Blog

Dec02

FDA Approves Frankenfish, Cascadians Resist

By Gabe Scott, Alaska Legal Director
 
CORDOVA, AK— Frankenfish may be coming to a store near you, but not if we can help it.   
 
Last week's decision by the Food & Drug Administration to approve Genetically Engineered Salmon for sale in the United States is hugely important. There are a lot of moving pieces and unknowns, so here’s the low-down.
 
What are Frankenfish? 
The fish is basically an Atlantic Salmon spliced with genes from Pacific King Salmon and a deep-sea fish to make it grow faster. A company called AquaBounty Technologies makes these fish at a facility on Prince Edward Island, just off the Fortune River in Canada. They are grown out in a land-based fish farm along a small  Pacific river in Bajo Mono, Panama. With FDA’s approval, they can now do this all commercially, and sell them as regular salmon to consumers in the United States. 
 
Copper river red salmon (Stillwater Science)What was Approved?
The AquaBounty operation is legally classified as a new “animal drug,” and was evaluated by the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine. Wait, fish farming frankenfish is considered an animal drug? Yep. So there’s your first clue the government is behind the eight-ball when it comes to dealing with new biotechnologies. 
 
This specific approval for a few ponds in Panama is just the beginning. The decision is the first of its kind, the first time any GE animal has ever been approved for human consumption.
 
The “AquAdvantage” salmon line is owned by AquaBounty Technologies, which in turn is owned by the global biotech conglomerate Intrexon Corporation (“A better world through better DNA”).  Based on how the fish are designed and the company’s own statements, many observers fear that AquAdvantage salmon are destined to be raised in ocean net pens. 
 
In spite of pleas from consumers, FDA also determined that the fish do not need to be labeled. 
 
And, at the same time they approved AquAdvantage salmon, the FDA also rejected two legal petitions relating to the inadequate regulatory processes for protecting consumers and the environment. 
 
What is the problem with frankenfish? 
There are a myriad off issues with genetically modified food, but the core problem is that the government regulators are flying blind. Rather than squarely address risks of contamination of wild stocks, disruption of wild fish markets, or health issues for consumers, genetically engineered animals are being green-lighted under a tortured reading of obscure and out-dated regulations. 
 
For example, they have flatly refused to consider economic impacts of their decision. This in spite of overwhelming opposition from the salmon industry. Wild salmon economies work because the product is a green, high-value healthy food. What will happen to those markets when consumers have to worry whether the fish on their plate is a frankenfish?
 
The agency also refused to consider any long-term or cumulative impacts. That’s preposterous for AquAdvantage salmon. The obvious plan is for them to be raised in ocean net pens on a wide scale— the venture makes no commercial sense, otherwise. 
 
Because it’s a new technology, we don’t know much about how GE fish might impact the environment. But it does raise significant questions and justified fears. Among them:
  • Escaped fish interbreeding with wild salmon, trout or another species;
  • Health risks to humans;
  • Economic effects. Harming the domestic fishing industry;
  • Animal welfare.
What are we doing about it?
A lot!
 
Opposition to “frankenfish” has been strong, in fact almost universal, in salmon territory (largely synonymous with Cascadia). It is notable that some of the strongest opposition is coming from “Salmon Nation,” from those of us whose livelihoods and culture are intertwined with salmon. 
 
Cascadia is committed to using every legal tool available to stop this irresponsible decision. The bedrock environmental laws we regularly apply to timber sales, the “look before you leap” rules like the National Environmental Policy Act, are well-suited to reign in reckless projects such as this.
 
Other national and international organizations are actively engaged as well, notably the Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth, and EarthJustice. 
 
At the grassroots level, Cascadia and our partners Mountain Rose Herbs took a leading role in the campaign for GE-free seafood, signing up groceries to take the pledge not to sell frankenfish. You can see the list of fish suppliers who took the pledge at: http://www.foe.org/gefreeseafood 
 
Even our politicians have gone to bat, although so far they've failed to make any hits. The Alaska legislature passed legislation banning the fish from the Alaska, and passed a resolution specifically opposing AquAdvantage salmon. In Washington D.C. Alaska’s congressional delegation, notably Lisa Murkowski and Don Young, have been vocal and strident in opposition, introducing several pieces of legislation and conducting hearings. Senators and representatives elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest are also vocal opponents. 
 
Commercial fishermen have been active.  The lack of labeling especially raises fears that wild salmon markets will be affected.
Whatever the right decision about genetically modified salmon, it is an important decision. The consequences should have been thought through. That is why us Cascadians are sure to continue leading the fight to demand that our interests— that the salmon’s interests— are not ignored. 
 
To remain involved, here are three tips:
 
1. To avoid eating frankenfish, shop at suppliers who have committed not to sell them. Grocers can also take the pledge, and refuse to buy any salmon with a country of origin “Panama.” Visit http://www.foe.org/gefreeseafood to see who has taken the pledge.
2. For fishermen, processors, groceries and restaurants, knowing where your fish comes from will become more important. 
3. Help support litigation challenging frankenfish by donating to Cascadia Wildlands! Also, any Cascadia members who have spent time on Prince Edward Island, or western Panama, and are interested in helping with litigation, please be in touch with our legal director, Nick Cady, nick(at)cascwild(dot)org.
 
(Spawned out red salmon, Copper River. Photo origin unknown)
 
 
 
 
 
Dec02

From Exterminated to a Rebounding Population: A Brief History of Wolves in Oregon

By Legal Director Nick Cady
 
Given the state’s recent move to remove the gray wolf from Oregon’s list of threatened and endangered species, it is worth taking a full look at the history of this species in Oregon to fully put in context the recent decision.
 
