National Forests

Oct13

On Westerman, Walden, and Kids: Contemplating Oregon’s Fire Season from Drake Peak Lookout

by Gabe Scott, Cascadia Wildlands In-House Counsel
 
I’m sitting in the Drake Peak fire lookout tower in Oregon's Fremont-Winema National Forest for a long weekend with my young kids, taking in the wind-swept views while they explore the mountain, and watching a forest fire burn. As the sun sets it makes Mount Shasta glow fire-red in the distance, while an apocalyptic plume of smoke from the forest takes on a feathery pink. The sky darkens, and the kids come inside for food and stories. The fire casts an eerie glow in the night, and we wonder about it.
IMG_2682
 
I’ve been wondering a lot about forest fires this past year, since moving back to Oregon from south-central Alaska. Just about everything that happens in forest policy here revolves around fire, one way or another.
 
Oregonians talk a lot about the rain, but really it’s the fires that we’ve found distinctive. As important and ubiquitous as fire is, the issue is an incredibly difficult thing to talk about or understand.
 
So let’s sit around the cooling flames for a story. The kids want to understand what is happening, and I want to be able to explain it to them.
 
In the Pacific Northwest, the story about fire is a profound one: it’s about birth and death, money and power, and a human animal who is deeply confused, scared, and mixed up about his place on the land. There are heroes and villains in this story. And you get to create your own ending.
 
Fire is scary
There is something primal and apocalyptic about the experience of fire.
 
Terror of fire is something we share with other animals. Bears, deer and rabbits flee from fire in a panic. It may be a trick of the eye, but the way big trees catch fire, their branches seem to shrink away from the flames, dancing convulsively as though the tree itself summons one last panicked attempt to run from the flames.
 
Fire is an enemy of “man.” It is an enemy of property, and of permanence. Like a hurricane, or a cold and stormy sea.
 
Heck of a fire season, again
At least, it seems like it has been. Ash has been falling from the sky in Seattle, Portland, and Eugene. Even more so in the southern Oregon Cascades and the Siskiyous. The sun and moon have cast an eerie, muted orange. Air quality warnings have flashed red exclamation points on our phones, and out-of-town relatives have inquired about our safety.
 
But was this a “bad” fire year?
 
Fire has burned across over a half-million acres of forest this summer in Oregon.
 
That’s a lot of acres.
 
But then again, Oregon is a big place, and fire ecologists have learned that just about all of our forests burn at one time or another. In the scheme of things, even a half-million acres of fire—a lot of fire!— isn’t unusual.
 
Whether a half-million acres burning is a lot, or not, sort of depends on what timeframe you are using. In the past fifty years, statistically there has been a huge increase in the acres of forest burning in wildfires. Look at the past hundred years though, and you can see that we need additional context.
 
Charts-dellasala (1)_Page_1 2
(Source: Dominick DellaSala, Geos Institute, testimony US House Natural Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, September 27, 2017).
 
That dip in the middle of the graph has resulted in what they call a “fire debt” on the forest. It is routine in the public land timber sales Cascadia Wildlands reviews to find the agency biologists bemoaning a fire-starved forest stand.
 
The “problem” of forest fires, a scientist would tell you, is a social problem, not an information problem. Two true things are in conflict: (1) ecologically, fire is beneficial and often necessary on many of Cascadia’s forests, and (2) humans, like (as) animals, do not tolerate fire in their midst. 
 
Forest fires (usually) don’t kill the forest
Exploring Drake Peak with the kids, everywhere we went had been touched by fire. And it was beautiful. It is this way throughout Oregon, Washington and California: luxurious green forests grown from carpets of black ash.
 
While we speak and think in terms of fire “consuming” and “destroying” forests, this is not the case.
 
On the Eagle Creek fire in the Columbia River Gorge for example, even in places that had been glowing hellish red in high-intensity conflagrations this summer, many of the trees seem to have survived, and lots of patches of forest were left unburned. Even as the flames burned, ODFW was reassuring the public that wildlife and vegetation will adapt and thrive.
 
Cascadia’s forests are born of fire
Fire has always been in this landscape. Without it, the forests could not be. In different ways at different times, the fires of centuries past created the forest, wetlands and wildlife we love.
 
