News

Jul29

Legal Battle Results in Protections for Alaska’s Tongass National Forest

NEWS RELEASE: August 29, 2015
Contact:
 
Gabe Scott, Cascadia Wildlands, 907.491.0856, gscott@cascwild.org
Liz Judge, Earthjustice, 415.217.2007, ljudge@earthjustice.org
Anne Hawke, 202-513-6263, ahawke@nrdc.org 
Jacob Eisenberg, 202-289-2391, jeisenberg@nrdc.org
 
Ninth Circuit Ensures Continuing Protection of Roadless Areas of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest
Court rejects attempts to exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule
 
Juneau, AK — In a major victory for America’s last great rainforest, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down a Bush administration exemption of the Tongass National Forest from the “Roadless Rule,” a landmark conservation rule adopted in 2001 to protect nearly 60 million acres of wild national forests and grasslands from new road building and logging. The Court held the Bush administration failed to provide a reasoned explanation for reversing course on the Tongass. It concluded the Roadless Rule “remains in effect and applies to the Tongass.”  
 
 “The Tongass’ roadless rainforests are a national treasure, and the last, best intact wildlands in our bioregion,” said Gabriel Scott, Alaska legal director for Cascadia Wildlands. “We are pleased with the court’s decision, and urge the State of Alaska to stop with these wasteful legal battles and recognize that it is a privilege, not a burden, to conserve these national treasures for future generations.”
 
This case originated in 2009 when a diverse coalition of Alaska Native, tourism industry, and environmental organizations, represented by attorneys from Earthjustice and Natural Resources Defense Council, challenged the Bush Administration’s 2003 rule “temporarily” exempting the Tongass from the Roadless Rule.  The Roadless Rule blocks expensive and controversial new logging roads and clearcuts in intact forests while allowing other economic development—including hydropower, transmission lines, mining, and tourism projects—to proceed.  The Tongass—occupying most of Southeast Alaska—is the nation’s largest and wildest national forest.  In 2011, a federal judge in Alaska ruled in the coalition’s favor, vacating the Tongass exemption and reinstating the Roadless Rule’s application to the Tongass. The State of Alaska then appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where a 3-judge panel last year reversed the Alaska judge’s opinion by a 2-1 split vote. Today’s order affirmed the district court’s decision and maintains protections for the roadless areas of the Tongass.
 
Attorneys from Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council represent the following groups in the case:  Cascadia Wildlands, Organized Village of Kake, The Boat Company, Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Natural Resources Defense Council, Tongass Conservation Society, Greenpeace, Wrangell Resource Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and Sierra Club.
 
For a copy of the opinion click here.

 

Jul24

Cascadia’s Efforts to Save Alaskan Wolves in the News

by Leila Kheiry, Ketchikan Community Radio for Southern Southeast Alaska

Citing a state study that shows a sharp decline in the wolf population on Prince of Wales Island and surrounding islands, six conservation groups have asked state and federal officials to take steps to help preserve the remaining animals.

Specifically, the six organizations want the state to cancel the upcoming wolf trapping and hunting season on POW, the federal Office of Subsistence Management to cancel the subsistence wolf harvest, and the Forest Service to halt logging activity on the Big Thorne Timber Sale.

Gabriel Scott is the legal director with the Alaska office of Cascadia Wildlands. He said the population numbers for POW wolves has not been clearly known for a long time.

“There’s new data, just come out, with a reasonable population estimate. And it’s much, much lower than it ought to be,” he said. “So that’s the bottom line: The population appears to be crashing on the island, and we can’t afford to let that happen.”

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game last month released a report showing that the number of wolves in Game Management Unit 2 had dropped in a single year from 221 to 89. The numbers are estimates, based on a relatively small study area on Prince of Wales Island.

To get that estimate, the number of wolves in the study area is counted, and that number is expanded to the rest of the game management unit. The estimate of 89 wolves is the midpoint of a range. The population could be as low as 50, or as high as 159, according to Fish and Game.

