Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project 2020 Annual Report

Juvenile Northern goshawk (Crow sale, Malheur NF)

While the nation continues to mourn the loss of lives and face social and economic upheaval unprecedented within our lifetimes, with people of color and marginalized communities hit hardest by these crises, the Trump administration continues to attack civil rights and the environment. As this administration prepares to exit, it’s imperative to continue to fight these attacks. As the transition to the new administration begins, the work has only just begun to demand that harmful policies be rescinded and that genuine progress begins. 

Current attacks on the environment include those on our regional forests. Under pressure from the outgoing Trump administration to increase logging, the Forest Service is attempting to roll back protections for large trees and old forests on public lands in eastern Oregon and southwestern Washington. Should the Forest Service succeed in gutting these protections, it would be one of the most serious large-scale threats to forests from rampant logging on the eastside in decades. Approximately 9.5 million acres across the Deschutes, Fremont-Winema, Ochoco, Malheur, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests in eastern Oregon would be affected. 

Tomorrow with old growth Douglas fir (Crow sale, Malheur NF)

Drastically increased logging of large trees would result in unacceptable losses of wildlife habitat and carbon storage. We urgently need to stop habitat loss, increase carbon sequestration, and protect biodiversity in the face of climate change. Unfortunately, the Forest Service is instead trying to make it much easier to log big and old trees– which is exactly the wrong direction for wildlife and the climate. 

Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project is working with Tom Buchele at Earthrise Law Center, as well as with a coalition of allied environmental organizations, to challenge the Trump administration and US Forest Service attempt to eliminate or severely weaken protections for large trees. We are dedicated to ensuring that large trees and snags, mature forests, and wildlife habitats are protected across the landscape. 

Adam with old growth fir (Elbow sale, Umatilla NF)

The Forest Service’s attempts to gut protections for large trees in eastern Oregon should raise alarm bells for everyone who cares about the climate crisis, and about old growth forests and biodiversity in Oregon. Every place-based conservation organization and over 100 independent scientists have opposed the Forest Service’s proposal. Please stand with us, and with eastern Oregon’s forests. In the coming weeks and months, we will need your help to stop the Forest Service efforts to drastically increase the logging of large trees on eastside National Forests. 

Pacific wren (Crow, Malheur NF)

Please make your voice heard in support of our efforts to defend large trees and old growth forests. Sign up for BMBP’s Action Alerts through our website, and stay tuned for upcoming calls for action. Help us raise awareness and urgency about this issue– talk to friends, contacts, activists, and advocates about this issue. Demand that the incoming administration rescind the Trump administration’s attacks on big and old trees on National Forests in eastern Oregon. Don’t let forests in eastern Oregon, which are natural treasures and legacies for us all, be overlooked or forgotten. Please visit our website for more details on the 21” Screens, and the work that BMBP and our allies are doing to protect large trees and old forests. 

2020 Work Accomplishments:

Wildflower with spider (Ellis sale, Umatilla NF)

Wildlands Field Surveys: Despite the pandemic and the ongoing challenges 2020 has brought, BMBP has continued to be fully engaged in our work to protect forests on the Ochoco, Deschutes, Malheur, and  Umatilla National Forests. Field surveying is the backbone of our forest defense work, and provides on-the-ground evidence for our public comments, negotiations, and potential litigation. Every summer, BMBP staff and volunteers survey thousands of acres of proposed timber sales. 

With the help of 27 volunteers, we field surveyed the following timber sales: the High Buck sale and the Davis and Elbow CEs (Umatilla National Forest (NF)); the Crow sale (Malheur NF); the Bellwether CE (Ochoco NF), the Surveyor sale (Deschutes NF), and the second half of the Ellis sale (Umatilla NF). We surveyed the Sunflower livestock grazing allotment (Ochoco NF). Karen surveyed the Laycock Creek CE, and spot-checked the Loco CE (Malheur NF),  Cabin Butte sale (Deschutes NF); the Steelhead Falls Fuel Reduction project (BLM Prineville District)—all dominated by homongenous conditions or pine plantations—and the South Silvies livestock grazing allotment (Malheur NF). 

Old growth Ponderosa pine stand (Surveyor sale, Deschutes NF)

The timber sales we surveyed range from 2,195 acres in the High Buck Sale to over 59,600 acres of commercial logging in the Ellis sale. The categorical exclusion sales or “CEs” ranged from 2,600 to 3,000 acres, with other sales at commercial logging acreages of approximately 14,800 acres (the Cabin Butte sale); 8,924 acres (the Surveyor sale) and 20,000 acres (the Crow sale). 