Ecologically, fire is hugely beneficial. The science is remarkably consistent. Here in Oregon the world’s foremost scientific experts on fire ecology are working and watching, eagerly studying this incredible process. To a person, they speak and think of forest fires as an integral part of the forest. To ecologists who study these things, fires are approached with something more like reverence than fear.  
 
The lessons they’ve learned are familiar. Fires clear out underbrush, thin forests, favor some species over others, and provide homes for cavity-nesters like owls. Every schoolchild now learns the story of the Yellowstone fire, and how it unleashed an ecological cascade of restoration for the forest and wildlife.
 
Scientists now are studying how fire helps wild salmon and trout. Earlier this summer a Pacific Northwest Research Station report came out describing ways that wildlfires help wild salmon and trout thrive.
 
As it turns out, forests “dying” in fires are more like forests “dying” in the fall. It’s part of a cycle, not the end of a line.
 
The war on fire
Cold science is one thing, but hot passion is another. Too often the latter which tends to drive human behavior.
 
One result of those two true things— inevitability and fear of fire—is a hugely aggressive (and expensive, and dangerous) fire-fighting effort. Forest fires, being as ordinary a part of the seasonal cycle as rain, inevitably happen. We try to put just about all of them out.
 
We’ve gotten very, very good at it. Huge jet airplanes drop million-dollar loads of orange fire-retardant. A literal army of firefighters attack blazes with shovels, chainsaws, backfires, firebreaks, bulldozers, and water.
 
One result is that, thanks to firefighters, we have fewer fires. The small ones get put out.
 
As good as our firefighters are at what they do, did you know that they have never— not even once— been able to put out a large, intense wildfire? It’s true.
 
To satisfy the insatiable public need to fight every fire, firefighters are routinely asked to take incredible risks. I doubt I would have the courage to take half as much risk to save my own home from burning, as some of these hotshots take trying to save remote forests from burning.  
 
While the safety culture is strong, especially among firefighting leadership, the war on fire comes with heavy casualties. Foremost are the lost firefighters.  
 
Aggressively fighting fire also has an ecological cost. For example, this summer at Breitenbush Hot Springs in Oregon's Willamette National Forest, fire crews cut a fireline through a beloved old-growth hiking trail.
 
Logging the forest to save it
To a hammer every solution looks like a nail.
 
And to generations of foresters trained in cutting trees, the solution to forest fires has always been to cut the forest down.
 
It is routine in the timber sales we monitor at Cascadia Wildlands to find the agencies logging the forest to save it before it burns. Or, after it burns, they’ll want to “salvage” it.
 
Both notions are applied by with an un-ironic stubbornness that is almost comical.
 
There are grains of truth, and much of our day-to-day work consists of finding them. In the wildland-urban interface—where homes and property are built in forests that need to burn—thinning and strategic clearing can be very effective at saving property. And on some forest stands, careful thinning and prescribed burning is effective at both ecological restoration, and providing jobs and timber for mills. Cascadia Wildlands always tries to support these win-win solutions.
 
But while some work the ideas out carefully, politicians and the timber industry love to come in shouting emergency when fires are burning.
 
So we get things like the barely disguised propaganda video put out by the industry in Douglas County, questionably using taxpayer dollars. 
 
Or we get things like Rep. Greg Walden's (R-OR) “Clearcut the Gorge” bill, which suspends all environmental laws to expedite clearcutting of the Gorge after this summer's Eagle Creek fire.
 
Or, even worse, the Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR) bill, with the Orwellian name “Resilient Federal Forests Act,” a salvage rider on steroids that would exempt massive logging, up to 30,000 acres, from environmental laws and careful planning.
 
We’ll be busy fighting these outrageous proposals in the months and years to come.
 
Drake Peak
Back to my fire lookout on Drake Peak. How to explain the sinister, burning forest to my curious children? What are we seeing? Is this Bambi’s home being destroyed?
 
I really don’t know what is the best way to think about fire, let alone to explain it. Emotionally they are scary. Intellectually they are essential and life-giving. The picture gets more complicated when you factor in global warming, and human developments concentrated in inconvenient places.
 
Whatever the right way, we surely do know that the wrong way to think about fire is to panic.
 
It is panic that gives the log-it-to-save it idea traction. It is panic that causes distant politicians to see burned forests as destroyed lifeless tracts that may as well be clearcut.
 