Gabriel Scott said the only way to get those numbers up is to halt all hunting for the time being, and make sure adequate habitat is in place for the wolves and their main source of food, which is Sitka blacktail deer.

“One of the big pieces of this puzzle that often gets overlooked is the habitat component,” he said. “That’s where the rubber meets the road. The deer population is not high enough to support human hunters and wolves. And when that happens, the wolves are the ones who go.”

Habitat in this case means old-growth forest, which is why the groups want to stop logging on the Big Thorne Timber Sale.

Tongass National Forest Spokesman Kent Cummins confirms that the Forest Service has received the letter from the six conservation groups. He said officials will revisit the issue to see whether there is a need for a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which is one of the requests in the letter.

“I think, with a sense of urgency, they’ll look at this information,” Cummins said. “If necessary, they’ll proceed with another supplement.”

He said the Forest Service takes its role as a steward of the land seriously. But, he said, it can be a delicate balancing act.

The Big Thorne Timber Sale is a critical project from an economic point of view, and it’s meant to help the timber industry stay afloat as it switches from old-growth to second-growth harvest.

“It gives a multi-year supply of timber there on Prince of Wales, and stability for jobs, and giving local businesses the opportunity to retool and seek new markets for the young growth trees,” Cummins said. “That’s the dilemma.”

He said logging is taking place now on the Big Thorne Timber Sale. Halting that activity immediately while the Forest Service looks into the wolf population report is unlikely without a court-ordered injunction.

And then there’s hunting and trapping.

Ryan Scott is Southeast Region Supervisor for Fish and Game. He said he hasn’t read the letter sent to the state asking for suspension of the coming wolf harvest on POW. However, he said that from the agency’s perspective, there isn’t a conservation concern about that wolf population.

“Even with the lower estimate, the number of animals there, and what we know about the animals there, suggests that they’re viable and they’re going to persist well into the future,” he said.

Ryan Scott said the state’s hunting and trapping season starts Dec. 1, which gives officials time to look into wolf numbers and options for the season. They’ve already reduced the maximum allowed harvest from 30 percent to 20 percent of the estimated population.

“Recognizing that we had such a decline in the estimates, I don’t think it’s very likely that we would open it to the maximum allowable harvest of 18 wolves,” he said. “Where that harvest quota would land, that’s undetermined at this point.”

Gabriel Scott of Cascadia said he doesn’t share the state’s confidence that POW wolves will be OK. He points to the fact that his organization is asking for a halt to the subsistence harvest as evidence of how serious they believe the situation has become.

“Asking to stop a subsistence hunt is a really extraordinary step for us to take,” he said. “It’s the absolute last thing that we would want to do.”

The subsistence harvest is set to start on Sept. 1. A call to the Federal Office of Subsistence Management in Anchorage wasn’t returned.

The six organizations that submitted the letters are Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, the Boat Company, Alaska Wildlife Alliance and Greenpeace.

See the original article and listen to the radio interview here.

Jul23

Press Release: Cascadia Petitions for Emergency Action to Save Alaska Wolves

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 
July 23, 2015
 
Contact:
Gabriel Scott, Cascadia Wildlands, (907) 491-0856
Rebecca Noblin, Center for Biological Diversity, (907) 274-1110 Rebecca Knight, Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community, (907) 772-9391
Larry Edwards, Greenpeace, (907) 747-7557
 
ANCHORAGE, Alaska— Environmental groups today asked three state and federal agencies to take decisive action to save the rapidly dwindling population of Alexander Archipelago wolves in the Prince of Wales Island area in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.
 
Following up on a June report by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game indicating that the wolf population in the area is alarmingly low, the groups asked Fish and Game and the Federal Subsistence Board to cancel the area’s 2015-2016 trapping and hunting season. They also asked the U.S. Forest Service to suspend logging and road- building in its Big Thorne timber sale and to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement for the project to reconsider impacts to wolves.
 
