Blog

Jun01

Field Checking the Breitenbush Timber Sale

By Dylan Plummer, Cascadia Outreach & Organizing Intern

The other weekend I helped Cascadia Wildlands lead a field checking expedition into the Detroit Ranger District of the Willamette National Forest, in a large timber sale surrounding the Breitenbush hot springs. This timber sale is called the Highway 46 project, and our goal was to find evidence on the ground that we can use to litigate against it, and, hopefully stop the worst of it from being approved.

My friend Madeline picked me up from the Portland airport the night before, and after a dark and dreamless sleep in a friend’s front yard, we packed up the car and headed for the Santiam pass, one of the most beautiful stretches of forest in Oregon. Breitenbush Group picAs we drove up the old highway to meet with the rest of the WildCATs (our very own unit of on-the-ground volunteers), we found ourselves in the midst of a caravan of other field checkers, all being led by a white Mini Cooper.

As we pulled up to the designated meeting place, I was astonished to see a group of at least 30 people already there waiting for the field checking to start. After a quick tutorial in plant I.D. and map reading, and of course some delicious potlucking, we split into five groups and went to explore the different treatment units of the proposed sale.

The purpose of the trip was to find inconsistencies in the sale proposal, which contains many units being proposed for ‘thinning’ and some areas listed for “regeneration harvest,” which essentially means clearcut. The Forest Service’s justification for the sale is to improve stand health, prevent future high-severity burns, and to create more early seral habitat (forests under 20 years old). Sounds great in theory, but the reality on-the-ground revealed that these justifications were misguided at best, and intentionally misleading at worst.

Before going into our field work, we knew that several fires had burned through the project area just last summer, so investigating the true impact of these fires was one of our first priorities. If the fires had done their job, they should have burned through hazardous fuels, thinned out the forest and, if they were hot enough, they should have naturally created the early seral habitat that the Forest Service argues is so needed.

IMG_6375Sure enough, upon our exploration of unit 83 in the sale, we came across some of the most intensively burned areas from last summer’s Scorpion fire. Huge trees ranging from 100- 300 years in age were burnt to their crowns, allowing for plenty of light to penetrate the canopy and naturally creating the early seral habitat that the forest service claims is so desperately needed. It was beautiful, and it was just what a healthy post-fire forest should look like.

Aside from finding existing early seral habitat in the area, there were also a number of other significant features that we noticed while out in the field. One of these was an unlisted waterway and riparian area flowing through one of the units. This finding was important because riparian areas are required to be protected with buffers rather than just logged over, meaning that simply in finding this feature, we may be able to protect additional swaths of the forest.

The forest within the Highway 46 timber sale is inarguably one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, with massive douglas firs towering over a lush understory of service berry, vine maple, and yew. We even found a meadow filled with Calypso Orchids — an increasingly rare, and incredibly beautiful wildflower endemic to our region.

When all of the groups got back together to debrief our findings, it became apparent that this sale not only didn’t make sense in terms of creating the already naturally existing early seral habitat, but that it would imperil a number of rare, ecologically important specimens. This is not to mention the unmarked waterway that we found, and the general integrity and health of the forest as it is now.IMG_3197

Essentially, the field checking mission was a success, providing Cascadia Wildlands’ lawyers with evidence that this sale is not only irresponsible, but potentially avertible through litigation.

The cherry on top of this successful outing was that after all was said and done, we got to blow off steam at Breitenbush hot springs with the 15 free entrance passes that they so generously offered to us for our work protecting the forests that they love. Upon reflecting, I can’t think of any way I’d rather spend a spring day than doing plant I.D. in the woods and then spending the evening soaking in natural hot springs with a group of lovely, passionate environmentalists.

These field checking expeditions not only provide ammunition for the legal challenging of timber sales, but also help to cultivate a sense of place and responsibility within the participants. It is easy to feel apathetic and hopeless when looking at a map of proposed timber sales, or a swath of clearcuts on the horizon, but it is much harder to feel that apathy after you’ve spent the day trekking through those very woods.

Cascadia Wildlands is currently ramping up our efforts to get groups of our volunteers field checking, and if you’re at all interested, you can find out more information and get plugged in to upcoming field checking opportunities at cascwild.org/getoutdoors.

May04

“Let the Big Trees Alone. Let Them Grow”

 A Report on the Board of Forestry Meeting, 25 April 2018

By Will Watson, WildCAT Volunteer.

Elliott-Tim G 61316-6820[11]

Last month, Cascadia Wildland’s staff attorney, Gabe Scott, and volunteers John Selove and I travelled up to Salem to a meeting of the Oregon State Board of Forestry. The BOF is the executive board of the Oregon Department of Forests. The ODF directly manages about 3% of Oregon’s 30 million acres of forest and provides fire protection for 16 million acres of public and private forest. Altogether, Oregon’s State Forests cover about 900,000 acres. The BOF was holding public hearings on their “Statement of Principles” for the new Forest Management Plan they are drafting, the current one having been adopted in the late 1970’s at the peak of the unsustainable logging boom that ended in the 1990’s.

I would recommend attending BOF meetings to anyone who wants to understand the stakes involved in forest management here in Oregon. The meeting was an eye opener.

Altogether, 32 witnesses testified on the Statement of Principles draft. 

