Posts Tagged ‘lawsuit’

Feb03

Cascadia Wildlands Challenges Wildlife Services’ Wolf Killing in Oregon

For Immediate Release, February 3, 2016
 
Contacts:
Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, (541) 434-1463, nick@cascwild.org
John Mellgren, Western Law Environmental Center, (541) 359-0990, mellgren@westernlaw.org
Amy Atwood, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 504-5660, atwood@biologicaldiversity.org
Bethany Cotton, WildEarth Guardians, (503) 327-4923, bcotton@wildearthguardians.org
Brooks Fahy, Predator Defense, (541) 937-4261, brooks@predatordefense.org
Camilla Fox, Project Coyote, (415) 690-0338, cfox@projectcoyote.org
 
Lawsuit Challenges Wildlife Services' Authority to Kill Wolves in Oregon
 
PORTLAND, Ore. – Conservation groups filed a lawsuit today challenging the authority of the federal wildlife-killing program Wildlife Services to kill any of the approximately 81 remaining gray wolves in Oregon. The legal challenge, filed by the Western Environmental Law Center on behalf of four conservation groups, with Cascadia Wildlands representing itself, comes weeks after a federal court ruled that Wildlife Services’ controversial wolf killing program in Washington is illegal.
 
The groups contend that Wildlife Services failed to explain why killing wolves on behalf of livestock interests should replace common-sense, proactive and nonlethal alternatives such as those reflected in the Oregon Gray Wolf Management Plan. The National Environmental Policy Act requires this analysis and public disclosure. In Oregon and Washington, Wildlife Services completed vague plans to target wolves for livestock depredations but did not explain why nonlethal alternatives would be inadequate.
 
“Federal law requires Wildlife Services to conduct a full and fair evaluation of the ecological impacts of its wolf-killing program in Oregon, and it failed to do so,” said John Mellgren, the Western Environmental Law Center attorney arguing the case. “In addition to protecting gray wolves from being killed, our recent victory in Washington will help to shed light on this secretive federal program, and we hope to continue that process in Oregon.”
 
A federal extermination program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services kills roughly 1.5 million to 3 million native animals per year, including wolves, grizzly bears, mountain lions, otters, foxes, coyotes, birds and even domestic pets — with little oversight or accountability. Wildlife Services employs inhumane tools to kill wildlife including aerial gunning, leghold traps, snares and poisons. A 2013 internal audit revealed that Wildlife Services’ accounting practices lacked transparency and violated state and federal laws.
 
“Wildlife Services has for decades taken advantage of a legal loophole to avoid conducting any meaningful analysis of its deplorable killing program, or any assessment of whether its programs are effective at all,” said Nick Cady, legal director at Cascadia Wildlands. “We believe if the agency truly takes a hard look at its activities, the impacts and the costs, these killing programs will be terminated.”
 
NEPA requires Wildlife Services to rigorously examine the environmental effects of killing wolves and to consider alternatives that rely on proven nonlethal methods like range riders, livestock-guarding dogs and shepherds, and disposing of livestock carcasses to avoid attracting wolves and other predators. In both Oregon and Washington, Wildlife Services completed vague analyses that did not consider alternatives and rejected evidence that nonlethal methods are more effective. NEPA also mandates a public comment period for the proposal.
 
“Oregon is no place for Wildlife Services,” said Amy Atwood, endangered species legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Wildlife Services is a rogue agency that uses ineffective, cruel and costly methods to kill wolves instead of common-sense, nonlethal methods that foster coexistence.”
 
“Wildlife Services’ refusal to ensure its activities are based on the best available science leads to unnecessary and harmful killing and 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 the dark practices of Wildlife Services are subjected to the sunshine of a transparent public process.”
 
Wildlife Services claims that killing wolves reduces wolf-related losses of livestock, yet recent peer-reviewed research finds that killing wolves leads to an increase in wolf-livestock conflicts. Wildlife Services also failed to address the effects of killing wolves in Oregon, including impacts on ecosystems, wolf populations in neighboring states and on non-target animals that may be killed or injured as a result of the wolf killing program.
 
