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News Story: Trump’s Great American Forest Liquidation Sale

November 20, 2018
Cascadia Times
By Paul Koberstein and Jessica Applegate
Photos by Jessica Applegate

SITKA, ALASKA — The millions of tourists cruising through North America’s last intact temperate rainforest in Southeast Alaska soak up dark green conifers as far as the eye can see. But a troubling side of this chilly landscape also comes into view. Swaths of Alaska yellow cedars have lost their needles and turned a deathly brown. Scientists say the cedar can’t handle the changing climate, placing it at an ever-increasing risk for extinction.

On a recent ferry ride through Peril Strait, a narrow 40-mile-long passageway north of Sitka, two Cascadia Times reporters spot a gigantic brown bear foraging near stands of dead cedars, clearly oblivious to another emerging threat. Government bureaucrats want to let the timber industry liquidate its wild Chicagof Island habitat. Someday soon, the view from cruise ships could include clearcuts — but no bears.

During its first two years in office, the Trump administration kept under wraps plans for federal forests — unlike its very public push to pump up the oil, gas, and coal industries and open disregard for climate change.

But in August, the administration unveiled a proposal giving the timber industry access to ancient old-growth trees within the nation’s 50 million acres of wild, intact forests, known as roadless areas. The proposal came to life in January when Alaska Gov. Bill Walker petitioned the US Forest Service to remove protection from Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.

The idea is already controversial in ways reminiscent of the timber wars that roiled the Pacific Northwest 30 years ago. The scheme could extend to Utah, where Gov. Gary Herbert is seeking a similar exemption, and possibly all other national forests.

“If they can strip roadless protection from the Tongass, no National Forest is safe,” says Buck Lindekugel, grassroots attorney for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC), an environmental advocacy group based in Juneau.

Callous disregard for the environment

Dru Fenster, a Forest Service spokessperson in Juneau, said the 9.2 million roadless acres on the Tongass include about 4.2 million acres of damp muskeg bogs, alpine lakes, steep-walled fjords, majestic mountains and tidewater glaciers. The remaining 5 million acres contain valuable old-growth trees, including Alaska yellow cedar, western red cedar, mountain hemlock and Sitka spruce, some as old as 1,000 years of age.

“If they can strip roadless protection from the Tongass, no National Forest is safe.” — Buck Lindekugel, grassroots attorney for Southeast Alaska Conservation Council

Logging these mature stands could exacerbate climate change as well as cripple Southeast Alaska’s booming recreation and tourism industries, damage a world-class salmon fishing industry and threaten the survival of all kinds of wildlife, not just brown bears.

Proponents claim opening roadless areas of the Tongass to logging would help revive Southeast Alaska’s sagging timber industry.

Economists say logging here is extremely expensive, given the mountainous topography and isolation from markets. In fact, logging in the Tongass is impossible without massive subsidies. US taxpayers paid billions of dollars over the last 70 years to clear cut its pristine old growth forests, seeing only meager financial returns.

Most of the largest and most valuable trees have already been removed, a process known as “high-grading.” The Alaska timber industry wants taxpayers to pay for new roads providing access to remaining commercially valuable trees.

“We are talking about multiple billions of taxpayer dollars to clear cut old growth forests and cause major environmental degradation,” says Dr. Evan Hjerpe, a resource economist and author of a report on Tongass economics for The Wilderness Society.

The National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Policy banning roadbuilding and logging in designated wild, intact forests is one of the most important conservation measures in US history, alongside the creation of national parks and wilderness. The government held more than 600 public hearings around the nation, and the public provided more than 1.6 million mostly positive comments on the rule—more comments than any other rule in the nation’s history. Based on this overwhelming public support, the Forest Service under President Bill Clinton approved protection of these areas in 2001.

Gutting the roadless rule falls neatly in line with Trump’s callous disregard for the environment, starting with his decision to roll back Obama-era policies curbing climate change. He also dismantled the US Environmental Protection Agency, scaled back national monuments, dumped fuel mileage standards, and axed regulations curbing carbon and mercury pollution, to name just a few.

It’s taken a couple years, but the Trump environmental doomsday machine is finally rolling at full speed.

Forests protect the planet

Avoiding carbon emissions from forests “is just as urgent” as halting fossil fuel use, according to a group of 40 leading climate scientists from Harvard, Duke, the University of Virginia and other universities in five countries. Cutting down old-growth forests like the Tongass will increase the deadly consequences of climate change.

“By destroying forests, we not only emit carbon dioxide but also lose the role forests play, through photosynthesis, in taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere,” the scientists said in the statement issued by the San Francisco-based Climate and Land Use Alliance.

Data show reforestation and improving forest management together provide 18 percent of mitigation needed by 2030 to maintain a liveable climate.

Getting rid of the roadless rule, the scientists said, would accelerate global warming by removing large old trees that are capable of trapping far more carbon pollution than younger, second-growth forests.  Protecting large old trees that absorb carbon pollution will be critical to any plan rescuing the planet from the onslaught of hurricanes, wildfires and flooding caused by higher temperatures. These forests also provide a refuge for wildlife in a hotter and drier climate, but only if left standing.

“The Trump administration knows
the planet is going to boil.
It doesn’t care.” — Bill McKibben

As noted climate activist and author Bill McKibben wrote recently, “The Trump administration knows the planet is going to boil. It doesn’t care.”

Few forests anywhere on the planet play a greater role in helping mitigate climate change than the Tongass. The Tongass retains more atmospheric carbon than any forest in the United States, says Dr. Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist with Geos Institute, a scientific think tank based in Ashland, Oregon.

“Because it is one of the world’s last relatively intact temperate rainforests, and it has a maritime climate, the Tongass is Alaska’s first line of climate change defense and a climate refuge for its world-class salmon and wildlife populations,” DellaSala wrote in 2016.

Alaska is already experiencing a 3-degree F warming since 1949, according to the Alaska Climate Research Center. DellaSala says this temperature increase, the nation’s largest over that period of time, has led to severe long-term consequences including melting glaciers, coastal erosion, and the die-off of the yellow cedar.

Alaskan yellow cedar, actually a cypress, features a durable light yellow heartwood often used in boats, bridges and landscaping.

In 2014, the Center for Biological Diversity, an advocacy group, petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the Alaska yellow cedar under the Endangered Species Act because of ongoing threats from climate change and logging. The Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to announce a decision. But Paul Hennon, a retired Forest Researcher who linked the yellow cedar die-off to climate change, doubts the troubled tree could go extinct any time soon because its range is “impressively large,” extending as far south as Northern California.

Forests like the Tongass are the last refuge for the planet’s at-risk species. The Tongass provides prime habitat for the rare Alexander Archipelago wolf and its prey, the Sitka black-tailed deer. Many scientists say at least half of the planet’s land and seas must be protected in order to avert mass extinctions worldwide, an argument advanced by noted biologist E.O. Wilson in his 2016 book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life.

Reversing the roadless rule contradicts critical parts of the 2016 Tongass National Forest plan. The plan allows logging in 73 watersheds identified as critical spawning habitat for five types of salmon: king (Chinook), pink, sockeye, coho and chum, as well as for steelhead and cutthroat trout. Based on a collaborative advisory process, the forest plan classified these watersheds —  86 percent of which are fully within roadless areas — as “unsuitable” for logging.

Anyone traveling down a logging road to get to a wilderness trailhead sees how public lands are carved up with roads. Today, more than 5,000 miles of logging roads crisscross the Tongass National Forest, fragmenting valuable wildlife habitat, threatening salmon by blocking fish passage, and serving as the primary source of sediment into fish streams. Roads enable poaching of game, trigger landslides, and provide a path for invasion of exotic species and diseases.

Roads devastate salmon, says Dr. John Schoen, a retired wildlife ecologist and co-author of a “conservation assessment” of Southeast Alaska ecology published by The Nature Conservancy and Audubon Alaska. Schoen also co-authored  Audubon Alaska’s Ecological Atlas of Southeast Alaska (Schoen is board chairman of the organization).

“The best way to ensure the highest level of salmon conservation was to minimize road development,” Schoen says. “For the highest priority salmon watersheds, there is little doubt that maintaining a roadless policy will maximize conservation of salmon.”

