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Lay of the Land
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
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 old 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 videos about any plant or animal currently on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. Whether its 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 41731, Austin, Texas 78704. Once sent they will automatically become the property of One World Conservation.
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.
-- Dan Chu, director of the Sierra Club Our Wild America Campaign
There is a three inch long minnow native to Oregon that 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 who 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, disregarding science, setting unrealistic timelines and offering false choices between conservation and economic benefit. And while Republicans bemoan the number of species moved off 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. 99% of all plants and animals ever protected under the Act 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 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
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
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.
Illegal 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
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 has followed words with action, recently 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
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 legislative language, along with the USFS Rim Fire Recovery Project plans, have 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 on-the-ground collaborative efforts have time to grow roots before legislative or misguided projects take off. In addition, 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 last 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 confirm 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 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, home of the Rim Fire itself. And fire isn’t just good for birds, but also for shrubbery native to the regions prone to fire, and critical to the biodiversity of the region and natural progression of the landscape. In the case of the Rim Fire, there was great consternation that Yosemite's famous giant sequoia groves would be lost to fire, but 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 in among sequoias to protect them and 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 killed very little wildlife and that new plants quickly respond and wildlife reoccupy burned areas.
In the post-fire world, the timber industry suggests that salvage logging will protect the forest. But science does not back up their claims. Quite simply, post-fire logging does more damage than good—creating long-lasting harmful impacts to plants, wildlife habitat, water quality, and additional 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 in close proximity 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 effectively suspends 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 50-100 years. In addition, this provides a chance for real conversation about how we manage fires themselves. 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 are hopeful 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
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.
Along with dozens of our partners through the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK), we just called on the White House to prioritize the 21CSC. The opportunities provided by 21CSC will encourage youth to assume responsibility for the stewardship and preservation of America’s great outdoors, while teaching them basic job skills at a time when youth unemployment is near record levels and young people are missing out on critical early job experiences. The cost-effective conservation, restoration and visitor service improvements provided by corps members will help ensure that future generations also have opportunities to experience our public lands.
We know that the future of conservation depends on our ability to ensure that all people, particularly children and youth, have opportunities to experience nature today. Through our new Nearby Nature initiative, Sierra Club is working to ensure that communities across America have green spaces to explore and enjoy close to where they live, work, worship, learn and play. We’re also training mentors and outdoor leaders to connect 14,000 young people with nature every year through our Outdoors program.
Sierra Club stands ready to help Secretary Jewell fulfill her vision to connect young people with the natural world. Programs like the 21CSC and others that make nature more accessible to youth are critical for the health of our communities and the future of our wild America.
-- by Jackie Ostfeld, Outdoors Policy Manager, Sierra Club
Participants in the Sierra Club's Washington, D.C., Inner City Outings program explore nearby nature along the Billy Goat trail in the D.C. Metro area.
Everyone deserves access to the outdoors. Unfortunately, many communities do not have nearby nature or safe places to explore and enjoy the natural world close to where people live, learn, work, worship, and play. Only one in five kids can safely walk to a park or a playground, and access is even less available in low-income communities. Individuals and communities with inadequate opportunities to experience nature are missing out on a host of benefits.
That is why the Sierra Club recently launched a Nearby Nature initiative, protecting and establishing parks and green spaces in urban and suburban communities to ensure that access to nature is increasingly equitable. There are many reasons why we all need nearby nature. Here are 14 for 2014:
- Nearby nature provides fitness and recreational opportunities. Urban parks are great places for communities to get some exercise -– and they are far cheaper than gym memberships. People who visit urban parks frequently have better health outcomes than those who do not.
- Nearby nature reduces obesity. Children who live in greener, more vegetated neighborhoods have lower body-mass indices than children lacking nearby nature. Increasing access to parks and green space is a factor in reducing childhood obesity.
- Nearby nature can help alleviate attention deficit disorders. ADD/ADHD may affect more than 2 million children in America. Studies have shown that the symptoms of ADD are reduced in children who participate in outdoor activities in green natural settings.
- Nearby nature can improve vision. Kids who spend more time playing outdoors are less likely to develop myopia, or nearsightedness, than kids who play indoors.
- Nearby nature can help us breathe. Kids living in areas with more street trees are significantly less likely to have asthma.