Volunteers: We are grateful to our volunteers for making this year’s field season a success, despite the pandemic. Due to Covid-19, BMBP implemented strict social distancing protocols and safety measures. Our volunteers showed special dedication in light of the stringent protocols and extra work. 

Many thanks to everyone who came out this year! We had a total of 27 volunteers, with 17 returning and 10 new: Cooper, Laura, Sunflower, Grace, Sara, Isabel, Harvest, Alex, Jack, Ducky, Adam, Kris, Tomorrow, Midden, Simeon, Sev, Karl, Rachel, Sophie, Will, Mike, Chris, Liza, Everett, Diane, B, Philip.

Old growth fir with fungus (Upper Touchet sale, Umatilla NF)

Challenges to ecologically destructive projects  through public comments and objections: In 2020, BMBP submitted comments on eleven timber sales, two livestock grazing allotments, and two proposals for changes in management direction which would strip current environmental protections. We submitted objections to two timber sales. BMBP is currently tracking over 29 agency projects in different stages of planning. 

Several of the timber sales we field surveyed and commented on are “Categorical Exclusions” or “CEs”. We have seen an increase in the Forest Service using CEs in order to fast-track sales and severely limit environmental analyses, transparency, and opportunities for public comment. CEs also eliminate the opportunity to object or negotiate changes. Since last fall, approximately 20,430 acres of logging have been proposed under CEs on the Malheur, Ochoco, and Umatilla National Forests.

Morels (Ellis sale, Umatilla NF)

We submitted scoping comments on the following timber sales: Elbow and Davis Farm Bill Categorical Exclusion sales (CE), and the High Buck sale (Umatilla NF); the Crow sale, Frost CE, Loco CE, and Laycock Creek Firewise CE (Malheur NF); the Bellwether CE (Ochoco NF); the Klone timber sale (Deschutes NF); and the Steelhead Falls  fuels reduction project (Prineville District of the Bureau of Land Management). 

BMBP and Earthrise Law Center submitted comments, with Greater Hells Canyon Council and Friends of the Clearwater, on the USDA’s proposed changes to the Council of Environmental Quality that guide the National Environmental Policy Act.

Tomorrow with mature fir (Crow sale, Malheur NF)

We submitted comments on Environmental Assessments (EAs) on the Forest Service’s proposed revision to the 21” Screens, which would strip protections for large trees on National Forests in eastern Oregon and southeastern Washington; the South Silvies Complex Grazing Allotments Project EA (Malheur NF); and the Surveyor timber sale EA. We are currently working on EA comments on the Sunflower livestock grazing allotment (Ochoco NF).

Objections filed: BMBP, with attorneys Tom Buchele at Earthrise Law Center and Jesse Buss at Willamette Law Group, submitted an objection to the Walton Lake timber sale (Ochoco NF). BMBP also submitted an objection to the Upper Touchet timber sale (Umatilla NF), with Greater Hells Canyon Council signing on to join our objection. We are currently working on our objection to the Ochoco Wild Horse Herd Management Plan (Ochoco NF).

Old growth mixed-conifer forest (Ragged Ruby sale, Malheur NF)

Objections follow-up: In the Upper Touchet sale, in response to BMBP’s objections to potential impacts to sensitive soils, the Forest Service agreed to drop approximately 30-40 acres of commercial logging and changed 30-50 acres from commercial to noncommercial thinning. The Forest Service also dropped 0.21 miles of temporary road, and dropped 7 acres that this road would have accessed. Unfortunately, these changes do not address the majority of our concerns, such as planned logging of large trees, logging on steep slopes above streams, and degradation of habitat for fish and wildlife that would result from logging in the Upper Touchet sale. We are continuing to track this sale, and weigh our next steps.

In response to BMBP’s objection to the Ragged Ruby sale, including the concerns we raised about maintaining multi-story dense habitat needed by species such as American marten, the Forest Service dropped 4,700 acres of prescribed burning in the Greenhorn Mountain Inventoried Roadless Area (IRA). The agency also agreed to only non-commercially thin within a 30’ radius around White pines and Whitebark pines in the Dixie Butte IRA.  They also agreed to drop lithosol and meadow habitat thinning in the Dixie Butte IRA. We remain deeply concerned about planned logging, including logging of large trees, in the Ragged Ruby sale, and are committed to challenging the sales in this area.  

Merlin and Miles with old growth fir (Upper Touchet sale, Malheur NF)

The Forest Service recently published their Final Decision on the Walton Lake sale. The agency is again proposing to log old and mature forests, including large trees (some up to five feet in diameter) in the very popular Walton Lake recreation area. The Forest Service would log all of the fir trees in some areas, creating a virtual clearcut. This virtual clearcutting would completely change the character of the Walton Lake recreational setting, as the Forest Service admits in their project records.

Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, represented by Tom Buchele of Earthrise Law Center and attorney Jesse Buss of the Willamette Law Group, recently filed an objection to the Walton Lake sale. Since 2016, we have twice stopped the Forest Service from logging this area. Unfortunately the Forest Service is trying, for the third time, to log this forest using flimsy rationales. We are committed to preserving the magnificent old growth fir forest at the Walton Lake recreation area. 

Walton Lake, Ochoco NF

The Forest Service has repeatedly used the guise of public safety as an excuse to log in the Walton Lake recreation area, despite the fact that the Forest Service continues to be free to deal with hazard trees in the area. The Forest Service already has the option to conduct legitimate hazard tree removal; nothing is stopping them from felling trees that pose actual threats to public safety.The agency needs to reverse course and withdraw this ecologically destructive sale.

Creek (High Buck sale (Umatilla NF)

Protecting streams and water quality: High water temperatures are the primary threat to at-risk and imperiled fish and aquatic species across public lands in eastern Oregon. The Forest Service cannot protect stream habitats, or accurately determine the effects to water quality from logging, roads, and livestock grazing, without consistent and targeted monitoring, reliable and accurate data, and transparency with regulatory agencies and the public. We have continued to investigate these issues in depth, raise them in our public comments and negotiations, and consider the most effective next steps.

Action Alerts: BMBP works to keep the public informed and have their voices heard on issues affecting public lands in eastern Oregon. In 2020, we sent Action Alerts on the Walton Lake, High Buck, and Crow timber sales, the Ochoco Wild Horse Management Plan, the proposed 21” Screens Revisions, and the Trump administration’s proposed weakening of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Old growth forest (Elbow sale, Umatilla NF)

Alliance Building and Coalition work:

The 21” Screens: Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project is working with Earthrise Law Center and allied environmental organizations to challenge the Forest Service’s attempts to strip protections for large and old trees in eastern Oregon. 

Currently, the Forest Plans that guide management on National Forests in eastern Oregon prohibit most logging of large trees (those ≥21” diameter at breast height). This prohibition on logging large trees – known as the 21” Screens -was put into place in the mid-90’s because of the well-documented deficit of large trees across the landscape due to logging. The Forest Service is now proposing to roll back the 21” Screens. The proposal would dramatically increase logging of large trees, threaten wildlife and biodiversity, degrade old growth habitats, increase carbon emissions, and exacerbate the negative ecological effects of climate change.

Old growth fir snags and trees (High Buck sale, Umatilla NF)

The Forest Service published their Environmental Assessment (EA) on the proposed revisions to the 21” Screens. Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project worked with Earthrise Law Center to write detailed comments, which highlighted our many legal and ecological concerns regarding the Forest Service’s flawed and insufficient analysis. We also worked closely with a coalition of groups, led by Greater Hells Canyon Council, to submit joint comments denouncing the Forest Service’s proposal. Twenty six groups, including every place-based conservation group in the region, joined in these comments to denounce the Forest Service’s attempts to strip protections from old and large trees on eastside forests.  

Concurrently, Dr. Dominick DellaSala and Dr. William Baker published an expert report addressing the flawed rationales and scientific assumptions the Forest Service used in their analyses. The report was funded by Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, Greater Hells Canyon Council, Oregon Wild, and Central Oregon Landwatch.

Snag with Pileated woodpecker forage (High Buck sale, Umatilla NF)

In addition, 115 independent scientists submitted a letter to the Forest Service in support of the the current prohibition on logging large trees. The scientists’ letter states: “We ask the Forest Service to keep large tree and forest protections in place and avoid making misguided attempts to lift those protections at a time when the nation is looking for leadership on the global biodiversity and climate crises.” 

The Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) Tribe has continued to provide a crucial voice on these issues, and has also weighed in to the agency with their concerns on the EA. They have lived on the landscape since time immemorial, and we believe their perspectives should be given meaningful consideration.

Special thanks to Bridgett Buss, Maddy Munson, and Tom Buchele at Earthrise Law Center for their dedication and excellent work on BMBP and coalition comments. Many thanks also to Veronica Warnock at Greater Hells Canyon Council, Rob Klavins and Doug Heiken at Oregon Wild, and Rory Isbell at Central Oregon Landwatch for making our team efforts possible! 

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Alex with old growth Engelmann spruce (High Buck sale, Umatilla NF)

The Pacific Northwest Forest Climate Alliance (PNWFCA): The PNWFCA alliance has several ‘Working Groups’ currently tackling projects on forest and climate related topics. BMBP is part of the steering committee for the alliance, along with representatives from Bark, Cascadia Wildlands, and FUSEE. BMBP is also part of the Rural Organizing Working Group with folks from Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands, the Coast Range Association, and the Southern Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club. We are excited to be working to strengthen activist networks, share information, and get needed work accomplished.

