Blog

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.
IMG_2682
 
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
May10

Saving Oregon’s Famed Rivers and Wild Salmon from Gold Mining

by Nick Cady, Legal Director
 
It has been a long road to suction-dredge mining reform in Oregon, but this campaign is close to finalizing permanent protections for Oregon's iconic rivers and wild salmon.  Suction dredging is an incredibly harmful, gold-mining practice that involves sucking up fragile river bottoms through a large, gas-powered vacuum. This mining practice is damaging in numerous ways, but most importantly, it impairs water quality and the recovery of wild salmon.
 
SpawningThis mining technique first crossed Cascadia's radar in 2009, when the American Fisheries Society first began pressuring the California Legislature to ban the practice that was harming salmon runs. Ultimately in 2012, California banned suction dredging legislatively. In the meantime, they began migrating north into Oregon, and dedgers began targeting some of Oregon's most treasured waterways including the Rogue, South Umpqua and Illinois Rivers. From 2009 to 2012, the number of dredging permits issued doubled from approximately 900 to nearly 2,000 in Oregon. Because there was little oversight of the practice in Oregon, miners were running amok in some of the best salmon-spawning habitat in the state.  
 
Cascadia Wildlands combined efforts with numerous other conservation organizations, recreation groups, and commercial fishing interests and began a campaign to reform this harmful practice.  In 2013, our coalition was able to get two bills introduced to address the issue.  The first bill, Senate Bill 401, updated Oregon's list of State Scenic Waterways to enable the state to protect these areas from mining.  The second bill, Senate Bill 838 championed by the late senator Alan Bates, placed a moratorium on suction-dredging in salmon habitat until 2018, until which time state agencies would implement a permitted, regulatory system. 
 
After a hard-fought battle in the Legislature, the Governor ultimate signed Senate Bill 838, which placed a temporary moratorium on suction-dredge mining in key salmon habitat in Oregon.  The bill also convened a working group with stakeholders, including the miners and conservationists, to develop the permit and regulatory system that would be implemented by the state after the expiration of the moratorium.  Simultaneously, miners elected to sue the state in an attempt to invalidate the recently passed legislation and argued that Oregon did not have the authority to regulate mining due to conflicts with an archaic, federal mining law passed in 1872. Cascadia and our allies intervened in the legislation, and on March 25, 2016, the Court dismissed the miners' challenge, which is currently being appealed to the Ninth Circuit.
 
In the midst of the litigation, Cascadia moved forward and worked with our partners and state officials in developing permanent reforms to prevent this harmful gold mining from adversely impacting imperiled aquatic species. Our solution has culminated in Senate Bill 3-8, which recently passed Oregon's Senate and will be scheduled for a House vote soon.  Your voice is needed for a final push to achieve victory for Oregonians, clean water and wild salmon.  Take action here, and urge your Representative to vote yes on Senate Bill 3-8.
Feb15

Conservation Groups Decry Vote by State Treasurer, Secretary of State to Sell Elliott State Forest

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 
Contact:
Bob Sallinger, 503.380.9728 or bsallinger@audubonportland.org 
Josh Laughlin, 541.844.8182 or jlaughlin@cascwild.org 
Doug Moore, 503.729.5175 or dmoore@olcv.org 
 
Conservation groups decry vote by State Treasurer,
Secretary of State to Sell Elliott State Forest 
Governor puts forward solid plan to keep 83,000-acre forest public.
 
Salem, Oregon—February 15, 2017 – A broad coalition of conservation, hunting, and fishing groups across Oregon decried a state land board vote pushing the Elliott State Forest to brink of privatization yesterday. 
 
Democratic State Treasurer Tobias Read and Republican Secretary of State Dennis Richardson both voted to continue with the sale of the forest to a timber firm, Lone Rock Resources. 
 
Governor Kate Brown opposed the sale and promoted a framework to keep the forest in public ownership, saying, “It's in the best interest of Oregonians that the forest stays in public hands for future generations.” 
 
The conservation community has been working on several proposals that fit within Governor Brown’s vision to keep the land publicly accessible, protect older forests and critical salmon and wildlife habitat, safeguard streams and incorporate tribal ownership, while fulfilling the state’s obligation to fund public schools. 
 
As the sale negotiations continue, Governor Brown directed the Department of State Lands to continue to explore options to keep the land public. That direction leaves open the possibility that Oregon Legislature and other parties can craft a viable public option. 
 
Earlier in the meeting, Senate President Peter Courtney expressed his personal support for public ownership, pledging his help in the current session to secure bonding for the proposal. 
 
Said Doug Moore, “We thank the Governor for continuing to work on a proposal that meets the many important public interests in this forest. What’s disappointing is the lack of vision from Treasurer Read and Secretary of State Richardson in failing to help her craft a long term solution that Oregonians will be proud of.” 
 
Treasurer Read motioned to amend the Lone Rock proposal with modest conservation and recreation provisions. These are unlikely to meet the broad conservation and public access goals outlined by the Governor and the conservation community. 
 
