Monday, November 28, 2011

Voluntary Grazing Permit Retirement Legislation Introduced in Congress

Hells Canyon Preservation Council is pleased to endorse the Rural Economic Vitalization Act of 2011 (HR 3432), a bill that promotes recovery of native ecosystems, saves taxpayer funds, and provides financial assistance to federal grazing permittees and lessees for voluntarily retiring public lands livestock grazing permits.

Help reclaim our public wild lands from livestock grazing by telling your representatives to support the Rural Economic Vitalization Act (H.R. 3432)!

Press release follows:

November 16, 2011

Bill would Provide Cash Option for Grazing Permittees

Conservationists hailed the introduction of the Rural Economic Vitalization Act (H.R. 3432) in Congress today, a bill that would allow federal grazing permittees to voluntarily relinquish their grazing permits back to the managing federal agency in exchange for compensation paid by a third party. The bill was introduced by Representative Adam Smith (D-WA-9th) and six original cosponsors.

“When enacted, this legislation will help resolve endless conflict on public lands, while providing ranchers with opportunities to restructure their operations, start new businesses, or retire with security,” said Mike Hudak, author of Western Turf Wars: The Politics of Public Lands Ranching and leader of the Sierra Club Grazing Team.

Domestic livestock grazing is the most pervasive and damaging use of federal public lands. On public land across the West, millions of non-native livestock remove and trample vegetation, damage soil, spread invasive weeds, despoil water, deprive native wildlife of forage and shelter, accelerate desertification and even contribute to global warming.

Unfortunately, antiquated federal law generally prohibits closing grazing allotments to benefit fish, wildlife and watersheds. The Rural Economic Vitalization Act would authorize federal agencies to permanently retire grazing permits if requested by ranchers.

“Grazing permit retirement has been implemented in a few places around the West with marked success, but there is much greater need—and demand from ranchers—to retire grazing permits,” said Mark Salvo of WildEarth Guardians.

One landscape that has benefited from grazing permit retirement is the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem where grazing allotments have been closed to reduce conflicts with wolves, grizzly bears and bighorn sheep, and to expand winter range for bison outside Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone bison, the last remaining genetically pure wild herd in the U.S., are subject to intensive management and control based on the irrational fear that they will transmit disease to domestic livestock.

“Bison are hazed, captured, shot and slaughtered to protect grazing interests on public land in Yellowstone country,” said Josh Osher of the Buffalo Field Campaign. “REVA is the tool we need to finally, permanently address these conflicts.”

In addition to being the source of immeasurable environmental harm, the federal grazing program is a fiscal boondoggle for federal taxpayers. The Government Accountability Office reported that the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service annually spend $132.5 million on grazing management, but collect only $17.5 million in grazing fees for a net loss to taxpayers of $115 million.

“We want to save public lands and do our part to solve the deficit,” said Brian Ertz of Western Watersheds Project. “We just need Congressional approval to buy out willing ranchers and retire their grazing permits.”

Grazing permit retirement is a voluntary, non-regulatory, market-based solution to public lands grazing conflicts. Permittees determine if and when they want to retire their grazing permits. Permittees and third parties separately agree how much a permittee will be paid for relinquishing their permit. And federal agencies facilitate the transaction by immediately retiring grazing permits received from a permittee. The Rural Economic Vitalization Act caps the total number of grazing permits that may be retired each year at 100.

“This is a win-win-win for ranchers, the environment, and taxpayers,” said Rose Chilcoat of Great Old Broads for Wilderness. “Let’s pass this bill so that we can finally take some common sense steps to ensure healthy public lands.

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See also the press release from the office of Rep. Adam Smith:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Antelope Ridge Wind Power Project Update

Wind turbines near the proposed Antelope Ridge Wind Power Project

Story & photo by Brian Kelly, Restoration Coordinator for HCPC

It’s been a very interesting week in the world of Pacific Northwest wind power proposals. Here in northeast Oregon, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) and the developer EDP Renewables jointly announced that they had resolved most of the wildlife objections previously raised by ODFW over the Antelope Ridge Wind Power Project. This agreement likely moves the application one step further down review process. However, Hells Canyon Preservation Council will continue to advocate for the strongest possible wildlife protections during the review of the project application.

The agreement between ODFW and EDP Renewables is the product of months of mediated negotiations set up by Governor Kitzhaber. It’s now up to the Oregon Department of Energy to create a “Draft Proposed Order” for the Antelope Ridge Project. At that point, members of the public may raise issues or objections during the “Public Hearings” phase of the process. So while the accord between ODFW and EDP is a significant development in the application process to permit the construction of Antelope Ridge, it is still a long ways from being completed.

