Archive for April, 2016

Westside Update

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

Stump of "hazard" tree in Grider Creek Campground. Photo by Rob DiPerna.

Logging is underway for the Westside Project on two separate units, Slinkard and Walker Creek. Two more units, Salt Creek and Blue Mountain, have received a high bidder, although the units have not yet been awarded. There is good news too. Most timber sale units have not received high bids. Absent new bidders, these areas may be saved from the chainsaw and will continue to provide habitat for Pacific fishers and northern spotted owls.

To pump the brakes on logging and maintain the status quo until a more in-depth hearing on the merits could be had, plaintiffs submitted a request for a temporary restraining order to stop salvage logging. On Monday, Judge Maxine Chesney denied plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order. EPIC has not given up the fight. The Klamath National Forest is too precious a resource to waste through ill-conceived timber sales. EPIC will continue to push all legal avenues to protect our wild “Klamath Knot.”

Below are some images of the post-fire landscapes that EPIC is working to protect. We will keep you up to date on further developments.

Save the Endangered Species Act

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

The Endangered Species Act—the “bulldog” of environmental laws—is about to go extinct. Like most extinctions, there are many causes. And like most extinctions, it is entirely avoidable.

The Act, dating to 1973, was a bi-partisan effort. Richard Nixon, a Republican, called on Congress to pass comprehensive legislation to protect and restore threatened and endangered species. A team of scientists and lawyers, headed by the then-Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, crafted the draft legislation. The Senate passed the Endangered Species Act unanimously and the House voted overwhelmingly in favor: 390–12. The law was then signed by President Nixon on December 28, 1973.

Today, the Endangered Species Act is a favorite punching bag for politicians, most often Republican but also many Democrats, looking to shift blame. In the 114th Congress, which began January 3, 2015 and ends January 3, 2017, anti-conservationists have launched 100 attacks on the Endangered Species Act. These attacks are often hidden, attached as “riders” to must-pass legislation like the authorization bill for the U.S. Department of Defense, or appropriations bills for the U.S. Department of the Interior and other federal agencies. Nearly half of the bills prohibit the protection of individual species, such as the grey wolf or the Northern long-eared bat.

The Endangered Species Act is also being dismantled from within. At critical leadership positions, the Obama Administration has chosen individuals uncommitted to preserving biodiversity. It starts at the top. The Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service has, for example, stated that we must live with less biodiversity.

This belief is reflected in new policies designed to minimize the importance of the Act. From redefining terms, like “significant portion of its range,” to produce anti-conservation results, to throwing new roadblocks to listing a species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service have been hard at work to gut the law from within.

The actions of D.C. big-wigs let down the rest of the agency. Local agency employees are, by and large, dedicated and thoughtful stewards. (You don’t go in to wildlife biology for the money or prestige.) These employees, who are the on-the-ground experts for many species, are not happy with the direction of the agency. According to a survey conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, employees within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service believe that politics plays too big a role in decision-making at the agencies.

agency politics2

This failure to make scientifically-grounded decisions has been reflected in recent controversial decisions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. On April 7, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refused to list the Humboldt marten, a rare carnivore in the weasel family. The Humboldt marten is so rare that it was thought to be extinct in California until it was rediscovered in 1996. Today, the Humboldt marten totals around 100 individuals in California and two small populations in Oregon. Despite the overwhelming evidence that the marten warranted listing, the Service denied listing claiming that the marten was fine. As a colleague from a sister conversation group wrote, “The unthinkable has happened.” Rumors and rumblings have it that recommendations made by local staff to list the marten were overruled by regional administrators concerned about the impact of listing on the timber industry. EPIC and allies have filed suit over the marten, which is pending in federal court.

We need to save the Endangered Species Act, not only from politicians who threaten the Act in Congress but also from the agencies that administer the Act. This shouldn’t be hard. An overwhelming majority of Americans, some 90%, support the law; if we speak out, politicians and bureaucrats will be forced to listen.