Karen Coulter, BMBP’s Director, and volunteers social distancing in the Elbow Sale (Malheur NF)

Other Alliance-Building and Coalition work: BMBP gave a workshop in Olympia on Strategies and Tactics for Forest Defense attended by 35 people. BMBP also co-facilitated a nonviolence training for Black Unity, part of the Black Lives Matter movement, in Eugene. The training attracted about 75 people, with about 50 staying for the whole afternoon. Both events were outdoors, with social distancing and masks. BMBP participated in a NEPA writing workshop for the Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and led discussion on the 21” Screens. We visited grazing allotments in the Malheur NF with Paul Ruprecht from the Western Watersheds Project. We also led a field trip with two long-time environmental activists to the Austin sale in the Malheur NF to discuss the Forest Service’s efforts to revise the 21” Screens. 

Mule deer fawns (Crow sale, Malheur NF)

Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project is part of the Public Lands Activist Network (PLAN), which is a network of environmental activists in Montana, Idaho, and Eastern Oregon. BMBP has also remained an active part of the League of Wilderness Defenders Board, and continues to be engaged in meetings, and helping with Board Treasurer duties and trainings.

While the Program on Corporations, Law, and Democracy is ending as an organization, Karen and other principal activists with POCLAD will be helping carry on POCLAD’s strategic re-framing of issue work and using historical research insights to guide effective activism. Karen will be receiving some of the remaining POCLAD funds to continue some POCLAD-related outreach projects through funds entrusted to that work through BMBP.

Bat (Crow, Malheur NF)

Fundraising: Due to the economic downturn and the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, fundraising this year has been especially challenging. We are deeply grateful to everyone who has donated to support our ecological protection work.

Many heartfelt thanks to the Astrov Fund; the Burning Foundation; the Charlotte Martin Foundation; the Clif Family Foundation; the Faegan Donor Advised Fund through Social Justice Northwest; Fund for Wild Nature; the Millis Fund through Oregon Community Foundation; and the Oregon Deep Ecology Fund. We also want to thank all of the generous individual donors who supported our work.

Golden mantled ground squirrel (Crow sale, Malheur NF)

Unfortunately we had to cancel our Annual Benefit last spring due to Covid-19. We want to thank Brenna McDonald at the Espacio Flamenco school and her students for their generous offer to perform at our Annual Benefit. We were very disappointed the event had to be canceled, but we look forward to having Espacio Flamenco at our Annual Benefit in the future, when it becomes safe to do so. Many thanks also to Abigail Rhys, Dave Parks, and Brenna Sahatjian for donating masks for our summer field season! Thanks to Japanese Auto for keeping our trucks running safely!

Jack and Ducky (High Buck, Umatilla NF)

Please donate to help support BMBP’s field season and forest defense work. We are a very small non-profit organization, and every dollar goes a long way toward helping us engage in effective ecological protection work. Particularly during these uncertain times, your donations are crucial for helping us protect forests and streams on public lands, and to our organizational stability into the future. With your help, we can continue our wildlands defense work.

Please give what you can— donations both small  and large help keep our work going!

White-breasted nuthatch (Crow sale, Malheur NF)

$10,000-$20,000 helps pay for our three staff members 
$5,000 helps cover transportation costs, including gas, truck repairs, and insurance
$2,000 to help cover legal expenses for a lawsuit to stop a timber sale or toxic herbicide use
$1,000 helps cover telephone communications
$500 helps pay for photo printing or copying
$250 helps cover postage costs
$100 pays for field surveying equipment
$25-50 subsidizes food for volunteers

We are also in need of in-kind donations such as  non-perishable food for the field (such as nut butters, tea and coffee); field equipment such as diameter measuring tapes, digital cameras, and GPS units. If you have a four wheel drive truck you wish to donate which can handle Forest Service roads and is in good working condition, please contact us. 

Volunteer with old growth Ponderosa pine (Elbow sale, Umatilla NF)
Coral root (Ellis sale, Umatilla NF)

Send $ donations or in-kind donations to: 

Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project 
27803 Williams Lane 
Fossil, OR 97830 

To volunteer, contact us at
541-385-9167 

You can donate online at:
https://bluemountainsbiodiversityproject.org/donate

Please consider becoming a monthly donor, including BMBP in your long-term giving plans, or leaving a bequest to BMBP. 

Thank you for supporting BMBP’s work to defend forests on public lands in eastern Oregon!

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