“It is telling that Wildlife Services was formerly called Animal Damage Control,” said Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense. “They changed their name, but nothing more. This misnomer of a program is notorious for abuse of power, lack of transparency, illegal activity and brutal treatment of wildlife. It has been criticized by members of Congress, the public and leading predator biologists. Further scrutiny of Wildlife Services’ activities in Oregon is long overdue, particularly now, as the gray wolf faces imminent delisting from state endangered species protections.”
 
“Wildlife Services’ predator control program is ecologically destructive, ethically indefensible and economically unjustifiable,” said Camilla Fox, founder and executive director of Project Coyote. “The science is clear that killing wolves is not effective at reducing conflicts and likely exacerbates problems by destabilizing wolf social structures. How many lawsuits will it take for Wildlife Services to do what’s right?”
 
Wolves were driven to extinction in Oregon by the late 1940s through a government-sponsored eradication program. The species began to return to Oregon from neighboring states and Canada in the early 2000s. In 2012, wolf recovery got back on track in Oregon. It took a legal challenge, but the state’s wolf killing program (separate from Wildlife Services') was put on hold and the wolf population grew from 29 to 81. In November 2015, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission stripped Oregon’s wolves of much needed state endangered species protections. Oregon's wolves face a long road to recovery and ongoing threats — including that of being shot and killed by Wildlife Services.
 
John Mellgren of the Western Environmental Law Center and Nick Cady with Cascadia Wildlands represent the following organizations in the lawsuit: Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, Predator Defense and Project Coyote.
 
Download a copy of the complaint here.
 
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Dec21

Huge Legal Victory for Washington’s Wolves

For Immediate Release December 21, 2015
 
Contacts:
Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, 314-482-3746, nick@cascwild.org
Timothy Coleman, Kettle Range Conservation Group, 509-675-3556, tcoleman@kettlerange.org
Bethany Cotton, WildEarth Guardians, 406-414-7227, bcotton@wildearthguardians.org
John Mellgren, Western Environmental Law Center, 541-525-5087, mellgren@westernlaw.org
 
Conservationists deal blow to Wildlife Services in landmark WA wolf case
Court rejects indiscriminate wolf killing
 

OLYMPIA, Wash. – In response to a challenge brought by a coalition of conservation organizations, a federal court rejected plans to escalate cruel wolf killing in Washington state by the secretive federal program dubbed "Wildlife Services." Federal District Judge Robert Bryan held that Wildlife Services should have prepared a more in-depth environmental analysis of the impacts of its proposed wolf killing activities, finding the program’s cursory environmental assessment faulty because the proposed actions would have significant cumulative impacts that are highly controversial and highly uncertain.

Wildlife Services is a controversial program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service responsible for killing millions of wild animals every year, including wolves, grizzly bears, otters, foxes, coyotes and birds, with almost no oversight or accountability.

Judge Bryan vacated the program’s analysis, stating "Wildlife Services shall not take any further wolf management actions in Washington under the proposed action alternative, but shall observe the status quo in place prior to the environmental assessment and [finding of no significant impact]."

"Wildlife Services has long asserted that it need not comply with our nations’ federal environmental laws, such as the National Environmental Policy Act, but this decision rejects those arguments and requires Wildlife Services to comply with all federal laws, not just those it finds convenient to comply with," said Western Environmental Law Center Attorney John Mellgren.

A 2013 internal audit revealed that Wildlife Services’ accounting practices lacked transparency and violated state and federal laws. The program employs incredibly cruel tools to kill wildlife including aerial gunning, leghold traps, snares and poisons.

"It is long past time that we base wildlife management decisions on the best available science, not on antiquated anti-wolf rhetoric and myth," said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. "Wildlife Services needs to come out of the shadows, update its analyses and adopt practices in keeping with modern science and values about the ethical treatment of animals."

The environmental assessment prepared by Wildlife Services failed to provide data to support several of its core assertions. For example, Wildlife Services claimed that killing wolves reduced 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 environmental assessment 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.

