The Conservation Column
By Pepper Trail
For this Conservation Column, here is an update on the 2018 conservation actions and priorities of the Oregon Audubon chapters, compiled by Joe Liebezeit of Portland Audubon. On October 13-14, Rogue Valley Audubon will host the annual conservation meeting of the Oregon Audubon Council (OAC) at the Green Springs Inn, where 2019 priorities will be discussed. As always, there is no shortage of critical conservation issues!
On June 7, 2018, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 4-2 to reverse a decision that it made just four months earlier to raise the Marbled Murrelets’s status from “threatened” to “endangered” under the Oregon Endangered Species Act. The reversal demonstrated a blatant disregard for science, state wildlife law and the continued survival of the murrelet in Oregon. At the August meeting the ODFW Commission approved toothless voluntary survival guide-lines that have no force of law. Subsequently five conservation groups, including Portland Audubon filed a lawsuit against the ODFW Commission. The lawsuit includes four claims. First, the ODFW Commission failed to base its decision upon documented and verifiable science. Second, the Commission failed to adequately explain its decision to reverse its prior decision to uplist. Next, the decision not to uplist is not supported by substantial evidence in the record. Finally, the Commission failed to provide adequate notice to the public or the petitioners to weigh in on its decision to reverse the uplisting in June.
Elliott State Forest:
The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled on August 1 that the 2014 sale of the 788-acre East Hakki Ridge tract on the 93,000-acre Elliott State Forest was illegal. The ruling, which overturns the sale of the public land to a private timber company, marks a major win for the state’s public lands and for the future of the Elliott State Forest, setting an important precedent for the States future role in managing public lands
Defense of federal environmental laws
A variety of federal laws have come under attack over the past year, including the Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, floodplain protections, and the sage grouse plan. In March 2018, 10 Oregon Audubon chapters submitted a letter to Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) opposing its Draft Proposed 2019-2024 OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program. Portland Audubon is tracking this process. Individual chapters have submitted letters and signed-on to letters opposing other efforts to weaken federal laws and Portland Audubon has helped organize a national coalition to oppose weakening of floodplain protections achieved through its litigation against the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Comments are currently being drafted by Portland Audubon addressing weakening of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The Oregon Dept. of Water Resources has still not released a Proposed Final Order (PFO) on the application filed by River’s End Ranch in 2015(!) for an extension of time on its water storage and surface water permits. The reservoir is immediately upstream from Lake Abert, and the only way water reaches the lake is when the reservoir can’t handle more water.
Klamath National Wildlife Refuge
Audubon Portland, Oregon Wild, WaterWatch, and Crag Law Center have filed a lawsuit charging that the USFWS failed to follow federal law in the development of the refuges CCP and that the preferred alternative does little to protect the refugees habitat and wildlife. The ROD preferred alternative was released in January 2017 (https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Tule_Lake/what_we_do/planning.html). Litigation is still in process and in the briefing phase.
Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
Portland Audubon hired Teresa Wicks as the Eastern Oregon Field Coordinator based out of Burns, Oregon. Teresa hit the ground in May and is working to support the work of the High Desert Partnership, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and other conservation initiatives in the area (including a number of OAC priorities). The addition of a full-time staff person based in Harney County in addition to support from Candace Larson, Portland Audubon Field Biologist, has enabled an increase in both outreach and wildlife monitoring engagement with the Malheur NWR and Harney County partners. Audubon Portland continues to be deeply engaged with the implementation of the Malheur CCP and related efforts. Several chapters have tried to help support the Malheur Field Station during its challenges over the past year.
We are still awaiting the USFWS Environmental Assessment (EA) that was due for public comment fall 2017. As of mid-July, the word from USFWS was that they tentatively planned on publishing the proposed rule in late-Aug/early-Sept, but looks like they’re on track for more delay. Portland Audubon has expressed interest in becoming a signatory on the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for Condor release, but it is unclear whether there is actually a process in place to add additional signatories and we have yet to be invited in. Our current focus is on trying to find ways to engage in and support reintroduction efforts while continuing to advocate for the highest level of protection possible for this population. Nevertheless, the EA is sure to stick to the 10j non-essential population designation for birds in this range, thus limiting protections.
Greater Sage Grouse
The Trump administration has weakened sage grouse protections across the west triggering lawsuits from national conservation organizations. Impacts in Oregon were relatively small compared to other states. East Cascades Audubon has about 80 volunteers engaged with Sage Grouse related projects including mosquito trapping to assess prevalence/ risk from West Nile Virus. Meanwhile, Portland Audubon continues to be involved with Sage Con (state/ federal effort to implement sage grouse plan) and submitted comments opposing weakening of sage grouse protections in Oregon.
The Corps and other federal agencies declined to implement the final year of lethal control of Cormorants on East Sand Island due to colony collapse in 2016 and 2017. The focus now is on the revision of the Columbia River Salmon Protection Plan and getting the agencies to address the primary causes of salmon declines: the federal hydropower system.
Streaked Horned Larks / Vesper Sparrows
We are still awaiting the USFWS Streaked Horned Lark Draft recovery Plan that was due for public comment in the spring of 2018.