Biodiversity

Pacific Northwest In March: Native Blooms

Tuesday, March 17th, 2020
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Homebound and feeling antsy? As spring approaches, so many incredible native plants are blooming in Humboldt County. Take a walk, get some fresh air, and be prepared to be wowed by some of the new blooms out in the forest. As always, be respectful and careful of wild blooms, many animals and pollinators rely on them for their survival! ✨✨✨

Viola sempervirens, Trinidad Head.

Viola sempervirens, also known as the Redwood violet or the Evergreen violet, grow in moist forest areas along the California coast.These sweet little yellow blooms can be propagated and make great trailing additions to a shade garden. The flowers and leaves are edible (although it is advised to not eat more than a handful at a time) and are also used medicinally for bruises, soothing irritated tissue, and potentially even tumors.

Salix sitchensis, Arcata Marsh.

Salix sitchensis is a species of Willow that is native to Humboldt County known by the common name Sitka willow. It is a common plant in many types of coastal and inland wetlands, such as marshes, riverbanks, swamps, sand dunes, and springs (this was photographed at the Arcata Marsh). Native people in this area use the wood from willow trees for making baskets, drying fish, and stretching animal skins. Willows are also a natural source of salicylic acid (the base of aspirin). The bark can be smashed and applied to wounds to help with healing. Infusions of the stems can also be taken orally to help with stomach issues.

 

Trillium ovatum, Arcata Community Forest.

These redwood beauties, Trillium ovatum, are such special indicators of springtime soon to come. Our own HSU Professor Erik Jules is known for discovering the interesting way that these Trilliums are almost co-pollinated. First, vespid wasps do the initial pollination and then the seed/fruits are dispersed by ants. They are also a favorite food of the White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus).There are 48 different species of trillium worldwide, 38 of which are represented in North America! Trilliums can change in color with age, from pink to red and even purple.

 

Ribes sanguineum, Trinidad Head.

Ribes sanguineum, also known as Blood Currant or Pink Winter Currant. The name Blood Currant comes from the latin sanguis, which means “blood;” for the color although the flowers typically range from a rosy or pale pink. However, occasionally you can find flowers that are a deep crimson. Ribes sanguineum support a variety of creatures. They are pollinated by insects and hummingbirds, including the currently migrating Rufous Hummingbirds. Their foliage is eaten by Zephyr and other butterfly larvae, while their berries are eaten by various songbirds and small mammals.

Lysichiton americanus, Arcata Community Forest.

Lysichiton americanus, Yellow Skunk Cabbage, is one of the few native species in the arum family in the Pacific Northwest. When you see Skunk Cabbage, you can know that you are near water, so watch your step! It only grows in wet areas, such as swampy bogs, wet forests, and near streams.The name “Skunk Cabbage” derives from its distinctive “skunky” odor that permeates throughout the area when its bright yellow flower emerges. The odor is important, as it is there to attract the scavenging flies and beetles that pollinate it.


EPIC Beaver Rules Move Ahead

Monday, March 16th, 2020
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Beavers are nature’s restoration specialists. Beavers benefit salmon and steelhead by building better habitat conditions, including creation ponds used by salmon and by increasing stream flow in summer months. Beavers’ roles are so important that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) included beaver population restoration as a goal of the recovery plan for the Southern Oregon/Northern California coastal coho salmon.

But in California, it is absurdly easy to kill beavers. That may change soon. In November 2019, EPIC, together with friends, petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission to revise the rules under which beavers may be legally trapped. At the February Fish and Game Commission meeting, the Commission moved forward on our rulemaking petition, referring the petition to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for review and comment.

The proposed regulations would impact the 700+ beavers killed each year because of conflict with the human environment, and would require individuals to exhaust non-lethal methods to deter or diminish conflict before a permit could be issued that would allow their lethal removal. In many cases, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has already required this, although they have no clear regulatory grounds to do so, placing the Department at risk whenever they work to protect beavers. The rulemaking petition further codifies federal law prohibiting the removal of beavers if that removal would harm a species protected by the Endangered Species Act. In sum, common sense stuff.

EPIC has been hard at work for California’s beavers. In addition to the rulemaking petition, we threatened to sue Wildlife Services for their publicly-subsidized beaver killing program. (This resulted in an agreement to reduce the trapping of beavers in the state.) You can help support our efforts to protect our favorite riparian rodent by donating today.


Spotted Owl In Jeopardy: More Protections Needed

Friday, January 31st, 2020
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Family of Northern Spotted Owl. Photo by USFWS Pacific Region.

The longtime icon of the forest defense movement, the northern spotted owl, is quickly headed towards extinction. The cause? A fatal combination of historic and current habitat loss and out-competition by the invasive barred owl, together with other, smaller stressors, like rodenticide exposure. A 2015 demographic study of the owl—the most recent meta-analysis of the species performance—produced alarming results: the spotted owl is functionally extinct in British Columbia, and populations have declined 55–77 percent in Washington, 31–68 percent in Oregon and 32–55 percent in California. Population declines are now occurring on study areas in southern Oregon and northern California that were previously experiencing little to no detectable decline through 2009. The rate of decline is also increasing across the owls’ range.

In 1994, the Clinton Administration passed the Northwest Forest Plan, a long-term strategy to deal with old-growth associated species (like the northern spotted owl) on public lands in the Pacific Northwest. Among other things, the plan created a system of reserves called “Late Successional Reserves.” These reserves were intended to provide well-distributed owl habitat across public lands. The Northwest Forest Plan’s reserve network was largely successful in protecting owl habitat on federal lands, however, the owls continued decline demonstrates that existing efforts are insufficient to protect the owl. The Plan estimated that after passage the owl would continue to decline, but that populations would eventually stabilize and the owl would recover. Instead, the rate of decline has increased, suggesting that the Plan alone is not sufficient for owls on public lands.

Locally, the owl is not meeting performance measures. The most recent publicly available annual report (2018) for the Humboldt Redwood Company helps illustrate some of the challenges. Humboldt Redwood Company operates under a “Habitat Conservation Plan” or HCP. Because of this HCP, Humboldt Redwood Company is authorized to “take”—harm, harass, kill, wound, trap, capture, etc.—northern spotted owls through the operation of their business. The HCP, however, was supposed to contain sufficient habitat protections to ensure that owls would continue to survive across the company’s property. This longtime survival was to be measured through performance objectives. Two of these measures are in question. First, the HCP was supposed to ensure that spotted owl pairs occupy 80% of owl sites. The 80% mark was chosen by taking the average number of owl sites from 1991 to 1998, and so provides a benchmark against which we can gauge performance. In 2018, occupancy by pairs was verified at only 76 of 108 nest sites, giving an occupancy rate of 70%. Another management objective is to maintain .61 fledge young per pair, a target again derived from data from 1994 to 1998. Of the 76 pairs, nesting activity was only verified for 31 of the 76 pairs, and of these 36 were fledged, for a total reproductive rate of .31. In other words, there are not as many owls occupying the property as desired, and of these still left on the property, they are not successfully reproducing.

Barred Owl. Photo by M.E. Sanseverino.