"This decision is so incredibly encouraging," said Nick Cady, legal director of Cascadia Wildlands. "We have been working for over a decade to hold Wildlife Services accountable for its blind, reckless lethal control programs. This decision paves the way for meaningful analysis of the program’s impacts and hopefully a meaningful look at whether or not this wolf killing is worth it."

Washington has experienced Wildlife Services’ wolf killing program firsthand. In August 2014, Wildlife Services snipers shot and killed the Huckleberry wolf pack’s alpha female during a helicopter gunning operation. The death of the Huckleberry pack’s breeding female threatens the future of the entire pack.

Wildlife Services also "advised" the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in the contentious 2012 killing of Washington’s Wedge wolf pack. In that instance, WDFW killed seven wolves after predation of livestock on public lands, despite the rancher’s failure to take sufficient action to protect his cattle.

"The Court made a wise and prudent decision that safeguards the legal right of citizens to know what their government is doing in their name," said Timothy Coleman, executive director of Kettle Range Conservation Group. "The so-called Wildlife Services cannot just grant itself authority to execute an endangered species absent the public interest or best available science."

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. According to WDFW, Washington currently has at least 68 wolves in 16 packs.

The organizations, Cascadia Wildlands, WildEarth Guardians, Kettle Range Conservation Group, Predator Defense and the Lands Council were represented by the Western Environmental Law Center.

A copy of the decision is available here.
 
A copy of the original complaint is available here.
 
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Dec02

From Exterminated to a Rebounding Population: A Brief History of Wolves in Oregon

By Legal Director Nick Cady
 
Given the state’s recent move to remove the gray wolf from Oregon’s list of threatened and endangered species, it is worth taking a full look at the history of this species in Oregon to fully put in context the recent decision.
 
In 1947, the last wolf was killed in Oregon as part of a government bounty program, which was part of a nationwide predator extermination campaign facilitated by federal and state governments. Upon passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 under Nixon, the federal government began focusing on recovering many of the species wiped out by extermination campaigns and habitat lost to industrial development.
 
One of the first critters focused on was the gray wolf.  After 66 wolves were reintroduced over two years in central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park, individuals eventually dispersed west into Oregon.  In 1999, an initial lone wolf swam the Snake River and was Oregon’s first wolf in over 50 years, but wildlife managers with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) were politically and physically unprepared to handle wolves returning to the state.  The lone wolf was darted and shipped back to Idaho. Two more wolves that crossing the Snake were killed, one poached and another run over on I-84.
 
This series of events began a state-sanctioned process to develop a wolf conservation and management plan in Oregon designed to address the unique relationship between Oregonians and wolves.  Development of the plan involved many different stakeholders including conservation groups, livestock interests, the hunting community, county commissioners, and ODFW.  A comprehensive plan was finalized in 2005, but the plan left many questions and situations unaddressed, mainly the response to wolf-livestock conflict and its intersection with the state Endangered Species Act, which has a prohibition against killing a listed species.
 
Walla Walla_odfw

Wolf from the Walla Walla Pack (Photo Courtesy of ODFW)

The 2005 plan did establish a framework for the path recovery would take in Oregon.  Recovery was divided into three phases for each half of the state (western and eastern).  In the first phase (Phase I), wolf conservation and management would be focused on wolf recovery.  Killing wolves in response to depredations would be a last resort, after all available non-lethal methods for eliminating the conflict had been exhausted.  In exchange for these relatively stringent standards, the recovery numbers under Phase I were low: once a side of the state reached four breeding pairs for three consecutive years, wolf conservation and management would transfer into Phase II where the standards on when wolves could be killed were relaxed.  A breeding pair was defined as a pair of wolves that had at least two pups that survived the calendar year.
 
By 2011, Oregon had its first established breeding pair of wolves, the Imnaha pack.  This pack’s alpha pair produced OR-7, the famous wolf that journeyed from northeast Oregon to northern California, and the female wolf that helped establish California’s first wolf pack in almost one hundred years.  But during 2010-2011, Oregon began experiencing its first wolf-livestock conflicts in northeastern Oregon, and the livestock community began pressuring ODFW to kill wolves to reduce this conflict.  
 
