Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project 2015 Annual Work Report–Victories for reducing harmful logging and toxic herbicide use
2015 has been a record year for Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project accomplishments:
In late 2014 we won a legal victory on the Snow Basin timber sale case on the Wallowa Whitman National Forest on the failure to adequately assess the impacts of Forest Plan amendments used to violate existing Forest Plan standards, thanks to the dedicated hard work of Tom Buchele and Emma Bruden of Earth Rise Law Center. This court ruling could help stop several other timber sales with the same Forest Plan amendment violations of the existing Forest Plans, over multiple National Forests in eastern Oregon. In 2015 we continued to pursue this issue through our objections to the Elk 16, Big Mosquito, and Wolf/Malheur timber sales. In the Elk 16 timber sale, all proposed commercial logging of American marten habitat was dropped based on our field surveying. In response to our comments, an additional 2,927 acres of logging was modified to retain connectivity for wildlife corridors, and to avoid using a Forest Plan amendment that would violate connectivity standards. Non-commercial thinning proposed for 352 acres in Potential Wilderness Areas was dropped, and a minor change was made to avoid violating the Forest Plan standard for elk cover within big game winter range. In response to our objection to the Elk 16 sale, the Forest Service agreed to not log trees over 21”dbh in old growth habitat in order not to reduce the net amount of forest that qualifies as Late Old Structure (old growth), which would have violated their Forest Plan. The Forest Service also modified planned logging in order to meet the Forest Plan standard for summer range elk cover. In addition, the Malheur Forest Supervisor agreed not to log trees greater than the Forest Plan 21”dbh limit in dry Ponderosa pine stands and within Riparian Habitat Conservation Areas. They voluntarily retained all these objection resolution agreements– even though we did not resolve our objection because of the Forest Service’s continued plan to log large trees over 21” dbh (a violation of the Forest Plan) over most of the sale area and with no upper limit. Thus we have retained our right to litigate over this issue, while also preserving the ecologically protective major changes made to the Elk 16 sale during objection negotiations. In the Big Mosquito timber sale, the Forest Service dropped some of the proposed logging of over 21” trees. At least 2,000 acres of logging was dropped from the Wolf/Malheur sale through our field surveying, and we managed to prevent most of the planned logging of trees larger than the 21”dbh Forest Plan limit in aspen areas through our objection resolution negotiations. The Earth Rise Law Center team is investigating potential claims for further legal action over the Forest Service’s chronic use of Forest Plan amendments in order to log large trees, reduce old growth habitat, reduce forest cover needed by elk and deer, and commercially log within the Riparian Habitat Conservation Areas alongside streams.
Our objection resolution settlement on the Malheur Invasive Plant Management Plan is a ground-breaking accomplishment for preventing toxic herbicide use on edible, medicinal, and indigenous peoples’ cultural plants; avoiding the use of the most toxic herbicides; and instituting a public accountability process to oversee a new timeline of goals for reducing herbicide use dramatically within 10 years on the Malheur National Forest. We convinced the Forest Service to drop the use of Picloram, a very persistent herbicide that readily travels through soils and water to non-target areas of the ecosystem. We also managed to get the use of Triclopyr, the herbicide most toxic to mammals (including humans) so restricted as to probably result in no use. We also got the broadcast use of Sulfonylurea herbicides restricted to only along roads, in rock pits, and on some large contiguous infestations of rhizomatous mustard family invasive plants. These herbicides are very acutely toxic and could easily drift onto non-target waterways, sensitive plants, and crops. In further response to our objection negotiations, maximum application rates for herbicides would not be used; manual invasive plant control would be preferred for Wilderness areas, with any potential herbicide use limited to only spot applications along designated trails or in dispersed campsites; and non-herbicide control methods would be preferred for campground areas with limitations for any herbicide use to only half a campground in any 30 days, at least one campground per Ranger District free of all herbicide use each year, and posting of herbicide use information. Edible, medicinal, and cultural plant populations would be buffered with the same project design features as sensitive plants, including those species commonly known by the public to be used for food or medicine, those for which collection permits are issued, and those identified by local indigenous peoples as having traditional cultural uses. This was a major concession by the Forest Service and important for the preservation of public and cultural uses of the Forest. Other groundbreaking concessions included a timeline of goals for herbicide reduction of 50% reduction of herbicide used after 3 years within
a subwatershed, 75% reduction in year 5, and a 90% reduction in year 10. Public adaptive management meetings will be held following each of these timeline target years to discuss challenges and successes in meeting these herbicide reduction goals. Invasive plant surveys and monitoring will use field forms that we suggested to indicate probable vectors for invasive plant introduction, recommending site-specific invasive plant prevention measures, and documenting the site with both written descriptions and photographs. Other important agreements include the second choice herbicide for invasive plant species being prioritized so that it will be the least toxic to animal species and the least persistent herbicide available wherever possible, and a revised decision tree for deciding whether to use herbicides that would incorporate relevant ecological protection design criteria and consider trade-offs between herbicide toxicity, control effectiveness, and cost effectiveness. We worked very closely with a dedicated Forest Botanist to achieve these positive outcomes, which include special emphasis being placed on preemptive restoration and prevention measures in disturbed areas, such as sowing native plant seed or planting native plants to colonize the site before invasive plants gain a foothold. It is our hope that this comprehensive agreement can be used as a model for other National Forests to effectively reduce invasive plant infestations while also emphasizing ecological protection, invasive plant dispersal prevention, and a commitment to reduce herbicide use to virtually none, with full public accountability.
