As Northwest California’s environmental watchdog organization, EPIC specializes in distinguishing between the nice and the naughty when it comes to our region’s forests, rivers, and wildlife. Inspired by the inventor of the naughty/nice list, the one and only Santa Claus, we have compiled our own naughty and nice list focused on the environment.
Our villain of the year is the leadership of the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the more than five million acres of national forest land in Northwest California, and has been proposing increasingly large and ecologically harmful logging projects on public lands while finding ways to minimize environmental review and public input, such as “categorical exclusions” that are misguidedly trusting of “an agency's experience with a particular kind of action and its environmental effects.” Since 2007 EPIC has commented on every single project proposed on Northwest California’s national forests—Shasta-Trinity, Klamath, Six Rivers, and Mendocino—and in July, EPIC filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service challenging the Region 5 Post-Hazard Tree Project, California’s largest proposed timber sale in modern history. (Forest Service staff scientists, the nerdy grunts who do the Service’s hard work on the ground, are decidedly on Santa’s nice list. Perhaps this holiday season, they will get less political interference and more ecological consideration from their bosses.)
Leadership of the California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) continues to resist improving its management of Jackson Demonstration State Forest (JDSF) on Pomo and Coast Yuki homelands in Mendocino County in order to protect the forest’s biodiversity, fight climate change, and protect the sacred sites and cultural landscape of local tribes. Since 1947, CAL FIRE has been managing the forest as an industrial timberland, “demonstrating” commercial timber harvests for the State’s timber companies. Advocacy by EPIC and our allies in the Save Jackson Coalition has effectively halted logging in JDSF for the past three years and got CAL FIRE to agree to rewrite the forest’s management plan to better reflect California’s modern values. However, CAL FIRE has released new timber harvest plans this year before completing the management plan development process, and, even more concerningly, has announced that it will shirk environmental review required under the California Environmental Quality Act when writing the new JDSF management plan—limiting public participation and oversight of how this publicly owned forest will be managed in the future and suggesting that the new vision and management plan won’t change (or improve) the physical environment in JDSF. In September, EPIC and the Save Jackson Coalition submitted comments insisting that the new management plan undergo environmental review.
The Humboldt and Mendocino Redwood Companies, both owned by the billionaire Fisher family, are allowing threatened northern spotted owls (Strix occidentalis caurina) to go extinct on their properties by refusing to implement a barred owl removal program despite the best available science, recommendations from an expert panel convened by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the successful reversal of northern spotted owl declines on adjacent Green Diamond Resource Company timberlands. One of the greatest threats currently facing the northern spotted owl is the takeover of invasive barred owls (Strix varia), which both attack and outcompete northern spotted owls. Given the large scale of the Fisher family’s ownership of the redwoods, unchecked barred owl expansion on their properties will result in the extinction of spotted owls in the redwoods. The company has built its reputation as “different” from other industrial timber companies, but increasingly the company has failed to live up to that claim. In May, EPIC filed a complaint with the Forest Stewardship Council against the Humboldt Redwood Company, as a company can’t be certified as sustainable if it voluntarily allows for the extinction of a threatened species.
Shady billionaire Rob Arkley and other well-heeled NIMBYs in the newly-formed group Citizens for a Better Eureka have filed two frivolous lawsuits against the City of Eureka for allowing infill development of much-needed affordable housing on city-owned parking lots. Citizens for a Better Eureka argues that the city has violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the state’s foundational environmental law, by failing to consider the environmental impacts of the housing development, and absurdly claims that building housing on a few downtown lots will lead to an array of impacts from traffic congestion to business closures and violent crime. Decades of research demonstrate exactly the opposite, that the projects will help revitalize downtown and lead to more walking, biking and bus riding, as well as preventing new development from sprawling into undeveloped ecosystems. Research by the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities shows that a whopping 34% of developable land in Eureka’s downtown area is covered by parking lots. Regardless, the types of “impacts” imagined by the petitioners are legally excluded from being considered under CEQA; the petitioners either lack a basic understanding of both the planning profession and the law, or just believe that they can get their own way regardless of the facts. Throughout the state, wealthy neighbors attempting to preserve the status quo have brought lawsuit after lawsuit alleging that new housing will result in novel “environmental” impacts. NIMBY abuse of CEQA to stop desperately-needed housing projects is one of the chief threats to CEQA, and the weaponization of environmental laws is now a prime driver for calls to weaken these laws to prevent their abuse. Such weakening would also impact our organizations, as we routinely utilize state and federal environmental laws to protect wildlife, forests, and clean water.
EPIC’s members and supporters are the lifeblood of our organization. Your passion, dedication, ideas, time, money, and overall support are the reason that our environmental advocacy efforts have persisted for 46 years and counting. On behalf of Northwest California’s forests, rivers, and wildlife, EPIC’s staff and board extend our utmost gratitude to our community of more than 18,000 donors, supporters, and activists. This year more than individual 600 donors contributed to EPIC’s budget.
Petey Brucker, EPIC’s 2023 Sempervirens Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, has dedicated his adult life to compassionately, persistently advocating for the health of Klamath and Salmon River watersheds. He formed the Klamath Forest Alliance in 1989, co-founded the Salmon River Restoration Council in 1992, and tirelessly lobbied for Klamath dam removal from the effort’s genesis in the early 2000s until the project was approved in 2022. Also a beloved husband, father, grandfather, mentor, community member, and musician, Petey was an easy choice with whom EPIC was honored to bestow this year’s Sempervirens Award for a lifetime of achievement in environmental activism at EPIC’s 2023 Summer Celebration. According to Petey’s close colleague and friend Felice Pace, “the struggles over the fate of our old forests, our streams and the salmon were…often bitter, stained by acrimony and sometimes by violence. However, even in those polarized times, there were a few individuals who rejected the anger and acrimony and instead chose to emphasize what was and is common among us, that is, love of the forest, the land, the streams and the salmon. Petey Brucker was and is such a person.”
The leadership of the California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) has not always been in EPIC’s good graces, such as in 2020 when they gave sweetheart deals to Green Diamond, hid information about a new disease in elk before a vote on expanding elk hunting, and made shady backroom deals with private developers. This year, however, we are glad for their decision in response to our 2019 rulemaking petition to craft an internal policy that requires a case-by-case examination of “problem” beavers and empowers Department staff to require non-lethal alternatives to killing beavers, which has been the norm with previously lax rules and the Department’s issuance of “depredation permits”.
Broadcasted by KHUM, KMUD, and the Lost Coast Outpost, EPIC’s radio shows are an invaluable way to disseminate current information about local environmental happenings. The EcoNews Report is a weekly, half-hour enviro news/chat program transmitted every Saturday morning at 10am on KHUM (104.3-104.7 FM), and published as a podcast on the Lost Coast Outpost, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and TuneIn. EPIC hosts KMUD’s Environment Show (Eureka 88.1 FM, Laytonville 90.3 FM, Garberville 91.1 FM, Shelter Cove 99.5 FM) on the second Tuesday of each month from 7-8pm. Please tune in!
Happy holidays from the EPIC team!