But Owen Graham, executive director of the Alaska Forest Association, an industry group, claims that fish populations on the Tongass are about double what they were in 1954.

Schoen, however, notes that any jump in salmon numbers in recent decades has been due to a “huge” influx in the number of fish grown in hatcheries. Moreover, salmon scientists do not consider data collected before Alaska joined the Union in 1959 to be reliable.

In the November midterm election, Alaska voters rejected “Yes for Salmon,” a ballot measure to give strong legal protection for salmon habitat for the first time in state history. Co-sponsored by SalmonState, an advocacy group based in Juneau, the measure would have made it tougher for industries like timber, mining, and oil and gas to disturb salmon habitat. Campaign Director Ryan Schryver says opponents spent $12.5 million to kill the measure, far more than the $2 million spent by supporters.

“The opposition spent a lot of money making people nervous wondering what the unintended consequences might be,” he said.

On a recent afternoon at the Pioneer Bar in the heart of Sitka, Cascadia Times reporters met with a group of a half dozen local fishermen to discuss the Roadless Rule. The conversation at one point turned to the shrinking size of fish netted in nearby marine waters.

“You can’t be a fisherman
and not believe in climate change.”
— Sitka fisherman Cheston Clark.

Cheston Clark, 50, a commercial fisherman for most of his life, said he wasn’t sure whether to support or oppose the rule change, but expressed contempt for a government that fails to address climate change or protect salmon habitat.

“You can’t be a fisherman and not believe in climate change,” he said.

Timber vs Tourism

Each summer, 1.2 million visitors seek adventure in the Tongass National Forest. And they don’t come for clearcuts.

Sitka, a city of 8,000, sits at the western edge of the Tongass. It is the heart of a vibrant $2 billion-a-year tourism, hunting and fishing economy. Here, the immediate concern is that Trump’s plan could stiff-arm the 10,000 people employed by these industries for the sake of a handful of timber jobs.

Trump’s plan is not likely to employ many new timber workers due, in part, to the fact the Forest Service allows companies to export 100 percent of logs cut from the Tongass. Many of the logs go to the only major sawmill still existing in the Tongass — the Viking Lumber Co. mill on Prince Wales Island, which the company says supports 150 jobs (though independent sources suggest the number is closer to 35). Company officials say the Viking mill is designed to process only large old-growth trees and is not capable of processing the smaller logs cut from younger, or second-growth, forests.

Small specialty mills in nearby towns like Hoonah, Tenakee Springs and Wrangell also claim a share. Alcan Forest Products, a log export business based in Vancouver, BC, gobbles up most of the remaining logs and ships them overseas for milling.

For many years, the timber industry employed less than 1 percent of the workforce in Southeast Alaska. In 2017, for example, the timber industry employed just 220 people, way down from levels as high as 1,800 in the 1990s, according to Dan Robinson of the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. At one time timber was a leading employer in the state, “but has been more of a niche industry for quite a while now,” he says.

“The economy of Southeast Alaska has moved on,” says Hunter McIntosh, a vocal critic of the plan to rollback the roadless rule. He is president of The Boat Company, a non-profit educational organization that has been offering eco-cruises throughout Southeast Alaska since 1979.

“I believe the intent all along is to try to bring back clear cuts of old,” McIntosh says. “Tongass timber is not financially feasible in today’s market, yet tourism is consistently growing, and travelers want to see wilderness, wild places, old growth forests, not clear cuts.”

Davey Lubin, runs Esther G Sea Tours and Taxi, a small eco-tour business based in on Baranof Island, one of about 5,000 named and unnamed islands in the Alexander Archipelago. He notes that Alaska’s tourism economy needs no public subsidies, unlike its timber industry.

“Nature is the most incredible bank,” he says. “You just leave it alone and the interest compounds naturally.”

“A thoughtless thing with no heart”

The prime proponent of removing protection for Alaska’s 110 designated roadless areas is Gov. Walker (an independent) who in October suspended his campaign for a second term in office. Walker aligns himself with the timber industry, which has been suing to overturn the roadless rule in the courts ever since President Clinton adopted it in 2001.

Walker’s petition claims the roadless rule has wrought “devastating socioeconomic impacts on Southeast Alaska.”

“The petition argues that the extensive damage resulting from the application of the roadless rule to the social and economic fabric of Southeast Alaska is as real today as it was 15 year ago,” says Heidi Hanson, deputy commissioner of state lands in Alaska.

But Hjerpe, the Idaho economist, says the petition provides “zero evidence” the Roadless Rule damages Alaska’s economy.

The eight-page petition mentions the word “timber” 25 times but says nothing about potential impacts on climate, wildlife or tourism.

This fall, the Forest Service aired the proposal at 12 public hearings from Sitka to Washington DC. More than 33,000 people submitted written comments, the vast majority in favor of retaining the rule as is. But the Forest Service produced no audio or video recordings of any hearing.

“The state should have consulted the citizens of Southeast Alaska before it filed the petition,” says Larry Edwards of Alaska Rainforest Defenders, an advocacy group based in Sitka. “That is apparent from the strong, angry, nearly universal backlash. It is appalling that there is no official record of what was said at those meetings.”

“We are really early in the process,” says Earl Stewart, Supervisor of the Tongass National Forest. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue will announce a final decision in mid-2020. Before then, the Forest Service will prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS). The public will be able to comment on the draft EIS next summer.

Alaska’s congressional delegation, led by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, strongly supports the petition to open roadless areas on the Tongass to logging.

Native corporations such as the Juneau-based Sealaska Corp. also want to log the roadless areas. But many Alaska Natives are staunchly opposed, including Wanda Culp, a Tlingit artist and activist who lives in Hoonah, a small village west of Juneau.

“If you can’t relate to what you are destroying, then you are doing a thoughtless thing with no heart, and that’s what we are doing now,” says Culp. “The message we have to get out is the Earth is in peril. It’s been manipulated, mishandled and abused by people who don’t care. We need to protect it.”

“The message we have to get out is the Earth is in peril. It’s been manipulated, mishandled and abused by people who don’t care.
We need to protect it.”
— Wanda Culp, Tlingit artist

Even some timber companies oppose Trump’s clearcutting plans, including Tenakee Logging, a small family-owned business in Tenakee Springs, located about 70 miles northeast of Sitka. Owner Gordon Chew says his business model is based not upon mass resource extraction but rather “a selective approach” that leaves a viable stand of timber in every one of our small cutting units.

“Clearcutting is a process of deforestation and although it is still allowed and practiced in our old growth forests of Alaska, it should not be,” Chew said. “A mile of road here or there could help us family loggers but we are not willing to open that door, as who knows what it will bring?”

Long history of exploitation

For more than two centuries government powers located thousands of miles away controlled Southeast Alaska, starting in the 1790s when Russians in search of otter furs first settled here and continuing now, ironically, under Trump.

From the start, relations between the Russians and the native Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people were often tense. In 1802, a dispute escalated into armed conflict. Tlingit warriors drove the Russians out of Sheetʼká Xʼáatʼi, the native village now known as Sitka. Two years later the Russian imperial navy returned. This time the intruders drove the Tlingits deep into the surrounding woods, separating them from the place that had always sustained them with abundant salmon and venison.

The Russians renamed the settlement Novoarkhangelsk and established it as the capital of Russian America. In 1867, with Alaska’s population of sea otters nearly wiped out, Russia sold Alaska to the United States for a mere $7.2 million. Every October 18, Alaskans celebrate the transfer as “Alaska Day,” but many Tlingits view it sadly as the day they lost their homeland.

Starting in 1902, President Teddy Roosevelt began conserving Southeast Alaska’s forests, starting with the Alexander Archipelago forest reserve. At the time, Sitka was still Alaska’s capital, which was relocated to nearby Juneau in 1906.

In 1907 Roosevelt established the Tongass National Forest by proclamation. President Calvin Coolidge later added 1.1 million acres to the Tongass, bringing its total size to 16.75 million acres, slightly larger than the entire state of West Virginia. The Tongass now covers about 80 percent of the Southeast Alaska panhandle.

But later presidents did not share Roosevelt’s environmental ethic, viewing the Tongass as little more than an inventory of logs to be fed to a rapacious timber industry controlled by distant corporations.

