Green Diamond Resource Company has done it again: the logging company has negotiated another sweetheart deal with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Green Diamond has had their lands excluded from a recent draft designation of Critical Habitat for the Humboldt marten. This is the latest in a long series of special treatment by the federal Fish and and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
First, what is Critical Habitat? It is a special lands designation under the Endangered Species Act to provide additional protections for certain areas that are necessary for the conservation of a species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. The designation does not prohibit activities but can help provide a check on behavior harmful to a species.
Green Diamond’s property is undoubtedly important for the marten, even if Green Diamond’s management significantly impairs marten use of their land (and would ordinarily be a “taking” prohibited by the Endangered Species Act—but we’ll get into how Green Diamond gets around the normal rules everyone else has to follow in a bit.) Martens exist in only a small portion of their historic territory. Long-term survival of the marten means that the population needs to grow and expand. While Green Diamond’s lands can’t survive as functional habitat for martens in their current state—martens dislike the clearcuts that Green Diamond (and bobcats, the prime predator of martens) favor—these same lands must be crossed for the martens of northwest California to move from their existing home on Six Rivers National Forest and recolonize the Redwood State and National Park system. For this reason, Green Diamond’s lands were previously identified by the Humboldt Marten Conservation Group as “connectivity improvement areas,” recognizing their prime role in connectivity and the need to improve forest management here to allow for connectivity to occur. It's hard for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Green Diamond to argue this point—both groups are members of the Humboldt Marten Conservation Group. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has also mapped the best connectivity corridors across Green Diamond’s property, so we even know where to best prioritize habitat improvement.
This exclusion builds off a flawed legal framework deliberately created to insulate the company from the Endangered Species Act. The roots of excluding Green Diamond property are based in a controversial state-issued permit, a “Safe Harbor Agreement,” issued by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The Safe Harbor Agreement allows for an unlimited amount of “taking” of martens, normally forbidden under the California Endangered Species Act, provided that Green Diamond engage in trivial changes to their forest management. The Safe Harbor Agreement was controversial from its issuance. As EPIC discovered through a Public Records Act request, the same staffers that were assigned to work on the terms of the permit and who routinely monitored Green Diamond’s activities, protested the issuance of the permit to their superiors, arguing that the permit violated both the letter and spirit of the law and would not actually help martens. After staff protested the permit, they were reassigned from working on the permit. EPIC and the Center for Biological Diversity are suing the Department to stop political favors to the timber company.
Although this was only a state permit, the federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employed it to prevent Green Diamond from being exposed to the Endangered Species Act. When the marten was listed, the Service exempted all persons or companies that were operating under a state-issued Safe Harbor Agreement. Funny thing is, Green Diamond was the only company issued such a permit, so the Service obviously and deliberately excluded Green Diamond from the take prohibition of the federal Endangered Species Act.
The specter of the state-issued Safe Harbor Agreement again comes back to haunt the Humboldt marten. In excluding all of Green Diamond’s lands from the draft Critical Habitat decision, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service again cites to the state-issued permit as some kind of proof that designation of any Green Diamond land as Critical Habitat is unnecessary.
When will Green Diamond stop getting special treatment from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service?