Today, Joan Baez’s trusty adage “action is the antidote to despair” fills my brain.
I woke up yesterday morning and took a long, hot shower, trying to forever rinse away the results of the 45th presidential election. Border walls, nuclear codes, women’s liberation, wars, public lands, climate change, imperiled species, the future my kids will inherit — all spinning through my head like a dreidel.
Then my eight-year-old daughter popped out of bed and asked who won. The pit in my stomach deepened.
Lunch with co-workers to commiserate and exchange ideas moving forward followed by a walk in the sunshine to the post office where we passed 150 high school students demonstrating downtown with a shared message of “Love Trumps Hate.” News of thousands marching in Portland into the wee hours, shutting down both lanes of I-5 traffic. Neighbors coming together to hug, play music and hatch plans for the future.
The stakes for Cascadia and our planet have never been higher, and the new guy and his entourage are about to go for the jugular.
They are coming to clearcut our remaining old-growth forests, dam our free-flowing rivers, graze and drill our commons into oblivion, gut our bedrock environmental statutes and roll back decades of hard-fought social justice progress.
It is time to roll up our sleeves, dig in, and double down on our efforts over the next four years to defend our shared values and what makes Cascadia so special — its diverse landscapes, raging rivers, and unique communities.
Together, we are going to stop this nonsense, and Cascadia Wildlands’ newly adopted mission fits squarely into these trying times: We defend and restore Cascadia’s wild ecosystems in the forests, in the courts and in the streets.
It is an encouraging reminder that, with your help, we largely staved off the environmental disaster the George W. Bush administration would have wreaked in Cascadia, and we will do the same again. Generations to come depend on us.
Let’s take our passion to confront the threats to all that is wild in Cascadia and continue to lay the groundwork for the future we want. It is our imperative.
Take deep breaths, hug the ones you love, and brace for impact. Let’s do this, friends.
With love and rage,
(Grizz on the Copper River Delta, Alaska / Photo by Brett Cole)
by Alaska Legal Director Gabe Scott [updated 9/8]
TONGASS NATIONAL FOREST, ALASKA— Lots to report from our ground-truthing trek last week into Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. We spent a week on Wrangell, Revilla and Prince of Wales Islands with colleagues investigating proposed and active old-growth logging projects.
This was a trip to the edge of the cresting wave of old-growth logging in Cascadia. We visited the largest old-growth sale in a generation, the Big Thorne Stewardship Project, as well as the next big sale coming down the pipe on Wrangell Island. The world should know about the old-growth clearcutting that is still happening in Alaska. You’ll especially want to hear about these wolf pups on Prince of Wales.
For the week in the Tongass I was joined by Oliver Stiefel, an attorney at CRAG and co-counsel on most of our pending Tongass litigation; Jacob Ritley, a cinematographer who offered his skills to help document what is going on; and the incomparable Larry Edwards, the southeast Alaska forest campaigner for Greenpeace. We met up for a couple days driving and flying around Wrangell Island, then down to Ketchikan to look at the Saddle Lakes road. From there we ferried over to Prince of Wales Island for several more days in the woods.
Tongass at the Crossroads
Things are happening on the Tongass.
The big new Forest Plan is out, vaunted as a “transition” out of old-growth logging and into second-growth logging. It’s a nice idea, but the actual plan is to prop up old-growth logging for several more decades. We expect to be filing our administrative objection to the plan in late August.
The biggest old-growth sale in a generation, the Big Thorne Stewardship Project, is being rapidly cut while our appeal for an injunction waits for a decision by the 9th Circuit. Over 6,000 acres of old-growth is being logged, nearly 150 million board feet, on north central Prince of Wales Island.
The next of the big logging project, the 5,000-acre Wrangell Island Project, is moving down the pipeline. There is still time to prevent that mistake as the agency reviews comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
Construction is beginning on the Saddle Lakes road out of Ketchikan, which would further threaten the imperiled wolf population on the Alexander Archipelago.
And that's just on Forest Service land. On State and private land, it’s even worse.
The purpose of a groundtruth expedition is to provide a reality check for the schemes layed out on paper. The truth on the ground on the Tongass is even more striking and urgent than we had feared. The Forest Service is mowing down forests in a last gasp, while the industry scrapes the bottom of the barrel it has emptied. Old-growth logging is directly threatening the imperiled Alexander Archipelago wolf, including one pack in particular.
Wrangell Island – Scraping the barrel
Wrangell, Alaska is a great little town in a beautiful setting. It sits at the north end of a big island, separated by inlets and narrows from even more remote islands and mountain wilderness of the Stikine. It’s a great place to visit, accomodating but not overrun by tourists. Wrangell has busy small-boat harbors and lots of salmon fishing, a nice main street and neighborhoods, surrounded by post-card views of ocean inlets, forested islands and high mountains. They have a new ship yard, which is turning out to be a brilliant economic move for the isolated community, keeping boats and people working in town through the winter.
The purpose of our visit was to look at the next big old-growth timber sale, the Wrangell Island Project. It proposes logging on 5,309 acres, almost all untouched old-growth. This is one of the large, long-term sales originally ordered by our old friend Mark Rey to re-establish the logging industry.
In Wrangell we met up with a local homesteader, who in summers works a “John Muir tour” for cruise ship passengers. This was a personal highlight because I’d always wondered where exactly it was above town that John Muir lit his famous fire in 1879. (Quick history tangent: In Travels in Alaska Muir describes charging up a mountainside on a black night in a howling rainstorm, then lighting a fire using only a small candle and a pocketknife in the driving rain. He wanted to observe the trees’ wildness in the torrential storm. Being John Muir, his fire made a flame so huge it illuminated the low clouds over town. The townspeople were apparently much-alarmed by the weird light, suspecting spirits or a new kind of omen.)
There used to be a mill in Wrangell. At least then one could see some logic in a 65 million board foot monstrosity, but Wrangell’s foreign-owned mill skipped out on their long-term contracts decades ago, and an American effort to save it went bankrupt in 2004. The town has moved on. Today there are a few small mills, which is all to the good, but those guys only need a few acres a year. Wherever the market for a huge influx of Wrangell Island logs is, it certainly isn’t in Wrangell.