“Alexander Archipelago wolves are an essential piece of what makes our little corner of Alaska so special,” said Hunter McIntosh, president of The Boat Company, an ecotourism company based in Southeast Alaska. “The opportunity to see these unique wolves in their old growth home draws people from all over the world. Killing off our wolves is bad business and bad stewardship.”
 
Alexander Archipelago wolves are a subspecies of gray wolves that den in the roots of old-growth trees in the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2014 found that protecting Alexander Archipelago wolves under the Endangered Species Act “may be warranted.” The Service will decide whether to list the wolves under the Act by the end of this year. In the 1990s Prince of Wales Island was home to about one-third of all Alexander Archipelago wolves before the island’s population declined. Wolves on the island are genetically distinct and geographically isolated from the rest of the subspecies.
 
“Alexander Archipelago wolves are one-of-a-kind, and once they’re gone, they’re not coming back,” said Rebecca Noblin, Alaska director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We have to protect the few remaining wolves on Prince of Wales Island right now, or they’ll be gone before the government can even decide whether they need Endangered Species Act protection.”
 
Fish and Game’s report estimated that the wolf population on and around Prince of Wales in fall 2014 was between 50 and 159, and most likely about 89 wolves, down from an estimated population of 250 to 350 in the mid-1990s. The report also stated that females have been reduced to only 25 percent of the dwindling population, posing a clear obstacle to the wolves’ ability to recover from their decline. The 2014 estimate does not account for the 29 wolves reported taken in the 2014/2015 winter trapping season, nor does it account for any illegal takes during that time or since, which studies indicate may be substantial.
 
The groups asked both the state and federal government to cancel the 2015/2016 hunting and trapping season in order to prevent extirpation of the wolves on Prince of Wales Island. They also asked the U.S. Forest Service to halt the Big Thorne timber project, which threatens to destroy large swaths of essential Prince of Wales habitat for Alexander Archipelago wolves and their primary prey, Sitka black-tailed deer. The Big Thorne project will also create new logging roads, increasing human access and the associated hunting and trapping pressure on wolf populations.
 
“This is clearly an emergency — wolves are falling at an alarming rate on Prince of Wales Island, and it has to stop immediately,” said Larry Edwards, Greenpeace forest campaigner in Sitka. “But the long-term solution to the wolves’ peril is to stop old-growth logging in the Tongass National Forest to preserve the last remaining big trees that wolves and so many other animals need. Without an end to old-growth logging, no amount of hunting regulations, alone, can save the wolves.”
 
The six organizations that submitted the letters to agencies are Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, The Boat Company, the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community and the Alaska Wildlife Alliance.
 
Note to reporters:
Copies of the letters and supporting documents are available on request.
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)
 
Jun29

Wyden, Merkley Introduce New Oregon Wilderness Bill

The Statesman Journal by Zach Urness
June 25, 2015
 
Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley introduced a bill today that would provide new environmental protections for 200,000 acres of land and 250 miles of river in the Beaver State.
 
The Oregon Wildlands Act would create one new wilderness area in the Coast Range, expand another wilderness area in Southern Oregon and create two new national recreation areas.
 
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The bill would create the 30,500-acre Devil's Staircase Wilderness from a remote canyon of old-growth forest east of Reedsport in the Central Coast Range. It would also designate 14.6 miles of Franklin and Wasson creeks — which runs through the Devil's Staircase area — as Wild and Scenic Rivers.
 
The bill expands the Wild Rogue Wilderness by 56,000 acres and creates the 95,000-acre Rogue Canyon National Recreation Area in southwest Oregon.
 
Both the Devil's Staircase Wilderness and Wild Rogue Wilderness addition have been targets for conservation for the past decade, and introduced in bills in the U.S. Senate and House multiple times.
 