The ODF’s currently funds its conservation and restoration activities through the sale of timber rights on limited lots in state forests. 98% of ODF revenues come from these sales. Clear cuts are the norm in modern logging, and there’s little if any selective cutting in state timber leases. Several times, witnesses claimed that ODF revenues and timber production are at an all-time high. Yet despite these record highs, ODF revenues are too low to achieve its conservation goals.  As one of these witnesses put it, “ODF is not going to clear cut its way out of this revenue crisis.”  All day we would hear calls for BOF to embrace a “new revenue model.”

Testimony came from a wide range of people. Hardly anyone spoke for the logging industry, although when I mentioned this as folks were milling around after the hearing, someone within earshot said, somewhat bitterly, “Don’t worry about that. The board speaks for the timber interests.”  There were a lot of private citizens and a dozen or so representatives of non-profits and NGO’s, one of whom uttered a memorable slogan: “Fish are a forest product.” Another said, “It’s easier to keep an ecosystem healthy than to restore it.” As we heard all day, from environmental pros and citizens alike, Oregonians were concerned that the “Statement of Principles” says next to nothing about climate change. Many called for ODF decisions to be based in “sound science, not revenue need.” CascWild’s own Gabe Scott warned the Board that “revenue reliance on extraction puts the board on a collision course with federal law.”

Most of the testimony we heard came from regular Oregonians, usually from rural precincts, who were living close to clear cuts, aerial spraying, road building and other logging impacts. They often identified themselves by describing the natural features of the land where they lived. They named creeks, watersheds, forests, rivers, mountains and such. Those who identified with towns came from places I later looked up on maps–Jewel, Wheeler, Garibaldi and others—so I got a geography lesson as well.

Their testimony was alarming, and often impassioned. These were people who lived every day with the ground truth of intensive logging.

All in all, the picture they painted was distressing:  too many forests in Oregon do not, in their current condition, warrant preservation. They were cut too young and replanted as close-packed, disease-and-fire-prone monoculture plantations. They’re drenched with toxins that run into creeks and rivers. They are choked with invasive species and fragmented by, according to US Forest Service figures, almost 80,000 miles of logging access roads, by far the most of any state. Streams are warming and clouded with silt and toxic runoff. Wildlife, some dangerous, are being driven into towns by aerial spraying.  

One witness, a woodlot owner from Jewel, compared stream temperature between two local creeks, finding that a shaded stream in an old forest was 10F cooler than one in a clear cut, a crucial temperature range for spawning salmon. This could be one reason why, as another witness described, salmon runs in some locations have diminished from ten per year to only one in just the last decade. Another witness complained to county commissioners about defoliants being sprayed on the local elementary school and the houses around it. She won a concession. In the future, helicopters spraying defoliants would observe a sixty foot (!) buffer zone around homes and schools. One witness, from Wheeler, on the Coast, employed a rather unsavory metaphor to describe forest management in the state. He compared Oregon to Washington and other western states and concluded that Oregon is “living in the toilet” of the West.  An environmental scientist warned that soil compaction around logging sites “made future restoration of the affected areas unlikely if not impossible.” Another witness, a wildlife photographer from Astoria, warned ominously that clearcutting was contributing to what biologists are calling “the sixth great extinction.” Over and over we felt the despair of woods-loving Oregonians who live in the middle of industrial clear cuts and destruction. 

There were exceptions, of course, like the recently protected 89,000-acre Elliott State Forest that one witness described as an example of a “new way forward” for state forest policy. However, witnesses on the ground suggest that the Oregon mountain backcountry is an industrial tree plantation more often than an actual, biodiverse forest.

The picture is not all bleak, though. Witnesses voiced all manner of smart restoration and revenue ideas. For instance, we heard several times that forest-based tourism creates 10-11x the revenue of logging. One witness encouraged, memorably “Let the big trees alone. Let them grow.”

New funding models were advanced, based on carbon trading, carbon taxes and restructuring the tax code. One witness pointed to a study that showed the Elliott Forest alone, which is only 10% of the total of state-managed forests, could sequester 3/4’s of the yearly CO2 emitted by transportation in the state. He called for the BOF to explore ways to “monetize the carbon storage capacity of Oregon’s forests.” After the hearing, I heard someone call Oregon a potential, “Saudi Arabia of carbon sequestration.”

Similarly, a Portland State professor called Oregon forest policy “a huge experiment with no control” and recommended preserving intact forests and watersheds to provide a baseline for future policy decisions. He also suggested that long-term rotation harvests on state lands could balance out the short-term rotation harvests on private lands.  Another witness called for the BOF to set aside what he called “terrestrial anchor acres” for each timber lease sold. In these, biological impact studies could be conducted in depth so that clear cut impacts could be fully understood. There was no shortage of alternatives to clearcutting in that room.

That night, back in Eugene, I kept coming back to a statement I heard repeatedly during the hearing: “The BOF is not going to clear cut its way out of this revenue shortfall.”  I wondered, darkly, at what point the state would cut the last of its big trees to pay off the revenue shortfall from trying to protect big trees, and I was reminded of a grisly old fable I had read somewhere.

A surgeon is stranded on a barren island with only his medical kit and no provisions. Starving, he begins to amputate and eat his limbs, all but his scalpel arm and hand. Then he starts in on all the organs of which we have two: kidney, eye, ear, testicle (I warned you it was grisly). Finally, there’s nothing left and he succumbs to starvation. What’s the moral for us, here in Oregon?