I have begun to read through the eight new documents about Antelope Ridge that were released this week. It’s complicated. It will take some time to adequately research this new information. However, here are some of my initial impressions of these agreements.

· Overall, wildlife protections are significantly weaker than those in ODFW’s earlier comments on Antelope Ridge.

· The project would be built in two phases. Up to 100 turbines would be built in phase 1. Unfortunately, phase 1 turbines include those closest to the crest of Craig Mountain and flyways for eagles, hawks and other birds.

· Phase 2 would only be constructed after completion of a multiple year big game monitoring study.

· ODFW and EDP Renewables were unable to come to consensus regarding property to be acquired for mitigation of wildlife impacts from the wind project.

· An “Incidental Take Permit” for the killing of bald eagles by turbines would recommended rather than required.

· Golden eagle issues will be addressed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and not by ODFW.

· An Avian and Bat Protection Plan will be developed between USFWS and EDP Renewables and not by ODFW.

USFWS will play an important role as protections for golden eagles and the Avian and Bat Protection Plan are developed.

Hells Canyon Preservation Council will continue to play an important role in advocating for wildlife protections as public review of the Antelope Ridge project develops. HCPC led a coalition of conservation groups in submitting comments to Oregon Department of Energy advocating for strong wildlife protections in December 2010. I also spoke about these concerns when I addressed the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council at a public meeting in early 2011. We will keep you informed about the Antelope Ridge project and future opportunities for you to comment during the “Public Hearings” phase of the process.

Renewable energy is a very good thing. The earth’s future hangs in the balance over how well we are able to conserve energy and develop clean energy production. However, renewable energy projects must be located on appropriate sites, and wildlife and their habitat must be protected in the process. We will continue to advocate for appropriate renewable energy but we will continue to insist that wildlife are not sacrificed in the process.

There is ample cause for concern about impacts to wildlife from the Antelope Ridge Wind Energy Project. EDP Renewables has applied to install 164 turbines over 47,000 acres of private land in the hills just south of the Grande Ronde Valley. (Horizon Wind Energy was the subsidiary of EDP Renewables that filed the application).

According to ODFW’s earlier comments, “The Project is one of the first wind power projects in Oregon proposed to be sited in critical big game winter range and very productive wildlife habitat, resulting in the construction of a large industrial structure that negatively affects Oregon’s wildlife.”

Antelope Ridge would be built immediately north of EDP’s existing Elkhorn Valley wind facility where four golden eagles have been found dead since May 2009, presumably killed by wind turbines. Since Antelope Ridge would be larger and located closer to eagle nesting areas, the likelihood of more golden eagle deaths is high, according to US Fish & Wildlife Service.

Burrowing owls, Swainson’s hawk, and red-tailed hawks nest within the project area. Four species of bats have been identified as well. The sensitive plant species Doulas clover and Oregon semaphore grass grow in the project area.

Antelope Ridge would be constructed just south of Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area, northeast Oregon’s largest remaining wetland. It would be about a dozen miles west of the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Forests, sagebrush /grasslands and wetlands provide key wildlife habitat in the project area. Wildlife travel through the project area, and it’s an important wildlife connectivity corridor. In fact, the Washington Wildlife Habitat Connectivity Working Group has identified the area as an important habitat link between the essential habitats of the Wallowa Mountains and the Blue Mountains.

There was also news about other Pacific Northwest wind power projects this week. In western Washington, the Radar Ridge project was cancelled over concerns about the marbled murrelet, a threatened seabird. Also this week, in southeast Oregon two wind projects were withdrawn from the unique and important Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area. A third project and a transmission line proposal for the Steens Mountain area still pose threats to eagles and sage-grouse of that region, however. Nevertheless, it is promising to say goodbye to these projects that harm wildlife. When faced with harmful energy development projects, HCPC will continue to provide a voice for wildlife. It's a privilege to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

HCPC Brings Balance to Cove Fuels Reduction: Protects Old Growth, and Roadless Forests

HCPC has been engaged in efforts to bring balance to a fuels reduction proposal on National Forest Lands near Cove, Oregon for two years. These remarkable public lands consist of towering multi-canopied old growth forests, extensive roadless forests that harbor salmon bearing streams, mountain hemlock stands rare to Eastern Oregon, and two Research Natural Areas where the natural processes of forest ecosystems are studied for the benefit of current and future generations (see photos below). However, other parts of the project area have been heavily logged and roaded- there was even a historic logging project up Indian Creek called "Nightmare!" That's why we think it is so important that the next management step we take in this area is positive for the forests, streams, wildlife, wildlands, and people that love these wonderful treasures.