Shasta Pack

Shasta Pack in California (Photo Courtesy of CDFG)

Although the numbers of wolf-livestock conflicts were limited, especially when compared to other sources of livestock mortality, and have remained incredibly low to date, the issue of wolves was swept up in politics and the rise of the Tea Party across the rural West.  Wolves became a symbol of federal government intervention, and Republican representatives in these areas began to be threatened by Tea Party candidates who were running on staunch anti-wolf platforms.  In response, these candidates also began banging on the anti-wolf drum.  The ultimate result of all this noise making was the legislative, federal delisting of wolves in the Rocky Mountain gray wolf recovery area, which included Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and eastern Oregon and Washington.  This was the first time Congress had delisted an endangered species, and marked the beginning of a still ongoing legislative and legal battle over wolves and other imperiled species.
 
Specifically in Oregon, this meant that federal protections under the Endangered Species Act in the eastern portion of the state had been eliminated, and that the state was permitted to kill wolves.  The livestock community and anti-wolf political figures began pushing hard for killing wolves in Oregon.  Cascadia and others fervently reminded the state and ODFW that we only had a single breeding pair of wolves in Oregon, and approximately only 12 or 13 wolves total.  Despite these protests, ODFW moved to kill the alpha male of the Imnaha pack and one of the pups born that year.ODFW determined that after only a few incidents of wolf-livestock conflict, the Imnaha pack satisfied the wolf plan’s “chronically depredating” standard and needed to be killed.
 
Folks at Cascadia Wildlands were outraged. We reminded the state the commitments it had made in the plan to make killing wolves a measure of last resort at this early juncture of recovery, and we disagreed with ODFW that a few incidents over the course of two years marked a “chronic” issue.  We went to court over the disagreement, preventing the killing of the Imnaha pack, but ultimately settled the suit with both the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and the ODFW.  This settlement defined some of the vague terms used in Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, laid out clearly defined requirements for implementing non-lethal preventative measures, and delineated exactly what the plan meant by “chronically depredating.”  Additionally, a compensation program was set up for ranchers that lost livestock to wolves, and a tax credit established to further compensate ranchers for efforts expended on preventative measures.  These rules have been highly lauded as the most thorough and successfully wolf conservation and management program in the country.
 
ODFW began executing the clarified rules with earnest, and over the next few years Oregon saw depredations decrease dramatically and wolf numbers steadily increase.  With ODFW and ranchers focusing on preventative measures, ODFW has not had to expend taxpayer dollars to kill a single wolf to date.  We now have approximately 15 wolf packs in Oregon, wolves have been initially dispersing into western Oregon, and there are now potentially two new packs in southern Oregon near the California border.  At the last official count, there were over 70 confirmed wolves in Oregon.  This has been such a promising recovery to date, and has been one of the pride and joys at Cascadia Wildlands — a direct result of our efforts.
 
However, this year a new conflict over wolves has emerged surrounding the removal of the species from Oregon’s list of threatened and endangered species.  When wolves in Oregon first satisfied the four breeding pairs for three consecutive years in 2014, and wolf management in eastern Oregon moved into Phase II, the state began exploring whether or not wolf numbers and recovery warranted removal of the species from the endangered species list.
 
Livestock interests were pushing the state hard, arguing that the state was required to remove protections for the species under the wolf plan.  However, the wolf plan very clearly said that the state was only required to begin exploring the delisting process, to make an early determination over whether delisting was warranted at this time or not.  Cascadia Wildlands and our conservation partners began weighing into the process as well, presenting public comments and soliciting scientific input on whether or not delisting was warranted.  The “endangered” status of the wolf is critical because it provides the entire framework and backbone of the current wolf conservation and management program and the rules developed under the mutual agreement in 2011.  Without this classification, the ODFW could do whatever it wants with regard to wolves, and under similar circumstances in 2011, we witnessed the state try to kill the Imnaha pack when it was the only breeding pack in Oregon.  
 