As we flew and drove around the island it was clear that the best forests have already been logged away. From a timber point of view, the game is over. Obviously. The Wrangell Island Project targets the best of what remains, which means these stands were rejected by timber companies over and over through the years. But it also means that these forests have become critical for the remaining wildlife. We saw some gorgeous old-growth stands. Not much of the high-volume stuff that is so critical for winter habitat, but some gorgeous high-elevation and north-facing stands. Lots of the stands we saw that have been marked for cutting surely will lose money for whoever logs them. Why log five acres of old, gnarled-up cedar and snag to get one truck-full of logs? Kind of a head-scratcher, honestly.
This sale is so big, and so little of the big tree forest is left on Wrangell, that this project would remove the long-term possibility of local, economic logging. The last gasp of the timber beast could actually kill the beating heart of the small-scale, Alaska-style logging operators. It is the classic Alaska story of the resource being hauled away, leaving nothing for the locals (let alone the wildlife) to get by on when winter comes. It doesn’t make sense.
We’ll try to stop that happening on Wrangell. Our coalition submitted detailed comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement days later. We are hopeful that logic, reason and law will prevail.
Next we flew to Ketchikan, on Revillagigedo Island, to look at the Saddle Lakes Project. Saddle Lakes was an old-growth timber sale and road-building project east of Ketchikan. After we challenged the project legally the Forest Service dropped the logging portion. But the State has insisted on going forward with the road connection between Ketchikan and Shelter Cove.
I'll admit, the Shelter Cove road does have a certain logic to it. The backcountry is scattered with remote networks of logging roads. Some people want to link them up to where people can easily drive them. Ketchikan is a remote island town with a good size population, and people here do all of their playing in the outdoors: hunting, fishing, trapping, and berry-picking. One of the most popular directions residents go is out the White River Road. Not long ago that area was clearcut, on an epic scale, by the Alaska Mental Health Trust. But just beyond that are a whole heap of fantastic inlets and valleys and forests and rivers to explore.
With Shelter Cove road the Forest Service and State of Alaska are trying to connect Ketchikan with the network of logging roads to the east. Those roads ultimately head north, and ultimately the State hopes to link all those road systems up. The new road linkages would also facilitate additional clearcutting and other development on USFS, State and private lands.
The trouble is that, first, nobody is maintaining those roads. They slough off into streams and the culverts commonly block passage for salmon. And second, linking remote roads with big towns is a sure-fire way to cause the wolves to be hunted and trapped out of the area. Alexander Archipelago wolves have been hit so badly by the one-two punch of cleartut logging and aggressive wolf hunting that they are on the cusp of extinction. Keeping remote areas remote is the only way they might survive.
And that is why we’re challenging the road in Alaska District court.
Prince of Wales Island
You guys, seriously, this place!
For lovers of wildest Cascadia, Prince of Wales Island is just about the coolest spot on earth. They should set the Jedi training temple here in the next Star Wars. People would be sure it was CGI. The trees are big, the rivers are clear, the forest is boundless.
We were here to examine the Big Thorne sale. At over a hundred million board feet from over six thousand acres of old-growth it is the largest old-growth timber sale in a generation. We’ve challenged this sale in court, but lost our bid for an injunction in the Alaska District Court. Cascadia and several others have appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last year. The case has been fully briefed and argued, and currently sits on the judges’ desks waiting for a decision.
It is impossible to convey the truth on the ground in this place with words. To know the place we’re talking about I need you to suspend your disbelief and re-activate the childlike side of your imagination. Picture an ancient wooded glade out of a fairy tale— all stately green trees drooping moss, gentle blue rivers teeming with fish, perfect meadows where Bambi is learning to walk. It’s a place where cute little wolf puppies—the hope of a dying breed— were born this very spring live under the roots of an old-growth tree at a quiet blue lake ringed in green.
Got it? Now, I'm telling you, this place is real.
The forest naturally is world-class. Forest to take your breath away. Tall, straight, towering Sitka spruce; huge western hemlock all wild and twisted. There were even shore pines and alders of alarming size; trees that told you this is a good place to be a tree. And the cedars, oh the cedars. Red and yellow cedar lace the forest, dripping with moss and lichen and bark. And the dead trees were even more beautiful, towering totems weathered by centuries, swirling with color.
Wildlife thrives here too. Prince of Wales is notoriously thick with black bears, though we saw little sign. The island is snaked through with rivers and lakes rich with trout and salmon, a fisherman’s post-card around every bend. Sitka black-tailed deer are naturally abundant, feeding humans and wolf and gladdening the forest scene. The several towns and villages on the island are spectacularly set, and have deep history. It's a place where stores advertise "Sundries." The abundance that Prince of Wales is blessed with has also been a curse. It is here that logging has been, and continues to be, the most intense.
When the Tongass old-growth industry dies here, it is not going to be for lack of trying. Old-growth forests are falling fast and furious this summer on Prince of Wales and nearby Cleveland Peninsuala. We saw massive new clearcuts on National Forest, State, Mental Health Trust, and ANCSA Corporation land. Whole valleys, mountainsides, and peninsulas are being leveled.
If the forests are being mowed down, how can it be that the industry claims to be starving for trees? The need for logs to mill is the whole basis of the Forest Service timber sales, the new Forest Plan, and Senator Murkowski’s various crazy ideas about giving away federal land for deregulated logging. It’s all to feed this mill you see below you—Viking Lumber—the last industrial-sized old-growth mill in all of Southeast Alaska.
How that is, it became obvious when we looked at it, is that the trees being cut here are mostly all exported away as un-milled, "raw" logs. The piles of logs lined up at the dock for export dwarfed the mostly-full Viking yard.
Visiting the active logging units of the Big Thorne sale the scale of ecological devastation was evident. Logging crews have been targeting the old-growth clearcut units, cutting them as fast as they can.
Which brings me to the wolf pups. In their zeal to get the forest cut down before any legal injunction, logging crews have ended up harassing a particular pack of the imperiled Alexander Archipelago wolves. We’d heard rumors of this prior to our visit, so spent days trying to track them down.
