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Archive for December, 2011

KEA Index* for 2011

*Apologies to Harper’s.

157 – Number of meetings, hearings, or events attended by Terry for KEA in 2011

163 – number Adrienne attended

40 – number of 2011 public events KEA hosted, sponsored or participated in

5 – number of predominantly fundraising events

1 – number of floating treatment wetlands launched in a pond above Hayden Lake

101 – KEA blog postings in 2011

186 – percentage annual increase in blog readership

26 – number of KEA e-mail newsletters sent to subscribers

4 – number of KEA regular mail newsletters mailed to members

6 – number of other KEA mailings

4400 – Minimum number of signatures on Dike Road trees petition

500 – approximate number of Dike Road trees at risk

1149 – number of “likes” for KEA’s facebook page

194 – number of KEA facebook page posts

648 – number of Terry’s twitter followers

368,000 – minimum number of social media impressions

1 – number of no-wake zones implemented in Cougar Bay

20 – minimum number of osprey nesting sites preserved in Cougar Bay

8 – times KEA stories appeared on local television in 2011

4 – on local radio

17 – minimum number of mentions in the CDA Press

15 – minimum number of mentions in the Spokesman Review

3.1 million – minimum total number of local earned media impressions

29,000 – minimum total number of pounds of produce delivered by Community Roots

2 – multiple of number of CSA boxes delivered in 2011 over 2010

40 – number of years it will be in 2012 since KEA was founded

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It’s the end of 2011 and so we take quantitative stock of what we’ve accomplished in the last 52 weeks. The following are the most-viewed blog posts of 2011, which are actually quite representative of the issue work we’ve done over the last year. When it comes to North Idaho conservation controversies, from Bonner County craziness to messes in the Coeur d’Alene basin, from Tubbs Hill trails to the trees on the Dike Road, you can count on KEA to be in the middle of it.

For 10th place, remarkably, an exact tie:

10. the heartwarming Homeless Osprey Homeless No More and less heartwarming  The Sacketts’ Wetland Mapped

The rest of the top 10:

9. Coeur d’Alene City Council Signals Stronger Stand on Dike Road Trees

8. Bonner County Approves Priest Lake Subdivision

7. New “Property Rights Council” Brings Messy Ideological Extremism to Bonner County Government

6. New Mini-Megaloads Proposed To Be Routed Through Coeur d’Alene on Hwy 95

5. Wheelchairs on Tubbs Hill

4. Coeur d’Alene Basin Pipeline Spill?

3. January Flooding May Have Caused the Worst Coeur d’Alene Basin Contamination in Years

2. What The Priest Lake Wetland Case Is Actually About

And not that surprisingly, out top post for 2011 is:

1. Saving the Dike Road Trees   

But in an important footnote, it turns out that the blog post that actually got the most hits in 2011 dates from December 2009 and is therefore disqualified from this end-of-year list.  Showing the immense power of search engines, our timelessly informative posting about the legal status of Woodsy the Owl remains undefeated — the article, “The owl is required to be fanciful and must wear slacks,” and consequent downloads of the ridiculous public-domain illustration of Woodsy Owl, again got more views in 2011 than any other KEA blog post. However, for whatever reason, the search engines stopped sending so much Woodsy Owl traffic in mid-summer. Evidently, some other web presence (Wikipedia, we think) is now the chief authority for all things Woodsy.

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A generous member has offered to match end-of-year contributions to KEA, dollar for dollar, up to $5000. For the next week, your donation goes twice as far. So here are the top ten reasons why you should click over to our nice new website and donate today.

1. Tubbs Hill and Cougar Bay. KEA is the leading defender of our local jewels. This past year we defended Tubbs Hill from unnecessary intrusion and we saved Cougar Bay for habitat and quiet wake-free recreation.

2. Who else will save the Dike Road Trees?

3. 40 years. We’re the oldest non-profit conservation organization in the State of Idaho. Next year, 2012, will mark our 40th anniversary. Help us kick off the next 40 years.

4. Tax deduction. We sometimes forget to remind people, but we are a charity organized under section 501(c)(3) of the IRS code, which means your donations to KEA are tax deductible. And tax season is coming up.