So Cascadia Wildlands and our allies worked tirelessly to convince the ODFW that delisting was not the right move, particularly with under 80 confirmed wolves in the state. Wolves have just barely begun to get a foothold in western Oregon, and we were concerned that additional mortality associated with management of wolves in Phase II would stagnant recovery and dispersal of the species. At the end of a series of hearings this fall, in which there was an enormous amount of public and scientific testimony, over 90 percent of Oregonians had urged the state to retain endangered species protections for the species. The overwhelming message from the scientific community was that delisting was premature because of the limited numbers and distribution of the species across the state.  
 
Despite the weight of this evidence and the desire of the public, ODFW and its Commission removed the wolf from the list of threatened and endangered species in mid-November.  Cascadia Wildlands is again exploring legal options and ways to retain this critical classification for a species still very early in its recovery.
 
 Cascadia Wildlands cannot thank enough our volunteers, members and supporters who wrote letters, talked to elected officials and traveled great distances to publicly testify in support of wolves. This passion gives us our inspiration, and we will continue to fight for this species as it continues on its perilous path to recovery. Stayed tuned for next steps as this struggle is far from over, and please consider donating to support our ongoing efforts.
 
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.
 
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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.
 
May01

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul: The Abuse of “Ecological Forestry” on our Public Lands in Western Oregon

By Nick Cady, Legal Director
 
The conservation community in the Northwest was incredibly excited by Cascadia’s legal victory over the White Castle timber sale.  Not just because of the couple hundred acres of old growth forest that were saved from clearcutting, but because of the potentially important precedent the case set concerning logging old forest to create so-called early seral habitat.
 
A little background.  Early seral habitat is the agency name for habitat that is mostly brush and shrubs, ideal habitat for deer, elk and some bird species, and ideally is created after fires have burn through forested areas.  True early-seral habitat is somewhat lacking on the landscape because the feds for decades have suppressed fires, and even when there is a fire, the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will “salvage log”  the areas and replant conifer trees, quickly taking away any early-seral habitat value.
 
Given this pattern of post-fire salvage logging, folks at Cascadia were initially surprised and suspicious to hear about Forest Service and BLM plans to create early-seral habitat through commercial logging.  The agency plan was to create this early-seral habitat by logging middle-aged plantations. 
Plantation

Typical Young Conifer Plantation

These conifer plantations are 40 to 80 year old forests created from previous clearcutting, pesticide spraying, and dense replanting.  The logging would essentially create large meadow-like openings between clumps of reserved forests.  These reserves would contain the biggest trees in the stand, and areas with unique composition, for example a pocket of western red cedar or large hardwoods.  30% of the project area would be reserved from harvest in these clumps, and there would also be large, green trees, 12 to 18 per acre, distributed across the openings to provide connectivity for wildlife.  The logging concept was called ecological forestry or variable retention harvest (VRH).
 
Folks at Cascadia were skeptical, but not overly concerned because this prescription seemed genuinely aimed at restoring diversity back into these plantations.  Left alone, these middle aged plantations currently provide little to no habitat value for the Northwest’s struggling older forest species, and posed a severe fire risk given the density of these young conifer trees.
 
buck rising white castle

BLM’s Version of VRH Implemented in the Buck Rising Sale

However, when the timber industry and Bureau of Land Management got a hold of this idea to create early-seral habitat it quickly morphed into an “ecological” excuse to clearcut older forest.  We began seeing dozens of proposed timber sales aimed at converting older mature forest, not young plantations, into early-seral habitat.  The proposed reserves quickly were replaced by already existing buffers in place for imperiled species and around waterways, and the dispersed green tree retention across the logged areas was eliminated.  It was readily apparent that this novel approach had been high-jacked; it had become an ecological justification for clearcutting.  This was a very dangerous idea, because it could arguably be used in existing protected areas and owl habitat.
 