This small pack gave birth to pups this spring near a lake. Their parents, like most all Alexander Archipelago wolves— Islands wolves—had excavated a spacious den under the roots of an old-growth tree. They wanted peace, quiet, safety, and enough food. It is especially important that these pups make it, because the Islands wolf population on Prince of Wales has plummeted to under 100.
For several years the wildlife biologists with Alaska Department of Fish and Game and at the U.S. Forest Service have been aware of this particular den. One of the logging units in the Big Thorne sale was identified by ADF&G early on as overlapping with the mandatory 1,200’ buffer around that den. To guard the wolf den locations, ADF&G was sent the maps by the Forest Service, re-drew the unit boundaries to provide the 1,200’ buffer, and sent them back, all in secret.
Foresters preferred a different unit layout. By the time the guys with chainsaws showed up, the secret about the wolf family, who was known to be about to give birth to pups in that den, and mandatory logging buffer, were apparently forgotten.
Just prior to the pups being born, loggers cut down the forest on the other side of the lake. The wolves also might also have noticed the hundreds of acres being mowed down just over surrounding ridges, and the heavy-lift helicopters thundering overhead.
The last reliable information on this wolf family, which we obtained by FOIA just after returning, was that the pups were born, but had been forced to abandon the den.
The agency apparently was able to measure from stump to den, proving that the logging had invaded the mandatory (and paltry) 1,200’ buffer zone around active dens.[*UPDATE: more recent intelligence indicates the logging actually remained 18ft inside its buffer. GWS 9/8] Think of that. Logging an old-growth hillside, with helicopters no less, only 1,200’ from a den where you know there are baby wolves of an imperiled species.
We never were able to locate the den, but I think we did find tracks from that pack next to an adjacent lake. They might be looking for a new den, or out hunting. Their territory is getting awfully limited. It is becoming harder and harder for a wolf to find a place that is not either a road or a clearcut. With aggressive hunters blaming them for trouble hunting deer, and new clearcuts and roads encroaching on every side, these wolf pups have a tough road ahead of them finding a new home
We'll be rooting for them, and doing everything we can in the human world to make their road easier. Stay tuned for Jacob's stunning images and video from our trip, and updates on the wolf packs search for a new home.
Tongass Expedition: Images
Tongass Expedition: Video coming soon
(PS: Stay tuned for video, and more still footage, from the expedition that we plan to release soon.)
by Legal Intern Kat Fiedler
This week I am wrapping up my legal internship with Cascadia Wildlands. I have spent my summer conducting legal research and drafting memos and litigation documents across the scope of Cascadia’s work. While much of my time was spent in the legal weeds, the breadth of issues left me with a snapshot of the threats that the wild places and wildlife face throughout Cascadia and a better understanding of the legal tools we have to stop them. My work has included challenging timber sales that threaten wildlife, water quality, and general ecosystem health, strengthening or preserving wildlife protections for both marbled murrelets and wolves, and strategizing over the faulty legal structure governing suction dredge mining in the state of Washington. I was also able to observe many of the administrative procedures that underlie much of the decision making surrounding our wild places.
Exploring these places was, of course, a highlight of the summer. In June, I joined Cascadia Wildlands’ Executive Director Josh Laughlin, Wildlands Campaign Director Robin Meacher, and a number of Cascadia members on a hike into the 30,500-acre proposed Devils Staircase wilderness down to the namesake waterfall in the Oregon Coast Range. The experience was incredible. Having to navigate and bushwhack through such an untouched place provides a much different experience. It’s hard, and it’s worth it. Nothing can be taken for granted. It is impossible to ignore the thickets of underbrush that grab at your ankles, or the call of an owl when you stop to catch your breath, or the sunlight punching through the canopy illuminating a pink rhododendron. We reached the Devils Staircase bruised, sweaty, and happy – ready for the refreshing water. And it was all ours for the afternoon. The forest gifted us salmonberries on the final stretch home.
But even our forests marred by a matrix of ownership and scars of our state’s timber history somehow feel equally alive. That’s the beauty of Oregon, of Cascadia. I explored the Elliott State Forest, located just south of Devil’s Staircase, and learned about its imperfect history, but also the current threat of privatization. This place, too, was rich. In just a few hours, hiking along an elk trail, we spotted a bear, heard the call of owls, stepped over cougar scat, and gazed up into the canopies of legacy Douglas firs. The Elliott is not disposable.
This place is what I call home, and it has been an enormous privilege to work to protect it alongside the amazing folks at Cascadia Wildlands. I will finish up my studies at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University and the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies this next year, and look forward to returning home to start my career continuing this work protecting our wild and public lands.
(Elliott State Forest photo by Tim Giraudier)
For Immediate Release, April 14, 2016
Larry Edwards, Greenpeace, (907) 747-7557, email@example.com
Gabe Scott, Cascadia Wildlands, (907) 491-0856, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dune Lankard, Center for Biological Diversity, (907) 952-5265, email@example.com
Lawsuit Challenges Road Project From Ketchikan to Shelter Cove
KETCHIKAN, Alaska Five environmental groups sued the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today in the federal district court at Anchorage to force supplemental analysis on the environmental consequences of the Ketchikan-to-Shelter-Cove road project on Revillagigedo Island in southeastern Alaska. The project is out for bids, which are due today.
The lawsuit challenges the Forest Service's recent approval of a right-of-way easement for a one-mile segment of the road that would cross national forest land, and the Army Corps of Engineers' issuance of a wetland fill permit, which allows seven miles of road (including the national forest segment) to be built. The rest of the construction would be on state land.
The road construction would connect Ketchikan to about 53 miles of existing logging roads in the Saddle Lakes area. That region already has a very high road density of nearly two miles of road per square mile; local wildlife populations are already stressed from about 14,000 acres of clearcut logging over the past two decades.
"At issue is the connection of Ketchikan to the presently isolated area beyond George Inlet, which has an existing high density of logging roads," said Larry Edwards of Greenpeace. "Making road connections from communities to areas that have a high road density is known to pose a threat to the sustainability of populations of Alexander Archipelago wolves, marten and other sensitive wildlife species due to increased hunting and trapping pressure, including poaching."
