Illegal Logging and Wall Street?

Siberian Tiger
Photo by tambako on Flickr

It's been a rough start to the holiday season for Lumber Liquidators, the top-selling flooring retailer in America. Last month I noted that federal officers raided Lumber Liquidators headquarters, investigating whether the company had imported illegally logged wood products from eastern Russia, the home of the critically endangered Siberian tiger. Importing illegally harvested timber or wildlife violates the U.S. Lacey Act, with violators subject to fines and penalties. Now, after facing criticism from a noted hedge fund advisor, Lumber Liquidators is being hit with class action lawsuits.

On Nov. 21, well-known hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson gave a presentation to a conference of investors in which he argued that Lumber Liquidators' recent increases in profit margins have come, in part, by increasing imports of illegally harvested wood from China and the Russian Far East. Tilson's presentation notes that over the last two years, Lumber Liquidators has increased the percentage of wood sourced from Asia from 42 percent to 51 percent, coinciding with a rapid increase in profits. New investigative reports have provided compelling evidence that much of this wood sourced by Lumber Liquidators was illegally harvested in the Russian Far East.

Continue reading "Illegal Logging and Wall Street?" »

Chill the Drills: Climate and America's Arctic


America's Arctic is a place like no other. Its unique conditions -- extreme weather, long periods of darkness -- and its remoteness from infrastructure make it both extremely harsh and fragile. Here sea ice meets the northern edge of the continent, and animals congregate in great numbers.

I have been fortunate in my life to spend a fair amount of time in arctic Alaska. This remote region is one of the wildest spots left on the globe. I've watched walrus gather on ice floes, puffins "fly" through the water, bowheads breach in ice filled waters, and polar bears prowl the ice edge. I have traveled with Alaska Native people, who have lived on these lands and waters for hundreds of generations, and I've listened as they described their connections to this land and importance of these animals to their culture and subsistence. A major spill could leave oil in these waters for decades -- killing whales, seals, and fish, and bringing to an end Alaska Natives' ancient way of life.

The Arctic is already paying the price for our fossil fuel habit. Northern Alaska is warming at twice the rate of the lower 48. The people of the North Slope see the effects every day -- in loss of sea ice, changes in animal abundance and behavior, and the loss of important subsistence opportunities.
The Obama administration is in the process of deciding if we should offer up new oil and gas leasing in the Arctic's Chukchi Sea, and Shell Oil recently announced that it wants to try once again to drill in the Arctic Ocean. This week the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) closed its official "Call for Information and Nominations for the Chukchi Sea." This "Call" is the first step in a multi-step lease sale process, where the oil industry must provide specific information to support nominations of areas to be considered for leasing. We need the Obama administration to refuse Shell's new, but not improved, exploration plan and decline to offer any new lease sales in the Arctic Ocean.

Arctic polar bearDrilling in the Arctic Ocean comes with a distinctive set of risks to the environment -- and challenging risks to the would-be drillers, as Shell found out in 2012. Shell's last attempt to drill in the Chukchi Sea showed clearly just how unprepared and ill-equipped oil companies are to drill in the Arctic. There is nothing to lend credence to the idea that Shell, or any other company, can drill safely in inhospitable arctic conditions. History has shown that where there is drilling, there is spilling. Oil spills in the Arctic would cause irreparable damage and be impossible to clean up.  

Next year, 2014, will mark 25 years -– a quarter century -- since the Exxon-Valdez ran aground, and oil can still be found on south central Alaska beaches. But the risks extend beyond a devastating oil spill that would jeopardize wildlife and Native subsistence communities. The Arctic acts as a refrigerator for the northern hemisphere. Tapping into and burning oil from the Arctic Ocean would pump dangerous amounts of carbon pollution into the air, worsening climate change. It would also coat Arctic ice surfaces with black, heat-absorbing soot, further speeding the melting that is already at record levels in an Arctic that is already warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. The effects of the melting of Arctic ice can be seen in rising sea levels in coastal areas from New Orleans to Miami and in a sharp global increase in extreme weather events.

The Obama administration identified addressing climate change as its number one environmental priority. While it has made significant progress with demand-side measures such as vehicle fuel economy and power plant carbon pollution standards, all of this progress can be negated by an "all of the above" energy plan that opens up our public lands and waters to dirty fuel production. To effectively address climate change, the United States must lead the effort to begin keeping fossil fuels -- oil, natural gas, and coal -- in the ground, especially in risky, remote, and fragile places like the Arctic Ocean.
The president's climate plan and his recent executive order on climate preparedness have spelled out the administration's commitment to combating and preparing for climate change. As part of the executive order, the president called on federal agencies to reduce the sources of climate change. If the administration is serious about addressing climate, then halting leasing and drilling in the Arctic Ocean is the place to start. The Arctic's fossil fuels should be kept in the ground. Cleaner energy and transportation options are here now. We don't need to continue investing in fuels of the past.