"On the anniversary of the State’s birth, we should be honoring Oregon and all the values public lands offer Oregonians," said Josh Laughlin with Cascadia Wildlands. "Instead, Treasurer Read and Secretary Richardson voted to privatize the Elliott State Forest, which means more clear cuts, muddy water and locked gates in our great state." 
 
"Public lands are under unprecedented attack across Oregon and the rest of the country. At a time when we need our public officials to stand up for public lands, Governor Brown is stepping up and Treasurer Read appears to be stepping aside," said Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director with the Audubon Society of Portland. 
 
The Lone Rock proposal to protect streams has standards far below the protections under the current Elliott State Forest plan. Meanwhile, thousands of acres of 100-year-old forest will be open to clearcutting. 
 
“Our coastal salmon runs depend on public lands, and this sale sets a terrible precedent for other public lands in Oregon and across the West,” said Bob Van Dyk, Oregon and California policy director at the Wild Salmon Center.
 
Conservation groups will now turn to the legislature and other stakeholders to advance a public ownership option. The next State Land Board meeting will be April 11th. 
 
Josh Laughlin, Cascadia Wildlands 
Doug Moore, Oregon League of Conservation Voters 
Tom Wolf, Oregon Council Trout Unlimited 
Bob Van Dyk, Wild Salmon Center 
Bob Sallinger, Portland Audubon 
Cameron La Follette, Oregon Coast Alliance 
Max Beeken, Coast Range Forest Watch 
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity 
Feb01

Reflections on the Enormous Victory in Northern Cascadia and Coming Full Circle

by Gabe Scott, Cascadia Wildlands House Counsel

Ready for some good news? Last week our partners at Eyak Preservation Council announced that the major part of Alaska’s Bering River Coalfield, and the old-growth forest on top of it, has been permanently protected!
 
The Bering River coalfield sits in the rugged, remote mountains just back of Cascadia's northern extreme.

The Bering River coalfield sits in the rugged, remote mountains just back of Cascadia's northern extreme (photo by Brett Cole).

Several things about this historic victory make it especially sweet. Ecologically it protects one of the most magnificent places on earth, a vast wild wetland on Cascadia's northern edge. Better, it does it in a precedent-setting way that puts the region’s indigenous people in charge. Personally I am proud that we Cascadians played a big part creating the conditions where this victory could happen. And, most of all, let us be inspired by the example of our close partner and good friend Dune Lankard, the Eyak native whose visionary leadership and sheer determination has achieved what few believed was possible.
 
The Victory
 
The Bering River coalfield is located in one of the wildest and most productive on earth—the Copper/Bering River Delta wetland complex, along Alaska’s south-central Gulf coast. This is wild salmon, bear, wolf, eagle and raven country. Seals swim ice-berg choked rivers hunting King salmon. Ice-clad mountains rise almost straight out of the churning Gulf. 
 
The Bering River rages through the coast range, backed by glaciers, choked with salmon, and Wild as all-get-out.

The Bering River rages through the coast range, backed by glaciers, choked with salmon, and Wild as all-get-out (photo by Brett Cole).

To the north is the largest protected wilderness in the whole world: from here into the Yukon territory all the way down to Glacier Bay. To the east is the largest ice-field outside the poles. The ice is moving, glaciers sliding forward and melting back, uncovering infant land. To the west is the Copper River Delta, and beyond that Cordova and Prince William Sound. This is the largest contiguous wetland in Cascadia, home to the world-famous Copper River salmon fishing fleet, and incredible concentrations of swans, geese and shorebirds.
 
There are huge veins of coal, the largest tide-water coal deposit in the world, buried in the mountain ridges back of the wetlands. Coal mining there would have involved mountain-top removal in the headwaters of rich salmon rivers, extensive clearcutting of the old-growth forest, roads across the wild Copper River delta, and a deepwater port near Cordova.
 
The deal announced yesterday is that Chugach Alaska Corporation's coal and timber will be forever conserved, stewarded with a conservation easement enforced by The Native Conservancy. The owner, CAC, will generate revenue by selling carbon credits on California’s market.
 
Historic Victory for Conservation
 
This has been a long time coming. The Bering River coalfield is one of modern conservation’s seminal battles. In 1907 Teddy Roosevelt stuck his neck out to prevent J.P. Morgan from grabbing it in a monopoly. Gifford Pinchot was fired/ resigned in protest trying to protect it. Louis Brandeis, before being appointed to the supreme court, put his talents to work for the cause. Through the era of statehood, and Native land claims, and the park-creating frenzy of ANILCA, and the post-Exxon Valdez restoration deals, conservationists always tried but developers stubbornly insisted that the Bering River coalfield needed to be mined. 
 
The coal is owned by Chugach Alaska Corporation, one of the regional Alaska Native corporations. (Rather than treaties and reservations, in Alaska the U.S. congress formed corporations and made indigenous people into the shareholders. Long story. CAC is one of these.) CAC selected the coalfield and the trees atop it with an eye to developing them.
 
