Liz Judge, Earthjustice, 415.217.2007, firstname.lastname@example.org
Court rejects attempts to exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule
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.
For Immediate Release
March 23, 2015
Nick Cady, Legal Director, Cascadia Wildlands, 314-482-3746
Doug Heiken, Conservation and Restoration Coordinator, Oregon Wild, 541-344-0675
Conservationists Halt Public Lands Clearcutting Outside of Eugene
BLM Pulls Decision After Lawsuit for Largest Lane Co Clearcut in 20 Years
EUGENE, Ore.— Public opposition and a legal challenge from Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild has prompted the Eugene Bureau of Land Management to place on hold its plans to clearcut 259 acres of public lands just outside of Springfield, Oregon near Shotgun Creek. The “Second Show” timber sale would have been the largest clearcut on federal lands in Lane County in 20 years.
This logging proposal elicited over 700 public comments, largely in opposition to the proposed clearcutting . Local residents raised concerns about clean water, Chinook salmon, and logging some of the last old forests in an already degraded watershed.
“I am extremely relieved that these mature trees may now have a chance to become a real old growth forest. They are located very near the BLM Shotgun Park and Recreation Area and I believe the BLM should focus on preserving our public lands for wildlife, recreation, and future generations,” said Ellen Furstner, a Marcola resident who commented on the sale. “Protecting the old forest that is left should be our priority to fight global warming. It’s just a shame our federal agencies do not see it that way.”
After the BLM’s decision to move forward with logging, Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild filed a “protest” with BLM but BLM failed to pick up their mail at the post office and refused to consider the protest. Seneca Sawmill then purchased the sale, and Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild were forced to file suit in federal court arguing that the BLM neglected to analyze the effects of clearcutting in conjunction with ongoing commercial logging and road construction in the same area. BLM withdrew their decision to log the Second Show timber sale on March 19 before answering the complaint and before the court could rule on the merits of the case.
“Our federal timber lands have been hammered by reckless clearcut logging for the past 90 years. Salmon and spotted owl populations are plummeting, water quality is terribly diminished, and our federal timber lands have more roads than Los Angeles,” said Nick Cady, Legal Director of Cascadia Wildlands. “Yet despite the science and public opposition, the BLM continues to target mature forests. The agency refuses to open its eyes.”
Decades of past clearcutting has resulted in federal lands that are now overstocked with dense young Douglas fir plantations. Conservation groups have been working with the BLM for the past decade to meet timber targets by commercially thinning these younger forests.
“The Second Show proposal is a big step backward,” said Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild. “Restoration thinning has allowed the agency to meet its timber goals without clearcutting and without doing undue harm to wildlife habitat and watersheds. Clearcutting public lands should be put in the dust-bin of history where it belongs.”
The Second Show decision has been pulled, but the agency may again elect to proceed with the controversial logging after revising its analysis documents. The revision process will be open to the public, and the BLM will respond to public concerns and questions about the proposed logging.
For a copy of the complaint click here.
Press Release: March 17, 2015
Contact: Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, (314) 482-3746
Judge Rejects "Eco-Forestry" Clearcutting on O&C Lands
Controversial "variable retention regeneration harvest" clearcuts in White Castle timber sale declared illegal; conservationists win on all counts.
A US District Court judge has ruled in favor of conservation groups Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands in their legal challenge of a controversial clearcut logging project on public lands in Douglas County. At stake in the case was the Bureau of Land Management’s “White Castle” logging project which proposed clearcutting 160 aces of 100-year old trees using a controversial methodology developed by Drs. Jerry Franklin and Norm Johnson referred to as “variable retention regeneration harvest” sometimes referred to as “eco-forestry.” In her ruling, Judge Ann Aiken found that the BLM’s environmental review fell far short of fully considering the full range of harm that could result from clearcutting.
“This ruling proves that BLM can’t just re-name a clearcut something else and then expect it to suddenly be acceptable,” said Sean Stevens, Executive Director of Oregon Wild. “The White Castle timber sale was a test to see if eco-forest clearcutting could pass legal muster or public scrutiny, and it failed.”
Attorney Jennifer Schwartz argued on behalf of the conservation plaintiffs and repeatedly highlighted the scientific dispute surrounding the project and “variable retention harvest,” especially its implementation in older forests and spotted owl critical habitat. The Court ultimately determined that “The [spotted owl’s] Recovery Plan, the [spotted owl’s] critical habitat proposal, comments from the public and scientists, and Franklin and Johnson's own reports demonstrated the existence of ‘a substantial dispute’ casting ‘serious doubt upon the reasonableness’ of BLM's decision to harvest forest stands over 80 years old.”
By the BLM’s own admission, the White Castle sale was intended as a prototype for greatly expanding clearcutting on other BLM O&C lands, a factor that weighed heavily in the judge’s ruling. The judge found the precedential nature of the project worthy of greater scrutiny: “Project materials describe the pilot projects as test of new harvest methods and ‘new policies’ that could supplant BLM's current ‘risk-adverse strategy’ of avoiding regeneration harvesting and other ‘active management’ methods. Approval of the White Castle Project will not have binding impact on future projects, but it will, by design, shape BLM forestry methods and strategies moving forward.
“The scariest part of this project was its potential to set the tone for logging across 2 million acres of Western Oregon BLM,” said Nick Cady, Legal Director of Cascadia Wildlands. “The project was mired in scientific uncertainty and was the obvious result of political pressure to bail out county politicians by returning clearcutting to our public forests. I hope this ruling convinces the BLM to revisit its intentions for our public lands.”
The proposed timber sale lies within publicly-owned forest in the South Myrtle Creek watershed, near the community of Canyonville. The Roseburg BLM District proposed the controversial “eco-forestry” logging method as justification to clearcut over 187 acres, including 160 acres of trees over a century old.
