Archive for June, 2013

EPIC Collaborates to Improve Wildfire Management

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

Moonlight Fire 2007

The Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) monitors activities on more than 5 million acres of federally owned public land in Northwest California. We caught up with Kimberly Baker, EPIC’s Public Land Advocate, between one of her many trips to our National Forests to check on projects, as well as attend meetings to continue ongoing conversations with the Forest Service, diverse stakeholders, and conservation partners about the management of our public lands. The issue of wildfire is without question one of the “hottest topics” that Kimberly is engaged on, and we recently asked her a few questions about how EPIC is taking a proactive stance as a stakeholder with a strong local constituency that is invested in the promotion of long term ecosystem health on our region’s national forests.

Kimberly, you have been traveling lately to represent EPIC in new stakeholder processes concerning wildfire management on National Forests in Northern California. Describe the different endeavors that you are taking part in.

EPIC has been invited to be on the design team of FireScape Mendocino. It is a collaborative approach that will look at natural resource management in order to develop resilient, fire-adapted communities and ecosystems across the landscape. The Upslope Working Group on the Klamath and Six Rivers National Forests is doing the same. Both groups are being facilitated by the Fire Learning Network, an organization that has been successful in developing these grand collaborative visions all over the country.

The Shasta-Trinity National Forest will be convening an interactive meeting to discuss “Continuous Improvement in Wildfire Management.”  This will not be facilitated by the FLN, nor is this a long-term planning process — but it is a continuation of similar meetings that have been held annually over the last three years.

Who are the other stakeholders in these processes, and how do participants actually engage with each other?

There is a long list of stakeholders including Native Tribes, local FireSafe councils, US Forest Service staff, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the local counties, which are represented by various Resource Conservation District representatives. As well, there are representatives from the timber industry and other conservation groups, on the Mendocino the Blue Ribbon Coalition, as well as various agencies and local community members.

The FLN facilitated groups have well established ground rules. We are here to find common ground, albeit not to avoid discussion of dissenting view points respectfully. Humor is often used in place of anger or disagreement.

What is at stake in these sorts of engagements? You have been involved with similar processes in the past, what makes this round of stakeholder talks different from what you have experienced previously?

The future of our forests is at stake here. We are talking essentially about how to treat and manage thousands of acres of Northwest California forestlands, all of which are ecosystems that to one degree or another have evolved naturally to need fire for maintaining resiliency and health. What makes this different is that the plans coming out of this process will entail only those actions that people can agree upon.

How much disagreement exists in this broad stakeholder group about the importance of wildfire in maintaining forest ecosystem health in Northwest California?

As far as letting fire maintain landscapes in the long run, I do not believe there is much disagreement. However, how we get there is another question. There is no doubt that creating a more fire resilient landscape is going to require a lot of time, work, planning, and money. The idea is to start where there is agreement, which is yet to be determined.

EPIC has a reputation for challenging bad projects, but you also do a lot of monitoring of the implementation of projects. Are there concerns that you have identified in project implementation that will be addressed in these stakeholder conversations?

The EPIC stance upfront is that timber sales are not the way to establish fire safe communities, or to steward for fire resilient forests. Effective treatments must retain canopy and large fire resistant trees. Thinning previous clearcuts and small diameter trees could attain potential commercial gain; EPIC believes that treating plantations is one key area to focus on.

What can folks expect to see happen this summer around wildfire, and how can we be attentive both to the needs of rural residents as well as a forest ecosystem in which fire may be less frequent, but is clearly as natural as rain?

The fact is preparing a defensible space around homes and communities is the best way to protect life and property.

Unfortunately, as far as fire goes this summer, we can expect to see the same military style of fire suppression as seen from recent years, such as bulldozing miles of ridge tops, cutting snag habitat, and high severity back burning, followed by subsequent post-fire logging proposals like this years Mill and Stafford Fire projects, which are clearly destructive and unsustainable. These are the reasons EPIC is dedicated to finding a better way.



Action Alert: Speak up for California’s Northern Spotted Owls

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

northern-spotted-owls-USFWSTake Action Now: The Board of Forestry is set to decide whether or not to delete antiquated and unnecessary regulations that result in habitat destruction for spotted owls.  A major initiative in EPIC’s Spotted Owl self-defense program, the campaign to delete “option ‘g’” intends to reduce unnecessary regulations while at the same time providing greater protection for spotted owls. Deleting option ‘g’ will result in more habitat for owls and reduce the work load of state regulations and foresters alike.

Back in March of 2013, EPIC asked you to voice your support for our petition to delete option ‘g.’ We are now very close to our goal, but will need your support one more time.  We need the Board of Forestry to hear from you.  Please take a moment for the following action.  Your support will help EPIC give voice to the owls, the best available science, and simple common sense.

Click here to take action and tell the Board of Forestry that “Option g” is not an option.

Connectivity and Compromise

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

North Coast Caltrans ProjectsOver the last several years the Northwest California region has been host to a series of increasingly contentious conflicts related to large-scale transportation infrastructure projects promoted by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). One of the principal arguments that EPIC has put forth to explain our engagement on these infrastructure development issues at unique places like Richardson Grove State Park and the Smith River Canyon is that the site specific and cumulative impacts of these projects have not been adequately disclosed and analyzed. EPIC’s challenge to Caltrans is often painted as obstructionist, and though our organization is intent on stopping poorly designed Caltrans projects and ultimately reforming the agency, our organization does have a sophisticated view of these projects as an integrated whole that is far from obstructionist.

Unbeknownst to many North Coast residents, the largest of the Caltrans big truck highway expansion projects is currently under construction—and the project has purposefully received no challenge from our organization. When completed in 2017, the $60 million Buckhorn grade infrastructure construction projects on Highway 299 will facilitate unfettered access along Hwy 299 between Interstate 5 and the North Coast for the largest trucks on the road today–the STAA supersized cab trucks that are so common on the nation’s interstate highway system.

The Buckhorn Summit projects are not without their environmental impacts–over the course of project implementation more than 2,000,000 cubic yards of earth will be moved to straighten and widen the famous stretch of steep curves on Highway 299 right at the western border of Shasta County. This is no small project–but EPIC has strategically remained distant from that project as a demonstration of our respect for the economic interests that desire big STAA truck access to the North Coast. There is no question that the fastest, most direct route for goods from Humboldt County to national markets is the direct line out Hwy 299 to Interstate 5 and all points north, east, and south.

The Buckhorn Summit STAA access projects make up an important infrastructure development that should be taken into consideration to understand the integrated vision of EPIC efforts to challenge Caltrans—and to understand the clearly inadequate analysis of cumulative impacts by the agency. While Caltrans has been pushing forward with their unnecessary STAA project in the Smith River Canyon, disregarding the input of local citizens and regional conservation groups, EPIC has stood aside on the Hwy 299 Buckhorn Summit projects in respect of the desires of local producers for improved large-scale transportation infrastructure development and STAA truck access.

What is happening here is that EPIC is willing to compromise in support of improved economic connectivity, while still standing true to our mission and defending the unique natural qualities of our bioregion from a road building agency that refuses to fully disclose the impacts of their highway development agenda. In this instance it can be rightly concluded that it is not EPIC that is refusing to compromise with Caltrans around the conflictive issues of highway development on the North Coast of California. It is instead Caltrans that refuses to compromise, and who leaves our community members little recourse other than resorting to legal means to ensure that our region is protected from unnecessary, damaging, and wasteful highway development projects in some of the most special places remaining to us on the North Coast, and indeed, our planet.

Read also the My Word article from the Times-Standard — EPIC Supports Economic Connectivity