Fish and Game Commission Delays Spotted Owl Listing Decision

Monday, April 25th, 2016

northern-spotted-owls-USFWSThe California Fish and Game Commission, the regulatory body responsible for administration of the California Endangered Species Act (CESA), has decided to delay its decision on whether or not listing the northern spotted owl is warranted until its next regularly scheduled meeting, to be convened in June, in Bakersfield.

The three-person Commission panel voted unanimously to delay rendering a final determination on whether or not the listing of the critically-imperiled spotted owl is warranted, in favor of directing the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to begin the process of developing a stakeholder working group to address the management needs for the fast-disappearing species.

The Commission’s decision to delay comes on the heels of almost universal agreement at its April 14, 2016 meeting, among a broad array of stakeholders that provided testimony, all of which clearly indicates that the northern spotted owl is in peril in California, and that additional management actions are likely necessary to prevent the extinction of the species in the short-term. However, instead of determining that the listing is warranted on the basis of the insurmountable mountain of rigorous scientific evidence showing that the owl is in trouble, the Commission chose to defer to the concerns of the timber industry over the possible additional regulatory constraints that would result from listing of the owl under CESA, despite the fact that the act of listing itself does not actually result in any change in regulation on the timber industry.

Astoundingly, during Commission deliberations, the President of the Fish and Game Commission, Eric Sklar, all but acknowledged that the plain language of the law likely compelled the Commission to make a “warranted” determination on the listing petition, but, instead of doing so, Sklar and the Commission decided to defer to the interests of “the people” that would supposedly be adversely affected by the listing determination economically.

CESA listing of a species as “threatened” or “endangered” does not automatically result in regulatory changes to any industry sector or entity that may adversely affect the habitat of a listed species; any actual regulations changes that could potentially affect private lands forestry operations must be fully noticed, vetted, and adopted by the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, an entity that is in no way beholden to change anything simply as a result of a warranted listing determination under CESA for any species, the spotted owl included.

The Commission’s decision to delay making a final listing determination on EPIC’s petition for the northern spotted owl comes in the wake of a series of delays, legal and otherwise, perpetrated by both the Commission itself, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife, that have stymied the listing process for nearly four years now, despite overwhelming and compelling evidence that the spotted owl is in rapid and precipitous declines in California and elsewhere, and that the rate of decline is increasing, with a veritable laundry list of stressors and threats confounding management, conservation, and recovery of the species in the wild.

The Commission will again take up the question of whether or not listing of the northern spotted owl is warranted at its June 23, 2016 meeting in Bakersfield, California. EPIC staff are diligently preparing, and will be present, in hopes of persuading the Commission to act to list the spotted owl in accordance with the standards of applicable California law.

Click here to watch EPIC’s Forest and Wildlife Advocate, Rob DiPerna speak for the Northern Spotted Owl at the Fish and Game Commission’s hearing.

Stepping Up for Earth Day – It Takes a Village to Save a Planet

Friday, April 22nd, 2016

grandfather-treehugger Madrone LoraxFinal1Within the North Coast region, there are many individuals who have stepped up to protect our wild places. There are groups like EPIC who work within legal parameters to write comments on projects that threaten our environment and communities, provide testimony at public meetings, develop public awareness campaigns, organize rallies and file lawsuits. When legal tactics don’t work, and a place is threatened with imminent destruction, there are individuals who get out on the ground and take direct action like staging blockades, tree-sits, lock-downs, civil disobedience, guerilla restoration and other creative demonstrations. Many of these people get arrested or accrue large fines, and although a non-profit can’t legally participate in this type of strategy, we realize that many of our protected places would not exist without the efforts of individuals who took action to save our planet.

This past Monday, environmental activists from six continents were honored with the 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize, the world’s largest environmental award honoring grassroots leaders for their efforts to protect the environment and make positive changes in their communities. The story of Leng Ouch the Goldman Prize winner from Cambodia was truly inspiring. He went undercover to document illegal logging and exposed the corruption of vast deforestation and displacement of indigenous people from their land. His documentation eventually led to the government cancelling logging contracts and exposing criminal collusion between timber companies and government officials. The stories told by Leng and the other prize winners show that it doesn’t take a political figure, tons of money, or fancy technology to make a difference, all it takes is showing up and doing what needs to be done.

