Red Tree Voles

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!

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
Dec16

Mt. June/Hardesty Mountain Roadless Area Threatened with Old-Growth Clearcutting

 
mt june

View from Mt. June

Some of our favorite hikes here at Cascadia Wildlands wind through the Hardesty Mountain Roadless Area just southeast of Eugene.  Hardesty is one of the closest old-growth, roadless areas you can access from Eugene, and is a favorite of hikers and mountain bikers alike.  We have worked for years to safeguard this area for its incredible values.
 
Over a decade ago, Cascadia Wildlands and our conservation allies led successful grassroots campaigns and called upon Rep. Peter DeFazio and other political leaders in Oregon to prevent destructive logging in this treasured area. Due to its ecological and recreational values, the Hardesty Mountain Roadless Area is currently being advocated for a Wilderness designation.
 
There is reason for our continued vigilance.  The Eugene Bureau of Land Management is proposing an old-growth clearcutting project, called "John's Last Stand" in the Hardesty Mountain Roadless Area, right next to the Mt. June hiking trail, and less than a 1/2 mile from Mt. June itself.  Cascadia Wildlands is appalled, and once again is asking for your help in calling upon our political leaders to prevent this reckless logging.
 
 
We are doing everything we can to halt this reckless sale, and if you have time, please reach out to these legislators by phone as well.
 
Rep. Peter DeFazio: 202-225-6416 (DC) or 541-465-6732 (Eugene)
Sen. Ron Wyden: 541-431-0229
Sen. Jeff Merkely: 541-465-6750
 
We again cannot thank you enough for your help and support.  This sale will be stopped.
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

White Castle in the News

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

Cascadia Wildlands Defeats White Castle Clearcutting in Court

Press Release: March 17, 2015

Contact: Nick Cady, Cascadia Wildlands, (314) 482-3746

Judge Rejects "Eco-Forestry" Clearcutting on O&C Lands

Controversial "variable retention regeneration harvest" clearcuts in White Castle timber sale declared illegal; conservationists win on all counts.

A US District Court judge has ruled in favor of white castle treesconservation groups Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands in their legal challenge of a controversial clearcut logging project on public lands in Douglas County. At stake in the case was the Bureau of Land Management’s “White Castle” logging project which proposed clearcutting 160 aces of 100-year old trees using a controversial methodology developed by Drs. Jerry Franklin and Norm Johnson referred to as “variable retention regeneration harvest” sometimes referred to as “eco-forestry.” In her ruling, Judge Ann Aiken found that the BLM’s environmental review fell far short of fully considering the full range of harm that could result from clearcutting.

“This ruling proves that BLM can’t just re-name a clearcut something else and then expect it to suddenly be acceptable,” said Sean Stevens, Executive Director of Oregon Wild. “The White Castle timber sale was a test to see if eco-forest clearcutting could pass legal muster or public scrutiny, and it failed.”

Attorney Jennifer Schwartz argued on behalf of the conservation plaintiffs and repeatedly highlighted the scientific dispute surrounding the project and “variable retention harvest,” especially its implementation in older forests and spotted owl critical habitat. The Court ultimately determined that “The [spotted owl’s] Recovery Plan, the [spotted owl’s] critical habitat proposal, comments from the public and scientists, and Franklin and Johnson's own reports demonstrated the existence of ‘a substantial dispute’ casting ‘serious doubt upon the reasonableness’ of BLM's decision to harvest forest stands over 80 years old.”

By the BLM’s own admission, the White Castle sale was intended as a prototype for greatly expanding clearcutting on other BLM O&C lands, a factor that weighed heavily in the judge’s ruling. The judge found the precedential nature of the project worthy of greater scrutiny: “Project materials describe the pilot projects as test of new harvest methods and ‘new policies’ that could supplant BLM's current ‘risk-adverse strategy’ of avoiding regeneration harvesting and other ‘active management’ methods.[] Approval of the White Castle Project will not have binding impact on future projects, but it will, by design, shape BLM forestry methods and strategies moving forward.

“The scariest part of this project was its potential to set the tone for logging across 2 million acres of Western Oregon BLM,” said Nick Cady, Legal Director of Cascadia Wildlands. “The project was mired in scientific uncertainty and was the obvious result of political pressure to bail out county politicians by returning clearcutting to our public forests. I hope this ruling convinces the BLM to revisit its intentions for our public lands.”

The proposed timber sale lies within publicly-owned forest in the South Myrtle Creek watershed, near the community of Canyonville. The Roseburg BLM District proposed the controversial “eco-forestry” logging method as justification to clearcut over 187 acres, including 160 acres of trees over a century old.

Bulldozing roads and other destructive activities associated with the project would also have targeted additional trees over 150 years old. Federal biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have acknowledged nearly 200 acres of habitat for threatened wildlife would be damaged or destroyed by the logging. In her ruling, the judge found the likely effects of this clearcutting to require the BLM to conduct a much more rigorous environmental analysis than they have done thus far.

buck rising white castleDespite the fact that BLM has been largely meeting its timber targets for the last 15 years, primarily through non-controversial thinning of young forests, the agency has recently pursued more controversial projects as a way to increase logging. BLM claimed that clearcutting the White Castle forest would benefit the environment by removing mature trees in order to favor shrubs and brush, even though such habitat is not rare like old forest. As part of the same planning process, Roseburg BLM carried out a similar and related clearcutting project in younger forests, known as Buck Rising. Conservationists did not challenge the Buck Rising project in court but they were not pleased with the results.

“BLM claims that since they intend to retain a few patches of standing trees , it isn't really a clearcut,” said Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild . “Anyone who has seen the aftermath of logging at Buck Rising would have a difficult time explaining the difference between acres of stumps and rutted earth created by eco-forestry and those created by old style clearcutting.”