Humboldt Redwood Company lays significant blame on the poor spotted owl performance on the invasive barred owl. We agree, in large part, as the trends demonstrated on their land match those on other lands. However, if barred owls are inhibiting owls on their property, we expect that the company would implement a barred owl management program. Barred owl removal was shown to be effective in the redwood region through a trial experiment on Green Diamond Resource Company land. As barred owls start to occupy spotted owl habitat, the more timid spotted owls give up their former nest sites, becoming what biologists term “floaters.” These floater owls still are present in the forest but they do not display territorial behavior and do not readily vocalize (presumably to avoid drawing the attention of their aggressive cousin, the barred owl). As the redwood region was one of the last areas to be inundated with barred owls, we are thought to have more adult owls still silently floating in the forests, ready to reoccupy their former nest sites if barred owls are no longer present, providing a quicker response to treatment than in other areas. Humboldt Redwood Company will not commit to a barred owl management program on their lands—at least not yet. And similarly although the HCP has failed to achieve its targets, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not yet triggered adaptive management clauses to reexamine what additional measures are necessary for the owl’s survival.

Longtime survival of northern spotted owls in the area is likely only with both increased habitat retention and barred owl removal. EPIC has criticized recent actions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that has seemingly traded habitat protection for barred owl removal, best exemplified by the new Habitat Conservation Plan for Green Diamond Resource Company. As we approach an extinction event, we need to stop giving away owl habitat and we need to start restoring habitat, which includes barred owl removal.


EPIC And Others To Sue USFWS for Putting Northern Spotted Owls at Risk

Thursday, January 30th, 2020
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Northern Spotted Owl. Photo by Frank D. Lospalluto.

On Friday, EPIC and a coalition of conservation groups notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of its intent to take the agency to court for is failure to complete an evaluation on the status of the northern spotted owl and whether the owl warrants greater protection under the Endangered Species Act. The notice letter begins a 60-day window for the Service to comply with the law by evaluating whether existing protections for the owl are sufficient to stave off extinction.

“The science is dire and alarming,” said Tom Wheeler, Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Information Center. “The Service’s failure to act is placing the northern spotted owl in danger of extinction. Urgent action is required now to avert tragedy.”

The northern spotted owl was first listed as “threatened” by the Service in 1990 because of range-wide population declines primarily caused by habitat loss from timber operations. Since the species listing, the northern spotted owl has been further impacted by the expansion of the more aggressive barred owl in its range. As the barred owl has moved south from British Columbia, the northern spotted owl declined precipitously. Today, northern spotted owls are functionally extinct in British Columbia and face extinction in the wild through the owl’s entire range within the next 50 years.

“Mature and old-growth forests that provide essential habitat for this species continue to be aggressively logged and removed,” said Nick Cady, Legal Director of Cascadia Wildlands. “Urgent action is needed by the Fish and Wildlife Service and is long overdue.”“The science is dire and alarming,” said Tom Wheeler, Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Information Center. “The Service’s failure to act is placing the northern spotted owl in danger of extinction. Urgent action is required now to avert tragedy.”

The Service has not completed a status review for the owl within the statutorily prescribed timeframe of five years, with the last status review completed in 2011. Similarly, the Service has failed to complete rulemaking concerning whether to “uplist” the owl from “threatened” to “endangered” despite the increasingly dire outlook for the species.

The Service’s failure to complete these actions has hurt the owl’s recovery in that the Service and other governmental agencies may be relying on outdated data. This is particularly troublesome as the Bureau of Land Management has already completed resource management plans for forests in the range of the northern spotted owl and as the U.S. Forest Service has begun its process to revise land and resource management plans for forests within the owl’s range.

The conservation groups include the Environmental Protection Information Center, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Western Environmental Law Center, American Bird Conservancy, Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild, Pilchuck Audubon Society, Northcoast Environmental Center, Safe Alternatives for our Forest Environment, Forest Issues Group, Lassen Forest Preservation Group, Sierra Foothills Audubon Society, and South Umpqua Rural Community Partnership. The groups are represented by Susan Jane Brown of the Western Environmental Law Center.

Check out our full press release here. 


Superb Owls of Northern California

Monday, January 27th, 2020
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In honor of the SuperbOwl Sunday, we wanted to share a delightful compilation of facts, information, and photos of Northern California’s varied owl species. Included you will find the Northern Spotted Owl, the Great Horned Owl, the Short-eared Owl, and the Northern Pygmy Owl, among others. Sit back with a cup of tea and learn about the incredible owls you may hear or see in our area!  This article was written by our wonderful intern, Bente Jansen.

 

Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina)

 

Northern Spotted Owl fledglings. Photo by Tom Kogut.

Northern Spotted Owls reside in old-growth forests in northern California, southern British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. As one of three subspecies of spotted owl, the Northern Spotted Owl does not migrate, but will occasionally shift their range in response to seasonal changes. Northern Spotted Owls are also one of the few owls that have dark brown eyes in comparison to yellow or red. They are an indicator species for the health of the old growth ecosystems they reside in, along with many other species such as the Marbled Murrelet. Northern Spotted Owl pairs do not make their own nest as many other owls; however, unlike most owls the owl pairs also do not nest every year, and are also not successful everytime they do nest. Unfortunately, the Northern Spotted Owls have been experiencing an ongoing decline in their populations due to habitat loss from unsustainable timber practices and competition from the invasive Barred Owl. These large, territorial owls have been listed as “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act since 1990. Although there have been efforts to assist the Northern Spotted Owl, such as Barred Owl removal and critical habitat designations, their populations continue to decrease and their habitats destroyed. According to the American Bird Conservancy in 2015, “in Oregon’s Coast Range study area, the percentage of sites with spotted owl detection has declined from a high of 88 percent in 1991 to a low of 23 percent in 2013.” As an indicator and keystone species, the Northern Spotted Owl is an extremely important species for the perpetuation of biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem. 

Great-horned Owl. Photo by Mick Thompson.

Great-horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) 

Often seen perching high up at dusk, the Great-horned Owl is the most widespread owl in North America. These large owls, about 22 inches in length, reside in a variety of habitats including forests, urban areas and deserts. As a skilled predator with a large appetite, the Great-horned Owl often feasts on large prey such as rabbits and squirrels. The Great-horned Owls have one of the most diverse diets of all North American Owls; they have even been recorded to eat other Great-horned Owls. As most owls, they are clueless about nest building, and don’t build their own nest but rather use abandoned nest in a tree, cliff or rocky crevice. Once they are adults, the Great-horned Owl has no natural predators and has been recorded to live up to 28 years in the wild. 

Barn Owl pair. Photo by Airwolfhound, Flickr.

Barn Owl (Tyto alba)

Often mistaken as a Snowy Owl, Barn Owls are classically identified by their heart-shaped faces. Barn Owls do not build their own nests, but rather lay their eggs on bare surface in a cave or barn or attic. They are usually nocturnal hunters and mainly prey on rats and mice. Because of the shape of their wings and feather structure, Barn Owls are extremely skilled at flying silently and gliding for long periods of time. Because of its ability to hear the smallest rustle made by their rodent prey from up to ten feet above the ground and their stealthy flight ability, the Barn Owl is a talented predator. Unlike many bird species, an interesting characteristic of Barn Owls is their dedication to their partner. Typically Barn Owls will stay monogamous for life or until one of the partners passes away. 

Western Screech Owl. Photo by Tim Boyer.

Western Screech-Owl (Otus kennicottii)

Once considered to be the same species as the Eastern Screech-Owl, the Western Screech-Owl can be found in deserts, open woods and suburban parks. Although the Western Screech-owl avoids higher elevations and extreme desert conditions, their range is quite large and covers from Southeastern Alaska all the way to Arizona. Well-camouflaged in the cavities of trees, these owls often go undetected. When threatened, the Western Screech-owl will stretch its body and tighten its feathers so as to look like a branch stub. Although a smaller owl species, they have been observed taking prey larger than themselves, such as cottontail rabbits. 