Bulldozing roads and other destructive activities associated with the project would also have targeted additional trees over 150 years old. Federal biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have acknowledged nearly 200 acres of habitat for threatened wildlife would be damaged or destroyed by the logging. In her ruling, the judge found the likely effects of this clearcutting to require the BLM to conduct a much more rigorous environmental analysis than they have done thus far.
Despite the fact that BLM has been largely meeting its timber targets for the last 15 years, primarily through non-controversial thinning of young forests, the agency has recently pursued more controversial projects as a way to increase logging. BLM claimed that clearcutting the White Castle forest would benefit the environment by removing mature trees in order to favor shrubs and brush, even though such habitat is not rare like old forest. As part of the same planning process, Roseburg BLM carried out a similar and related clearcutting project in younger forests, known as Buck Rising. Conservationists did not challenge the Buck Rising project in court but they were not pleased with the results.
“BLM claims that since they intend to retain a few patches of standing trees , it isn't really a clearcut,” said Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild . “Anyone who has seen the aftermath of logging at Buck Rising would have a difficult time explaining the difference between acres of stumps and rutted earth created by eco-forestry and those created by old style clearcutting.”
A copy of the legal decision can be found here.
Photos of the White Castle forest can be found here. (please credit to Francis Eatherington)
Photos from the BLM's Buck Rising clearcuts can be found here. (please credit to Francis Eatherington)
March 3, 2015
Conservationists Challenge Wildlife Services’ Authority to Kill Wolves in Washington
Wildlife Services Activities Threaten Wolf Recovery, Healthy Ecosystems
Olympia, Wash. — Today, the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) on behalf of five conservation groups, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Wildlife Services program challenging its authority to kill endangered wolves in Washington state.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires USDA to prepare an in-depth Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) addressing the effects of employing Wildlife Services to kill endangered wolves in Washington. The agency completed a less-detailed Environmental Assessment (EA), but the document contains significant gaps and does not address specific issues that will significantly impact wolves and the human environment. NEPA review is designed to ensure all environmental impacts are analyzed and that the public has an opportunity to comment, and therefore influence, activities conducted using public funds.
The EA prepared by Wildlife Services fails to provide data to support several of its core assertions. For example, Wildlife Services claims that killing wolves reduces wolf-caused losses of livestock, yet recent peer-reviewed research from Washington State University directly contradicts this conclusion, finding that killing wolves actually leads to an increase in wolf-livestock conflicts. The EA also fails to address the ecological effects of killing wolves in Washington, including impacts on wolf populations in neighboring states and on non-target animals, including federally protected grizzly bears and Canada lynx.
"Wildlife Services’ activities related to wolves in Washington have been extremely harmful," said John Mellgren, attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. "The science tells us that killing wolves does not actually reduce wolf-livestock conflicts, but Wildlife Services is continuing its brutal assault on this iconic animal and it needs to stop."
Wildlife Services is a stand-alone federal extermination program under USDA that kills roughly 4 million animals per year, including wolves, grizzly bears, otters, foxes, coyotes, and birds—with almost no oversight or accountability. A 2013 internal audit revealed that Wildlife Services’ accounting practices lacked transparency and violated state and federal laws. Concerns about the program’s practices and effectiveness are the focus of an ongoing investigation by the USDA’s Inspector General.
"Wildlife Services has a horrendous track record of animal abuse, missing funds, poor or nonexistent policy, and misinformation that has inflamed rural areas throughout the Pacific Northwest," said Nick Cady, legal director at Cascadia Wildlands. "This program has no place in Washington where the people have tasked the state’s agencies to facilitate wolf recovery and conservation."
Washington has experienced Wildlife Services’ recklessness firsthand. Last August, Wildlife Services’ snipers mistakenly shot and killed the Huckleberry wolf pack’s alpha female during a helicopter gunning operation. The killing was in direct violation of explicit instructions from the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) to not kill either of the pack’s alpha members. The death of the Huckleberry pack’s breeding female threatens the future of the entire pack.
"Let’s put this issue of wolf management into the proper context," said Timothy Coleman, executive director of Kettle Range Conservation Group. "There are just three breeding female wolves in all of Washington, so why is the federal government’s Wildlife Services and their sharpshooting snipers in Washington killing and trapping wolves? Certainly the public should have more of a say when such decisions are made."
Wildlife Services also ‘advised’ WDFW in the contentious 2012 killing of Washington’s Wedge wolf pack. In that instance, WDFW killed seven wolves after depredations of livestock on public lands, despite the rancher’s failure to take sufficient action to protect his cattle.
"Wildlife Services’ refusal to ensure its activities are based on the best available science strips the public of an opportunity to meaningfully understand and contribute to decisions impacting the health of ecosystems on which we all depend," said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director at WildEarth Guardians. "It’s past time that the dark practices of Wildlife Services are subjected to the sunshine of a transparent public process."
"Wildlife Services has a long, well-documented history of ignoring not only state and federal laws, but also its own policies," said Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense. "It is egregiously out of control, and its methods are barbaric and unscientific."
Wolves were driven to extinction in Washington in the early 1900s by a government-sponsored eradication program on behalf of the livestock industry. The species began to return to Washington from neighboring Idaho and British Columbia in the early 2000s, and the wolf population in the state has grown to 13 confirmed packs. Despite this growth, wolves in the state are far from recovered and face ongoing threats—including the threat of being shot and killed by Wildlife Services.
Western Environmental Law Center is representing the following organizations in the lawsuit: Cascadia Wildlands, WildEarth Guardians, Kettle Range Conservation Group, Predator Defense, and The Lands Council. Find a copy of the complaint here.