Archive for August, 2012

Doubling Down on Protections for the Northern Spotted Owl

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

Conservationists request “Endangered” status for Northern Spotted Owl under California and Federal Law

The Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) filed two petitions designed to increase protections for the Northern Spotted Owl.  First, EPIC filed a petition with the Secretary of the Interior to change the status of the owl under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) from “threatened” to “endangered.”   Second, EPIC filed a petition with the California Fish and Game Commission to list the owl as “endangered” under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).

The Northern Spotted Owl was first protected under the federal ESA as “threatened” in 1990. Despite these protections, a recently published large-scale demographic study found that the species has been declining at about 3% annually from 1985-2008.  The population decline is accelerating due to continued habitat destruction and ongoing invasion by the nonnative Barred Owl.  On state and private lands, owl declines are significantly greater than on federal lands because of higher rates of nesting habitat loss and inadequate regulatory mechanisms.

While Northern Spotted Owls have been listed under the federal ESA for over 20 years, the State of California has never protected the species under California law.  This clear oversight is out of step with the best available science and should be immediately corrected.  With state ESA protections in place, the California Department of Fish Game must review projects, including private timber harvest, for potential impact on the owl. As a result, state and private forestlands would be better managed for owl recovery.

“The best available science is very clear that Northern Spotted Owls are endangered with extinction,” stated Andrew Orahoske, conservation director for the Environmental Protection Information Center.  “The time has come for the State of California to get to work on recovering this iconic species.”

The Northern Spotted Owl is dependent on late-successional and old-growth forests.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the owl as a threatened species in 1990 due to extensive habitat loss from intensive logging of native forests.  Since that time, population analyses have documented range-wide declines that are attributed to the continued loss of habitat from logging on private lands and from the invasion of a non-native competitor, the Barred Owl.  Clearcut logging fragments older forest stands and exacerbates the threat posed by Barred Owl invasion into forests occupied by Northern Spotted Owl.  Indeed, researchers have found a direct correlation between the likelihood of Barred Owl invasion of Spotted Owl territories and the lack of older forest.

Earlier this year, EPIC delivered a notice of intent to sue billionaire Red Emmerson and his company, Sierra Pacific Industries, for harming Northern Spotted Owls in violation of the Endangered Species Act.  By clearcut logging within known spotted owl territories, the company is engaged in openly hostile actions against individual spotted owls and their young, seemingly designed to eliminate the owl from its lands. Sierra Pacific is currently operating without an approved “take” permit that is required under the law for supervising industrial activities within a protected species habitat.

“Why does a billionaire need to kill spotted owls?” questioned Orahoske. “Small landowners don’t have a chance competing with Sierra Pacific Industries, and yet many small landowners conserve spotted owls on their properties.  Red Emmerson owes it to everyone to protect the spotted owl.”

Between 2009 and 2012 alone, Sierra Pacific Industries’ submitted logging plans that threaten to destroy over 7,000 acres of suitable habitat within known spotted owl territories.  Sierra Pacific is operating outside of the law and engaging in the systematic liquidation of spotted owl habitat.  If necessary, EPIC is prepared to take Sierra Pacific to court to stop these atrocious acts.


California NSO Petition

Federal NSO Petition

Petition to Protect California’s Gray Wolf as an Endangered Species Advances

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

Conservation groups ask Obama to keep Pacific Northwest wolves on Endangered Species list.

In response to a petition from EPIC and allies, the California Department of Fish and Game recommended that the Fish and Game Commission make the gray wolf a candidate for protection under the California Endangered Species Act. The Commission will vote on Fish and Game’s recommendation in early October.

At this time neither the United States Fish and Wildlife Service nor the California Department of Fish and Game have developed a recovery plan for wolves in California. Such a plan would specify management actions needed to protect and recover the species and establish population targets.

“California has extensive areas of suitable habitat for wolves.  For instance, large wilderness areas such as the Marble Mountains and the Trinity Alps, as well as remote backcountry areas around Lassen and Mt. Shasta, have high potential to support wolves,” said Andrew Orahoske, Conservation Director for EPIC. “Furthermore, once re-established in northern California, wolves could feasibly repopulate the Sierra Nevada, which contains a large amount of suitable habitat in its own right.”

The decision from Fish and Game comes as OR-7 — the first wolf in California in more than 80 years — continues to roam Northern California, and as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service consider removing federal Endangered Species Act protections. The feds have stated that it intends to remove this protection, casting doubt on the long-term recovery prospects for the wolf.

This week, EPIC and other conservation groups asked President Obama to keep the western population of Northwest’s gray wolves on the endangered species list.

Clearcutting Triggers Hotter Fires and Reduces Water Supplies

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

State Regulators Ignore the Best Available Science

The dry season is upon us and the likelihood of forest fires will grow while our creeks and rivers drop ever lower.  The potential for forest fires coupled with the paucity of water presents serious concerns to natural and human communities alike.  Recent events across the country and within California have us wondering: What are the impacts of the industrial forestry model of clearcutting and dense, mono-culture tree plantations on fire behavior and water availability?