- Nearby nature makes us happy. Living in urban areas with a lot of green space has been shown to improve feelings of overall happiness and well being.
- Nearby nature improves community. Community spaces that contain trees and vegetation have been found to encourage greater social activity than community spaces lacking natural features.
- Nearby nature can reduce crime. Increased levels of vegetation surrounding urban apartment buildings have been linked to reductions in crime in and around those buildings -- both property crimes and violent crimes.
- Nearby nature can improve overall academic performance. The availability of natural areas to high school students has been associated with higher standardized test scores, graduation rates, and numbers of students planning to attend college.
- Nearby nature-based learning opportunities improve science scores. Among elementary school children, school gardening and outdoor learning initiatives are associated with improvements in science learning.
- Nearby nature can reduce air pollution and store carbon. The National Recreation and Park Association estimates the air pollution and carbon storage benefits of trees in urban parks to be valued at $500 million and $1.6 billion, respectively.
- Nearby nature can reduce energy consumption and save us money. Shade trees and vegetation reduce temperatures inside buildings and cars by 20 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit, significantly reducing the need for cooling systems. Energy savings from cooling range from 7 to 47 percent.
- Nearby nature can make our cities more resilient to climate disruption. Urban forests make cities more resilient to severe storm events, which are expected to increase.
- Nearby nature is the first step down a lifelong path of exploring, enjoying, and protecting Our Wild America.
--by Jackie Ostfeld, Outdoors Policy Manager, Sierra Club
Last week, a group of lawmakers from Ohio, Michigan and Colorado urged the Bureau of Land Management to toughen its proposed rule for hydraulic fracturing on federal land, calling it essential to protect the public and the environment.
Four Ohio state legislators, nine Michigan state legislators, and 22 Colorado state legislators and local elected city officials signed letters to President Obama calling for the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to strengthen its proposed rule on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on public lands, “Oil and Gas; Hydraulic Fracturing on Federal and Indian Lands." The rule, which is expected to be finalized in early 2014, will regulate fracking on over 750 million of acres of public land (including national forests, wildlife refuges, and BLM managed public wildlands and habitats), Tribal and even private lands.
Colorado lawmakers highlight that out of the 750 million acres of public land that would be affected by the BLM rule, about 23 million of those acres are in Colorado. And in February 2013 alone, the BLM leased over 88,000 acres in Colorado to oil and gas operators.
In Ohio, 256,960 acres of public land would be affected by the BLM rule. In Michigan, 3,679,970 acres of public land would be affected. And in September 2013 alone, the BLM leased over 27,815 acres in Michigan to oil and gas operators.
In their letters, the elected officials make a compelling argument for a more stringent BLM rule: “While the proposed rule is a significant step forward, there are a number of essential features missing from the BLM proposal, many of which have already been enacted by states without opposition from industry.” The rulemaking was originally initiated to provide much-needed guidelines for drilling activities on federal and tribal land under BLM jurisdiction. However, as the lawmakers point out in their letters to President Obama and Interior Secretary Sally Jewel, “the BLM yielded to industry pressure and weakened the rule in its second version.”
The lawmakers urge the BLM to adopt the following measures to ensure better protection for clean water and healthy communities:
- The prohibition of fracking in critical/sensitive areas, including National Forests, land contiguous to National Parks, and source water areas, among others;
- Banning the use of open waste pits;
- The full disclosure of chemical inputs and thorough pre-drilling water testing; and
- Banning the use of diesel and other hazardous toxic chemicals.
In their letters, the Ohio, Michigan and Colorado lawmakers ask that a mechanism be added to the rule that ensures lands designated or set aside because of their ecological value or because they contain a drinking water source are kept “off limits” to fracking activity. The lawmakers point out that the current proposed rule fails to include a provision to protect certain unique and sensitive areas despite the fact that the importance of this provision was outlined as a recommendation by the President’s own national shale gas advisory subcommittee in its August, 2011 90-Day Report. Lawmakers emphasize how vulnerable the BLM rule leaves their individual states. Colorado lawmakers argue that Colorado’s Thompson Divide, North Fork Valley, and South Park Basin are areas that are too ecologically sensitive for fracking activities. For example, Thompson Divide, a heavily forested area that spans five watersheds, not only provides valuable habitat for lynx, mountain lion, bear, moose, trout and elk but it also brings $30 million a year from recreation and grazing activities to Colorado’s economy. In Ohio, the most notable impacts will occur in the Wayne National Forest, Ohio’s only National Forest. In Michigan, lawmakers rightly argue that Lake Michigan and Huron Watershed, which provides drinking water to tens of millions of people, should be designated as areas that are too critical for fracking activities.
