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Jan10

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Washington Rivers, Salmon from Destructive Suction Dredge Mining

Harmful Gold-mining Method Already Restricted in California, Oregon

For Immediate Release, January 10, 2017
 
Contact:
Gabriel Scott, Cascadia Wildlands (541) 434-1463 gscott@cascwild.org 
Jonathan Evans, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 844-7118, jevans@biologicaldiversity.org 
 
OLYMPIA, Wash.— Conservation groups filed a notice of intent today to sue the state of Washington for allowing highly destructive suction dredge mining in rivers and streams critical to endangered salmon and steelhead. The Washington Department of Wildlife approves the harmful recreational gold-mining technique in rivers throughout the state that are home to numerous imperiled fish species. Conservation and fisheries groups have also introduced bills in the state legislature to better monitor and regulate suction dredge mining.
 
“Suction dredge mining pollutes our waterways with toxic mercury, clouds streams with sediment, kills endangered fish and destroys irreplaceable cultural resources that are important to all Washingtonians,” said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is a dirty, outdated form of mining that our families, waterways and wildlife shouldn’t be subjected to.”
 
Suction dredge mining uses large, gas-powered vacuums to suck up gravel on the bottom of rivers and streams in search of gold flakes. Miners target gravel beds critical to salmon spawning and reproduction and pollute waterways with sediment and toxic mercury and heavy metals in their search for gold. Suction dredge mining also threatens important cultural resources important to American Indians. 
 
“Suction dredge miners are killing endangered salmon and polluting our waterways and it needs to stop,” said Gabriel Scott, in-house counsel for Cascadia Wildlands. “We intend to enforce the law ourselves if the state won’t.” 
 
The harm done by suction dredging is well documented by scientists and government agencies. In recent years Oregon and California have halted suction dredge mining for gold in areas that are important for rivers and fisheries because of its damage to water quality and wildlife. In Idaho the EPA has stepped in to regulate the practice. Today’s notice, filed by the Center and Cascadia Wildlands, notifies Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife and Department of Ecology of ongoing violations of the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act.
 
While the state doesn’t track individual mining locations, the majority of Washington’s rivers and streams are open to mining. Because the state of Washington has never squared state laws regulating suction dredge mining with the Endangered Species Act or Clean Water Act, two bills were introduced in the state legislature this week to better monitor and regulate the activity. House Bill 1077, introduced by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Seattle), would create important safeguards in environmentally sensitive areas to protect salmon and water quality. House Bill 1106, introduced by Rep. Gael Tarleton (D-Seattle), would require miners to comply with the Clean Water Act to reduce pollution when mining.
 
Numerous other commercial and recreational organizations have raised concerns that suction dredge and other motorized mining practices are disruptive and harmful to fishing. Statewide, commercial fisheries generate more than $1.6 billion annually and sport fishing generates more than $1.1 billion annually. Suction dredge mining also undermines the tens of millions of dollars invested in salmon recovery efforts in Washington.
 
For detailed mapping of rivers and streams with suction dredge mining or endangered fish habitat click here.
Dec20

Court Halts Logging of Elliott State Forest Tract Sold to Timber Company

For Immediate Release, December 20, 2016
 
Contact:         
Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, (314) 482-3746                       
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Bob Sallinger, Portland Audubon, (503) 380-9728
 
Court Halts Logging of Elliott State Forest Tract Sold to Timber Company
 Old-Growth Clearcutting Stopped to Protect Threatened Marbled Murrelets
 
EUGENE, Ore.— A U.S. District Court in Eugene has issued a preliminary ruling preventing Scott Timber from clearcutting a parcel of the Elliott State Forest purchased from the state of Oregon. The court found that the proposed logging of the Benson Ridge parcel by the subsidiary of Roseburg Forest Products raised serious questions over the potential harm threatened marbled murrelets, in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.  
 
In August Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity and Portland Audubon filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to block Scott Timber from logging the 355-acre parcel of land, part of the 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest until 2014 and home to threatened marbled murrelets. The Endangered Species Act strictly prohibits “take” (harm, harassment or killing) of threatened species like the murrelet, which, unlike any other seabird, nests on the wide branches of large, old trees, making a daily trip of up to 35 miles inland to bring fish to its young. The court’s ruling on Monday prevents the logging of the Benson Ridge parcel until a full trial can be had on the merits.
 