The 7.3-mile, one-lane gravel road link would be built by the State of Alaska, which put it out for bids March 14. The expected cost is $19 million, and $21 million is budgeted. The construction would extend eastward from the existing White River Road, which now ends at Leask Creek. It would proceed to Salt Lagoon, at the head of George Inlet, and then northward. The north end would connect to an existing logging road that goes eastward to Shelter Cove, on Carroll Inlet.
"The federal agencies did not follow federal law to consider hunting and trapping pressure, wildlife disturbance and user conflicts that the road connection will cause," said Gabe Scott of Cascadia Wildlands. "It is important that the agencies go back to the drawing board to ensure that wildlife, hunters and recreational users are fully considered."
The suit has no effect on road access from Ketchikan to upper George Inlet or on the potential for a boat launch ramp and dock somewhere along the inlet's shore between the White River and Leask Creek.
"Plowing forward with this road connection before determining the consequences of doing so has the process entirely backward," said Dune Lankard, the Center for Biological Diversity's representative in Alaska. "This project is part of the logging industry's grand scheme to access old-growth forests that we're determined to protect."
The plaintiffs are the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, Cascadia Wildlands, Greenpeace, Center for Biological Diversity and The Boat Company.
Plaintiffs are represented by Crag Law Center, of Portland, Ore.
by Robin Meacher, Cascadia Wildlands' Wildlands Campaign Director
The Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) continues to forge ahead with the sale of the 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest located east of Coos Bay. While conservation groups, school children, recreationists and hunters and anglers continue to enjoy the Elliott for the host of opportunities it offers, Cascadia Wildlands continues to see Big Timber and equity investors show increased interest in becoming the new owner of this incredible coastal forest.
The potential transfer of ownership raises red flags for both conservation and public access. The Elliott provides some of the highest quality habitat remaining in the Oregon Coast Range for the imperiled marbled murrelet and endangered salmon. The murrelet is a coastal sea bird that nests exclusively in old-growth forest and its presence on the forest has greatly reduced the amount of logging that can take place in the Elliott.
The previous sale of three parcels of the Elliott resulted in immediate closure with "No Trespassing" signs posted to keep the public out. The sale of the entire Elliott to timber interests will likely result in similar access being restricted thereby blocking the public from visiting a substantial portion of this coastal gem.
Cascadia Wildlands' Endangered Species Act lawsuit on the Elliott in 2012 and our current lawsuit challenging the the disposal of the 788-acre East Hakki parcel have legal implications that are being downplayed by the DSL throughout the current ownership transfer process. We recently submitted a letter to interested parties in the Elliott sale process to explain the complex legal issues and to augment the lack of information on the legal history provided by DSL. With ESA protections for the murrelet on the forest and our alleged illegality of selling the majority of the Elliott, the sale process designed by DSL likely creates uncertainty for investors. Cascadia Wildlands and partners continue to engage the State in this process and advocate for protection of the outstanding public and conservation values on the forest. We've crafted a petition to Governor Kate Brown asking her to ensure the forest stays in public ownership. As a member of the State Land Board, the body that gave the green light to the sale process, the Governor can stand up for Oregon's public lands and keep the Elliott in public hands. Stay tuned as well for two public hikes hosted by Cascadia Wildlands this spring.
(Elliott State Forest photo by Cascadia Wildlands)
March 31, 2016
Gabriel Scott, Alaska Legal Director, Cascadia Wildlands, 907-491-0856; firstname.lastname@example.org
Gabriel Scott, Alaska Legal Director, Cascadia Wildlands, 907-491-0856; email@example.com
George Kimbrell, Senior Attorney, Center for Food Safety, 571-527-8618; firstname.lastname@example.org
Brettny Hardy, Earthjustice, 415-217-2142; email@example.com
Dune Lankard, Center for Biological Diversity, (907) 952-5265; firstname.lastname@example.org
Lawsuit Challenges FDA’s Approval of Genetically Engineered Salmon
Coalition of Fishing, Consumer, and Environmental Groups Say First-ever Approval of Laboratory-Created Food Animal Violated Laws and Ignored Risks to Wild Salmon and Fishing Communities
SAN FRANCISCO, CA—A broad coalition of environmental, consumer, and commercial and recreational fishing organizations today sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approving the first-ever genetically engineered (GE) food animal, an Atlantic salmon engineered to grow quickly. The man-made salmon was created by AquaBounty Technologies, Inc. with DNA from three fish: Atlantic salmon, Pacific king salmon, and Arctic ocean eelpout. This marks the first time any government in the world has approved a GE animal for commercial sale and consumption.
The plaintiff coalition, jointly represented by legal counsel from Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice, includes Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Golden Gate Salmon Association, Kennebec Reborn, Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, Ecology Action Centre, Food & Water Watch, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Cascadia Wildlands, and Center for Food Safety.
In approving the GE salmon, FDA determined it would not require labeling of the GE fish to let consumers know what they are buying, which led Congress to call for labeling in the 2016 omnibus spending bill. FDA’s approval also ignored comments from nearly 2 million people opposed to the approval because the agency failed to analyze and prevent the risks to wild salmon and the environment, as well as fishing communities, including the risk that GE salmon could escape and threaten endangered wild salmon stocks.
AquaBounty’s GE salmon will undertake a 5,000-mile journey to reach U.S. supermarkets. The company plans to produce the GE salmon eggs on Prince Edward Island, Canada. The GE salmon will then be grown to market-size in a facility in Panama, processed into fillets, and shipped to the U.S. for sale. That complicated scheme is only for the initial approval, however. AquaBounty has publicly announced plans to ultimately grow its GE fish in the U.S. rather than Panama, and sell it around the world. Despite this, FDA’s approval only considered the current plans for the far-flung facilities in Canada and Panama, leaving the risk of escape and contamination of U.S. salmon runs unstudied.
