EPIC: Protecting Biodiversity, Protecting Forests

June, 2015
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Pacific fisher. Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceNorthwestern California is home to some of the richest and most biodiverse forests in the world. Prior to European settlement, Northwest California’s forests were in-tact and expansive, providing essential habitat for a plethora of unique and amazing flora and fauna. From the iconic Marbled Murrelet and Northern Spotted Owl, to the cute-and-fuzzy Pacific Fisher and Humboldt Marten, to the gigantic ferns and elegant trilliums, the redwood region and the larger Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion provide a unique climate and thus unique forest conditions that allow for a cornucopia of native flora and fauna to survive and thrive.

Over the last 150 of years of European settlement and intensive land management techniques, much of the redwood region and the larger Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion’s forests have been logged, converted, or otherwise depleted. The landscape we encounter today is markedly different, both for humans, and the species that depend upon the forest.

Protecting Northwest California’s native wildlife is a key component to protecting our remaining in-tact forests, as well as restoring our depleted forests to a healthier state that would allow native species to survive and thrive. Protecting species diversity is a cornerstone of EPIC’s efforts to protect and restore Northwest California’s forests. Here are some of the highlights from the last year of EPIC’s efforts to protect biodiversity, and protect, maintain, and restore our native forests:

Gray Wolf

The gray wolf has voluntarily reintroduced itself to California. In light of the return of the wolf, EPIC and allies submitted a petition to list to the wolf as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). Additionally, EPIC staff participated in a multi-stakeholder working group that drafted a wolf management plan for California in conjunction with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. On June 4, 2014, the Fish and Game Commission voted to list the Gray Wolf as endangered in California. The listing of the Gray Wolf in California is important not only to protect the species from hunters and ranchers, but also for returning apex carnivores to our landscape, which can have multiple ecological and even social benefits.

Humboldt Marten

The Humboldt Marten, a cat-sized, weasel-like mesocarnivore, once thought to be extinct, has been extirpated from nearly 95 percent of its historic range in coastal California. Remnant populations of the marten are estimated to number as many as 100 individuals, but a more accurate estimate indicates that there may be just 40 of these forest creatures remaining in the wild in California. In 2010, EPIC and allies submitted a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the marten as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act. Despite acknowledging the perilously low population numbers, and the likely isolation of the remaining population of martens, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to list the marten in a determination rendered in April 2015. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reasoned that while the population was perilously small, that the Service could not conclude that the species was at-risk of extinction, therefore determining that the listing was not warranted. EPIC is currently evaluating avenues to challenge the Service’s negative finding on our petition to list the Humboldt Marten.

Pacific Fisher

The Pacific Fisher is another forest-associated mesocarnivore that relies upon large, contigious, and structurally complex forest patches. In 2000, EPIC and several other conservation groups filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Pacific Fisher as a threatened or endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act. After years of delay, and an overturned “warranted but precluded” finding, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a positive 12-month finding on the petition to list the fisher in April 2015, finding that the petitioned-action was warranted. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will now promulgate a final listing rule for the fisher, thus initiating ESA protections. This final listing rule is anticipated sometime in 2016.

Northern Spotted Owl
The Northern Spotted Owl is a well-known, iconic keystone species that was at the heart of the so-called “timber wars” of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Historic and contemporary habitat loss, and the advent of the incursion of the non-native and aggressive barred owl into the range of the spotted owl have resulted in continuing and precipitous declines in owl populations, this despite over 25 years of conservation efforts under the federal Endangered Species Act. In light of the alarming state of the species, EPIC has taken a two-pronged approach to spotted owl conservation.

Firstly, EPIC filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to “reclassify” or “uplist” the Northern Spotted Owl from a threatened species to an endangered species under the ESA in 2012. After great delays, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rendered a positive initial finding on our petition in April 2015, finding that the petition, and other available evidence demonstrated that the action “may be warranted” and that the spotted owl may now in fact be endangered.

EPIC also filed a petition with the California Fish and Game Commission, requesting that the spotted owl be listed as either threatened or endangered under the California Endangered Species Act in 2012. The Commission voted to accept EPIC’s petition in August 2013; the spotted owl formally became a candidate for listing under CESA in December 2013. The acceptance of our petition by the Commission triggered a 12-month status review period, in which the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is charged with preparing a status report for the spotted owl in California. However, the Department sought and received a six-month extension on the production of its status report in October 2014, with the new target date for submittal of the report to the Commission of June 26, 2015. However, the Department is now acknowledging that it intends to miss the June 26, 2015 deadline. EPIC is investigating alternate remedies to address the indefinite delay of the Department’s submittal of its status review for the spotted owl.

Protecting Northwest California’s biodiversity is a key piece to protecting and restoring Northwest California’s forests. EPIC will continue to use tools such as the state and federal endangered species acts to promote species protection and recovery, and to promote better forest management.

For more info please visit: www.WildCalifornia.org

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