TAKE ACTION: Join us in asking the administration to protect the Arctic Ocean and the climate by keeping this dirty energy in the ground.

-- Dan Ritzman, Sierra Club Arctic Program Director

Protecting Colorado's Browns Canyon

Browns Canyon, Colorado, credit John Fielder, johnfielderdotcom

Rafters on the Arkansas River at Brown's Canyon -- by John Fielder (

U.S. Senator Mark Udall yesterday announced he will introduce legislation to permanently protect Colorado's Browns Canyon as a national monument. Following months of public input, the proposal will safeguard 22,000 acres between Salida and Buena Vista, create more than 10,000 acres of new wilderness, and ensure continued public access to one of the most popular rafting destinations in the country.

"We're pleased that Senator Udall is giving Browns Canyon the recognition it deserves," said Alan Apt, Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter wilderness chair. "The area's unique mix of exciting whitewater, wildlife, and outdoor recreation make it an important part of our outdoor heritage and our outdoor economy, which is why so many of us here in Colorado want to see it protected."   

Browns Canyon was formed by the Arkansas River, which runs 1,400 miles from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi. This amazing area provides sweeping views and recreation opportunities for every season. While the white water of Browns Canyon already draws rafting enthusiasts from near and far, national monument designation will truly put Browns Canyon on the map. Visitor experiences will be preserved and improved, an amazing wild place will be safeguarded, and local businesses will gain a competitive advantage that comes with protected public lands. Colorado's outdoor industry is already one of the largest in the country, contributing $10 billion annually to the state and providing over 100,000 jobs.

"Senator Udall's outreach has confirmed broad public support from local communities and nearly 200 businesses," said John Stansfield, wilderness chair for the Pikes Peak Sierra Club Group. "A Browns Canyon National Monument will ensure that this remarkable landscape is preserved while continuing current use and access to the area. We look forward to working with Senator Udall and others to finalize permanent protections for Browns Canyon."

It’s Time to Reconsider the Costs of Uranium Mining Around Grand Canyon

NAU press event

Northern Arizona University students (left to right) Heath Emerson, Montana Johnson, Sienna Chapman, and Tommy Rock were all born after the Canyon Mine Environmental Impact Statement was developed. Photo: Taylor McKinnon.

NAU Against Uranium, a volunteer group made up of Northern Arizona University students, is demanding a new environmental review for a Grand Canyon area uranium mine. On November 21, 2013, they organized a "Youth Speak in Defense of the Canyon" press conference confronting the exclusion of young people from the public review process for the Canyon uranium mine, located just six miles south of Grand Canyon National Park. Students, Havasupai tribal members, and NAU faculty spoke in support of youth inclusion.

The Forest Service's refusal to update the Canyon mine's 1986 environmental review has meant that anyone born after 1986 has not been given the opportunity to weigh in on the project, even though its reopening in April could significantly affect their lives. More than 500 people born after 1986 have signed a petition calling for the chance to participate through a new environmental review.

"From my perspective, my family has lost many relatives to uranium mining.  Many of my relatives were former uranium miners in Monument Valley, Utah. Monument Valley is on the Navajo Reservation. The Navajo Nation still has many abandoned uranium mines scattered across the reservation. I do not want to see history repeat itself at Grand Canyon. As a Native American, Grand Canyon is a sacred area," said Northern Arizona University graduate Tommy Rock. 

Continue reading "It’s Time to Reconsider the Costs of Uranium Mining Around Grand Canyon" »

A Call to Protect America’s Arctic, For Good

Arctic fox

For decades we have been fighting to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from dirty fuel development.  Every year Big Oil and its friends in Congress make new attempts to weasel their way in to this special place.  Fortunately there are those willing to stand up and fight to save our last great wild places, including the Arctic Refuge’s crown jewel-- the coastal plain.

Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) are among those willing to take a stand. At a time when bi-partisan legislation is hard to come by, they've introduced a bill to protect the Refuge’s coastal plain as wilderness.  The bill would finally protect the area for good.  

Senator Kirk has said, “The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the last pristine environments in the United States, and its value to our environment is undeniable.  We have a responsibility to protect this fragile ecosystem to allow wildlife to roam free without disruption of their natural habitat. Designating this land as wilderness will benefit generations to come.”