The wholesale removal of trees in the Tongass began in earnest in 1951 during the Eisenhower administration when it signed 50-year contracts with two large paper mills – one in Sitka and the other at the southern tip of the Tongass in Ketchikan. The mills converted the same forest that long ago shielded the Tlingits from armed Russians into pulp and sawlogs to rebuild Japan’s postwar economy.

The mills were money-losing ventures from the start. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), which explicitly subsidized the mills to the tune of $40 million a year, legalizing subsidies they had already been receiving through creative Forest Service bookkeeping. But Congress repealed the subsidies in 1990 when it passed the Tongass Timber Reform Act over the stiff objections of the entire Alaskan congressional delegation. By 1996, both mills had closed.

Despite the mill closures, trees in the Tongass continued to fall and the federal treasury continued to lose money on its timber sales. Rather than process the logs locally, timber operators simply exported them to Asia. But logging slowed down further after 2001 when the Clinton administration approved the rule banning logging and new roads in roadless areas.

If Clinton had not acted, the timber industry was on course to cut down 400,000 acres of old-growth in the Tongass every decade. Trump’s rule change could complete the liquidation of all the remaining commercially valuable old-growth in the Tongass in just a few decades.

“These unspoiled places must be managed
through science, not politics.”
— President Bill Clinton

“These last remaining wild areas are precious to millions of Americans and key to protecting clean water and abundant wildlife habitat, and providing recreation opportunities,” Clinton said at the time. “These unspoiled places must be managed through science, not politics.”

But federal rules are only temporary. One president’s regulations can easily be reversed by the next, supposedly only with adequate justification.

When the Trump administration announced in August its plan to allow logging and road-building to resume in wild parts of the Tongass, it signaled that the forest once again was at risk of being managed by politics rather than science. And outside forces could exert even more control over what happens in Southeast Alaska.

Huge financial losses

Logging is already allowed on portions of the Tongass outside of its 110 roadless areas. For example, the Forest Service is expected to announce a decision soon to approve a massive timber sale project in a roaded area on Prince of Wales Island, located about 100 miles south of Sitka. The Prince of Wales Island timber sale would be the largest in the United States in more than 30 years, according to Holly Harris, an attorney with the Juneau office of Earthjustice, an environmental law firm.

Forest Service records show about 94 percent of the contiguous stands of large old-growth trees on Prince of Wales Island have been logged since 1954.

“The Prince of Wales timber sale project is the most destructive old-growth logging project that the Forest Service has proposed anywhere in the country in decades,” Harris said.  “The timber industry already logged the very best habitat on Prince of Wales and now the Trump administration is going to let the timber industry wipe out what little remains to be logged—all in the interest of corporate greed.”

Like all logging on the Tongass, the Prince of Wales timber sale project is expected to be a huge money loser for the federal treasury. The costs of preparing the sale and building 164 miles of roads needed to access the area’s 600 million board feet of timber is likely to exceed revenues by $422 million, according to an analysis by Taxpayers for Common Sense, an advocacy group. The group obtained the data after filing a Freedom of Information request with the Forest Service.

Between 2005 and 2014, the timber companies paid the Forest Service only 9 cents for every dollar the government spent preparing timber sales in the Tongass National Forest

Between 2005 and 2014, timber companies paid the Forest Service only 9 cents for every dollar the government spent preparing timber sales in the Tongass National Forest, according a 2016 report by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Building roads on the Tongass cost about $250,000 per mile. But the GAO report did not include the cost of building roads. Taxpayers for Common Sense says that if roadbuilding costs were added, timber sales on the Tongass have lost more than $25 million per year since 1999.

Moreover, if implemented, the Trump plan to rollback the Roadless Rule in Alaska would increase financial losses from Tongass timber sales “substantially,” says Ryan Alexander, director of the taxpayer group.

Despite the subsidies, timber companies are not exactly standing in line for a chance to bid on cheap Tongass timber. In recent years, no one offered a bid on nearly half of all Tongass National Forest timber sales. And of the timber that did sell, many of the timber operators defaulted.

Earthjustice’s Harris said the Forest Service recently spent $3.1 million constructing logging roads on Kuiu Island southeast of Sitka but received no bids for the timber. The agency estimated that the sale would have generated a return of only $195,000, or about 6 cents on the dollar.

Public Employees for Environmental Ethics, an advocacy group based in Washington DC, has found that timber sales on the Tongass were ecological as well as financial debacles, says Jeff Ruch, the group’s executive director.

“This national forest runs major commercial timber sales like a cookie jar without a lid,” Ruch says.

Paul Koberstein is editor of Cascadia Times. Jessica Applegate is managing editor.

PSU study finds salvage logging and planting are not necessary to regenerate Douglas-fir after Klamath fires

Author: Cristina Rojas, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Posted: October 31, 2018, PSU Website

Researchers at Portland State University and Oregon State University looking at the aftermath of wildfires in southwestern Oregon and northern California found that after 20 years, even in severely burned areas, Douglas-fir grew back on its own without the need for salvage logging and replanting.

The study, published online Oct. 26 in the journal Forest Ecology and Management, is the latest to address the contentious issue of whether forest managers should log dead timber and plant new trees after fires, or let them regenerate on their own. 

Melissa Lucash, an assistant research professor of geography in PSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a co-author of the study, said that concerns in the Klamath over whether conifer forests would regenerate after high-severity fires have led to salvage logging, replanting and shrub removal on federal lands throughout the region.

But the study found that the density of Douglas-fir was relatively high after 20 years and was unaffected by whether or not a site had been managed.

“This is an area where forest managers are really worried that the Douglas-fir won’t come back, but what we found is that they come back just fine on their own,” she said. “We forget the power of natural regeneration and that these burned sites don’t need to be salvage logged and planted.” 

Lucash suggests that those resources could instead be reallocated elsewhere, perhaps to thinning forests to prevent high-severity wildfires.

The research team also included Maria Jose Lopez, a research associate at Universidad del Cono Sur de las Americas in Paraguay; Terry Marcey, a recent graduate of PSU’s Environmental Science and Management program; David Hibbs, a professor emeritus in Oregon State University’s College of Forestry; Jeff Shatford, a terrestrial habitat specialist in British Columbia’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development; and Jonathan Thompson, a senior ecologist for Harvard Forest. 

The authors sampled 62 field sites that had severely burned 20 years prior on both north and south slopes of the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountain — some of which had been salvaged logged and replanted and others that had been left to regenerate on its own.

Among the study’s findings:

  • Aspect, or the direction a slope faces, played an important role in determining the effectiveness of post-fire practices.
  • Density of Douglas-fir was higher on north than south aspects, but was unaffected by whether or not a site had been managed, suggesting that Douglas-fir regeneration is inherently less abundant on hot and dry sites and management does not influence the outcome.
  • On the flip side, management practices increased the density of ponderosa pine on south aspects, but had no impact on north aspects. That finding suggests that with rising temperatures and increasing severity of fires in the region, management would be most effective when tailored to promote drought-tolerant ponderosa pine on south aspects.
  • Managed sites had taller conifers, which can improve fire resistance, but also had fewer snags — an important habitat feature for bird, small mammals and amphibian species in the region.

The authors recommend that forest managers should avoid applying the same post-fire management practices everywhere and should instead tailor practices to specific objectives and the landscape context. 

Photo caption: Tree boles remain standing 20 years later after the wildfire that killed them on Grider Ridge in northern California. Naturally regenerating Douglas-fir sapling emerge from the shrub fields.

Opinion: Reform the Oregon Forest Practices Act

Published in Mail Tribune

By Jason Clark
December 09, 2018

Another year of extensive wildfires, debilitating smoke, and several tragedies across the West have made it clear that Oregonians cannot afford forestry practices that continue to make this problem worse. The consequences of our forest management history and our changing climate have been illuminated by a hazy vermilion sun. The complex, fire-resilient forests of yesteryear have been replaced with younger, denser stands more likely to experience stand-replacing fires. Meanwhile, climate change is causing fuels to dry out earlier and stay dry longer, creating the conditions for more fires and greater fire severity.

Many commendable thinning and fuels reduction projects have been carried out on unnaturally dense Forest Service and BLM lands in recent decades. These efforts need to be improved and expanded into a widespread restoration forestry effort to put our fire-suppressed public forests on a path toward increased fire resiliency.

