Archive for December, 2017

Why Beavers are Worth a Dam!

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

Beavers are a keystone species, playing a critical role in biodiversity and providing direct benefits to surrounding ecosystems as well as fish, wildlife and people. Dams created by beavers create wetlands that help decrease the effects of damaging floods, recharge drinking water aquifers, protect watersheds from droughts, decrease erosion, stabilize stream banks, remove toxic pollutants from surface and ground water and many threatened and endangered species rely on the wetland habitat created by beavers. They also produce food for fish and other animals, increase habitat and cold water pools that benefit salmon, repair damaged stream channels and watersheds, preserve open space, and maintain stable stream flows.

Over the last century, beaver populations in North America have declined from over 60 million to as few as 6 million, just 10 percent of their historic size. However, there are no current population assessments of beavers in California, and their population numbers and distribution are not monitored in the state. Beavers have struggled due to the one-two punch of population decimation and habitat loss. Historically, beaver populations declined due to aggressive hunting of their soft silky fur and castor glands, which were used for trade and to be converted into medicine and perfume, and because beavers’ tree harvesting and waterway flooding affect urban and agricultural land uses, but now the primary threat to beavers is habitat destruction and degradation. Human development has resulted in serious impairments to watersheds that beavers depend on.

Consequently, incised stream channels, altered streamflow regimes, and degraded riparian vegetation limit the potential for beaver re-establishment. For these reasons, preventing further habitat degradation and restoring degraded habitats are key to protecting and restoring beaver populations.

Ecosystem Engineers

Beavers are unique because they can create or modify their habitat by building dams and lodges, therefore, reestablishing beavers may help to restore degraded systems. Relocating beavers is effective to restore extirpated populations, expand current ranges, and bolster low population numbers. The beaver itself is one of the major sources for wetland development in the United States, and since 3 out of 10 endangered animals in the United States rely on wetlands, beaver restoration should be a priority.

California has lost more wetlands than any other state. Agricultural and urban uses have altered our rivers by diking, levying, channeling, and canalizing waterways that were once extensively braided river systems. For example, in the Sacramento / San Joaquin Rivers only 7% of historic floodplain area and 9% of stream length remains. It’s time to rebuild those wetlands with a little help from our furry friends.

Beavers are a cost effective and sustainable wetland habitat restoration tool overflowing with water conservation benefits of surface water storage and groundwater recharge. The ecosystem services that beavers provide cannot be replicated by humans and the benefits they provide are irreplaceable.

Beavers Need Help

While the North Coast Region has a beaver deficit, every year hundreds of beavers are killed in California’s Central Valley by Wildlife Services, a federal agency tasked with (lethal) “removal” of “problem” or “nuisance” animals because landowners view them as a pest. The Department of Fish and Wildlife also issues depredation permits for landowners to trap and kill nuisance beavers on their property.

Instead of trapping and killing beavers that are unwanted in other regions, it is imperative that a relocation program is created, so that beavers can be relocated to North Coast rivers and other places to help restore streams and wetlands. Beaver reintroduction is a sustainable cost-effective strategy, but we need to work with stakeholders to navigate the political, regulatory and biological frameworks to safely restore their populations.

Klamath National Forest’s Latest Projects

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

EPIC is sharpening our pencils because we have a lot of work to do: three new destructive projects from the Klamath National Forest have arrived in our mailbox in three days. We have a new massive salvage sale, plans for roadside logging (where there shouldn’t even be roads!), and road construction on public land to facilitate logging on private land. Ugh.

Here’s a brief glimpse of what we have in store:

Another Huge Post-Fire Logging Project

Another year, another terrible, horrible, no good, very bad post-fire logging project: the Seiad-Horse Project. The project consists of five different components: Roadside hazard tree removal; fuel reduction along private property; post-fire logging; and replanting; and underburning. Some things—such as fuels work near private property and underburning—are things that EPIC (generally) can support. Others, like the massive post-fire logging, make us spitting mad! Like the controversial Westside Project, the Siead-Horse Project proposes massive clearcuts—around 1,726 acres—in areas that logging should be prohibited. An initial look at our owl maps shows that much of the project is within occupied northern spotted owl habitat.

To make matters worse, the Forest Service is attempting to evade federal environmental law by shortcutting environmental review. As a warning: we are about to get wonky. The project is being pushed through an Environmental Analysis (EA), which takes a light look at the potential environmental impacts of a project instead of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that should be required. By skirting a more thorough look at the impacts, the Forest Service evades the crucial public review of the impacts of the project—all to speed up the timeline ever so slightly. Because we know the Forest Service reads our blogs, let me be clear: this approach will backfire. Do a full EIS.