In addition to urging the BLM to require an off limits provision that keeps drilling away from homes, communities and sensitive natural areas, the lawmakers also call on the BLM to require drillers to fully disclose the chemicals they use, before fracking occurs, and with no exemptions for so-called “trade secrets.” Furthermore, they argue that other commonsense requirements should include guidelines such as rigorous baseline testing of water quality before drilling happens; banning the use of diesel fuel as a fracking fluid; and requiring the capture of methane, must be in place to provide the most basic level of health protections. (Read Michael Brune’s blog article and New Mexico rancher Tweeti Blancett's story for more details about what’s missing from the proposed BLM rule).
As it stands, the currently proposed rule fails to deliver on President Obama’s 2012 State of the Union promise that America would develop resources like natural gas “without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.” The lawmakers’ letters demonstrate the broad support that exists for a stronger rule for fracking on public lands that adequately protects people and the environment. Not only have over 1 million individuals expressed concerns about the currently proposed rule, but 35 city and state elected officials from Ohio, Michigan and Colorado have spoken up and expressed grave concerns about the rule’s failure to protect their state’s special places and constituents.
The Obama administration should take such wide concern for the currently proposed rule as a serious sign that the rule needs to be strengthened before it is finalized in 2014.
-- by Jenny Bock
What do a green sea turtle, a brown pelican, a gray wolf, a humpback whale and a grizzly bear all have in common? On first glance, not much. But they are all, in fact, success stories of the Endangered Species Act . All of these species were at some point facing the brink of extinction in the continental United States. But thanks to the protections and recovery plans put in place by the Endangered Species Act, their populations have rebounded dramatically and, in many cases, they are thriving. They all tell the story of one of our nation’s and the world’s most successful laws.
This month marks the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Endangered Species Act. When President Nixon signed the act into law on December 28, 1973 he didn’t know that he was signing a piece of legislation that would come to be the most effective tool we have to conserve species and the biodiversity in our country. The law has been more than 99 percent successful at preventing the extinction of wildlife under its protection. And the bipartisan support shown for the Act is difficult to imagine in today’s political climate. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and with only a few dissenting votes in the House of Representatives.
And yet today, despite decades of success and saving icons of our natural heritage such as the bald eagle from near certain extinction, the Endangered Species Act is under attack as never before. Just a few short years ago Congress made the unprecedented decision to intervene and legislatively remove gray wolves in Montana and Idaho from the Endangered Species list. That same year, House Republicans voted to forbid any additions to the list. And now, Senate Republicans have introduced the Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act. This radical bill would allow states to simply opt out of wildlife protection regulations if they want to and would remove species from the list after five years, regardless of whether or not they are recovered.
Over the last 40 years, we have shown that we as a country value and have the ability to protect our most important and iconic wildlife. Now we must act to ensure that our children and our grandchildren can experience the wonder of hearing a wolf howl in places like Yellowstone National Park and witness flocks of Brown Pelicans in Florida. It's time to work together to ensure that the Endangered Species Act is just as strong 40 years from now as it is today.
-- by Matt Kirby
Archival photo of the Hetch Hetchy Valley. Photo by Herbert Gleason, courtesy Restore Hetch Hetchy.
Yosemite. Yellowstone. The Grand Canyon. The Great Smoky Mountains, and so many more.
It’s hard to imagine the United States of America without our national parks. But in the late 19th century, preserving public land in its natural state was a new and provocative idea. It was also too late for many European countries whose lands had already been fully developed.
It all started when President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation to preserve Yosemite Valley in faraway California for “public use, resort and recreation …. inalienable for all time”. Shortly thereafter Yellowstone National Park was created - our nation’s, and the world’s, first wilderness park. Yosemite, Sequoia, Mesa Verde, and Mount Rainier came soon after.