But there is another half of the equation that can’t be ignored — private, industrial forestlands. A recent study of the 2013 Douglas fire by leading scientists at Oregon State and Humboldt State Universities confirmed the forests most likely to burn at high severity are the dense, young stands on private timberlands that are planted after conventional clearcut logging practices sanctioned under the Oregon Forest Practices Act, not the typically older stands on public lands.

Therefore, it is critically insufficient to only improve forest management on public lands.Locally, the Rogue Basin Cohesive Forest Restoration Strategy, created by a multi-party team of federal, state and nonprofit contributors, provides a well-considered, science-based framework for how to approach restoration forestry and increase fire resiliency in our region. The “All Lands” approach described therein proposes to treat 900,000 acres of federal land plus 200,000 acres of non-federal lands of mixed ownership, in and around communities and infrastructure. A small proportion of the 200,000 non-federal acres is industrial timberlands, however, tens of thousands of acres of industrial timberland are directly adjacent to the proposed treatment areas on federal lands. Without meaningfully addressing these fire-prone, private timberlands, our success in achieving a more fire-resilient landscape will be limited.

To responsibly address the role that private forests play in contributing to wildfire risk, we must transform the Oregon Forest Practices Act, the decades-old state statute in dire need of modernization. Increased fire risk is just one of the negative side effects of industrial logging practices that Oregonians are left to bear. Soil loss, diminished water quality, degradation of fisheries, and habitat loss for rare species are some of the others. The state should convene a team of scientists and progressive forestry practitioners to hammer out rational, proactive, and easily verifiable operational standards for the future of forestry in Oregon. This team should set new standards dramatically reducing the allowable size of harvest units, requiring longer rotation times, and maintaining legacy retentions of older trees, requiring that a proportion of the more fire-resilient trees be left standing. To put Oregon’s private forests on a path toward greater fire resiliency, we must diversify the landscape level expanses of tightly packed, even-aged tree farms that cover so much of our state. We should also require timber companies to address the enormous amounts of slash left behind following timber harvests that are tinderboxes of explosive fuels. And we should ban the aerial spraying of herbicides which adds additional fuels and pollutes our streams.

In the long run, timber companies will benefit from management practices that lead to more fire-resilient forests. As improved practices are implemented and fire resiliency increases over time, timber assets will become less vulnerable to going up in flames. Further, there are numerous benefits to other ecosystem services that will follow from fire-resilient forestry practices including improved habitat, water quality and more secure carbon storage.

It is imperative that Oregon implement forestry practices that improve fire resiliency. We can supply the local mills and support the invigoration of our economy while improving our forests’ structure in a way that helps to protect it and our communities from future wildfires. Imagine a future where Oregon’s private forests are structurally diverse forests that include larger, fire-resilient trees and where large clearcuts and expansive, even-aged tree farms are a memory. We must move our state’s private timberlands in this direction, because not doing so allows the wildfire problem to get worse. To get there, we must reform Oregon’s outdated rules and account for the role private timberlands play in wildfire risk. Oregonians need strong leadership in Salem to address this issue in 2019 and beyond. Who is ready?

Jason Clark is a botanist who lives in Talent and works in forests across the Northwest.

News Story: Federal judge orders EPA to protect salmon from warm temps in Columbia River basin

October 17, 2018
The Seattle Times

A federal judge has ordered protection for salmon in the Columbia River basin from warm water temperatures that have been lethal to salmon and steelhead as the climate changes.

The U.S. District Court for the Western District at Seattle in a 16-page ruling Wednesday ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead from dangerously warm water temperatures in the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

Climate change has exacerbated a long standing problem with water temperature in reservoirs behind hydropower dams on the rivers, increasing the number days in which temperatures exceed what can be tolerated by salmon and steelhead, which are cold-water species. In 2015, 250,000 adult sockeye salmon died when the Columbia and Snake rivers became too warm.

Hot water pushed survival rates for critically endangered Snake River sockeye to only 4 percent in 2015.

“Because of today’s victory, EPA will finally write a comprehensive plan to deal with dams’ impact on water temperature and salmon survival,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, one of the plaintiffs in the suit.

The suit was brought by multiple conservation and fishermens’ groups.

The court found that the EPA has failed to undertake its mandatory duty to enforce and ensure a temperature daily maximum, just as it must also enforce other types of water-quality parameters under the Clean Water Act. Federal Judge Ricardo Martinez ordered the agency to issue a temperature standard for the river.

The ruling was celebrated by fishermen hurt by diminished salmon runs on the Columbia and Snake, once the biggest in the world. “Our livelihoods depend on healthy salmon runs,” said Glen Spain, Northwest Regional Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association. “It is simply unacceptable to let hot water kill otherwise-healthy adult salmon before they can spawn. We’re glad EPA will finally do its job.”

The Clean Water Act bans Columbia River temperatures over 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Climate change is making that hard to achieve as the river soars even above 70 degrees for days at a time.

Snake River steelhead fishermen in Idaho have paid a high price with seasons already shortened because of diminished runs, and then in 2017 cut even shorter as returns collapsed, coming in even below fish managers’ low projections, forcing emergency closures.

The ruling comes as the governor’s task force on orca recovery is working on recommendations to help rebuild the critically endangered population of southern resident killer whales, which depend primarily on chinook for food. Orca advocates have joined forces with dam-removal advocates pushing to breach the Lower Snake River Dams to improve chinook runs.

The dams affect chinook and steelhead in multiple ways, by slowing the current into miles-long lakes, creating habitat that predators have thrived in and in which temperatures climb. Billions of dollars have been spent to alter the dams to improve fish passage with success; however, each dam still takes its toll, and the fish runs are not on track for recovery, particularly wild fish, the ecological mainstay for long-term recovery.

Task-force members are considering dam removal as well as increased spill of water over the dams among multiple other changes to boost orca recovery.

At a public hearing held by the task force Wednesday evening, Monika Shields, of San Juan Island, was one of many speakers supporting dam removal. She walked to the microphone with binders full of 628,987 signatures from an online petition calling for the task force to call on Gov. Jay Inslee to give his support to dam removal. “Please find the courage to take this bold action,” Shields said. “The world is watching.”

Emily Knaapen came all the way from Racine, Wisconsin, with her aunt to plead for the lives of the orca, and to honor the memories of J50 and a calf that was born to Tahlequa, two whales that died this summer. “The story of the southern residents will go down in history,” she said. “What will be your legacy?”

Letters to Governor Brown and the Environmental Quality Commission Regarding Water Quality and the DEQ and ODF Budget Priorities

The Oregon Stream Protection Coalition recently sent the following two letters:

A  Letter to Governor Kate Brown  highlighting certain DEQ Water Quality and ODF Private Forests budget requests the Oregon Stream Protection would like to see  in her budget because they support water quality standards attainment on private forestlands.

A Letter to the Environmental Quality Commission proposing a spring 2019 field trip to the Yaquina Basin.

How a Ragtag Group of Oregon Locals Took on the Biggest Chemical Companies in the World – And Won

Article in The Intercept 
by Sharon Lerner
September 15, 2018

 

The people who wrote an ordinance banning the aerial spraying of pesticides in western Oregon last year aren’t professional environmental advocates. Their group, Lincoln County Community Rights, has no letterhead, business cards, or paid staff. Its handful of core members includes the owner of a small business that installs solar panels, a semi-retired Spanish translator, an organic farmer who raises llamas, and a self-described caretaker and Navajo-trained weaver.

And yet this decidedly homespun group of part-time, volunteer, novice activists managed a rare feat: They didn’t just stop the spraying of pesticides that had been released from airplanes and helicopters in this rural county for decades. They also scared the hell out of the companies that make them, according to internal documents from CropLife America, the national pesticide trade group. Although some of the world’s biggest companies poured money into a stealth campaign to stop the ordinance, and even though the Lincoln activists had no experience running political campaigns, the locals still won.

The Lincoln County aerial spray ban, which passed in May 2017, is just one of 155 local measures that restrict pesticides. Communities around the country — including Dubuque, IowaReno, NevadaSpokane, Washington; and Santa Fe, New Mexico — have instituted protections that go beyond the basic limits set by federal law. Some are aimed at specific pesticides, such as glyphosate, others list a few; while still others ban the chemicals altogether. In the three decades after the first local pesticide restriction was passed in 1970 in Maine, the bans came in a slow trickle. These days, they are coming in a flood, with towns and counties passing more of these measures in the past six years than they did in the 40 before that, according to data from the advocacy group Beyond Pesticides.