There are some positive signs that the Forest Service is listening to our comments (and our lawsuits). The project proposes replanting, but only in areas where natural reforestation could be impacted, such as in large patches of high-severity fire where there is a general lack of nearby trees to reseed the forest. And we are encouraged that underburning is a component of the project, something that EPIC has been advocating for many years.

Salvage Logging Under Another Name

The Klamath National Forest has proposed a second salvage logging project, the “Oak Fire Roadside Hazard Tree Removal Project,” although here the logging will be limited to the roadside along 39 miles of roads near Happy Camp. To the extent that our society (and our tax dollars) supports salvage logging projects, this is the type of project that the Forest Service should pursue.

Again, while this is the type of project that the Forest Service should pursue—it is important for forest users to be safe on public roads—and many of these roads should be closed and decommissioned. The roadside logging will occur through areas where roads—and logging projects—are inappropriate, such as Late Successional Reserves (lands that are to be managed for the protection and development of old growth characteristics) and Inventoried roadless areas (duh, right?).

Like the Seiad-Horse Logging Project, the Forest Service is attempting to avoid compliance with federal environmental laws, pushing this project through a “categorical exclusion,” meaning that the Forest Service will conduct no formal environmental review on the project. The timber industry has been pushing for more of this lawless logging through bills that are currently making their way through Congress.

Public Road Construction for Private Profit

The Hancock Road Access Project would allow the construction of a new forest road just so that a private timber company could log its land easier. A road already exists to the property; this new road—across our public lands—is just to increase private timber profit. Welcome to the world of Trump’s Forest Service.

The new road would be punched in along a ridgetop and will be visible from Mount Ashland, among other places. This new road violates directives in the Klamath National Forest’s Management Plan to limit these types of projects and to minimize impacts to viewsheds. Although this project is relatively minor in comparison to the large scale salvage projects proposed above—only 34 trees will be cut in total—it is still distressing to see (another) sweetheart deal for timber companies.

Timberland Productivity—A Promise Unfulfilled

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

There are some 33 million acres of forestland in the State of California. Prior to European-American intervention, California boasted some of the most magnificent and ecologically unique, diverse, and critical forest types on the planet; from the giant sequoias of the south-western slopes of the Sierra, to the forests of the Cascade and Klamath Mountains in the north, to the coast redwoods standing sentinel watching over the rugged and expansive Pacific Coastline, California’s forest richness and diversity was unrivaled.

Nearly 200 years of intensive and mostly unregulated timber harvesting and forest land conversion and fragmentation, combined with the damaging effects of fire exclusion and forest ecosystem simplification for industrial plantations has sculpted a landscape that is very different and would likely be unrecognizable to pre-European-American indigenous populations.

California has made several attempts to reign in and constrain logging and timber harvesting on private forest lands since the earliest days of State government establishment. The very first State Board of Forestry and State Forester positions were created by the Legislature as early as 1887, with the first attempt at a State Forest Practice Act occurring in 1945. These early attempts to control logging of California’s forests were enacted to address well-recognized depletion of forest productivity and timber supply, as the original “old-growth” forests of the State were being stripped off the landscape at a frightening pace.

The modern-day Z’Berg-Negedly California Forest Practice Act of 1973 was enacted by the State Legislature in response to continual and rapid forest and timber supply depletion from over-aggressive extraction and profit-only-minded logging on private forestlands. The 1973 Act attempted to strike a precarious balance between the influence and power of the private timber industry and the needs of the State with the goal of forest management on private lands to achieve, “Maximum Sustained Production of High-Quality Timber Products,” while giving consideration to a suite of environmental, economic and social objectives, including protection of fish, wildlife, soil, water quality, employment, economic viability, and aesthetics, among other things.

Forty years later, it is clear that the careful balance contemplated has not been achieved, and that neither the productivity of our precious and irreplaceable forestlands, nor the viability of our fish, watersheds, wildlife, soil, employment and regional economies have been protected from an over-rapacious timber industry.

What happened? Agency administrative and regulatory frameworks have failed, plain and simple. To start with, the Board of Forestry never acted to adopt rules or standards to define Maximum Sustained Production of High-Quality Timber Products or to establish limits on harvest in relation to growth, or to even define acceptable standards and methods for silvicultural applications. That is, until it was forced to do so in 1994, some 20 years after creation of the Act, as a consequence of the landmark lawsuit brought by the Redwood Coast Watershed Alliance (RCWA).

The RCWA lawsuit forced the Board of Forestry to adopt rules to address Maximum Sustained Production; not by defining limits, but by allowing individual timberland owners to define their own productivity levels, constraints on productivity and their own means of achieving the self-prescribed productivity levels. What’s more, the Board of Forestry did not define “High-Quality Wood Product” claiming that forest products markets would self-define and constrain wood product quality.

