by Ann Vileisis, president and conservation chair of Kalmiopsis Audubon Society
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Update on mineral withdrawal for SW Oregon
As you know, KAS has been deeply engaged in efforts to prevent a foreign-owned company from advancing plans to develop nickel strip mines at the headwaters of Hunter Creek/ Pistol River, Baldface Creek in the North Fk Smith watershed, and Rough & Ready Creek in the Illinois/ Rogue watershed.
Last fall, many of us came together at a jam-packed public hearing to show strong support for a proposal to temporarily “withdraw” areas at the headwaters of several of these great local rivers currently threatened by mining proposals. The withdrawal is needed to provide time for our Senators and Rep. DeFazio to pass legislation—the Southwest Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act (SOWSPA)— to permanently protect the areas from strip mining. You may recall, most of us asked instead for a 20-yr withdrawal, the maximum allowable under law.
In April, the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest (RR-SNF) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a joint Environmental Assessment (EA), and we were pleased that the agencies considered both 5- and 20-yr withdrawals. The agencies received more than 45,000 comments in support of the withdrawal, and only 27 opposed; that’s 99.9 % support! Public comments included a strong letter from our Senators (Wyden and Merkley) and Rep. DeFazio requesting a 20-yr withdrawal. In addition, all the communities that would be most affected by the proposed mines—Gold Beach, Crescent City, Gasquet, Cave Junction) and tribes, and public agencies in both Oregon and California sent letters in support of the withdrawal.
In mid-July, the RR-SNF and local BLM released a “Finding of No Significant Impact” (FONSI) (they argue that a withdrawal itself doesn’t really create an “action” with impacts: though the lack of a withdrawal could, in fact, have huge impacts). The decision document explicitly recognized the high ecological and recreational values of the areas under consideration and the overwhelming 99.9% public support, and recommended withdrawing the vulnerable areas for 5 years to give Congress time to consider legislation.
Normally a FONSI is accompanied by a final decision from local agencies, but mineral withdrawals have a more complicated process. Congress granted the authority to withdraw federal lands from mining solely to the Secretary of the Interior (because BLM manages the minerals that underlay both BLM and USFS lands, and BLM is housed in the Dept. of Interior). So next, the local agencies will send a withdrawal application, EA, and public comments to the Regional Forester and state BLM Director, who will make their recommendations to the Chief of the Forest Service and National BLM Director, who will in turn, make their recommendations to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, who will make the final decision. Meanwhile, we are hopeful that our Senators and Congressman will continue their efforts to advance a permanent mineral withdrawal through the Southwest Oregon Salmon and Watershed Protection Act (SOWSPA).
What can we all do next? Please send a thank you note to our Congressman and Senators thanking them for their efforts on behalf of the mineral withdrawal. We need to let them know that this issue is still important to us —that we are watching, waiting, and appreciatively cheering them on.
Here is a sample note to send via snail mail –or via the “contact me” page on their websites. Please personalize:
Dear [Sen. Wyden, Sen. Merkley, Rep. DeFazio, I want to thank you for your efforts to help advance a mineral withdrawal for the headwaters of Southwest Oregon’s region’s cherished wild rivers. I care deeply about protecting the extraordinary rivers of the Kalmiopsis and Wild Rivers Coast, and I appreciate your leadership with the Southwest Oregon Salmon and Watershed Protection Act, which will help provide permanent protection from mining threats. Sincerely, [your name]
Or if it’s easier to pick up the phone, please call with the same message:
Senator Wyden: (202) 224-5244 or (541) 858-5122 (Medford Office)
Senator Merkley: (202) 224-3753 or (541) 608-9102 (Medford Office)
Rep. DeFazio: (202) 225-6416 or (541) 269-2609 (Coos Bay office)
A huge thanks to all who have helped by attending public meetings, town hall meetings, submitting comments, and making calls. We’ll continue to track the progress of this mineral withdrawal, and keep you posted.
If you were hiking on any of our beautiful coastal trails earlier this spring, you may have noticed that a lot of salal (Gaultheria shallon), a hardy shrub that is usually lush and leafy, was instead a ghostly white. This damage was from exotic “greenhouse thrips” (Heliothrips haemorrhoidalis). The thrips attack the lower surface of leaves first and then, as feeding progresses and the population increases, move to the upper surface, causing severe damage to leaves.