5. Board and Staff. We got a truly talented and dedicated team, and we’re really good at what we do.

6. Who else is calling out the nonsense in Bonner County?

7. Community Roots. Our successful local food program is expanding every year. Our first-in-the-region charitable CSA, and our local food share system are delivering local fresh food to families who need it.

8. Effective and Efficient. We are, out of budget necessity, a scrappy, low-overhead, grassroots, volunteer-dependent organization. Very little of our budget earmarked for fundraising expenditures and we hope to keep it that way.

9. We do the work so you don’t have to. There are so many meetings, hearings, and events to attend. There is so much research to do, comments to write, and phone calls to make.  As the grassroots community voice for all things conservation in North Idaho, we are tireless, principled, and wholly dedicated to our mission “to conserve, protect and restore the environment in North Idaho.” Because that’s what you’d expect.

10.   Our community depends on us, but we depend on you. Our natural and scenic environment and our beautiful sense of community is what makes this such a great place. It is all very much worth defending.  As you consider your end-of-year contributions, consider giving generously to KEA.

 

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‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through Bonner County, a lot of creatures were stirring… because, well, both the Bonner County Commissioners and the Property Rights Council were both still holding meetings. Indeed, this week, the Bonner County Commissioners have an attack on caribou habitat scheduled, and the Property Rights Council will be discussing how to eliminate drinking water protections for county water supplies.

Monday night, the Bonner County property rights council promises a “Commencement of hearings on proposed watershed control ordinance.” In the meeting agenda (pdf), the chairman describes the ordinance as “a proposal to lay the foundation for new county wide compulsory controls on private lands for the benefit of public water system source water quality.”

Then, in a procedure typical of the PRC so far, the Council proposes to have a “discussion/decision” of how exactly the hearing will be conducted, after the “commencement of the hearings.” According to the proposed hearing process, the PRC “shall take testimony” on a specific sequence of subject matter topics, also noting that “The PRC places the burden of proof for new public controls on the proponents of public control. The Proponents must show public controls are necessary and must show that private alternatives are not likely to provide the necessary protections.” It is not entirely clear, however, why proponents would bother to participate in such a charade.

Meanwhile, on the caribou battlefront, the Bonner County Commissioners will attempt Tuesday to monkeywrench the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designation of critical habitat for the endangered Selkirk woodland caribou. With an overwhelming portion of the critical habitat on government-owned upper-elevation backcountry lands, and with none of the habitat on developed private lands, the Commissioners’ fit of pique appears to be mostly a knee-jerk reaction to anything federal government related.  The Commissioners are evidently demanding that the federal government “coordinate” with the county on the habitat designation where it might conflict with local land use priorities. Of course, the County’s own comprehensive plan acknowledges the caribou habitat, and most of the critical habitat land is already federally-owned, so it isn’t entirely clear where the local land use conflict is.

Whatever it is in the Bonner County government’s egg nog, we’ll pass.

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BLM is sponsoring a public meeting tonight on a proposed trail for Cougar Bay. The trail will be located in a portion of the public preserve known as the John C. Pointner Memorial Wildlife Sanctuary. The Nature Conservancy and BLM are co-managing Cougar Bay lands for hiking, recreation and wildlife habitat. There are a number of improvements in the works, but for this meeting, the BLM and The Nature Conservancy propose to construct a 0.7-mile trail that would follow the banks of Cougar Bay. We’re glad to see this effort move forward – better access to a great local jewel seems like a great idea.

 

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The lawsuit we filed against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the Rosenberry Drive trees has been almost universally well-received. Other than a few crazed online comments from the anonymously insane, we’ve received nothing but well-wishing for our effort. Even the Coeur d’Alene Press — no fan of environmental litigation — came out in favor of our lawsuit.

Despite what some people might think, going to court is not something we take lightly. A KEA lawsuit is actually quite rare. We are extremely careful that both the facts and the law are on our side, and that the issue is significant enough to expend the time and money and effort. Indeed, this is true for the vast majority of conservation organizations. It is easy to call a lawsuit frivolous, but very few of them really are. Quite literally, we can’t afford to lose many court cases.