Being on the front lines of an environmental movement and standing up to large corporate interests, corrupt governments and unjust laws takes courage. Many activists are threatened, harassed, slandered and even killed, as was last year’s Goldman Prize recipient Berta Cáceres, a woman who rallied the indigenous Lenca people in a successful grassroots campaign that pressured the world’s largest dam builder Sinohydro to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam. We don’t have to go far to find examples of fallen heroes in our own community. The untimely deaths of Judy Bari and David “Gypsy” Chain devastated the activist community, but like Berta, their efforts didn’t die, they multiplied.

The people who make sacrifices for our environment and for future generations, are the true heroes of our time and more of these people should be honored, supported and celebrated. Most activists burn the candle at both ends, they work hard and make little, but the work needs to be done so they continue carrying the torch because they know that our future depends on it.

Because we all share this irreplaceable planet with each other and future generations, it is crucial that we work together to find and apply solutions to protect the intact wild places that still exist. Scientists have revealed that fragmentation and loss of natural habitats are the main factors threatening plant and animal species with extinction. Our forests provide essential ecosystem services like food, air purification, clean water, carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling, erosion and flood control, but because there is no dollar value placed on these services, they are often disregarded by corporate interests who seek to make money from extractive practices that fragment our forests and destroy our ecosystems. The science is clear, but a social revolution is needed to change the system.

The existing system protects corporate interests and incentivizes  governments to sacrifice the environment and the communities that depend on them to sell off their land and resources for short-term profits, it criminalizes activism and creates a culture of fear for those speaking up for the land, water, air, animals and future generations. Not too long ago genocide was promoted, it was legal to have slaves and steal indigenous land and it was illegal for people of color and women to vote. Today, it is still legal to decimate old growth forest ecosystems, build dams that destroy rivers and fisheries and permits are still given to “take” endangered species. Although the science is clear that human activities are directly responsible for climate change and the ongoing mass extinction of species, our actions have not significantly changed.

It took a strong community of brave people to protect many of the places we know and love.  If not for the actions of dedicated grassroots activists in our local community, we would not have the Headwaters Forest Reserve, Sinkyone Wilderness, Owl Creek or Luna, and the Klamath dams would not be coming out.

Even the smallest of actions can make a huge impact. This Earth Day, think about what part of your natural environment means the most to you and what you can do to help protect it for our children’s children. We need all the help we can get, so while you are participating in an Earth Day event in your community, start a dialogue with your neighbors and friends and decide how you can act locally to make a global impact.

Klamath Dam Removal to be Complete in 2020

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

IMG_8159On April 6, 2016, history was made on the Klamath River: diverse stakeholders from the U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Department of Commerce, PacificCorp, the states of Oregon and California, the Yurok, Karuk, Hoopa and Klamath Tribes, irrigators, environmental groups and river communities gathered to celebrate the signing ceremony for the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, an agreement that, pending approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, will remove four dams from the Klamath. In removing these dams, salmon will be able to access over 400 miles of habitat that has been off limits since the dams were constructed. According to the agreement, dam removal will begin January 1, 2020 with a “target date of December 31, 2020 for completion of Facilities Removal at least to a degree sufficient to enable a free-flowing Klamath River allowing volitional fish passage.”

IMG_2275This agreement was not met without obstacles. There were false starts. Signatories had joined three previous agreements to make up the Klamath Basin Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act of 2015—the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement and the Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement. But, unlike the most recent agreement, these previous efforts explicitly required Congressional approval before January 1, 2016. However, House Republicans blocked the bill and killed the deals. After the deadline passed, many began to lose faith in the settlement process. As a testimony to the strength of the relationship forged in developing the previous agreements, the signatories continued to talk and work together after the deadline. Because of their dedication and hard work, four dams will fall!