Alaska is plagued with elected officials who owe too much to the oil companies.  Alaska Governor Sean Parnell released the latest unwise proposal to begin opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to damaging oil and gas development earlier this year.  And even our Democratic Senator Mark Begich insists he should “bang Obama over the head” to change the president’s mind against protecting the Refuge.  The reality is, sometimes Alaskans need others to save us from ourselves.  I’ve come to terms with that—I just wish our delegation would too!

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is our nation's greatest wilderness icon. Located in the northeast corner of Alaska, it is the only refuge specifically designated for wilderness purposes.  The Refuge is home to some of our most beloved species of wildlife, from Dall sheep to polar bears, and the coastal plain is its biological heart.  The coastal plain is the calving ground for caribou and nesting site for migratory birds that visit every state.  For the caribou and other Arctic wildlife there is no alternative to this vital and sensitive habitat that they have depended on for millennia.  It is no place for drilling.

Time and again the American people have said they do not want to see dirty fuel exploration or development on the coastal plain. Just last year nearly one million activists from across the country—many of them Sierra Club members—called on the president to protect the Refuge’s coastal plain as wilderness.  Support like that can't be ignored, and the senators in Washington and Illinois have responded.  We need more members of congress to get on board to designate the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge as Wilderness, to protect it once and for all. 

There is no question that the coastal plain is the heart of the Refuge, and we’ve got to keep it beating. Join us in protecting the Arctic Refuge

--  by Lindsey Hajduk, Arctic Organizer based in Anchorage, AK 

Corporate Criminals and the Need for Strong Protections Against Illegal Logging

TigerPhoto by tambako on Flickr

On an otherwise ordinary Thursday this fall, officers from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided the corporate headquarters of Lumber Liquidators, the top-selling flooring retailer in America, in Toano, Virginia. Along with agents from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Justice Department, ICE agents were investigating whether the company had imported illegally logged wood products from eastern Russia, the home of the critically endangered Siberian Tiger.

While federal officials have yet to publicly release information on the raid, a new report from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) shows how rampant illegal logging in Russia is threatening the last Siberian tigers that remain in the wild and why the U.S. must hold companies who import illegally harvested wood accountable.

The report, “Liquidating the Forests: Hardwood Flooring, Organized Crime, and the World’s Last Siberian Tigers,” provides a sobering account of how Lumber Liquidators has been purchasing, through a Chinese supplier, millions of square feet of illegally logged hardwoods originating in the Russian Far East. Such illegal logging is devastating the region’s diverse old-growth forests of oak, ash, and other species; hardwood forests that provide habitat for the world’s 450 last remaining Siberian tigers. EIA estimates that as much as 80 percent of all timber exported annually from these critically significant Russian forests is illegally logged and traded, facilitated by corrupt or at least ineffective government officials and trafficked with forged documents.


Continue reading "Corporate Criminals and the Need for Strong Protections Against Illegal Logging" »

Protecting California's Stornetta Public Lands

Stornetta hearingThe crowd unanimously supports protecting Stornetta Public Lands. 

Earlier this month the California coast put on a tremendous show to welcome Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell; the sun was shining, surf pounding, blowholes spouting, and humpback whales breaching.

Secretary Jewell came to Point Arena to hold a town hall meeting to discuss the community’s vision for the permanent protection of this outstandingly scenic area, and specifically to get their reactions to the proposal to add the Stornetta Public Lands to the California Coastal National Monument, a proposal that the Sierra Club strongly supports. In July the House of Representatives unanimously passed H.R. 1411, Representative Jared Huffman’s bill enabling the monument to “expand onto the land,” and S. 61, a companion bill sponsored by both of California’s Senators is under consideration in the other chamber.

Public enthusiasm for this idea was demonstrated by a standing-room-only crowd of at least 300 people who crammed into the diminutive Point Arena city hall to welcome the Secretary, Congressman Huffman, Bureau of Land Management Deputy Director Neil Kornze, and countless other federal, state, and local dignitaries. Members of the Point Arena/Manchester Band of Pomo Indians opened the gathering with a prayer and a dance, followed by students from Pacific Community Charter reading their own poetry and singing “This Land is Your Land.” In response, Secretary Jewell thanked the Stornetta family for their stewardship and vision, and went on to recognize that “communities know lands that are special, lands that have nurtured people for thousands of years. “ When she asked for a show of hands on recommending that the President use his powers under the Antiquities Act to add Stornetta to the California Coastal National Monument should Congress fail to act, the expression of support was instantaneous and unanimous — including that of the Secretary herself, whose hand reached towards the sky.