The lawsuit challenges FDA’s claim that it has authority to approve and regulate GE animals as “animal drugs” under the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Those provisions were meant to ensure the safety of veterinary drugs administered to treat disease in livestock and were not intended to address entirely new GE animals that can pass along their altered genes to the next generation. The approval of the GE salmon opens the door to other genetically engineered fish and shellfish, as well as chickens, cows, sheep, goats, rabbits and pigs that are reportedly in development.
The lawsuit also highlights FDA’s failure to protect the environment and consult wildlife agencies in its review process, as required by federal law. U.S. Atlantic salmon, and many populations of Pacific salmon, are protected by the Endangered Species Act and in danger of extinction. Salmon is a keystone species and unique runs have been treasured by residents for thousands of years. Diverse salmon runs today sustain thousands of American fishing families, and are highly valued in domestic markets as a healthy, domestic, “green” food.
When GE salmon escape or are accidentally released into the environment, the new species could threaten wild populations by mating with endangered salmon species, outcompeting them for scarce resources and habitat, and/or introducing new diseases. Studies have shown that there is a high risk for GE organisms to escape into the natural environment, and that GE salmon can crossbreed with native fish. Transgenic contamination has become common in the GE plant context, where contamination episodes have cost U.S. farmers billions of dollars over the past decade. In wild organisms like fish, it could be even more damaging.
The world’s preeminent experts on GE fish and risk assessment, as well as biologists at U.S. wildlife agencies charged with protecting fish and wildlife heavily criticized the FDA decision for failing to evaluate these impacts. FDA ignored their concerns in the final approval.
Statements from counsel and plaintiff coalition:
“FDA’s decision is as unlawful as it is irresponsible,” said George Kimbrell, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety and co-counsel for the plaintiffs. “This case is about protecting our fisheries and ocean ecosystems from the foreseeable harms of the first-ever GE fish, harms FDA refused to even consider, let alone prevent. But it’s also about the future of our food: FDA should not, and cannot, responsibly regulate this GE animal, nor any future GE animals, by treating them as drugs under a 1938 law.”
“FDA has not answered crucial questions about the environmental risks posed by these fish or what can happen when these fish escape,” said Earthjustice attorney Brettny Hardy and co-counsel for plaintiffs. “We need these answers now and the FDA must be held to a higher standard. We are talking about the mass production of a highly migratory GE fish that could threaten some of the last remaining wild salmon on the planet. This isn’t the time to skimp on analysis and simply hope for the best.”
“Atlantic salmon populations including our endangered Gulf of Maine fish are hanging on by a thread– they can’t afford additional threats posed by GE salmon,” said Ed Friedman from Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, one of the parties who successfully petitioned to classify most Maine Atlantic salmon as endangered. “The law requires agencies like FDA, who aren’t fisheries biologists, to get review and approval from scientists with that expertise. FDA’s refusal to do this before allowing commercialization of GE salmon is not only irresponsible, it violates the law.”
“On Prince Edward Island and across Atlantic Canada, indigenous peoples, anglers and community groups are working hard to protect and restore endangered salmon populations and rivers. Genetic contamination threatens all this work and in return there is little or no economic benefit to the region,” said Mark Butler, policy director at Ecology Action Centre in Nova Scotia.
There’s never been a farmed salmon that hasn’t eventually escaped into the natural environment. Why should we believe that long term, these frankenfish won’t be the same?” asked Golden Gate Salmon Association executive director John McManus.
“Once they escape, you can’t put these transgenic fish back in the bag. They’re manufactured to outgrow wild salmon, and if they cross-breed, it could have irreversible impacts on the natural world,” said Dune Lankard, a salmon fisherman and the Center for Biological Diversity’s Alaska representative. “This kind of dangerous tinkering could easily morph into a disaster for wild salmon that will be impossible to undo.”
“FDA’s action threatens and disrespects the wild salmon ecosystems, cultures and industries that are treasured here in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska,” said Gabriel Scott, Alaska legal director for Cascadia Wildlands. “These folks think a salmon is just a packet of protein, but we in Salmon Nation know better. From Alaska to California, Americans are intimately related with diverse runs of salmon and we’ve learned their unique attributes and incredible value. We’ve worked very hard to be good stewards of our natural heritage, and refuse to allow that to be undone by one company’s irresponsible experiment.”
“The FDA has failed to adequately examine the risks associated with transgenic salmon,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “The long term effects of people eating genetically modified foods have never been adequately addressed—and this GE salmon is no exception. This fish is unnecessary, so why take the risk?”
“It’s clear that the market has rejected GE salmon despite FDA’s reckless approval,” said Dana Perls, food and technology campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “Major retailers including Costco, Safeway and Kroger won’t sell it and polls show the vast majority of people don’t want to eat it. Yet under this approval it won’t be labeled, violating our fundamental right to know what we are feeding our families.”
Click here for more information on GE salmon.
by Francis Eatherington, Cascadia Wildlands Umpqua Regional Advisor
Last week, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) denied the Jordan Cove Project. We were shocked as FERC is known as the rubber-stamping government agency that approves fossil fuel projects at any cost. Even the promoter of Jordan Cove, Canadian-based Veresen Inc., said it was “shocked and disappointed” with the decision. The energy scheme would have resulted in the construction of the 232-mile Pacific Connector Pipeline through southwest Oregon, which would have brought fracked gas from Canada and the Rockies to Coos Bay where it would be super cooled and exported to markets in Asia — a real loser for clean water, wildlands, climate stability and families in the path of the pipeline.
FERC had already missed its decision deadline scheduled for December 29, so by March 2016 we were wondering, “Were they late because a group of the landowners under threat of eminent domain recently wrote to FERC?” On lawyer letterhead, they reminded FERC that if there were no buyers for the gas Veresen wanted to export, there was no “public need” required for eminent domain to take their farm and forestlands.
Veresen had recently admitted to FERC it had no buyers for the gas, and only 3% of the impacted landowners had agreed to host its pipeline. FERC could not give Veresen permission to forcibly condemn 97% of the private property needed for the pipeline if no one wanted the gas. (That is actually FERC’s definition of public need… that there is a buyer for the product. The landowners also objected to a foreign-owned corporation taking their land only for corporate profit).