Great Grey Owl. Photo by Rich Hoeg.

Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa) 

As the largest owl in North America, the Great Grey Owl is relatively uncommon and rarely seen by humans. They can be found in dense coniferous forests and wooden bogs across the Northern Hemisphere. Although mainly a nocturnal hunter, it has also been observed hunting during dawn and dusk, mainly for mice but also occasionally small mammals and birds. Because of their graceful and silent hunting techniques and the rarity of sighting, the Great Grey Owl is well known as the “Phantom of the North.” The population dynamics of these owls relies heavily on the abundance of voles since 80-90% of their diet is comprised of small rodents, especially voles. Largely deserving of its name, the Great Grey Owl can have a wingspan of up to five feet! 

Barred Owl. Photo by Fyn Kynd.

Barred Owl (Strix varia)

Unlike most owls, the Barred Owl has large dark brown eyes and is one of the most vocal owls. Although they are mainly nocturnal, Barred Owl’s loud hooting, screaming and cackling can often be heard during the day. The belly feathers of some Barred Owls have been observed as pink: it is theorized that this coloration is a result of eating many crayfish similarly to how flamingos are pink because of large consumption of brine shrimp. Fairly common in southern swamps, Barred Owls habitat expanded into dense forests across northwest America around the turn of the 20th century. It is most commonly thought that this northwestern expansion was caused by human alteration to the landscape. In California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, the Barred Owls are invading the habitat and landscape of the Northern Spotted Owl, adding to the decline of this already threatened species. 

Short-eared Owl. Photo by Mick Thompson.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) 

Often well hidden, the Short-eared Owl hunts at night and on cloudy days, typically in an area that several Short-eared Owls share. Unlike many owls, these ground-nesters nest in a depression in the ground cushioned with short grasses. Short-eared Owls can be found in a variety of habitats such as marshes, forest clearings, grasslands, agricultural fields and tundra. Short-eared Owls are one of six owl species that reside outside of forested areas and have one of the most widespread distributions, residing on every continent besides Antarctica and Australia. Only about 15 inches in length on average, these little owls can travel large distances including over large bodies of water. The largest distance recorded was a migration of 1,200 miles! 

Sleepy Long-eared Owl. Photo by Beck Matsubara.

Long-eared Owl (Asio otus)

The Long-eared Owl has a large range over the North American continent, however as a species that prefers dense forested areas and are excellent at camouflaging themselves, the Long-eared Owl is uncommonly seen by humans. They are strictly nocturnal, and like many owls, do not build their own nests. Instead, they reside in the nest of a magpie, crow or squirrel forcing the previous inhabitants to build a new nest elsewhere. The Long-eared Owl is occasionally mobbed by smaller birds, but even so it rarely attacks them and mainly feeds on rodents. Although usually a quieter owl, the hoot of a male can be heard up to 0.7 miles away!

A Northern Pygmy-Owl with his lunch. Photo by Robin Horn.

Northern Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium californicum)

Northern Pygmy Owls are widespread in forested areas and can be found in a variety of tree species from blue oaks to conifers. As active hunters during the day, Northern Pygmy Owls have a large, diverse diet. They prefer to reside in abandoned woodpecker holes high up in trees, but can also be found nesting in debris at the bottom of trees. These owls are skilled hunters with an appetite for songbirds, and although they are quite small, they occasionally take prey up to three times their size! Mobs of songbirds can often be a good identifier for where a Northern Pygmy Owl may be hiding, since the songbirds use mobbing as a defensive tool against predation from the Pygmy Owl. Another good identifier of the Northern Pygmy Owl is the two yellow spots on the plumage on the back of their neck. It is theorized that these spots mislead a predator, such as a hawk or cat, into thinking the owl is watching them. 

Northern Saw-whet Owl. Photo by Rick Leche.

Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus) 

One of the smallest owls in the world, about seven inches in length, the Northern Saw-whet Owl resides in dense coniferous or mixed forests and wooded marshes, throughout the majority of Canada, the United States and parts of Mexico. Roosting in its nesting tree during the day, the Northern Saw-whet Owl hunts small rodents and large beetles during the night. Juvenile Northern Saw-whet Owls, looking like little puffs with eyes, are chocolate brown with tan bellies and a white triangular patch on the forehead. The coloration of the juveniles is vastly different from those of adults, and can easily be misidentified as separate species. After their first summer, around one year of age, juveniles will molt and gain the plumage of an adult Northern Saw-whet Owl. Another interesting characteristic of Northern Saw-whet Owl is that they will collect and store their prey. In the winter, when a cached rodent is frozen, the owl will sit on its prey to dethaw it before consumption. 

 

A full list of references can be found here. 


Kiss Me Under the Hemi-Parasitic Aerial Shrub

Wednesday, December 18th, 2019
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Mistletoe is the horror of many a person at the annual Christmas Party. Mistletoe may be associated with unwanted advances, but for the ecology nerds, we know that this weird shrub is fascinating and important.

Mistletoe is a hemi-parasitic plant, meaning that it draws some, but not all, of its nutritional requirements from its host plant. They attach to the host plant through its haustorium, the root-like structure that penetrates into the host’s vascular tissue to slurp up water and sugar. Infections can be so bad that they can kill the host tree, either by drawing too much from the host plant or by outcompeting the foliage of the host, practically replacing all of the growth but in most circumstances mistletoe adds complexity and diversity to our forests.

There are over 1,300 species of mistletoe worldwide, and California is home to many native species, including the oak mistletoe, American mistletoe, western dwarf mistletoe, Douglas fir dwarf mistletoe, and fir dwarf mistletoe. Some of their names suggest their preferred host, others are more generalist, like the American mistletoe that can infect ash, alder, oak, willow and more. Despite being a numerous and varied species, the physical form of mistletoe is generally similar: evergreen leaves and white fruit. California is now home to some invasive mistletoes as well, including the European mistletoe.

Given that mistletoe co-evolved with the wildlife of California, it comes as no surprise that mistletoe plays an important role in forest ecosystems. Mistletoe brooms provide an excellent structure for nesting birds, including the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelets, which appears to have a particular fondness for the dense foliage–so much so that 90% of owl nests in Southwest Oregon are reported to be in mistletoe.

Although mistletoe is ordinarily poisonous to humans, the white berries provide food for birds, deer, and other mammals. And just because it is poisonous doesn’t mean we can’t find uses. Mistletoe has a long history as a folk medicine, treating everything from infertility to arthritis, and there is ongoing research into whether the plant may contain anti-cancer properties that can be isolated.

Birds spread the growth of mistletoe. The fruit of the mistletoe is covered with a sticky substance called viscin. Depending on the species of bird and mistletoe, the seed may either be regurgitated or defecated. The sticky viscin will cause the seed to attach to the branch where it will wait until it germinates and the haustorium wiggles its way into the bark of the tree. Mistletoe is slow growing, as the haustorium pulls nutrients from the tree until, after around five years, the first leaves emerge.

But not everyone likes mistletoe. Despite its natural role in forests, the Forest Service routinely uses mistletoe infection as a justification for logging–including in old-growth and late-seral forests–despite the important nesting platform that dward mistletoe provides for owls. And timber companies hate that mistletoe can stunt the growth of trees grown for timber. If caught early enough, or if someone diligently removes the new growth, it is possible to remove mistletoe from an infected tree. Otherwise, the only way to remove mistletoe is to remove the infected branch.

