The Conservation Column
By Pepper Trail
Welcome back from summer! Except for that brief period of smoke from the Milepost 97 fire, what a lovely summer it has been! Fingers crossed for continued smoke-free skies, and a cool, wet September.
I wish I had such good news on the conservation front, but sadly the Administration’s attacks on the environment only accelerated over the summer. Really, there are too many to review them all, so I will focus on two: BLM logging proposals and new rules weakening the Endangered Species Act.
BLM, Bad to Worse
First, a little background on the national situation regarding the BLM. It is fair to state that the Bureau of Land Management is an agency in crisis. The Administration appears to be intent on “kneecapping” the agency, in the memorable phrase of the Washington Post. Ever since President Trump took office, BLM has been ordered to prioritize oil and gas development proposals on the lands it manages, and this pressure continues to increase. Now, the Department of the Interior, of which BLM is a part, has announced plans to move 84% of the agency’s Washington, DC staff to Grand Junction, Colorado, where most will be directed to report to BLM state directors rather than the national headquarters. Even worse, in early August, Interior Secretary David Berhardt named William Perry Pendley as the acting director of BLM. It is difficult to imagine a less appropriate choice. Pendley has long advocated transferring federal land to the states or private ownership, has called for even greater reductions to national monuments than proposed by then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and has publicly sympathized with Cliven Bundy in his stand-off with the BLM over illegal grazing activities. As the Washington Post stated in an editorial that was reprinted in the Mail Tribune, “During any other administration, [Pendley’s appointment] would be a front-page scandal.”
Locally, BLM is pushing some truly terrible logging proposals. The Medford and Roseburg Districts of the BLM are preparing a proposed “Integrated Vegetation Management Plan” (IVMP) calling for extensive logging and road-building activities, suspension of many protections put in place by the Northwest Forest Plan, and drastically reduced public input. In the Medford District, this envisions 14,000 acres/yr of alleged “beneficial” logging and 20 miles/yr of “temporary” roads. Shockingly, this plan would also specifically apply to the 2017 expansion areas of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument (CSNM).
RVAS is very concerned that the IVMP would result in inappropriate management for this area of extraordinary diversity and ecological importance. We have joined a coalition led by the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, with legal advice from Nada Culver, Vice President and Senior Policy Counsel on Public Lands for the National Audubon Society, in submitting extensive scoping comments opposed to the IVMP proposal. These adamantly call for the exclusion of the CSNM from the plan. We were able to recruit seven other Oregon Audubon chapters, as well as National Audubon, to sign onto these comments.
BLM has also proposed a huge timber sale, named “Poor Windy” near the Rogue-Umpqua Divide. According to an analysis by KS-Wild, the impacts from this sale would include:
• 13,288 acres to be logged in designated Late Successional or Riparian Reserves.
• 5,410 acres within the Late Successional Reserve subcategory are proposed for treatments that will remove federally designated Critical Habitat for at-risk species and the prey they depend on for survival.
• 61 forests with known Northern Spotted Owl activity could be negatively impacted by this proposed logging. BLM has failed to complete surveys for all of the federally threatened owls present in the project area.
• 30.5 new miles of roads are to be built in this road-heavy project area.
• 321 miles of timber haul is proposed adjacent to Clean Water Act federally listed streams with haul allowed during the wet season.
For more information, or to contact Governor Brown and Congressman DeFazio (whose district includes the sale area) about this proposed Poor Windy sale, go to: https://www.kswild.org/action-alerts/2019/7/24/blm-forest-carnage-take-action
Weakening the Endangered Species Act
On August 12, the Administration announced new rules that would drastically weaken the Endangered Species Act. In response, the National Audubon Society released the following statement:
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is our nation’s most powerful tool for protecting wildlife. Protections provided by the Act have succeeded in preventing the extinction of 99 percent of the species listed and benefitted many others that depend on the landscapes it has helped to protect. The final ESA regulatory reform package, released on August 12 by the Departments of the Interior and Commerce, fails the most important measure of any changes to a bedrock environmental law by marginalizing science-based protections for wildlife.
The ESA currently protects about 100 U.S. bird species, including the Northern Spotted Owl, Piping Plover, and Marbled Murrelet. The law prohibits harm to listed species, designates “critical habitat,” and initiates a recovery plan with population goals and specific management activities. The ESA has also served as an important tool for incentivizing large-scale conservation efforts, such as the case with the Greater Sage-Grouse. The ESA has helped numerous bird species recover and be delisted, such as the Brown Pelican, Bald Eagle, and Peregrine Falcon, and has set many other species on the path to recovery.
“As a whole, the rule changes are political, unwise, and will only increase litigation. They tip the balance in decision-making against vulnerable wildlife and undermine incentives for effective conservation,” said Sarah Greenberger, senior vice president for conservation policy at the National Audubon Society.
While some of the new rules are reasonable – including making it easier to direct resources to conservation projects by speeding up consultation requirements for federal projects that are beneficial to species – other changes would severely weaken protections for imperiled species. The most egregious of the new changes would allow the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to consider the economic costs of listing a species – something expressly prohibited under existing law. Other changes will make it much more difficult to provide any protections to newly listed “threatened species” or to designate the “critical habitat” species need to recover. The new rules also allow the FWS to ignore the dire effects of climate change on imperiled species – effects we are seeing with greater regularity, such as hurricanes that jeopardize the Piping Plover.
“While Audubon could have supported some changes that may improve implementation while speeding up support for atrisk wildlife, these damaging new rules will weaken protections for imperiled species and include language that is wholly contrary to the law,” said Greenberger.
National Audubon provides a link to take action to defend the ESA. Go to the following webpage and click on the TAKE ACTION button:
Thanks for all you do!