When FERC denied the Jordan Cove permit on March 11, they cited “significant landowner opposition” and that “Pacific Connector has presented little or no evidence of need for the Pacific Connector Pipeline” because Pacific Connector has not “entered into any precedent agreements for its project.” FERC concludes “issuance of a certificate would allow Pacific Connector to proceed with eminent domain proceedings in what we find to be the absence of a demonstrated need for the pipeline.”
The cheers of victory reverberated around the 650 impacted landowners and dozens of organizations who have fought this terrible project for over 10 years. The day was spent on the phone, email, and social media in tears of joy.
This gas export scheme would have been Oregon’s largest source of greenhouse gas pollution, with an infrastructure tying us to fossil fuels for decades, and it would have impacted 33 rare fish and wildlife species protected under the Endangered Species Act. Moreover, the liquefied natural gas terminal would have been built in a tsunami evacuation zone where the big one is expected at any time.
Let’s all rejoice in FERCs decision to deny it, even if the decision was not for any of the reasons mentioned above. While we should celebrate this victory, our work is still not done. We need to convince Oregon Governor Kate Brown that if FERC found no need for this project, the state should also stop work on the many permits required for the Jordan Cove export terminal.
A word of caution: FERC’s decision stated that if Veresen finds any buyers, FERC could reconsider their decision. And sure enough, on March 22, Veresen announced, with great fanfare, that it may have found a buyer and is in “preliminary discussions” for 20% of the production capacity at Jordan Cove. Its press release included small print saying “no assurances can be given as to future results… undue reliance should not be placed.” We hope FERC pays attention to the small print, as we can imagine its rubber stamp quivering in the air.
(2015 anti-LNG rally at the state capitol. Photo by Francis Eatherington.)
by Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands legal director
It is astonishing to folks at Cascadia Wildlands that House Bill 4040 (HB4040) was even a topic of conversation this "short" legislative session. Every other year, the Oregon legislature holds a short session that only lasts around one month, and because of the limited time for discussion and debate, usually only non-controversial bills are taken up.
However, this session the House passed and the Senate is seriously deliberating over HB4040 despite tremendous controversy, deceit, and enormous amounts of misinformation. HB4040 would legislatively remove the gray wolf from the state list of threatened and endangered species, precluding the public's right to judicial review to ensure that the delisting is scientifically and legally sound.
This bill's success thus far has been unbelievable for a number of reasons. First, Oregon still only has around one hundred wolves in the state. This is approximately seven percent of the state's purported ecological capacity, and the wolves only occupy about 12 percent of their suitable habitat in the state. Most of the wolves are still concentrated in the northeast corner of Oregon. We believe that these statistics alone show that wolves, while on the path to recovery (we had zero wolves 10 years ago), have not fully recovered and are not ready for critical protections to be removed. The scientific community has largely agreed with us and offered widespread critique of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission's proposal to delist.
Second, Oregon has democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate. We believed, as did the Salem Statesman Journal, that democrats supported the concept that environmental decisions should be made on the basis of sound science and not politics. In the past, democrats in Oregon have prevented the intervention of special interests in wildlife management, especially when involving threatened or endangered species. For example, four of the past five years extremists in the livestock industry and their lobbyists in Salem have introduced bills aimed at removing protections for wolves, and these bills never got serious attention, largely through pushback by democrats. We are dumbfounded as to why democratic legislators in Salem are now kowtowing to special interests given that 96% of people who commented on the delisting encouraged retaining the wolf's listed status.
ODFW and its Commission delisted the gray wolf. Pursuant to our state laws concerning endangered species, such a finding is required to be based upon the best available science and make certain findings, like whether or not wolves have recovered throughout a significant portion of their range in the state. We believed that because wolves only occupied a small percentage of their range, ODFW failed to make the required findings, and we and our colleagues sought judicial review of the agency decision. HB4040 amounts to the legislature changing the rules of the game after the agency has already made the decision, exempting ODFW from having to make the requisite scientific findings. Again, the Salem Statesman Journal put it well: "It would be grossly unfair, and a bad precedent, for the Legislature to change the rules after the litigation has started."Third, the bill is undemocratic because it precludes judicial review of ODFW's delisting decision. Essentially, judicial review functions as a crucial part of our government's system of checks and balances. The legislature makes laws — general guidelines for agency behavior. The executive or administrative agencies enforce these laws and carry out their execution. The judicial branch ensures that agency actions comply with the laws. Here,
Fourth, the bill's proponents weren't being truthful in order to pass it through the House. When the bill first popped up, Cascadia Wildlands directed its supporters interested in the wolf topic to contact their representatives and tell them to not vote for the bill for all of the reasons above. The message that was repeatedly received was the representative was supporting the bill because it was simply "a pat on the back" for ODFW, and would not preclude judicial. We were dumbfounded. Upon close scrutiny, the only reason for this bill, its sole effect, is to preclude judicial review of the wolf delisting. Obviously, lobbyists and even legislators pushing this bill were not being truthful about its effects, and legislators regurgitating this refrain either refused to look at the bill or made a conscious choice to spread the misinformation further.
The true purpose of the bill was uncovered before the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources this week through the honorable efforts of Senators Michael Dembrow and Floyd Prozanski. But instead of killing the bill because of the blatant deceit or at the very least sending it back down to the House with full disclosure about the bill's intent and effects, the Senate Committee passed the bill with a vote of 3 to 2, with Senators Dembrow and Prozanski voting against the bill, and Senator Chris Edwards (D-Eugene) supporting it along with two republicans on the Committee.
It appears the divisive politics paralyzing Washington DC and partisan game playing have now infected our state.
We have allies in this fight for sound science. State Senators Dembrow and Prozanski have worked hard to defeat the bill. Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) has taken up the effort, calling out fellow state democrats for their betrayal of sound science for political games.
This fight is not over yet, and there is still opportunity to turn senators who are on the fence about this bill. Take action now and also call your local state senator to urge them to vote "no" on HB4040. And thank you for standing up for Oregon's recovering wolves.
By Gabe Scott, Alaska Legal Director
CORDOVA, AK— Frankenfish may be coming to a store near you, but not if we can help it.