The best available science shows that young, dense tree plantations are prone to higher severity fire than comparable natural forests with older trees and greater ecological complexity.  A recent study out of the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station (Miller et al 2012) clearly shows that tree plantations are prone to high severity, stand replacing fires.  These findings are consistent with other research implicating tree plantations as tinder boxes.  This contrasts sharply with low and moderate severity fire behavior generally displayed within natural forests on public lands with older trees and complex structure.

Similarly, intensive industrial forestry is simply not compatible with the conservation of water resources.  Many municipalities that source their water supply from forested watersheds have protected them from damaging logging practices.  Portland, Oregon and New York City are two examples where a century of foresight to protect forested watersheds yields a reliable supply of clean water.  In California, numerous watersheds throughout the Sierra Nevada, Cascades, Trinity Alps and Klamath Mountains provide water to millions of people, agriculture and diverse ecosystems.  While some of the watersheds are protected in national forests, millions of acres are in private hands and much of that is extensively clearcut.  Natural forests with older trees provide reliable, clean water supplies because they shade the ground and contain complex aquatic habitat and pools.  In contrast, industrial forestry landscapes are often devoid of any vegetation or contain simplified plantations that do not provide the same benefits for water supplies.

Additionally, recent research has uncovered a critical variable that is often overlooked.  Stubblefield et al (2012) compared overall water usage by young, dense Douglas-fir tree plantations versus older, natural forests in the Mattole River watershed.  The study concludes that tree plantations use more water than older forests, adding an additional indictment of the industrial forestry model.

Meanwhile, California’s regulations for private industrial forestlands continually fail to account for these threats.  California’s Forest Practice Rules allow intensive clearcutting across entire watersheds.  The specter of past, ongoing, and foreseeable cumulative impacts resulting from a century and a half of logging continues to threaten endangered fish and wildlife species.  The best available science implicates the lack of adequate state-level regulations to prevent significant adverse cumulative impacts to our forests and water resources.

In the midst of this ongoing crisis, California’s regulators are completely disconnected from realities on the ground.  Even worse, current proposals do nothing to address the ongoing threats posed by industrial forestry.  Governor Brown has proposed private timber-related items that are nothing more than industry giveaways.  The Governor wants to institute a cap on liability stemming from damages caused by forest fires in response to the federal prosecution of Sierra Pacific Industries for the Moonlight fire. Such meddling in long established law would undermine the ability of the public to recover costs and restore landscapes damaged by the negligence of private logging operations.  Most baffling, the Governor also proposes a new consumer tax on lumber that would be used to fund regulatory agencies’ review of private timber harvest plans.  The proposed tax would give the timber industry the ability to freely pass the cost of public trust analysis onto the consumer.  This approach provides no incentive to engage in sustainable, selection forestry, but instead allows business as usual for those large industrial landowners that clearcut forests across California.  Instead, a progressive fee-based program should be created that promotes good practices.  Damaging logging plans that include clearcutting require more intensive review by state agencies, and therefore should be more expensive to permit.  Genuine stewardship of California’s forests and water resources by landowners should be rewarded with reduced fees for selection forestry.  Holding the timber industry accountable for the damage they have wrought on our natural landscapes and human communities is imperative for charting a new path forward to restore California’s forests.

Sacramento 2012 – Banana Republic Politics and California’s Timber Aristocracy

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

California’s political establishment demonstrated a clear capacity in 2012 for crony capitalism environmental politics. The closure of the legislative session in Sacramento this year would seem to have been better set in a mythical country where societies biggest land owners, and the politicians that they own, conspire in back rooms to develop and pass legislation that consolidates the landowners power over public trust natural resources. Repeated votes past midnight on the last day that the legislature was in session, arm twisting by high end corporate lobbyists, water carrying for the rich by established career political operatives, and the crowing of the landed elite about the “significant reforms” contained in the new anti-democratically designed law are all elements of a scene from the most corrupt of countries. But this scene of banana republic politics is from sophisticated California, a scene from the land of wine and solar panels, a scene from Sacramento in all it’s self-important glory.

These banana republic politics are the backstory to what will become known as Governor Brown’s timber industry legacy giveaway, AB 1492, a law that extends the length of time for executing timber harvest plans and relieves big landowners from liability due to fires they start on their own lands. This new law also removes all permitting fees for timber harvest by the biggest landowners, while imposing a new 1% consumer tax on the retail sale of wood products in the State of California, regardless of their origin, to fund the permitting process. Governor Brown signed the law into effect this week, and promptly released a joint press statement with Red Emmerson of Sierra Pacific Industries, billionaire twice over and largest land owner in the state, to celebrate the Democratic governor’s legacy gift to the landed elite of the State of California.