The White Castle timber sale, located in the South Umpqua watershed on the Roseburg BLM district, was the worst of the worst of these early-seral creation projects we had seen.  The sale targeted a one hundred year old-plus forests that had never before been logged. It was also designated critical habitat for the northern spotted owl and hosted a healthy population of the red tree vole, a food source of the northern spotted owl.  Forest activists with Cascadia Forest Defenders had occupied the stand to prevent the clearcutting, and Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild readied a legal challenge.  We were cautiously optimistic that the judge would recognize how abused this concept to create early-seral forest from plantations had become.  
 
Just over a month ago, the ruling came down, and the Court sided with us on all counts, harping on the fact that this “ecological forestry” was designed for young stands and not older forest.  The Northwest has limited older forest left on the landscape, so sacrificing older forest to create early-seral forest does not make sense.  It was the epitome of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
 
This victory threw a major wrench in a number of other “ecological forestry” projects being planned by the Forest Service and BLM, especially the projects slated for older forests. 
Cool Soda Map

Map of the Cool Soda Project and Age Classes

Cool Soda was one of these projects on the Sweet Home Ranger District of the Willamette National Forest.  The project was fairly large, over thousands of acres, and was part of a collaborative process between private timber owners, the Willamette National Forest and conservation groups and other stakeholders trying to get at restoration needs on the landscape across a “checkerboard” ownership.
 
The final proposal mostly involved commercial thinning in young plantations to restore ecological diversity while generating timber volume.  However, a small portion of the project involved heavy thinning and “ecological forestry” in native, never-logged forests over 120 years old.  We objected to the project because of these older forest units, and met with the Forest Service staff to attempt to resolve our differences over the project.  
Due to the weight of the White Castle decision and the understanding of the Forest Service, we were able to eliminate the older forest units from the final decision without resorting to litigation.  We were able to save all parties’ time and resources and end up with a project that would have a myriad ofbenefits, including restoring diversity into dense young plantations, replacing failed culverts that were impacting aquatic health, and generating timber volume for the local mills.
 
We are hopeful that moving forward the Forest Service and BLM will honor the original intent of creating early-seral habitat and abandon futile attempts at masking mature forest timber grabs as “ecological” projects.
 

 

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)

Feb06

State Stops Timber Sales to Help Bird

The Associated Press by Jeff Barnard
February 6, 2013
 
The state Department of Forestry has agreed to cancel more than two dozen timber sales on state forests because they threaten the survival of the marbled murrelet, a seabird that nests in large, old trees.
 
The proposed settlement filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Eugene comes in a lawsuit brought by three conservation groups, Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Audubon Society of Portland.
 
It alleged that the department violated the Endangered Species Act prohibiting the harming, or take, of a protected species by failing to protect stands of trees on the Elliott and other state forests where threatened marbled murrelets build their nests.
 
The murrelet is a robin-size bird that lives on the ocean and flies as far as 50 miles inland to nest in old growth forests. The bird was declared a threatened species about two decades ago, making it a factor in the continuing court and political battles over logging in the Northwest.
 
The settlement comes as the state has been trying to increase logging on state forests to provide more funding for schools and counties and more logs for local mills.
 
The Elliott State Forest, where the bulk of the canceled sales are located, typically provides millions of dollars to the Common School Fund. But in 2013 it cost the fund $2.8 million because of reduced logging, according to the Department of State Lands. The rest of the canceled sales are on the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests.
 
State Department of Forestry spokesman Dan Postrel said the department began canceling timber sales in 2012 as it revised its protection policy for the murrelet, and that the settlement wraps up a total of 28 timber sales.
 
Postrel said the department is reviewing science related to the murrelet to “help inform the best long-term plans and strategies.”
 
The state managed the Elliott for years by protecting habitat for threatened and endangered species such as the murrelet but scrapped that approach after federal biologists refused to approve revisions that allowed more logging. Instead, the state adopted a policy used by private timberland owners that refrains from logging where protected species are actually living.
 
The lawsuit argued that rather than preserving a large area of trees around a murrelet nest, the department was leaving small patches and clear-cutting close around them, leaving the nests vulnerable to attacks by jays and ravens that eat the young.
 