When it comes to fuels reduction, HCPC supports work that protects communities and firefighters and also protects the areas outstanding natural values. To this end we are thrilled that HCPC reached an agreement with the Forest Service resulting in the following modifications to the proposal.
1. Eliminates 413 acres of commercial logging in old growth forests.
2. Drops or changes to non-commercial all commercial harvest (618 acres) from designated “Backcountry” areas.
3. Reduces temporary road building from 2 miles to less than .5 miles.
4. Buffers the Eagle Cap Wilderness from commercial logging and road building.
5. Protects the integrity of Castle Ridge Potential Wilderness Area.
6. With the exception of work needed for resource protection, drops the proposed road reconstruction on the 6220 road north of Moss Springs and the associated rock quarry expansion.
7. Drops proposed boundary change to the Point Prominence Research Natural Area.
8. A monitoring plan will be developed to better understand effects of the remaining treatments in old growth forests.

With these changes, the proposal now protects the incredible natural resources on National Forest lands near Cove, Oregon, while moving forward with important fuels reduction work that will improve community and firefighter safety. Here are a some pictures of this incredible area.
This view is from the Dunns Bluff Inventoried Roadless area looking into the heart of the Castle Ridge Inventoried Roadless Area. HCPC has asked that the special rock outcroppings known as monadnocks be considered for designation as a Geological Area in the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision Process. While much more subtle from the Grande Ronde Valley, these formations can be seen from several vantage points.

This photo of Indian Creek within the Castle Ridge Roadless Area shows the features that allow this beautiful stream to support salmon; large downed wood, gravelly stream bottom, and shading from the riparian vegetation that cools water temperatures.

A mystical waterfall on Indian Creek within the Castle Ridge Roadless area and near the Indian Creek Research Natural Area. Finding treasures like this when your exploring the backcountry is absolutely priceless and helps us to connect to the beauty of world that we are part of.

It's not all a pretty picture in the Castle Ridge Roadless area though, as the Breshears OHV trail cuts through the heart of the roadless area (next photo), diminishing habitat security for wildlife, and degrading the aquatic integrity of the area (second photo below).

The Indian Creek Research Natural Area includes climax lodgepole pine forests, unique rock outrcoppings, the headwaters of Indian Creek and much more. The role these Research Natural Areas play in wildlife connectivity needs to be better considered in future planning of this area. While political boundaries might distinguish the Research Natural Area from the directly adjacent Eagle Cap Wilderness, try telling that to a marten, lynx, or wolverine, that need all of this habitat, together, to survive.
The Point Prominence Research Natural Area protects these high elevation mountain hemlock forests that only exist in eastern Oregon in scattered pockets. Some high elevation plant communties are predicted to be casualties of global warming because they cannot shift their range to higher elevations in order to adjust to the rising temperature. Will these Mountain Hemlock forests be lost from the Wallowas? These are the types of questions that should be studied in Research Natural Areas.

Thank you for everything you did to help us protect this part of our National Forest right here in our backyard!!

Post by David Mildrexler, Ecosystem Conservation Coordinator Hells Canyon Preservation Council

Friday, November 4, 2011


It's November now, and the snow is falling outside my window. Two weeks ago, the hawthorne and serviceberry were blazing red, the aspens and maple were glittering gold, and the members, friends and supporters of Hells Canyon Preservation Council gathered together to celebrate another year.

For the 2011 Gala, the celebration included presenting a Lifetime Achievement Award to long time local activist Loren Hughes, and adding Greg Dyson, HCPC Executive Director 2006-2011, to the HCPC Hall of Fame.

This year, with the transitions of HCPC staff (Greg Dyson and Renee Tkach) leaving,
increased challenges on forestry and wildlife issues, unsettled political climate, and an unsettled climate, I found the Gala Keynote speech by Gary Ferguson a much need reminder of why I work at HCPC.

He spoke of wilderness as expressing the basic concept of democracy.

He encouraged us to develop "the ability to live with questions".

He talked about the importance of stories of relationship - not stories of conquering - not stories of fear.

He said that throughout the world, over and over again, what shows up in every culture and tradition as what we need to live, is Mystery, Community, and Beauty.

He asked us to give a chance for beauty, community with all life, and mystery, to the young who are growing up now and in the future, in a world with increasingly less of all three.

Quotes from Gary's speech:

"Keep an active relationship with beauty"

"Celebrate the mysterious"
"Let the beauty find us and pull us where we need to go"
"Let the beauty flow through us"

"Maintain your love of life in difficult times"

The practice of hope, I think, is not an indulgence, nor a luxury, but a discipline. It is work, and hard work at that. I read once that hope is not the wish that things will get better, but the certainty that working to make it so is the only path that makes sense.

So forward into the fray, dear friends, together, in Community, with Beauty, and celebrating Mystery.

- Danae Yurgel