Still, when laws are clearly violated, when the environment is clearly at stake, going to court needs to remain an option. Lawsuits should never be the first option, but they should always be available as a last resort.  Unfortunately, access to the courthouse by conservation organizations is under attack. Congress has attempted to make some laws flatly unreviewable in court. Congress has attempted to limit government payment of attorney fees, even in cases where the government loses. And there are increasing attacks on university legal clinics which, like Gonzaga Law in our case, provide pro bono representation to low income people and public interest organizations without the ability to pay.

Courtrooms are inefficient and expensive places to resolve disputes, but courts do the job with authority and finality. The rule of law is what provides civilizations with actual civilization. Courts provide an honest way of dealing with honest disputes. We’re glad that this particular lawsuit is so popular, but we’re also glad that unpopular ones can be resolved the same way.

 

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Today, Kootenai Environmental Alliance filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers mandate to remove the trees along the Rosenberry Drive (“The Dike Road”) in Coeur d’Alene.  The lawsuit alleges that the Corps failed to perform an adequate environmental analysis, and that the Corps is attempting to enforce a memorandum that isn’t actually a law. The Gonzaga University School of Law’s Environmental Law Clinic represents Kootenai Environmental Alliance in this case.

In an inspection just over a year ago, the Corps of Engineers cited the City of Coeur d’Alene for more than a hundred maintenance deficiencies on the flood control equipment that purportedly protects North Idaho College and the Fort Grounds neighborhood from flooding. Among the deficiencies cited by the Corps was the fact that the hundreds of mature Ponderosa pine trees that line the earthen levee portion were in violation of the Corps’ standing vegetation policy for levees.  To correct the deficiency, the City of Coeur d’Alene was instructed to cut the trees, remove the roots, and re-construct the levee embankments. To maintain the critically important certification for the levee, the City was given two years to comply.

The KEA lawsuit alleges that, at some point, the Corps of Engineers should have performed some sort of environmental analysis for the vegetation removal – either at the national program policy level, or at the local implementation level.  The Corps has essentially done neither, which KEA alleges is in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

We believe an environmental impact statement, if actually done, would show that the Corps policy would be devastating to the City of Coeur d’Alene, as well as communities around the country facing similar mandates. Moreover, a hard look at the environmental impacts would also show that there is essentially no scientific basis for a sweeping one-size-fits-all tree removal requirement.

In the lawsuit, KEA also alleges that the requirement that the City remove the trees is derived essentially from a Corps of Engineers memorandum, not actual regulations. For regulatory requirements to be enforceable, they should have been published in the Federal Register and opened up to the public for comment. That didn’t happen.

In many respects, the KEA lawsuit mirrors a lawsuit filed in California regarding the Corps of Engineers vegetation policy that would require removal of a huge swath of habitat in the Sacramento region. That lawsuit is still pending, and was recently joined by the California Department of Fish and Game.

The Corps of Engineers will be officially served with the lawsuit in the coming days. The complaint (a 20 page pdf) is available here:

2011-12-07 Complaint KEA v Army Corps

 

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In response to a successful petition and lawsuit by some of our regional colleagues, last week the U.S.  Fish and Wildlife Service released a mapping of critical habitat for the woodland caribou in the Selkirk Mountains. Some 375,500 acres are designated, most of which is in remote roadless areas in Boundary County, Idaho, with some lands designated in Bonner County, Idaho and Pend Oreille County, Washington. The tiny herd of Selkirk caribou — estimated to consist of about 46 animals — are probably the most endangered mammals in the continental United States.  Comments will be taken on the proposal through January.

In its news release (pdf), the Fish and Wildlife Service describe the habitat and why it’s important:

The southern Selkirk Mountains caribou is a member of the deer family, and it possesses unique biological and behavioral traits. It prefers high elevations above 4,000 feet and steep terrain with old-growth forests. Small groups of mountain caribou migrate seasonally up and down mountain ranges, rather than undertaking the mass group, long-distance migrations some species of caribou are known for. When winter snow deepens, mountain caribou feed almost exclusively on arboreal lichens that occur on old trees (typically 125 years or older), in high elevation forests.

and

The primary threat to the species’ survival is the loss of contiguous old growth forest habitats due to timber harvest and wildfires. Human activities such as road-building and recreational trails can also fragment caribou habitat and facilitate the movement of predators into the caribou’s range.