It is not clear how mistletoe came to be associated with Christmas. The usual mistletoe tradition holds that a man can kiss whatever woman stands under the mistletoe, and a refusal by the woman would bring bad luck. The first written record is from famed American author Washington Irving, who wrote in 1820, “the mistletoe, with its white berries, hung up, to the imminent peril of all the pretty housemaids.”

 

*this article previously ran in the December/January issue of the EcoNews.


EPIC Petitions for Better Beaver Regulations: Proposed Rules Would Clarify Rules for Trapping

Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
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Photo by Bob Greenburg, Yellowstone NPS.

Last week, EPIC filed a rulemaking petition with the California Fish and Game Commission to ensure greater protections for beavers and to clarify existing legal rules concerning their trapping. Together on the petition were the Center for Biological Diversity, the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, and the Northcoast Environmental Center.

The proposed regulations would impact the 700+ beavers killed each year because of conflict with the human environment, and would require individuals to exhaust non-lethal methods to deter or diminish conflict before a permit could be issued that would allow their lethal removal. It further codifies federal law prohibiting the removal of beavers if that removal would harm a species protected by the Endangered Species Act.  

The North American beaver (Castor canadensis) is native to California. Accordingly, the flora and fauna of the state have co-evolved with the beaver, developing unique and complex interwoven relationships. Beavers, however, are currently missing from much of their historic range and the effects of their absence are felt by the species that co-evolved with beavers. Beaver create freshwater habitats used by a variety of wildlife, including fish, birds, and other mammals. Their dams filter stream water, improve water quality, raise the water table, increase water storage, and repair eroded riparian areas. 

“Beavers play an outsized role in creating healthy aquatic habitat,” said Tom Wheeler, Executive Director of EPIC. “Today’s rulemaking petition recognizes this important ecosystem role and affords greater protections for the beaver. We need more beavers, not more beaver trapping, to have healthy watercourses.”

Today’s petition will go before the Commission at the next scheduled hearing.  There, the Commission will consider the petition, together with staff’s recommendation as well as the evaluation of the Department of Fish and Wildlife together with all public comments received. If the Commission finds that the petition lacks sufficient information or is functionally equivalent to a regulation change in the past 12 months, the Commission may deny the petition. If the Commission finds that the petition may be warranted, then it may add the petition to its rulemaking schedule for future consideration.

A copy of the rulemaking petition can be found here


Loophole-ridden Proposal for Pacific Fishers Fails to Protect Forest Habitat

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019
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Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In response to a petition and lawsuit from conservation groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to protect Pacific fishers under the Endangered Species Act. Conservation groups are decrying loopholes in the proposal under a special “4(d)” rule that will allow ongoing logging of the forest-dependent carnivore’s habitat.

“Fishers deserve actual safeguards under the Endangered Species Act, not this weak proposal that doesn’t fully protect their habitat,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The exemptions to their protection are fuzzier than fishers themselves.”

The Service proposed protection for the fisher in 2014 but then arbitrarily withdrew its proposal in 2016. Groups then filed suit, asserting that the denial ignored science in a politically motivated bow to the timber industry. In September 2018 a judge in the Northern District of California ruled that the Service had to reconsider the denial of Endangered Species Act protection for Pacific fishers. Today’s proposed listing is a revision of the 2014 rule with exemptions from protection for forest-management activities.

“Once more the Fish and Wildlife Service is failing to implement the protections that fishers need to recover. They are clearly relying on politics instead of science, so we will continue to push for full protection for fishers,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director at the Environmental Protection Information Center.

A relative of minks and otters, Pacific fishers once roamed forests from British Columbia to Southern California. But due to intense logging and historical trapping, only two naturally occurring populations remain: a population of 100 to 500 fishers in the southern Sierra Nevada and a population of between 250 and a few thousand in southern Oregon and Northern California. Fishers have been reintroduced in Washington state.

“This rare forest carnivore still isn’t getting the protection it needs to be safeguarded for future generations. We urge the agency to issue a final listing that does not buckle to pressure from industry and that protects the fisher fully from logging activities,” said Susan Britting, executive director of Sierra Forest Legacy.

Pacific fishers continue to be threatened by loss of habitat due to logging, use of toxic rodenticides by marijuana growers, and increasing fire severity exacerbated by climate change. In a 2015 study, scientists conducting necropsies on fishers found that 85 percent had been exposed to rodent poison.

“These days it’s rare to find a fisher in southern Oregon that hasn’t been exposed to poisonous rodenticides,” said George Sexton, conservation director at KS Wild. “If we can’t get a handle on the widespread poisonings the future of the species is pretty bleak. We are appreciative that the Fish and Wildlife Service now recognizes that fisher populations are threatened and need protections. Hopefully we can all work together to strengthen the safeguards that fishers need if they are to survive into the future.”

Efforts to gain federal protection for the fisher now span decades. The Center for Biological Diversity first petitioned to protect the animal in 1994, and again in 2000 with the Environmental Protection Information Center, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Sierra Forest Legacy. Earthjustice represented the groups in challenging the 2016 withdrawal of the proposed listing. The Service first put the fisher on a waiting list for Endangered Species Act protection in 2004.

“The Endangered Species Act is our nation’s bedrock environmental law, but sadly the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is sacrificing our most imperiled wildlife to appease industry interests with this loophole-ridden proposal,” said Elizabeth Forsyth, an Earthjustice attorney.

Click here for the press release.


Bee a Zombie this Halloween!

Tuesday, October 29th, 2019
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Photo by Wildwise studios

Looking for a spooky Halloween costume? Look no further! Bee a Zombee this Halloween and share a cool ecological story as you trick-or-treat.

Zombie bees, or zombees, buzzing through the neighborhood on a cold Halloween night. Sounds like fiction (or a great Halloween costume!), but it’s real. While not undead, the bees are controlled by a parasite growing inside their bodies. It starts like this: A parasitic fly about the size of a fruit fly, Apocephalus borealis, lands on a bee. Quickly it deposits its eggs in cracks in the bee’s abdomen. As the eggs hatch, they migrate deeper into the bee, feeding on its muscles. As the parasite continues to grow, the bee will exhibit weird behavior. It may venture out on cold, dark nights in search of artificial light. (Why? Scientists are not sure but speculate that the parasite is controlling its host, causing it to look for a more-suitable place to complete its incubation.) Other strange behavior includes loss of normal muscle function (look for bees that are falling over or having trouble standing) or disorientation (look for bees walking aimlessly in circles).

This parasite is native to North America, although its infection of European honeybees is thought to be recent. Some have speculated that the parasitic fly may be a vector for colony collapse disorder. Our knowledge of zombees is still evolving, as this phenomenon was only discovered in 2008.

See any bees acting funny? Become a citizen scientist and record your sightings at zombeewatch.org. Place bees found near artificial light sources in a sealed container (one bee per container) and wait. Small, pill-shaped fly pupae may emerge (usually somewhere around 5-14 days later). Take a photo of your results and share with the world! One zombee was already recorded in Fortuna, CA, so they may already bee in your backyard.


BREAKING:EPIC Litigates Mendocino National Forest’s Latest Attempt To Evade Environmental Review

Thursday, October 17th, 2019
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Mendocino National Forest bulldozer lines are linear clearcuts harmful to wildlife and ecosystems but are ineffective at stopping the fire. Photo courtesy of Kimberly Baker

The Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) is suing the U.S. Forest Service for approving a series of timber sales on the Mendocino National Forest that shortcut public participation and environmental review in violation of federal law. In a complaint filed today, EPIC alleges that the Forest Service expedited seven timber sales, totaling up to 7,000 acres, by mislabeling the logging as a “road maintenance” project. At risk from the logging are clean water, northern spotted owls, and increased fuel conditions.