Well, the surgeon tried to survive by doing what he had been trained to do. And because he was so good at it, he extended his life, although at the price of eating himself alive. State forest policy is kind of like that surgeon. Here in the Beaver State, we can grow and cut trees like no one else. It’s what we do, what nature will help us do here. But the BOF must find another way to save Oregon’s state forests besides, paradoxically enough, destroying them.  

It’s time for entirely new priorities at the Board of Forestry.  Preservation, conservation, climate change, carbon storage and wildlands restoration need to be prioritized before there’s nothing left to preserve or restore. Let the big trees alone, I say. Let them grow.

Apr30

Blog: Old Growth Timber Grab on the North Umpqua

Lone Rock's right-of-way marked to cut.

Lone Rock's right-of-way marked to cut.

by Gabe Scott, In-house Counsel
 
Lone Rock Timber and BLM, shame on you.  
 
In what looks like a classic timber grab, Lone Rock Timber has demanded rights to log a swath of huge old-growth trees on public, BLM land. Claiming they need a road to access a part of one of their active clearcuts, Lone Rock marked to cut a wide swath of public old growth, and BLM rubber stamped it. 
 
The context is that legacy of frontier land fraud—the checkerboard O&C timberlands. This particular travesty is located up Susan Creek off of the famed North Umpqua River east of Roseburg. The area is naturally spectacular, but the backcountry above the river is largely a giant tree farm for corporate forestry. Every other square-mile section is owned by BLM, the rest by private timberland owners, in a checkerboard pattern. All of it is managed for forestry, and most of it has been clearcut. 
 
The private owners are logging now on a forty-year rotation. 
 
The forest on the chopping block is a 70-150 ft wide swath — about 4 acres — through the kind of ancient forest we dream about. Right up against truly savage clearcuts a mile-square and more, the public stand remains a deep, dark, ancient forest. It’s the sort that, when a grouse hoots, it carries and echoes in that haunting way. My mind longs for a wolf, or at least an eagle or even a raven to call, but none does. This cathedral is an island in a sea of clearcuts. 
IMG_3402
 
I counted at least fifteen giant old growth trees marked to cut within Lone Rock's claimed right-of-way. Fifteen great big mothers, some of whom probably beat Columbus to America. 
 
That’s giving benefit of the doubt on every marked boundary tree, many of which were themselves ancient. And that’s not mentioning the snags, and the many old-but-not-ancient trees, and the gorgeous madrones and great big alders and unexpected, emerald-green meadows. 
 
And in return, Lone Rock accesses a tiny sliver of plantation abutting that beautiful stand. I counted rings on one typical stump —yep, forty on the nose. 
 
Lone Rock and BLM claim they have the legal right to do this because they want a wide road and big turnaround to more easily access one of their active plantation clearcutting units. There is a rock outcrop, they say. It’s hard to get around with these new machines, they say. 
 
Big hole in their story—the trees they can’t get to, they were able to get to to clearcut forty years ago. That’s how it’s plantation now. 
 
Further investigation by intrepid sleuths uncovered Lone Rock sharing maps of existing roads to the very stand.
 
I visited the site last Thursday and what I saw was a company going hogwild, clearcutting the snot out of a hillside, having no trouble at all yanking the cut trees onto trucks to haul to market. I saw these roads with my own eyes. I listened to their machines work all day tearing up the hill just below the stand they say they can’t access. 
 
IMG_3405How a logging company that logged a stand forty years ago thinks they can’t do it today is an interesting story. If you wonder where the logging jobs went, here's your answer. 
 
Forty years ago they had cable yarders and tractors and skylines and choker setters and fallers who would scramble around the hill in cork boots to do the job. 
 
Now it's done by a couple guys pulling levers in air-conditioned boxs. Logging by machine is more profitable. What used to take a crew now only takes one. 
 
Progress!
 
The public accommodates that job-killing mechanization by letting them plough more and more roads through our old-growth reserves. But sure, go ahead, blame the spotted owl for economic trouble in timber country. 
 
Lone Rock's clearcut in fore-ground, BLM land up the hill. The stand just above the parked yarders is the plantation Lone Rock claims they can't access.

Lone Rock's clearcut in fore-ground, BLM land up the hill. The stand just above the parked yarders is the plantation Lone Rock claims they can't access.

Lone Rock can cry us a river about access to their land. 
 
Those very same right-of-way agreements lock us, the public, out of accessing our land. The deal is so slanted that even BLM employees in the field couldn’t take a spur to a nice spot for a picnic—they can only drive the roads when they are working on a logging project.
 
They say this is just the way it is, but that answer is not good enough for us.  
 
Cascadia and other local activists have been dogging this outrageous proposal. We're doing what we can to save this forest, but honestly it is an uphill fight. Presence of spotted owls, wet weather, better access in other ways… none of it seems to matter at all to them. We've implored BLM officials directly, but they claim their hands are tied by reciprocal right-of-way agreements.
 
We hold out hope that Lone Rock will do the right thing and log their trees the old fashioned way. But, if the best we can get out of this situation is to learn a lesson, then lets learn the lessons. 
 
The lesson is that BLM's interpretation of these reciprocal right of way agreements on tens of thousands of acres of public and private forestry land amounts to a blank check for private logging companies. All the careful forest planning BLM does, can be undone in a moment at the whim of a logging company who claims they want to build a road. The situation is rich with potential for fraud, and BLM is uninterested in policing it. 
 
The sad legacy of the O&C land frauds continues. 
 