Last week's decision by the Food & Drug Administration to approve Genetically Engineered Salmon for sale in the United States is hugely important. There are a lot of moving pieces and unknowns, so here’s the low-down.
What are Frankenfish?
The fish is basically an Atlantic Salmon spliced with genes from Pacific King Salmon and a deep-sea fish to make it grow faster. A company called AquaBounty Technologies makes these fish at a facility on Prince Edward Island, just off the Fortune River in Canada. They are grown out in a land-based fish farm along a small Pacific river in Bajo Mono, Panama. With FDA’s approval, they can now do this all commercially, and sell them as regular salmon to consumers in the United States.
The AquaBounty operation is legally classified as a new “animal drug,” and was evaluated by the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine. Wait, fish farming frankenfish is considered an animal drug? Yep. So there’s your first clue the government is behind the eight-ball when it comes to dealing with new biotechnologies.
This specific approval for a few ponds in Panama is just the beginning. The decision is the first of its kind, the first time any GE animal has ever been approved for human consumption.
The “AquAdvantage” salmon line is owned by AquaBounty Technologies, which in turn is owned by the global biotech conglomerate Intrexon Corporation (“A better world through better DNA”). Based on how the fish are designed and the company’s own statements, many observers fear that AquAdvantage salmon are destined to be raised in ocean net pens.
In spite of pleas from consumers, FDA also determined that the fish do not need to be labeled.
And, at the same time they approved AquAdvantage salmon, the FDA also rejected two legal petitions relating to the inadequate regulatory processes for protecting consumers and the environment.
What is the problem with frankenfish?
There are a myriad off issues with genetically modified food, but the core problem is that the government regulators are flying blind. Rather than squarely address risks of contamination of wild stocks, disruption of wild fish markets, or health issues for consumers, genetically engineered animals are being green-lighted under a tortured reading of obscure and out-dated regulations.
For example, they have flatly refused to consider economic impacts of their decision. This in spite of overwhelming opposition from the salmon industry. Wild salmon economies work because the product is a green, high-value healthy food. What will happen to those markets when consumers have to worry whether the fish on their plate is a frankenfish?
The agency also refused to consider any long-term or cumulative impacts. That’s preposterous for AquAdvantage salmon. The obvious plan is for them to be raised in ocean net pens on a wide scale— the venture makes no commercial sense, otherwise.
Because it’s a new technology, we don’t know much about how GE fish might impact the environment. But it does raise significant questions and justified fears. Among them:
Escaped fish interbreeding with wild salmon, trout or another species;
Health risks to humans;
Economic effects. Harming the domestic fishing industry;
What are we doing about it?
Opposition to “frankenfish” has been strong, in fact almost universal, in salmon territory (largely synonymous with Cascadia). It is notable that some of the strongest opposition is coming from “Salmon Nation,” from those of us whose livelihoods and culture are intertwined with salmon.
Cascadia is committed to using every legal tool available to stop this irresponsible decision. The bedrock environmental laws we regularly apply to timber sales, the “look before you leap” rules like the National Environmental Policy Act, are well-suited to reign in reckless projects such as this.
Other national and international organizations are actively engaged as well, notably the Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth, and EarthJustice.
At the grassroots level, Cascadia and our partners Mountain Rose Herbs took a leading role in the campaign for GE-free seafood, signing up groceries to take the pledge not to sell frankenfish. You can see the list of fish suppliers who took the pledge at: http://www.foe.org/gefreeseafood
Even our politicians have gone to bat, although so far they've failed to make any hits. The Alaska legislature passed legislation banning the fish from the Alaska, and passed a resolution specifically opposing AquAdvantage salmon. In Washington D.C. Alaska’s congressional delegation, notably Lisa Murkowski and Don Young, have been vocal and strident in opposition, introducing several pieces of legislation and conducting hearings. Senators and representatives elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest are also vocal opponents.
Commercial fishermen have been active. The lack of labeling especially raises fears that wild salmon markets will be affected.
Whatever the right decision about genetically modified salmon, it is an important decision. The consequences should have been thought through. That is why us Cascadians are sure to continue leading the fight to demand that our interests— that the salmon’s interests— are not ignored.
To remain involved, here are three tips:
1. To avoid eating frankenfish, shop at suppliers who have committed not to sell them. Grocers can also take the pledge, and refuse to buy any salmon with a country of origin “Panama.” Visit http://www.foe.org/gefreeseafood to see who has taken the pledge.
2. For fishermen, processors, groceries and restaurants, knowing where your fish comes from will become more important.
3. Help support litigation challenging frankenfish by donating to Cascadia Wildlands! Also, any Cascadia members who have spent time on Prince Edward Island, or western Panama, and are interested in helping with litigation, please be in touch with our legal director, Nick Cady, nick(at)cascwild(dot)org.
(Spawned out red salmon, Copper River. Photo origin unknown)
By Legal Director Nick Cady
Given the state’s recent move to remove the gray wolf from Oregon’s list of threatened and endangered species, it is worth taking a full look at the history of this species in Oregon to fully put in context the recent decision.
In 1947, the last wolf was killed in Oregon as part of a government bounty program, which was part of a nationwide predator extermination campaign facilitated by federal and state governments. Upon passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 under Nixon, the federal government began focusing on recovering many of the species wiped out by extermination campaigns and habitat lost to industrial development.
One of the first critters focused on was the gray wolf. After 66 wolves were reintroduced over two years in central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park, individuals eventually dispersed west into Oregon. In 1999, an initial lone wolf swam the Snake River and was Oregon’s first wolf in over 50 years, but wildlife managers with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) were politically and physically unprepared to handle wolves returning to the state. The lone wolf was darted and shipped back to Idaho. Two more wolves that crossing the Snake were killed, one poached and another run over on I-84.
This series of events began a state-sanctioned process to develop a wolf conservation and management plan in Oregon designed to address the unique relationship between Oregonians and wolves. Development of the plan involved many different stakeholders including conservation groups, livestock interests, the hunting community, county commissioners, and ODFW. A comprehensive plan was finalized in 2005, but the plan left many questions and situations unaddressed, mainly the response to wolf-livestock conflict and its intersection with the state Endangered Species Act, which has a prohibition against killing a listed species.
