Friday, October 28, 2011

HCPC Files Opening Argument in Livestock Grazing "Categorical Exclusion" Case

As previously reported, HCPC filed suit last winter to protect close to a half-million acres spanning three of eastern Oregon's National Forests--the Wallowa-Whitman, Umatilla, and Malheur--from the negative effects of livestock grazing. This past week, we filed our opening argument in the federal District Court of Oregon challenging the Forest Service's abuse of its authority under a 2005 Appropriations Rider by exempting the renewal of 10-year grazing permits for large, contiguous blocks of land from full environmental review and the public participation process.

These public lands contain a variety of special resource conditions that demand a thorough effects analysis. Some are located within areas Congress set aside for heightened protection such as the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, and the corridors of the Imnaha and North Fork John Day Wild & Scenic Rivers, and all contain a multitude of federally threatened or sensitive fish, wildlife, and native plant species, unique habitats and already water-quality impaired streams.

In fact the agency's abuse was so widespread in regards to the Umatilla National Forest that it categorically excluded from environmental review livestock grazing on close to one-quarter of this 1.4 million-acre National Forest (comprising nearly all of the Heppner Ranger District on the Forest's west end, See Heppner District map below). The lands and sensitive waterbodies at issue in this case have been grazed by livestock for over a century, but in most cases the Forest Service has never conducted a thorough review of the negative, and potentially significant, environmental effects to the many special resources that inhabit these areas.

The Forest Service's response to our arguments is due mid-December. Several of the livestock producers that hold grazing permits for these public lands have also hired attorneys to intervene in the case and argue against the government's need to conduct a full and public environmental analysis.

We hope to resolve this case by early next year to ensure these special areas and resources get the overdue protection they deserve. Stay tuned for future updates!

Staff Attorney, Jennifer Schwartz

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"The Last Mountain" in La Grande

By Brian Kelly, HCPC Restoration Coordinator

Photo of Oregon's only coal-fired electric plant at Boardman (photo courtesy of Columbia Riverkeeper).

Coming soon to a theatre near HCPC is fascinating film about coal in America. The Last Mountain tells the story of people in rural Appalachia fighting back against a large energy corporation bent on destroying a mountain to feed the hunger for coal.

“Mountain Top Removal” is a process where mountains are literally blown apart with dynamite to expose seams of coal. Forests are destroyed forever. Creeks are obliterated and the valleys downstream flooded. Wildlife habitat is gone. Local people suffer from high rates of cancer and autism. The explosives used each week equal the force of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. And all of this goes on today right here in the United States of America.

People outraged over environmental and social destruction in Appalachia organized at the grassroots level and began non-violent resistance against the Massey Energy Corporation. The corporation seems to buy politicians and ignore the law with impunity. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. got involved and has helped the local activists in their fight against the corporate giant. The Last Mountain tells this story cinematically and in a compelling way.

I am pleased to be a member of a panel discussion that will follow the screening of The Last Mountain on Friday, October 21 at 5:30 PM at the Granada Theatre, 1311 Adams Avenue in La Grande.

I will be proud to speak about HCPC’s success in stopping the burning of coal at Oregon’s only coal-fired electric plant near Boardman. The Boardman coal plant has been shown to pollute the air over the Eagle Cap and Hells Canyon Wilderness Areas. The plant is Oregon’s largest stationary source of acid rain causing sulfur dioxide and haze producing nitrogen oxides. It is the state’s second largest source of mercury pollution. HCPC and our allies recently settled a lawsuit whereby the plant will stop burning coal by 2020, reduce pollution in the interim period, and fund environmental projects including restoration work in the Eagle Caps and Hells Canyon.

The panel discussion will focus on energy production and use as well as what people can do at the local level to conserve energy and promote renewable energy.

The Last Mountain will be shown as part of The Eastern Oregon Film Festival

The film is sponsored by Oregon Rural Action .