 

A copy of the legal decision can be found here.

Photos of the White Castle forest can be found here. (please credit to Francis Eatherington)

Photos from the BLM's Buck Rising clearcuts can be found here. (please credit to Francis Eatherington)

Feb25

Trapper: Zombie Timber Sale

Eugene Weekly by Camilla Mortensen
February 21, 2013

The Trapper Timber Sale in the Willamette National Forest just won’t go away, Josh Laughlin of Cascadia Wildlands says. “This is a like a low-grade horror movie where the zombie keeps coming back from the grave.”

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is taking comments on the old-growth logging proposal’s latest iteration, which reduces the cutting from 149 acres to 44 acres and the proposed acres to be burned from 92 to 36, according to a press release from McKenzie River Ranger District.

The release says, “impacts to northern spotted owls will be significantly less than in the previous project.” Northern spotted owls are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and Laughlin says the area of the planned logging is “a real hotbed for red tree voles and northern spotted owl activity.” Red tree voles are eaten by spotted owls.

Trapper, which originated in the late ’90s, was sold to Seneca-Jones Timber in 2003 and has been highly contentious ever since. Trapper is north of the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest, and in 2010 scientists working there wrote a letter saying the logging, which had been proposed as part of study designed to use timber harvest and fire to emulate natural disturbances, “will not yield stand-level lessons of high value for contemporary logging practices.”

In 2011, a judge ordered the USFS to “review the Trapper Project and determine impacts to the northern spotted owls and the learning value of the project, as well as to bring the project up to changing standards for environmental review,” the McKenzie River Ranger District says, and the new proposal is the result. The district says the USFS “is proposing to complete this portion of the project in order to respect the contractual commitments with the sale purchaser.”

Seneca, the purchaser, has been hotly protested by Eugene activists for its proposed logging of Trapper as well as its biomass burning plant in west Eugene.

Laughlin says of the new Trapper proposal, “We will once again tell the Forest Service that the old trees in the beloved McKenzie watershed are best left standing for the recreation, air and water they provide and the unique and imperiled species they house.”

Comments on the project are due March 11. To comment go to www.fs.usda.gov/Willamette and click “Trapper.”

Sep26

Press Release: Lawsuit Filed to Protect Threatened North Oregon Coast Red Tree Vole

For immediate release
September 26, 2012

Contact: Josh Laughlin, Cascadia Wildlands, (541) 434-1463
              Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
              Reed Wilson, Benton Forest Coalition, (541) 754-3254

EUGENE, Ore.- Three conservation organizations filed a legal challenge today to halt the controversial Rickard Creek timber sale on Salem Bureau of Land Management lands southwest of Corvallis, Oregon. Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity and Benton Forest Coalition assert the BLM failed to protect habitat for the threatened red tree vole in violation of the Northwest Forest Plan and National Forest Management Act. The timber sale would clearcut 92 acres and thin 19 acres of mature forests in the Marys River watershed.

“The BLM is bringing us back to the Dark Ages with a proposal to clearcut our older public forestlands,” says Josh Laughlin, campaign director with Cascadia Wildlands. “Clearcutting only invites controversy, and the public deserves much better.”

Under the Northwest Forest Plan, the red tree vole, a nocturnal member of the rodent family that spends nearly its entire life in trees, is recognized as a “survey and manage” species. That status requires the BLM to survey for the species when it proposes a logging project in its habitat and create protected buffers when the species is located. Even though the vole is known to occur in the Rickard Creek timber sale, the BLM has not created any protective buffers, instead arguing that the area is a “non high priority” site for the vole.  

This runs directly counter to a recent finding by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the North Oregon Coast population of the red tree vole, whose nests have been found throughout the Rickard Creek timber sale, warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act and that limited federal lands within the range of the population provide a majority of remaining habitat for the vole.

“The red tree vole is yet another species we're at risk of losing because of logging of older forests in Oregon,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “In planning the Rickard Creek timber sale, the BLM is failing to follow the Northwest Forest Plan and threatening the survival of the red tree vole.”

For the past five years, the majority of the Salem BLM's timber program has been focused on thinning in young plantation forests. Plaintiffs have not challenged those kinds of projects, and the BLM has been able to meet or exceed its timber targets. In fiscal year 2011 the Salem BLM District sold 50 million board feet of timber with a timber target of 35 million board feet, far surpassing its goal. The Rickard Creek timber sale, however, employs the controversial practice of clearcutting of mature forest that are now providing habitat for the tree vole.  

"The Rickard Creek project is surrounded by private lands that have been extensively clearcut,” said Reed Wilson of the Benton Forest Coalition. “We believe the BLM should conserve older forest as critical habitat for the red tree vole and other species that depend on public lands to survive."

Red tree voles are considered the most arboreal mammal in all of North America. In October 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that tree voles in the North Oregon Coast, from the Siuslaw River to the Columbia River and from the coast to the Willamette Valley, constitute what federal biologists call a “distinct population segment” and that this population warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act. That protection is currently precluded by work on listing of other species, and the vole is considered a candidate for protection. A primary basis for the Fish and Wildlife Service's determination that the vole could wait for protection were safeguards afforded to the species on federal lands, like those found on the Salem BLM District where the Rickard Creek timber sale is located.  

Red tree voles are dependent on forest structures typically associated with older, unmanaged forests – broken and forked tree tops and wide branches. Recent North Oregon Coast surveys failed to locate voles in places where they were once common, particularly on state and private lands. The species was initially petitioned for Endangered Species Act protection by the Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands and other conservation organizations in 2007.

The Plaintiffs are being represented by Nick Cady of Cascadia Wildlands and Dan Snyder of the Law Offices of Charles M. Tebbutt, P.C.

 

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