All Forest Service timber sales are subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The core of NEPA is a requirement that agencies take a “hard look” at the environmental impacts of their proposed actions, typically done through an environmental impact statement or environmental analysis. The timber sales were approved using what is called a “categorical exclusion.” Categorical exclusions do not require environmental impact review or public comment.

Unnecessary bulldozer line the fire never reached fragments intact wildlands. Photo Courtesy of Kimberly Baker.

Here, the Forest Service argues that a commercial timber sale is “road maintenance” because the logging would remove dead and live trees affected by the 2018 Ranch Fire along roads, reducing the odds that the trees may fall and block the road. A separate categorical exclusion exists for post-fire logging, although that is limited to 250 acres, as anything larger in scale is assumed to be able to produce significant impacts to the environment. All timber sales in this proposed project are larger than 250 acres. Furthermore, many of the roads proposed for logging are closed to motor vehicle use.

“The Mendocino National Forest is taking a page from Trump’s playbook,” said Tom Wheeler, Executive Director of EPIC. “Calling a timber sale ‘road maintenance’ is a stunning way to stifle public participation and ignore environmental impacts.”

Science has widely recognized that post-fire logging is especially impactful, as logging adds an additional disturbance on top of the effects of the fire. Post-fire logging often results in degraded water quality, the spread of invasive plants, and loss of habitat for rare, threatened and endangered species. It can also increase the risk of high-severity fire since logging leaves behind a buildup of slash and finer “fuels.” If allowed to use a categorical exclusion instead of an environmental impact statement, these impacts may never be adequately examined and mitigation measures to reduce harm through better project design would not be incorporated.

“This is a massive project covering thousands of acres,” asserted EPIC’s Public Land Advocate, Kimberly Baker, “the Mendocino National Forest is breaking the law to meet timber targets and benefit timber corporations at a cost to fragile post-fire watersheds and threatened species. Public safety could be achieved in a more benign manner.”

EPIC is represented by René Voss of Natural Resources Law and Matt Kenna of Public Interest Environmental Law. The case will be heard in the Northern District Court of California.

To carry out this legal challenge to preserve owl habitat, clean water, fire resilient landscapes and our right to participate in public land management decisions, we need to raise substantial funding. Please help us see this case through by making a substantial donation today.

Click here for press release and contacts.


EcoNews Creature Feature: Hoary Bat

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019
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Hoary Bat on a branch. Photo by Tom Benson.

The hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus) is one of North America’s largest bats, boasting a solid 5.9 inches in length. Named for its “hoary” fur—meaning silvery or grayish-white—the bat’s body is encased in cinnamon brown fur tinged in frosty silver. Its tiny face is surrounded by a furry golden halo, making these bats even more recognizable and adorable.  The hoary bat is widespread throughout the U.S., found in 49 of 50 states.

Out of the thirteen species of bats that live in Humboldt County, the hoary bat is an especially unique bat due to the fact that it migrates and hibernates, when most bats do one or the other. This strange trait has befuddled scientists but one of the potential possibilities for this behavior comes from their roosting habits. Hoary bats are a tree roosting species, meaning they sleep and live outside in trees rather than caves, like many other bats. They are one of the only species of bats that hibernate in the open, such as on tree branches. This could explain why they are evolved for hibernation but choose to migrate in large numbers from the eastern states to northwest California in autumn to roost in the warm, moist, and sheltered redwoods.

Locally, Humboldt Redwoods State Park appears to be an important migratory hot spot for the hoary bat, with a seasonal concentration of mating of bats not yet seen elsewhere on the planet. There are so many hoary bat that this may mean that Humboldt Redwoods draws bats from all over western North America.

The diet of the hoary bat primarily consists of moths, but can include other small insects, such as dragonflies, mosquitoes, flies, crickets and beetles. They are an important predator of insects and a successful one at that, in a single meal the hoary bat can eat up to 40% of its weight. Their prime foraging times occur in the late evenings and, due to their low frequency echolocation, most of it occurs over wide, open areas. Unlike other bats, hoary bats appear to fly with a very low frequency of echolocation—think of a human with a heavy prescription driving at night without their glasses.  

This has come at a cost to these bats.  Since they prefer open, wide hunting grounds and rely on very little senses while flying, they are easily obstructed when there are artificial objects in formerly open areas, such as large wind turbines in high meadows. Sadly, hoary bats are the species most frequently killed by wind turbines in North America, with 38% proportion of bat fatalities at wind energy facilities in North America being hoary bats.

The proposed wind project outside Scotia presents obvious concerns, given the location near Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Among the worst case scenarios: the project would have the potential to create a “population sink” for the western North American population of hoary bats.  According to one recent study, impacts from wind energy projects are so great that the hoary bats population is expected to dip 90% in just 50 years.

Luckily there are measures that can be taken to reduce the risks posed by wind energy development on the species. Key among these is to curtail energy production during high risk periods, such as during migration or during nights with low wind speeds. Curtailment alone has the potential to reduce fatalities between 44-93%. Additional other measures, like acoustic deterrence, can further reduce potential fatalities.


Action Alert: Proposed HCP for SPI a Bad Deal for Spotted Owls, Comments Needed!

Monday, June 17th, 2019
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Spotted Owl. Photo by Len Blumin

A proposed Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) that would authorize “incidental take” of both Northern Spotted Owls and California Spotted Owls on California timberlands owned and managed by Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) has been released in its draft form along with a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for public comment.

SPI owns nearly two million acres of private, industrially-managed timberlands in California, and the ownership is squarely within the range of both the federally-threatened Northern Spotted Owl, and the federal-candidate for listing, the California Spotted Owl, much of which is situation in the “checkerboard,” lands, i.e., lands where SPI and the U.S. Forest Service, respectively own alternating square parcels.

The Draft SPI HCP proposes to establish and create so-called, “Potential Habitat Areas,” (PHAs) on SPI ownership for both Northern Spotted Owls and for California Spotted Owls for SPI ownership in the Sierra-Nevada. These PHAs and the habitat retention and other conservation requirements for PHAs proposed in the Draft SPI HCP would allow SPI to rely heavily on adjacent federal and public lands, most notably lands owned by the U.S. Forest Service, for the purposes of the HCP. According to the Draft HCP, SPI could account as much as 75-percent of its PHAs to lands not actually owned or controlled by SPI.

A similar approach to Spotted Owl conservation and impact mitigation were proposed by Fruit Growers Supply Company and approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service previously, only to have the approved-HCP nullified by federal courts upon litigation brought by concerned conservation groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildands Center, and the Klamath Forest Alliance. Yet, SPI and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seem bent on creating the exact same HCP framework that failed to pass legal muster in the Fruit Growers’ example.

The Draft SPI HCP and Draft EIS rely heavily upon the notion that approval of a companion permit to lethally-remove, control, and experimentally-study barred owls (Strix varina), a non-native and invasive competitor to both the Northern and California Spotted Owls would garner key conservation benefits as a reason why the HCP is necessary and will work. The trouble here is that issuance of such a permit pursuant to the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) for the duration proposed (50-years), is actually not legal currently either. MBTA permits can only be issued on a five-year basis currently under federal law.

The Draft SPI HCP also proposes to “front-load” its “incidental take,” of Northern and California Spotted Owls, meaning that the greatest impacts to both species proposed in the DHCP would occur in the first two-decades of the 50-year proposed-permit, while the conservation benefit is backloaded to the last two decades of the proposed-permit, and is predicated heavily on the presumption of re-growth and regeneration of SPI timberlands.