As for the best way to talk about fire, we’d love to hear your ideas in comments. The best I could come up with for my kids were two imperfect analogies:
 
A forest fire is like a rainstorm. It’s an uncomfortable thing that happens in nature. It is dangerous, and can even kill you if you aren’t prepared. But it also makes the land green, and without it we would die.
 
A forest fire is like autumn, but on a larger time scale. As in autumn the leaves die and animals disappear, but in a cyclical way, not a linear one. It is the kind of death that blurs into birth. For a forest, a fire is a turning of the wheel, not the end of the road.
Aug07

Climbing the Quartz Timber Sale

Reed Crossbow

The Quartz Timber sale is an 847-acre logging project set to take place in the Umpqua National Forest. The timber sale proposes to commercially log and burn older forest in the Cottage Grove Ranger District. We believe that insufficient consideration was given to the presence of imperiled spotted owls and red tree voles, both species dependent on older forests to survive. We met up with Reed Wilson from NEST (Northwest Ecosystem Survey Team) and the Benton Forest Coalition, and he walked us through how to survey for red tree voles.  Surveyors use a crossbow or a bow to shoot a line over large lateral branches and then climb up around 200 feet to look for red tree voles nests.

When the Forest Service conducted surveys, it reported only a couple abandoned red tree vole nests and dismissed the project area as unimportant for the species. Reed and his team over the course of a year found more than 70 active nests in the same areas. The Forest Service has now changed its tune, arguing that these forests are excellent vole habitat and because the species is thriving, there is no need to protect the voles in the Quartz Timber Sale area. 

Needless to say that the work that Reed and NEST do is imperative to the protection and understanding of these treasured old growth forest ecosystems. We are incredibly lucky to have them helping us defend Cascadia’s wild ecosystems in the forest, in the courts, and in the streets.  We will keep you posted on the Quartz Timber Sale.

Check out this short video on the red tree vole survey process!

Aug07

Deep Thoughts with Cascadia’s Summer Interns

Cascadia Raft Trip

Corinne Milinovich and Kristen Sabo, 2017 Summer Legal Interns

The 2017 Cascadia Wildlands summer was filled with countless Oregon adventures, great conversations, and monumental educational growth for us both. We had the privilege of drafting complaints and settlement memos, executing public information requests, drafting litigation memos, refining our legal research skills, drafting a northern spotted owl uplisting petition, and sitting in on settlement meetings and objection resolution meetings with government agencies. 

We were lucky enough to table for Cascadia Wildlands at multiple Oregon events, including the Northwest String Summit bluegrass festival outside of Portland and the Oregon Country Fair. We connected with new and old Cascadia Wildlands supporters, discussed the LNG pipeline, wolf populations in Oregon, and the Elliott State Forest victory.

Overall the summer was a huge success, and there were many highlights for both of us. In particular, the settlement meetings and legal drafting stood out. It was such a privilege to be at the table during the settlement meetings. Those experiences are truly invaluable and instrumental to our growth and understanding of the environmental legal world.

Throughout the summer, Nick gave us the opportunity to experience the Cascadia Wildlands litigation process on multiple levels and see full circle how an environmental lawsuit is successfully executed. As up-and-coming environmental lawyers, this summer internship has shaped our future, reinforcing our chosen career paths.
Our summer legal internship with Cascadia Wildlands allowed us to be present for tangible environmental victories, including but not limited to: saving the Elliott State Forest, preventing old-growth timber from being cut, preserving endangered species habitat and the passing of a suction dredge reform bill that prohibited suction dredging in essential salmonid habitat.

These victories, conversations with Cascadia supporters, and our expanded knowledge of the environmental legal world will guide us into our next year of law school. It was truly an honor to be a part of the Cascadia Wildlands family, this summer was an invaluable experience. A big thank you to Nick, Josh, Gabe, Kaley, Luke, and the Cascadia Wildlands community for an unforgettable summer!

Jul17

Field Checking the Quartz Timber Sale

 
The Quartz Timber Sale is an 847-acre logging project set to take place on our public lands in the Umpqua National Forest on the Cottage Grove Ranger District.  The proposed sale will commercially log and then burn forests up to 130 years in age.  Folks here at Cascadia were concerned about the potential short thrift given to the presence of northern spotted owls and red tree voles, both imperiled, old-forest dependent species.  We decided to get into the woods and see for ourselves what this patch of forest had to offer.
 