In 1947, the last wolf was killed in Oregon as part of a government bounty program, which was part of a nationwide predator extermination campaign facilitated by federal and state governments. Upon passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 under Nixon, the federal government began focusing on recovering many of the species wiped out by extermination campaigns and habitat lost to industrial development.
 
One of the first critters focused on was the gray wolf.  After 66 wolves were reintroduced over two years in central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park, individuals eventually dispersed west into Oregon.  In 1999, an initial lone wolf swam the Snake River and was Oregon’s first wolf in over 50 years, but wildlife managers with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) were politically and physically unprepared to handle wolves returning to the state.  The lone wolf was darted and shipped back to Idaho. Two more wolves that crossing the Snake were killed, one poached and another run over on I-84.
 
This series of events began a state-sanctioned process to develop a wolf conservation and management plan in Oregon designed to address the unique relationship between Oregonians and wolves.  Development of the plan involved many different stakeholders including conservation groups, livestock interests, the hunting community, county commissioners, and ODFW.  A comprehensive plan was finalized in 2005, but the plan left many questions and situations unaddressed, mainly the response to wolf-livestock conflict and its intersection with the state Endangered Species Act, which has a prohibition against killing a listed species.
 
Walla Walla_odfw

Wolf from the Walla Walla Pack (Photo Courtesy of ODFW)

The 2005 plan did establish a framework for the path recovery would take in Oregon.  Recovery was divided into three phases for each half of the state (western and eastern).  In the first phase (Phase I), wolf conservation and management would be focused on wolf recovery.  Killing wolves in response to depredations would be a last resort, after all available non-lethal methods for eliminating the conflict had been exhausted.  In exchange for these relatively stringent standards, the recovery numbers under Phase I were low: once a side of the state reached four breeding pairs for three consecutive years, wolf conservation and management would transfer into Phase II where the standards on when wolves could be killed were relaxed.  A breeding pair was defined as a pair of wolves that had at least two pups that survived the calendar year.
 
By 2011, Oregon had its first established breeding pair of wolves, the Imnaha pack.  This pack’s alpha pair produced OR-7, the famous wolf that journeyed from northeast Oregon to northern California, and the female wolf that helped establish California’s first wolf pack in almost one hundred years.  But during 2010-2011, Oregon began experiencing its first wolf-livestock conflicts in northeastern Oregon, and the livestock community began pressuring ODFW to kill wolves to reduce this conflict.  
 
Shasta Pack

Shasta Pack in California (Photo Courtesy of CDFG)

Although the numbers of wolf-livestock conflicts were limited, especially when compared to other sources of livestock mortality, and have remained incredibly low to date, the issue of wolves was swept up in politics and the rise of the Tea Party across the rural West.  Wolves became a symbol of federal government intervention, and Republican representatives in these areas began to be threatened by Tea Party candidates who were running on staunch anti-wolf platforms.  In response, these candidates also began banging on the anti-wolf drum.  The ultimate result of all this noise making was the legislative, federal delisting of wolves in the Rocky Mountain gray wolf recovery area, which included Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and eastern Oregon and Washington.  This was the first time Congress had delisted an endangered species, and marked the beginning of a still ongoing legislative and legal battle over wolves and other imperiled species.
 
Specifically in Oregon, this meant that federal protections under the Endangered Species Act in the eastern portion of the state had been eliminated, and that the state was permitted to kill wolves.  The livestock community and anti-wolf political figures began pushing hard for killing wolves in Oregon.  Cascadia and others fervently reminded the state and ODFW that we only had a single breeding pair of wolves in Oregon, and approximately only 12 or 13 wolves total.  Despite these protests, ODFW moved to kill the alpha male of the Imnaha pack and one of the pups born that year.ODFW determined that after only a few incidents of wolf-livestock conflict, the Imnaha pack satisfied the wolf plan’s “chronically depredating” standard and needed to be killed.
 
Folks at Cascadia Wildlands were outraged. We reminded the state the commitments it had made in the plan to make killing wolves a measure of last resort at this early juncture of recovery, and we disagreed with ODFW that a few incidents over the course of two years marked a “chronic” issue.  We went to court over the disagreement, preventing the killing of the Imnaha pack, but ultimately settled the suit with both the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and the ODFW.  This settlement defined some of the vague terms used in Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, laid out clearly defined requirements for implementing non-lethal preventative measures, and delineated exactly what the plan meant by “chronically depredating.”  Additionally, a compensation program was set up for ranchers that lost livestock to wolves, and a tax credit established to further compensate ranchers for efforts expended on preventative measures.  These rules have been highly lauded as the most thorough and successfully wolf conservation and management program in the country.
 
ODFW began executing the clarified rules with earnest, and over the next few years Oregon saw depredations decrease dramatically and wolf numbers steadily increase.  With ODFW and ranchers focusing on preventative measures, ODFW has not had to expend taxpayer dollars to kill a single wolf to date.  We now have approximately 15 wolf packs in Oregon, wolves have been initially dispersing into western Oregon, and there are now potentially two new packs in southern Oregon near the California border.  At the last official count, there were over 70 confirmed wolves in Oregon.  This has been such a promising recovery to date, and has been one of the pride and joys at Cascadia Wildlands — a direct result of our efforts.
 
However, this year a new conflict over wolves has emerged surrounding the removal of the species from Oregon’s list of threatened and endangered species.  When wolves in Oregon first satisfied the four breeding pairs for three consecutive years in 2014, and wolf management in eastern Oregon moved into Phase II, the state began exploring whether or not wolf numbers and recovery warranted removal of the species from the endangered species list.
 