Indeed, like too many other species, woodland caribou were once found across much of the northern United States, but were forced from their habitats by old-growth logging, hunting and poaching, and roads. Now, their last habitat in the U.S. is under stress by disturbance from snowmobiles and winter recreation. For several years, our friends at Selkirk Conservation Alliance, a party to the caribou lawsuit, have performed aerial monitoring of caribou habitat confirming the threats.

According to the Lands Council, also a party to the lawsuit:

The conservation groups petitioned for critical habitat in 2002 and sued for the designation in 2009.  In 2005, the conservation groups challenged grooming of snow mobile trails into caribou habitat on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest and obtained an injunction on snow mobile travel and trail grooming in a small portion of the forest that is essential for the caribou.  Much of that habitat has now been designated as critical habitat, ensuring these protections will be maintained.

The designation of critical habitat flows directly from the Endangered Species Act, serving the purpose of identifying geographic areas that contain habitat features essential for the conservation of a listed species. The primary legal effect is that critical habitat requires federal agencies to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service on federal actions that may affect critical habitat, federal agencies are prohibited from funding or authorizing actions that would adversely affect critical habitat.

For our friends at the Bonner County Property Rights Council, who have the caribou designation on their agenda for tonight’s meeting, USFWS points out that: the designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership; critical habitat is not the same as a refuge, a wilderness area or any other conservation area; it does not allow government or public access to non-federal lands; and a critical habitat designation does not impose restrictions on non-federal lands unless federal funds, permits or activities are involved.

In a statement, Mark Sprengel from Selkirk Conservation Alliance says, “The woodland caribou of the Selkirk Mountains are highly endangered and need this habitat protection to survive. Protecting the caribou means protecting the old-growth forests and wild places of the Selkirks, which are cherished by many.”

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KEA 2.1

It’s not all boring meetings and troublemaking. Part of being a non-profit organization in the 21st century is being sure that online communications are effective and up-to-date.

In that regard, we’ve just launched a brand new website that will give us more flexibility, at a lower cost, and we think, with a much better appearance. There’s still a lot of work to do — much of the website will be “under construction” for a while as we find the time to renovate it — but we’re pleased with it so far. We plan to migrate this blog to the website soon, which will make it easier to find timely information and it should be more user-friendly.

But it isn’t enough to just have a website anymore. So we’ve continued to expand our presence in social networks. KEA has accumulated more than 1000 likes on facebook and more than 600 followers on twitter. Recently, we added pages on Google+ and tumblr to try them out. All the different systems have different features and different capabilities, and we’ll be exploring the best ways to take advantage of the new networks. We’ll post different things to the different sites, but our blog will remain an important central source for timely information from KEA.

Mostly though, we want to make sure that that it is easy for you to connect with us, wherever you may be online. Follow us, like us, add us to your circles —  or whatever it is that works for you to stay in touch online. Feel free to explore with us. Let us know what you think.

 

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Here’s the thing to remember. We live in the United States of America. We are a nation of laws. We have a Constitution that gives Congress the authority to pass laws under enumerated powers. One of those powers is provided by the Constitution’s commerce clause. Congress passed the Clean Water Act. The Supreme Court has affirmed that, within commerce clause limits, the Clean Water Act is constitutional.

Under the Clean Water Act, within these jurisdictional limits, you cannot fill a wetland without a permit. If you do so, you are subject to enforcement. If you do so intentionally, you are subject to criminal enforcement.

These are facts. They are not arguable.

Agreed, there is significant uncertainty as to the jurisdictional limits. The Supreme Court has issued an almost impossibly complex test for jurisdiction that the lower federal courts are still figuring out. Still, if you have wetlands on your property, the prudent thing would be to make a phone call to the EPA or Corps of Engineers BEFORE firing up the bulldozer. Filling them first and asking questions later is at your own risk.

Ignorance is not an excuse. And it really shouldn’t be a rallying cry either.

 

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