Department of Natural Resources offers draft plans for comment on harvest, seabird – PDN

The state Department of Natural Resources has released draft environmental impact statements on the agency’s 10-year sustainable harvest calculation and its marbled murrelet long-term conservation strategy. Public comment will be taken until 5 p.m. March 9 on both documents, DNR spokesman Bob Redling said. Public meetings and webinars are planned next month. The 160-page sustainable harvest draft environmental impact statement, or EIS, and instructions for submitting public comments are available at http://www.dnr.wa.gov/shc. The 600-page marbled murrelet draft EIS and instructions for submitting public comments are available at www.dnr.wa.gov/mmltcs. Rob Ollikainen reports. (Peninsula Daily News)

http://www.peninsuladailynews.com/news/department-of-natural-resources-offers-draft-plans-for-comment-on-harvest-seabird/

Clallam officials hear arrearage report: Murrelet, staffing, riparian zones faulted

A recipe for disaster. First a recession hits and decimates the DNR staff. Now they have staff, but their turnover is so high that few have more than 3 years of experience. The DNR rep talks about ‘hemorrhaging staff’ during a period where we hear about needing good jobs in the rural areas.  DNR sets targets before they even knew what their own scientists would allow under the Endangered species act (ESA), then blame the protections for not meeting the targets (DNR Chief Peter Goldmark is up for re-election. Is there another Democrat willing to run against him? ) DNR blames the Marbled Murrelet but I see no data that actually shows how much timber is off the table because of the ESA. Then the local Republican officials blame the starved agencies for not doing their job, and want the land management handed back to a county that cannot afford to manage it themselves. So the land will eventually be sold off to private corporations that feed the politicians in the local back rooms.

There is no questioning apparently of the statements by the DNR spokesperson on his assessment, blaming the Murrelet plan. For example, could it possibly be that there is a glut of wood on the market, and the price is low, so that the value of harvesting, especially if having to go through a complex plan is not worth it? Is it the plan’s fault, or the market’s? Over and over again, I see environmental concerns blamed for economic downturns, or gluts. Just look at the Spotted Owl controversy. The loggers have never criticized the fact that during the late 70s and early 80s the shift to shipping raw logs happened, supported by Congress and the Presidents, both Democrat and Republican. But the narrative from the industry is that it was all the fault of the spotted owl.

Thanks to former Commissioner Mike Doherty for holding the committee’s feet to the fire over their makeup. Apparently he is concerned with known conflict of interest in the committee.

Mr. Rygaard of Rygaard Logging mentioned wanting to ‘skip the environmental concerns and focus on jobs.’ What do you think got you into this mess in the first place?

The marbled murrelet, riparian zones and staffing levels are the main reasons why the state Department of Natural Resources failed to sell 92 million board feet of timber that was supposed to be sold in Clallam County from 2005 to 2014, a top DNR official told the Clallam County Trust Lands Advisory Committee on Friday. The 20-member panel is gathering information to determine whether Clallam County should reclaim management of 92,525 acres of DNR-managed forest lands in the county. Kyle Blum, DNR deputy supervisor for state uplands, explained the nuances of arrearage from the agency’s point of view in a four-hour, 40-minute meeting at the county courthouse. Rob Ollikainen reports. (Peninsula Daily News)

http://www.peninsuladailynews.com/article/20160327/NEWS/303279979/clallam-officials-hear-arrearage-report-murrelet-staffing-riparian

State considers conservation options for marbled murrelet – Skagit Valley Herold

Some of the marbled murrelet habitat is in western Jefferson County. 

The state Department of Natural Resources is reviewing conservation plan options for the marbled murrelet, a seabird that is found along the state’s coast, including several bays on Skagit County’s shoreline. The state agency worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to draft five strategies to conserve the bird’s habitat. The options would protect between 594,000 and 734,000 acres of land managed by Natural Resources. The marbled murrelet is considered threatened under the Endangered Species Act, meaning it is likely to become endangered. Kimberly Cauvel reports. (Skagit Valley Herald)

http://www.goskagit.com/all_access/state-considers-conservation-options-for-marbled-murrelet/article_56a429ae-4a0e-573f-a06d-3e604468bf02.html

Jefferson County Dems Adopt Marbled Murrelet Resolution

The Jefferson County Democrats adopted, on Tuesday, a resolution urging the Board of Natural Resources to adopt the strongest of the alternatives it is considering for protection of marbled murrelet habitat. As a federally listed threatened species, the murrelet is protected on federal lands, but not on private lands. The bird has been protected on state trust lands under an interim conservation strategy since 1997, years before most research on the murrelet’s ecological requirements took place.