"These world-class landscapes in western Oregon are long overdue for permanent protection," said Josh Laughlin with Eugene-based Cascadia Wildlands, which has been working for nearly a decade to safeguard the areas. "They are what make Oregon such a desirable place to live, provide anchor habitat for imperiled salmon and wildlife and give us some of the cleanest water around."
 
Closer to the Willamette Valley, the bill would also create the 24,000-acre Molalla National Recreation Area.
 
"Protecting some of Oregon's most breathtaking and unspoiled lands ensures healthy habitats for countless species of plants and animals, benefits local economies that depend on these areas and creates new recreation opportunities for Oregonians and visitors from across the country," Wyden said in a press release. "Preserving these lands is a top priority, and Senator Merkley and I are going to be working to do all that we can to protect them."
 
Click here to read each section by section of the bill.
 
(Photo of Devil's Staircase by Tim Giraudier, beautifuloregon.com)
 
Jun12

Press Release: Logging Industry Lawsuit Thrown out by Federal Appeals Court

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 12, 2015
 
Contact:
Kristen Boyles, Earthjustice, 206-343-7340 x1033
Joseph Vaile, KS Wild, 541-488-5789
Doug Heiken, Oregon Wild, 541-344-0675
Josh Laughlin, Cascadia Wildlands, 541-844-8182
 
Washington, D.C. — A logging industry lawsuit that sought to force the Bureau of Land Management to increase logging on public lands in southwest Oregon was thrown out today by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The ruling vacates a 2013 decision that would have forced the Bureau of Land Management to sell timber even when those sales would have harmed salmon and had detrimental impacts on water quality and recreation.
 
“The appellate court today threw out an unprecedented, unworkable, and backward decision that could have forced the Bureau of Land Management to violate its duties to manage these lands for water, air, wildlife, and people, not just clearcuts,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney at Earthjustice. “This ruling should discourage logging companies from demanding to cut 100- year-old forests because no one person and no particular private logging company is entitled to log wherever it wants.”owl_photo
 
“Our public lands provide clean drinking water, protect wild salmon, and preserve water quality in our rivers, lakes, and streams. These lands are home to some of the last remaining ancient forests in America,” said Joseph Vaile of the Oregon-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands
Center. “We should focus on a responsible plan for these forests and leave a legacy for future generations.”
 
“Dinosaurs in logging industry have claimed for years that they should have priority over protecting old-growth, clean water, wildlife, and recreation on America’s public lands. For 20 years science, the law, and the public have been telling them no,” said Doug Heiken, Oregon Wild Conservation and Restoration Coordinator.
 
The logging companies had argued that a 1937 law required the Bureau of Land Management to sell large amounts of timber from the Medford and Roseburg districts in southwest Oregon, regardless of harm to water quality, recreational use, and wildlife and fish. In 2013, a district court judge in Washington, D.C. sided with the logging industry, despite contrary legal decisions from other federal courts in the Oregon and the west. Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands appealed as interveners in the timber lawsuit. The D.C. Circuit maintained that the logging companies and logging lobbying groups had failed to show that they were actually harmed by any Bureau of Land Management actions and dismissed the case entirely.
 
"This is good news for those who believe in clean water and big trees," says Josh Laughlin with Cascadia Wildlands. "It also underscores the need to create lasting safeguards for these values that make western Oregon so special."
 
“A number of prominent politicians cited this logging industry lawsuit when they proposed legislation to weaken environmental protections and increase clearcutting on our public forests,” said Doug Heiken, Oregon Wild Conservation and Restoration Coordinator. “The perceived timber industry threat is now gone, and it’s time to put those outdated ideas behind us—time to focus on a balanced plan that recognizes all the public benefits that flow from our public forests: clean water, carbon storage, fish and wildlife, recreation, and quality of life.”
 