On our ground-truthing mission, we snaked our way through low elevation young forest.  As the road tangled its way through the trees and climbed in elevation, we came to a more traversable and level section of ground.  There we were able to hike through older parcels of the forest, lumbering around creek ravines and marveling at the larger old-growth trees that bared the scars of long-forgotten fires.  The combination of old-growth trees and younger trees creates a habitat that is ideal to many native Oregon species, including owls and voles. 
 
We concluded that it would be a shame to see these beautiful sections of forests heavily logged and roaded to facilitate commercial timber harvest on our public lands.  We hope you folks feel the same, and we encourage all of you to check out the sale yourselves.  Details on the Quartz Timber Sale are available here on the Forest Service website. Feel free to let the Forest Service know how you feel about this project.
 
Luke Mobley, Cascadia Summer Intern
Apr03

Press Release: Judge Says Timber Sale Near Crater Lake Could Harm Wildlife

For Immediate Release
March 21, 2017
Contacts:
 
Robin Meacher, Cascadia Wildlands, (541) 434-1463, robin@cascwild.org
Doug Heiken, Oregon Wild, (541) 344-0675, dh@oregonwild.org
John Mellgren, Western Environmental Law Center, (541) 485-2471, mellgren@westernlaw.org
 
Eugene, Ore. – A U.S. District Court in Eugene has issued an order requiring the Umpqua National Forest to more comprehensively study environmental impacts of the proposed Loafer Timber Project timber sale. The Forest Service must complete the study and weigh its findings before proceeding with the timber sale, in an area about 60 miles east of Roseburg, Oregon.
 
Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild, represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, challenged the project in court last June. The groups sought to prevent harm to important roadless areas that are part of the Crater Lake Wilderness citizen’s proposal and vital northern spotted owl habitat.
 
Judge Russo determined the proposed logging project would have significant effects on the environment and the Forest Service should have prepared an environmental impact statement before allowing the project to move forward. In addition, the judge also found that the Forest Service failed to conduct meaningful analysis on the characteristics of the Loafer project’s roadless areas, including on more than 1,000 acres that would no longer be eligible for consideration as wilderness by Congress. These roadless areas are a part of the Crater Lake Wilderness Proposal.
 
 “The Umpqua’s forests are highly valued by the local community for quiet recreation and wildlife habitat. Judge Russo’s recommended ruling is a validation of the concerns continually raised by the community as to the impacts of logging in spotted owl habitat and undeveloped areas,” said Robin Meacher, Wildlands Campaign director for Cascadia Wildlands and an attorney on the case. “This is an acknowledgement that impacts to threatened species and our limited amount of undeveloped areas require in-depth analysis before they can move forward.”
 
Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild have been engaged in the Loafer Timber Project for years. The first version of the project was stalled in 2014 when the Umpqua National Forest withdrew its decision after being sued by Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild.
 
"Not only would this timber sale impact popular recreation opportunities on the North Umpqua Trail and Umpqua Hot Springs, but it bulldozes its way into remote backcountry areas that deserve to be Wilderness," said Doug Heiken, conservation and restoration coordinator at Oregon Wild. "This decision validates the tens of thousands of Oregonians who have called on Senator Wyden and Congress for greater protections for the wildlands around Crater Lake."
 
 The final version of the project included 1,400 acres of logging in the area encompassing the Umpqua Hot Springs, the Dread and Terror Ridge, and Thorne Prairie Region. The project was slated to downgrade and reduce northern spotted owl habitat in the 22,600-acre project region and allowed for the killing of four spotted owls. These impacts were part of the judge’s findings that the Forest Service erred in not conducting the thorough environmental analysis needed to truly understand the project's potential impacts. As a result of the decision, the Forest Service is prohibited from implementing the Loafer project until and unless it complies with its obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act.
 
 “Judge Russo’s decision emphasizes that the Loafer project will have significant impacts on important roadless areas and designated critical habitat for the northern spotted owl,” said John Mellgren, staff attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “As such, it is vitally important that the project be evaluated in a more thorough and robust environmental impact statement before additional taxpayer dollars are spent degrading these important features of Oregon’s natural environment.”
 