The uptick in local legislation is a testament to public concerns about the chemicals used in gardening, farming, and timber production, and reflect a growing frustration with federal inaction. In recent years, scientific research on pesticides has shown credible links between pesticides and cancerendocrine disruptionrespiratory illnesses and miscarriage, and children’s health problems, including neurobehavioral and motor deficits. As scientists have been documenting these chemicals’ harms, juries have also increasingly been recognizing them.

But federal regulation has lagged behind both the research and public outrage. Notably, the Environmental Protection Agency has allowed glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp, to remain in use despite considerable evidence linking it to cancer. Under Donald Trump, the EPA also reversed a planned ban of chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to neurodevelopmental problems in children. Frustrated by the lack of federal action, many people have turned to their towns and counties, only to find that they have been hamstrung by state laws forbidding local limits on pesticides.

In 43 states, laws prevent cities, towns, and counties from passing restrictions on pesticide use on private land that go beyond federal law. A provision in the Farm Bill now before Congress would extend that restriction to the entire country and could potentially roll back existing local laws. The House version of the bill that passed in June and is now being reconciled with the Senate version included a section that prevents “a political subdivision of a State” from regulating pesticides.

The measure is one of several “anti-environmental provisions” in the bill “that threaten public health,” according to a letter from 107 House members. The Republican-backed attempt to clamp down on local governments also flies in the face of the party’s rhetoric, according to Scott Faber, vice president of governmental affairs at the Environmental Working Group.

“Hypocrisy is not a strong enough word for Republicans working to block local public health ordinances designed to protect children,” said Faber. “It’s a party that more or less exists to empower local government to make decisions.”

While the industry is hoping to tighten its already fierce grip on localities through federal law, it’s also waging a stealth campaign against local “brushfires,” as CropLife America refers to the local attempts to restrict and ban pesticides. In Lincoln County and elsewhere, the national trade group is quietly putting its vast resources into fighting local activists through opposition research, monitoring their social media, and trying to stop opposition to pesticides from spreading to other communities.

OREGON COAST, OR - SEPTEMBER 8: Rio Davidson perches on a stump to a better view of clear cutting. September 8, 2018 (Photo by Beth Nakamura For The Intercept)
Rio Davidson perches on a stump to a better view of logging land along the Oregon coast. Davidson, who owns a solar panel company, is one of several locals who volunteer with Lincoln County Community Rights. Photo: Beth Nakamura For The Intercept

“Tier 1 Concerns”

While the campaign for the aerial pesticide ban in Lincoln County was being run on the cheap, opposition to the measure, which was ultimately voted on by fewer than 14,000 Lincoln County residents, came from some of the world’s biggest companies. CropLife America, the industry group, which reported more than $16 million in revenue in 2015 and represents and collects dues from the major pesticide manufacturers, including Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences LLC, and DuPont Crop Protection, ranked state and local issues as the top of its list of “tier 1 concerns” for both 2017 and 2018, according to internal documents obtained by The Intercept that pinpointed Oregon as ground zero for the fight.

Teaming up with Paradigm Communications, a division of the U.K.-based public relations firm Porter Novelli, CropLife America launched a national campaign to provide “intense levels of support where the most dire battles are,” according to a state activities memo prepared for the CropLife America 2017 annual meeting, showing that Paradigm had spent 44 percent of its budget for this effort in just two Oregon counties: Lincoln and Lane, its neighbor to the south.

The industry group’s work to fight the local campaigns in Oregon included holding two “meetings to organize Protect Family [sic] Frames and Forests” — a group that was central to opposition to the ban in Lincoln County; creating and testing messages; conducting a “brainstorm session for potential activates”; setting up meetings with key players in the county; conducting “Sentiment Research,” holding trainings in media, social media, and public speaking; creating direct mailers, a logo, and a website; doing “social media research” on voters; creating a “Facebook strategy,” which included a Facebook page and a “secret Facebook Page”; writing a script for door knocking; creating talking points; writing and editing 15 letters to the editor; and “auditing strategies” of three groups involved with the local laws — including the Oregon-based environmental group Beyond Toxics and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which the CropLife America documents referred to as “CEDF.”

While the national industry group paid for all this, its name never appeared on the materials or was referenced in the local fight, which was instead framed as being led by local farmers.

The industry has also been waging surreptitious campaigns outside of Oregon. In Boulder, Colorado, which voted last year to phase outneonicotinoid pesticides and GMOs on public land, the CropLife America and Paradigm Communications team worked behind the scenes to push back the date that the phaseout would take effect and conducted “adversary research,” according to the CropLife document.

CropLife America and Paradigm Communications also conducted adversary research in Washington state, where they spent another 29 percent of their budget. In Washington, their tactics also included building “out geo-focused Facebook Groups to establish internal communications” and holding a four-day training for nearly 50 people that included sessions on “how to interact” and “how to read body language.”

OREGON COAST, OR - SEPTEMBER 8: Barbara Davis and Rio Davidson walk along a logging road on land owned by Weyerhaeuser along the Oregon coast mountains. September 8, 2018 (Photo by Beth Nakamura For The Intercept)
Barbara Davis and Rio Davidson walk along a logging road on land owned by Weyerhaeuser along the Oregon coast mountains on Sept. 8, 2018. Photo: Beth Nakamura For The Intercept

Volunteering to Fight Pesticides

Lincoln County Community Rights doesn’t have an office, so the group often holds its meetings in members’ homes, which are scattered throughout the county’s more than 1,000 square miles of forest and coastline. On a recent Friday, it was Debra Fant’s turn to host. A retired nurse whose house near the coast is surrounded by tall spruce, hemlock, and fir trees, Fant made quiche for the occasion.

As her fellow advocates sat eating around her dining room table in flip-flops and T-shirts and their dogs nosed around for crumbs on the floor, Fant thumbed through records of the group’s expenses. There weren’t many. Almost all of their work is done for free. Fant herself volunteers about 20 hours a week, emailing and making calls as well as managing the group’s social media. John Colman-Pinning, a farmer who grows organic vegetables and raises a small herd of llamas, does research for the group in his spare time. And Rio Davidson, who owns a solar panel company, designed and maintains the group’s website and Facebook page.

Barbara Davis, an intensive care nurse, considered herself apolitical before she began volunteering for the group a few years back. Davis moved to the area from Reno, which had felt overdeveloped and far from nature. Lincoln County, which is 90 percent forest and has no big cities, seemed the perfect antidote. “We came here in 2004 thinking it was clean and green,” said Davis. Learning about the spraying changed her feelings about her home.

The Forest Service banned aerial spraying in national forests in 1984, in part due to a fierce battle over the issue in Lincoln County. But timber companies still regularly apply herbicides and fungicides from airplanes onto private land here, Davis discovered. The chemicals are used to eliminate plants that compete with trees after clearcutting, a practice used in the timber industry to uniformly remove all the trees in an area. Among the chemicals they spray are 2,4-D and glyphosate, respectively labeled possible and probable carcinogens by the World Health Organization, and atrazine, an endocrine disruptor. Aerial application of the chemicals is cheaper than employing people to apply it from the ground or pull weeds by hand. But it allows the chemicals to drift over large areas, affecting water supplies, and the health of people and animals.

OREGON COAST, OR - SEPTEMBER 8: Barbara Davis is part of the group Lincoln County Community Rights, who were able to get an ordinance passed to stop the aerial spraying of pesticides. September 8, 2018 (Photo by Beth Nakamura For The Intercept)
Barbara Davis looks over clearcut land near the Siletz River, along the Oregon coastal mountain range. Photo: Beth Nakamura For The Intercept

Davis began reading — and worrying — about the health effects of pesticides. Although she had previously shied away from difficult political conversations, she began driving her old Honda around the county with a hand-scrawled “public health or corporate wealth” sign in its back window to promote the ordinance. Davis met with little resistance when she explained that it would reduce pesticide exposure, as well as the health problems she feared it was causing around the county. Judging from the conversations she struck up as she distributed leaflets, many of her fellow Lincoln County residents shared her concern. “I would start knocking on doors in my neighborhood and they’d start telling me about their cancer stories,” Davis said. “I had two neighbors down the road who died of brain cancer. Nobody can prove cause and effect, but I connected it to the spraying — and a lot of other people did, too.”