While dam removal is the single biggest action that can be taken to help save the remaining Klamath River salmon, salmon are not safe yet. Adequate summer flows, among other problems, are still a major issue that will need to be addressed in the future. This dam deal is only the start of ensuring the mighty Klamath’s salmon recover and thrive. Moving forward from this momentous occasion, EPIC will be there. As much of the Klamath watershed consists of national forest land, EPIC will be there doing what we do best—reducing the bloated forest road network, reforming or stopping bad projects that would degrade the steep forested slopes of the Klamath and its tributaries, and keeping the Forest Service accountable for the impacts projects such as the massive Westside timber sale would have on salmon and rivers.

EPIC Klamath Dam SigningEPIC was honored to attend the ceremony, although our contribution to dam removal pales in comparison to the hard work of many others. In particular, we are deeply indebted to the hard work of the tribes, the willingness of PacificCorp, the support of the Obama administration, the states of Oregon and California, District representatives like Huffman and the tireless efforts of activists all along the river who have diligently fought for dam removal. Honored and missed from the ceremony were some of the champions of this effort were Troy Fletcher, Tim McKay, Ronnie Pierce and Florence Conrad, all of whom laid the cornerstones for this momentous agreement but did not live long enough to see its signing.


Action Alert: Protect the Smith River with “Outstanding Waters” Designation

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

Smith River by Amber Shelton

Take action to defend the North Fork Smith River from strip mining and other harmful activities by giving the river the best protection possible. A petition before the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission seeks to designate the North Fork Smith River and its tributaries as “Outstanding Natural Resource Waters” to protect public health and welfare, wildlife, fish and aquatic life, and many beneficial uses of the state’s waters. This designation would also protect the river and its tributaries from a strip mine that is proposed in Baldface Creek watershed, a tributary to the North Fork Smith River. Comments are due by April 19th.

The Wild and Scenic Smith River is one of the last undammed major rivers in the U.S. and deserves the best protection that can be given to ensure its pristine condition is maintained for future generations. The protected waterways of the Smith River provide as habitat for Coho salmon and the last uninfected stands of Port Orford cedar in the world. The Smith River is considered one of the crown jewels of the region as the river winds through the old growth forests of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. The North Fork Smith River and its tributaries serve as valuable wildlife habitat corridors providing connectivity between protected wilderness and park areas.

There are currently no waters in Oregon that are designated as Outstanding Natural Resource Waters, but there is no better candidate than the Smith River. Designation as “Outstanding” would help protect it from a proposed strip mine. In recent years, the Canadian based Red Flat Nickel Corporation has proposed a nickel strip mine near the river. While the proposal was denied, the foreign corporation has appealed the process. The best way to protect the river into the future from this threat and others is to designate it as an Outstanding Natural Resource Water.

Click here to submit your letter of support to designate the North Fork Smith River and its tributaries as Outstanding Natural Resource Waters. This is a comment portal, so you may want to copy the content below to support your request.

Sample letter:

Dear Commissioners,

I respectfully request that the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission initiate rulemaking to designate the North Fork Smith River and its tributaries and wetlands as “Outstanding Resource Waters of Oregon.”

The pristine Wild and Scenic Smith River is one of the last un-dammed rivers in the country. With stretches within several protected state parks, the important, unique and ecologically sensitive North Fork Smith River has been recommended by numerous environmental organizations, and senior staff of the California North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, as deserving the highest water quality designation of Outstanding National Resource Waters. Designating the North Fork Smith River as an Outstanding National Resource Water will protect the ecology of the river as well as the other use values we currently enjoy. Designation as Outstanding National Resource Water will close antidegradation policy loop holes to prevent degradation of the River from pollution.

The Outstanding National Resource Waters designation would better safeguard national values that include: protection of critical habitat for the West Coast’s last Coho salmon and a botanical riparian legacy of the last uninfected stands of Port Orford Cedar in the world; enjoyment of a recreational treasure, including small water craft boating and fishing; the longest stretch of National and State Wild and Scenic River (over 300 miles); and an aesthetic focal point for both Redwood National and State Park, which is an UNESCO world heritage site, as well as Smith River National Recreation Area, which traverses wilderness and roadless areas. Also included in this long list of beneficial uses is supplying most of Del Norte County with the highest quality drinking water, and an important cultural heritage resource of the Tolowa Native American Tribes. All of these features place the Smith River as a top quality Outstanding National Resource Water.. It is our duty to take action to ensure this pristine river is protected for future generations.


