Conservation activists face an uphill battle to protect forest ecosystems and wildlife habitat from bad logging practices across millions of acres of corporate-owned forests in California. In fact, few environmental groups even attempt to fight big companies on their private holdings, because of the extreme challenge to see any success. EPIC and a handful of other organizations across the state continue to monitor and challenge the companies – and the agencies responsible for regulating them – by pushing for the state to simply enforce applicable laws.
It is clear that the largest forestland landowner in the state, Sierra Pacific Industries, proudly uses clearcut logging as their primary practice to extract timber across their ownership. Meanwhile the critters dependent on these complex forest ecosystems for their habitat suffer. Even at a time of record low timber prices, the company continues to rake in profits – while degrading habitat of forest-dependent Coho salmon, Northern Spotted Owls and many other species.
For over 30 years, EPIC has worked to hold timber companies accountable for their lawless activity, even when the battle seems next to impossible. Our Industrial Forestry Reform program staff comb through thick documents and follow the progress of individual timber plans and policy documents. All this effort is intended to review whether or not the companies are following current laws governing their activities.
EPIC’s Industrial Forestry Reform analyst Rob DiPerna engages in these processes with great diligence. His recent comments submitted to Cal Fire regarding a specific timber plan have interrupted an otherwise rubber stamped process.
In addition, the events exemplify Rob’s conclusion, “This serves to demonstrate once again that Cal Fire does not have the staff, the knowledge, the technical expertise, or for that matter the authority to maintain a program that will actually avoid harm to owls.”
EPIC stops SPI from logging near Spotted Owl nestby Rob DiPerna
The Big Widow THP proposed logging of essential nesting and roosting habitat for northern spotted owls within 500 feet of a known owl site. EPIC commented to Cal Fire that there was no biological or regulatory justification to allow logging so close to a known owl site. In response, Cal Fire has required that SPI change the Big Widow THP to exclude logging within 500 feet of the spotted owl site.
However SPI still intends to log within 1,000 feet of the owl site, also within suitable nesting and roosting owl habitat. EPIC commented to Cal Fire that SPI had not demonstrated that logging within nesting and roosting habitat 1,000 feet from the nest site would retain appropriate habitat characteristics to prevent harm to owls. Such potential impacts include loss of suitable nesting or roosting platforms, increased susceptibility to adverse weather and predators, and impacts to microclimate conditions within the nest site. In response, Cal Fire required that SPI demonstrate how logging within 1,000 feet of a known nest site will maintain essential habitat characteristics to assure that harm to owls will be avoided.
In response to our concerns, Cal Fire has recirculated the “Big Widow” THP for 30 days. Recirculation means that he public comment period is reopened due to the addition of significant new information to the plan.
The Big Widow THP threatens to effectively destroy an owl site by logging suitable nesting and roosting habitat in close proximity to the nest site. This site is further at risk because SPI is trying to claim that the owl site is abandoned and no longer utilized by owls. The US Fish and Wildlife Service refused to declare the site abandoned, but that could change based on future survey results.
The Big Widow THP is another glaring example of how the northern spotted owl take avoidance process is fatally flawed as administered by Cal Fire.
Only after EPIC raised significant concerns over possible harm to owls did Cal Fire act to protect the nest site from virtual destruction by restricting logging to the area outside of 500 feet from the nest. This serves to demonstrate once again that Cal Fire does not have the staff, the knowledge, the technical expertise, or for that matter the authority to maintain a program that will actually avoid harm to owls. The ultimate agency responsible, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, must wrest the reigns from Cal Fire once again and enforce the endangered species act through the technical assistance process.