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Nov10

Science Review Begins for Northwest Forest Plan Revision

For Immediate Release
November 10, 2016
 
Northwest Forest Plan science synthesis review begins
Will help inform forest management efforts in Pacific Northwest
 
Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, 314-482-3746, nick@cascwild.org
Susan Jane Brown, Western Environmental Law Center, 503-914-1323, brown@westernlaw.org 
 
Portland, Ore.–Today, the United States Forest Service released for public and heightened peer review its anticipated science synthesis, which will inform the need to revise the renowned Northwest Forest Plan. The Forest Service is currently taking public comment on the synthesis through January 6, 2017, and the agency will host a public forum on December 6, 2016 in Portland, Oregon at the Doubletree Hotel from 8:30am to 1pm.  
 
“We have learned a great deal about the public lands encompassed by the Northwest Forest Plan in the past 20 years of its application,” said Nick Cady with Cascadia Wildlands. “While new information has surfaced – including, importantly, the impacts of climate change – many values endure, such as the importance of clean water, iconic wildlife such as salmon, and thriving forest ecosystems to the residents of the Pacific Northwest. These principles remain as sound today as they were when the plan was written.”
 
The topics addressed in the new science synthesis include old growth forest ecosystems, threatened and endangered terrestrial and aquatic species, climate change, socioeconomic considerations, scientific uncertainty, and restoration strategies, among many others. The Forest Service expects to publish a general technical report that encompasses the science synthesis. In addition to public review and comment on the synthesis, dozens of experts and practitioners will be conducting a peer review process which will also inform the Forest Service’s revision effort.
 
“We anticipate the synthesis will engage public interest throughout the region and we look forward to providing thoughtful feedback to the Forest Service as it considers the need to improve the scientifically-sound, ecologically-credible, and legally-defensible Northwest Forest Plan,” said Susan Jane Brown, staff attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “Through this feedback, we hope to help ensure that our treasured Pacific Northwest forests and rivers are managed to best meet the needs of our region.”
 
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Jun21

Greater Protections Sought for Marbled Murrelets in Oregon

For Immediate Release
June 21, 2016
 
Contact: Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, 314-482-3746
             Tierra Curry, Center for Biological Diversity, 928-522-3681
              Steve Pedery, Oregon Wild, 503-283-6343 ext. 212
              Bob Sallinger, Portland Audubon, 503-380-9728
 
Greater Protections Sought for Threatened Marbled Murrelets in Oregon
 
PORTLAND, Ore.– Conservation groups submitted petitions today asking the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and the Oregon Board of Forestry to take new measures to better identify and protect important forest areas for protected marbled murrelets. The petition to ODFW requests that the agency “uplist” the marbled murrelet to “endangered” status under the Oregon Endangered Species Act (OESA). The petition to the Board of Forestry asks the agency to identify and protect important forest sites critical to the species’ survival.
 
The agencies are required to work together to recover murrelets. Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild, Coast Range Forest Watch, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Audubon Society of Portland and the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club signed on to the petition, citing Oregon’s weak Forest Practices Act and the continuing clear-cutting of the sea-bird’s habitat. While murrelets have been listed as a “threatened” species for nearly 30 years, Oregon has never developed a plan to recover them or protect the old-growth forests where they live.
 
“Because murrelets are currently listed as ‘threatened’ under state law, Oregon has a duty to protect and recover this species and its habitat,” said Nick Cady, Legal Director at Cascadia Wildlands. “Not only has the state failed to take any meaningful measures to recover and protect murrelets, the state itself, through aggressive clearcut logging on its state forests, is primarily responsible for the recent dramatic loss in breeding habitat. ‘Endangered’ protections will not only more accurately reflect how vulnerable Oregon’s murrelets and old-growth forests are, but also ensure the development of a plan to protect and recover these elusive sea-birds and their habitat.”
 
The marbled murrelet was originally listed under the Oregon Endangered Species Act in 1987. Despite this listing and commitment to recovery, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has not developed survival guidelines for the species, leaving the murrelet in limbo with no enforceable mechanism from Oregon to help their population recover. The Oregon Board of Forestry has similarly neglected responsibilities to identify and protect forest areas critical to murrelet recovery on state and private lands.
 