Livestock interests were pushing the state hard, arguing that the state was required to remove protections for the species under the wolf plan.  However, the wolf plan very clearly said that the state was only required to begin exploring the delisting process, to make an early determination over whether delisting was warranted at this time or not.  Cascadia Wildlands and our conservation partners began weighing into the process as well, presenting public comments and soliciting scientific input on whether or not delisting was warranted.  The “endangered” status of the wolf is critical because it provides the entire framework and backbone of the current wolf conservation and management program and the rules developed under the mutual agreement in 2011.  Without this classification, the ODFW could do whatever it wants with regard to wolves, and under similar circumstances in 2011, we witnessed the state try to kill the Imnaha pack when it was the only breeding pack in Oregon.  
 
So Cascadia Wildlands and our allies worked tirelessly to convince the ODFW that delisting was not the right move, particularly with under 80 confirmed wolves in the state. Wolves have just barely begun to get a foothold in western Oregon, and we were concerned that additional mortality associated with management of wolves in Phase II would stagnant recovery and dispersal of the species. At the end of a series of hearings this fall, in which there was an enormous amount of public and scientific testimony, over 90 percent of Oregonians had urged the state to retain endangered species protections for the species. The overwhelming message from the scientific community was that delisting was premature because of the limited numbers and distribution of the species across the state.  
 
Despite the weight of this evidence and the desire of the public, ODFW and its Commission removed the wolf from the list of threatened and endangered species in mid-November.  Cascadia Wildlands is again exploring legal options and ways to retain this critical classification for a species still very early in its recovery.
 
 Cascadia Wildlands cannot thank enough our volunteers, members and supporters who wrote letters, talked to elected officials and traveled great distances to publicly testify in support of wolves. This passion gives us our inspiration, and we will continue to fight for this species as it continues on its perilous path to recovery. Stayed tuned for next steps as this struggle is far from over, and please consider donating to support our ongoing efforts.
 
Sep24

Marching in Francis’ Army

by Josh Laughlin, Executive Director
 
I remember first meeting Francis Eatherington the day she rolled into an Earth First! road blockade high up on the Umpqua National Forest on her motorcycle. She was wearing a leather biking jacket, had a stack of timber sale maps under her arm, a compass dangling from her neck and a ruffled brow, shaking her finger in the air, furious that the Forest Service was intent on punching roads and logging units into the adjacent Mt. Bailey roadless area.
 
“I want to be in her army,” I thought.
          
FrancisBy my count, I’ve been in Francis’ army for 17 years, working side-by-side to defend the ecological integrity of the renowned Umpqua basin. From its headwaters near Crater Lake, through the storied old-growth forests of the Cascades and Coast Range all the way down to the Oregon Dunes, the Umpqua is a world-class landscape and has never had a better advocate.
          
A perpetual thorn in the industry’s and agency’s side, Francis has never been afraid to speak her conscience, calling out BS when a timber sale was masquerading as restoration or would have compromised the wild nature of this region. She knows as well as anyone how to build a legal record based on thorough field checking and document review and comment, and our environmental attorneys like that about her.
          
Francis has spent the past six months mentoring Robin Meacher, Cascadia Wildlands’ Umpqua Regional Director, sharing the tools and institutional knowledge that has made her such an effective advocate for the region. This summer, Francis transitioned off the staff of Cascadia Wildlands to become our Umpqua Regional Advisor.
          
She hasn’t skipped a beat in her new capacity, and it’s become clear you can’t take the Francis out of Francis. Today, she is sitting on the steps of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission headquarters in Washington, DC fasting as part of a mass protest against any further federal permitting of fossil fuel development in the US, including the 230-mile Pacific Connector Pipeline and associated Jordan Cove liquified natural gas (LNG) export terminal proposed for southwest Oregon. She will soon return home to the heart of the Umpqua and will undoubtedly continue fighting for the species, wildlands and waters that make her watershed so special.
          
Cascadia Wildlands is forever grateful for Francis’ passion, commitment and friendship, and continues to march in her army.
          
Thank you for believing in us and supporting the tireless work of Francis over the years.
 
 
Above photo: Francis Eatherington in her native habitat
 
Jun30

Blog: Loaf(er)ing around the North Umpqua

by Jaclyn Hise and Amanda Martino, Cascadia Wildlands summer legal interns
    
Our first overnight field excursion as summer interns was visiting the Loafer timber sale in the Umpqua National Forest in the southern Oregon Cascades near the Umpqua Hot Springs. The units to be logged span both sides of the North Umpqua River, whose picturesque winding curves, clear blue water, and rushing rapids guarantee breathtaking views from any stop. The Loafer sale units will have logging of varying degrees, such as thinning or gap creation. One of the biggest concerns we have regarding the Loafer sale are the 5.6 miles of new temporary roads and 3 miles of reconstructed temporary roads to be built, as well as an additional 31 miles of road maintenance proposed for the haul operations that will accompany the sale.
 
As they usually are during the hot days of summer, the Umpqua Hot Springs and adjacent campsites were bustling with hikers, cyclists, families, and their four-legged friends. After seeing how busy the campsites along the Umpqua River were, we found a spot along the nearby road with a coveted picnic table and fire pit and set up camp. Tucked along the edge of the forest and set back from the road, sunlight streamed through theThe Loafer timber sale would log native forests just above the headwaters of the North Umpqua River (photo by Francis Eatherington) clearing and we remarked at our luck at finding the spot. Only after consulting the map did we find that this beautiful camping site was marked to become a future helicopter land spot. Three more camping sites along the road would also be sacrificed to landing helicopters used during the logging process.
 
