In The Media

Aug14

Land Board Moves Ahead on Elliott Sale

Capitol Bureau by Hillary Borrud
August 13, 2015
 
SALEM — The Oregon State Land Board voted unanimously Thursday to move ahead with a plan to sell the Elliott State Forest to a buyer who will agree to conservation and job creation mandates.
 
The goal is to sever the connection between the forest and a state trust fund that provides money for K-12 public education. Currently, the state has a mandate to raise revenue from timber sales from the forest for schools. However, the listing of endangered species in the forest and subsequent environmental lawsuits forced the state to scale back timber harvests in recent years, to the point where the state lost money on the operation.
 
Under the plan the State Land Board approved Thursday, the state could select a buyer by December 2016 and close on the sale by DecemberElliott rainforest (photo by Cascadia Wildlands) 2017.
 
Department of State Lands director Mary Abrams during the State Land Board meeting Thursday in Salem that the new plan has the potential to resolve in 26 months an issue “that has frustrated the board, as trustees, for almost two decades.” The state could extend the deadline by one more year if necessary to finalize financing for a deal, Abrams said.
 
The land board is composed of the governor, secretary of state and state treasurer.
 
The state lost approximately $5 million on the Elliott State Forest over the last two years, and state officials expect the forest will continue to operate with an annual deficit of $500,000 to $1 million indefinitely under the status quo.
 
Environmental groups and individuals said during testimony Thursday they want the Elliott State Forest to remain in public ownership, whether that means the federal government or a state agency. The state faces the challenge of finding a buyer who can pay fair market value for the 84,000 acres in the Elliott forest, which is required because of the connection to the state school fund.
 
“We’re actually going to be asking for three appraisals and then a review appraisal to ensure we come up with a number that is truly defensible,” Abrams said of the property value.
 
Jim Green, deputy executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association, told the State Land Board members they were “actually in violation of your fiduciary responsibility” because the forest is currently losing money from the school fund. “You have a role as the trustees of the common school fund to ensure you get the highest value for the common school fund going forward.”
 
The protocol the land board approved on Thursday will require any buyer of the forest to purchase the entire property and allow public access for hiking, fishing, hunting and other recreation on at least 50 percent of the land. The buyer will also have to protect older timber stands in 25 percent of the forestland from harvest, and ensure at least 40 direct and indirect jobs are created annually over the next decade from logging, reforestation, recreation or other activities.
 
Finally, the buyer must maintain 120-foot stream buffers in all areas with salmon, steelhead or bull trout and areas upstream.
 
Potential buyers now have 14 months to formulate proposals, although they must notify the state of their interest by Dec. 15. Environmental groups said during testimony Thursday they hope to raise money from a combination of private and public sources to purchase the forest, then possibly transfer it to a public owner. A bill that would have established a state system to protect trust land such as the Elliott State Forest, House Bill 3474, died in committee earlier this year but some people said they hope lawmakers to revive the proposal in 2016.
 
Seth Barnes, director of forest policy for the Oregon Forest Industries Council, said the land board should consider that the timber industry remains an important part of the economy in the southwest region of the state.
 
“I was just encouraging them to keep in mind the timber revenue jobs that come off these properties are incredibly important to Oregon,” Barnes said after the meeting. Barnes said the plan approved Thursday could reduce annual timber harvests on the Elliott State Forest from 40 million board feet down to 20 million, and each 1 million board feet of timber harvested directly creates approximately 11 jobs.
 
Josh Laughlin, interim executive director of Eugene-based Cascadia Wildlands, said the group wants the state to require that any buyer allow public access to the entire forestland.
 
“We support you working with land trust organizations and other organizations to make the common school fund whole,” Laughlin said, but he added that Oregonians want to keep the forest in public ownership. Specifically, Laughlin said the state should transfer the Elliott State Forest to the Siuslaw National Forest and pay for the deal with a combination of federal, state and private money.
 
Christy Splitt, coordinator for the Oregon Conservation Network, said state officials should provide “bold leadership” to coordinate efforts to decouple the Elliott State Forest from the school fund in a way that preserves the forest for the public. Conservationists are “reaching out to people with capital, in the Silicon Valley” and across the country in an effort to line up money to purchase the Elliott State Forest. Splitt said the state’s time line might be too short for a trust land proposal to succeed, if lawmakers reboot the idea.
 
Abrams said the state plan allows time for a trust land plan, if one moves forward, and she said it is now time “to stop debating and get to work.”
“There has to be a little pressure put on the people who are interested in the future of the Elliott,” Abrams said.
 
(School kids in the Elliott State Forest, photo by Cascadia Wildlands)
Aug10

Oregon Land Board May Seek Buyer for Elliott State Forest

The Associated Press by Jeff Barnard
August 7, 2015
 
GRANTS PASS — The Oregon State Land Board is scheduled to vote on a plan to find an unusual buyer for the Elliott State Forest: one that will pay a fair market price, conserve older trees, protect threatened fish and wildlife, produce logs for local mills, and leave it open to the public.
 