But 100 years ago, we took a step backward. San Francisco, in the wake of the 1906 earthquake and fire that devastated the city, pressed vigorously onward with a campaign to build a dam in Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley, one of two iconic glacier carved valleys in the park. More than 200 newspapers nationwide rose in opposition to the idea that a single municipality could take over land that had been “preserved in perpetuity” for all Americans. After extensive deliberation, however, the Raker Act was passed by Congress, allowing the dam to be built. It was signed by President Woodrow Wilson on December 19, 1913.
In 1916 Congress, reflecting on the unprecedented groundswell of public opinion that had occurred during the debate over the Raker Act, passed the National Park Service Act - a law intending to prevent, in large part, any more such intrusions. Subsequently, proposals to build dams in Yellowstone in the 1920s and the Grand Canyon in the 1950s were defeated. And while threats to and controversies within our national parks continue, no destruction approaching the scale of putting a dam in Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley has been allowed in the last 100 years.
During the last century, the conservation movement has evolved and grown enormously – fighting ever increasing battles to protect the natural world and create a sustainable economy. Today conflicts over public land extend far beyond our national park system, and are often fought over urban parks as well as wilderness areas.
In the 1960s, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring alerted us to the fact that better living through chemistry was very often not so. Shortly thereafter, environmentalists joined forces to effect a nationwide ban on DDT.
In the 1969, a horrified nation watched Ohio’s Cuyahoga River catch fire, and political pressure persuaded President Richard Nixon to sign the Clean Water Act. Nixon also signed the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act.
Today, much of the conservation movement is consumed with local, national and international efforts to stop the Earth’s atmosphere from warming due to the ever increasing combustion of fossil fuels. The Sierra Club has had significant victories in this area over the last few years, particularly fighting against coal-fired power stations.
Conservation is now integrated within virtually every aspect of our lives. We recycle, and conserve energy and water. We subsidize public transportation and dedicate highway lanes to carpools. We regulate forestry and commercial fishing so that the world our grandchildren will inherit will look like the one we know now - or perhaps even a bit better.
Even as the conservation movement has become so many different things, our national parks are still the envy of the world. Visit them and you will find not only a plethora of your own countrymen, but citizens from countries around the world, many of which did not have the foresight to preserve some of their own very special places.
The centennial of the Raker Act is bittersweet. It did teach us a valuable lesson about our national parks that we have learned well. And the groundswell of public opinion in 1913 that opposed building a dam in Yosemite has helped to precipitate much of the activism that we pursue today.
Still, Hetch Hetchy remains the greatest blemish in our national parks. 100 years ago, this nation’s lawmakers made a grave environmental mistake. But it can be reversed. Today, Restore Hetch Hetchy is resolved to undo that mistake, and we invite all our fellow citizens to join us in making Yosemite National Park whole again.
-- Roger Williams is on the Executive Committee of the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter, and is a leader in local and national wilderness outings. He is also Board Chairman of Restore Hetch Hetchy, whose mission is to return the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park to its natural splendor while continuing to meet the water and power needs of all communities that depend on the Tuolumne River. For more information, visit www.hetchhetchy.org
Believe it or not, back before the government shutdown, before Ted Cruz became a household name, before talks of default, before the “defund Obamacare” chants, there were other issues concerning the 2014 federal budget. Fossil fuels and renewable energy were once part of this discussion.
Let’s start with a new report by the International Monetary Fund. It reveals that in 2011 global fossil fuel direct, “pre-tax” subsidies (where governments just hand out money) totaled $480 billion. “Post-tax” subsidies including negative externalities totaled $1.4 trillion, or, a whopping 2% of global Gross Domestic Product. Negative externalities are things that one benefits from at the cost of another, and those that benefit don’t have to compensate those that lost. These damages are sometimes called the social cost of fossil fuels. These costs are paid by our environment and health resulting from the spills, the fires, the air and water contamination, and the disease caused by extracting and burning dirty fuels. The United States led the world in pre and post-tax totals, with a total $502 billion in subsidies. This is followed by China at $209 billion. Again, at least (I say least because some, like David Roberts over at grist.org take it a step further, here.) 2% of global GDP is dedicated to propping up dirty fuels.
President Obama has stated "As we continue to pursue clean energy technologies that will support future economic growth, we should not devote scarce resources to subsidizing the use of fossil fuels produced by some of the largest, most profitable companies in the world.” He subsequently looked to repeal over $4 billion in direct subsidies for these companies.