Clearcutting on private lands to export raw logs to Asia, and clearcutting of older forests and potential habitat on state lands has fragmented Oregon’s coastal rainforests and put the bird at even greater risk of extinction. Conservation efforts from these two agencies should result in the identification of critical habitat areas for the species and compel the development of rules to protect these areas.
 
“For the last 30 years, Oregon’s plan for marbled murrelets has been to look the other way while their habitat is clear-cut,” said Oregon Wild Conservation Director Steve Pedery. “Oregonians expect better from our governor and state agencies. They need to develop a plan to protect murrelets and their habitat, and they need to stand up to pressure from the clearcut lobby and the county politicians who do their bidding.”
 
Murrelets only nest and roost in old-growth and mature forests — forest that are at risk from proposals to increase logging on Bureau of Land Management lands in western Oregon, and from Oregon’s efforts to ramp up logging on state forests and privatize the 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest east of Coos Bay. The murrelet monitoring report released last month by leading murrelet biologists stressed the urgent need to “arrest the loss of suitable habitat on all lands, especially on non-federal lands in the relatively near term.”
 
“We live in a state where Oregonians treasure our old-growth forests and wildlife, but where there is a growing gap between the public’s values and the actions of our politicians and state agencies,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “State regulators and Gov. Brown have a legal and moral responsibility to protect murrelets and their forest habitat.”
 
According to statute, ODFW has, as its primary mission, an obligation “to prevent the serious depletion of any indigenous species.” However, the agency currently spends 2 percent of its budget on conservation, and in recent years has come under increasing criticism for prioritizing logging, grazing and other extractive interests over its conservation mission.
 
"Oregonians treasure our old-growth forests and wildlife, and the state has an obligation to conserve these iconic species and habitats for the enjoyment of present and future generations,” said Chris Smith with the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Our management policies and practices need to align with these values and ODFW's responsibility."
 
“Marbled murrelet populations are spiraling downward in the Pacific Northwest and the State's outdated clearcutting policies are a big part of the problem," said Audubon Conservation Director, Bob Sallinger. "If we are going to have any hope of recovering this species, the State needs to step-up and recognize its responsibility to protect marbled murrelets and other old-growth dependent species."
 
Background: The marbled murrelet is a member of the auk family, which includes birds like auklets, guillemots and puffins. These sea-birds get their name from the marbling pattern of black, gray and white that covers their backs during the non-breeding season. When murrelets are breeding, they molt to a plain brown plumage. They form lifelong breeding pairs and feed on small, schooling fish, such as herring.
 
Populations of marbled murrelets are closely tied to the amount of old forest habitat available for nesting. The central Oregon coast is one of the last strongholds for murrelets. While forest practices have changed on federal lands managed by the Siuslaw National Forest, scientists warn that more needs to be done to protect murrelet habitat on state and private lands where logging practices continue to indiscriminately remove nesting habitat.
 
Expected Timeline: ODFW must acknowledge receipt of the petition within 10 working days, and determine within two years whether the marbled murrelet warrants “endangered” status. The Board of Forestry has 90 days to either begin rulemaking or deny the petition.
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Mar29

U.S. Supreme Court Denies Effort to Overturn Tongass National Forest Protections

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 29, 2016

CONTACTS

Gabe Scott | Cascadia Wildlands | gscott@cascwild.org | (907) 491-0856
Tom Waldo | Earthjustice | twaldo@earthjustice.org | (907) 500‐7123
Niel Lawrence | Natural Resources Defense Council | nlawrence@nrdc.org | (360) 534‐9900
Buck Lindekugel | Southeast Alaska Conservation Council | buck@seacc.org | (907) 586‐6942
Catalina Tresky | Defenders of Wildlife | ctresky@defenders.org | (202) 772‐0253
Virginia Cramer | Sierra Club | virginia.cramer@sierraclub.org | (804) 519‐8449

U.S. Supreme Court Denies Effort to Overturn Tongass National Forest Protections

Court leaves rules in place that protect Tongass rainforest
wildlands from damaging logging, road construction

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear a last‐ditch effort by the State of Alaska to exempt America’s largest national forest from a national rule protecting undeveloped, road‐free national forest areas from logging and road construction. The State sought to overturn a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that kept the Roadless Area Conservation Rule in effect in the vast Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska. The Ninth Circuit agreed with a federal District Court in Alaska that the Bush administration improperly exempted the Tongass from that landmark conservation measure.

