Despite the recent spate of good news for the Humboldt marten—California is recommending they be listed under the California Endangered Species Act, EPIC petitioned to list the critter under the Oregon Endangered Species Act, and EPIC has filed a rulemaking petition to prohibit marten trapping in coastal Oregon—we have some major bad news to report. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has given a permit to Green Diamond Resource Company that would make marten recovery much more difficult. Under the so called “Safe Harbor Agreement,” Green Diamond only has to make minimal changes to its forest practices to get around the teeth of the California Endangered Species Act.
What does the Agreement do? Not much and a whole heck of a lot at the same. In exchange for minor tweaks to Green Diamond’s management practices, Green Diamond gets a complete pass on “take” of martens under the California Endangered Species Act. And given that timber management—in particular Green Diamond’s preferred method of clearcutting the bejesus out of an area—marten conservation has taken one step forward but two steps back.
Let’s go into the details. To get a permit, Green Diamond had to show that they were improving on the “baseline”—that is, the forest as it would likely exist into the future. Green Diamond claims that it is improving the baseline by increasing the age class of the forest. (Although age class is not a recognized indicator of marten habitat, so why would we choose this indicator?) Green Diamond claims it is going to increase the average age of some of their forests. But not because of this Safe Harbor Agreement. Green Diamond was already planning to do so under its “Aquatic Habitat Conservation Plan,” a federal habitat management plan to benefit aquatic species, like coho salmon. So Green Diamond isn’t really improving on the “baseline” because those protections would already exist. In areas not protected by the Aquatic Habitat Conservation Plan, the average age is actually decreasing, meaning the areas not around streams are forest sacrifice zones where Green Diamond will push for clearcuts with even shorter rotations!
Green Diamond has made other minor tweaks too. Green Diamond agreed to not harvest in a special “Marten Reserve Area.” A no-harvest area sounds good. The catch? The area is composed of serpentine soils—areas filled with unforgiving ultramafic rock—whose harsh conditions result in stunted growth for conifer trees. In short, there isn’t much timber to harvest. Green Diamond has also agreed to modify their “wildlife score card”—a tool used to retain individual trees with characteristics, like cavities, important to wildlife. According to internal CDFW emails obtained by EPIC as part of a Public Records Act request, the wildlife scorecard improvements would result in approximately one additional tree saved per twenty acres of land. CDFW pushed for a scorecard that would result in more protections in high-priority watersheds but were turned down by the company.
If the Agreement is so bad, why did CDFW sign off? Money. Green Diamond has agreed to pay for part of a relocation program to create a second breeding population on Redwood National and State Parks land. EPIC fully supports creating secondary breeding population to give some redundancy to the marten, but there’s a major hitch: it isn’t clear whether relocation is feasible. With a population this small, biologists from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service will need to ensure that there are enough adults to relocate. The situation is that dire.
EPIC is concerned that the Safe Harbor Agreement will not only harm the marten, but it sets a terrible precedent for other Safe Harbor Agreements in the future. The legislature didn’t intend for landowners to get total legal immunity for minor tweaks to their management to make it slightly less awful; it wanted to induce landowners to actually try and improve wildlife habitat on their land.