Celebrate! Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands Added to the California Coastal National Monument

Stornetta.Par.69962.Image.375.281.1_BLMPhoto courtesy Bureau of Land Management

Today, President Obama took the significant step of designating Point Arena - Stornetta Public Lands as part of the California Coastal National Monument. Located along the south coast of California’s Mendocino County, these public lands include 1,665 acres of majestic views, tide pools, and coastal wetlands that are home to an abundance of sea mammals, sea birds, and abalone. The designation marks the first expansion onto land for the California Coastal National Monument which stretches along 1,100 miles of California’s coast.

Adjacent to Manchester State Beach and the Point Arena Lighthouse, the Point Arena - Stornetta Public Lands area includes more than two miles of coastline, portions of the Garcia River, the Garcia estuary and a five-acre island—Sea Island Rocks. Its wildflower meadows and shifting sand dunes provide a home for otters, seals, pelicans and a host of other wildlife. The area is vital habitat for migratory birds, salmon, and several endangered species including the Point Arena mountain beaver and the Behren's silverspot butterfly.

The area is also a tremendously popular tourist draw. Thousands of people visit the area every year to watch wildlife, fish, and hike-- and in doing so contribute to California’s booming outdoor recreation economy. Today's designation ensures that local communities will continue to benefit as more people visit the area.

Just last month, I had the opportunity to visit Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands with my wife as we were driving north on Highway One from San Francisco. At that time, Sierra Club activists, business owners, and community leaders were all busy organizing to protect this special and rugged place for future generations. As we stood on those bluffs and watched the waves crash below us, we understood why those people had been pushing for years to permanently protect this unique place. And now, less than a month later,  thanks to the help of California Congressmen Huffman and Thompson, as well as Senators Boxer and Feinstein, their efforts have proven fruitful.

Please join me in thanking President Obama for responding to the widespread desire among Americans by permanently protecting our outdoor heritage for future generations.

-- Dan Chu, Senior Director, Our Wild America campaign 

Congress Finally Wakes Up, Protects Sleeping Bear Dunes as Wilderness

Sleeping Bear Dunes_NPS
photo courtesy National Park Service

This week, Congress did something that would have been unthinkable just a few short months ago: they passed a wilderness bill. Such an action, which used to be routine and bipartisan, has been blocked by House Republicans for the past five years. The last time Congress passed any new wilderness protections was in early 2009.

The bill, sponsored by Senators Carl Levin (D) and Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI) now goes to the President’s desk for his signature and, once done, will designate 32,500 acres of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan as wilderness. The lakeshore stretches for 35 spectacular miles along Lake Michigan on the "little finger" of the mitten of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. It also includes north and south Manitou Islands, which in the legend of Sleeping Bear Dunes represent the bear cubs of the mother bear whose shape is seen in the 450 foot tall dunes on the shoreline. The area is extraordinarily popular with families, anglers, paddlers and birders. A wide variety of activities draw well over 1 million visitors every year. The area is also home to several threatened and endangered species including the Piping Plover, Pitcher’s Thistle and Michigan Monkeyflower. I'm proud that Sierra Club was a driving force behind the creation of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in the 1970s and that today the wilderness designation further protects these amazing places.  

The passage of this legislation not only affords greater protections to a beloved area of the Great Lakes region, but hopefully signals a thawing of the gridlock that has prevented widely-supported bipartisan bills from moving that in total would protect several million acres of wilderness. Last Congress became the first since 1966 to not designate a single new acre of wilderness. This year, the Wilderness Act celebrates its 50th Anniversary and we hope that Sleeping Bear Dunes is only the first area that Congress moves to protect. Wilderness areas, national parks, monuments, and protected public lands are part of our special American heritage. And if Congress doesn’t continue to act, we hope President Obama will use his authority to designate national monuments to ensure that our outdoor legacy lives on.

--  by Anne Woiwode, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter Director  

Youth Project Aims to Save Wildlife

256px-2005-bandipur-tuskerImage courtesy Yathin S Krishnappa 

At 14 years old, Josh Crow is leading a project to help save wildlife around the world. Working with One World Conservation he's reaching out to youth between the ages of 6 and 17 years to write letters to world leaders in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization asking them to intercede on behalf of endangered wildlife.

Youth interested in joining Josh to help save wildlife can write letters or poetry, create art, or even make videos about any plant or animal currently on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. Whether it's coral reefs or Asian elephants, youth should reflect on the plants and wildlife they are passionate about, perhaps even some that aren't as familiar to most people. Submissions should be polite and heartfelt and should include some scientific data to help persuade world leaders to take action.  