“Today’s ruling has enormous implications for the state of Oregon’s efforts to dispose of the Elliott State Forest to private timber interests,” said Nick Cady, legal director at Cascadia Wildlands. “The state represented to these private timber interests that the forest could be logged without legal consequence, and this ruling establishes that private timber companies can no longer violate federal environmental laws with abandon.”
 
The court’s decision is well timed. On Dec. 13 Oregon’s State Land Board postponed a decision on a pending proposal to sell the remaining 82,000-acres of the Elliott State Forest to Lone Rock Timber Company. The court’s injunction halting the logging planned by Scott Timber indicates Lone Rock could be held liable under federal environmental laws for clearcutting the old-growth forests that once belonged to all Oregonians.
 
“The state of Oregon should never have sold this land,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Not only does it have important habitat for the marbled murrelet and other wildlife, but it was there for all Oregonians to enjoy.” 
 
In 2012 the three groups sued the state of Oregon for illegally logging marbled murrelet habitat on the Elliott and other state forests. The state settled the suit in 2014, agreeing to drop 26 timber sales and stop logging in occupied murrelet habitat. But following the loss, the state sold three parcels totaling 1,453 acres, even though they contained mature and old-growth forests that are occupied by the murrelet, including the 355-acre Benson Ridge parcel. 
 
“This demonstrates the incredible cynicism that underpins the State’s efforts to sell the Elliott off to private timber interests,” said Audubon conservation director, Bob Sallinger. “Not only does it put fish and wildlife species at risk and eliminated use for future generations, but it also is predicated on those private timber companies returning to the illegal logging practices that the State was forced to abandon.” 
 
The court’s preliminary ruling is one of several promising developments for the protection of old-growth forests in Oregon critical to the survival of murrelets and other imperiled wildlife. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife recently initiated a process to uplist the murrelet’s state protection status from threatened to endangered. The Oregon Board of Forestry recently decided to take up a petition to identify and develop rules to protect murrelet sites on state and private timber lands.
 
Cascadia Wildlands represents approximately 10,000 members and supporters and has a mission to educate, agitate and inspire a movement to protect and restore Cascadia’s wild ecosystems.
 
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
 
Audubon Society of Portland was founded in 1902 to promote the understanding, enjoyment and protection of native birds, other wildlife and their habitats. Today it represents over 16,000 members in Oregon.
 
Dec01

Oregon Board of Forestry Reverses Course, Will Develop Murrelet Protections

For Immediate Release, December 1, 2016
 
Contacts:
Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, (314) 482-3746, nick@cascwild.org
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495, ngreenwald@biologicaldiversity.org
 
Oregon Board of Forestry Reverses Course, Will Develop Murrelet Protections
Rulemaking Initiated to Protect Imperiled Seabird on State, Private Lands
 
EUGENE, Ore.— The Oregon Board of Forestry has reversed its prior decision to deny a petition from conservation groups that called for the identification and protection of marbled murrelet sites on state and private forest lands. The Board is now coordinating with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and other state land owning agencies to identify and protect important old-growth forest areas for the seabird threatened with extinction.
 
“It is reassuring to see the Board reverse course on this issue, especially given Oregon’s current efforts to sell off the Elliott State Forest,” said Nick Cady, legal director of Cascadia Wildlands. “The Elliott is a unique block of old-growth forest that is critical to the survival and recovery of this species, and should be the first area prioritized by the Board.”
 
Murrelets fly inland from the ocean to nest on wide, mossy limbs found in in the mature and old-growth forests of the Oregon Coast Range.  While most of Oregon’s coast range has been converted into industrial timberland that does not provide nesting habitat for the bird, the 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest, located in the coast range just east of Coos Bay, is a crucial block of older forest habitat and essential to the reproductive success of the species.
 
”The marbled murrelet is the only seabird in the world that nests in old-growth forests and needs our help to survive,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “I’m thrilled Oregon’s Board of Forestry is finally stepping up to provide protections to this imperiled bird and the forests it depends on.”
 