The board, made up of the governor, the secretary of state, and the state treasurer, meets Thursday in Salem to consider the 315-page proposal.
 
The 140-square-mile forest in the Coast Range north of Coos Bay was created in 1930 and 90 percent of it generates money for schools. It once produced $8 million a year but lately has been running $1 million a year in the red. Attempts to ramp up logging to produce $13 million annually for schools failed. Lawsuits continually blocked timber sales on grounds they failed to maintain habitat for federally protected coho salmon and IMG_4527the marbled murrelet, a seabird that nests in big old trees.
 
Department of State lands spokeswoman Julie Curtis acknowledges that finding such a buyer is a tall order, but a series of hearings identified all those elements as priorities for Oregon residents. The board rejected two other alternatives, to find a new manager for the forest, and to develop a new plan for protecting threatened salmon and wildlife that would produce more timber.
 
Curtis said the department has been meeting with representatives of local governments and agencies, timber companies and conservation groups, but so far all are keeping their intentions to themselves. If no buyers emerge, the department goes back to the board in December 2016. Two options would be to retain the forest while accepting losses of $1 million a year, or selling it without the conservation and public access restrictions.
 
Josh Laughlin of the conservation group Cascadia Wildlands said it would favor a public land trust buying the forest and selling it back to the federal government, so it could be returned to the Siuslaw National Forest. That would retain public access and conservation protections, particularly on the half of the forest that has never been logged.
 
Bob Ragon, director of Douglas Timber Operators, said he could not imagine a private timber company being interested in buying the forest, because of all the conditions being imposed.
 
"I think (the board has) struggled so hard trying to find a happy ground that would meet everybody's interest, that the simplest solution would be to sell it to the highest bidder, and put restrictions on it like no log exports, which would keep the highest return for the School Fund," he said.
 
(Rally to save the Elliott State Forest. Photo by Cascadia Wildlands.)
 
 
Aug05

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Northwest Prairie Bird Species

For Immediate Release, August 5, 2015
 
Contact:    
Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, (541) 434-1463, nick@cascwild.org
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495, ngreenwald@biologicaldiversity.org
 
Lawsuit Launched to Gain Stronger Protections for Northwest Bird
Gaping Loophole in Federal Protection Exempts Farming, Spraying, Airport Activities Harmful to Streaked Horned Larks in Oregon, Washington
 
Photo courtesy of US Fish and WildlifePORTLAND, Ore.— Four conservation groups filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today seeking to strengthen protections for the streaked horned lark, which has lost 98 percent its grassland habitat. The lawsuit will challenge an October 2013 decision by the agency to protect the lark as “threatened” rather than the more protective “endangered” status and to exempt all agriculture, chemical spraying, and airport activities from the prohibitions of the Endangered Species Act regardless of whether they harm the lark.  
 
“Protecting the streaked horned lark under the Endangered Species Act means nothing if all of its threats are exempted from protection,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The lark exemption creates a loophole big enough for a combine or a 747. It seriously threatens the survival of these handsome, horned songbirds.”
 
Formerly a common nesting species in prairies west of the Cascade Mountains from southern British Columbia through Washington and Oregon, the lark was so abundant around Puget Sound that it was considered a nuisance by turn-of-the-century golfers. The widespread destruction of its grassland habitats, however, caused cataclysmic population declines. It has been extirpated from the San Juan Islands, northern Puget Sound, Oregon’s Rogue Valley and Canada. In Washington it currently breeds at only 10 sites, including Grays Harbor, Fort Lewis, the Olympia airport and islands in the Lower Columbia River. In Oregon it breeds in the lower Columbia River and Willamette Valley, including at the Portland, Salem, Corvallis, McMinnville and Eugene airports.
     
“The streaked horned lark is already gone from many of the places it used to call home and is continuing to decline,” said Andrew Hawley. “If the lark is going to have any chance at survival, it needs the full protections of the Endangered Species Act.”
 
The streaked horned lark is a small, ground-dwelling songbird with conspicuous feather tufts, or “horns,” on its head. Its back is heavily streaked with black, contrasting sharply with its ruddy nape and yellow underparts. They are part of a growing list of species that are imperiled by loss of prairies in the Willamette Valley and Puget Trough to urban and agricultural sprawl, including the Fender's blue butterfly, Taylor's checkerspot butterfly, Willamette daisy, Kincaid's lupine and others.  
 
“Many people don't even know that prairies were once a common feature in both the Willamette Valley and Puget Sound,” said Nick Cady, Legal Director with Cascadia Wildlands. “If we save the lark, we are protecting an important part of the Northwest's natural heritage.”
 
The groups on the lawsuit are the Cascadia Wildlands, Center for Biological Diversity, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, and Oregon Wild.  
 