According to entomologists at the state Department of Agriculture (ODA), the thrips have caused similar damage in previous years, but this year’s damage seemed to be particularly widespread –with known infestations in the lower Suislaw River (between Florence and Mapleton) and around Port Orford and Brookings. It may mean that the insect is becoming better established in Oregon.
By midsummer, many of the damaged plants have managed to put out new growth and will likely put out their blue berries, too –but with less vigor, owing to the late start.
Salal grows from coastal headlands up into the mixed forests of the Coast and Cascade ranges. It serves the ecosystem function of recolonizing open ground after disturbance and is also important for wildlife, providing browse for deer and elk, plus cover, nectar, and berries for birds. Owing to its lovely leaves, salal is also commercially harvested for use by florists.
Greenhouse thrips were first recognized in the U.S. in 1870. They probably originated in tropical climes of South America and were transported to Europe and then to the U.S. with ornamental plants; but they have arrived in Oregon relatively recently.
The life cycle of the thrips and the extent of their damage outside greenhouses in Oregon remains unclear, but it’s definitely worth paying attention to how these minute insects might affect our salal —and to what it means when a “greenhouse” pest begins to thrive in the wild outdoors.
Forest Travel Management Plan finalized
In local discourse about our public lands, one sometimes hears the gross overstatement: “the Forest Service is closing all the roads!” In fact, in 2005 the Forest Service required all national forests to review and evaluate their road systems, to identify roads that should remain open for motor vehicle use, and to publish a map to designate roads, trails, and areas open to motorized use. The goal was to improve public safety and reduce user conflicts and resource damage caused by increasingly popular motorized recreation.
In late June, the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest (RR-SNF) finalized its Travel Management Plan. Most notably, the new RR-SNF Travel Management Plan prohibits all off-road driving. It will be legal to drive only on roads and trails designated for motorized use by the Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM), which will be published in the coming months. The new rules will become effective when the map is printed.
To develop the plan, the forest conducted a public process and prepared a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) starting in 2008 to determine which roads were needed and used, and where there was resource damage and user conflict. More recently, the Forest Supervisor and staff visited the most contentious sites and met with user groups before finalizing the plan.
According to the RR-SNF, the new plan designates 4,434 miles of roads open to standard vehicles, 3,082 of which are open to “mixed use” by both highway legal and off-highway vehicles, plus 180 miles of motorized trails. The plan creates an off-highway-vehicle play area on the High Cascades District (NE of Medford) and specifies conversion of 2 miles of roads to motorized trails. It also closes motorized use on roughly 39 miles of roads and 56 miles of trail that had previously been open.
Of particular interest to KAS members, the plan prohibits motorized use on the route to Signal Buttes, the one that tripleader Al Collinet uses for his botany field trips into the proposed Veva Stansell Botanical Area, owing to persistent off-road damage to the sensitive serpentine areas. The plan also prohibits motorized use on the Game Lake and Lawson Creek trails, leaving open the possibility for re-opening if the trails can be better maintained in the future. The plan will also prohibit vehicles in riparian areas on Elk River. The plan keeps open the Illinois River trail for motorized use during hunting season. A little farther afield, the plan prohibits vehicles on portions of the notorious McGrew Trail in the North Fk Smith watershed, except by special permit. The MVUM will be reviewed each year, creating an ongoing opportunity for changes.
The National Forest’s road system consists of more than 380,000 miles of road nationwide (more than 7 times the length of the Interstate Highway system!) — with an estimated $4.8 billion maintenance backlog. Poorly maintained roads can limit access to our public lands and also result in serious damage to watersheds and waterways when roads fail, slide and release sediments. This Travel Management Plan is an important first step toward better management of the RR-SNF road system.
For more information about the Forest Service’s rationale for road management decisions, see the final Record of Decision (ROD) at: http://1.usa.gov/28LTGJD
Catastrophic colony collapse for Columbia cormorants
In May, federal sharp shooters renewed their ongoing campaign to kill Double-crested Cormorants (DCCO) and to destroy nests on their breeding colony at East Sand Island in the Columbia River estuary. The effort was part of the Army Corps of Engineers plan to reduce the island’s cormorant population by more than 50 percent for the ostensible reason of protecting endangered Columbia salmon –some of which are eaten by cormorants. The birds also eat juvenile fish released by dam-mitigation hatcheries.