"I need your help to protect the world's wildlife. This is our world, our heritage. And we need to protect it," says Josh Crow.

Submissions should be sent to wildlifeambassadors@hotmail.com or P.O. Box 41731, Austin, Texas 78704. Once sent, they will become the property of One World Conservation. 

Protecting Pristine Lands for Future Generations

Port arena

Last week my wife and I drove up the legendary Highway One on the California coast. Our destination was somewhere about 100 miles north of San Francisco, planted on the windswept bluffs perched above the ocean. Presently, this stunning area is known as Point Arena - Stornetta Public Lands. It is a patchwork of public lands and Trust for Public Land conservation easements that covers over 1,000 rugged acres.
We stopped, jumped out of the car into a stiff winter breeze and walked to the edge of the ocean.  We were greeted by two harbor seals frolicking in the waves on rocks below us, and as we scanned the ocean, hundreds of harbor seal heads appeared, bobbing in the rough sea. As we walked along the bluffs, seagulls and cormorants flew by and gathered on the rocks. It was exhilarating to see life thrive in such harsh conditions, knowing this scene has changed remarkably little over the past several thousand years. And, hopefully, the area will look this way thousands of years from now.

Just a few months ago, the Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, walked these bluffs, accompanied by local residents and Sierra Club supporters who are united in their desire to see President Obama recognize Point Arena - Stornetta Public Lands as our nation's newest national monument. Designating this area a national monument would protect the rugged natural beauty and marine life here for future generations.

The president seems poised to act. Our visit to Stornetta was only few days after President Obama's State of the Union address, where he asserted that he would use his executive authority to protect our nation's public lands, a clear reference to his ability to designate new national monuments:

"I'll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations."
-- President Obama

And this bold statement came only a few short weeks after Secretary Jewell visited another important landscape in need of increased protection -- the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in southern New Mexico. And just as at Point Arena - Stornetta Public Lands, local community members came out in droves to meet Secretary Jewell on her visit there. Close to a thousand New Mexicans turned out to a town hall meeting in Las Cruces to tell her the importance of protecting the region.  

A national monument there would protect 500,000 acres of southwestern desert, steep mountain cliffs, and a diversity of wildlife, including peregrine falcons, pronghorn antelope, and mountain lions. A recent economic study found that a national monument designation would give a $7.4 million boost to the economy and double the number of jobs supported by outdoor recreation and tourism on public lands.

Jewell's visits to southern New Mexico and California are signs that the president is listening to the American public and hearing their demands to have their special places protected, especially in the face of a Congress that has repeatedly failed to act on saving our wild places. It is hugely rewarding to think that the bluffs whereI stood with my wife just last week could soon be protected forever as America's newest national monument -- and that the spectacular Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks could soon join them.

Please join me in thanking Secretary Jewell for showing her great interest in protecting these wonderful natural treasures for all of us.

-- Dan Chu, director of the Sierra Club Our Wild America Campaign

House Republicans Continue Push to Unravel Endangered Species Protections

OR Chub riverOregon Chub habitat, photo courtesy Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

A three-inch-long minnow native to Oregon became the ultimate underdog success story this week. The Oregon chub (Oregonichthys crameri) was initially listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1993. The species was down to a population of fewer than 1,000, but thanks to the action and protection of the Endangered Species Act, the Oregon chub's population has been restored to nearly 160,000. The removal of the Oregon chub from the Endangered Species Act is a huge success not only for the Act but also for its implementation as part of a productive collaboration between employees at the federal, state, and local level with the help of landowners. Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber asserts, "The delisting of the Oregon chub is the product of remarkable partnerships by committed people who have advanced Oregon's natural legacy while showing that economic health is not only possible but strengthened by efforts to recover and safeguard native fish and wildlife."

The Oregon chub joins a happy group of endangered-species success stories and can now sit alongside animals such as the brown pelican, the gray whale, the southern sea otter, and the ever popular bald eagle, which also managed to bounce back from the brink of extinction.

Despite this latest chapter in a strong history of how well the Endangered Species Act works, last week House Republicans released their latest roadmap for undoing protections for our nation's wildlife. This roadmap trots out many tired and factually inaccurate arguments, disregards science, sets unrealistic timelines, and offers false choices between conservation and economic benefit. And while Republicans bemoan the number of species moved off of the endangered species list, they continue to fundamentally undermine species' recovery by continually cutting the budget of the Fish and Wildlife Service. By all accounts, the Act is a resounding success.Of all plants and animals ever protected under the Act, 99 percent have been saved from extinction, and populations of the majority of plants and animals protected under the Act are stable or increasing in size.