The petition to the Board of Forestry was filed Sept. 9th in conjunction with a petition to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to uplist the species’ protection status from “threatened” to “endangered.” Given recent efforts by federal land managers to gut protections for the species and the substantial amount of habitat on state and private lands, the Department of Fish and Wildlife granted the petition, but the Board of Forestry denied its petition. After the Board’s denial, conservation groups filed a Petition for Review and asked the Board to reconsider its decision in light of requirements under Oregon law related to imperiled species.  The Board convened a special meeting on November 29, 2016 and stated it “withdraws and reverses its August 1, 2016 order denying the Petition for Rulemaking, accepts the Petition for Rulemaking, and immediately commences the rulemaking process.”
 
“Deforestation throughout the Coast Range have reduced habitat for marbled murrelets to just a few islands of old growth in a sea of clearcuts and monoculture tree plantations,” said Steve Pedery, conservation director for Oregon Wild. “Oregon is already decades overdue in developing a meaningful plan for conserving murrelet habitat. They cannot wait another 30 years.”
 
While murrelets have been listed as a ‘threatened’ species for nearly 30 years, Oregon has never developed a plan to recover them or protect the old-growth habitat that they depend on, and instead, the state has relied on the nesting habitat located on nearby federal forestlands.  This is no longer sufficient as murrelet populations in the Pacific Northwest continue to decline, and a recent status review conducted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service determined that conservation of nesting habitat on state and private lands is now critical to the species’ survival.
 
The Petition to the Board of Forestry can be found here.
 
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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)
 
Nov10

Science Review Begins for Northwest Forest Plan Revision

For Immediate Release
November 10, 2016
 
Northwest Forest Plan science synthesis review begins
Will help inform forest management efforts in Pacific Northwest
 
Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, 314-482-3746, nick@cascwild.org
Susan Jane Brown, Western Environmental Law Center, 503-914-1323, brown@westernlaw.org 
 
Portland, Ore.–Today, the United States Forest Service released for public and heightened peer review its anticipated science synthesis, which will inform the need to revise the renowned Northwest Forest Plan. The Forest Service is currently taking public comment on the synthesis through January 6, 2017, and the agency will host a public forum on December 6, 2016 in Portland, Oregon at the Doubletree Hotel from 8:30am to 1pm.  
 
“We have learned a great deal about the public lands encompassed by the Northwest Forest Plan in the past 20 years of its application,” said Nick Cady with Cascadia Wildlands. “While new information has surfaced – including, importantly, the impacts of climate change – many values endure, such as the importance of clean water, iconic wildlife such as salmon, and thriving forest ecosystems to the residents of the Pacific Northwest. These principles remain as sound today as they were when the plan was written.”
 
The topics addressed in the new science synthesis include old growth forest ecosystems, threatened and endangered terrestrial and aquatic species, climate change, socioeconomic considerations, scientific uncertainty, and restoration strategies, among many others. The Forest Service expects to publish a general technical report that encompasses the science synthesis. In addition to public review and comment on the synthesis, dozens of experts and practitioners will be conducting a peer review process which will also inform the Forest Service’s revision effort.
 
“We anticipate the synthesis will engage public interest throughout the region and we look forward to providing thoughtful feedback to the Forest Service as it considers the need to improve the scientifically-sound, ecologically-credible, and legally-defensible Northwest Forest Plan,” said Susan Jane Brown, staff attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “Through this feedback, we hope to help ensure that our treasured Pacific Northwest forests and rivers are managed to best meet the needs of our region.”
 
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Oct07

Poll: Most Oregonians Oppose Hunting of Wolves, Favor Nonlethal Conflict Prevention

For Immediate Release
October 7, 2016
 
Contacts:
>Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, (314) 482-3746, nick@cascwild.org
>Amaroq Weiss, Center for Biological Diversity, (707) 779-9613, aweiss@biologicaldiversity.org
>Catalina Tresky, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-0253, ctresky@defenders.org
>Lia Cheek, Endangered Species Coalition, (617) 840-4983, lcheek@endangered.org
>Arran Robertson, Oregon Wild, (503) 283-6343 x 223, ar@oregonwild.org
>Lindsay Raber, Pacific Wolf Coalition, (928) 301-6321, coordinator@pacificwolves.org
 
PORTLAND, Ore.— A new poll conducted by Mason Dixon Polling and Research finds that the vast majority of Oregon voters — from both rural and urban areas — oppose using hunting as a management tool for wolves in the state and believe wildlife officials wrongly removed state protections from wolves. The poll also revealed that most Oregonians believe nonlethal methods should be the primary focus in reducing conflicts between wolves and livestock.  
 