(All photos of the contested area by Cascadia Wildlands)
 
 
 
 
Mar06

Putting Fracked Gas Infrastructure on Kate Brown’s Agenda

cascadiawildlands

The third resurrection of the zombie pipeline is upon us. Like the premise for an 80s horror film, the Jordan Cove Energy Project proposal slated for southwest Oregon makes little sense, yet it just won’t seem to be forgotten.  

First proposed in 2004, the 232-mile Pacific Connector LNG pipeline and accompanying Jordan Cove liquified natural gas (LNG) terminal have been met with over a decade of grassroots resistance from concerned citizens, landowners faced with eminent domain, local tribes, politicians and environmentalists.

While the gas export project has been rejected by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) twice since its initial proposal, the project proponent, Canada-based Veresen, has filed again for reconsideration. Many are worried about the possibility of it being approved this time around, with the pro-business Trump administration at the helm.

These increased concerns have motivated communities around the state into more concerted action. In this spirit of action, I joined the Cascadia Wildlands team on a trip to Salem to offer public comment at the Oregon State Land Board meeting. While LNG was not officially on the State Land Board’s agenda, the meeting provided the perfect opportunity to get in the room with Governor Kate Brown (who has the power to end this recurring nightmare once and for all) and get our message heard.

Waking up early after a long night of studying isn’t always the most appealing prospect, even to do something as important as fight an immoral and unsafe pipeline. After squeezing in an extra hour of sleep on the drive up to the Capitol, I straightened my rumpled clothing (I was wearing a button up for added effect) and started preparing to make my first-ever public comment.

I immediately felt out of place upon entering the halls of the Department of State Lands building, surrounded by legislators and bureaucrats dressed to the nines in suits and ties, and well equipped with patent leather briefcases. After some hesitation and a good bit of milling around, I signed my name on the list to comment, feeling a healthy dose of apprehension about speaking directly to Governor Brown.

The meeting began with the rap of a gavel and Brown’s acknowledgement of the retirement of a long-time civil servant, after which she suggested that public comment be made before the bulk of the meeting take place. At this point, I was frantically reading over the statement prepared by Cascadia Wildlands’ Grassroots Organizer and trying to draft one of my own before taking to the podium.

Conveniently, the proposed project offers no shortage of potential critiques, ranging from environmental hazards, safety considerations and environmental justice concerns.  At the forefront are the 400 waterways this pipeline would cross (and surely pollute), the 95-ft. wide clearcut that pipeline construction would require through public and private land, and the fact that, if built, the project would become the number one climate polluter in the state of Oregon. All of this isn’t to mention the concerns of many indigenous peoples in Southern Oregon, who claim that the pipeline will unearth burial grounds and damage important cultural sights.

There is also the potential for an explosive leak, which could ignite forest fires, damage homes and endanger lives. Disaster associated with a cataclysmic earthquake anticipated off of Oregon any day is also of major concern. The LNG facility would be built in the tsunami inundation zone on the spit in Coos Bay where the ocean meets land…

Thankfully I managed to give comment without incident, emphasizing the importance of Brown recognizing tribal concerns about the project while masking the nervous tremor in my voice.

After we finished giving our comments, the meeting resumed, only to be interrupted seconds later by a group of folks across the room. The din of noise makers and chanting drowned out Brown’s incredulous objections, and the protesters unfurled a banner that read “Climate Leaders Don’t Build Pipelines: Stop Jordan Cove.” The protestors read statements over Brown’s frustrated calls for silence, while the police liaison negotiated for time with the two cops that immediately moved to escort them out. Three of the protestors had the opportunity to speak before the group was lead out by the police, mentioning indigenous protest, safety concerns, and climate justice in their comments. The meeting proceeded with an awkward silence after the last of the protestors had left.

While Brown has continued to posture herself as a “climate leader,” she has remained unwilling to pull the plug on the Pacific Connector Pipeline and Jordan Cove Energy Project. We must keep the heat on her.

We can’t let Kate Brown forget that she is accountable to the will of her constituents. More actions like the recent one in Salem will be imperative in maintaining pressure on Brown, especially as the pipeline begins to rear its ugly head for a (hopefully) final showdown.

Kate Brown’s Contact Information:

Office of the Governor

900 Court Street, Suite 254

Salem, OR 97301-4047

Phone: 503-378-4582

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Jan17

Cascade-Siskiyou — A Wonderland at a Biological and Political Crossroads

by Sam Krop, Cascadia Wildlands Grassroots Organizer

Straddling the border of Oregon and California, the beautiful and biologicall unique Cascade-Siskiyou NationalIMG_2179 Monument has received a lot of public attention lately. According to the Monument’s June 2000 establishing proclamation, the land is worthy of protection under the Antiquities Act as an “ecological wonder,” and a unique “biological crossroads” where several distinct ecoregions collide.  In January of 2017, the Obama administration approved expanding the Monument by 42,000 acres in Oregon and adding 5,000 acres in California. Now, following hasty and ill-informed recommendations from Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, the Monument is under threat of being stripped of those protections by the Trump administration.

This is a simple telling of the Cascade-Siskiyou’s history, and it doesn’t take a lot of digging to learn that there is lot more to the story than what appears on the surface.  To really comprehend the extraordinary nature of this place, you have to visit it yourself. For this reason, my partner and I took a trip down to the Monument—to see what we could learn from the place itself.

