In The Media

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.

 

 

Mar23

Cascadia Halts Huge Public Lands Clearcutting Outside Eugene

Press Release
For Immediate Release

March 23, 2015

Contact:
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.

Mar17

White Castle in the News

by Mateusz Perkowski, Capital Press
 
A timber project aimed at testing new harvesting strategies on federal forests was rejected by a federal judge.
A federal judge has overturned the approval of a timber project that environmentalists claim is a “test case” for increased logging of mature forests.
 
The White Castle project calls for harvesting trees up to 110 years old on 187 acres of U.S. Bureau of Land Management property near Myrtle Creek, Ore.
 
The BLM intended for the project to demonstrate the “variable retention” model, in which patches of trees are harvested to recreate “early successional” habitat consisting of shrubs and other plant life.
 
While the agency argued the technique will improve the forest’s diversity and resilience, Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands equated it with a return to clear-cutting federal forests and filed a lawsuit to stop the timber sale.
 
U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken has now agreed with the environmental groups that BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act by not conducting an in-depth scientific review of the project, known as an environmental impact statement or EIS.
 
“The project may be relatively small in size but it will adversely affect the northern spotted owl. Moreover, it represents a pilot test with effects that are likely to be highly controversial, highly uncertain and influential on future project planning,” Aiken said.
 
The judge has vacated BLM’s approval of the project, which means logging cannot proceed until the agency completes the EIS and corrects other shortcomings she identified.
 
In the agency’s existing environmental analysis, BLM failed to consider enough alternatives to removing trees older than 80 years old, Aiken said.
 
BLM should also have conducted a more extensive EIS because the project was subject to “scientific controversy” since its inception about possible effects on the spotted owl, a federally protected threatened species, she said.
Aside from the project’s uncertainties, Aiken also cited its precedential effect as a reason for further study.
 
While the BLM would not be required to follow the White Castle project’s example, the case was intended to test a more aggressive harvest approach that could replace the agency’s current risk-averse focus on thinning, she said.
“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,” Aiken said.
Mar17

Cascadia Wildlands Defeats White Castle Clearcutting in Court

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 white castle treesconservation 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.

buck rising white castleDespite 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)

Mar03

Cascadia Challenges Wildlife Services in Washington

 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.

OR11_odfwThe 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.

 

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