(Spotted owl photo by USFWS)
 
                                                                   #####
 
Jun04

Bills Easing State Land Sales Worry Environmentalists

Capital Bureau by Hillary Borrud
May 31, 2015
 
SALEM — Environmental groups that pushed for legislation to protect Oregon’s Elliott State Forest from commercial logging had little success in Salem this year.
 
A bill that would have established a system to protect state trust land such as the Elliott State Forest, House Bill 3474, died in committee earlier this year. Now, conservationists are worried about a different bill that would make it easier for the state to sell land in the forest, which is near the southwest Oregon coast. House Bill 3533 would allow Oregon to sell state forest land, if the State Land Board — composed of the governor, secretary of state and state treasurer — passes a resolution to do so.Elliott rainforest (photo by Cascadia Wildlands)
 
“The last thing Oregonians want to see is a privatization of the Elliot, … particularly areas that are treasured for hunting, fishing, back country excursions and so forth,” said Josh Laughlin, interim executive director of Cascadia Wildlands.
 
Oregon law prohibits the sale of state forest land that was transferred from the U.S. Forest Service since 1913, which covers the Elliott State Forest. But the State Land Board says it has authority under the state constitution to sell the land, trumping statute.
 
The state lost $3 million on the forest in fiscal year 2013 and nearly $392,000 in 2014, because management costs exceeded revenue. That prompted Oregon to auction off three parcels of land in the forest in 2014, before the State Land Board decided to halt any additional auctions.
 
Environmental groups are lobbying lawmakers to oppose the bill, and Laughlin said there is also a chance the bill could be amended to allow for sale of the Elliott State Forest only if the sale maintains public access.
 
Julie Curtis, a spokeswoman for the Department of State Lands, said the goal of the bill is to clarify the land board’s constitutional and fiduciary responsibility to generate revenue from state lands to fund public schools.
 
“What this bill would do is really eliminate lawsuits and expense related to lawsuits if the land board were to get sued for exchanging or selling or trading lands within the Elliott, whether it was to a timber company or to an environmental group,” Curtis said.
 
The State Land Board is expected to discuss the Elliott State Forest at its June 9 meeting in Salem, where Department of State Lands employees will also present information about proposals from groups interested in managing or purchasing the forest. The agency issued a request for information earlier this year, so the board could learn more about potential options for the future of the forest. Curtis said the agency received five proposals, and there is not currently any deadline for the board to decide what to do with the Elliott State Forest.
 
(Photo of community members in the Elliott State Forest by J. Laughlin)
 
May27

Wolf Tracks

Willamette Week by Aaron Mesh
May 27, 2015
 
Nick Cady is thrilled to see the return of gray wolves to Oregon’s Cascade Range. He celebrated when the wolf dubbed OR-7 was spotted south of Crater Lake in 2011, more than 60 years after hunters wiped out the species from the state.
 
But even as wolves return to Oregon’s southwestern mountains, Cady fears the U.S. Forest Service will authorize logging and road building that could cut off the wolves’ range.
 
“Federal agencies are supposed to lay out how projects will impact species,” Cady says. “What we’ve seen with wolves is they say, ‘Oh, it won’t impact them at all.’ I don’t think that is true.”
 
This spring, Cady’s environmental nonprofit, Cascadia Wildlands, filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking all Forest Service plans for protecting wolves while selling off timber and building roads in Oregon and Washington’s national forests. Two months later, the agency hasn’t given him a single document.
 
So Cady’s group has gone to court, suing the Forest Service in U.S. District Court on May 20 for its failure to respond to Cascadia Wildlands’ records request.
 
Lawsuits accusing government agencies of violating the FOIA have become a reliable tool for environmental groups trying to watchdog public officials.
 
Cascadia Wildlands’ suit is the 10th lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for Oregon in the past decade by an environmental group seeking to force the release of public records. It’s the second in less than a month. On April 29, the Northwest Environmental Defense Center in Portland sued to see water-quality records from the Columbia Generating Station in Hanford, Wash.
 