We set off to walk through the first set of units that will be thinned from their thick and natural growth. We hiked off the road and followed Forest Service tape marking where new roads would traverse the units and allow truck access. We received a crash course in tree identification from our Conservation Director Francis Eatherington as we walked through sugar, white, ponderosa, and lodge pole pines, hemlocks, cedars, white fir and Douglas fir trees in our search for old-growth trees. Not to be disappointed, we soon stumbled upon these gentle giants. Estimated to be at least 600 years old and with diameters between 6 and 7 feet, these magnificent trees had a humbling effect on our group as we stood beside them. Some of these old-growth trees bear the blackened scars of past fires, true visual testaments to all they have survived, and the times they have stood strong throughout. We marveled at the tumult and storms they had weathered and the services they had provided the forest in their lifetimes. These old-growth trees are crucial desired habitat for the northern spotted owl, a threatened species that faces increasing pressures from deforestation and increased competition from the more aggressive barred owl. Although the old growth themselves would not be logged, the surrounding forest will be in this sale. Protecting old growth trees such as these and the areas surrounding old growth will be paramount in protecting the spotted owl from further losses and ensuring its survival. To think we could one day lose both an iconic species and these towering forest pillars was a sobering thought.
 
Unit 29After a long day of hiking through the forest, we walked up to the hot springs to relax and enjoy its picturesque views. The hot springs are on the side of a ridge and look out over the North Umpqua River – and several of the units that will be logged in the Loafer sale. The view of the winding blue river and thick surrounding forest in the late afternoon sun was magnificent, and there were plenty of visitors to take in the sights. We wondered if they knew what the view would look like after the logging was done – the once full and lush forest riddled with roads and whole areas thinned.
 
The next day we hiked along the side of the Umpqua River, along the North Umpqua Trail. The mountain wall rose up directly next to us and beautiful waterfalls of natural spring water flowed down its side into the Umpqua. Several waterfalls had chiseled out unique rock formations and walls of moss dripped spring water into flowing streams at our feet. One of the units to be logged lay directly above our heads and these stunning hydrological features. Any logging above would surely be felt below – the sounds of machinery and trucks, the dust, dirt, and pollution, and the gaps in the tree coverage above. Pollution and debris from the logging would be carried down via these springs and waterfalls into the Umpqua and the numerous campsites between it and the trail. All those who visit this area, cyclists, backpackers, hikers, campers, would notice a change to the peace, beauty, and natural setting of the trail and riparian area.
 
We surveyed several other units that would be thinned for meadow restoration and winter elk habitat. By the abundance of elk tracks and other indicators throughout all of the units, it didn’t seem like there was any shortage of habitat for them. We wound our way through several sunlit meadows full of ferns taller than ourselves and around brush, bushes, and wild strawberries. Frogs jumped from puddles of water into nearby vegetation.
 
Tired from our two-day trek up and down hillsides, we headed to soak our feet in the Umpqua and to reflect over all we had seen. It’s one thingUnit 26 to read about the proposed road construction and maintenance and logging plans, and another to touch the sides of trees that will be cut for roads, to stand in the shadows of 600 years of growth and resilience that will be surrounded by cutting, to drink water from a natural cascading spring, and to wake up in a sunlit campsite. The proposed Loafer timber sale will forever alter the natural beauty of the Umpqua National Forest, the Umpqua Hot Springs, and the North Umpqua Trail. We returned home with more determination to preserve this amazing forest for all who wish to visit the area and have these experiences. Cascadia Wildlands is currently commenting on the Forest Service’s new Environmental Assessment and making formal administrative objections to the Loafer timber sale.
 
(Photos by Francis Eatherington from top to bottom: Campsite along the North Umpqua River during a recent fieldcheck of the Loafer timber sale; Unit 29 of the Loafer timber sale, old-growth trees marked for retention; Field checking unit 26 of the Loafer timber sale, old-growth trees marked for retention)
 
Jun05

Tongass Wolf population shows ‘Dramatic Decline’

Our friends at Greenpeace have uncovered alarming news that the wolf population on Prince of Wales Island, where we are currently embroiled in litigation challenging a moster timber sale, appears to be crashing.
 
You can download the Forest Service report here: USFS AA wolf briefing paper__29May15. Posted below is the press statement by our allies at Greenpeace and Center for Biological Diversity:
-G.S., Cordova
 
SITKA, Alaska. — State and federal authorities are reporting a “dramatic decline in the wolf population on Prince of Wales Island, Tongass National Forest.” A new report records a 60 percent drop in the number of Alexander Archipelago wolves in just one year, reinforcing conservationists’ arguments that plans to log old-growth forests on the island should be halted to protect the wolf and other wildlife. 
 
An Alaska Department of Fish and Game draft report estimates a total of only 89 wolves in the area — including 60 on the main island — compared with 220 only a year ago. That estimate was cited in a May 29 briefing paper by the U.S. Forest Service — whose approval of the Big Thorne timber sale on the island is being challenged in court by Greenpeace and the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups. The Forest Service warns the new data “increases the probability of [an Endangered Species Act] listing and will almost certainly become a factor in ongoing litigation against timber sales.”
 
“This sudden and dramatic decline of Alexander Archipelago wolves on Prince of Wales is scary,” said the Center’s Alaska Director Rebecca Noblin. “Our efforts to save the wolves may prove too little, too late unless the Fish and Wildlife Service takes these numbers to heart and protects the wolves under the Endangered Species Act. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.”
 