Details of the poll results include the following:
 
•    72 percent oppose changing Oregon law to allow trophy hunting of wolves.
•    67 percent oppose hunting wolves as a tool to maintain deer and elk populations.
•    63 percent oppose Oregon’s removal last year of endangered species protections for wolves.
•    67 percent said they don’t believe wolves pose an economic threat to the cattle industry that necessitates killing wolves.
•    72 percent said nonlethal conflict prevention measures must be attempted before officials are allowed to kill wolves.
 
“It’s very encouraging — and far from surprising — that the survey indicates a broad majority of Oregonians believe we can, and should, find ways to coexist with wolves,” said Dr. Michael Paul Nelson, a professor at Oregon State University whose research focuses on ecosystems and society. “And it should be instructive to policymakers that these results demonstrate that people across the state — even in rural areas most affected by wolves — want our public policies on wolves to reflect the facts, not unsubstantiated rhetoric and opinions.”
 
The Oregon wolf conservation and management plan adopted by the state in 2005 is now belatedly undergoing a legally mandated five-year review. The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission is holding meetings, including one taking place today in La Grande and another on Dec. 2 in Salem, to accept public testimony on proposed updates to the plan. Conservation groups are calling for a revival of provisions that require clear, enforceable standards that helped reduce conflict from 2013 to 2015. The livestock industry and some in the hunting community are calling for policies that make it easier to kill wolves. In March Commission Chair Finley argued for allowing trophy hunts to fund conservation. Without revision the plan reduces protections for wolves, eliminates enforceable standards, and could allow hunting as soon as next year.
 
At the end of 2015, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed an estimated 110 wolves in the state, ranging across 12 percent of habitat defined by that agency as currently suitable. Published science indicates that Oregon is capable of supporting up to 1,450 wolves. The tiny population of wolves that currently exists occupies only around 8 percent of the animals’ full historic range in the state. Last year the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to strip wolves of protections under the state endangered species law, despite comments submitted by more than two dozen leading scientists highly critical of that decision. The commission’s decision is being challenged in court by Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity and Oregon Wild.
 
“It is clear from the feedback and analysis the state received that there was no scientific basis for delisting wolves in Oregon,” said Nick Cady, legal director of Cascadia Wildlands and an attorney on the delisting case. “And to the extent that the state was responding to public wishes of Oregonians, this poll demonstrates that Oregonians did not support this premature delisting by the state.”
 
“Oregonians value wolves and feel that the state should be doing more to protect them, including resolving conflicts with livestock without resorting to guns and traps,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer at the Center for Biological Diversity. “With the state wolf plan review now underway, we hope the Fish and Wildlife Commission follows the science and refuses to make changes to the wolf plan based on fearmongering from those opposed to sharing our landscapes with wildlife.”
 
“Science shows that effective management of wolves does not involve hunting, and this poll clearly shows the people of Oregon stand with the science. We trust that any future management decisions made by the commission will represent the wishes of the people and current research,” said Danielle Moser of the Endangered Species Coalition.
 
“It's clear from the poll that Oregonians are in favor of conservation, not deputizing hunters to kill more wolves," said Arran Robertson, communications coordinator for Oregon Wild. “The idea that wolf-hunting is an appropriate tool to manage deer and elk populations is absurd. Rather than stooping to Oregon’s default policy of scapegoating and killing native wildlife, officials should focus on enforcing poaching laws and maintaining quality habitat.”
 
“Oregonians strongly support the recovery of wolves in our state,” said Quinn Read, Northwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “And they want to see common-sense management practices such as the use of nonlethal conflict prevention tools to allow wolves and people to share the landscape.”
“On behalf of the Pacific Wolf Coalition, we are pleased to hear from Oregonians,” said Lindsay Raber, coordinator for the Pacific Wolf Coalition. “This is an opportunity to learn from the public’s perspectives and values which will help inform and guide our continued efforts toward wolf recovery in the Pacific West states.”
 
The Pacific Wolf Coalition commissioned the poll, which was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research on 800 registered Oregon voters on Sept. 20-22, 2016. The margin of error is + or – 3.5 percent.
 