We dedicated the first part of our journey to exploring the land within the 2016 expanded boundary. In a single day’s journey, we walked through sprawling oak savannah, high desert-like country rich with sage, and mature forests boasting massive fir and pine. We saw a post-fire ecosystem in resurgence, t13ook in the breathtaking views of Shasta to the south and Mount McLoughlin to the north from rocky crags and heard the trickling of water making its way through crevices underground.  We walked the same trail that Zinke walked during his official Monument “review,” but I could not help but feel that we and Zinke were seeing completely different things.  

From our exploration, it was immediately evident that the land granted protection with the Monument’s expanded boundaries is far more than what Secretary Zinke called a “buffer” for the biological diversity inside of the original boundary. On the contrary, according to a 2011 study published by a diverse group of scientists, the expansion area is described as a part of, and home to many of the important ecological features the Monument was originally intended to protect.  The scientists go on to argue that “without Monument expansion…some of the area’s important biological values were at high risk of degradation and loss.” The words of these scientists reflect what we saw when we visited—that far from being a buffer, the land inside of the recent Monument expansion is an integral part of this incredible ecological wonderland.

In addition to seeing breaIMG_2224-2thtaking natural wonders, in our journey within the newly protected Monument expansion area, we saw hundreds of cattle, miles of fencing and forests in recovery from commercial logging.  Here again, our experience was different than Zinke’s. While we saw a place that is healing and in need of continued protection in order to fully recover, Zinke saw a lost opportunity for more commercial activity.  In fact, Zinke’s driving criticism of the Monument is that Monument protections do not well-serve commercial logging and grazing interests. Indeed, according to its establishing proclamation, the purpose of the Monument is to protect the “biological crossroads,” and the “spectacular variety of rare and beautiful species of plants and animals,” not to serve commercial interests.

Zinke’s assertion that we can somehow increase commercial activity and simultaneously protect biodiversity is ill-informed at best and intentionally misleading at worst.  The known destructive impacts of commercial logging on biologically sensitive areas are the exact reason why lands in the Cascade-Siskiyou Monument are protected from timber companies.  In addition, while there are still numerous commercial grazing allotments in the Monument expansion area, we also know that commercial grazing negatively impacts biological integrity. The findings of a 2008 Bureau of Land Management study decisively illustrate this point. The study, completed over the course of many years and using several key biological indicators, found that the proliferation of commercial grazing has created measurable adverse impacts to the native species and natural features of the Monument.

 In sum, we know that commercial logging and grazing are not compatible with protecting sensitive ecological areas. What Zinke does not seem to grasp is that you cannot simultaneously claim to protect a place and promote the very activities which have been shown to threaten it. 

In a time when biodiversity is collapsing at an unprecedented rate, the Cascade-Siskiyou is so incredibly precious. At  root here is a simple question: Do we value biological integrity in a special place like this enough to truly protect it? Thousands of Oregonians, including Oregon’s Governor and both of Oregon’s U.S. Senators, continue to answer that question with a resounding ‘yes.’ As he considers Zinke’s recommendations to shrink Cascade-Siskiyou and make it a “protected area” in name only, it remains to be seen whether Trump will respect Oregon’s top statewide elected leaders – and this very special place – or not.

For  more information about how to get involved to save the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument, sign up for our e -news or visit Monuments for All. 

 

 

 

Oct18

The Deja Vu of Killing Wolves

WOLF_OR17_odfw_Photo taken July 6 2013 of OR17 with a 2013 pup of the Imnaha pack. Subadult wolves assist in the raising of the pupsPhoto courtesy of ODFWby Nick Cady, Legal Director

Late last month, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announced that it would shoot up to four wolves in the Harl Butte pack.  Again. In August, following conflicts between wolves and livestock in the same area, the Department killed another four wolves from the same pack

The Harl Butte territory is no stranger to conflicts between wolves and livestock.  This is the same area formerly occupied by the Imnaha pack along the Imnaha River near Oregon's border with Idaho.  The Imnaha pack was wiped out last year by the Department, after numerous other kill orders over several years. 

It is important to keep in mind that the number of wolf/livestock conflicts remains incredibly low when compared to livestock animals lost to coyotes, cougars, and wild dogs. It shrinks to insignificance when compared to the number of animals that die from the weather, disease, traffic accidents, or good ole-fashioned cattle rustling.  Regardless, killing wolves remains the persistent agenda of numerous commercial lobbyist groups in the Pacific Northwest, and our Fish and Wildlife Departments all too often oblige.

It is also critical to remember that ranchers are getting compensated, at full market value, for any livestock they lose as long as they show they attempted to proactively reduce conflict between wolves and livestock.  That generous cash program is subject to ongoing investigations of questionable payments being made to some of these producers.

The State's wolf killing is designed to prevent future depredations, but we are experiencing livestock losses repeatedly in the same areas.  The same story is playing out in Washington, where the State has killed wolves three separate times at the behest of the same livestock producer in the same region. The question remains: Why are we forced to kill wolves in the same areas, again and again?

The Cattlemen's Associations contend it is because the wolves have developed a taste for beef and teach the ways of the burger to their pups.  But Oregon and Washington continue to wipe out entire packs. Depredations resume the next year when new wolves move into the vacated habitat.   

Oregon Wolf August 14It is not because beef is delicious that wolves are targeting cows. Pervasively across the West there are areas where wolves and livestock are in close proximity without conflicts. If wolves prefer beef, there would be conflicts any place where wolves and livestock interact. But this is not the case.