Other notable accomplishments in 2015 included movement-building work such as our circulation of a National Public Lands Defense Network proposal and identifying activists interested in getting it off the ground. We also drafted, circulated, revised, and released a collective statement on the heavy logging bias and lack of full public representation in decision making of the Forest Service local collaborative group process. This statement was signed by over 20 activists and organizations, and has garnered press attention and heightened awareness of these issues and response to them on the part of some of the collaborative groups. We also had a successful Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project strategy meeting in March with strong participation and commitments made by volunteers and staff.
We made major strides in 2015 toward greater organizational financial stability, with a successful social media fundraising campaign that raised $6,500, using a promotional video produced by Trip Jennings; a successful benefit in Eugene organized by Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project volunteers and Cascadia Forest Defenders members that netted $600, and a new Blue Mountains T-shirt with a Pileated woodpecker design by Kara, one of our volunteers. We also attracted new foundation support, thanks to Paula Hood’s grant-writing efforts, and new major donor support.
We field-surveyed 11 timber sales in 2015 with the help of 35 volunteers, more than ever before in one field season, though three were necessarily only partial surveys due to early planning stages and a wild fire. Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project field-surveying has become a family affair, with a Mom, a Dad, a sister, and a cousin, of three different volunteers joining us this year! Timber sales we field-checked included Magone, and highest priority areas of Summit and Dove on the Malheur National Forest; Ringo and Lex on the Deschutes NF; Walton Lake on the Ochoco NF; Lower Joseph Creek on the Wallowa Whitman NF; and Thomas Creek, Sunrise, Tiger Webb, and Ten Cent on the Umatilla NF. We also field-checked the North Finger Cluster allotment for cattle grazing impacts and impediments to fish passage on the Malheur National Forest. We can’t possibly monitor the thousands of acres of proposed timber sales and livestock allotments without a lot of volunteers assisting us! Thanks to our volunteers in 2015: Foster, Gambit, Alecia, Jem, Pam, Alex, Maria, Pat, Michelle, Reid, Aralia, Xylah, Sophie, Jeffrie, Gavy, Richard, Jack, Cooper, Isobel, Mary, Emmy, Ben, Caroline, Kara, Tim, Wesley, Max, Kyle, Tim, Kim, Maralena, Jackie, Kima, Dasha, and Candace.
We submitted written comments on 15 timber sales, 3 livestock allotment renewal plans, a revised invasive plant management plan, and a proposal to use prescribed fire in the Mt. Washington Wilderness Area. We filed objections on five timber sales, the Malheur Invasive Plant Management Plan, and the Bendire BLM proposal to aerial spray herbicide over 17,000 acres with no site-specific Environmental Assessment. Timber sale objections were filed for the Elk 16, Wolf/Malheur, Big Mosquito, Junction, and Marsh sales.
Meetings with the Forest Service included two field trips with the Malheur hydrologist and the fish biologist that resulted in four miles of streamside logging being dropped in the Big Mosquito timber sale; meetings with the Malheur Forest Supervisor to negotiate a potential resolution of the Elk 16 timber sale; meeting with the lead Malheur botanist to negotiate resolution of the Malheur Invasive Plant Management Plan objection, and attending two Forest Plan Revision meetings: for the Deschutes National Forest in Portland, and for the Blue Mountains Forests on livestock issues in Ukiah. We participated in two Harney County Group collaborative meetings: a clarification meeting on the Wolf/Malheur objection, and a field tour in the Dove timber sale.
Our work to keep the Gray wolf listed and fully protected in Oregon included Paula Hood doing social media outreach and participating in meetings of the Pacific Wolf Coalition, and Audie, a volunteer, testifying for us at the public hearing over proposed Fish and Wildlife Service delisting of the wolf in Salem.