“The state’s own scientists showed in 2008 that this threatened species is still declining because of our logging practices,” said Bruce Cowan, Chair of the Jefferson County Democrats. “If this species is going to survive, we can’t just keep cutting the trust lands where these birds nest.”

The meeting followed a presentation by Kevin Schmelzlen of the Murrelet Survival Project. Not until 1974 did scientists discover that, unlike any other seabird, the murrelet nests in forests, flying as far as fifty miles inland to nest on large branches high in old growth forests. Breeding pairs switch places daily, with one parent feeding on small fish while the other incubates their single egg.

The Washington State Board of Natural Resources is currently considering five alternatives for habitat protection on state trust lands. According to Shmelzlen, only Alternative E responds to the 2008 Science Report, developed by researchers for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The issue of murrelet habitat conservation has been contentious. In 2013, the courts halted a DNR approved harvest of 12,000 acres of timber in Southwest Washington. The Forest Resources Council, an advocate for the timber industry, was unsuccessful in its attempt to have the murrelet de-listed as a threatened species.

“We’ve waited long enough for action,” said Cowan. “Adopting a clear policy based on the 2008 Science Report will make it easier for DNR to do its work. With fewer lawsuits, the flow of timber revenues to state and local governments will be more predictable,” said Cowan. “The set aside is not huge, and it could save a species from extinction.”

Little seabird’s advocates hope protection plan is near – Seattle Times

The Marbled Murrelet has been at the center of one of the most contentious environmental controversy’s in this country’s history, along with the spotted owl. The battle to save this small bird, has focused on it’s habitat, the shrinking world of old growth timber. There likely are other causes, from dwindling food sources in our warming oceans, pollution at sea and other issues, but the old growth battle has been intense. It went to court last year in an unsuccessful attempt to set aside larger tracts of timber. Here’s an update from the Seattle Times.

In 1992, a small, speedy seabird called the marbled murrelet was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Its home — the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest — had dwindled, leaving it few places to nest. Twenty-three years later, the population of the bird has continued to decline. By some counts, its numbers are 50 percent lower than they were a decade ago. … The Murrelet Survival Project, which started last August, is pressuring the state and federal governments to come up with a long-term conservation plan, aimed at increasing the murrelet’s nesting habitat. Miguel Otarola reports. (Seattle Times)

Read the whole story and subscribe to the Times. Keep journalism local.

http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/little-seabirds-advocates-hope-protection-plan-near/

Federal court upholds protection for threatened marbled murrelets by rejecting timber industry lawsuit – PDN

You would think that after all these decades, that the timber industry would get to work on working with the environmental organizations rather than constantly fighting a losing battle. Collaboration gains far more than constant warfare.

A federal appeals court has rejected a lawsuit by the timber industry seeking to strip Endangered Species Act protection from a threatened seabird that nests in old-growth forests. Environmentalists said the ruling Friday by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., should mark the end of a 15-year legal battle over logging trees used by marbled murrelets along the coasts of Oregon, Washington and northern California. Jeff Barnard reports. (Associated Press)

http://peninsuladailynews.com/article/20150304/NEWS/303049985/federal-court-upholds-protection-for-threatened-marbled-murrelets-by

Enviros lose challenge to log sale in Murrelet habitat

It was a sleepy Friday afternoon in Judge Harper’s courtroom in Port Townsend. Folks wanted to finish up the day, and get on with their weekend. Looking out the large windows of the 1890 era courthouse  that frame the Olympics to the west, it seemed a long way from the major issues of our time. Far to the west, US hopes for a western style middle east were unraveling. But closer to home, west on the coast of Jefferson County, an ongoing court battle is playing out to save what little habitat remains for a bird that is battling for real survival, the Marbled Murrelet. And this courtroom was right now, ground zero.