The Board of Forestry created three voluntary options for private timberland owners to address how Maximum Sustained Production would be realized. For large, “industrial” timberland owners of 50,000-acres and greater, options (a) and (b) were created. “Option-(a)” directs the industry to produce the yield of timber products specified by the landowner. Which has been the primary vehicle used in the last 20 years by industrial timberland owners as opposed to “Option-(b)” a Sustained Yield Plan, and this is no small wonder. Sustained Yield Plans require preparation of an Environmental Impact Report, require assessment of cumulative impacts, and requires protection of soils, fish, wildlife, and watershed resources; “Option-(a)” requires none of this. Further, Sustained Yield Plans require public disclosure of all information and analysis considered as part of the EIR process; “Option-(a)” does not.

“Option-(a)” requires no monitoring of the proposed plan’s implementation, requires no reporting, and withholds from public disclosure almost all the information that might inform the how’s and why’s of the plan on the basis that the information is considered, “confidential trade secrets.”

Even the Department of Forestry itself, an agency always under the pressure of industry-capture, has urged the Board of Forestry several times in recent years to harmonize the options for Maximum Sustained Production and to do away with “Option-(a).” Since the Option-(a) rules don’t require provisions for monitoring, enforcement, administration or re-assessment as-necessary, CAL FIRE has a program wrought with inconsistencies and that lacks parody in application and administration.

The consequences of allowing the timber industry to self-define, self-attain, self-monitor and self-report its own forestland productivity plans is the continued depletion of forestlands and the continued depletion of timber supply, environment, infrastructure and economy. Native, diverse forests continue to be converted into sanitized mono-culture industrial fiber farm plantations that are far more susceptible to insect infestation, disease, fire, and inhibited growth from decades of soil biotic depletion. Instead of native and diverse forests, California continues to see what Sierra Pacific Industries owner Archie Aldis, “Red” Emmerson referred to as “toothpicks and match sticks,” cultivated on our hillsides.

EPIC is working to challenge the failed forest policy of allowing the industry to self-define and self-regulate its productivity standards. EPIC is actively working to question and challenge individual “Option-(a)” plans through the THP process, and is working at the policy level to persuade the Board of Forestry to take a fresh look at modernizing and harmonizing its rules governing Maximum Sustained Production. The hill is tall and the pathway is tangled in the weeds of the words, but EPIC is there, untangling the web and demonstrating to the Board and the agency that the time has come for change.

California’s forests are the best weapon the State has to combat climate change, as forests can capture or store or “sequester” carbon dioxide from the earth’s atmosphere and keep it in living green biomass such as trees and plants; however, two centuries of state-enabled forest mismanagement means that we are capturing and storing far less carbon than we should be. Taking back the reins of forestland productivity from the timber industry may be the only way to reduce the amount of atmospheric carbon and to stabilize and mitigate mass deforestation, which is increasing the greenhouse gas effect and driving climate change.

EPIC is dedicated to changing the game for our private forests, and hopefully, changing the ending when it comes to forest productivity and climate change.

Give the Gift of Public Lands

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

I am sure you’ve seen the news: President Trump, acting upon Interior Secretary Zinke’s recommendation, has announced the shrinking of two national monuments: Bears Ears—created last December by President Barack Obama—by about 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante—designated in 1996 by President Bill Clinton—by nearly half. Now Zinke is recommending drastic changes to our local Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, reducing the size to exclude lands coveted by Big Timber.

You have a right to be pissed off—these are public lands and should be protected for the benefit of all, not just special interest. Thankfully, Native American tribes and conservation groups are taking Trump to court over this illegal use of power.

When Zinke first recommended reducing the size of our national monuments, EPIC held a press conference to “officially” rename toilets “Zinkes” in honor of our Interior Secretary, because he’s leaving a crappy legacy on our public lands.

If you donate $100 today, you can get your own commemorative Zinke sign! Each Zinke sign is handmade by our Executive Director, Tom Wheeler, out of reclaimed wood. All proceeds will go to EPIC’s Public Lands Defense program, which has commented on every major timber sale in our region for the past 15 years. Our public lands defense program, led by Kimberly Baker, has the highest rate of success against the U.S. Forest Service in the country—winning over 60% of all cases.

We encourage all of our members to take up the name. For example, you can say, “Wow, that’s a stinky Zinke,” upon encountering a particularly smelly toilet. Or before hitting the trail, you can tell your hiking partner, “Hold on, I need to hit the Zinke.” Or, if the Zinke is nearing capacity, you can let someone know, “That Zinke is full of crap.”

Give the gift of public lands this Christmas. If you ask nicely, we’ll even gift wrap it for you! Donate by December 15th in order to ensure your sign arrives in time for Christmas!