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How Green are Oregon’s Forest Management Practices?

New documentary takes aim at clear-cutting and herbicide use on private forest lands

“Come out to Rockaway Beach and walk into Jetty Creek and you’ll feel that sense of outrage,” says Kate Taylor who lives in this small northern Oregon coastal town where she and her boyfriend run a fishing and travel guide business. Shortly after they’d settled into their new home there, the couple received a notice saying their water didn’t meet US Environmental Protection Agency water quality standards. Why? Because its source, the Jetty Creek watershed – water that runs off the steep forest slopes above the town – has been 80 percent clearcut and repeatedly sprayed with herbicides. The water requires extensive treatment and that has resulted in toxic levels of decontamination byproducts. 

Photo of LandslidePhoto by Shane Anderson The Jetty Creek watershed has been 80 percent clearcut.

Taylor spoke at a screening of Behind the Emerald Curtain, a new documentary film by the Oregon-based conservation group Pacific Rivers . The film – filled with footage of clearcuts and aerial spraying – takes aim at the Oregon Forest Practices Act, the state law that regulates logging on private lands. “For a lot of people that’s kind of an obscure policy,” explained Pacific Rivers executive director John Kober at a screening of the film in Portland, Oregon last week. But, he says, the policy has allowed clear-cutting and herbicide spraying in Jetty Creek’s forests and on private forest lands up as well as down the Oregon coast and around the state.

“The whole message here is that our forests need to protect water resources in a more functional way,” said Kober. “We will let you judge [from the film] whether they do or not. We would argue that they do not.”

Since the 1990s, when the Northwest Forest Plan – that governs timber harvest on federal land in Oregon – went into effect, private forestland has become increasingly important to timber companies operating in Oregon. While commercial logging on Oregon’s extensive federal forestlands has dropped by about 90 percent in the past two decades, the level of timber harvest on private lands has remained remarkably steady. It now accounts for more than 75 percent of all logging activity in Oregon.

Behind the Emerald Curtain focuses on Oregon’s coastal forests — like those above Rockaway Beach — where trees …more

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Protecting the Sacred Land and Water of the Everglades

In Conversation: Houston R. Cypress (Yahalétke)

Houston R. Cypress is an environmental activist and multimedia artist from southern Florida. He is a member of the Otter Clan of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida and lives on the Misccosukee reservation adjacent to Everglades National Park, the southernmost reservation in the US and the largest residential community affiliated with the park. He co-founded the Love the Everglades Movement, a nonprofit that works to restore the Everglades ecosystem, and runs Otter Vision production company. Cypress, whose name is Yahalétke in the Miccosukee language, is fighting now to prevent the construction of a new bicycle trail along the park's border due to both environmental and cultural concerns. A leader in the Universalist spiritual organization Medicine Signs, he says, "universalism permeates all that I do."

The Houston Cypress Photo courtesy of Houston Cypress Houston Cypress is a member of the Otter Clan
of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida.

What was it like to grow up inside the Everglades, the wildest place in Florida?

The name that we have in the Miccosukee language for the particular area where I grew up, and which I still call home, is Kahayatle. I like to translate it poetically as “shimmering waters,” or word for word, “the light in the water.” Or, as Marjorie Stoneman Douglas poetically describes it in here influential 1947 book on the Everglades, as the “river of grass.”

Growing up there as a kid, it was just a place to play! We would get dirty in the mud. We’d climb up trees and fall down. Our favorite thing to do as kids was to make trails. And we would chase snakes around, and watch the armadillos crawl around. Every now and then you'd see an otter peek its head out from behind some bushes. It was a place of play. A place of fun. That's how I grew up; in the bushes.

There are also tree islands out there that we would visit for gardening purposes, or that we would visit with our uncle or grandpa to collect medicinal plants, or maybe to hunt for deer, or ducks, or fish. We would visit these tree islands as resting places or to camp out. Those islands have been a refuge for my community throughout history. That's where people have died, and more importantly, …more

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Florida’s First Black Bear Hunt in Decades Wipes Out Nearly 300 Bears

Wildlife officials end the season after just two days as hunters exceed regional quotas

It was a sad weekend for bears in Florida. Saturday marked the start of Florida’s first statewide bear hunt since 1972. Wildlife officials ended the season on Sunday after hunters killed 295 bears in just two days, approaching the statewide limit of 320 bears. The hunt had been approved for up to seven days.

Photo of Black Bear in FloridaPhoto by US Forest Service – Southern Region Hunters killed 295 bears in Florida over the weekend.

In two of the four management regions where hunting was allowed, officials ended the hunt even earlier following just one day of hunting, as hunters approached or exceeded regional quotas. In the eastern Panhandle, hunters far exceeded the 40-bear quota for the season, killing 112 bears over the weekend, and in the Central region, where the limit was set at 100 bears, 139 were killed.