Find a copy of the Notice of Intent here.
 
####

 

Jul30

Appeals Court Affirms Roadless Protections on Tongass

E&E by Phil Taylor
Thursday, July 30, 2015
 
By the thinnest of margins, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday ruled to reinstate roadless protections on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, marking a major victory for conservationists and tourism companies fighting to protect the temperate rainforest from new logging and a defeat for the state's declining timber industry.
 
The decision, backed by six of the panel's 11 judges, found that the George W. Bush administration failed to provide a "reasoned" explanation for exempting the lands from President Clinton's sweeping national roadless rule.
 
Clinton's 2001 rule banned most road building and logging across 58 million acres of the nation's forests, including roughly 9 million acres, or just over half, of the Tongass.Tongass NF (David Beebe)
 
Conservationists said the ruling would protect some of the last remaining stands of old-growth temperate rainforest in the world while allowing limited economic development including hydropower, transmission lines, mining and tourism projects.
 
"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, one of a dozen environmental litigants in the case.
 
The others were the Organized Village of Kake, the Boat Co., the Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Tongass Conservation Society, Greenpeace, the Wrangell Resource Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club.
 
But Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) argued the ruling would restrict access across forestlands the size of New Jersey. She plans to advance S. 631, a bill to permanently exempt the Tongass from the Clinton plan.
 
While southeast Alaska once boasted two massive pulp mills, it now contains just one significant mill, Viking Lumber on Prince of Wales Island. Timber harvests have fallen by 70 percent, causing jobs in the industry to fall from around 2,100 in 2000 to an average of about 100 last winter, Murkowski said, citing state data.
 
"The roadless rule may make sense in the Lower 48, where there are existing roads and utility lines on national forest lands, but in Alaska, where little, if any, infrastructure exists, it is truly counterproductive," she said.
 
Yesterday's ruling reverses a 2-1 decision in March 2014 by a smaller 9th Circuit panel that found the Bush administration's temporary rule in 2003 exempting the Tongass from roadless protections was "entirely rational" (Greenwire, March 27, 2014).
 
That ruling, which was cheered by former Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R) and the state's congressional delegation, had reversed a 2011 decision by a district court judge in favor of the Clinton rule.
 
But the full 9th Circuit found the three-member panel had gotten it wrong.
 
Namely, it said the Bush administration, in exempting the Tongass, had failed to reconcile two conflicting statements.
 
When the Clinton administration finalized its roadless rule in 2001, it included the Tongass on the grounds that current forest management in Alaska posed a high risk to the "extraordinary ecological values of the Tongass." The Bush administration, under legal pressure from Alaska, reversed course in 2003, finding "roadless values are plentiful on the Tongass and are well protected by the Tongass Forest Plan. The minor risk of the loss of such values is outweighed by the more certain socioeconomic costs of applying the roadless rule's prohibitions."
 
The Bush administration found that the roadless rule could eventually cost southeast Alaska 900 jobs.
 
But "the 2003 [decision] does not explain why an action that it found posed a prohibitive risk to the Tongass environment only two years before now poses merely a ‘minor’ one,” the 9th Circuit ruled in an opinion penned by Judge Andrew Hurwitz, a President Obama appointee. “The absence of a reasoned explanation for disregarding previous factual findings violates the [Administrative Procedure Act]."
 
As a result, the court added, the Clinton rule "remains in effect and applies to the Tongass."
 
While the court acknowledged that elections "have policy consequences," the Forest Service "may not simply discard prior factual findings
without a reasoned explanation."
 
But five of the panel's judges disagreed, writing in a dissent that "the policies of the new president will occasionally clash with, and supplant, those of the previous president."
 
"The majority has selected what it believes to be the better policy, and substituted its judgment for that of the agency, which was simply following the political judgments of the new administration," wrote Judge Milan Smith, a Bush appointee.
 
Alaska's attorneys in the case have argued that most of the Tongass roadless areas were already closed to logging in 2001, and that the exemption would only affect roughly 300,000 acres.
 
They argued that the Forest Service's change of course in 2003 was "well reasoned" and rested on the conclusion that Congress had found the Tongass was sufficiently protected by previous laws, namely the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980.
 
The agency "reweighed the balance of social and economic impacts" and decided the exemption would "best implement the spirit and letter of the law," the state said.
 
Judge Alex Kozinski, a Reagan administration appointee, joined Smith's dissent but wrote his own separate dissent noting the "absurdity" of the court still reviewing at the end of the Obama administration a policy issued at the beginning of the Bush administration.
 
"The glacial pace of administrative litigation shifts authority from the political branches to the judiciary and invites the type of judicial policymaking that Judge Smith points out," Kozinski wrote. "This is just one of the ways we as a nation have become less a democracy and more an oligarchy governed by a cadre of black-robed mandarins."
 
(photo by David Beebe of the Tongass National Forest)
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.

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)
 
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.
 
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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