The Conservation Column
By Pepper Trail
As this is the last Chat for a few months, I thought I would present an update on some of the statewide conservation priorities for the Oregon Audubon Council (OAC) that are of particular concern here in our region. This summary is provided by Joe Liebezeit, Chief Scientist of Portland Audubon.
First, though, a quick update on Ashland Pond. As many of you know, the City of Ashland has been working for years on a plan to relocate the outflow from the wastewater treatment plant from its current release into Ashland Creek to a location on Bear Creek just below the confluence of those two streams. The relocation will require the temporary draining of Ashland Pond, and the last information we had was that this work would occur this summer. Well, it won’t. I contacted Scott Fleury, Ashland’s Interim Public Works Director, and received the following response: “As of right now we don’t have a draft permit from DEQ in hand and until we have a draft permit…we won’t move into construction of the outfall, as this needs to be approved and covered in the permit itself…I feel now the earliest would be next summer if we finalize the permit. We still need to do final engineering for the outfall and produce the bid documents, which will take some time and the work will need to be completed during the summer season.”
Now, on to statewide matters…
OAC PRIORITY UPDATES
Priority # 1: Defense of federal lands and environmental laws
• RVAS joined many other chapters in signing on to a letter written by Portland Audubon opposing efforts to weaken the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). These new rules are scheduled to be finalized in the fall.
• A new Migratory Bird Protection Act has been introduced into Congress to restore some of the protections that were previously removed from the MBTA by the Trump Administration.
• Several Chapters (including RVAS) signed-on to a variety of group letters that were circulating regarding changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Portland Audubon sent out an action alert in March asking for public comment to oppose the USFWS proposed rule to eliminate the MBTA’s prohibition on incidental take, and to abandon this proposed rule and instead adopt the “no action” alternative in the associated Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) scoping process.
Priority #4: Forests
2020 is shaping up to potentially be a remarkable year for forests in Oregon. At the Federal level, hope remains that there is insufficient time left for the Trump Administration to do significant additional damage to the NW Forest Plan. At the State level, there appears to be real opportunity to make substantial progress on both state forest and private lands forest management after years of futility.
• Elliott State Forest: The process to convert the Elliott State Forest into an OSU Research Forest is on-going. Portland Audubon staff are participating in the recreation planning. The process has now entered a detailed negotiation phase. It is not clear whether we can reach an agreement but a draft plan is likely to emerge this summer.
• Oregon Forest Practices Act (OFPA) Reform: In February 2020, 13 environmental groups, including Oregon Wild and Wild Salmon Center and Portland Audubon reached an agreement, facilitated by the Governor’s office, with timber industry representatives to cease efforts to pass ballot initiatives in exchange for meaningful progress on OFPA reform. In the agreement, environmental groups abandoned the Oregon Forest Practices Act Reform Ballot Measure, and in turn got an immediate win with pesticide notification and increased buffers, and agreement to move forward on a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) within 18 months. However, the legislation was not advanced in the 2020 legislative session due to the Republican walkout. Both conservation and timber interests have indicated a desire to move forward on this effort and are continuing to communicate. However, next steps remain murky. Portland Audubon is continuing to participate in the core group.
• North Coast Forest Habitat Conservation Plans: Work continues on HCPs for the Elliott and Clatsop State Forests. Portland Audubon is tracking closely.
• OSU Research Forests: Several OAC chapters signed onto letters from Steve Cook and Corvallis Audubon , urging OSU to abandon exploitative forestry management practices and adopt a carbon sequestration focus administered by a multi-college consortium. Thanks to Jim Fairchild from Corvallis Audubon for facilitating sign-ons for these letters. The letter from Steve Cook has been delayed to send in July when the new OSU President and Forestry Dean begin their positions.
• Board of Forestry: The Audubon Society of Lincoln City attended Oregon Board of Forestry meetings in Salem to testify and observe the Board in action. ASLC urged the Board to establish stronger stream protection measures in the Coast Range and sent a letter to Lincoln County Commissioners after noting that the County’s interests were not well served by its representative on the Forest Trust Lands Advisory Committee. In response, Commissioner Kaety Jacobson asked to meet with ASLC on a quarterly basis to discuss forest issues.
• Siuslaw National Forest thinning program update: Buffers adjacent to occupied murrelet stands have been incorporated into the Alternatives for Deadwood Creek – approximately 30,000 acres. The goal of no-cut buffers is to deter corvids from predating murrelet chicks. We are waiting to hear from the BLM N Hwy 126 planning area process if they will incorporate key recommendations of improving survivorship as a priority for the restoration work. The next planning area for the murrelet habitat no-cut buffer issue is the Sand Lake Planning / Hebo District.
Priority #6: Marbled Murrelet
• Uplisting Petition: The May 2020 ODFW Commission meeting has been canceled due to COVID-19. At this meeting the Commission was due to make a decision on uplisting the Marbled Murrelet from Threatened to Endangered under the Oregon ESA. This comes after Portland Audubon et al. sued and successfully won the case for a new decision after the Commission had reversed the 2018 decision to uplist the murrelet. At this point it looks like the murrelet uplist decision will be pushed to the November 2020 ODFW Commission meeting.
Priority #7: Greater Sage Grouse
• ODFW and USFWS have confirmed that they will not kill ravens in Baker County in 2020 to protect Sage Grouse. The agencies acknowledged several of the concerns about this project raised in comments submitted by Audubon chapters (including RVAS) and other conservation organizations.
• Additional funding for Sage Grouse recovery requested by the governor in the 2020 legislative session was not approved due to walkout by Republicans.
Priority # 8: California Condors
USFWS still working with Yuroks and NPS to finalize the Environmental Assesment (EA). USFWS is also still working on finalizing the 10(j) rule, which will then go through review. USFWS has not shared a clear timeline on publishing the EA and 10(j) documents. Stay tuned.
Priority # 11: Climate Change
• FERC conditionally approved the Jordan Cove Project in March but at the state level, permits by DEQ, DSL and DLCD Coastal Zone have all been denied. Several Audubon chapters including Kalmiopsis and Portland Audubon have helped the cause by advocating successfully to deny the permits.
Priority #15: Predator Control
• Cormorants: USFWS has proposed to weaken protections for Double-crested Cormorants broadly across the U.S. See National Audubon story including quotes from Portland Audubon and an action alert. Many OAC chapters, including RVAS, signed onto the comment letter opposing this weakening of protections for cormorants.
• Coyotes: In February 2020, Oregon House voted 42-16 to ban coyote killing contests. We had all the Democrats and six Republicans, including the Republican leader of the House, vote for the legislation. HSUS led the effort but Portland Audubon, Oregon Wild, Defenders of Wildlife, and Oregon Humane Society, contributed as well. Unfortunately the bill died as a result of the Republican walkout.
Attentive readers will have noticed that important progress on three Audubon conservation priorities was derailed by the Republican walkout from the Legislature in February – and this doesn’t even count the issue that supposedly triggered the walkout, namely the proposed cap-and-trade legislation. Oregon must find a way to prevent a minority in the Legislature (be they Republicans or Democrats) from using this illegitimate and anti-democratic tactic to prevent the passage of legislation. Otherwise, our state will become ungovernable.
I wish you all a safe and healthy summer, full of birds and time spent – with appropriate inter-personal spacing – in our great southern Oregon outdoors. See you in September!