA. Critical habitat for the SONCC coho ESU includes all accessible reaches of the Klamath River and the Trinity River and the tributaries to each.

Recently, the California Fish Hatchery Review Project completed a comprehensive statewide review of fish hatcheries and found major problems in current operations throughout the state of California.  The leading scientific experts in this project recommended many important changes, of which several have been incorporated into the settlement regarding the Trinity River fish hatchery.

The consultation process for the HGMP for the Trinity fish hatchery under the ESA will result in hatchery operations that promote restoring genetic viability of wild fish.  This will further advance natural recovery of native fish species to their historical abundance. EPIC and WELC will continue to be engaged on crucial water and endangered species management issues on the Trinity, Mad, and Klamath Rivers, as well as other rivers in our bioregion.

 

EPIC-WELC Trinity Fish Hatchery Reform Press Release

Trinity Fish Hatchery Settlement Consent Decree


Connecting Wild Places

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014
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Journey LOGO selected finalSign the petition to Protect and Connect Wild Places!

How much more evidence do we need until entrusted representatives and forest, wildlife and water managers work together to change the direction of this crisis we are in? How many decades do we need to learn the same lessons? We can and we must act now to protect and connect wild places!

Conserving and connecting habitat is the number one goal of the National Fish, Animal and Plants Climate Adaption Strategy, “Sustaining a diversity of healthy populations over time requires conserving a sufficient variety and amount of habitat and building a well-connected network of conservation areas to allow the movement of species in response to climate change.” Establishing wildlife corridors and linkages that are providing vital habitat connectivity is key to species survival and should be a priority.

With 25 National Park units, 18 national forests, more than 15 million acres of Bureau of Land Management lands and 270 state parks and beaches California offers an amazing opportunity to establish an interconnected intact landscape, especially in the Pacific Northwest. Roadless areas, rivers and ridges linking wilderness and core habitat areas, not only provide for wildlife but are also a key to clean water and air in this rapidly changing climate.

Our forest ecosystems of are astoundingly beautiful and globally significant.  They serve as massive carbon banks and are refuge for increasingly rare plants and animals.  California is the wildlife state with unparalleled biological diversity. We have more species and endemic species than any other state in the nation. Alarmingly, according to the CA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife’s 2011 Special Animals List, the majority of our wildlife needs help: 88% of amphibians, 87% of native fish, two out of three mammals, and nearly half of all birds and reptiles are “at risk.” This decline of wildlife is indicative of the failing health of our ecosystems, of which we depend.

Logging, grazing, agriculture and multiple other stressors continuously threaten our watersheds and come with devastating ecological costs. It is time for change. California will soon be welcoming wolves and they need room to roam. We need wild places. Tell your entrusted leaders to Protect and Connect Wild Places now!

Our goal is to reach 10,000 signatures by June 1st and >50,000 signatures by the 50th Anniversary on the Wilderness Act on September 3rd. Please sign the petition and share with your friends and family.

The petition will go to:

  • President Obama
  • Secretary of the Interior- Sally Jewell
  • Secretary of Agriculture
  • Chief of the Forest Service- Tom Tidwell
  • Chief of Bureau of Land Management
  • US Fish and Wildlife
  • California US Forest Service Supervisors
  • CA Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • CA Fish and Games Commissioners
  • All of the CA House of Representatives and Senate
  • Governor Brown
  • Others TBD

Links for additional resources:


Comments Submitted to Navy Opposing Harm to Marine Mammals

Thursday, April 17th, 2014
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OrcasandboatNOAAOn behalf of our thousands of members, supporters and activists, EPIC submitted public comments on the U.S. Navy’s Northwest Training and Testing Environmental Impact Statement, which if approved would authorize the “take” of more than 500,000 marine mammals over the course of the next 5 years.

The original public comment period was scheduled to close on March 26, 2014, but due to the requests of EPIC and others, the Navy extended the public comment period until April 15th.  In that time, EPIC alone was able to gather 6,203 comments and petition signatures from individuals to protect marine life from Navy Sonar and weapons testing in the Pacific Ocean.

The public will have the opportunity to review the Navy’s responses to comments when the Final EIS is available, which is expected in the summer of 2015.

The public will have another opportunity to provide public comments later this year when the National Marine Fisheries Service is expected to issue a proposed rule to authorize the Navy’s training and testing operations.  At that time, we will call upon our supporters once more to speak up for all species that depend on safe clean ocean water for survival.

Click here to view a copy of the comment letter that EPIC sent to the Navy.

To view a copy of a more in-depth group comment letter that EPIC and other organizations collaboratively composed, click here.


Author Kim Stanley Robinson speaks in Arcata

Thursday, April 17th, 2014
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Wednesday, May 7th EPIC hosts author Kim Stanley Robinson KSRat Humboldt State’s Kate Buchanan Room from 5-7pm, and later that night at Northtown Books (957 H St. in Arcata) from 8-10pm. Meet and greet & enjoy wine and cheese. Robinson is a well-known political science-fiction writer, teacher, and stay-at-home parent who enjoys inserting personal life experiences or autobiographical elements in his works. His books such as the “Mars” trilogy ask the question of How Things Should Be and brings awareness to the burgeoning global conflict between democracy and capitalism. Both events are free and open to the public. For more information call 707-822-7711.

 

 

KSR Poster