Archive for January, 2016

Action Alert – Support California Coastal Commission Director

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

Trinidad smTake Action: As the California Coastal Act celebrates its 40th year as the most effective coastal protection legislation on the globe, pro-development interests are attempting to terminate Dr. Charles Lester, the Executive Director of the Commission for not being developer friendly enough, although no cause has been given for such a drastic action. Dr. Lester has refused to resign quietly, and has called for a full public hearing on his proposed termination, which will take place on Wednesday, February 10th in Morro Bay.

The California Coastal Commission is the agency tasked with protecting 840 miles of some of the most beautiful coastline in the nation. The Commission was established by voter initiative in 1972 and was later made permanent by the legislature through the adoption of the California Coastal Act of 1976. The Coastal Commission is comprised of a 12-member board with members appointed by the Governor, the Speaker of the Assembly, and the Senate Pro Tem, and it appears that it is the Commissioners appointed the Governor who are leading the effort to fire Dr. Lester.

Ironically, the effort to terminate Executive Director Lester comes at a time of strong Commission accomplishment, including increased public transparency and a recently received administrative authority that allows penalties to be administered against individuals who violate the Coastal Act’s coastal access provisions at $11,500 per violation per day.

The attack on the Executive Director Lester is an attack on the Coastal Act. This attempted coup d’etats is a power grab in an attempt to undermine the integrity of the Coastal Program, gain control over an independent Staff, and make the Commission more “developer-friendly” without any public accountability or transparency.

On February 10th the Coastal Commission will hold a hearing on this matter, and funded busses are available to transport people to the hearing. If you would like to attend the hearing, funded busses will be transporting people to the hearing to show support. If you are interested in taking a trip to Morro Bay, and attending the hearing, click here.

Click here to take action and support the Coastal Commission and Executive Director Charles Lester who is tasked with protecting the coastal environment.

EPIC Supports the Pomo People Near Willits in a Struggle with Caltrans

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016
Fred Short, Spiritual Leader with the American Indian Movement, takes part in a ceremony held on a former village site located on Willits Bypass Project Mitigation Lands, July 2015.  Photo by Steve Eberhard – The Willits News.

Fred Short, Spiritual Leader with the American Indian Movement, takes part in a ceremony held on a former village site located on Willits Bypass Project Mitigation Lands, July 2015. Photo by Steve Eberhard – The Willits News.

The Willits Bypass is a grossly overbuilt project consisting of a 6-mile stretch of new freeway that bypasses a town of 5,000 people with a price tag of over $300 million for the first 2-lane phase of construction. Many First Nation’s cultural sites have been destroyed; most significantly an entire ancestral village skewered by wick drains and buried under 30 feet of fill. Details of the misdeeds of Caltrans are painfully described in letters from local Tribes (see below).

The Willits Bypass Project has had major negative impacts on Native American cultural resources both on the Bypass footprint and on the over 2,000 acres of “mitigation” lands. There have been so many post review discoveries that the Tribes have been calling for a Supplemental EIS on Cultural Resources. The Tribes having their cultural heritage adversely affected are: Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians, the Round Valley Indian Tribes and the Sherwood Valley Band of Pomo Indians. These Tribes have tried without any success to engage in good faith government-to-government consultations with Caltrans, hoping to achieve a successful Programmatic Agreement (“PA”) and Post Review and Discovery Monitoring Plan (“PRDMP”). The Tribal representatives have been insulted and lied to; tribal construction monitors have been excluded and ignored on numerous occasions. Over the strenuous objections of the Tribes, Caltrans is now asking the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to approve Caltrans-drafted documents. These documents should not be approved. They are vehemently and justifiably opposed by the Tribes most affected by the contents.

Caltrans ignored the Natural Historic Preservation Act by engaging in significant ground disturbing activities without obtaining signatures on a PA or PRDMP. Caltrans ignored the Tribes’ protest of commencement of ground-disturbing activities without a PA and PRDMP. Caltrans ignored the Tribes’ protest of Caltrans ‘failures to adequately identify, protect and avoid ancestral cultural sites throughout the Willits Bypass Project. An important village site, the Village of Yami was destroyed by Caltrans early in the course of construction, although this village site had been mapped and known since the time of Kroeber. Caltrans ignored the Tribes’ request to adequately survey the construction site resulting in many significant artifacts being “discovered by bull-dozer” since there were no adequate surveys.

Two of the affected Tribes have filed suit in federal court against Caltrans, Federal Highways and others. These are not Tribes with big casinos and they expend their casino revenues in providing services to their members. The well-respected law firms of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy and long-time EPIC attorney Sharon Duggan who have foiled Caltrans before, have stepped up and are willing to argue the case without pay.

