Monday, February 22, 2010

HCPC Takes a Stand in Opposition to Senator Wyden’s Eastside Forest Bill

After some serious consideration, HCPC has decided to come out in opposition to Senator Wyden’s Oregon Eastside Forest Restoration, Old Growth Protection, and Jobs Act of 2009. We sent a letter to the Senator last week detailing our concerns with the bill. Upon first hearing about the bill, we felt excited at the potential. But after analyzing the language, it was clear that our concerns outweighed the positives.

The intent of this bill is primarily to “To restore forest landscapes, protect old growth forests, and manage national forests in the eastside forests of the State of Oregon.” It has been held out as a science-based old growth protection and restoration bill.

When we read the bill, we found some disturbing aspects:
• It would unnecessarily use time and resources to convene a new scientist advisory panel, instead of adopting the findings of a 1994 scientist advisory panel convened for the exact same purpose;
• It does propose some protections for big old trees, but does not protect intact old growth stands or ancient forests;
• It proposes an “Interim Period” of more intensive logging on the eastside, with mandated acreage targets and no firm end date;
• During this Interim Period, the public’s rights to provide input on projects would be limited;
• Even though it would create a scientist advisory panel to create recommendations for managing our eastside forests, it does not require the Forest Service to actually follow these recommendations; and
• It would allow continued road building, even though roads are perhaps the single biggest threat to our eastside forests.

The shame of it is that there are good concepts underlying this bill—but those concepts weren’t captured in the language of the bill. We fully support Senator Wyden’s goal of protecting the eastside’s old growth, restoring our eastside forests, and creating jobs in local communities. This bill, however, doesn’t meet those goals in a way that HCPC can endorse.

You can read our entire letter to Senator Wyden here.

Greg Dyson, Executive Director
Mature Ponderose Pine marked to be cut in a recent timber sale on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Columbia River Threatened by Radioactive Waste from Hanford

near the Columbia River on the Hanford Site in southeast Washington

The Hanford Site

Try to imagine a million gallons of water. That’s how much highly contaminated, radioactive groundwater is flowing toward the Columbia River from the Hanford Site in southeast Washington. Fifty-three million gallons of high-level radioactive waste have been stored in underground tanks at the Hanford Site and many of these tanks are leaking highly-toxic liquid into the soil.

The Columbia River flows along the Hanford Site for about fifty miles and the Snake River and Yakima River join the Columbia nearby. Salmon, steelhead and sturgeon depend on these important waterways for their survival.

Hanford’s history as a nuclear facility began in 1943 during World War II. Plutonium produced at Hanford was used in the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. Plutonium production continued in nine nuclear reactors until 1988. The radioactive waste that was stored on-site has created environmental problems at a scale that is difficult to imagine. Hanford is considered to be the most contaminated radioactive site in the hemisphere and it is the largest environmental clean-up project in the world.

The Environmental Impact Statement

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has prepared an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to address the Hanford clean-up. The Draft Tank Closure and Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement for the Hanford Site, Richland, Washington includes:

* Treatment of the 53 million gallons of highly radioactive waste and closing the aging underground tanks.

* Disposing of solid waste with the possibility of receiving additional waste from other facilities.

* Decommissioning the Fast Flux Test Facility, a nuclear reactor from the 1980s.

Public Meeting

A public meeting will be held in La Grande, Oregon on Monday, February 22, 2010 at Room 309 Hoke Union Building on the Eastern Oregon University campus. An open house begins at 6 PM with informational materials available, the opportunity to speak with staff from DOE and Washington State Department of Ecology, and registration for public comments. Presentations by agency staff begin at 7 PM followed by the opportunity for members of the public to provide oral comments to be recorded for the record.

Public Comments

The DOE is also accepting written public comments about the Environmental Impact Statement until March 19, 2010. Written comments may be submitted as follows:

U.S. Mail: Mary Beth Burandt, NEPA Document Manager, US Department of Energy, Office of River Protection, Attn: TC& WM EIS, P.O. Box 1178, Richland, WA 99352.