Our public outreach efforts included: volunteer outreach at a Cascadia Forest Defenders meeting in Eugene; an Earth First! history presentation to a class at Portland State University; sharing victory stories with Bark and other forest activists on Earth Day in Portland; presenting at a Fund for Wild Nature panel at the Environmental Law Conference in Eugene on the state of the movement; and participating and presenting in two meetings of the Great Old Broads for Wilderness—in Bend and in Portland. Media work included: an interview with the Florence, Oregon community radio station in March; extensive video interviews in the Metolius forest with Brian Neil for a T.V. documentary on wildfire and forests; the press release of the collaborative group process collective statement, with subsequent press in the Bend Bulletin and elsewhere; and an interview for a Bend Bulletin article on the Forest Service’s proposed logging around Walton Lake. Action alerts to supporters: We also sent action alerts to our supporters on five timber sales (Wolf/Malheur, Bailey Butte post-fire logging, Thomas Creek, Lex, and Walton Lake); three livestock allotment plans (29 BLM allotments, the Izee allotment, and the North Finger Complex allotments); and on the need to protect wolves from de-listing.
Unfortunately we lost two long-term supporters this year with the passing of Linda Driskill and Frazier Nichols. Linda and Nick were monitoring and addressing ecological harms from logging on the Malheur National Forest before our efforts began, and welcomed us with open arms to take this effort over for them on the Malheur in 1993. They continued to support Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project every year, including a parting donation from Linda right before her death. Linda worked hard to demand accountability from the Malheur National Forest for the severe ecological damage incurred by livestock use to streams, creeks, and springs across the Forest, and was a strong advocate for beaver reintroduction as a win-win solution for both riparian ecological integrity and renewed lush floodplains for ranchers and other land owners. We will greatly miss both Linda and Nick’s dedication to the wild cycles of Nature, such as the ability for salmon to return to their ancestral spawning headwaters and renew the cycle of life.
We want to thank the Astrov Fund, the Burning Foundation, the Charlotte Martin Foundation, the Fund for Wild Nature, the Oregon Community Foundation, all of our major donors, all of our Indigogo campaign contributors, and our in-kind donors, including lawyers, law students, field-surveying volunteers, base camp maintenance volunteers (Kecia, Danny, Michelle, and Kyle), and Celestron, Vortex, Guayaki, Once Again Nut Butter, and Hummingbird for binoculars, GPS and compasses, 16 pounds of Yerba Mate tea, 24 pounds of nut butters, and Sunflower oil and rice for our volunteers. We also extend our thanks to Japanese Auto in Portland for donating their labor costs so that we could replacement the engine in one of our trucks. Also thanks to David for donating the work to build our new office, and to Carolina for her help with editing!
However we still need everyone’s help to continue our work! Please donate needed funds, volunteer time, and in-kind contributions to help ensure that we are able to field survey upcoming timber sales (East Face, Shield, Kew, Drink, Camp Lick, Black Mountain, and the rest of Sunrise, Summit, and Dove, on the Wallowa Whitman, Deschutes, Malheur, Ochoco, and Umatilla National Forests; and any more livestock allotments proposed for renewal (e.g. Bear Creek), as well as invasive plant management plans (e.g. for the Prineville BLM District.) In addition to comments needed for these agency projects, we also have upcoming potential objections on the Magone, Gap, Ringo, Lex, Ursus, Kahler, Tiger-Webb, and Lower Joseph Creek sales on the Malheur, Ochoco, Deschutes, Umatilla, and Wallowa Whitman National Forests, and upcoming potential litigation for multiple timber sales to stop the misuse of Forest Plan amendments to enable logging of large trees, old growth habitat, needed elk and deer cover, and riparian areas. We may also need to litigate the Forest Service’s misuse of Categorical Exclusions to ram through destructive logging of large old growth trees around Walton Lake and precious wildlife habitat within the Newberry National Volcanic Monument (the Shield timber sale.)
Please donate as generously as you can!
Gray wolf: $3,000 covers 3 months of Karen Coulter’s or Paula Hood’s pay
Canada lynx: $1,000 covers expenses for a lawsuit
Marten: $500 can cover truck repairs or gas during the field season
Northern goshawk: $250 can cover film development
Pileated woodpecker: $100 can cover printing for comments & objections
Oregon Spotted frog: $50 can cover postage for mailings
In kind donations supply needed field surveying equipment. Food donations can feed hungry volunteers. Call (541) 385-9167 to volunteer for field surveying proposed timber sales for a minimum of two weeks any time from the beginning of June until the last weekend of September. Thank you!
Please send donations to: Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, 27803 Williams Lane, Fossil, OR 97830