The Northern Spotted Owl has been listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act since 1990, and the most recent range-wide demographic study indicated that Northern Spotted Owls were continuing to decline range-wide and that the rate of the decline is increasing due to a combination of continued habitat loss and competition from barred owls. In 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a 90-Day Finding on an EPIC petition to “uplist” or “re-classify” the Northern Spotted Owl as an “endangered,” species under the ESA, finding that the action may be warranted, meaning that the Northern Spotted Owl may actually be endangered.

The California Spotted Owl is currently a candidate for ESA listing in response to two petitions brought before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by conservation groups based in the Sierra-Nevada. Currently, far greater protections exist for Northern Spotted Owls in conjunction with SPI timber operations in California than exist for the California Spotted Owl. This is largely a function of California Forest Practice Rules and regulations and not U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ESA implementation and administration.

Comments on the Draft SPI HCP and the Draft EIS must be submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by Monday, July 1.

Take Action Now!


Help Save One of California’s Rarest Plants

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019
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Save the date! There are only 20 know populations of Shasta snow-wreath on the planet. Come join EPIC April 25-26 at Packers Bay on the Shasta Reservoir to help protect this beautiful plant from being invaded by Scotch broom. EPIC volunteers will be pulling the invasive non-native Scotch Broom and helping to protect stream sides from being sprayed with toxic glysophate.

The Shasta snow-wreath (Neviusia cliftonii) is endemic to the shores and canyons around Shasta Reservoir. Neviusia have existed for over 45 million years; however it was not discovered until 1992! The Eastern Klamath Range is an ancient landscape, neither glaciated nor overlain by volcanic material, as were the surrounding mountains. The area is rich in biodiversity and is home to other endemic species such as the Shasta salamander (Hydromantes shastae) a state-listed threatened species and the Shasta Chaparral snail.

Many Shasta snow-wreath populations were lost when the reservoir was created and others are threatened by the proposal to raise the dam. Scotch brooms are another threat and have infested multiple areas near Packers Bay. Last year EPIC protected a few of the most sensitive populations from the possible drift of herbicides and we plan to do it again every year till the broom is gone from the creek side location. Working together demonstrates that people power is the best alternative.

Stay tuned for more details coming in April.


Action Alert: Green Diamond Clearcuts Threaten Humboldt Marten in Klamath Glen

Thursday, January 10th, 2019
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Take Action: Green Diamond clearcuts—that’s pretty clear-cut. What’s not, perhaps, are the consequences of its clearcuts, as the company strives to spin whatever mythology it can muster to convince agency regulators and the public at-large that there’s nothing to be seen and no harm being done.

In late November 2018, Green Diamond submitted THP 1-18-177DEL, “Arrow Mills,” THP, totaling 125 acres of timber harvest in Upper and Lower Turwar Creek at Klamath Glen, just up-river of the town of Klamath, CA. Of the total 125-acre THP, 104 acres is proposed for clearcutting.

The “Arrow Mills” THP threatens significant adverse impacts to a number of rare, threatened, and endangered species, including northern spotted owls, marbled murrelets, osprey, and even ruffed grouse, all of which are known to exist and have been observed in the vicinity of the THP. Of particular concern to EPIC are the potentially significant adverse impacts the THP will have on the critically-imperiled Humboldt Marten.

The “Arrow Mills” THP and its over 100 acres of clearcutting are proposed within the known Extant Population Area (EPA) for the Humboldt Marten, and within a Green Diamond-designated, “Marten Special Management Area,” (MSMA). Sadly, there’s absolutely nothing “special” about what Green Diamond will do here, as its clearcuts will not be modified in any way to accommodate the known-presence of Humboldt Martens.

Indeed, the only thing that’s “special” in any way in this scenario is the treatment afforded to Green Diamond by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). In late 2018, and nearly simultaneously with the California Fish and Game Commission’s determination that the Humboldt Marten warranted listing as an “Endangered Species” under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA), the Department gave away a “Safe Harbor Agreement” to Green Diamond that gives the company a pass on protecting the Humboldt Marten or having to change its management practices in any meaningful way.

The “Safe Harbor Agreement” framework in the California Fish and Game Code was created with the caveat that any such agreements entered into with private landowners by CDFW must be shown to afford a, “net-conservation benefit,” during the life of the agreement for the agreement to be valid. Safe Harbor Agreements, unlike Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) under federal law or Native Communities Conservation Plans (NCCPs) established in the California Fish and Game Code, allow landowners and CDFW to agree to actions that result in a net-conservation benefit during the life of the agreement, with the understanding that the landowner has the right to return the lands under the agreement back to the baseline condition when the agreement expires or is terminated.

Green Diamond timberlands in the Lower Klamath and Upper Redwood Creek watersheds are critical habitat connectivity areas and areas important for natural dispersal, and perhaps eventually, assisted re-introduction and dispersal of Humboldt Martens between two of the only three known Extent Marten Population Areas on the Six Rivers National Forest to the east, and Redwood National and State Parks to the west.

The “Arrow Mills” THP will create clearcuts that will create massive dead-zones in marten connectivity and dispersal opportunities and could result in direct mortality and indirect mortality of Humboldt Martens known to exist on Green Diamond lands and on adjacent conserved lands on both sides.

The “Arrow Mills” THP is currently still under review lead by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), the CEQA Lead Agency for approving private timber harvesting plans in California. CAL FIRE cannot approve a THP that will violate other applicable laws under its authority, even if another agency, like CDFW, reaches agreement with a private timberland owner on certain practices.

Click here to request that Cal Fire to deny Green Diamond’s plans to log Humboldt marten habitat!

 


EPIC Files Formal Complaint and Appeal of Green Diamond Certification by Forest Stewardship Council

Wednesday, January 9th, 2019
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EPIC filed a formal Complaint to appeal the decision of the Re-Certification of Green Diamond Resource Company as in conformance with the standards and criteria of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) on December 24, 2018.

The Complaint and Appeal were presented to the independent certification company, Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), based in Emeryville, CA. SCS initially certified Green Diamond in 2012 amidst great local opposition and controversy, and then re-certified Green Diamond in early 2018.

FSC certification, monitoring, and issuance of additional specific criteria to maintain FSC conformance and certification, known as “Corrective Action Reports” are all conducted and administered by independent third-party certification companies, like SCS. SCS is also the certification company responsible for Humboldt Redwood Company’s FSC certification.

EPIC’s Complaint to SCS comes out of an investigation into Green Diamond’s re-certification under FSC for forest management and the legitimacy of Green Diamond’s network of “High Conservation Value Forest” (HCVF). FSC standards require certified companies like Green Diamond to establish and maintain an HCVF network of lands classified as “core-interior habitats,” and to voluntary conserve, enhance, and maintain all lands designated as HCVF.

EPIC found that Green Diamond is not including lands in its HCVF network that do not meet the definition of a “core interior habitat,” such as the Riparian Management Zones (RMZs) established along Class I and Class II watercourses on Green Diamond lands. These RMZs are thin strips of forested lands left behind after Green Diamond clearcuts. Even if Green Diamond’s RMZs are appropriate to include in its HCVF network, evidence found in SCS’s own audit and certification and re-certification reports indicates that the total acreage of RMZ accounted by the company as HCVF has steadily declined since 2012, and that thousands of acres once accounted as RMZ HCVF have not been maintained as HCVF and instead have been subject to active commercial timber management.