Instead, it appears to be a product of there being too many cattle on the landscape.  Rob Klavins, a close friend and employee for Oregon Wild, lives out in this Harl Butte/Imnaha area where he and is wife run the Barking Mad B&B (check it out if you're ever near Enterprise). He maintains a series of wildlife cameras on public lands where Harl Butte and Imnaha wolves were regularly seen. When talking with him about this recent kill order, he shared that in reviewing his tapes, of all the different wildlife that pops up on his motion activated cameras, well-over 90% are cows.  

Is it that wolves are eating cows because bovine are the only viable prey species left in that area?  When cattle are intensively grazed in the specific areas, they drive out the deer and elk that otherwise might comprise the majority of a wolf's diet. This also drives the herds of deer and elk down into agricultural lowlands, where they munch on farmers' fields. This can lead to frustrated farmers poaching loads of elk.  It seems likely there are simply too many cattle grazing in these particular areas during the grazing season, which is driving out other game.  

Now I know you are saying to yourself, "wait, commercial agriculture overusing a resource? This would never happen."  But just maybe this is what is occurring.

Regardless of why wolf-livestock conflict continues in these particular areas, shooting wolves in response to depredations simply is not a long-term solution. It is a money-pit and bad policy.  Every year our Fish and Wildlife Departments will continue to shoot wolves, spending tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars each kill order, in response to a few dead cows, only to see it recur time and time again.  

real niceAnd yet the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is going broke, or is already broke.  They increasingly rely on general fund taxpayer dollars. The Department is coming to the conservation community with its hat in its hand.  The conservation community works with the Department to recover habitat and protect non-game species that include many of the imperiled species in the state on the verge of extinction.  The conservation community wants to work with the Department on these species.

However, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife spends 2% of its funding on non-game species, even though these comprise 88% of the species in the state. Only three of the agency's 1,200-person staff work on non-game species. Their requests for money remind me of  National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, where cousin Eddie promises to get you something real nice with the Christmas gift money he borrows from you, but you know that gift is going to be a hastily dug trench filled with dead carnivores. 

It is past time for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and its Commission to deal with this issue in a direct manner, instead of bending like a willow to interest groups.  But this will not happen on its own! Oregon's wildlife needs strong leadership from Governor Kate Brown. She appoints the Fish and Wildlife Commission that makes the calls on these issues, and she needs to send a clear message to this floundering agency and its Commission.  

Give Governor Brown a call: (503) 378-4582. If you like wolves, tell her to stop killing them.  If you decry government waste and hate to watch the Department endlessly dump public money into a problem of its own creation that it has no intention of solving, give her a ring.  If you enjoy the film Christmas Vacation, let her know.  Governor Brown was just awarded the Environmental Champion of the Year Award by the Oregon League of Conservation Voters. Let's see if she will put her money where her mouth is.

Oct13

On Westerman, Walden, and Kids: Contemplating Oregon’s Fire Season from Drake Peak Lookout

by Gabe Scott, Cascadia Wildlands In-House Counsel
 
I’m sitting in the Drake Peak fire lookout tower in Oregon's Fremont-Winema National Forest for a long weekend with my young kids, taking in the wind-swept views while they explore the mountain, and watching a forest fire burn. As the sun sets it makes Mount Shasta glow fire-red in the distance, while an apocalyptic plume of smoke from the forest takes on a feathery pink. The sky darkens, and the kids come inside for food and stories. The fire casts an eerie glow in the night, and we wonder about it.
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I’ve been wondering a lot about forest fires this past year, since moving back to Oregon from south-central Alaska. Just about everything that happens in forest policy here revolves around fire, one way or another.
 
Oregonians talk a lot about the rain, but really it’s the fires that we’ve found distinctive. As important and ubiquitous as fire is, the issue is an incredibly difficult thing to talk about or understand.
 
So let’s sit around the cooling flames for a story. The kids want to understand what is happening, and I want to be able to explain it to them.
 
In the Pacific Northwest, the story about fire is a profound one: it’s about birth and death, money and power, and a human animal who is deeply confused, scared, and mixed up about his place on the land. There are heroes and villains in this story. And you get to create your own ending.
 
Fire is scary
There is something primal and apocalyptic about the experience of fire.
 
Terror of fire is something we share with other animals. Bears, deer and rabbits flee from fire in a panic. It may be a trick of the eye, but the way big trees catch fire, their branches seem to shrink away from the flames, dancing convulsively as though the tree itself summons one last panicked attempt to run from the flames.
 
Fire is an enemy of “man.” It is an enemy of property, and of permanence. Like a hurricane, or a cold and stormy sea.
 
Heck of a fire season, again
At least, it seems like it has been. Ash has been falling from the sky in Seattle, Portland, and Eugene. Even more so in the southern Oregon Cascades and the Siskiyous. The sun and moon have cast an eerie, muted orange. Air quality warnings have flashed red exclamation points on our phones, and out-of-town relatives have inquired about our safety.
 
But was this a “bad” fire year?
 
Fire has burned across over a half-million acres of forest this summer in Oregon.
 
That’s a lot of acres.
 
But then again, Oregon is a big place, and fire ecologists have learned that just about all of our forests burn at one time or another. In the scheme of things, even a half-million acres of fire—a lot of fire!— isn’t unusual.
 
Whether a half-million acres burning is a lot, or not, sort of depends on what timeframe you are using. In the past fifty years, statistically there has been a huge increase in the acres of forest burning in wildfires. Look at the past hundred years though, and you can see that we need additional context.
 
Charts-dellasala (1)_Page_1 2
(Source: Dominick DellaSala, Geos Institute, testimony US House Natural Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, September 27, 2017).
 