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Objection period open on Cove II WUI Project

The Cove II Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) Project Environmental Assessment has been released for public comment beginning the “Objection Period.” This project is a little different than others because it’s a Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) project, which is executed under a streamlined process. These projects are supposed to follow the Forest Plan while reducing fuels in ecologically appropriate areas in order to protect at-risk communities. Unfortunately, the Forest Service has taken a rogue approach with the Cove II WUI project, which proposes no less than four amendments to the Forest Plan for 1) logging in Late Old Structure (old growth) that is below historic range of variability, 2) logging in allocated old growth, 3) Relocation of Research Natural Area Boundary, 4) Logging in Management Area 6, Backcountry. In addition to these well-known extremely controversial aspects of the Cove II WUI proposal, the proposal would log in more roadless forests than any proposal I have seen over the past 3 years of monitoring timber sales across Northeast Oregon.

HCPC has gone above and beyond our duty to communicate with the Forest Service about these concerns, sending numerous correspondences to the Agency based on sophisticated GIS analysis, field work, and extensive review of the proposal in light of the peer-reviewed literature, in addition to our official comments. So far these comments have resulted in very little changes to the proposed action. In addition HCPC has hosted two public presentations on this project, one in La Grande and one in Cove. Local concerns are very high regarding logging in old growth and roadless forests for the purpose of extending backcountry fire suppression tactics further across the landscape than they have ever been, in contradiction to the best available science in numerous ways.

Presentation on Cove II WUI, Sept. 2011, Cove Oregon.

Whereas the original Cove WUI project was focused in the lower to mid-elevation forests of Mill Creek, near the community of Cove, the Cove II WUI proposal extends across a much larger landscape threatening National Forest resources at an alarming scale. Allen et al. (2002) states that restoration should be aimed at resetting ecosystem trends toward an envelope of “natural variability.” They caution that “impatience, overreaction to crown fire risks, extractive economics, or hubris could lead to widespread application of highly intrusive treatments that may further damage forest ecosystems.” This is exactly what the Cove II WUI proposed action threatens to do.

On a recent field trip to the Cove II WUI project area, we visited two timber sale units. One was a moist old growth forest with a closed canopy providing unique wildlife habitat for species such as marten, goshawk, and pileated woodpecker. This forest type is below its historic range of variability in the project area due to previous logging. The old growth unit is contiguous with the Castle Ridge Roadless Area and within potential Wilderness. The proposed action would commercially thin this unit, and also log heavily in patches, punching holes into the this multi-layered closed forest canopy. In these areas the Forest Service will plant their "desired species."

Cool moist old growth grand fir forest that is contiguous with the Castle Ridge Inventoried Roadless Area and designated as potential wilderness by the Forest Service slated for commercial thinning, and patch cut openings under Cove II WUI.

Tractors will be used to log in some of these rare old growth stands causing long-term soil damage, risking spread of invasive weeds, and the feeling of primeval forest, lost. Commercial logging will ruin potential wilderness quality. The Forest Service uses arm-waving regarding fire suppression tactics to attempt to justify these actions. Meanwhile the peer-reviewed science has pounded nails so tight into the coffin of these outdated ideas of commercially logging our last remaining old growth that these actions must be viewed as an excuse to log. Next we visited another moist forest unit that was previously heavily logged. HCPC did not have issues with the proposed logging in this previously logged area, which comprises the majority of the Cove II WUI project area units.

The Cove WUI II Project should protect the community and firefighters and also protect the areas outstanding natural values, especially the moist old growth forests that are rare due to extensive previous logging, the roadless forests that provide high quality wildlife habitat, and the Eagle Cap Wilderness that should be buffered from any logging activities. The proposed action does not achieve this balance and threatens old growth moist forests and roadless forests with tractors and logging, and road building directly adjacent to Oregon's largest Wilderness area. The Forest Service should respect the key conservation issue shared by the vast majority of Oregonians, to protect our last remaining old growth and roadless forests, while moving forward with the fuels reduction in previously logged forested areas.

by David Mildrexler
Ecosystem Conservation Coordinator
Hells Canyon Preservation Council