The revelations come as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works toward a year-end determination on whether to list the Alexander Archipelago wolf as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, in response to a petition filed by Greenpeace and the Center for Biological Diversity. Threats to the Alexander Archipelago wolf all stem from old-growth forest habitat loss to logging and human access to formerly remote places on the extensive system of logging roads. Right now, primary wolf habitat on Prince of Wales lays in the path of the Big Thorne timber project, a major old-growth logging effort that is being challenged in the Ninth Circuit court of appeals.
 
“The new information is shocking and tragic,” said Larry Edwards of Greenpeace, who has worked on wolf issues in the region for over a decade. “A one-year 60 percent drop in population is bad enough, but the critical problem is that the Prince of Wales area population had already been reduced to a very low number. Now, the number is in the red zone.”
 
Worse yet, the 89-wolf estimate is already outdated, the Forest Service briefing paper indicates. The “estimates were made prior to the 2014/2015 hunting and trapping season, wherein 29 animals were known to be taken. This further reduces the likely population.”
 
The wolves on Prince of Wales and its associated islands are geographically isolated and genetically distinct from other Alexander Archipelago wolves, which themselves are a subspecies of gray wolves. Recent genetic research shows that a large portion of genetic diversity in the gray wolf species is found in Alexander Archipelago wolves, making them especially important from a conservation perspective. 
 
The information on the new population estimate comes from a Forest Service briefing paper that summarizes the content of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s report. The briefing paper was provided to Greenpeace yesterday. The final report will likely be issued next week.
 
“After we see the full report, we will decide what actions to take,” Edwards said. “I testified to the Board of Game in January, after hearing the Department of Fish and Game’s presentation on these wolves. I said the board should close the season until the next board cycle, three years from now. That was not done, even though a crisis seemed obvious already. We are prepared to ask the Department’s commissioner for an emergency order blocking the 2015/2016 season.”
 
The Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace filed the petition to protect Alexander Archipelago wolves under the Endangered Species Act in 2011. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made a preliminary determination last year that listing the species “may be warranted.” 
May05

Lawsuit Challenges Plan to Log Old-growth in Alaska

Mail Attachment-6 copy

Cascadia Wildlands yesterday filed suit against the Forest Service challenging approval of the Mitkof Island timber sale, a 4,117-acre old-growth logging project on the Tongass National Forest, near Petersburg in Southeast Alaska.

This lawsuit comes close on the heals of our challenge to the Big Thorne timber sale, another big old-growth sale that is currently on appeal before the 9th Circuit. These cases, along with a proposed revision to the overarching Forest Plan, represent a critical turning point on the Forest.

Long story short, the era of profitable old-growth logging is over, but the Forest Service and a handful of influential logging industry die-hards have been working overtime trying to prop it back up. Timber sales like this one on Mitkof Island are a last gasp of a dying industry.

The industry is dying—there is little doubt about that—but the question is whether it will leave enough healthy forest behind to sustain the wildlife and subsistence opportunities that rural Alaskans have traditionally enjoyed. The ecosystem is at a tipping point. 

Mitkof Island is a microcosm for the legacy of Tongass logging and habitat loss. Extensive areas have been clearcut on the National Forest, and (even worse) clearcutting on adjacent privately owned land.

One result is that the local deer population has crashed and is not recovering. Without enough old-growth providing shelter, the herd starves in winter. Petersburg residents no longer can go hunting out their back door. 

And, the result of that is that the State of Alaska is pursing ‘predator control,’ aiming to cull the wolf population by 80%. Without adequate habitat, the whole predator-prey system (of which humans are a part) comes crashing down.

In spite of huge controversy, on Mitkof the Forest Service determined that their logging project would have “no significant impact” on the environment, so conducted only a cursory environmental review. This is rare, and extraordinary. As the environmental consequences intesify, why would the agency be paying less attention to them?

Contrary to that claim, our lawsuit catalogues a number of significant impacts:

  • Loss of winter habitat for deer, further stressing the local population;

  • Harm to subsistence hunters, particularly low-income residents who cannot afford to travel to distant islands for deer;

  • Threats to the Alexander Archipelago wolf, which is currently being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act, from loss of deer habitat and the likelihood of increased trapping;

  • Damage to the Queen Charlotte goshawk, a raptor that relies on old-growth forest.

As Rebecca Noblin, the Alaska director for our co-plaintiff Center for Biological Diversity, said, “I suppose that if you don’t look for problems then you’re not going to find them.”

The case was filed on behalf of Cascadia Wildlands, Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, Greenpeace, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, in federal district court in Anchorage. Cascadia’s staff attorneys are joined by the superhero lawyers at CRAG law center arguing the case. 

You can read a copy of the suit here.

May01

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul: The Abuse of “Ecological Forestry” on our Public Lands in Western Oregon

By Nick Cady, Legal Director
 
The conservation community in the Northwest was incredibly excited by Cascadia’s legal victory over the White Castle timber sale.  Not just because of the couple hundred acres of old growth forest that were saved from clearcutting, but because of the potentially important precedent the case set concerning logging old forest to create so-called early seral habitat.
 
A little background.  Early seral habitat is the agency name for habitat that is mostly brush and shrubs, ideal habitat for deer, elk and some bird species, and ideally is created after fires have burn through forested areas.  True early-seral habitat is somewhat lacking on the landscape because the feds for decades have suppressed fires, and even when there is a fire, the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will “salvage log”  the areas and replant conifer trees, quickly taking away any early-seral habitat value.
 