The group decided to highlight stories of some of the people who had suffered from pesticide exposure. One of its mailings featured Loren Wand, a local farmer and landscaper whose wife, Debra, had been sprayed by pesticides from a helicopter in her 20s. “Prior to getting sprayed, she looked like Ali MacGraw,” Wand told me recently. Directly afterward, Debra developed respiratory problems that gradually worsened. Her health steadily deteriorated and she died of cancer at age 44. “I have no question the spraying was related,” said Wand, who doesn’t use pesticides in his farming or landscaping businesses.

But while the members of Lincoln County Community Rights were talking about the human consequences of pesticide use, their opponents were pushing out their own message. Three local business owners who rely on pesticides argued that the ordinance threatened their families’ legacy by taking “away essential tools to prevent the spread of invasive species.” Others argued that the ban would increase farmers’ expenses. And Oregonians for Food & Shelter, a statewide organization, felt that “counties really lack the expertise” to regulate pesticides, as Scott Dahlman, the group’s policy director, told me. “It’s why we have state agencies that handle that.”

The ban’s opponents didn’t tackle the health questions, focusing instead on one of the law’s provisions that spelled out citizens’ rights to use “direct action” to enforce the ordinance if necessary.

Who’s Afraid of Direct Democracy?

The group remains split on the wisdom of including the direct action provision, which a county judge ultimately decided was the one part of the ordinance that should not be enforced. Maria Sause, the part-time translator who helped write the aerial spray ban, felt the language clarifying people’s rights to enforce the law corrected an existing power imbalance. “We’re being accused of being eco-terrorists,” Sause said. “But the way the laws are right now, the corporations have priority over the citizens’ right to defend their own health and safety. That’s terrorism.”

For his part, Davidson thinks the group shouldn’t have included the phrasing that gave citizens the right to enforce the ordinance because it resulted in their being tarred as dangerous extremists. “At least we could have put in nonviolent direct action,” he said of the language, which he noted was added in the last week before the measure was submitted.

In any case, much of the opposition to the ban focused on its direct action provision, arguing that it showed that people who wanted to limit pesticides were dangerous radicals. The opposition group created by CropLife America — and given the environmentally friendly-sounding name Protect Family Farms and Forests — produced videos warning that the ordinance would allow “anyone to take the law into their own hands with no legal consequences.” On Facebook, the group warned about the possibility of “trespassing, vandalism, destruction of property, and even bodily harm,” should the law take effect.

While the activists had no experience crafting campaigns and very little money to pay for outside help, Protect Family Farms and Forests seemed to have ample resources to effectively push out their message.

“They were trolling us pretty hard. Any time we had a radio interview, they would come out with a press release two hours later bashing us,” said Davidson. “Every single website you go to would have their ads running. They paid for advertising everywhere. Radio, TV, internet.” And while both sides had dueling Facebook pages, opponents of the ban also bought ads on the site. “Even when you were on our page, you’d see ads for theirs,” said Davidson.

Protect Family Farms and Forests also mailed fliers about the dangers of the ordinance to everyone in the county, including Colman-Pinning, the llama farmer. Although they were designed to raise opposition to the ban, Colman-Pinning saw the glossy mailers describing the ban as an assault on family farms as a call to action. “It was really smarmy stuff,” said Colman-Pinning. “Karl Rovian.” And it was voluminous. “They sent out eight direct mails to every one of ours.”

vote-no-flyer-1536887778
One of the flyers mailed out by Protect Family Farms and Forests to residents of Lincoln County. Photo: Courtesy of Barbara Davis

Unreported Campaign Contributions

In a meeting of CropLife America’s board of directors held last September in Laguna Nigel, California, Paradigm Communications presented its activities in Oregon as a success. A briefing document for the meeting listed their campaign in Lincoln County as one of five major accomplishments of 2017.

Poll numbers listed in the state activities memo (which at first incorrectly places the effort in Lane County) showed that opponents of the spray ban were initially lagging by 26 points. “Through a combination of messaging and on the ground activates we were able to close that gap to zero,” the memo notes. “The methods used to fight the battle in Lincoln County showed that with intense training and local involvement; we can move large portions of the voting population.”

Yet in Lincoln County, where the spray ban is now in effect, the fight over the ordinance can also be seen as an illustration of the exact opposite point: that a small, committed band of people can restrict the use of pesticides even when their resources are dwarfed by those of their opponents. The ordinance passed by 61 votes in May of last year despite the contributions of powerful groups, including the Fertilizer Institute, the Koch-supported Oregon Forest Industries Council, more than a dozen local farm bureaus, DuPont, and Oregonians for Food and Shelter — a group created in 1980 to “do battle with activists seeking an initiative to ban the aerial application of forest herbicides,” according to an archived page of its website.

Exactly how much was spent fighting the local ban is unclear. According to state records, supporters of the ordinance, who created a separate group called Citizens for a Healthy County in order to be able to lobby, received $21,600 in cash and in-kind contributions, most of them small gifts from individuals, including several members of Lincoln County Community Rights. Meanwhile, the group formed to lobby against the ban, the Coalition to Defeat 21-177, received more than $475,000 in contributions, much of that from farm bureaus and industry groups.

But the total amount of contributions to the Coalition to Defeat 21-177, which represents 22 times the contributions to the ban’s proponents and about $34 spent for every voter, doesn’t reflect any expenditures or services provided by CropLife America. The group’s internal documents show that it spent heavily to fight the ban in Lincoln County. The documents didn’t specify the total spent on its joint effort with Paradigm Communications, but they do show that CropLife America expected to spend more than $10 million on staff, consultants, and vendors in 2017 and clearly considered its work in Oregon a top priority. Yet none of the group’s spending on the ban was recorded in the Oregon Secretary of State’s database. State law requires public reporting of all contributions to campaigns over $750, including those from out-of-state organizations.

“I believe it’s a violation of both the spirit and letter of the law,” said Kate Titus, executive director of Common Cause Oregon, when alerted to CropLife America’s unreported expenditures on the Lincoln County ordinance. The state’s campaign finance law requires the reporting of anything of value given to influence the outcome of an election on a measure — whether it’s cash or services — to an online system run by the Oregon Secretary of State. “The intent of that is to make sure voters know who’s behind all the money in elections. Contributions to campaigns are supposed to be reported,” said Titus.

Dan Meek, a public interest attorney based in Portland, Oregon, agreed that CropLife America’s failure to report its spending to fight the ordinance was a violation of state law. “Every contribution has to be reported,” he said after being told of the spending. Meek, who began representing Community Rights Lane County last month, said that “everything the national group did is an illegal contribution” — whether the group was acting in conjunction with the organized attempt to defeat the ban or independently. Meek added that if CropLife America was found to have deliberately misreported its campaign contributions the group could face charges of perjury, a felony under Oregon law.

CropLife America did not return repeated phone calls or respond to emailed questions about its campaign. Porter Novelli also declined to comment for this story or answer specific question about its involvement with CropLife America.

OREGON COAST, OR - SEPTEMBER 8: The Siletz River, which runs through the Oregon's coastal mountain ranges. September 8, 2018 (Photo by Beth Nakamura For The Intercept)
The Siletz River, which runs through the Oregon’s coastal mountain ranges, was affected by aerial pesticide spraying. Photo: Beth Nakamura For The Intercept

Communities Fight Back

Much of the opposition to pesticides in recent years has focused on enforcing existing laws, some of which establish buffer zones around schools, parks, and other areas in which pesticides cannot be used. But the groups in Oregon — along with others that have sprung up around the country — have taken another tack: changing the laws.

Like the ordinance in Lincoln County, a similar proposal in neighboring Lane County didn’t just specify that aerial spraying would be outlawed, it asserted people’s “inherent and inalienable right of local community self-government.” Both measures were inspired by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which views the aerial spraying of pesticides as violations of citizens’ basic rights to clean air, water, and soil.