That dip in the middle of the graph has resulted in what they call a “fire debt” on the forest. It is routine in the public land timber sales Cascadia Wildlands reviews to find the agency biologists bemoaning a fire-starved forest stand.
 
The “problem” of forest fires, a scientist would tell you, is a social problem, not an information problem. Two true things are in conflict: (1) ecologically, fire is beneficial and often necessary on many of Cascadia’s forests, and (2) humans, like (as) animals, do not tolerate fire in their midst. 
 
Forest fires (usually) don’t kill the forest
Exploring Drake Peak with the kids, everywhere we went had been touched by fire. And it was beautiful. It is this way throughout Oregon, Washington and California: luxurious green forests grown from carpets of black ash.
 
While we speak and think in terms of fire “consuming” and “destroying” forests, this is not the case.
 
On the Eagle Creek fire in the Columbia River Gorge for example, even in places that had been glowing hellish red in high-intensity conflagrations this summer, many of the trees seem to have survived, and lots of patches of forest were left unburned. Even as the flames burned, ODFW was reassuring the public that wildlife and vegetation will adapt and thrive.
 
Cascadia’s forests are born of fire
Fire has always been in this landscape. Without it, the forests could not be. In different ways at different times, the fires of centuries past created the forest, wetlands and wildlife we love.
 
Ecologically, fire is hugely beneficial. The science is remarkably consistent. Here in Oregon the world’s foremost scientific experts on fire ecology are working and watching, eagerly studying this incredible process. To a person, they speak and think of forest fires as an integral part of the forest. To ecologists who study these things, fires are approached with something more like reverence than fear.  
 
The lessons they’ve learned are familiar. Fires clear out underbrush, thin forests, favor some species over others, and provide homes for cavity-nesters like owls. Every schoolchild now learns the story of the Yellowstone fire, and how it unleashed an ecological cascade of restoration for the forest and wildlife.
 
Scientists now are studying how fire helps wild salmon and trout. Earlier this summer a Pacific Northwest Research Station report came out describing ways that wildlfires help wild salmon and trout thrive.
 
As it turns out, forests “dying” in fires are more like forests “dying” in the fall. It’s part of a cycle, not the end of a line.
 
The war on fire
Cold science is one thing, but hot passion is another. Too often the latter which tends to drive human behavior.
 
One result of those two true things— inevitability and fear of fire—is a hugely aggressive (and expensive, and dangerous) fire-fighting effort. Forest fires, being as ordinary a part of the seasonal cycle as rain, inevitably happen. We try to put just about all of them out.
 
We’ve gotten very, very good at it. Huge jet airplanes drop million-dollar loads of orange fire-retardant. A literal army of firefighters attack blazes with shovels, chainsaws, backfires, firebreaks, bulldozers, and water.
 
One result is that, thanks to firefighters, we have fewer fires. The small ones get put out.
 
As good as our firefighters are at what they do, did you know that they have never— not even once— been able to put out a large, intense wildfire? It’s true.
 
To satisfy the insatiable public need to fight every fire, firefighters are routinely asked to take incredible risks. I doubt I would have the courage to take half as much risk to save my own home from burning, as some of these hotshots take trying to save remote forests from burning.  
 
While the safety culture is strong, especially among firefighting leadership, the war on fire comes with heavy casualties. Foremost are the lost firefighters.  
 
Aggressively fighting fire also has an ecological cost. For example, this summer at Breitenbush Hot Springs in Oregon's Willamette National Forest, fire crews cut a fireline through a beloved old-growth hiking trail.
 
Logging the forest to save it
To a hammer every solution looks like a nail.
 
And to generations of foresters trained in cutting trees, the solution to forest fires has always been to cut the forest down.
 
It is routine in the timber sales we monitor at Cascadia Wildlands to find the agencies logging the forest to save it before it burns. Or, after it burns, they’ll want to “salvage” it.
 
Both notions are applied by with an un-ironic stubbornness that is almost comical.
 
There are grains of truth, and much of our day-to-day work consists of finding them. In the wildland-urban interface—where homes and property are built in forests that need to burn—thinning and strategic clearing can be very effective at saving property. And on some forest stands, careful thinning and prescribed burning is effective at both ecological restoration, and providing jobs and timber for mills. Cascadia Wildlands always tries to support these win-win solutions.
 
But while some work the ideas out carefully, politicians and the timber industry love to come in shouting emergency when fires are burning.
 
So we get things like the barely disguised propaganda video put out by the industry in Douglas County, questionably using taxpayer dollars. 
 
Or we get things like Rep. Greg Walden's (R-OR) “Clearcut the Gorge” bill, which suspends all environmental laws to expedite clearcutting of the Gorge after this summer's Eagle Creek fire.
 
Or, even worse, the Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR) bill, with the Orwellian name “Resilient Federal Forests Act,” a salvage rider on steroids that would exempt massive logging, up to 30,000 acres, from environmental laws and careful planning.
 
We’ll be busy fighting these outrageous proposals in the months and years to come.
 
Drake Peak
Back to my fire lookout on Drake Peak. How to explain the sinister, burning forest to my curious children? What are we seeing? Is this Bambi’s home being destroyed?
 
I really don’t know what is the best way to think about fire, let alone to explain it. Emotionally they are scary. Intellectually they are essential and life-giving. The picture gets more complicated when you factor in global warming, and human developments concentrated in inconvenient places.
 