EPIC further found that Green Diamond was accounting something it calls, “NSO Core-Areas,” as HCVF. Aside from the fact that no clear definition of “NSO Core-Areas” seems to exist, there is also no indication of where these areas are located on the Green Diamond commercial timber landscape, or if they exist at all. And, if all that’s not suspicious enough, SCS’s own audit and certification reports show a steady decline in the acres accounted by Green Diamond as “NSO Core Areas” in its HCVF network since 2012. It appears that thousands of acres of “NSO Core Areas” once accounted by Green Diamond as part of its HCVF network have since been lost to active commercial timber management, which is expressly antithetical to the requirements to protect, enhance, and maintain lands designated as HCVF and to preclude active commercial timber management in such areas.

EPIC also Appealed Green Diamond’s re-certification by SCS under FSC standards on the basis that the company has not lived up to FSC standards or genuinely addressed Corrective Acton Reports calling on the company to create a program to solicit, intake, and integrate input into its management practices from a broad spectrum of public and community stakeholders. Green Diamond claims that the funding of local civic clubs and recreational community sports teams are sufficient to meet the letter and intent of FSC’s standards for intaking and integrating public stakeholder input. Suffice to say, EPIC disagrees.

SCS has initiated its process to formally investigate and respond to EPIC’s Complaint and Appeal of Green Diamond’s 2017-2018 re-certification under FSC’s standards and has promised to provide a full written response from its investigation within 90-days of the filing date.

Nobody peels back the layers of the onion like EPIC. We do the dirty work in-the-trenches, all to protect our forests, fish, wildlife, water and this amazing place we call home.  Click here to support our efforts.


CA Considers Petition to ESA List Klamath-Trinity Spring Chinook Salmon – Comments Needed!

Friday, January 4th, 2019
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Spring Chinook photo courtesy of Michael Bravo

Action Alert: The Karuk Tribe and the Salmon River Restoration Council have petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission to place Klamath-Trinity Spring Chinook (Oncorhynchus tshawystscha) on the state’s Endangered Species List. Listing would afford new protections and opportunities to fund habitat restoration.

Spring Chinook (King) Salmon were once the most plentiful salmonid in the Klamath system, with hundreds of thousands of fish returning to spawn each year. More than a century of dam building, irrigation diversions, mining, and logging have destroyed or denied access to much of their historic habitat. Today these fish number in the hundreds of individuals.

Klamath-Trinity Spring Chinook are genetically Distinct from Fall Chinook

Prior listing attempts failed as geneticists were unable to distinguish Spring Chinook from their Fall-run counterparts; however, recent studies reveal that the two are indeed genetically distinct from one another. This is the basis of the new petition to list.

Klamath-Trinity Spring Chinook are Culturally Important

Spring Chinook were a staple for countless generations of Yurok, Karuk, Hoopa, Shasta, Modoc, and Klamath people. The return of Springers initiates the ceremonial season for Klamath Basin Tribes and signals the end of winter. Today, Karuk ceremonial leaders struggle to harvest a single fish necessary to host the annual first salmon ceremony.

Klamath-Trinity Spring Chinook are Prized by Anglers and Consumers

Spring Chinook enter the river in the spring and navigate ice cold snow melt to the headwaters of the Klamath system. In order to make the journey, Springers enter the river with a much higher fat and oil content than Fall Chinook which gives them the extraordinary flavor appreciated by sport fishermen and consumers.

Klamath-Trinity Spring Chinook are part of a Complex Ecosystem

Spring Chinook spend part of their life cycle in the open ocean where they are an important part of the diet of at-risk populations of killer whales. When they return to rivers to spawn and die, they transport ocean nutrients inland providing an important source of protein and nitrogen to forest ecosystems.

Genetic Diversity is Key to Species Survival

Differences in migration timing is an evolutionary strategy for Chinook salmon’s long-term survival. It allows Chinook populations to use a wider range of spawning habitats within a watershed and to enter freshwater at different times of year. This allows the population to survive stressful habitat conditions that may be temporary or limited to a subregion of the watershed. Loss of this genetic information increases the risk that we will lose Chinook salmon runs entirely!

CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT COMMENTS TO THE FISH AND GAME COMMISSION NOW!

Written comments due by 5 p.m. on January 24. You may submit comments by clicking the link above or mail comments to:

California Fish and Game Commission

P.O. Box 944209

Sacramento, CA 94244-2090

Tell the Commissioners in person to protect Klamath-Trinity Spring Chinook at the California Fish and Game Commission hearing on February 6 at 8:30 a.m. The meeting is at:

California Natural Resources Building

First Floor Auditorium
1416 Ninth Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

For more information contact Toz Soto at tsoto@karuk.us or Craig Tucker at craig@suitsandsigns.com.

 


Logging, Not Wildfires is a Greater Threat to Northern Spotted Owls

Wednesday, September 12th, 2018
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Science in action: Defying current assumptions, a new scientific review of northern spotted owl studies discovered that current forest management practices meant to protect them may instead be hurting them. In a recent meta-analysis, Pennsylvania State University researcher and quantitative ecologist Dr. Derek E. Lee examined 21 published scientific studies on the spotted owl and found that wildfire impacts were less than previously believed, challenging the narrative that fuel-reduction logging is necessary or helpful for their survival. The study found that mixed-severity fires may in fact be beneficial to their habitats

This summer, as the West Coast continues to be scorched by multiple infernos, the wildfire risks to human life and property are not to be underestimated. Wildfires (or the mere potential for them) near cities and towns can be extremely deadly, and must be proactively managed for human safety. However, in the wilderness and away from human habitation, mixed-severity fires may actually have complex ecological effects that warrant a second look.

On wildfire impacts to the spotted owl, Dr. Lee writes, “[These results were] not a surprise to me as this species has been living with forest fire for thousands of years. But, it was fascinating to see the positive effects of wildfire on the owls. The positive effects of forest fires on spotted owls indicate mixed-severity fires, including so-called mega-fires, such as have been receiving lots of media attention lately, are within the natural range of variability for these forests. The fact that spotted owls have adapted to these types of fires over evolutionary time tells us that they have seen this before and learned to take advantage of it.”

Click for full infographic by Derek E. Lee. Used with permission.

In the examined studies, fewer than 1% of spotted owl breeding sites were found to be affected by fires. In contrast, the wildfires produced mixed habitats that drew in new owls (increased “recruitment”) and provided more foraging opportunities in the recently-burned areas.

According to Dr. Lee’s press release, “The idea behind these logging projects is that the risks from wildfire outweigh the harm caused by additional logging, but here we show that forest fires are not a serious threat to owl populations and in most instances are even beneficial. This reveals an urgent need to re-evaluate our forest management strategies.”


Welcome California’s Newest Wolf Family: The Lassen Pack!

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017
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Northern California just got a little more wild! Biologists surveying the Lassen National Forests have confirmed California’s second wolf pack. An adult couple made a showing in Lassen county last fall. They now have a family of at least three pups born this spring residing in Lassen National Forest and adjacent private lands.

Biologists began surveying the forest in May this year after finding evidence of wolf presence. On June 30, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife captured and collared the 75-pound alpha female. A nearby trail camera operated by the U.S. Forest Service revealed photos of the mother and her playful pups.

OR-7, or “Journey,” is now a grandpa. The alpha male of the Lassen Pack is the three-year-old son of OR-7, who was the first known gray wolf to return to the Golden State in nearly 100 years. OR-7s sister is the alpha female of the all-black Shasta Pack, which had five pups in 2015 but has not been seen since last fall.