The hunt was unanimously approved by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in June. All seven commissioners were appointed by republican governor Rick Scott and have ties to the private sector, including in ranching, contracting, real estate, and land development. 

The state issued 3,778 bear hunting permits in anticipation of the hunting season. Florida’s bear population is currently estimated at around 3,500 bears, compared to 12,000 before European settlement.

The announcement that bear hunting would be permitted in Florida sparked outrage among environmental advocates. Until 2012, the black bear had been listed as “threatened” by the FWC for more than four decades. Wildlife advocates contend that black bear recovery in Florida isn’t complete, noting also that bear populations are increasingly threatened by fragmentation of Florida’s natural habitats. They also argue that there are more appropriate management alternatives to hunting, and had called for the FWC to complete a full census of black bear populations before moving forward with the hunt. 

Information on the FWC website supports many of these claims, explaining that bears occupy only 18 percent of their historic range in Florida, and “while some subpopulations appear to be doing well, others are clearly still recovering.” By FWC estimates, Florida black bears will lose 2.3 million acres of habitat by 2060.

A dozen environmental organizations joined together in a lawsuit to block the hunt, but were unsuccessful. Governor Rick Scott refused to intervene.

The FWC touts hunting as an important …more

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Casualties of the Vanishing West

The American wild horse continues to lose habitat to special interest groups

Chief, a Kiger mustang born in the remote wilderness of Utah, lives with 400 other rescued wild horses and burros in a 1,500 acre sanctuary, hundreds of miles from his original home. Years ago the stallion was captured in a round up led by the Bureau of Land Management. After a long helicopter chase, he ended up in a government-run holding facility for years before being adopted by Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary in Lompoc, CA. Not all horses rounded up by the BLM are as lucky.

Photo of Wild Horses in UtahPhoto by Bureau of Land Management - Utah Over the past four decades the BLM has eradicated or moved to holding facilities more than 70 percent of the country’s wild horse population.

The majority of captured equines remain stuck for years, if not for the rest of their lives, in cramped holding facilities that are quickly running out of space. As of July 2015 the facilities held 47,000 wild horses, and the BLM’s holding capacity is set at 50,929. Yet the agency is planning to remove another 2,739 wild horses and burros this year at a taxpayer cost of $78 million.

An example of an emergency holding facility for excess mustangs is a cattle feedlot in Scott City, Kansas. In 2014, a BLM contractor leased the feedlot, owned by Beef Belt LLC, to hold 1,900 mares. The horses were transported from pasture to corrals designed for fattening up cattle. Within the first few weeks of their arrival, at least 75 mares died. Mortality reports acquired from the BLM through the Freedom of Information Act show that as of June 2015, 143 more horses had died. The facility is closed to the public.

BLM’s management of American wild horses and burros has several tales of mismanagement and animal neglect like the one above. Since 1971, the BLM has removed more than 270,000 wild horses and burros from public lands, in what it says is an effort to avoid overpopulation and “to protect animal and land health.” Ideally the rounded up animals should be adopted or shipped to long-term pastures, but in the past several years the number of horses being adopted have fallen dramatically. As a result, every year, more and more of these animals end up languishing in what are supposed to be temporary holding facilities.

Over …more

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Trudeau Victory May Not Signal a U-Turn in Canada’s Climate Policy

Those hoping the new prime minister will be a climate champion willing to fix the damage done by his predecessor Stephen Harper could be in for a reality check

Well before his stunning victory in Canada’s elections, Justin Trudeau, the Liberal party leader, telephoned David Suzuki, the country’s best-known science broadcaster, environmentalist — and a national treasure — to ask for his endorsement.

The conversation did not go well. Suzuki admitted to journalists he called Trudeau a twerp, and the Liberal leader dismissed his critique of the party’s climate policy as “sanctimonious crap”.

Those hoping for a U-turn in Canada’s climate change policy after Stephen Harper’s crushing defeat are in for a reality check.

Fort McMurray, Alberta - Operation Arctic Shadowphoto by kris krüg, on FlickrIt would be a mistake to see Trudeau or the Liberals as climate champions. 

Trudeau has repudiated Harper’s vision of Canada as an “energy superpower,” promised to reverse devastating cuts to government science budgets, and fix the country’s reputation as a carbon bully in international climate negotiations.

But it would be a mistake to see Trudeau or the Liberals as climate champions. In his victory speech on Monday, there was no mention of climate change, and he was criticized for being vague on the issue during campaigning.

Trudeau committed to take part in the Paris climate conference at the end of the year, and to convene a meeting of provincial leaders within 90 days to come up with a plan to fight climate change.