As President Obama said, "Throughout our history, there's been a tension between those who've sought to conserve our natural resources for the benefit of future generations and those who have sought to profit from these resources. But I'm here to tell you this is a false choice." We can have a productive economy while protecting important endangered species, and the recovery of the Oregon chub is the latest example to prove it.  

The Endangered Species Act is undeniably one of the most important pieces of legislation that has been signed into law in the past 50 years, and it is credited with bringing back invaluable species from the brink of extinction. From the majestic bald eagle to the Oregon chub, the Endangered Species Act works, and will continue to work as a safety net for our native species, despite outlandish claims by some in Congress.

-- By Foley Pfalzgraf

Shell Abandons Plans to Drill in the Arctic Ocean This Year

In great news for America's Arctic, Shell Oil has announced that it is abandoning plans to drill the Chukchi Sea this year. The company had hoped to begin drilling this summer, a move that would have jeopardized the area's delicate natural balance and the subsistence communities dependent on it.

In the announcement, Shell cited a recent ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that invalidated drilling leases in the Chukchi as one of the reasons for their decision. In response to a challenge from the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, the court ruled that the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management had analyzed "only the best case scenario for environmental harm," far underestimating the environmental risks drilling actually poses.

And while critics are already disrespectfully arguing that Shell's decision not to drill in the Arctic results from "judicial overreach," a panel of three distinguished federal judges found that Shell's lease and the Bureau violated environmental laws, and faulted the agency for downplaying the potential harm of oil development. On matters like these federal appellate judges are far more trustworthy than the oil industry-- a fact bolstered by the fact that this is the second time a court has ruled that leasing in the Chukchi Sea has been illegally approved.

Drilling in the Arctic is a dangerous and risky business--for companies' bottom lines, for the environment, and for our climate. Downplaying those risks does not make them go away, as Shell's disastrous experience in 2012 demonstrated. Among the difficulties encountered by the company was the grounding of its Kulluk drillship, more than $1 million in pollution fines, and the failure of its oil spill containment dome during testing.  

It's clear that the Arctic Ocean is the last place we should be drilling for oil. The Arctic seas are home to a unique plethora of wildlife, including the entire US population of polar bears and serve as an important migration route for bowhead and beluga whales. They are also home to some of the most extreme and dangerous conditions on the planet, and to stores of carbon pollution that could dramatically alter our climate if released, negating positive steps to fight the climate crisis.  

While Shell won't be drilling in the Arctic Ocean this summer, the threat of drilling remains. The Obama administration needs to step in and do a full environmental assessment of current Arctic leases, not just accept false industry promises of safety and best case scenarios.

It's clear that we can't make the needed progress in fighting the climate crisis and drill in the Arctic Ocean. An effective climate strategy will also require the administration to cancel lease sales tentatively scheduled for 2016 and 2017. It's time for America to look beyond an 'all of the above' energy policy, and start taking advantage of available clean energy and smart transportation alternatives.

-- Dan Ritzman, Sierra Club Alaska Program Director 

Fighting Illegal Logging with Numbers

Earlier this month, Congress did something it hasn’t done in years – pass a budget. Thankfully, now that funding levels have been set for 2014, members of Congress are already looking ahead to the budget for 2015. Much more than a bunch of numbers, the 2015 budget will provide Congress with an opportunity to address countless problems, and Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Dan Benishek (R-MI) want to use that opportunity to combat illegal logging around the world.

2827200314_9ca7dcda6a_bIllegal logging is a serious problem. It contributes to deforestation worldwide, which accounts for roughly 17 percent of global carbon pollution, harms indigenous communities, and funds underground crime. In the United States, the importation of illegal wood products artificially lowers prices of wood products by around $1 billion a year, threatening American jobs.

As I wrote last year, the United States has one of the most effective laws in the world to ban the trade of illegally harvested plants and animals -- the Lacey Act. First enacted in 1900 to ban the trade of poached wildlife between states, Congress amended the Lacey Act in 2008, making it illegal to import illegally harvested wood products. Now, companies that import wood products must declare what species of plant they are importing and where it came from. Those that break the law face fines and even jail time.

Already, the Lacey Act has already helped shift the trade balance in U.S. forest products from a $20.3 billion deficit in 2006 to a $600 million surplus in 2010. A report by Chatham House also credits the Lacey Act with keeping more than 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Unfortunately, some companies continue to import illegally logged wood. Just three months ago, federal agents raided the corporate offices of Lumber Liquidators, the top-selling flooring retailer in America, who may have imported wood illegally harvested from the Russian far east, home of the last 450 Siberian tigers in the wild.