Despite the remote location, several dozen Sierra Club representatives attended this inspiring event, including Redwood Chapter Conservation Chair Diane Beck, Mendocino coastal activist Linda Perkins, Deputy Program Director Michael Bosse, and national Wildlands Committee member Angel Martinez. I had the privilege of appearing at the podium on behalf of the Redwood Chapter to thank Secretary Jewell for visiting the North Coast, express the Club’s enthusiastic support for the permanent protection of the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands by including it in the monument, and present her with 1,800 signatures on a support petition gathered by the Sierra Club.

Next step: we’re all looking forward to making another journey to the Mendocino coast for the dedication ceremonies.

-- by Victoria Brandon, Redwood Chapter Chair 

Yellowstone Grizzlies Must Be Fully Recovered Before Federal Protections Are Removed

Grizzly USFWSPhoto courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

Last week I attended the biannual meeting of the Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee (YES) of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. YES is composed primarily of representatives from federal and state agencies charged with grizzly bear recovery and management. This was a pivotal meeting, as the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team revealed results of its long-awaited analysis of grizzly bear foods. The Study Team began the analysis nearly two years ago, after a court ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) had not adequately justified its conclusion that the steep decline of whitebark pine throughout the Yellowstone ecosystem would not adversely affect the survival of the grizzly bear, when the agency removed the Yellowstone grizzly from the Endangered Species List.

Over the past 18 months, the Study Team has conducted research to determine what foods grizzlies may be substituting for whitebark pine seeds and cutthroat trout (two of four major grizzly foods rich in protein that have steeply declined in the past decade) and how the bears are faring. A key question is whether those alternative foods pack the same kind of calories and nutrition that the bears need to maintain healthy reproductive and survival rates. The Study Team's preliminary conclusions are that grizzlies are finding comparable foods and that the leveling off of the growth rate over the past decade is not so much due to the decline of whitebark pine but because we've reached the carrying capacity of the ecosystem for grizzly bears.[1] Based on these preliminary findings, federal agencies are gearing up to again propose removing federal protections from Yellowstone grizzly bears.

Continue reading "Yellowstone Grizzlies Must Be Fully Recovered Before Federal Protections Are Removed" »

A Real Climate Commitment Needs to Address Public Lands

WY mining_BLMPhoto courtesy Bureau of Land Management

Last week, the White House took a significant step toward addressing climate disruption when President Obama issued an executive order on climate preparedness. The order calls for the federal government to take steps to help American communities, families, and businesses prepare for the reality of the climate crisis and increasingly erratic weather events. This order comes on the heels of the ambitious climate plan laid out by the president earlier this summer. That plan included new energy efficiency standards for federal buildings and appliances, doubling of clean energy production by 2020, and using the full authority of the Clean Air Act to cut dangerous carbon pollution from power plants.

The executive order also makes clear that in addition to promoting programs that foster greater climate resilience, federal agencies shall “"focus on program and policy adjustments that promote . . . reductions to the sources of climate change." If the administration is serious about combating climate change, reframing how we use our public lands would be a good place to start. According to a recent report by Stratus Consulting for the Wilderness Society, 23 percent of the nation's greenhouse gases and 27 percent of all energy-related greenhouse gas emissions can be directly attributed to fossil fuels extracted from public lands and waters.

Unfortunately, not all agencies have gotten the message. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently engaged in a coal leasing program that practically gives coal away for approximately $1 per ton. That not only cheats American taxpayers, who own both the land being stripmined and the coal that sits underneath, but also sets up a disastrous climate situation that is completely at odds with the administration's stated commitment. 

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Saying Goodbye to a Bad Bush-Era Folly in Utah

Canyonlands NP_NPSCanyonlands National Park, courtsey National Park Service

We've all heard the saying, "All good things must come to an end."  In the world of protecting majestic landscapes for future generations, we like to believe that "All bad things must come to an end."

Such was the case recently when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a petition brought forth by three Utah counties and three energy companies over a controversial oil and gas lease sale by the Bureau of Land Management of Utah in the waning days of the Bush administration in 2008. Many of these leases were in special places such as Monitor and Merrimac Buttes, both iconic red rock sandstone regions close to Moab, Utah, and Canyonlands National Park. It also included a lease immediately adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument in northeastern Utah.

Continue reading "Saying Goodbye to a Bad Bush-Era Folly in Utah" »

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