Looking Back On Victories and Moving Forward With Challenges
This past year has been a challenge. Given that we’ve had one of the least environmentally friendly administrations in history with the backdrop of a global pandemic, EPIC has overcome some major hurdles and secured important victories for old growth forests, native wildlife, and public lands. We are so thankful for our members to helping us achieve so much this year and we wanted to share with you what we’ve accomplished in 2020 and where we plan to go in 2021!
In March, the Mendocino National Forest drastically reduced proposed logging in the Green Flat project by 84 percent in response to public scrutiny of the project from EPIC. Originally 1,534 acres were planned for logging, but the project was scaled back to 250 acres. The agency was criticized for its apparent attempt to mischaracterize logging activities as other more benign actions, such as “reforestation.”
In May, EPIC and a coalition of environmental and animal rights groups scored a big win for Humboldt County wildlife. Wildlife Services, a federal agency that operates under the US Department of Agriculture, has a mission to resolve wildlife conflicts to allow people and wildlife to coexist. Despite their name, the agency is radically anti-wildlife. They are the folks responsible for killing wildlife.
For nearly a decade, Humboldt County has paid tax dollars to Wildlife Services to kill hundreds of native animals under contract. Data from that federal wildlife-killing program shows that in the period from 2008-2017, Wildlife Services killed at least 178 coyotes, 54 black bears, 43 gray foxes, 23 mountain lions, 483 raccoons, 880 skunks, and 112 opossums in Humboldt County.
Since 2014, EPIC and others have attempted to get the county to withdraw funding from Wildlife Services. That didn’t work so we changed tactics. EPIC approached Agricultural Commissioner Jeff Dolf with a proposal that involved dropping a legal challenge in exchange for changes to the policy. Now if there is a problem animal—a raccoon eating chickens or a bear eating garbage—Wildlife Services has to attempt non-lethal solutions first and these have to fail before wildlife can be taken in Humboldt County.
Crawford Timber Sale
In August, EPIC and allies secured a legal victory saving hundreds of acres of critical habitat for two of the last reproductive northern spotted owl pairs on the Klamath National Forest, southwest of Happy Camp. The Crawford Project planned to remove 70% of the forest canopy in this important wildlife corridor, linking the Siskiyou and Marble Mountain Wilderness areas. The project was soon cancelled after we filed litigation against the Klamath National Forest, avoiding a long legal battle and safeguarding old-growth and mature forest habitat for the near future.
Ranch Fire Timber Sale
In August EPIC set a legal precedent for public lands. The Mendocino National Forest attempted to get away with lawless logging, by disguising a 5,000 acre roadside commercial timber sale as “road maintenance”, bypassing National Environmental Policy Act procedures; consideration of environmental impacts; consideration of alternatives; and public participation in the management of our public lands.
EPIC wouldn’t stand for this and filed litigation. We motioned for a preliminary injunction to stop the logging, which ultimately went to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. There we had a resounding victory, establishing good precedent that will hopefully deter the Forest Service again from this trickery. This is going to be massively important in upcoming years as we confront a large amount of post-fire logging on our public lands.
In September, after 10 years of persistent advocacy and two lawsuits, the Humboldt marten was finally listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. This is a huge milestone as we were fought by the timber industry and even the US Fish and Wildlife Service. For a species that was once so rare that it was thought to be extinct, this is great news!
Three Bridges Project
In September, in response to public pressure from EPIC, Caltrans modified its project by cutting an eight-foot shoulder down to a four-foot shoulder on the new bridge to preserve the lives of several large trees, including a six-foot-wide old-growth redwood. Before this intervention, the project titled “HUM-36 Three Bridges Project” was set out to rebuild a bridge that went over Hely Creek at Van Duzen County Park.
In October, EPIC’s attorneys argued on behalf of the ancient redwoods in Richardson Grove to defend the federal court ruling and protection of Richardson Grove that invalidated Caltrans’ Environmental Assessment, which Caltrans has overturned on appeal. At the federal level, we are considering whether to ask for a rehearing at the Ninth Circuit. At the state level, Caltrans has not yet completed the new public comment and review period mandated by the state court. Until they do so, the project cannot move forward.
In December, EPIC filed a lawsuit against the US Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to “uplist” the owl to endangered status and for failing to complete a 5-year status review. In response to the lawsuit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a finding on the northern spotted owl’s listing status, spurred by a lawsuit filed last week by EPIC and other wildlife advocates. The finding states “reclassification of the northern spotted owl from a threatened species to an endangered species is warranted but precluded by higher priority actions to amend the Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants.
As we embark on a new year under a new administration, we will continue to stand up and speak out on behalf of wild places and the creatures that call them home. In 2021, we plan to secure more protections for wildlife and challenge harmful projects to ensure that environmental laws are followed.
Secure More Protections for Wildlife
We will continue advocating for more protections for listed species before the California Fish and Game Commission and submitting new listing petitions. Our staff is hard at work on a listing petition for hoary bats and continues to push forward on our existing petitions for Siskiyou salamanders and to increase protections for the Northern spotted owl.
Challenging Timber Sales
This year’s unprecedented fire season is expected to bring us a tsunami of post-fire logging, both on public and private land. Post-fire logging is environmentally harmful, stacking one disturbance on top of another. It removes the last remaining forest structure, which is heavily utilized by wildlife, compacts the soil and harms natural regeneration. Most often, logged areas are replanted with densely packed mono-crop tree farms and we are left with artificial forests that are unable to support a diversity of wildlife or withstand high-intensity fire events. Inevitably, these projects create a landscape that makes our wildlands less resilient and puts taxpayers on the hook for the costs of cleaning up.
You Are Part of the Solution
Our work would not be possible without the help of our community. We rely on online activists to participate in the public process by providing comments on projects, and we depend on donations from our members to ensure that we can pay our staff to keep the pressure on the agencies and ensure that the public process remains effective. Without watchdog organizations like EPIC, who have the expertise and tools to challenge government agencies and big industry, we would have a much different landscape in our wild backyards. We understand that these are hard times, but in moments like this we need folks who are able to step up and help out. If you have the ability to contribute, please consider making a donation to EPIC to help secure victories, for wildlife and the wild places they depend on, for future generations.