CropLife America has taken a particular interest in the group, which was co-founded by Thomas Linzey and has distinguished itself by arguing not just for the rights of people, but the rights of nature itself. “That sounds hippie-dippy, but the fact is that pesticide applications affect ecosystems, rivers, and forests,” Linzey said when contacted by phone. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1995 and started off doing traditional legal work, such as enforcing statutes like the Clean Water Act and Clear Air Act. But the group switched to the community rights approach in 2001, out of frustration with their lack of progress. Since then, Linzey said, it helped pass more than 200 local ordinances in 10 states focusing on longwall coal mining, fracking, and large-scale water withdrawals, among other issues.

In Lane County, which reaches from the Pacific to the Cascade Mountains, the environmental group’s help has yet to yield any victories. An amendment to the Lane County charter that would ban aerial spraying of pesticides has been in the works for at least three years, but has yet to make it to a vote. Supporters of the ban gathered some 30,000 signatures, but a local judge ruled that the proposal couldn’t be added to the ballot after a timber industry supporter sued the county.

Michelle Holman, who has been fighting against pesticide use in Lane County for years, moved to rural Oregon to be closer to nature. But soon after she arrived in the late 1970s, Holman discovered that many local women were having health problems. Just among her own friends, she knew of four who had had miscarriages, two who had stillbirths, and one whose baby died shortly after being born. Holman herself wound up having 10 miscarriages.

“Nobody knows unequivocally why these things happen,” she said. But she came to focus on the pesticides that were sprayed from planes and helicopters in the area. And her gut sense that pesticides played a role in her repeated losses was bolstered by ample evidence linking pesticides with miscarriage.

Holman joined the board of Beyond Toxics, an Oregon group that was working on pesticides among other issues. “We did all the traditional activism — protests, calling agency people, writing letters, having agency people come here, going to corporate headquarters. But we were always told the same thing: This stuff has been tested and it’s legal.”

After Holman went to a presentation on community rights, she became convinced that only way to win the fight against pesticides was to change the laws — and helped found Community Rights Lane County. “I don’t think the planet has time for this incremental shit,” she said. “We need to ban the stuff.”

Unfortunately for Holman and the growing number of people now focusing on changing the laws that determine local control of pesticides, the companies that make these chemicals have already had the same thought. In 1991, after the Supreme Court ruled a town in Wisconsin could pass a ban on pesticide spraying that was more restrictive than the federal pesticide law, it became clear that communities around the country had the legal right to pass their own limits on pesticide use.

“We were really happy about the Supreme Court decision,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, an organization that formed that year to promote non-chemical pest management alternatives and help rid the world of toxic pesticides. But soon after the ruling, the industry launched a state-by-state campaign to pass laws that prevented other local pesticide limits.

Today, 43 states have some form of pesticide pre-emption law. Twenty-nine, including Oregon, have state laws that specifically prevent localities from adopting restrictions on pesticides that are stricter than the federal law. And 14 have a more limited form of pre-emption, in which a state commissioner or board manages pesticides — an option that Feldman says is “like giving the fox the henhouse.”

Implied Pre-emption

But even in states that don’t have laws specifically outlawing local restrictions, pesticide makers have sometimes succeeded in fighting them. In Hawaii, one of seven states without pre-emption laws, pesticides have become a huge health and environmental issue. Kauai, the fourth-largest Hawaiian island, which is a testing ground for several major pesticide manufacturers, has been particularly hard-hit. Dow, BASF, DuPont, and Syngenta sprayed 17 times more restricted-use insecticides per acre on cornfields there than on those in the U.S. mainland, according to a 2015 report from the Center for Food Safety. A recent study by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture found pesticides in 31 of 32 water samples on Kauai and Oahu, the island to its south. And a substantial number of honey samples on the island were also recently found to contain glyphosate.

In 2013, when he was a member of the Kauai County Council, Gary Hooser proposed a bill to limit the spraying of highly toxic pesticides near schools, homes, day care centers, hospitals, and waterways. The fight over the bill was bruising. “They painted people like me as being crazy activists, anti-science,” said Hooser.

“I’ve been doing politics and government for 20 years, and I’ve never worked with any industry as intense and thuggish as the chemical companies,” said Hooser. “They filled the room full of their workers and told the world that Gary Hooser, and this bill was going to cost them their jobs.”

Despite the efforts, the Kauai measure passed. But Syngenta, BASF, and Agrigenics, a company affiliated with Dow AgroSciences, sued on the grounds that Kauai’s law was pre-empted by state law. And even though Hawaii has no pre-emption law, a federal appeals court judge agreed with the companies in 2016 and struck down the measure.

In Montgomery County, Maryland, another local pesticide ban was overturned last year despite the fact that the state has no pre-emption law. The Healthy Lawns Act would have prohibited the use of certain pesticides on lawns starting in January of this year. But six local lawn care companies, along with the lobbying arm of CropLife America called Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment, or RISE, successfully sued the county. The county has since appealed the ruling to a Maryland Court of Special Appeals, which heard the case this week and is expected to rule on it soon.

“RISE was basically the lead,” said Ling Tan, a mother who began working on a local law to restrict pesticides after she realized that toxic lawn products were being sprayed while her two daughters, who both have asthma, were outside playing. Tan, who first asked her homeowner’s association and the Maryland State Department of Agriculture for help with the issue, has been working on the ban with other parents since 2013.

“What’s so disheartening is that it took just one judge to undo years of activism by so many groups,” said Tan.

OREGON COAST, OR - SEPTEMBER 8: Barbara Davis, left, gathers support from Debra Fant, right, after becoming emotional at the sight of clear cutting of old growth timber along the coastal mountain range of Oregon. The two are part of the group Lincoln County Community Rights, who were able to get an ordinance passed to stop the aerial spraying of pesticides. September 8, 2018 (Photo by Beth Nakamura For The Intercept)
Barbara Davis, left, and Debra Fant share a moment after viewing large swathes of clearcutting of old growth timber along the coastal mountain range of Oregon. Photo: Beth Nakamura For The Intercept

A court may soon reverse the hard-fought win in Lincoln County, too. On June 6, 2017, one day after the ban on spraying from planes and helicopters took effect, a lawsuit was filed to declare it invalid on the grounds that Oregon state law pre-empted the ordinance. The named plaintiff, Rex Capri, who owns timberland in the county, was later joined in the suit by Wakefield Farms LLC, another local landowner. Both have aerially sprayed their timber trees with pesticides in the past and want to continue doing so.The complaint filed in their suit doesn’t mention CropLife America. But a report from the trade group’s legal department notes that “CLA is closely working with Oregonians for Food and Shelter (OFS) and Oregon Forest Industries Council (OFIC) in a legal challenge to” the Lincoln County ban.

Legal wrangling also continues in Lane County, where the authors of their spray ban are still fighting to bring it before the people of the country for a vote. Rob Dickinson and Michelle Holman, members of the all-volunteer group that has been working on the charter amendment for years, acknowledge that the county may not succeed in banning aerial spraying of pesticides — and that, if they do, the ban may then be overturned by the court.

Either way, they feel the fight is worth having. “When the black students sat down at that lunch counter, it wasn’t a failure that they didn’t get served lunch,” said Dickinson. “The only way we fail is if we stop fighting.”

As much as it is fueled by a deep desire to get the chemicals out of their air and water, the activists say their fight is about democracy. “We’re the freaking people. We have inalienable rights,” said Holman. As long as they keep fighting, there’s at least a chance they’ll be able to exercise those rights to rid their communities of pesticides.

“It’s definitely a David and Goliath situation,” said Holman. “But sometimes David wins.”

Update: September 16, 2018

This article has been updated to clarify Dan Meek’s comments on CropLife America’s apparent unreported campaign contributions. Meek said that deliberately misreporting campaign spending could be considered perjury, a felony under Oregon law.

Additional research by Nick Surgey of Documented.

Lawsuit brought to protect Oregon Coast coho from damaging Oregon Department of Forestry Logging

A group of environmental organizations is seeking to hold Oregon’s Department of Forestry accountable for its logging practices on Oregon State Forests.  This logging is damaging water quality and harming habitat for threatened Oregon Coast coho.  The coho are protected under the Endangered Species Act.  Below is an Oregonian article about the suit:

Environmentalists, fishing groups sue state over fate of coastal coho salmon

(Courtesy/Center for Biological Diversity)

A coalition of groups, including both environmental advocates and fishing industry representatives, sued the Oregon Department of Forestry alleging the agency has failed to protect the habitat of the iconic fish.