The birds are difficult to spot when they fly swiftly into a stand of trees at dawn. The nests are difficult to spot, as well. The eggs are laid in a mossy depression on a large branch high in a tree. Laughlin said the department also has agreed, in a separate action, to stop its practice of sending its own observers to verify murrelet sightings by a contractor, which conservation groups feel violates the accepted scientific protocol.
 
“This was an incredibly arbitrary and reckless process that we believe, in the past, led to loss of occupied murrelet habitat,” Laughlin said.
 
Oregon Forest Industries Council President Kristina McNitt said in an email that the organization was worried that the state may not be able to meet its obligations to the Common School Fund and counties after withdrawing the sales.
 
Dec09

Suit Filed Over Logging Near Crater Lake

By Lee Juillerat, Klamath Falls Herald and News December 4, 2013 !cid_0BAFA484-1336-41EC-865D-6D83DF8F3EE6

Two conservation groups are challenging a U.S. Forest Service timber sale outside Crater Lake National Park in an area the groups want to see protected as wilderness.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Eugene by the Cascadia Wild and Oregon Wild. The groups are asking a judge to stop the Loafer timber sale in an area northwest of Diamond Lake on the Umpqua National Forest.

More protection

The lawsuit claims the Forest Service should more fully examine the project’s potential harm to protected species like northern spotted owls and red tree voles. It says the logging requires building a road through two areas of virgin forest, which would make them ineligible for future wilderness designation.

A Forest Service spokesman told the Associated Press the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

Contested sale

The Loafer sale, named after the Loafer Creek drainage, is proposed on the Umpqua’s Diamond Lake Ranger District and would affect a portion of the 2,000-acre plus Dread and Terror roadless area. The project would result in 30 million board-feet of tree fiber.

According to the Forest Service’s environmental assessment, the Loafer sale will restore natural ecosystem function and reduce fire fuels.

The Loafer environmental assessment was issued in March and the final record of decision was filed in May. The decision was appealed, but the appeal was denied by the Forest Service’s regional office in August.

“Since then we have been pursuing the avenue of litigation,” said Erik Fernandez, Oregon Wild wilderness coordinator. He said the project would log within the proposed wilderness near the North Umpqua River north and slightly west of the park.

“This area is a key corridor for wildlife species migrating from the high elevations along the crest down to lower elevations,” he said. “The North Umpqua also is known as a world class salmon fishery and we’re concerned that this project would have a negative impact on water quality and salmon.”

Further opposition

Oregon Wild also opposes the Bybee timber sale on the west side of Crater Lake National Park.

The proposed 50,000 acre Crater Lake Wilderness would, according to Fernandez, “protect the park’s backcountry and corridors leading in and out of the park, creating a 90-mile habitat conservation corridor along the crest of the Southern Cascades.” The proposed wilderness would not affect any of the existing park roads or developed areas, including Rim Village and the Crater Lake Lodge.

As proposed, the Bybee would log 1,300 acres of potential wilderness on Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest lands, also near Crater Lake National Park. The Forest Service has made changes in the proposed sale but, according to Fernandez, “The changes have simply moved the project from terrible to bad” because it would imperil and weaken the park’s ecosystems and would be near the headwaters of the Rogue River.

link to full article

May24

Press Release: Settlement Reached in Wolf Legal Fight

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 24, 2013
 
Contact:
Rob Klavins, Wildlife Advocate, Oregon Wild, (503) 283-6343 ext. 210, rk@oregonwild.org
Steve Pedery, Conservation Director, Oregon Wild, (503) 283-6343 ext. 212, sp@oregonwild.org
Nick Cady, Legal Director, Cascadia Wildlands, (314) 482-3746, nick@cascwild.org
Josh Laughlin, Campaign Director, Cascadia Wildlands, (541) 844-8182 jlaughlin@cascwild.org
 
Salem, Oregon  – After seventeen months of grueling negotiations, conservationists, Governor John Kitzhaber, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW), and the livestock industry have reached a compromise settlement agreement that resolves a long-running legal battle over wolf conservation in Oregon.
 