Given this pattern of post-fire salvage logging, folks at Cascadia were initially surprised and suspicious to hear about Forest Service and BLM plans to create early-seral habitat through commercial logging.  The agency plan was to create this early-seral habitat by logging middle-aged plantations. 
Plantation

Typical Young Conifer Plantation

These conifer plantations are 40 to 80 year old forests created from previous clearcutting, pesticide spraying, and dense replanting.  The logging would essentially create large meadow-like openings between clumps of reserved forests.  These reserves would contain the biggest trees in the stand, and areas with unique composition, for example a pocket of western red cedar or large hardwoods.  30% of the project area would be reserved from harvest in these clumps, and there would also be large, green trees, 12 to 18 per acre, distributed across the openings to provide connectivity for wildlife.  The logging concept was called ecological forestry or variable retention harvest (VRH).
 
Folks at Cascadia were skeptical, but not overly concerned because this prescription seemed genuinely aimed at restoring diversity back into these plantations.  Left alone, these middle aged plantations currently provide little to no habitat value for the Northwest’s struggling older forest species, and posed a severe fire risk given the density of these young conifer trees.
 
buck rising white castle

BLM’s Version of VRH Implemented in the Buck Rising Sale

However, when the timber industry and Bureau of Land Management got a hold of this idea to create early-seral habitat it quickly morphed into an “ecological” excuse to clearcut older forest.  We began seeing dozens of proposed timber sales aimed at converting older mature forest, not young plantations, into early-seral habitat.  The proposed reserves quickly were replaced by already existing buffers in place for imperiled species and around waterways, and the dispersed green tree retention across the logged areas was eliminated.  It was readily apparent that this novel approach had been high-jacked; it had become an ecological justification for clearcutting.  This was a very dangerous idea, because it could arguably be used in existing protected areas and owl habitat.
 
The White Castle timber sale, located in the South Umpqua watershed on the Roseburg BLM district, was the worst of the worst of these early-seral creation projects we had seen.  The sale targeted a one hundred year old-plus forests that had never before been logged. It was also designated critical habitat for the northern spotted owl and hosted a healthy population of the red tree vole, a food source of the northern spotted owl.  Forest activists with Cascadia Forest Defenders had occupied the stand to prevent the clearcutting, and Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild readied a legal challenge.  We were cautiously optimistic that the judge would recognize how abused this concept to create early-seral forest from plantations had become.  
 
Just over a month ago, the ruling came down, and the Court sided with us on all counts, harping on the fact that this “ecological forestry” was designed for young stands and not older forest.  The Northwest has limited older forest left on the landscape, so sacrificing older forest to create early-seral forest does not make sense.  It was the epitome of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
 
This victory threw a major wrench in a number of other “ecological forestry” projects being planned by the Forest Service and BLM, especially the projects slated for older forests. 
Cool Soda Map

Map of the Cool Soda Project and Age Classes

Cool Soda was one of these projects on the Sweet Home Ranger District of the Willamette National Forest.  The project was fairly large, over thousands of acres, and was part of a collaborative process between private timber owners, the Willamette National Forest and conservation groups and other stakeholders trying to get at restoration needs on the landscape across a “checkerboard” ownership.
 
The final proposal mostly involved commercial thinning in young plantations to restore ecological diversity while generating timber volume.  However, a small portion of the project involved heavy thinning and “ecological forestry” in native, never-logged forests over 120 years old.  We objected to the project because of these older forest units, and met with the Forest Service staff to attempt to resolve our differences over the project.  
Due to the weight of the White Castle decision and the understanding of the Forest Service, we were able to eliminate the older forest units from the final decision without resorting to litigation.  We were able to save all parties’ time and resources and end up with a project that would have a myriad ofbenefits, including restoring diversity into dense young plantations, replacing failed culverts that were impacting aquatic health, and generating timber volume for the local mills.
 
We are hopeful that moving forward the Forest Service and BLM will honor the original intent of creating early-seral habitat and abandon futile attempts at masking mature forest timber grabs as “ecological” projects.
 

 

Apr27

Maintaining Protections for Oregon’s Wolves

By Nick Cady, Legal Director
 
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 ODFW

Imnaha Pack Wolves

This past Friday, I was driving to and from Bend, over five hours in the car, to give three minutes of testimony because the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) was proposing to remove gray wolves from the state endangered species list.  I was appropriately pissed given the plain fact that only 77 wolves exist in the state, but I was also feeling pretty jaded about the whole thing. I’ll explain why.
 
In 2011, when wolves were first returning to the state (there was 12 wolves and one breeding pair at the time), the ODFW tried to kill the male of that breeding pair and one of the sub adults from that same pack.  I had passed the bar exam weeks earlier and had one lawsuit filed to my name when co-worker Josh Laughlin yelled across the office that I needed to find a way to stop this active hunt for the alpha male, OR-4.
 
So I started digging around.  The problem was I did not have time to really conduct a thorough review as ODFW agents were out in the field hunting for the wolves as I was researching and writing.  But I just starting working, and began digging around in state laws pertaining to the protection of endangered species.  The gray wolf has been listed as an endangered species in the state since the passage of the law decades ago.
 
As it turns out the state laws did have a prohibition on taking or killing endangered species.  But everyone who had been working on wolf issues, everyone who was involved in drafting the state’s wolf plan in 2005 (governor’s office, ODFW, conservationists, agricultural interests, etc.) had not given this provision any thought, when the plan purported to allow wolves to be shot in response to wolves killing livestock during the early stages of wolf recovery while they were still listed.
 
The reason why no one had considered this provision was that when the state Endangered Species Act was passed, the timber industry had gutted the law of any substance that could negatively impact the ability to clearcut our forests.  Standard Salem politics. To be specific, the bill was clarified so that the “taking” of an endangered species, which was prohibited, does not include destruction of a species habitat.  So someone would have to go out into woods and shoot a spotted owl out of a tree to violate the law, while cutting down the owl’s nest tree and clearcutting for miles in every direction was fine.   Therefore, in order to violate the law, you had to directly go out and kill an endangered species.  Folks thought that this was preposterous. No monster would intentionally kill an endangered species, and another meaningless law for the environment was passed by Oregon Democrats, or so they thought.
 