Cascadia Wildlands says it filed the records request March 12, seeking communications between the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The suit says Cascadia Wildlands then wrote letters in April and May offering to let the Forest Service release the documents gradually.
 
The Forest Service responded in May by saying it needed more time to review the request, because it had 20 other records requests ahead of Wildlands’.
 
Glen Sachet, a spokesman for the Forest Service’s Portland office, declined comment to WW on pending litigation.
 
Oregon officials estimate 77 wolves live in the state, but just seven of them are in the western half of the state. The largest Cascade Range wolf pack, called the Rogue Pack, includes OR-7, his mate and three pups.
 
Cady fears that commercial logging could disrupt the wolves’ range, expose them to cars and change the behavior of deer and elk, making it harder for wolves to find food. The group also says building new timber roads makes it easier for hunters to get deep into the wilderness and set wolf traps.
 
He says his group wants assurances from the Forest Service that the agency’s plans take into account protections for the Rogue Pack and the next generation of Oregon wolves.
 
“We just hope they’re taking a hard look at the science before proceeding with irretrievable resource damage and road construction,” Cady says. “They might have taken a good, hard look at this. But I don’t think that’s the case. We’ll find out.”
 
A copy of the complaint can be found here.
 
May05

Lawsuit Challenges Plan to Log Old-growth Trees on Alaska’s Mitkof Island

Press Release

For Immediate Release 

May 4, 2015

 

Contact:        

Larry Edwards, Greenpeace, (907) 747-7557, ledwards@greenpeace.org

Gabe Scott, Cascadia Wildlands, (907) 491-0856, gscott@cascwild.org

Rebecca Noblin, Center for Biological Diversity, (907) 350-4822, rnoblin@biologicaldiversity.org

Oliver Stiefel, Crag Law Center, oliver@crag.org

ANCHORAGE, Alaska— Five environmental organizations today challenged a plan to log the old-growth forests of Mitkof Island, near the Southeast Alaska community of Petersburg. The groups filed suit in Alaska District Court to overturn the U.S. Forest Service’s approval of this major logging project.Mail Attachment-6 copy

The groups say the agency violated federal environmental laws by concluding that logging 4,117 acres of important old-growth deer, wolf and goshawk habitat would not have a “significant” impact, without first completing the standard environmental impact statement. Instead the Forest Service broke with past practices by requiring only an environmental assessment — an abbreviated review typically used on far less significant projects.

“It is remarkable that, even in the face of huge controversy, the Forest Service stubbornly insists that thousands of acres of old-growth logging is without consequence,” said Dave Beebe with Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community. “This would set a terrible precedent for the management of public lands.”

The lawsuit was filed by GSACC, Greenpeace, the Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands and Alaska Wildlife Alliance, represented by the CRAG law center. Contrary to the claim that the logging and associated road construction would have insignificant impacts on the 134,000-acre island, the environmental groups catalogued 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.

“It’s baffling that this agency could overlook such obvious impacts to the environment, but I suppose that if you don’t look for problems then you’re not going to find them,” said Rebecca Noblin, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Alaska director.

The groups decried the project’s impact on local communities and wildlife alike, noting that it will cause more problems with the Board of Game’s experimental predator control programs that target wolves.   

“Mitkof Island is a microcosm for a legacy of old-growth logging and habitat loss,” said Gabriel Scott, Alaska legal director for Cascadia Wildlands. “Subsistence deer hunting is already severely restricted. Continued destruction of old-growth habitat on the Tongass National Forest is not compatible with a continued subsistence lifestyle in places like Petersburg.”

“The Mitkof timber project is far and away the largest one ever done on the Tongass without an environmental impact statement,” said Larry Edwards, Greenpeace forest campaigner in Sitka. “We’ve tried every way we can to make the state and the Forest Service aware of critical impacts to deer, hunters and wolves. Instead of engaging the problems they simply ignored them. Going to court is, unfortunately, the only option we have left.”

 

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.

 

 

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