“Oregonians treasure our state’s wildlife and want to see it protected,” said Dan Kruse, an attorney for Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands. “This settlement will put in place, for the first time, clear standards and public accountability for what must happen before ODFW or livestock interests can kill an endangered wolf, and measures that should reduce conflict between wolves and livestock. I applaud all the parties for coming to this agreement, and in the coming months we will be watching closely to ensure it is faithfully implemented.”
 
On October 5, 2011, a coalition of conservation organizations filed a legal challenge against the state’s aggressive killing program that targeted endangered gray wolves. The groups believed the state’s actions violated both the state’s Wolf Plan and Endangered Species Act. That same day an appellate commissioner with the Oregon Court of Appeals issued an injunction suspending the state’s ability to kill wolves on behalf of the livestock industry.
 
The settlement agreement resolves this legal conflict by establishing a new management framework which more clearly outlines steps that must be taken before the state can again consider killing endangered wolves. The agreement emphasizes the employment of responsible livestock husbandry practices and requires thorough use of proactive, non-lethal techniques to preempt conflict between wolves and livestock.
 
“We went to court because ODFW was breaking its own rules and state endangered species laws,” said Rob Klavins, Oregon Wild’s Wildlife Advocate. “This settlement is far from perfect, but it requires more transparency from the state and responsibility from the livestock industry. Now it’s up to the agency to honor the terms of the agreement and ensure wildlife management lives up to Oregon’s proud conservation values.”
 
Wolves began returning to Oregon in the late 1990s, after being hunted, trapped and poisoned to extinction in the first half of the twentieth century. In 2005, after wolves begin to return to Oregon the state and stakeholders created a wolf plan that prioritized conservation and non-lethal steps to prevent conflict with livestock as the species recovered in our state. When the plan was followed in 2009, conservationists did not oppose lethal action against wolves in Baker County. However, facing increasingly intense pressure from livestock interests, the state initiated a series of aggressive lethal actions against endangered gray wolves in Oregon. Conservationists believed this effort violated both the spirit and the letter of the Oregon Wolf Plan.
 
“This agreement gets us back to the wolf plan we thought we had in 2005,” said Nick Cady, Legal Director from Cascadia Wildlands. “Under this agreement killing wolves should be an option of last resort. Ranchers need to do their part to improve animal husbandry and coexist with native wildlife, and ODFW needs to live up to its mission to ensure abundant populations of native wildlife for all Oregonians.”
 
With support from the conservation community, in 2012 Oregon increased efforts to educate ranchers about the steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of conflict. Simple measures like burying dead cattle, keeping young calves and other vulnerable animals behind fences, and checking cattle more frequently have reduced conflict in Oregon, even as the number of wolves in the state has grown. In 2012, the state’s known wolf population grew from 29 to 46, and only four cows were lost to wolves.
 
“Oregon has a chance to learn from the mistakes of other states and become a model for how to balance conservation values with demands from the livestock industry,” said Steve Pedery, Conservation Director for Oregon Wild. “In the coming years, we look forward to working in Salem, at the federal level, and on the ground to advance wolf recovery and restore other important native species in our state.”
 
Wolf recovery remains popular in Oregon. When the state’s wolf plan was developed in 2005, a state poll showed that 70% of Oregonians supported wolf recovery. A public review of Wolf Plan in 2010 generated over 20,000 public comments. Over 90% were in favor of stronger protections for wolves.
 
While conflict surrounded wolf killing in 2011, other stories inspired hope for Oregon’s fragile recovery. A lone wolf left Northeast Oregon and gained international attention when he became the first wolf in Western Oregon since 1947, and then the first wolf in California in nearly a century. The wolf known to biologists as OR-7 and renamed Journey in an international naming contest is now back in Oregon, and has traveled over 3,000 miles in search of a mate.
 
“This agreement strengthens wolf protections throughout the state and sets in motion recovery across the rest of Oregon and the region,” said Josh Laughlin, Campaign Director for Cascadia Wildlands. “Wolves in the Pacific West are just beginning their historic recovery and will greatly benefit from this new management framework.”
 
The settling conservation organizations were represented by attorneys Nick Cady and Daniel Kruse.

Click here to read frequently asked questions about the settlement.
 
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