Whatever the right way, we surely do know that the wrong way to think about fire is to panic.
 
It is panic that gives the log-it-to-save it idea traction. It is panic that causes distant politicians to see burned forests as destroyed lifeless tracts that may as well be clearcut.
 
As for the best way to talk about fire, we’d love to hear your ideas in comments. The best I could come up with for my kids were two imperfect analogies:
 
A forest fire is like a rainstorm. It’s an uncomfortable thing that happens in nature. It is dangerous, and can even kill you if you aren’t prepared. But it also makes the land green, and without it we would die.
 
A forest fire is like autumn, but on a larger time scale. As in autumn the leaves die and animals disappear, but in a cyclical way, not a linear one. It is the kind of death that blurs into birth. For a forest, a fire is a turning of the wheel, not the end of the road.
Aug07

Climbing the Quartz Timber Sale

Reed Crossbow

The Quartz Timber sale is an 847-acre logging project set to take place in the Umpqua National Forest. The timber sale proposes to commercially log and burn older forest in the Cottage Grove Ranger District. We believe that insufficient consideration was given to the presence of imperiled spotted owls and red tree voles, both species dependent on older forests to survive. We met up with Reed Wilson from NEST (Northwest Ecosystem Survey Team) and the Benton Forest Coalition, and he walked us through how to survey for red tree voles.  Surveyors use a crossbow or a bow to shoot a line over large lateral branches and then climb up around 200 feet to look for red tree voles nests.

When the Forest Service conducted surveys, it reported only a couple abandoned red tree vole nests and dismissed the project area as unimportant for the species. Reed and his team over the course of a year found more than 70 active nests in the same areas. The Forest Service has now changed its tune, arguing that these forests are excellent vole habitat and because the species is thriving, there is no need to protect the voles in the Quartz Timber Sale area. 

Needless to say that the work that Reed and NEST do is imperative to the protection and understanding of these treasured old growth forest ecosystems. We are incredibly lucky to have them helping us defend Cascadia’s wild ecosystems in the forest, in the courts, and in the streets.  We will keep you posted on the Quartz Timber Sale.

Check out this short video on the red tree vole survey process!

Aug07

Deep Thoughts with Cascadia’s Summer Interns

Cascadia Raft Trip

Corinne Milinovich and Kristen Sabo, 2017 Summer Legal Interns

The 2017 Cascadia Wildlands summer was filled with countless Oregon adventures, great conversations, and monumental educational growth for us both. We had the privilege of drafting complaints and settlement memos, executing public information requests, drafting litigation memos, refining our legal research skills, drafting a northern spotted owl uplisting petition, and sitting in on settlement meetings and objection resolution meetings with government agencies. 

We were lucky enough to table for Cascadia Wildlands at multiple Oregon events, including the Northwest String Summit bluegrass festival outside of Portland and the Oregon Country Fair. We connected with new and old Cascadia Wildlands supporters, discussed the LNG pipeline, wolf populations in Oregon, and the Elliott State Forest victory.

Overall the summer was a huge success, and there were many highlights for both of us. In particular, the settlement meetings and legal drafting stood out. It was such a privilege to be at the table during the settlement meetings. Those experiences are truly invaluable and instrumental to our growth and understanding of the environmental legal world.

Throughout the summer, Nick gave us the opportunity to experience the Cascadia Wildlands litigation process on multiple levels and see full circle how an environmental lawsuit is successfully executed. As up-and-coming environmental lawyers, this summer internship has shaped our future, reinforcing our chosen career paths.
Our summer legal internship with Cascadia Wildlands allowed us to be present for tangible environmental victories, including but not limited to: saving the Elliott State Forest, preventing old-growth timber from being cut, preserving endangered species habitat and the passing of a suction dredge reform bill that prohibited suction dredging in essential salmonid habitat.

These victories, conversations with Cascadia supporters, and our expanded knowledge of the environmental legal world will guide us into our next year of law school. It was truly an honor to be a part of the Cascadia Wildlands family, this summer was an invaluable experience. A big thank you to Nick, Josh, Gabe, Kaley, Luke, and the Cascadia Wildlands community for an unforgettable summer!

Jul17

Field Checking the Quartz Timber Sale

 
The Quartz Timber Sale is an 847-acre logging project set to take place on our public lands in the Umpqua National Forest on the Cottage Grove Ranger District.  The proposed sale will commercially log and then burn forests up to 130 years in age.  Folks here at Cascadia were concerned about the potential short thrift given to the presence of northern spotted owls and red tree voles, both imperiled, old-forest dependent species.  We decided to get into the woods and see for ourselves what this patch of forest had to offer.
 
On our ground-truthing mission, we snaked our way through low elevation young forest.  As the road tangled its way through the trees and climbed in elevation, we came to a more traversable and level section of ground.  There we were able to hike through older parcels of the forest, lumbering around creek ravines and marveling at the larger old-growth trees that bared the scars of long-forgotten fires.  The combination of old-growth trees and younger trees creates a habitat that is ideal to many native Oregon species, including owls and voles. 
 
We concluded that it would be a shame to see these beautiful sections of forests heavily logged and roaded to facilitate commercial timber harvest on our public lands.  We hope you folks feel the same, and we encourage all of you to check out the sale yourselves.  Details on the Quartz Timber Sale are available here on the Forest Service website. Feel free to let the Forest Service know how you feel about this project.
 
Luke Mobley, Cascadia Summer Intern
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