The mission of the Pacific Wolf Coalition is to optimize an alliance of organizations and individuals dedicated to protecting wolves in the Pacific West. Together we hold a common vision where wolves once again play a positive, meaningful, and sustainable role on the landscape and in our culture. For more information, visit www.pacificwolves.org.
 
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Sep30

Oregon Board of Forestry Sued for Failure to Protect Marbled Murrelet Habitat

For Immediate Release
September 30, 2016
 
Contact: Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, 314-482-3746, nick@cascwild.org
              Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, 503-484-7495, ngreenwald@biologicaldiveristy.org
              Steve Pedery, Oregon Wild, 503-283-6343 ext. 212
              Bob Sallinger, Portland Audubon, 503-380-9728
 
Lawsuit Filed Against Oregon Board of Forestry for Failing to Protect Habitat for Threatened Marbled Murrelet
 
EUGENE, Ore.- Four conservation organizations filed suit today against the Oregon Board of Forestry over dismissal of a petition requesting the Board identify and protect important old-growth forest areas for the marbled murrelet, a seabird threatened with extinction.  Under Oregon law, the Board was supposed to have provided such protection after the seabird was protected as threatened under the state Endangered Species Act in 1987.  
 
“The state of Oregon is obligated to protect its threatened wildlife, and it is not doing that with this unique seabird,” said Nick Cady, legal director at Cascadia Wildlands. “It is way past time that protection measures for the species are instituted, otherwise the marbled murrelet will go the way of the passenger pigeon.” 
 
On Sept. 9 the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission granted a similar petition. The two agencies are required to work together to facilitate murrelet recovery and develop protection measures for occupied sites.  
 
The marbled murrelet was first listed as a threatened species in Oregon in 1987, and the listing of a species requires the Board of Forestry to conduct an inventory of species’ sites and develop rules to protect the sites from harmful forestry activities.  Clearcut logging of the murrelets’ nesting habitat on state and private forestlands in Oregon is the primary cause of the species decline.
 
“For the last thirty years, Oregon’s plan for marbled murrelets has been to look the other way while their habitat is clear-cut,” said Steve Pedery, conservation director at Oregon Wild. “Oregonians expect better from our governor and state agencies. They need to develop a plan to protect murrelets and their habitat, and they need to stand up to pressure from the clearcut lobby and the county politicians who do their bidding.”
 
While murrelets have been listed as a ‘threatened’ species for nearly 30 years, Oregon has never developed a plan to recover them or protect the old-growth habitat that they depend on. Instead the state has relied on the nesting habitat located on nearby federal forestlands. This is no longer sufficient as murrelet populations in the Pacific Northwest continue to decline, and a recent status review conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that conservation of nesting habitat on state and private lands is now critical to the species’ survival.
 
The Board of Forestry's decision to not even consider a petition to identify and protect old growth habitat for Marbled Murrelets once again demonstrates the board's indifference towards the plight of Marbled Murrelets and other old growth dependents species," said Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director for Audubon Society of Portland. "The Board has been ignoring its obligations under both state and federal law for decades even as the Marbled Murrelets numbers continue to plummet."
 
Murrelets fly inland from the ocean to nest on wide, mossy limbs found in the mature and old-growth forests of the Oregon Coast Range. A recent decision to ramp up clearcut logging of murrelet nesting habitat on Bureau of Land Management lands in western Oregon coupled with the state of Oregon’s proposal to privatize the 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest located, east of Coos Bay, underscore the need to develop habitat protections. A recent murrelet monitoring report produced by the U.S. Forest Service stressed the urgent need to “arrest the loss of suitable habitat on all lands, especially on non-federal lands in the relatively near term.”
 
“The Board of Forestry's management of the old-growth forests needed by the marbled murrelet and cherished by Oregonians across the political spectrum has been abysmal,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Board of Forestry and Gov. Kate Brown have a legal and moral responsibility to protect murrelets and their forest habitat, and need to take action to reverse the decline of the species."
 
Background: The marbled murrelet is a member of the auk family, which includes birds like auklets, guillemots and puffins. These sea-birds get their name from the marbling pattern of black, gray and white that covers their backs during the non-breeding season. When murrelets are breeding they molt to a plain brown plumage. They form lifelong breeding pairs and feed on small, schooling fish, such as herring.
 