However, the lethal effort had an unintended and catastrophic effect this year. After weeks of intense killing and harassment of cormorants on and around East Sand Island, with federal agents killing nearly 2,400 birds with shotguns and outright destroying more than 1,000 cormorant nests, more than 16,000 birds abandoned the island, leaving their nests to be predated by scavenging gulls and eagles.
Given that East Sand Island was the single largest breeding colony, the collapse of the entire site is significant and has now placed Double-crested Cormorant populations at risk. Other birds, including Brown Pelicans, Brandt’s cormorants, and Caspian terns also use the mid-river island for nesting, and it remains unclear how their breeding success was impacted.
Portland Audubon Society (PAS), which has been leading the effort stop the slaughter of cormorants in the Columbia River Estuary, has called for an independent investigation. Even before this year’s killing started, the federal government lost a big case in litigation over a similar lethal control program for cormorants in the eastern U.S. According to PAS Conservation Director Bob Sallinger, the fact that the Corps moved ahead with this year’s aggressive killing –after the eastern states ruling and with a court ruling pending in Oregon—was “simply unconscionable.” It’s hard to believe that the federal agencies continued such an aggressive and brutal plan, especially in this centennial year of the Migratory Bird Treaty.
On the Rogue River, ongoing stomach contents studies are continuing to assess what cormorants eat.
2016 State of the Birds/ESA success
Earlier this summer, the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) published the 2016 State of North America’s Birds, the first comprehensive report assessing the conservation status of all 1,154 bird species that occur in Canada, the continental U.S., and Mexico. Many species rely on habitats in all three countries for different phases of their lives. The report found more than one-third of species are at high risk of extinction.
Seabirds dependent on ocean habitats are the group at highest risk, with 57 species showing high vulnerability. Seabird populations are severely threatened by invasive predators on nesting islands, accidental bycatch by commercial fishing vessels, overfishing of forage fish stocks, pollution, and climate change.
Birds that depend on coastal habitats are also vulnerable, with 37 percent of species at risk. Species that breed in mangroves, saltmarshes, and sandy beaches are of highest concern due to pressures from sea-level rise, coastal development, disturbance from human recreational activities, and the threat of oil spills. The migratory shorebirds that travel the farthest show the greatest declines. Habitat loss and degradation at key coastal stopover sites, as well as climate change impacts on northern breeding grounds, may all be affecting their populations.
The State of the Birds “watch list” includes many birds that are seen regularly or occassionally in Curry County, including Black oystercatcher, Allen’s Hummingbird, Rufous hummingbird, Band tailed pigeons, Olive-sided flycatcher, Ancient murrelet, Brandt’s cormorant, Heerman’s gull, Horned grebe, Marbled murrelet, Pacific screech owl, Snowy plover, Spotted owl, Black scoter, Surf scoter, White- winged scoter, and Wrentit.
Released in this centennial year of the Migratory Bird Treaty, the State of the Birds report calls for renewed commitment from Canada, Mexico and the United States to conserving key habitats including wetlands and estuaries in all three countries to stave off continuing declines.
Another recently released report by the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) had a more upbeat finding: that 78 percent of U.S. mainland birds listed as “threatened” or “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) have populations that are now stable, increasing, or have recovered enough to be delisted. (The report defines the ESA recovery success rate as the number of stable, increasing, and delisted species divided by the total of species extinct after listing, declining, stable, increasing, delisted, and unknown.) That still leaves 22 percent of imperiled species to worry about, but the report shows that targeted conservation protections and actions accorded by the ESA can be very effective in helping to conserve birds. The ABC report is entitled: Endangered Species Act: record of success.
Outdoor School update
The ballot initiative effort to revive funding for Oregon’s Outdoor School program is moving forward. Volunteers collected more than 140,000 signatures, far surpassing the number required to qualify for November’s ballot initiative. Oregon’s Audubon Council strongly supports this positive effort to give all sixth graders –from cities to rural areas like our own—a week of outdoor-based, hands-on, natural science education. Thanks to everyone who signed on and helped gather signatures. For more info, check out: www.outdoorschoolforall.org
Last updated August 8, 2016