“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 the recognition that it is a privilege, not a burden, to conserve these national treasures for future generations.”

A coalition including the Organized Village of Kake (a federally recognized Alaska Native tribe), tourism businesses, and conservationists joined the federal government in urging the Supreme Court to leave the lower court rulings intact.

“Today’s court order is great news for Southeast Alaska and for all those who visit this spectacular place,” said Earthjustice attorney Tom Waldo. “The remaining wild and undeveloped parts of the Tongass are important wildlife habitat and vital to local residents for hunting, fishing, recreation, and tourism, the driving forces of the local economy. The Supreme Court’s decision means that America’s biggest national forest—the Tongass—will continue to benefit from a common‐sense rule that applies nationwide.”

“It feels terrific to put this case to bed once and for all,” added Niel Lawrence, senior attorney and Alaska Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Punching clearcuts and logging roads into America’s last great rainforest wildland produced nothing but controversy, conflict, and uncertainty. The region can now move ahead on a path that benefits from and sustains the fabulous natural values that attract people to the Tongass. And all Americans can celebrate, knowing that we’ll pass on the crown jewel of national forests to future generations as wild and wonderful as it is today.”

“Southeast Alaska has moved on,” said Buck Lindekugel, Grassroots Attorney for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. “Clearcutting old‐growth forests in the remote wildlands of our region, with expensive new logging roads no one can afford to maintain, is a thing of the past. We are pleased to see the Supreme Court put this issue to rest and call on the State of Alaska to do the same.”

“The Supreme Court’s decision today is a victory for wildlife in the Tongass National Forest, the state of Alaska, the region and the nation,” said Peter Nelson, senior policy advisor for federal lands for Defenders of Wildlife. “The Roadless Rule protects the wildlands that form the heart of America’s largest national forest within the most expansive temperate rainforest in the world. Future generations will now have the opportunity to experience the majesty of this ecosystem and the salmon, bears, wolves, birds and the myriad wildlife that depend on it.”

“The Roadless Rule protects our intact ancient forests that salmon, bears, and wolves depend upon. Alaska’s temperate rainforest is a treasure and today’s decision will help keep the Tongass protected from more logging and destruction,” said Marc Fink, Senior Attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

“We're pleased to see the Roadless Rule upheld again. Over the past decade we’ve seen that the rule works. It has protected millions of acres of forests across the country, ensuring that both wildlife and American families have space to live and explore. In the face of a rapidly changing climate, protecting forests like the Tongass is even more important," said Alli Harvey, with the Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign in Alaska. "It's common sense to protect this wild national icon for future generations to enjoy."

Background

The so‐called “Roadless Rule” was designed to protect “large, relatively undisturbed landscapes” in national forests from logging roads and clear‐cuts, while allowing other economic development — including hydropower projects, transmission lines, tourism, federally‐financed public roads, and even mining — to continue.

Today’s ruling is good news for the many residents of the region and local businesses who use and depend on the Tongass’ outstanding natural values, as well as visitors who come to see America’s last great rainforest, teeming with fish and wildlife that thrive in its undeveloped roadless areas. Little practical change is expected, however, since even when the Bush‐era exemption was in effect, cost and controversy kept almost all logging out of roadless areas. And last year, a federal advisory committee including representatives of the timber industry and the State formally and unanimously recommended against further logging of those wildlands.

The 17 million‐acre Tongass spans 500 miles of coastal Southeast Alaska, encompassing alpine meadows, deep fjords, calving glaciers, dense old‐growth rainforest, and over 1,000 islands and islets. After much debate and hundreds of thousands of comments, in 2001, the Agriculture Department decided that the Roadless Rule should apply to the Tongass but included special measures to blunt the impact of the rule on Alaska’s timber industry. Not applying the rule, the department found, “would risk the loss of important roadless values” in the Tongass. When the Bush administration reversed course and tried to exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule, it relied on factual findings at odds with those that justified its original decision and ignored the economic mitigation package for the Tongass. It asserted, without support, that the rule was not needed to protect Tongass wildlands and would cause widespread economic hardship.

The Ninth Circuit’s ruling — and today’s decision by the Supreme Court not to review that ruling — reinforced the settled rule that federal agencies cannot arbitrarily change policies and ignore previous factual findings simply because a new president has taken office.