The group Oil Change International has estimated the direct subsidies going to the dirty fuel industry at around $10 to $52 billion annually. Compared to the $118 billion dollars in profits the big five oil companies (BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell) made in 2012, $4 billion was a drop in the bucket. Still, fossil fuel companies and representatives of energy producing states fought tooth and nail to prevent the loss.
Many like to pretend that cutting subsidies to fossil fuels impedes the free market. But along with the lack of carbon taxes, subsidies are what have kept the fossil fuel prices artificially low, while we still pay the difference in actual cost with our health and damage to our environment. These subsidies allow the fossil fuel industry to escape paying the full price for their goods.
While the industry tries to muddy the waters with distinctions between subsidies and tax breaks, the bottom line is that fossil fuel companies are passing the true cost of their dirty energy to the taxpayer.
And while subsidies for fossil fuel companies are usually written into the tax code, subsidies for renewables have expiration dates, creating uncertainty that hinders investment and productivity. The playing field is far from even, favoring dirty fuels over renewable energy.
Last year, Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont introduced the End Polluter Welfare Act, which endeavored to reign in some of the subsidies and expenses enjoyed by the fossil fuel industry (no more deductions for $6.792 billion in oil spill costs anyone?) By cutting off subsidies to oil, coal, and gas companies, the bill would save $113 billion over 10 years. While it's unlikely that cuts to heavy fossil fuel subsidies are just around the corner, the breakdown of the bill gives us insight into where our money has been going.
In his book Hot, Flat, and Crowded, economist Thomas Friedman states that we need to systematically move from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and that the ripple effect of American innovation will spur the rest of the world to follow. Even with the subsidies stacked against them, renewables are making gains today. Evening the subsidy playing field could be a game changer.
-- by Leigh Scudder
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.
These recent events have also hurt Lumber Liquidators’ shareholders. After the raid of Lumber Liquidators headquarters, shares fell by $5.83 per share (more than 5 percent) to close at $107.13. And following Tilson’s presentation to investors, shares fell $16.07 (roughly 13 percent), to close at $99.29. Interestingly, the founder of Lumber Liquidators, Tom Sullivan, sold more than $26 million of his own stock this year. Similarly, CEO Robert Lynch sold more than $10 million in company stock this year.
Now multiple law firms have filed class action lawsuits on behalf of Lumber Liquidators investors,
claiming that the company made false and misleading statements to shareholders while racking up profits by procuring illegally logged wood from the Russian Far East and selling wood with illegal levels of formaldehyde.
While Lumber Liquidators has not been formally charged by the Department of Justice, this is a case to watch going forward. Only about 450 Siberian tigers remain in the wild, largely living in the forests of the Russian Far East. Rampant illegal logging not only threatens the tigers, it also fuels underground crime and artificially lowers wood product prices in the U.S., threatening jobs in our American wood products industry.
Corporations might drink in profits in the short term from their illegal antics, but illegal logging is a bad investment. American companies and American workers lose an estimated $1 billion each year due to illegal wood entering U.S. markets. These recent developments show there is a clear need for the U.S. to fully enforce the Lacey Act, the most effective tool we have to stop illegal logging and associated trade, and hold companies accountable for importing illegally harvested timber.
--Jesse Prentice-Dunn, Sierra Club Responsible Trade Program
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 at once 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 listened as they describe 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 impacts 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.
Drilling 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 will pump dangerous amounts of carbon pollution into the air, worsening climate change. It will also coat Arctic ice surfaces with black, heat-absorbing soot, further speeding the melting of ice that is already at record low 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 which opens up our public lands and waters to dirty fuel production. To effectively address climate change, the United States must lead an 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, 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
Rafters on the Arkansas River at Brown's Canyon — by John Fielder (johnfielder.com)
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. 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," said Alan Apt, Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter Wilderness Chair.
Browns Canyon, formed by the Arkansas River, 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 literally 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. 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," said John Stansfield, Wilderness Chair for the Pikes Peak Sierra Club Group.
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.
"This mine will impact my generation, but my generation is excluded from the Forest Service's public process," said NAU student Montana Johnson.