This month, Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Dan Benishek (R-MI) wrote a letter to the Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, Sylvia Burwell, urging her to request increased funding for the enforcement of the Lacey Act. Increased funding would allow the Department of Agriculture to build an electronic database to more efficiently monitor import declarations, the Department of Interior to better deter companies from importing illegal wood, and the Department of State to educate businesses at home and abroad about the Lacey Act and its requirements.

Thanks to the Lacey Act, we’ve already made progress in slowing the trade of illegal wood products, but we still have a ways to go. It is critical that Congress follow the lead of Representatives DeFazio and Benishek and pass a budget that includes increased funding for the Lacey Act. To help, tell your Representative to support the Lacey Act.

--Jesse Prentice-Dunn, Sierra Club's Responsible Trade Program

Protecting Public Lands: A Presidential Priority

Last night President Obama laid out his vision of opportunity for our nation and made it clear that our children will hold us accountable for the actions we take now; among them steps to permanently protect our public lands.

"My administration will keep working with the industry to sustain production and job growth while strengthening protection of our air, our water, and our communities.  And while we’re at it, I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations."

-- President Obama

During his tenure, President Obama has taken important steps to protect our outdoor legacy. He has designated nine new national monuments, honoring our country's history and safeguarding important natural areas. There has been strong support from local communities for these designations, and there are many more communities that hope to see their special places permanently protected as national monuments soon.

The time and effort invested by the administration in working with communities to protect special places is already paying off, as newly designated national monuments create jobs, boost economies, increase recreation, and safeguard natural treasures. Those benefits will carry on as future generations continue to reap the rewards of President Obama's ongoing conservation legacy.

With continued congressional inaction -- and often downright hostility -- on lands protection, it's clear that the Obama administration must step in to continue America's conservation legacy. It's heartening to see bold action on public lands is an administrative priority. The president's speech further affirms the commitment to act on public lands made by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in October.  Since then, the Secretary Jewell has followed words with action, holding public meetings in New Mexico on how best to protect the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and in California on Stornetta Public Lands. The overwhelmingly positive response at both public meetings is representative of the strong public support nationwide for permanently protecting our great outdoors.

As President Obama continues to act on public lands, we hope he will also act on climate. The two issues are intimately connected; a true commitment to act on climate, including an end to the flawed "all of the above" energy policy, will put the last pieces in place to fully protect our wild places. Future generations will hold President Obama accountable not just for his conservation legacy but for his climate legacy as well. 

-- Matthew Kirby, Sierra Club Senior Lands Protection Representative

Seeing the Forest for the Trees, Dead or Alive


                    photo by USFS Region 5

We now know that, according to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and local experts, the 2013 Rim Fire of Northern California burned somewhere between 250,000-270,000 acres of our public lands, including parts of Yosemite National Park. Reported by some as the third-largest fire in California history, the Rim Fire has become the focal point for highly controversial salvage logging legislation and, by contrast, a template for science-led grassroots collaboration. 

In the early weeks of post-fire landscape assessment, there was a keen desire to log up to 1 billion board feet off the burned forest. This desire turned into legislative language that, along with the USFS Rim Fire Recovery Project plans, has fueled intense debate among industry, lawmakers, conservationists, and scientists alike. 

The Sierra Club strongly supports embracing the region's best available post-fire science and ensuring that on-the-ground collaborative efforts have time to grow roots before legislative or misguided projects take off. The Sierra Club has a long history connected with Yosemite, going back to early outings lead by John Muir and the establishment of Sierra Club lodges to educate park visitors.  Naturally, it's in our ethos to ensure safekeeping of this treasured landscape.

The Yosemite region and Stanislaus National Forest are no strangers to fire. Much of the 2013 burn covered areas that have burned and reburned within the past 30 years. The Rim Fire presents, instead, an opportunity to revisit how we manage these fire-vulnerable landscapes, how we fight or embrace fire as a natural phenomenon, and how all of this changes in light of our rapidly changing climate. 

In fact, numerous studies have confirmed that fire can significantly benefit our natural environment, particularly in the early stages of the natural ecological succession of a landscape.  That is -- imagine the natural growth of a forest -- the early stages are incredibly important, and it turns out that fire is an important part of their development. 

The impact of moderate to severe fire on bird habitat is significant -- increasing nest cavities and abundance of species and their diversity, specifically in the Sierra Nevada ecosystem, site of the Rim Fire. And fire isn't just good for birds but also for shrubbery native to the regions prone to fire. IT is critical to the biodiversity of the region and the natural progression of the landscape. In the case of the Rim Fire, some feared that Yosemite's famous giant sequoia groves might be lost to fire. In fact no groves were damaged. Sequoias actually require fire to open their cones and allow for regeneration. National Park Service ecologists regularly set prescribed fires among sequoias to protect them and to allow for regeneration.  