After going bankrupt in the late 1980s, CAC lost part of the coalfield to a Korean conglomerate. Notably, that portion of the coalfield isn't covered by the deal announced last week, so it will need to be protected too. 
 
The 700,000-acre Copper River Delta is the largest contiguous wetland on the Pacific Coast of North America.

The 700,000-acre Copper River Delta is the largest contiguous wetland on the Pacific Coast of North America.

The conservation deal announced yesterday is precent setting for it’s unique mix of conservation and indigenous control. The Native Conservancy is a new idea, the brainchild of Dune Lankard, that was critical to the deal working. Formulated as a sort of friendly amendment to the Nature Conservancy, the idea is to incorporate social justice for indigenous people into long-term land conservation.
 
In the announced deal the Native Conservancy will hold the conservation easement, making it the steward in charge of protecting the land. Enforcement of easements is one of the major hurdles to private equity models of conservation, and this offers an attractive new possibility.
 
This victory also points to the inevitable reality of climate change and the future of carbon. California’s carbon market  makes it possible economically for a company like CAC to realize a return on investment for conservation. Where there is money, deals will be made.
 
Lying politicians aside, global warming is real. The writing is on the wall for the carbon-heavy industries. When corporations look to the future, they see young people marching for climate justice, bringing their case to the courts and demanding sustainability. Especially for Alaska Native corporations like CAC, shareholders are keenly interested in avoiding climate catastrophe. The message is being heard!
 
A personal victory
 
This victory also marks a sweet sort of bookend to my own work running Cascadia’s Alaska field office, from 1998 until this past year. The first reason I went to Cordova, back in 1998, was to help Dune Lankard blockade the road that CAC was then actually building, across the Copper River Delta to access this coalfield and these trees. 
 
Dune Lankard at Shepard Point, back in the day.

Dune Lankard at Shepard Point, back in the day.

When I first arrived there was the coalfield, an oilfield, a deepwater port, a road across the Delta and another one up the river, cruise ships and a Princess lodge, all interlocking. None of these threats alone could gain traction, but any two or more of them would forever destroy the wilderness. Dune and I spent countless hours together on the basketball court scheming the demise of this web of threats. For the next nineteen years, Cascadia and Eyak worked together on the campaigns. Together we stopped the road across the Delta, the deepwater port at Shepard Point, and oil drilling at Katalla. 
 
Without the deepwater port, without the access road, and without any oil discovery to attract new investment, conservation of the coalfield became more appealing. 
 
While we are proud to have helped create the conditions for success, all credit for this victory goes to two heroes of the planet: Dune Lankard and Carol Hoover. Their dogged determination and visionary blend of indigenous and ecological justice has achieved what a century of environmentalists could not. 
 
So, I am inspired, and so should you be! 
 
The new president can take a long walk off a short pier. The train has left the station. The people are winning for climate justice, and we aren’t about to stop now.
 
After an incredible run in Cascadia's northern frontier based in Cordova, Gabe Scott recently moved back to Eugene with his family and is Cascadia Wildlands' House Counsel.
Nov10

Post-election Thoughts: Action is the Antidote to Despair

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.
 
Lost_Coast_485A day to process has been good medicine.
 
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,
Josh Laughlin
 
 
 
 
 
Josh Laughlin
Executive Director
 
(Grizz on the Copper River Delta, Alaska / Photo by Brett Cole)
 
Sep02

Cascadia Wildlands Leads Ground-truth Expedition into Fabled Tongass National Forest

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.
Whole mountains and valleys are being clearcut on Cleveland Peninsula.

Whole mountains and valleys are being clearcut on Cleveland Peninsula.

 
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.
Oliver Stiefel of CRAG wishing that the legal system worked faster. On the ground at the Big Thorne sale, Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.

Oliver Stiefel of CRAG wishing that the legal system worked faster. On the ground at the Big Thorne sale, Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.

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.
On the chopping block, Wrangell Island Project.

On the chopping block, Wrangell Island Project.

 
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.

Ketchikan

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.
Saddle Lakes Road, Revilla Island.

 Area of proposed Ketchikan-Shelter Cove Road, Revilla Island.

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.  
On the chopping block. Looking northeast at Snakes Lakes, North Thorne River, Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.

On the chopping block. Looking northeast at Snakes Lakes, North Thorne River, Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.

 
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.
Alaska Mental Health Trust logging on Prince of Wales Island.

Some of the recent private-land logging on Prince of Wales Island.

 
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. 
The Viking Lumber Company mill at Klawock, Prince of Wales Island. Viking is the last remaining large mill in Southeast Alaska.

The Viking Lumber Company mill at Klawock, Prince of Wales Island. Viking is the last remaining large mill in Southeast Alaska.

 
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.
Tracks of the Alexander Archipelago Wolf, Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.

Tracks of the Alexander Archipelago Wolf, Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.

 
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.)
 
 
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