While EPIC appreciates that this new law reduces timber harvest permitting costs for small and medium landowners and operators, the fact is that it is the large-scale intensive and clearcut dominated silviculture model that costs the state so much money for timber harvest plan review and regulation, as well as restoration. The cost of permitting and recovering from this damaging clearcut industrial forestry model is now passed on to the consumer more so than ever before, and the opportunity to use a fee schedule to reward small and sustainably envisioned timber businesses with permitting relief while forcing damaging industry to pay for their short sited and destructive practices has now been lost. Also, the way things are set up now, those land owners who choose to sell their raw logs for export will be totally subsidized by the regular consumer in California, further eroding the establishment of a sustainable and dignified timber industry in California. These are just a few of the reasons that EPIC opposed AB 1492, and did not turn a blind eye to the machinations of banana republic timber politics.

And we can say Banana Republic politics because, other than Sierra Pacific Industries and Green Diamond Resource Company, another clear winner with this Governor Brown give away to the landed timber aristocracy is the Fisher Family, owners of the Gap clothing empire (Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic), and more than 400,000 acres of prime redwood region timber land in Northern California. Enshrining in law that the common consumer pay a tax on lumber to pay for timber harvest permitting is clearly a direct gift from the Governor to the Fisher Family. No other industry in the state enjoys this vaunted status of paying nothing for permitting fees.

As if this were not enough banana republic politics, it is important to remember that the California Natural Resources Agency will be the direct beneficiary of the revenue of this new lumber tax, even though one of the biggest financial scandals of the year was exposed within the Agency at State Parks, with millions of dollars of stashed cash appearing after illegal vacation payouts by top level staff were revealed by reporters at the Sacramento Bee–even as parks were being closed and services seriously reduced. This financial scandal and the absolute violation of public trust that it represents was not even sufficient cause for pause and reconsideration of the management of natural resources by the political establishment in Sacramento. Though some of the better news for EPIC in our efforts to advocate for sustainable environmental planning came in the form of bills that passed that will retain and develop democratic funding sources for our treasured State Parks, our organization is very disappointed in the lack of willingness thusfar from the Sacramento political establishment to address this inexcusable mismanagement issue in a holistic manner through the Natural Resources Agency. The parks finances scandal and the lack of a thorough response by entrenched interests in Sacramento is an indictment of the top heavy reality of the California Natural Resources Agency, a bureaucracy that shows no sign of willing reform.

Corruption, mis-management, back-room deals, and late-night after hours legislative shenanigans, these are the watermarks of Sacramento in 2012. Those who are in the inner circle in Sacramento may applaud their cleverness and agility as they position and jostle within The Building to exercise their esoteric knowledge of how the system is rigged, but they are only pawns in the game. Governor Brown’s legacy timber industry give away only confirms who it is that the government in Sacramento is intent on serving. The real winners continue to be the landed timber aristocracy, and their business interests. The losers are the natural resources of this state and their protection for this and future generations.

Stop AB 1492 – Timber industry giveaway saddles Californians with an unnecessary tax

Monday, August 13th, 2012

CLICK HERE TO TAKE ACTION NOW!  Please contact your California State Senators, Assemblymembers and Governor and urge them to vote NO on AB 1492.  This embarrassing piece of legislation is poised to fly through the California legislature this week without any substantive debate whatsoever.  It is clearly a cynical attempt by wealthy timber barons at Sierra Pacific Industries and Green Diamond Resource Company to hoodwink the public into paying for damaging logging plans and to tie the hands of prosecutors that attempt to bring claims against the timber giants for causing forest fires that threaten communities and California’s public forests.  Read what long-time forest activist Richard Gienger has to say about AB 1492.

EPIC has been tracking this atrocious proposal since its beginning at the Governor’s office, where we sent a formal letter of opposition.  Again, more recently, we expressed our opposition to the proposal with a letter to the leaders of the State Senate and Assembly.

Logging on private lands in California is significantly subsidized by taxpayers, because timber companies pay very little for public agency review and approval.  The value of these services is estimated at over $20 million dollars per year.

Now, the Legislature and Governor want to impose this expense on the consumer, by charging a tax on all wood products sold in the state. The timber industry will continue to receive free services from state agencies, while the homeowner and builder will subsidize the profits of logging companies.  To sweeten the pot, the bill also reduces fire liability to eliminate ecological concerns in determining the damage, a provision initiated by timber giant Sierra Pacific Industries.  Sierra Pacific recently settled a high profile federal prosecution for negligently causing the Moonlight Fire.  While SPI ultimately settled its obligations, it has secured favor with the Governor to insulate it and other large timber companies from similar liability in the future.

This timber industry give away is anti-democratic, restricts the public’s rights, and saddles Californian’s with an unnecessary tax.

Please take action now and tell your state legislators to vote NO on AB 1492!