The Forest Service claims there is no significant new information to warrant a new review, despite designation of the Red Butte Traditional Cultural Property in the area, the discovery of soil and water contamination at the nearby Orphan Mine, and a 2010 U.S. Geological Survey report showing uranium concentrations in groundwater beneath the mine exceeding federal drinking water standards. The mine threatens the cultural values of the Havasupai and other tribes as well as the contamination and depletion of aquifers feeding Grand Canyon springs.
"I have no assurance, and neither does the public, that mining can be done safely if it's based on a 27-year-old environmental review that ignores new science," said student Heath Emerson.
"When this Environmental Impact Statement was done in 1986, my mother was only 15 years old," said Sienna Chapman, an NAU student who was born and raised in Flagstaff. "Yet it is my generation and future generations that will have to pay for cleanup and deal with health and environmental effects."
Last week, citing market conditions and ongoing litigation from the Havasupai Tribe and conservation groups, Energy Fuels placed the Canyon Mine on "standby," ceasing shaft excavation pending completion of litigation in federal district court. The last time the mine was placed in standby mode, in 1992, it remained so for 21 years.
The students would like environmental realities, rather than fluctuating economics, to determine whether uranium mining is allowed to proceed around Grand Canyon.
The petition reads:
"We, the undersigned, were born after 1986 and therefore foreclosed from the public process prior to permitting the Canyon Uranium Mine on Kaibab National Forest land –- our public land. Recognizing that science has advanced since 1986, including the discovery of soil and water contamination at the Orphan Mine in Grand Canyon National Park, better hydrologic models, and the identification of soil contamination at every uranium mine near Grand Canyon that was studied by the U.S. Geological Survey in 2009, and in light of the tens of millions of taxpayer dollars being spent to clean up uranium pollution on the Navajo Nation, we request a new Environmental Impact Statement, including public input and proper Tribal consultation. Thank you."
-- by Alicyn Gitlin, Sierra Club Arizona
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
Photo 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.
Photo by nicholas_t on Flickr
For the report, EIA investigators went undercover, posing as timber buyers to identify the region’s worst illegal timber trade actors. Their investigation identified a series of steps taken by Lumber Liquidators’ trading partners, from illegal harvesting in Russia to bribery and political favors in China, which Lumber Liquidators knew about. As EIA concluded from its thoroughly documented investigation, “We found that what has now been known for a decade remains true: if you are using wood from the Russian Far East… you have to assume the majority was illegally logged, and is therefore in contravention of new U.S., European and Australian laws.”
In the U.S., trade in illegal timber and wood products are banned by the Lacey Act, a century-old law that bans trade in illegally poached and trafficked animals and, after Congressionally passed amendments in 2008, illegally harvested trees and plants. Thanks to the 2008 Lacey Act amendments, companies must document the identity and source of products they import, and fines and penalties can be handed out to those who violate the law. The ICE investigation of Lumber Liquidators was almost certainly based, at least in part, on this important law.
Not only does trade in illegal timber lead to deforestation and threaten critical habitat, but it also fuels underground crime and affects American jobs in the timber industry. The U.S. timber industry estimates annual losses of $1 billion due to decreased exports and depressed prices. After news of the Lumber Liquidators’ raid broke, the United Steelworkers, which represents many workers in the forestry and paper industry, called for stronger enforcement of environmental and trade laws.
Strong enforcement of the Lacey Act by the U.S. government will help safeguard the world’s imperiled forests and wildlife. In the instance of Lumber Liquidators, the wood under suspicion comes from forests that are critical to the survival of the Siberian Tiger and support the numerous villages and indigenous communities in the region. The forests of Siberia and the Russian Far East are nearly the size of the Amazon and are some of the most biodiverse temperate forests on Earth. Russia’s old-growth forests store vast amounts of carbon, and illegal logging releases that carbon pollution, threatening our climate. In fact, deforestation contributes to as much as 17 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
“Liquidating the Forests” presents striking new evidence of the extent and complexity of the illegal timber trade, and the need to address this urgent problem. And while the final outcome of the current federal investigation of Lumber Liquidators will only be known in time, the Sierra Club is encouraged by the Administration’s decisive investigative actions. Now more than ever, we need full enforcement of the the Lacey Act to protect our climate, environment, and economy by stopping forest destruction and the trade of illegal timber.
-- Jesse Prentice-Dunn, Sierra Club Federal Policy Team