The groups said logging practices permitted by the agency have degraded stream quality in the Clatsop and Tillamook State Forests, the two largest in Oregon.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Cascadia Wildlands and the Native Fish Society filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Eugene on Tuesday.

The lawsuit is specific to Oregon coast coho salmon, which have been listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act since 2011.

“Logging by the Oregon Department of Forestry is one of the main reasons our coastal coho are in trouble,” Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. “The department needs to do more to ensure it doesn’t harm these beautiful and important fish.”

Ken Armstrong, a spokesman for the forestry department, said the agency couldn’t comment on pending litigation.

The groups who brought the suit hope the court will find Oregon in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The suit aims to stop logging in the two state forests until the agency submits a plan to better protect the threatened fish.

 

Timber is Oregon’s biggest carbon polluter, High Country News Article

Timber is Oregon’s biggest carbon polluter: A new study finds that forests are key to reducing the state’s climate impacts.

High Country News, May 16, 2018
by Carl Segerstrom

 

Last summer, the skies of Oregon turned a foreboding shade of gray. Forest fires up and down the state blackened forests and left people gasping for air. Politicians stumped about the need to ramp up logging to improve Oregon’s air, environment and economy. The fires and heated rhetoric got Oregon State University researcher Beverly Law thinking about carbon storage and emissions from Oregon forests.

Because of the human health impacts of smoke, the conversation about pollution and forests is typically centered on fires. But the study Law and her colleagues put together earlier this year found that wildfire is not the biggest source of climate-warming carbon dioxide in Oregon forests — logging and wood products are. Figuring out the role of forests and wood in carbon pollution could have major policy implications in Oregon, as Gov. Kate Brown has pledged to meet the emissions goals of the Paris Climate accords.

A house threatened by a forest fire in central Oregon.

The conversation about carbon pollution often centers on emissions from automobile tailpipes and burning coal, but plants that absorb carbon from the atmosphere are also an important part of the equation. According to the study, Oregon’s ecosystems were able to soak in more than 70 percent of the carbon emissions in the state between 2011 and 2015. The ecosystems of Oregon’s Coast Range, which are part of an ecosystem that runs from Northern California to the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, are some of the best in the world at sucking in and storing carbon.

While Oregon forests absorb a lot of carbon, the team of Oregon State University and University of Idaho researchers found that the wood products industry is the largest sector contributing to carbon pollution in the state and “that in a relative sense, fires are small for carbon loss,” Law says. The wood products sector generated about one and a half times more emissions than the transportation or energy sector emissions reported by the Oregon Global Warming Commission. Wood product emissions are the result of fuel burned by logging equipment, the hauling of timber, milling, wood burned during forestry activities, and the ongoing decomposition of trees after they are cut. Forest fire emissions were less than a quarter of all forest sector emissions in each of the five-year increments studied between 2001 and 2015.

Wood produced under Oregon forestry laws is marketed as being environmentally friendly; it’s eligible for LEED certification, a standard for green building, according to the state-run Oregon Forest Resources Institute. But the analysis done by these researchers, which calculated the carbon generated by harvest and product emissions found that, despite offset credits that account for substitution of fossil-fuel intensive products like steel and concrete, wood is still a major producer of carbon dioxide. “I love wood and it would be nice to have wood buildings in the Northwest because they take earthquakes better,” says Law. But “we think we’ve been giving wood too much credit” as a green building material, she says.

While the study paints a bleak picture of the current role forestry and wood products play in carbon pollution, it also puts forward solutions to reduce pollution and improve Oregon’s carbon budget. The study found that if forests were clearcut less frequently and public lands logging was reduced there would be significant improvements in carbon capture in Oregon’s forests. Habitat conditions and water retention in forests would also improve.

Large privately owned forests, which are typically clearcut and then replanted with Douglas firs, are the primary source of timber in Oregon. Large private companies own about 20 percent of the forestland in Oregon and produce about 63 percent of timber in the state, according to the Oregon Forest Resources Institute. Currently these tree plantations are cut roughly every 45 years.

The study shows that extending the time between harvests to 80 years and cutting harvests in publicly owned forests in half would increase carbon storage in Oregon forests by 17 percent by 2100.

These shifts would come with a cost: Managing forests solely for their pollution absorbing potential will mean less jobs in an industry that has severely contracted over the last few decades. Reductions in federal harvests, the growing automation of timber falling and milling and competition with international markets have taken chunks out of Oregon’s timber economy. The wood products industry accounted for less than 30,000 jobs statewide in 2016 and was responsible for about 2 percent of the state’s GDP, according to a presentation by Josh Lerner with the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis. Still, in five rural counties timber still accounts for more than 10 percent of private sector jobs, according to Lerner’s report.

And Law’s research could have regional implications. She is working on a larger scale study looking at how land use affects carbon emissions across the West. Stanford forest carbon researcher Christa Anderson says studies like these are important to understand the impact of land use and forests in the carbon balance of the atmosphere.

Anderson, whose research has informed climate policies in California, says that forests can play a part in slowing climate change but that growing forests won’t be enough to solve climate change. “There’s definitely a role for forests to play in climate change mitigation,” Anderson says. “But we also can’t think of them as the heavy lifters.”

Carl Segerstrom is an editorial intern at High Country News.

Copyright © High Country News

Testimony to the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission Regarding DEQ Enforcement Responsibilities

BEFORE THE OREGON ENVIROMENTAL QUALITY COMMISSION
Statement of Mary Scurlock
Provided by call- in testimony to Dalles Meeting
11 May 2018

I am Mary Scurlock, representing the Oregon Stream Protection Coalition’s 25 conservation and fishing industry member groups united in support of stronger, science-based forest practices standards that reliably meet water quality standards and protect aquatic life on Oregon’s 10.6 million acres of private forestland.

You will recall that I have been encouraging this Commission to recognize that it has not actually delegated all of its Clean Water Act authority for nonpoint sources to designated management agencies such the Departments of Forestry or Agriculture. To the contrary, when it comes to the determining the sufficiency of the best management practices established under the Forest Practices Act, DEQ is quite clearly still the primary enforcer of water quality standards, including nonpoint source Load Allocations and TMDLs. (See e.g. Memorandum from Larry Knudsen, Senior Assistant Attorney General, to Neil Mullane, Water Quality Division Administrator, July 2, 2010, 5 pages).

Yet while it is clear that water quality standards and Load Allocations are not being attained due to land use impacts in many Oregon watersheds, DEQ has not effectively held the responsible parties accountable.

You may recall that I shared some EPA maps with you recently? One of them showed that 80% of streams within the Rogue-Siskiyou assessment area that travel over privately managed forested lands are listed for temperature, or sedimentation-turbidity. Yet, this region was inexplicably completely exempted from a recent rulemaking by the Board of Forestry to limit stream warming, only a small fraction of streams received increased protection even in western Oregon, and the status quo prevails on the Eastside.

These are a few of the reasons why we are so strongly supportive of the work DEQ is doing to specifically describe the responsibilities of the various Designated Management entities for water quality standards attainment, including through “Implementation Ready” TMDLs such as those being developed on the Mid Coast. But this critically important work is proceeding far too slowly with far too few resources: DEQ couldn’t even come close to meeting the timelines of the settlement agreement for the Coastal Zone on the Mid Coast work.

DEQ needs to step up its game meet its water quality obligations to the public. That will require EQC leadership to achieve nonpoint source compliance – but it will also require additional resources.

I regret that I am not be able to hear the presentation this afternoon on potential Policy Option Packages, but it is apparent the work that I am talking about would be supported by one or more the Water Quality items, including the one related to TMDL implementation.

Please do what you can to prioritize resources to the kind of monitoring evaluation and analysis that will help DEQ hold ODF and other Designated Management Agencies accountable for actually reducing nonpoint sources of water quality impairment.

Our future and our quality of life depend on it.

Thank you for hearing me again today.

Mary Scurlock
Coordinator
Oregon Stream Protection Coalition
503-320-0712 (m)
503-946-8628 (o)
Mary.scurlock@comcast.net
oregon-stream-protection-coalition.com

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