Populations of marbled murrelets are closely tied to the amount of old forest habitat available for nesting. The central Oregon Coast is one of the last strongholds for murrelets. While forest practices have changed on federal lands managed by the Siuslaw National Forest, scientists warn that more needs to be done to protect murrelet habitat on state and private lands where logging practices continue to indiscriminately remove nesting habitat.
 
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Sep09

Press Release: Marbled Murrelet Moves One Step Closer to State Endangered Status, Stronger Protections

For Immediate Release
September 9, 2016
 
Contacts:
Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, (314) 482-3746, nick@cascwild.org
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495, ngreenwald@biologicaldiversity.org
Bob Sallinger, Audubon Society of Portland, (503) 380-9728, bsallinger@audubonportland.org
 
EUGENE, Ore.— In response to a petition from Cascadia Wildlands and other conservation groups, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 5-2 to initiate a review of the imperiled marbled murrelet to determine if it warrants uplisting from “threatened” to “endangered” under Oregon’s endangered species law. The commission has until June 21, 2017 to make the decision. If the murrelet is determined to be endangered, the state will need to develop protection measures that limit logging in remaining coastal old-growth forests where the seabirds nest.
 
“The science clearly shows the marbled murrelet needs help if it is going to persist as a species into the future,” said Nick Cady, legal director with Cascadia Wildlands. “The vote is a huge first step in recovering this unique seabird from the brink of extinction.”
 
The murrelet was awarded state protection as “threatened” in 1987, followed by federal protection in 1992. But the seabird has continued to decline, primarily because of continued loss of habitat, particularly on nonfederal lands, where a recent report found that murrelet habitat has declined by 27 percent since 1993.
 
“If the marbled murrelet is to have any chance of survival, we must protect Oregon’s remaining old-growth forests,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The state has not done enough to protect the murrelet's forested home on state and private lands, which cover substantial portions of the Coast Range.”
 
Despite the murrelet's continued decline, the state of Oregon is in the process of selling the 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest located east of Coos Bay. The Elliott contains large blocks of intact older forest habitat critical to the species’ survival.
 
“Even as the marbled murrelet moves closer to extinction, some of our elected officials are whistling past the graveyard,” said Bob Sallinger, conservation director at the Audubon Society of Portland. “At the same time that we are calling for the marbled murrelet to be uplisted, we are also calling on Gov. Kate Brown and state Treasurer Ted Wheeler to halt the sale of public lands on the Elliott State Forest which provide some of the best marbled murrelet habitat in Oregon.”
 
In addition to state lands, protecting remaining old forest on private industrial forestlands is critical to the species’ persistence. Overall, 41 percent of the murrelet's remaining habitat is on nonfederal lands.
While the marbled murrelet spends most of the year foraging in coastal waters, it is the only seabird that nests in trees, flying inland up to 35 miles to nest and rear its young during spring and summer each year.
 
The petition to uplist the murrelet to endangered was submitted in June by Cascadia Wildlands, Coast Range Forest Watch, the Center for Biological Diversity, Audubon Society of Portland, Oregon Wild and the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club.
 
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Sep07

Press Release: Court Orders Fish and Wildlife Service to Reexamine Lynx Critical Habitat

For Immediate Release
September 7, 2016
 
Contacts:
Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, 314-482-3746, nick@cascwild.org
Matthew Bishop, Western Environmental Law Center, 406-324-8011, bishop@westernlaw.org
Bethany Cotton, WildEarth Guardians, 406-414-7227, bcotton@wildearthguardians.org  
Arran Robertson, Oregon Wild, 503-283-6343 ext. 223, ar@oregonwild.org
 
 
Missoula, MT — Today the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana ordered the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) to reconsider its decision to exclude the Canada lynx’s entire southern Rocky Mountain range, essential for the wildcat’s recovery, from designation as critical habitat.
 
Critical habitat is area designated by the federal government as essential to the survival and recovery of a species protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Once designated, federal agencies must make special efforts to protect critical habitat from damage or destruction. In 2014, the Service designated approximately 38,000 acres of critical habitat for threatened lynx, but chose to exclude the lynx’s entire southern Rocky Mountain range, from south-central Wyoming, throughout Colorado, and into north-central New Mexico. These areas are vital to the iconic cat’s survival and recovery in the western U.S., where lynx currently live in small and sometimes isolated populations. Now, according to the court’s September 7, 2016, order, the Service must go back and reexamine these areas.
 