Until it came to wolves.  Wolves are habitat generalists; as long as there is prey and not too many human beings around, they will survive.  The real threat to wolves is people shooting and trapping them, the reason why the species was wiped out and then protected in the first place.  The ridiculous contention that people might intentionally and admittedly kill endangered species had become reality in Oregon, but everyone had forgotten about the Oregon Endangered Species Act, the supposedly meaningless act of Democrat consolation to Oregon conservationists.
 
So I wrote a legal memo and pressed forward with the lawsuit with colleagues Oregon Wild and Center for Biological Diversity. There was a stream of late nights and Thai food drafting everything up as ODFW was actively trying to kill these wolves.  And a day or so before we filed, we got word that the agency hunters had actually taken a shot at OR-4 (father of OR-7 or “Journey”), and were not sure if they had hit him or not.  We quickly put everything together and filed.  The Court issued us a stay later that day and ended the hunt temporarily.  Ultimately, we settled the lawsuit with the state and the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association by developing stringent rules or when the state could use lethal control on wolves (more on the details of those rules here).  ODFW could only now kill wolves in limited circumstances early in recovery, and when different population objectives were hit these rules would be automatically relaxed.  
 
Organizationally, Cascadia Wildlands spent so much time and resources on this process.  The settlement took almost two years to negotiate, and involved what seemed like weekly trips to Salem.  It was a brutal process, but it ultimately led to an agreement that has since made Oregon the national model for responsible wolf conservation.
 
Turning back to my trip to Bend, and ODFW’s attempt to delist wolves, I was feeling jaded because I hoped that this landmark agreement would have bought more time before I was again taking long commutes and debating state agents and livestock producers over wolf management.  I was especially upset because we had intentionally designed the wolf rules to avoid this debate over delisting.  Specifically, we crafted the rules so that changes in wolf management as the population grew happen automatically and do not hinge on listing or delisting.  Everyone at the table knew that the listing of wolves on the endangered species act would be incredibly controversial, so we wanted to avoid the conflict.  
 
But apparently we were wrong, and our efforts to avoid a pointless, premature contest over delisting were in vain.  Despite only having 77 wolves in the state, ODFW made recommendations to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission that wolves be delisted.  Although delisting would not have any management implications immediately, years down the road it could open the door to wolf hunting in the state. So we had to make the trip, organize testimony, get scientists to weigh-in and analyze the delisting proposal, because we knew the well-funded livestock lobbyists would be doing the same. I was pissed and frustrated, we had designed the rules to avoid this conflict, and ODFW launched us into it regardless.  It all just seemed somewhat pointless and a waste of precious energy given all the other threats to Oregon’s environment.  
 
After all, the wolf is just one species among many, and a species going through a successful recovery.  Although the majority of the wolves and packs in Oregon are concentrated in the northeast corner of the state, wolves are beginning to disperse west.  Two packs are now established in the southern Cascades, and wolves have recently been documented in the northern Cascades as well.  On the other hand, spotted owl populations are crashing, sea counts of marbled murrelets indicate that numbers are plummeting, and several wetland species are now listed in the state due to disappearing habitat.
 
So I found myself sulking.  But something happened at the meeting.  As public testimony began, I starting listening to all the different voices supporting the wolf’s continued listing on the Endangered Species Act: the hydrologist testifying about the importance of wolves to aquatic ecosystems, the business lawyer testifying about the importance of liberal wildlife policies to new businesses and attracting workers, the grade school teacher presenting loads of drawings from her students about wolves, the retired ODFW employee advocating for the exercise of caution. A slew of people testified and had made the trip from all corners of the state.
 
I began to feel inspired.  I had gotten caught up in the details of these rules and management phases, and had lost focus of what wolves and their status as an endangered species meant to the general public in Oregon. Aside from the rules and laws, wolves and the species’ recovery means so much to so many in Oregon.  They are a symbol of nature and true wilderness. A species that protects the intricate web of life in our fragile ecosystems.  Their recovery and the struggle to protect them is representative of the growing environmental ethic in this country.  
 
A meeting that I went into feeling discouraged and pessimistic, turned into a reformation.  A rejuvenation of enthusiasm about wolves and all they mean to the people of this state.  And I was not the only one that was influenced by the public’s outcry. The Commission, despite the Department’s urgings, voted to delay any decision on delisting until later this year so that more scientific information could be gathered and analyzed.  A wise decision for the Commission and the wolves.  So Cascadia Wildlands will gather further evidence and analysis on the ODFW proposal as we would have regardless, but now with a renewed sense of purpose thanks to the public voices concerned with the protection of wolves.  Thank you.

 

 

Feb12

Living in the Age of Returns and Firsts

 

By Maya Rommwatt, Communications and Development Intern

On February 13th, comments are due to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on the Jordan Cove LNG project.  The potentially catastrophic project includes both a pipeline and a terminal for the purpose of transporting fracked natural gas and liquefying it for export to Asia.  Similar to other proposals to transport gas and coal for the purposes of export, this project refuses to consider the impacts it will have on climate change, which now stands between us, and a livable future.

We’re living in an age of returns and firsts.  Just recently, photos confirmed the presence of an extremely rare Sierra Nevada red fox in Yosemite National Park.  There have been no sightings of the elusive creature there for ninety-nine years.  And closer to home, we learned of activity of what appears to be another one or two wolves near Crater Lake, in addition to the burgeoning Rogue Pack. I never thought I would be able to speak of Western Oregon wolves, and yet here they are, pups and all. 