Toll-free FAX: 1-888-785-2865

Email: TC&

Important Points for Comments

* The DOE should clean-up all 53 million gallons of buried nuclear waste to a 99.9% rate of retrieval. They are considering less stringent standards.

* Drop the proposal to ship radioactive waste into Hanford from across the nation. Shipments on Interstate 84 could travel through the Blue Mountains and the communities of Pendleton, La Grande, and Baker City. Cabbage Hill and Ladd Canyon are well-known as treacherous sections of the highway in the winter and numerous truck accidents occur there every winter. Hanford is already extremely contaminated. Do not import more contaminated waste!

* Clean up the waste that has leaked into the ground and prevent it from reaching the Columbia River. A complete clean-up is needed to protect salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and other aquatic life from contamination by radioactive waste. DOE’s proposal is not thorough enough. All contaminated soil and groundwater must be treated!


Thanks to Columbia Riverkeeper for providing valuable information about the Hanford EIS. Visit their website at:

For more information on the EIS from the US Department of Energy, visit: (click on “Tank Closure & WM EIS info”).

Read “The Columbia River at Risk: Why Hanford Cleanup is Vital to Oregon” from the Oregon Department of Energy at .

From The Oregonian:

A recent news story:

A recent editorial:

A recent guest opinion piece:

Story by Brian Kelly, HCPC Restoration Coordinator

Photo courtesy: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Thursday, February 11, 2010

From the Breaks : Weather Report

I live on the breaks between the Grande Ronde River and the Minam-Wallowa River. Our driveway still has ice and a thin covering of snow, and the fields have remnant drifts a foot high. Underneath the mature Ponderosa pine the ground is open and soft.

February is almost a separate season - not quite winter, not yet spring. It is a time of waiting.

At night I listen to the owls, more active now. I saw the first kestrel on Good Road; it will be over a month before they return to their nest site here. Redtail hawks circle overhead in pairs. The band of juvenile "wild" turkeys that had been terrorizing my bird feeder finally wandered off.

I am waiting for the first redwing blackbird to return to our ponds, the first of the seasonal migrants. Every February they show up and stake out their portion of frozen cattail and ice. I am waiting for the first buttercup to splash yellow against the small rock outcrop that faces southwest to the Blue Mountains.

After redwings and buttercups will come an increasingly harried parade of summer visitors, in orderly procession one after another, until May when there is a mad scramble as all the latecomers arrive together.

But for now I wait.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

HCPC’s Wildlife Connectivity Analysis for the Blue Mountains Ecoregion: A Focal Species Based Approach to Identifying Wildlife Movement Corridors

HCPC is now part of an expanding new frontier in wildlife conservation. This new frontier is being driven by the growing recognition that long-term species viability necessitates protecting and restoring opportunities for wildlife movement across landscapes. And for the conservation community to ever move beyond battling habitat fragmentation project by project, we must engage in big-picture solutions. That is what HCPC’s plan to map corridors that allow regional wildlife to move within and between core habitats throughout the Blue Mountains ecoregion is all about.

Reviewing existing wildlife connectivity models has taught us that connectivity planning is generally based on the following steps: 1) Selecting focal species; 2) Performing GIS-based landscape permeability and core habitat analyses; 3) Conducting fieldwork to ground-truth conditions within mapped connectivity areas to identify conservation management needs and restoration opportunities; and 4) Producing a final, comprehensive report that identifies wildlife corridors/linkages on a scale useful to federal land managers and other key decision-makers.

We began Step 1 by selecting species from diverse taxonomic groups that would collectively represent a wide range of habitat requirements and movement needs. This process was started by cross-referencing several different leading sources on wildlife that are native to the Blue Mountains ecoregion, such as Oregon’s Natural Heritage Information Center, Oregon’s State Wildlife Action Plan (the “Oregon Conservation Strategy”), and federal agency lists of rare, threatened, and endangered species by region. We then collaborated with state and federal agency wildlife experts and other interested parties for review and feedback.