The Murrelet nests in old growth, huge trees that can sustain it’s eggs in the crotch of a branch high up off the forest floor, since the bird doesn’t actually build a nest. As the big trees vanished (less than 1% remain of the original old forest), the bird is an indicator of the health of the forest. Audubon and other environmental groups sued the federal government in the 90s to protect the last habitat of the Murrelet. They won, and a large scale plan was put in place to work with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to protect and preserve the remaining forests where the bird lived. That last part was very important, as the state wants to cut anything that isn’t directly a location of bird nests, or their immediate buffer zones. In 1997, the DNR received a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) from the USFWS, which required them to complete a Long Term Conservation Strategy (LTCS) by 2007 at the latest. That plan has never been completed, and is currently scheduled for adoption in 2016. In 2008, the DNR issued the so-called Science Report, on conservation of the Marbled Murrelet on State-managed lands. It called for large management areas centered on multiple nest sites called MMMAs in the OESF and SW Washington. This DNR Science Report has never been accepted or implemented by the agency, but remains the best available science.

The environmental community wants to protect these large areas around the nests, to ensure breeding pairs have habitat. The issue at hand in the courtroom had to do with one of these MMMAs in the Goodman Creek drainage, five small units totaling 230 acres. The units themselves don’t mean a lot in causing the loss of the whole species. They are not old growth and have no nests, but they do pose a risk to adjacent nesting Murrelets, because, if logged, of hosting an invasion by crows and jays which eat Murrelet eggs and baby birds.

The fate of the Murrelet is tied to the State’s desire to cut all the remaining old growth outside the national parks, in a sustainable way.  DNR wants to do that because the State’s founders, thinking that they could never cut all the timber, used the timber sales to fund the State’s schools. Now, with our rural areas still reeling from the Wall St. induced financial crisis, the pressure on our state agencies and politicians to give up habitat for jobs and tree sales is hard to fight.

But a group of conservation minded folks were in court, mostly over the age of 50, sitting on the right side of the courtroom. They represent the birds, as the State will not allow the birds to simply be the issue. The environmental people have to claim that their ability to view the bird is the reason for the lawsuit asking for an injunction for the cutting of the trees. It’s a fundamental problem with our legal system that the loss of a species cannot be argued directly, but only as a zoo like viewing that will be taken away by their loss. The environmentalists  were dressed in jeans and shirts, except for the older dignified woman who has been one of the leaders of the battle, Marcie Goldie.

On the other side of the courtroom, it was all the black suits and new haircuts of the lawyers for the logging companies and the Department of Natural Resources. A small army of them were attending the trial. To them, the issue was, well, clear cut. The State had reclassified the timber, and sold it at auction. The environmental folks,they claimed had multiple opportunities to challenge the rulings, and now, at the 11th hour, were asking the judge to issue an injunction stopping the harvest, even for a short time. However, the environmentalists saw it somewhat differently.  They had formally requested changes at least three times, but not used multiple opportunities to legally challenge the rulings, and now, at the 11th hour, were asking the judge to issue an injunction stopping the logging, for a short time, until their legal challenge could be heard in court.

Clear-cutting in MMMAs signals a major change in the way DNR is treating Murrelets and is working with the environmental community. Generally speaking, when a timber sale appeal is filed, the cloud of litigation prevents BNR (the auction side of DNR) from auctioning the sale.  So, they’ll hold it, wait for litigation to pass, and then put it up for auction or rescind it. This time, this did not happen. While the environmental appeal was in place, BNR went ahead with the auction and Interfor bought it.  Based on previous legal precedents, this was definitely a point of law. The environmental lawyers felt that should have been sufficient for Harper to have waited a couple of weeks or ruled in their favor. 

Although the injunction filed was, indeed, to stop the logging from happening starting on Saturday, the appeal on this case had been in place for several months, but DNR/BNR chose to ignore it and went ahead with the sale – leaving the environmental community  no choice but to file the injunction.

What is also at stake here is that a well-respected process under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) that the DNR has had in place for many years, since 1979, that allowed the environmental community to work to get it’s input through on the agency sales and cuts like these, and not been forced to spend huge amounts of time in court (for both sides).