The 2005 plan did establish a framework for the path recovery would take in Oregon. Recovery was divided into three phases for each half of the state (western and eastern). In the first phase (Phase I), wolf conservation and management would be focused on wolf recovery. Killing wolves in response to depredations would be a last resort, after all available non-lethal methods for eliminating the conflict had been exhausted. In exchange for these relatively stringent standards, the recovery numbers under Phase I were low: once a side of the state reached four breeding pairs for three consecutive years, wolf conservation and management would transfer into Phase II where the standards on when wolves could be killed were relaxed. A breeding pair was defined as a pair of wolves that had at least two pups that survived the calendar year.
By 2011, Oregon had its first established breeding pair of wolves, the Imnaha pack. This pack’s alpha pair produced OR-7, the famous wolf that journeyed from northeast Oregon to northern California, and the female wolf that helped establish California’s first wolf pack in almost one hundred years. But during 2010-2011, Oregon began experiencing its first wolf-livestock conflicts in northeastern Oregon, and the livestock community began pressuring ODFW to kill wolves to reduce this conflict.
Although the numbers of wolf-livestock conflicts were limited, especially when compared to other sources of livestock mortality, and have remained incredibly low to date, the issue of wolves was swept up in politics and the rise of the Tea Party across the rural West. Wolves became a symbol of federal government intervention, and Republican representatives in these areas began to be threatened by Tea Party candidates who were running on staunch anti-wolf platforms. In response, these candidates also began banging on the anti-wolf drum. The ultimate result of all this noise making was the legislative, federal delisting of wolves in the Rocky Mountain gray wolf recovery area, which included Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and eastern Oregon and Washington. This was the first time Congress had delisted an endangered species, and marked the beginning of a still ongoing legislative and legal battle over wolves and other imperiled species.
Specifically in Oregon, this meant that federal protections under the Endangered Species Act in the eastern portion of the state had been eliminated, and that the state was permitted to kill wolves. The livestock community and anti-wolf political figures began pushing hard for killing wolves in Oregon. Cascadia and others fervently reminded the state and ODFW that we only had a single breeding pair of wolves in Oregon, and approximately only 12 or 13 wolves total. Despite these protests, ODFW moved to kill the alpha male of the Imnaha pack and one of the pups born that year.ODFW determined that after only a few incidents of wolf-livestock conflict, the Imnaha pack satisfied the wolf plan’s “chronically depredating” standard and needed to be killed.
Folks at Cascadia Wildlands were outraged. We reminded the state the commitments it had made in the plan to make killing wolves a measure of last resort at this early juncture of recovery, and we disagreed with ODFW that a few incidents over the course of two years marked a “chronic” issue. We went to court over the disagreement, preventing the killing of the Imnaha pack, but ultimately settled the suit with both the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and the ODFW. This settlement defined some of the vague terms used in Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, laid out clearly defined requirements for implementing non-lethal preventative measures, and delineated exactly what the plan meant by “chronically depredating.” Additionally, a compensation program was set up for ranchers that lost livestock to wolves, and a tax credit established to further compensate ranchers for efforts expended on preventative measures. These rules have been highly lauded as the most thorough and successfully wolf conservation and management program in the country.
ODFW began executing the clarified rules with earnest, and over the next few years Oregon saw depredations decrease dramatically and wolf numbers steadily increase. With ODFW and ranchers focusing on preventative measures, ODFW has not had to expend taxpayer dollars to kill a single wolf to date. We now have approximately 15 wolf packs in Oregon, wolves have been initially dispersing into western Oregon, and there are now potentially two new packs in southern Oregon near the California border. At the last official count, there were over 70 confirmed wolves in Oregon. This has been such a promising recovery to date, and has been one of the pride and joys at Cascadia Wildlands — a direct result of our efforts.
However, this year a new conflict over wolves has emerged surrounding the removal of the species from Oregon’s list of threatened and endangered species. When wolves in Oregon first satisfied the four breeding pairs for three consecutive years in 2014, and wolf management in eastern Oregon moved into Phase II, the state began exploring whether or not wolf numbers and recovery warranted removal of the species from the endangered species list.
Livestock interests were pushing the state hard, arguing that the state was required to remove protections for the species under the wolf plan. However, the wolf plan very clearly said that the state was only required to begin exploring the delisting process, to make an early determination over whether delisting was warranted at this time or not. Cascadia Wildlands and our conservation partners began weighing into the process as well, presenting public comments and soliciting scientific input on whether or not delisting was warranted. The “endangered” status of the wolf is critical because it provides the entire framework and backbone of the current wolf conservation and management program and the rules developed under the mutual agreement in 2011. Without this classification, the ODFW could do whatever it wants with regard to wolves, and under similar circumstances in 2011, we witnessed the state try to kill the Imnaha pack when it was the only breeding pack in Oregon.
So Cascadia Wildlands and our allies worked tirelessly to convince the ODFW that delisting was not the right move, particularly with under 80 confirmed wolves in the state. Wolves have just barely begun to get a foothold in western Oregon, and we were concerned that additional mortality associated with management of wolves in Phase II would stagnant recovery and dispersal of the species. At the end of a series of hearings this fall, in which there was an enormous amount of public and scientific testimony, over 90 percent of Oregonians had urged the state to retain endangered species protections for the species. The overwhelming message from the scientific community was that delisting was premature because of the limited numbers and distribution of the species across the state.
Despite the weight of this evidence and the desire of the public, ODFW and its Commission removed the wolf from the list of threatened and endangered species in mid-November. Cascadia Wildlands is again exploring legal options and ways to retain this critical classification for a species still very early in its recovery.
Cascadia Wildlands cannot thank enough our volunteers, members and supporters who wrote letters, talked to elected officials and traveled great distances to publicly testify in support of wolves. This passion gives us our inspiration, and we will continue to fight for this species as it continues on its perilous path to recovery. Stayed tuned for next steps as this struggle is far from over, and please consider donating to support our ongoing efforts.