Looking after our own backyard

Southern Humboldt’s Mattole Headwaters one of the areas that local environmentalist work to protect.
Southern Humboldt’s Mattole Headwaters one of the areas that local environmentalist work to protect. Photo courtesy of Sanctuary Forest
ERRP volunteer divers: Willie Grover, Tim Salamunovich, Pat Higgins, Eric Stockwell, Noah Israel and Phil Georgakakos before their June 28, 2016 underwater pikeminnow surveys.
ERRP volunteer divers: Willie Grover, Tim Salamunovich, Pat Higgins, Eric Stockwell, Noah Israel and Phil Georgakakos before their June 28, 2016 underwater pikeminnow surveys. BARBARA SOPJES PHOTO, EEL RIVER RECOVERY PROJECT -- CONTRIBUTED

Scott Pruitt’s confirmation to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in mid-February sent environmentalists across the nation scratching their heads. The Redwood Times talked to a few of the local environmental leaders about how the new administration will impact their work in Southern Humboldt.

“The choice of Scott Pruitt for head of the EPA is unfortunate because he does not believe in their mission, therefore, enforcement of clean water and clean air laws are likely to be lax on his watch,” Patrick Higgins, managing director of the Eel River Recovery Project, told The Redwood Times.

“For conservation groups, including ours, Scott Pruitt’s appointment is both alarming and disheartening,” said Dana Stolzman, executive director, Salmonid Restoration Federation. “He is a climate change skeptic, he believes in deregulation of environmental laws, and has historically been an opponent of the EPA.”

“The EPA is not an agency that we generally deal with directly in the Mattole. SFI and other local Mattole groups face more likely impacts to funding from the Depts. of Interior and Commerce,” said Campbell Thompson, board president for Whitethorn-based Sanctuary Forest. “The other likely impact in our area that is harder to see immediately is that many state agency administered programs rely heavily on federal funds, such as the Fisheries Restoration Grant Program program at California Department of Fish and Wildlife. So we will see a longer term (2 years) cascade of defunding as federal cuts reduce funds in state programs. This may be exacerbated by the state struggling to backfill lost federal funding in politically higher priority areas like health care.”

Southern Humboldt County boasts some of the most treasured, unspoiled lands in the country, so could the new administration harm the efforts that have gone into protecting the area?

“The watershed restoration community will be greatly impacted under this federal administration which is slashing EPA budgets and denying the science of climate change,” Stolzman explained. “In California, 97 percent of the San Francisco Bay EPA budget is on the cutting room floor, as is the NOAA Fisheries’ Sea Grant Program that funds fisheries and marine research in 33 universities.”

The SRF is currently funded under a 319h non-point source grant, an EPA program aimed at water quality protection and Total Maximum Daly Load goals to reduce sediment and temperature in watercourses. This funds the Redwood Creek Monitoring, Planning, and Assessment grant.

“The EPA provides substantial grant funds to help states, governmental agencies and tribes to study water quality problems and implement restoration and those funds are likely to be diminished in the future,” Higgins explained. “This limits the amount of resources available for monitoring and restoration, although ERRP has not been the recipient of EPA funding.”

Thompson noted that Sanctuary Forest staff had hopeful meetings in Sacramento. Sanctuary Forest leadership recently traveled to the state capitol and talked to Paul Ramey, Assembly Member Jim Wood’s chief of staff, and Jason Liles, Senator Mike McGuire’s chief of staff. They learned of two park bonds initiatives for June 2018: AB18 and SB5.

In addition, another bill introduced by Wood “seems more hopeful for the northern part of state as it talks about restoring and maintaining natural areas and preventing fragmentation,” said an email from Sanctuary Forest’s Executive Director April Newlander.

AB 1433, Climate Adaptation and Resilience Based on Nature Act “This bill would create the Climate Adaptation and Resilience Based on Nature Account in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund and would transfer, beginning in the 2017–18 fiscal year, 20 percent of the annual proceeds of the fund to the account. The bill would, upon appropriation by the legislature in the annual Budget Act, make available the monies in the account to the Wildlife Conservation Board for grants and programs that facilitate actions to protect and improve the resilience of natural systems and to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.”

Federal plans

Despite concerns, the EPA’s website currently outlines a plan to maintain the protection of watersheds nationally, while crediting local efforts: “EPA recognizes that our federal, state and local government and non-government organization partners already have made great progress in protecting healthy watersheds and bring significant resources and complementary tools to this work, The Healthy Watersheds Program both supports and integrates the work of these efforts to encourage more holistic protection of aquatic ecosystems. A variety of protection approaches are available, ranging from state and federal policies and programs to locally driven protection projects.”

The EPA’s ‘what you can do’ online section outlines a number of California-based initiatives, but none are specific to Humboldt County.

While the federal leadership settles into their new role — and defines their agenda — the local efforts continue.

“SRF hopes that in these times, the community members will contribute to organizations that provide services in their communities,” said Stolzman.

“EERP is not an advocacy group,” explained Higgins. “We intend to fulfill the functions of the EPA in terms of monitoring to make sure that the Eel River’s health is improving.”

Both local leaders believe that volunteers and community-level support will have the biggest impact in the coming years.

“People at the local level need to take more responsibility for preventing water pollution and working with their neighbors to improve environmental health,” Higgins said.

For more information about the EERP, visit www.eelriverrecovery.org, for Sanctuary Forest, go to www.sanctuaryforest.org or for the Salmonid Restoration Federation, visit www.calsalmon.org. To follow updates from the EPA, visit www.epa.gov.

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