Attorneys from Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council represent the following groups in the case: 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, Sierra Club, and Cascadia Wildlands.

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Jan14

Stand Up for Public Lands!

In the midst of the ridiculous scene unfolding at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, bigger, darker, and more intelligent forces are working to give away our public lands. 

mt juneOur public lands, our National Forests, our Wildlife Refuges, our National Parks, our Wild and Scenic Rivers, these are cherished and revered places across the Northwest.  They provide so many different values for so many different people and communities. However, consistent efforts driven by the oil and gas industry to give away these lands are gaining traction and need to be met with staunch opposition from the communities that love and thrive off these public treasures.

The recent occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by militant extremists is part of this movement to give away our public lands.  With these lands ceded to local control, all semblances of science-based management and conservation will be replaced with aggressive resource extraction at the cost of our local communities, our economies, clean water, and recreation.

The actions of these extremists is being capitalized upon by industry and their political puppets, and proposals continue to be rolled out to blatantly steal these lands from the American people.

Stand up for our Public Lands, and Loudly Voice your Support!

Contact your local representatives, your mayors, your city council members, tell them you support public lands and that your community should as well.  Public rallies are being planned across the Pacific Northwest in communities big and small across Oregon and Washington.  Make signs, break out the costumes, let us hear your high school marching band tuba!  It is time to show this nation how we feel about our public forests, mountains, and rivers.

Jan14

Public Lands Rallies Planned Across Oregon

#RefugeRally Announced for Tuesday, Jan 19th
Public will gather to support Malheur refuge, celebrate national public lands
 
3.10.10_D7C3745OREGON/WASHINGTON- Rallies supporting Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and public lands will be held across Oregon and Washington Tuesday, January 19th at noon.
 
The public is invited to join this statewide event expressing appreciation for national public lands, their public servant caretakers, and the positive collaborative efforts between refuge officials, ranchers, environmentalists, and Native Americans that have been underway on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for a decade. Speakers will highlight the importance of protecting special places like the Malheur NWR that provide integral wildlife habitat, clean water, climate change mitigation, and recreational opportunities available as a benefit to all Americans.
 
Events are listed below, with details and more events across the state currently being planned. Participants can contact Cascadia Wildlands to receive up-to-date event information, and follow the conversation using #RefugeRally.  This page will continue to be updated.
 
Because of the volatile situation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, public lands supporters are strongly discouraged from visiting Harney County at this time.
 
Unless otherwise specified, all events will take place at noon:
 
Eugene
Old Federal Building
211 E. 7th Ave, Eugene
 
Press Contacts:
Oregon Wild – Doug Heiken (541-344-0675) dh@oregonwild.org
Cascadia Wildlands – Nick Cady (314) 482-3746 nick@cascwild.org
Center for Biological Diversity – Jared Margolis (802) 310-4054 jmargolis@biologicaldiversity.org
 
***Also in Eugene, Cascadia Wildlands will be hosting a sign-making party on Monday night prior to the rally.  The event will take place at Cascadia Wildlands office at 1247 Willamette Street in Eugene at 5:30pm.  Pizza and beverages will be provided, come help us think up some clever slogans!  More on that event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/446690202205647/
 
Portland
Holladay Park
NE 11th Ave, Portland
 
Press Contacts:
Oregon Wild – Arran Robertson (971) 241-0103 ar@oregonwild.org
Portland Audubon – Bob Sallinger 503 380 -9728 bsallinger@audubonportland.org
Center for Biological Diversity – Tierra Curry (928) 522-3681 tcurry@biologicaldiversity.org
 
Bend
Riverfront Plaza
Brooks St, Bend
 
Press Contact
Oregon Natural Desert Assoc – Dan Morse, (541) 330-2638 dmorse@onda.org
 
La Grande
Pro-Public Lands Potluck
105 Fir St Suite #327
 
Press Contact: Hells Canyon Preservation Council – Darilyn Parry Brown (541) 963-3950 darilyn@hellscanyon.org
 
Seattle:
Federal Building / GSA
Seattle’s Henry M. Jackson Federal Building, 915 2nd Ave, Seattle, WA 98104
             
           Press Contact: Conservation Northwest – Chase Gunnel (206) 675-9747
 
Corvallis:
TBD
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