His party’s campaign platform called for the setting up of a $2 billion fund to help projects that promote clean energy.

However, Trudeau supports the Keystone XL pipeline — Canada’s bid to find new markets for its vast carbon reserves in the Alberta tar sands — a position that puts the Liberal leader at odds with campaigners and with Barack Obama.

Trudeau has close ties to Keystone. David Gagnier, his campaign co-chair, was forced to step down last week after it emerged he had written a memo to TransCanada, the company building the pipeline, offering lobbying advice.

Moments after his victory, Trudeau came under pressure to do more to fight climate change. Elizabeth May, the Green party leader, told the broadcaster CBC she had asked him to think about the topic during a short election night conversation.

“When can we sit down and talk about the climate conference?” May said she asked Trudeau. …more

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‘Stay Humble, Embrace Conflicting Viewpoints, and Love Your People Fiercely’

The environmental movement needs to learn how to better engage young folks and people of color

Editor’s Note: Brower Youth Awards Director Anisha Desai gave such a powerful call to arms to the environmental and social justice community at the awards ceremony in San Francisco on Tuesday evening, that we decided to run it pretty much as is for those who weren’t present at the Herbst Theater that evening.

My name is Anisha Desai and I’m the Director of the Brower Youth Awards at Earth Island Institute.

The Brower Youth Awards, named for one of the most incredible environmental visionaries — David Brower — are an amazing environmental prize awarded to six exceptional young leaders every year, ages 13-22, who reside in North America. They apply to the awards, go through rigorous application and selection process, and then are treated to a week of activities in the Bay Area — including wilderness hike, camping, skills training on how to tell their personal stories, media and networking opportunities. And then we get to celebrate with all of you — and a whole lot of young people too, who are in the audience, and who these awards are really dedicated to.

2015 BYA winners along with Anisha and RuthPhoto by Amir AzizAnisha Desai (fifth from left) with colleague Ruth Gebreyesus and the 2015 Brower Youth Award winners.

A big part of our week together is about storytelling and preparing the winners to tell their stories publicly. We give advice every year about avoiding those packaged stories. The stories that we tell about ourselves that we know by heart and yet often lack heart.

We give advice about saying the difficult. About stepping in to the spotlight for just a moment to say what needs to be said.

And yet, every year, I personally have a really hard time taking that advice myself.

So I’m going to exercise tonight a tiny fraction of the courage that I ask BYA winners each year to summon. And I’m going to ask for your good energy to give me that courage.

I am a woman of color who was not raised in the Bay Area — I was raised in Florida — a place that is the (sometimes) rightful subject of many a joke. I lead what is considered to be the most prestigious environmental prize in North America for young leaders. I work every day in …more

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Climate, Cows, and the California Golden Trout

Overgrazing already impacts the headwater streams of these endemic, native fish. Now warming waters pose another serious threat.

Driving through the Owens Valley, a scenic 75-mile-long, U-shaped cul-de-sac on the east side of the Sierras, confirmed extremely dry conditions. California’s prolonged drought wasn't just visible in the low stream flows, charred hillsides and snowless Sierra Nevada Mountains, but I could hear it. In the small town of Lone Pine, I overheard a man say: “I guess we won't get to shower until next winter.” The water situation for local fish isn’t much better.

Photo of Golden Trout CreekPhoto by Michael Carl The freezing mornings aside, camping in the Golden Trout Wilderness in early fall had rewards.

For my journey – a day’s drive followed by four days of backpacking – I wanted to see first hand how one particular “local fish” was doing. At the Whitney Ranger Station, I laid out my trip route into the Golden Trout Wilderness. “You should have the whole place to yourself,” Rene Marshall, the Forest Service Ranger, told me.

She mentioned water would be available in both of my overnight stops – Big Whitney and Tunnel Meadows. Wilderness permit in hand, I drove up to Horseshoe Meadow, packed my camping and fishing gear, and hiked out the next morning over Trail Pass. With the single exception of a packer named Billy and his five-mule pack train, Rene’s prediction was right.

The Canary in the Creek

The freezing mornings aside, camping in the Golden Trout Wilderness in early fall had rewards. Listening to a coyote sing just after the sunset was one. But the high point came after a grueling hike to reach the South Fork of the Kern River – catching and photographing a California golden trout. The golden trout is commonly called “the most beautiful trout in the world.” But in the new era of climate change, golden trout go beyond symbolizing the beautiful state fish of California. These native trout are ecological sentinels.

Photo of California Golden TroutPhoto by Michael Carl The California golden trout is commonly called “the most beautiful trout in the world.”

Changing climate poses new risks for California golden trout and intensifies existing stressors from a long history of cattle grazing in their range. New risks resulting from more intense droughts, wildfires, and smaller snowpack will test …more

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