This kind of collaboration is not as new as it might seem. Maybe you know the story of the Northern California InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council (ITSWC); an alliance between 10 Federally recognized Tribes and many environmental groups from Trust for Public Lands to EPIC and Earth First! that resulted in the creation of the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness.

First Nations people lived for many thousands of years in relative balance with the natural world due in large part to cultures that respected natural law, understood ecological balance and held populations to carrying capacity or below. It is no surprise that the descendants of these First Peoples should want to preserve their ancestral cultures and that other people should want to support this endeavor partly because most non-native cultures have moved so far from balance and respect for the natural world as to overpopulate, overuse and in fact decimate landscapes and render many species extinct.

For more information go to:

2015 Grazing Monitoring Report

Thursday, January 14th, 2016
Cattle manure in Taylor Lake, a popular swimming lake in the Russian Peak Wilderness

Cattle manure in Taylor Lake, a popular swimming lake in the Russian Peak Wilderness. Photo by Felice Pace.

Call them what you want—Y’all Qaeda, bullies, or protesters—the armed occupiers at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge have been the talk of the country. Their nationally televised game of fort offers a great opportunity to discuss one of the lesser known impacts on our national public lands: grazing.

EPIC’s “Project to Reform Public Land Grazing” has been hard at work to reform grazing on public lands in Northern California, from the Oregon border to south of Mount Shasta. Led by longtime environmentalist Felice Pace, EPIC contractor and volunteers have been out in the field, logging more than 224 volunteer hours on 14 different grazing allotments documenting violations and environmental impacts, the highlights of which are featured in an annual report, which can be found here.

Unmanaged grazing is ecologically harmful. In California, grazing disrupts more acres of native plant communities than any other activity. Unlike deer or elk which browse on the move, cattle generally find an acre they like and stay put, eating away native vegetation and tearing up the soil. In 2015, the Project found extensive damage caused by grazing.

Grazing is known to contribute to water quality issues. For example, in Taylor Lake, a popular local swimming spot in the Russian Peak Wilderness, the Project documented cattle manure in the lake, which is not only gross but can serve as a vector for pathogens.

Cattle also destroy important willow wetlands. Cattle trudge through willow to browse on the willows and the tender grasses and sedges growing below. Overtime, this behavior will utterly destroy willow wetlands, converting the wetlands into grasslands. This is a big deal for the Willow Flycatcher, a bird species listed as “endangered” under the California Endangered Species Act. The Willow Flycatcher, as its name suggests, uses dense willow wetlands for breeding. Poorly managed cattle and this endangered species cannot cohabitate.

This severely fragmented and degraded willow wetland in the Black Meadows pasture of the Big Meadows Grazing Allotment is being slowly converted into a grassland

This severely fragmented and degraded willow wetland in the Black Meadows pasture of the Big Meadows Grazing Allotment is being slowly converted into a grassland.

This environmental destruction is also heavily subsidized. According to a report by the Center for Biological Diversity, the federal government spent $143.6 million dollars on grazing programs in fiscal year 2014 but grazing receipts only totaled $18.5 million. The Feds pay for a lot—grazing employees, fences, corrals—but do not recoup their costs because they charge grazers 6.72 percent of fees charged by private land owners in the West.

Ranchers are emboldened because they view our national public lands as theirs to spoil. While the standoff at Malheur has drawn considerable attention, closer to home, this sense of entitlement is also present. In the Klamath National Forest, a growing number of ranchers are not removing their cattle on time, often merely leaving them to wander home. This is met without punishment by the Forest Service, which further encourages this sense of entitlement.

A steer on the Klamath National Forest walking home 10 days after all Cattle are supposed to have been removed from public land

A steer on the Klamath National Forest walking home 10 days after all Cattle are supposed to have been removed from public land. Photo by Felice Pace.

EPIC is gearing up for another season in the field and we could use your support. Together, we must remind government officials and stubborn ranchers that these lands belong to all of us. Their use by ranchers for grazing is a privilege, and if rules are not adhered to, their permits should be taken away.

Update on County Commercial Medical Cannabis Ordinance: Victory on the Horizon?

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

IMG_3871Humboldt County is moving forward with regulating medical cannabis production with a final ordinance set to be passed on January 26, 2016. With the language of the ordinance still being solidified by county planning staff, nothing set in stone until the Board of Supervisors takes a final action—however, below is our best reading of the tea leaves of where the Board stands as of the time of press (spoiler alert: it looks pretty decent):

♦ No new operations in forestlands and incentives for cultivators operating in sub-prime locations such as steep terrain, or sensitive upper watershed conditions, etc. to retire, remediate and/or relocate to flatter agricultural lands.

♦ All operations must adhere to strict environmental requirements, including a water withdrawal forbearance period from May 15 to October 31, prohibition on use of non-organic pesticides, prohibition of use of trucked water, and meet specific performance standards.