Unfortunately, hysterical fire rhetoric during and immediately after a blaze usually refers to "devastation," "destruction," and "scorched" landscapes. A calmer scientific review usually concludes that most fires kille very little wildlife and that new plants quickly respond and wildlife soon reoccupies burned areas.  

In the post-fire world, the timber industry suggests that salvage logging will protect the forest.  But science does not back up those claims. In fact, post-fire logging does more damage than good -- causing long-lasting harm to plants, wildlife habitat, water quality, and other natural functions of our forests.  Certainly a case can be made for the removal of post-fire hazard trees that threaten existing roads and structures, but even this action should be a relatively modest operation.

Today, we have the chance to create new science and management norms for landscapes like those in the Rim Fire, both before, during, and after fire.  Post-fire planning allows us to reemphasize the need to concentrate forest management on best available science, not plantation-style reseeding, and focus fire-prevention dollars on clearing defensible space close to dwellings as a way of reducing fire risk.  Unfortunately, not all feel the same way.  Shortly after the Rim Fire, California Congressman Tom McClintock introduced legislation to rapidly salvage log the affected area. 

As noted in our Lay of the Land blog in October 2013, HR 3188, the "Yosemite Rim Fire Emergency Salvage Act" mandates damaging logging with no notice, public input, or environmental protections, and waives all administrative and judicial review. This bill would effectively suspend every federal law, including the National Forest Management Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. The Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other critical federal laws are also waived under the broad brush of HR 3188. 

In response to HR 3188, the USFS issued a statement strongly opposing the bill, recognizing its exemption of public involvement, judicial review, and more. While the USFS' opposition to egregious bills like HR 3188 is reassuring, the USFS-guided Rim Fire Recovery Project planning hasn't quite hit the mark either. In early December the USFS announced the Rim Fire Recovery Project's Notice of Intent to prepare an environmental review. In our comments with coalition partners, we noted several concerns with the proposed action. These include: no clear requirement in the plan to use the best available science, the allowance for salvage logging in areas near waterways, logging (by helicopter) of steep ground, construction of nearly 30 miles of new roads, and much more.

Our community sees this upcoming management plan as an opportunity -- one to steer us clear of industrial reforestation and short-sighted planning, and toward the USFS new Forest Planning Rule, the incorporation of the best available science information in the field, and a long-term management paradigm for the next 50 to 100 years. In addition, this provides a chance for real conversation about how we manage fires. Long-held notions of fire suppression are now being reconsidered. 

In addition to comments, our allies are hard at work with fellow conservationists, USFS personnel, and scientists on the ground to establish a collaborative process that will inform the environmental review and overall management of the Rim Fire landscape. Moving forward, we hope that all lawmakers will take pause at the good work happening on-site, that USFS will similarly yield to collaboration among their own in the Stanislaus, and that we'll see a new day for fire management in an ever-changing climate and West.  

Sierra Club Joins the Partnership for a 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, Supports Secretary Jewell’s Youth Vision

Serve OutdoorsServe Outdoors event at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C. 

Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell took a major step forward this week in achieving her goal to connect tens of millions of young people with opportunities to play, learn, serve and work in the great outdoors. At the memorial of Franklin D. Roosevelt, founder of the Civilian Conservation Corps, Jewell announced a $1 million commitment from American Eagle Outfitters, Inc., to support the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC). The 21CSC is a national effort to put thousands of America’s youth to work protecting, restoring, and enhancing America’s public and tribal lands and waters.

Sierra Club has been a long-time supporter of the conservation corps experience.

“The Sierra Club commends Secretary Jewell on her commitment to connecting youth to the outdoors,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. “In a world where many young people have never had the opportunity to explore and enjoy the natural world, the Corps is a valuable tool for connecting youth to our public lands and opening up a new generation to the value of conservation.”

That’s why we are proud to announce that the Sierra Club has officially joined the national partnership for the 21CSC. Sierra Club supports the 21CSC in its nationwide plan to reach 100,000 new corps members each year by 2018. Through the national partnership, we will help engage a cross-section of America’s youth with service, training and work opportunities outside. Together, we will empower the next generation to connect with special places outdoors, to improve their health and wellbeing, and to develop a sense of stewardship and a conservation ethic for our nation’s public lands. And, we’ll begin to whittle away the backlog of preservation and maintenance projects that are piling up on our public lands.

Continue reading "Sierra Club Joins the Partnership for a 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, Supports Secretary Jewell’s Youth Vision" »

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