As stated by the lawyers for the environmental groups:

This emergency injunction is necessary because of DNR’s rare decision to approve and auction-off these two timber sales while they are on appeal and before the Court has had the opportunity to rule on their legality.  In the past, Washington State DNR has shown respect and deference to both the legal system and citizens by postponing any timber ales that are under  legal challenge until the appeals have been finally resolved.  This is the second time DNR has tried to log forests in disregard to marbled murrelets; in July of 2013, the Honorable Bruce Heller of the King County Superior Court ruled against DNR in a case that bears many similarities.  DNR’s appeal of that ruling was withdrawn.

This process has  been summarily thrown out the window by the agency run by the man whom was funded by the environmental community, Commissioner Peter Goldmark. He found heavy backing in Democratic Jefferson County on his two runs for Commissioner of Public Lands, due to his support of environmental issues. Now, the question is being asked by many in the community, “What’s happening to Goldmark?”

Commissioner Goldmark was criticized by an article in the New York Times, just after the Oso landslide, because the environmental community had known, as had DNR that the Oso slope was a disaster waiting to happen. Rather than admit that, Goldmark had railed against ‘tree huggers’ who he claimed were rushing to judgement against his agency. This was out of character for a man who had used his position to champion environmental issues.

Over this last year, there has also been the “McCleary Decision” which has forced the State to come up with billions of dollars to properly fund long neglected schools. That decision came from this very courtroom (correction on 6/19, this case, while from a family in Jefferson County was originally filed in Seattle) and rippled up to the Supreme Court, where it still is being implemented, as recently as this week, as the Court debates issuing a contempt of court ruling against the State legislature for not submitting a plan the Court required.

The unspoken issue behind all this is that local mills cannot afford logs from private land owners, who are sending logs overseas by selling them to the multinationals. This situation is the result of a federal law that prohibits the export of timber logged on public land.   So the pressure builds for DNR to just get these sales done for the money.

The Environmental community now finds itself behind the eight ball, because the normal process DNR had implemented with them, has been clearly thwarted with this sale. It marks a turning point. The enviro lawyers had to scramble, since they were assuming DNR would do their normal work of negotiating this issue with them. The very process that DNR had normally followed, one that avoided unnecessary lawsuits, now was being argued by the DNR lawyers, to have been wrong, essentially saying  that DNR wanted the enviro lawyers to sue earlier and cost the State more in legal fees, rather than negotiate a way out of their concerns.

So DNR has signaled with this small afternoon session in a sleepy courtroom on the upper right hand side of the Olympic Peninsula, that they no longer see themselves as a partner with the groups that have worked with them to create a manageable way to avoid excessive costs and protect the habitat of the birds.  While legally the logs were to be harvested the next day,  Saturday June 14th, the argument that the lawyers for the logging companies made seemed to be a stretch in understanding. While the market for the logs is strong right now, the likelihood that these logs will just end up sitting in a pile with all the others down in Port Angeles harbor  or in the mill yard waiting for shipment out of the US is high. Anyone driving around the Olympic Peninsula lately will see huge numbers of fresh clear cuts and full logging trucks almost every few miles it seems.

Judge Harper ruled that the harvest could continue, though he seemed frustrated. He didn’t understand why the enviros had waited so long to sue. It was inappropriate to argue that the suits hadn’t happened because DNR was changing the ground-rules,  which itself had been somewhat  outside the normal legal framework and been implemented to avoid this very situation. The suit was very complicated, and the speed that the decision dictated at this last minute appeal, along with the complexity of rules that were needed to understand the nuances of the laws, confounded Judge Harper’s wanting to really understand all the issues. In the end, he simply felt forced to follow the legal guidelines that the DNR and logging lawyers fell back on, which is understandable. While DNR has “won” this round, the kind of game they intend to play in the future appears to have been signaled, and now it’s up to the environmental community to force the stalemate ground game that brought DNR to compromise with them in the first place. While the 80+ jobs that the logging company claimed are likely working this week, it means it will be harder to keep the logging going if DNR is going to force the environmental community to tie them up in court sooner to get anything done.

What does seem to be happening is that the Legislature, DNR and the Governor have decided that DNR will harvest it’s way out of the McCleary Decision, and that the Peninsula will be the scape goat.

 

 

 

 

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