Gray wolves in California are listed as endangered under the state and federal Endangered Species Act, however, the California Cattlemen’s Association and the California Farm Bureau filed suit in court to remove state protections. EPIC and others, represented by Earthjustice, have intervened in this baseless lawsuit to ensure wolves get the best legal defense possible.

Recovery is just beginning in Northern California and we look forward to watching these canine families grow. There are more wolves on the way that will call our region home. EPIC is working to protect landscape connectivity so that they have the habitat and room they need to roam.

Help our wolf legal defense fund by making a donation today!


Action Alert: Defend Public Lands; Defeat Trump’s Environmental Agenda

Thursday, June 29th, 2017
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TAKE ACTION! On the 4th of July, you can help save our forests by halting bad legislation. A new bad forest bill, the ironically named “Resilient Federal Forests Act” (HR 2936), is quickly heading to a vote. The bill recently escaped the House Natural Resources Committee through a party line vote. Now, Trump’s lawless logging bill will soon come up for a vote before the House.

This is the worst federal forest legislation in EPIC’s lifetime. And scarily, it might pass. Here’s four reasons why we are freaked out:

(1) Up to 30,000 Acres of Lawless Logging

The bill gives a free pass to lawless logging by exempting logging plans up to 30,000 acres—nearly 47 square miles—that are developed through a “collaborative process” from having to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). By comparison, under the existing law only logging projects 70 acres or less are exempted from NEPA. In one fell swoop, Congress could rollback decades of work by EPIC and allies to protect federal forests.

(2) Weakens Endangered Species Act Protections

Under current law, whenever the Forest Service proposes a project that could harm threatened or endangered species, the agency needs to consult the National Marine Fisheries Service and/or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The proposed legislation would change the law to remove this consultation requirement by allowing the Forest Service to choose whether or not to consult on a project. Further, the bill would exempt other forest management activities entirely from the Endangered Species Act.

(3) Closes the Courthouse Doors

The bill also limits the ability of citizens to challenge bad agency action in court. The bill would prohibit temporary injunctions and preliminary injunctions against “salvage” logging projects, virtually guaranteeing that logging will occur before a court can hear a challenge. The bill prevents plaintiffs from recovering attorneys’ fees if they win. While money is never the object of a lawsuit, the ability to recover fees is critical to enable public interest environmental lawyers to take cases for poor nonprofits like EPIC. Finally, it moves many forest management activities out from our federal courts to a “binding arbitration” program, whereby an agency-appointed arbitrator’s decision would decide the fate of projects.

(4) Shifts Money from Restoration to Logging

In a sneaky move, the proposed legislation would move money earmarked for forest restoration projects to logging. By adding one small phrase—“include the sale of timber or other forest products”—the bill would mandate timber sales as part of at least half of certain stewardship projects.

CLICK HERE TO TAKE ACTION NOW TO STOP BAD FOREST LEGISLATION


Base Camp Reflections

Thursday, June 15th, 2017
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Over the weekend, EPIC staff and volunteers ventured out into the remote wildlands of the Klamath Mountains for EPIC Base Camp; a three day “groundtruthing” training that focused on data gathering to help reform grazing and timber sale practices on public lands. Outdated laws allow for private timber companies and ranchers to use public lands for private profit, and the fees collected for these destructive activities do not cover the costs of the impacts, regulation, or oversite associated with the practices.

Because regulatory agencies tasked with protecting our natural resources are under staffed, they do not have the capacity to visit all of the sites in a timber sale or grazing allotment, so they depend on public citizen monitoring to report inconsistencies between what is proposed and what is happening on the ground. In essence, agencies are complaint driven, meaning that they don’t act unless someone files a formal complaint.

Day 1: Grazing Monitoring and Timber Sale Sleuthing

On Saturday, June 10, Felice Pace, Project Coordinator of the Grazing Reform Project took the group on a field tour of the Horse Creek Grazing Allotment, and the Horse Creek post-fire timber sale in the Klamath National Forest. A site visit of the Horse Creek Grazing Allotment revealed illegal felling of a large old-growth tree that had been cut  and likely used for fire wood. Environmental impacts, including damage to water quality, impairment of meadow hydrology and degradation of fish, amphibian and wildlife habitat are a common occurrence in these allotments, which are located on public lands.

Next, the group ventured up into the mountains to monitor the Horse Creek timber sale, which was burned in the 2016 Gap Fire. These burned areas were already regenerating with tree seedlings and new plants sprouting up all over the forest floor. In the units that were visited, the landscape was extremely steep with a slope of 30%-70%. It was clear that logging, tractors, skid trails, and new roads would tear up and compact these steep fragile soils, resulting in erosion and delayed regeneration of the fragile post-fire ecosystem years to come. The low gradient of Horse Creek makes it one of the best coho salmon habitats in the Klamath Basin. Logging and road building above critical coho habitat will result in sediment entering the stream, which degrades salmon habitat and smothers baby salmon. The total amount of logging in the Horse Creek watershed is massive.

Several of the timber sale units were located within Late Successional Reserves. The objective of Late-Successional Reserves is to protect and enhance conditions of late successional forests (think: old-growth), which serve as habitat for old-growth dependent species, including the northern spotted owl. However, most of the largest trees visible from the roadway within these areas were marked for logging, a violation of the law.

The federal timber sale is immediately adjacent to massive private timber operation, compounding the impacts to fish and wildlife. As of June 1st EPIC identified 21 emergency notices in the Gap Fire area totaling 4,863 acres from private land owners (primarily Fruit Growers Supply Company) in addition to the Horse Creek timber sale. Emergency notices are private post-fire logging projects that are exempt from environmental review. On the way to investigate Unit 115.34 of the Horse Creek project, the neighboring parcel, owned by Fruit Growers Supply Company, was being actively logged under an exempt emergency notice. Volunteers noted that the riparian areas within Fruit Growers’ land were being logged. Emergency timber operations can be conducted in riparian areas, including adjacent to streams known to provide critical habitat for threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead species without environmental review by the CAL FIRE or agencies responsible for administering the California or Federal Endangered Species Acts.

Day 2: Timber Monitoring Continues

On Sunday, June 11, EPIC volunteers braved the weather and poor roads to investigate the largest timber sale unit. Volunteers walked a road proposed to be punched in to facilitate logging. Again, life was everywhere in this “dead” forest. Hardwoods were sprouting from stumps, conifer seedlings provided a green carpet, and many trees the Forest Service considers to be dead were alive, with green boughs and branches. After hours of documenting the forest, EPIC volunteers ended the weekend with a cheer and a promise to return.

It is important to note that most projects like these don’t get monitored, and therefore private companies get away with violating environmental laws and standards that are in place to protect common pool public resources, like clean water we rely on for drinking, critical habitat for species such as salmon that feed our local communities, forests that provide us with clean air, and other ecosystems that support the web of life that we all depend on.

THANK YOU! 

Although EPIC has been groundtruthing for years, this is the first EPIC Base Camp. Our inspiration came from Bark, an Oregon based non-profit that has held an annual Base Camp event for years. Bark was kind enough to send expert ground-truther, Michael Krochta, to share techniques, and lead some of the trainings. EPIC would like to thank the 17 volunteers who came out to the boonies in a rain storm to document these projects, and the information they gathered, will be used in our comments to improve the Horse Creek project to minimize impacts to these wild places. EPIC has the best members. THANK YOU!

If you would like to check out our timber sale unit notes click here.

To view the photos we took in the project areas, click here.

Photos by Amber Jamieson.