What species have we chosen and why?

Rocky Mountain Gray Wolf: Gray wolves are a highly mobile species that readily disperse or migrate hundreds of kilometers. Wolves are threatened by direct human-caused mortality and as an endangered, yet ecologically important keystone predator are considered a conservation priority.

American Marten: Marten are small forest carnivores that are closely associated with mature, mixed-conifer forest habitat. Marten provide important ecological services, including cycling nutrients and dispersing seeds and have low survival rates in fragmented forests.

Wolverine: Wolverine are wide-ranging, mid-sized forest carnivores that depend on large, remote areas for their core habitat. Due to their specific habitat and movement needs, wolverine are good indicators for the suitability of wilderness and remote roadless blocks of habitat.

Rocky Mountain Elk: Elk are also a high-mobility species, covering large areas during seasonal migrations between summer and winter ranges. Elk generally avoid areas with human activities.

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep: Loss and degradation of habitat, especially key winter forage sites, is a key threat for Bighorn Sheep. This lack of adequate winter range seems to be limiting population growth of reintroduced Wallowa herds. Bighorns are also threatened by the spread of disease through interactions with domestic sheep.

Columbia spotted frog: This spotted frog serves as an indicator species for the health of wetland ecosystems and its inclusion on our focal species list helps address connectivity on a smaller-scale. The introduction of exotic trout and cattle grazing appear to be the major negative influences and the species is showing serious population declines throughout Oregon.

Rocky Mountain Tailed frog: This uniquely tailed frog is an indicator for healthy riparian areas and stream corridors, particularly headwater streams because of its vulnerability to management practices that alter streams (such as increases in stream temperature or sediment load, and reduction of woody debris or stream bank integrity).

Western Toad: Well-documented population trends continue to show steep reductions in Western Toad numbers throughout major portions of its range. This species may serve as a good indicator of climate change impacts, acidification, and ozone depletion/increased UV radiation.

Western Painted Turtle: This turtle is also considered indicative of good quality riparian habitats and is considered a “habitat specialist” because it requires marshy ponds, small lakes, slow moving streams and quiet off-channel portions of rivers, muddy bottoms with aquatic vegetation, open ground for nesting, and logs or vegetation for basking.

Greater Sage Grouse: Sage grouse are considered an indicator species for sagebrush habitat. Once widespread and abundant, sage grouse were historically found in 16 western states. Unfortunately, sagebrush conversion to agriculture, heavy livestock grazing, eradication of sagebrush with herbicides and burning, and continued development and fragmentation of sagebrush rangelands have dramatically reduced populations and eliminated the grouse from many parts of its former range.

Flammulated Owl: This neotropical migratory bird (typically arrives in NE Oregon in May and migrates south for winter) is considered a “habitat specialist” because of its close association with mature conifer forests, particularly large ponderosa pine trees and snag and its heavy reliance upon large primary cavity nesters (e.g. pileated woodpeckers) to excavate nest cavities. Loss of cavity nesters like the pileated woodpecker from a forest community would be disastrous for the owl.

Pileated Woodpecker: This woodpecker is an indicator species for mixed-conifer old-growth forests due to its dependence on large diameter trees and snags for nesting, roosting and foraging. Pileateds are threatened by habitat fragmentation; reductions in snag availability from past fire suppression and forest management. They are also considered a “keystone habitat modifier,” because only pileateds are creating large cavities in hard snags and decadent live trees that a wide array of other species (like Flammulated owls) use.

Photos from top to bottom:

Marten, Elk, Gray Wolf, Wolverine: Gerald and Buff Corsi © California Academy of Sciences

Bighorn Sheep: Lorraine Elrod © California Academy of Sciences

Western Toad: Gerald and Buff Corsi © California Academy of Sciences

Sage grouse: Dr. Lloyd Glenn Ingles © California Academy of Sciences