But as this encouraging story unfolds, we make plans for pipelines and exports that will guarantee a future governed by catastrophic climate change.  That future has no room for recovering species.  This, as the EPA announces Canadian tar sands will only be developed if the Keystone pipeline is built, now that oil prices have dropped.  While the Keystone pipeline may soon be a receding threat, the more local Jordan Cove project is a wholly different beast.  The project would assure the export of inefficient fracked natural gas for decades to come, and once the Boardman coal plant shuts down, it will be Oregon’s biggest polluter.  This doesn’t even factor in the emissions associated with obtaining the natural gas, nor does it consider the burning of the gas by its consumers in Asia.  And yet, Oregon moves closer and closer to the LNG terminal.  We have not even begun to ask what a future with the project might look like.  If an accident were to happen with this project, say a spill, we taxpayers would likely be forced to help foot the cleanup bill, as the history of corporate settlements shows (corporations forced to pay punitive damages often deduct their settlement costs from their taxes).Two pups from the Rogue Pack, June 2014

The Jordon Cove LNG project is a disaster we can’t afford on a number of levels.  It’s foolish to think we can both recover species and build the natural gas pipeline.  Will we choose the path to recovery and growth, returns and firsts?  Or will we choose the path of negligence and loss?  Help us show the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission we stand on the right side of history, that we respect other species, and are not working in opposition to them.  We have not spent countless hours and resources building a narrative with a future, only to wash it away so a Canadian corporation can make a profit at our expense and the expense of OR-7 and the Rogue pack, the wolverine, and the remaining ancient carbon-storing forests of the Pacific Northwest. No LNG Rally, photo courtesy of Francis Eatherington

Now is the time to submit our comments; we have until noon on Friday the 13th for online comments or postmarked mailed comments.  If you haven’t already done so, you can submit your comments beginning here.

 

More information on the pipeline can be found here.

 

Photo Credits: Top left, Two pups from the Rogue Pack, June 2014. (Photo by ODFW).  Bottom right, No LNG protest. (Photo courtesy Francis Eatherington).                              

 

 

 

 

Feb11

Exciting Leadership Transition at Cascadia Wildlands

Dear Cascadia Wildlands Supporters,

Bushwacking through head-high ferns to find the elusive Devil’s Staircase waterfall. Watching salmon thrash upstream to their natal grounds. Hearing the pre-dawn keer of the marbled murrelet high in the canopy. Knowing wolves are reclaiming their rightful place back in Cascadia. Educating and empowering communities to confront power imbalances. These are the things that keep me feeling alive and ever committed to the work of Cascadia Wildlands.

It is an exciting time for me. I’ve recently been asked by Cascadia Wildlands’ Board of Directors to serve as our interim executive director as Bob Ferris phases into retirement.

I’m determined to lead our powerful team into the future and further realize our vision of vast old-growth forests, rivers full of wild salmon, wolves howling in the backcountry, and vibrant communities sustained by the unique landscapes of the Cascadia bioregion.

I’m grateful for what Bob brought to Cascadia Wildlands over the past three years to make us a stronger organization. His expertise in conservation biology, decades of non-profit experience, and his ability to dig up the dirt on and expose the despoilers of wild nature are just a few things that have helped take us to the next level.

Photo taken July 6 2013 of OR17 with a 2013 pup of the Imnaha pack. Subadult wolves assist in the raising of the pups. Photo courtesy of ODFWEvery day, I’m amazed at what we have accomplished for a conservation organization our size. I get even more fired up for what we have our sights on. Because 2015 may be the year gray wolves get established in the Kalmiposis Wilderness, northern California, Oregon’s Willamette National Forest, and Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Much of Oregon’s remarkable wolf recovery has been facilitated by our legal challenge that halted wolf killing in Oregon and ensuing landmark settlement agreement that created the strongest wolf plan in the country.

Please dig deep to help Cascadia accomplish this critical work in the 2015 year by making a tax-deductible donation today.

Breathtaking photo of the Tongass National Forest. Photo courtesy David Beebe.With continued determination, we will have a lasting conservation solution for Oregon’s 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest now that we have ground old-growth clearcutting to a halt. This year we hope to put a nail in the coffin of the proposed 150-foot-wide, 230-mile-long liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline and export facility slated for Coos Bay that would wreak havoc for salmon, wildlife and our climate. And we will continue to fight tooth-and-nail against the 6,000-acre Big Thorne old-growth timber sale in Alaska’s fabled Tongass National Forest (image at left) in Cascadia’s northern reaches.

Having been with Cascadia Wildlands essentially since its formation over 15 years ago, I’m excited, rejuvenated and ready to lead the organization into the future. Thanks for believing in us, taking action when called on, and supporting our conservation work over the years and into the future. Don’t hesitate to contact me with any thoughts or questions.

Will you join me in supporting Cascadia right now?

For a wild and free Cascadia,

Josh Laughlin Signature

Josh Laughlin
Interim Executive Director/Campaign Director
jlaughlin(at)cascwild(dot)org

P.S. You can also mail a check or money order made out to Cascadia Wildlands and send it to POB 10455, Eugene, OR 97440.

 

Photo Credits: Top left, Josh Laughlin, Interim Executive Director of Cascadia Wildlands, at Devil's Staircase in 2012. (Photo courtesy Cascadia Wildlands.) Middle right, Subadult and pup from the Imnaha Pack, taken July 2013. (Photo by ODFW.) Bottom left, Breathtaking photo of the Tongass National Forest. (Photo courtesy of David Beebe.)

 

we like it wild. Follow us Facebook Twiter RSS