“Given that evidence cited by the Service in the September 2014 final rule shows that a reproducing lynx population exists in Colorado, the Service’s failure, on account of marginal hare densities, to designate critical habitat to protect that population and aid in its maintenance is arbitrary, capricious, and ‘offends the ESA.’ ” Court order at 20
 
“This decision gives the lynx a fighting chance to not only survive – but recover – in the southern Rockies,” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center who represented the groups. “We’re hopeful this decision will mark a turning point for lynx conservation in the heart of southern Rockies lynx habitat.”
 
Lynx habitat is under threat across the contiguous U.S. from climate change, road building, motorized recreation, and logging. Perplexingly, the Service’s latest designation decreased existing protections by 2,593 square miles compared to a 2013 plan. In doing so, the Service excluded much of the cat’s historic and currently occupied, last best habitat in the southern Rockies and other areas from protection. The court found the Service failed to follow the science showing that lynx are successfully reproducing in Colorado, and therefore excluding Colorado from the cat’s critical habitat designation “runs counter to the evidence before the agency and frustrates the purpose of the ESA.”
 
 “With increasing threats from climate change and development, it's long past time lynx receive every possible protection, including safeguards for the rare cat’s southern Rockies habitat,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. “The Fish and Wildlife Service needs to stop playing politics and start meeting its obligations to recover our most imperiled species, including lynx.”
 
The court ruled the Service did not improperly fail to designate historical Canada lynx habitat in Oregon and Washington’s Kettle Range, disappointing wildlife advocates.
 
“Canada lynx once roamed snowy peaks in Oregon from the Eagle Caps to Crater Lake,” said Oregon Wild Conservation Director Steve Pedery. “It's unfortunate that this decision does not do more to help restore this iconic animal to its rightful place in the Oregon backcountry.”
 
"It is discouraging that Oregon was not included, but this victory keeps us hopeful for the species," said Nick Cady of Cascadia Wildlands.
 
"Washington's Kettle Range provides important lynx habitat and a vital connection between populations in the Northern Rockies and those in the North Cascades," said Dave Werntz, science and conservation director for Conservation Northwest. "We're disappointed that this area has not been recognized as critical habitat, and we urge managing agencies to take further steps to protect lynx habitat in northeast Washington."
 
The Service first listed lynx as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2000. However, at that time the Service failed to protect any lynx habitat, impeding the species’ survival and recovery. Lynx habitat received no protection until 2006, and that initial critical habitat designation fell short of meeting the rare cat’s needs and the ESA’s standards. After two additional lawsuits brought by conservationists challenging the Service’s critical habitat designations culminated in 2008 and 2010, a district court in Montana left the agency’s lynx habitat protection in place while remanding it to the Service for improvement. This resulted in the most recent and still inadequate habitat designation.
 
In 2014, the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana also ruled that the Service violated the ESA by failing to prepare a recovery plan for lynx after a more than 12-year delay. The court ordered the Service to complete a recovery plan for lynx by January 15, 2018.
 
“Lynx are a vital part of the landscape in Colorado and they need to be protected to ensure that they continue to recover, and eventually prosper," said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of Wilderness Workshop. "This decision is an important step in that direction. ”
 
The Western Environmental Law Center represented WildEarth Guardians, Wilderness Workshop, Cascadia Wildlands, Conservation Northwest, and Oregon Wild on the case.
 
Background
Canada lynx, medium-sized members of the feline family, are habitat and prey specialists. Heavily reliant on snowshoe hare, lynx tend to be limited in both population and distribution to areas where hare are sufficiently abundant. Like their preferred prey, lynx are specially adapted to living in mature boreal forests with dense cover and deep snowpack. The species and its habitat are threatened by climate change, logging, development, motorized access, and trapping, which disturb and fragment the landscape, increasing risks to lynx and their prey.
 
Studies show species with designated critical habitat under the ESA are more than twice as likely to have increasing populations than those species without. Similarly, species with adequate habitat protection are less likely to suffer declining populations and more likely to be stable. The ESA allows designation of both occupied and unoccupied habitat key to the recovery of listed species, and provides an extra layer of protection especially for animals like lynx that have an obligate relationship with a particular landscape type.
 
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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