Thank you,

Cannabis Workshops Getting Results

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

Blue Lake workshopFor nearly 40 years, EPIC has been at the forefront of forest protection, ensuring that state and federal agencies follow their mandate to uphold environmental laws to protect forestlands, water quality and endangered species from industrial land management activities. During the past decade, we witnessed an increase in cannabis agriculture as it spread across forestlands previously devastated by industrial timber management. Unfortunately, until very recently, the political will did not exist within state government to have the conversations to address the expanding, unregulated cannabis industry, and its environmental and social impacts. After years of effort, as of January 1, 2016, California and Humboldt County now have laws to regulate commercial cannabis agriculture.

These days, one of EPIC’s projects is working with environmental groups, local businesses, and county and state agencies to educate people about new cannabis laws and regulations. In particular, we are working with Mad River Alliance and Humboldt Green to host a series of six informational workshops, all across Humboldt County, that are designed to provide educational resources for cannabis farmers to achieve responsible land stewardship and come into compliance with state, regional and local enviromental laws. We are doing this because it will be good for our community and our environment.

At these workshops, there are presentations by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and experts on state and county laws to answer citizen’s questions.

Front Page Compliance Handbook 2016People attending the workshops received the 2016 Compliance Handbook outlining these new laws including California’s Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, the Humboldt County Medical Marijuana Land Use Ordinance and the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board’s Waiver of Waste Discharge for Cannabis.

The 2016 Compliance Handbook was created by EPIC in conjunction with Mad River Alliance, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, Department of Fish & Wildlife and County of Humboldt. Creating this handbook was a labor of love. We simplified hundreds of pages of regulations into 22 pages—into the essence of what is needed for people to understand and comply with the law. The Compliance Manual can be downloaded here.

So far, we have presented to more than 365 people at four workshops and given out more than 1,000 Compliance Handbooks—and we have two more to go! So far, it appears that the workshops are making a difference, in the North Coast Region, 372 people have enrolled under the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board’s Waiver of Waste Discharge—with nearly two thirds of those coming from Humboldt County! While it is heartening to see that some farmers are coming into compliance with the new laws, we are only just beginning to scratch the surface—there are an estimated 15,000 cannabis farms between Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity Counties!

Why is EPIC doing these workshops? We are doing this because we are a part of this community and we are working on this project because we want to see people in this region become part of the solution. We want to help people navigate this task and series of laws and ordinances because it will be good for the environment. We believe it honors the original spirit of the back-to-land people and founding farmers of this unique region and we hope it will help to keep our families and communities safer as we move into the future.

For the past few years, EPIC has been fully engaged in the dialogue, deliberation and education as to the problems associated with unregulated cannabis. We have worked with cannabis farmers, conservationists, government officials, members of the public and many others seeking to find solutions that will help shape the industry’s future with legal, responsible social and environmental values. We see these new laws as an important step to begin rectifying the environmental destruction that has become associated with unregulated cannabis cultivation, and to provide a legitimate framework for legal economic activity that can benefit farmers and the general public. Throughout the public processes that have unfolded, EPIC has been participating on behalf of our membership and the environment. We expressed our views and needs, and provided input and expertise; we understand why various decisions were made, and once the processes were completed we found that we could accept the directions that were set as the best way for our community to move forward.

We fully acknowledge that these regulations and laws are not perfect and are incomplete. The community must continue to work together to provide feedback to agencies and elected officials as the implementation of the new rules are seen to either be effective or ineffective, and amendments are required to bolster the efficacy of the laws and regulations. As this new paradigm of legal commercial medical cannabis unfolds, EPIC will be ever watchful ensuring that environmental laws are upheld, while at the same time available to work with anyone or any group who is sincere in promoting environmentally responsible cannabis cultivation.