♦ For commercial outdoor and mixed-light operations, tiered approval with more stringent, site-specific review triggered by higher square footage.

♦ Operations between 500-5,000 sq. ft. will require a zoning clearance certificate (a ministerial permit—after all conditions are met).

♦ Operations between 5,000-10,000 sq. ft. will require a special use permit. A special use permit provides an additional layer of oversight. It is handled by county planning staff, much like a zoning clearance certificate, but affords neighbors the opportunity to provide feedback to staff. If necessary, planning staff or neighbors may request a formal hearing before the Planning Commission.

♦ Operations greater than 10,000 sq. ft. will require a conditional use permit.

♦ For indoor operations, all operations require zero net energy or a carbon offset.

♦ For industrial or commercial parcels, up to 5,000 sq. ft. with ministerial permit and up to 10,000 sq ft. with conditional use permit.

♦ For lands zoned for agricultural production (AG and AE), the ordinance would cap operations at 5,000 sq. ft.

♦ Grows up to 22,000 sq. ft. considered through a master planning process with accompanying EIR.

♦ Set noise abatement standards for generators to a decibel level appropriate to avoid harm to wildlife, likely between 25db and 60db.

Overall, the ordinance is pretty decent—and given the myriad of stakeholders and complexity of the issue—we’ll take pretty decent. And included in the decent is a number of hard fought battles (and victories), most notably no new operations in forest lands, including Timber Production Zone (TPZ) lands!

How did we get here? To quote the Grateful Dead, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” In October 2014, California Cannabis Voice Humboldt (CCVH) invited EPIC, the NEC, and SAFE to participate in an early stakeholders meeting for a draft ordinance that CCVH intended to submit to voters. For the next year, CCVH was hard at working developing an ordinance, issuing a half dozen draft ordinances, with environmental voices providing critical review and comment.

While CCVH was hard at work, the State got in the game. On September 11, 2015, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board passed a waiver of waste discharge requirements for commercial cannabis producers, the first real environmental regulation directly applied to cannabis. In fall 2015, the State legislature passed a trio of laws to regulate medical cannabis production (AB 243, AB 266, & SB 642). These laws expressly gave the County permission to regulate commercial medical cannabis production and provided a deadline of March 1, 2016, by which counties were to promulgate local regulations. Just four days later, on September 15, 2015, CCVH decided not to run an independent voter initiative campaign and generously turned their ordinance over to the Board of Supervisors to use as a template.

The Humboldt County Supervisors were tasked with striking a balance between competing forces. If cultivators do not participate, no performance standards or environmental mitigations will be followed, which would not help attenuate the problems facing our watersheds and human communities. This is the crux of the issue within the development of Humboldt County’s ordinance—a sweet spot must be achieved that will maximize participation while providing enough oversight and environmental protection.

Collectively, we are in the process of ushering in a new paradigm for commercial cultivation of medical cannabis in Humboldt County. We are preserving local control, beginning to mitigate the adverse impacts of unregulated cannabis production, and providing a legitimate framework for legal economic activity that can benefit both farmers and the public.

Click here to read comments on the cannabis ordinance from EPIC and our conservation allies (1-8-16).

Click here to read comments (12-31-15)

Tell the Fish and Game Commission to Protect the Humboldt Marten

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

DFG MartenTake Action: California’s last remaining population of coastal martens, the so-called “Humboldt marten,” is so small that they were once thought to be extinct. In 1996, after 35,000 survey nights were logged using baited track plates and infrared cameras placed throughout forests in Northwest California and yielded no detections, a Humboldt marten boldly left his print on a track plate located in a remote section of Six Rivers National Forest. The Humboldt marten was alive!

Today, there are less than 100 Humboldt martens left in California. This number is so low that a single event—disease, poisoning, fire—could eradicate all coastal martens from California. This number is also so low that the species could simply drift towards extinction. Already, we have seen an alarming dip in population. Between 2001 and 2012, the remaining population of Humboldt martens has declined by 42%—and this was largely before the record-setting drought!

On February 11th, the Fish and Game Commission will determine whether to take the first step in protecting the marten under the California Endangered Species Act by deciding whether it should be a candidate for final “listing.” By declaring the marten a candidate, the Fish and Game Commission will trigger a one-year review period after which the Commission will make a final decision on whether to protect the Humboldt marten.

This is a crucial first step. Because the federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to honor its duty to protect the marten, for which EPIC has filed suit in federal court, it is even more critical that the Fish and Game Commission move forward with protecting the marten. Listing the marten under the California Endangered Species Act will not only prohibit humans from harming the marten, but it will also open up private and government funding sources for restoration activities.

As we showed this summer in our fight to ban bobcat trapping, concerned Californians can beat industry lobbyists by speaking their minds. We need you! Click here to tell the Fish and Game Commission that the Humboldt marten deserves protection.