The Arcata-based Environmental Protection Information Center and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit Thursday against the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for granting the Green Diamond Resource Co. a permit they say will allow the company to destroy the habitat of the Humboldt marten, which is on the brink of extinction.
Although the Humboldt marten was listed under the state’s Endangered Species Act in 2018, the constraints that would otherwise apply to timber harvesting operations can be overridden if a company is granted a “safe harbor agreement,” Tom Wheeler, executive director of EPIC said.
According to a news release from EPIC, Fish and Wildlife “can only issue a safe harbor agreement if it finds that the activities covered would benefit the species, either by increasing population or by protecting habitat.” However, Wheeler said, this is far from the case.
“They’re just playing games with numbers,” he said, referring to Green Diamond Resource Co. “It seems like they’re doing something, but when you dig a little deeper, they’re not making a meaningful change to their forestry practices.”
Wheeler said Fish and Wildlife went against the recommendations of their own in-house scientists when they granted the safe harbor agreement to Green Diamond.
The agency declined to comment on the case because it is pending litigation.
“Green Diamond was given special treatment by CDFW and that special treatment makes it more likely that the Humboldt marten is going to go extinct,” Wheeler said. “From the results of our public records (request), it is clear that CDFW staff are shocked that Green Diamond is getting such a favorable deal.”
In an email to the Times-Standard, Gary Rynearson, a spokesperson for Green Diamond, said the lawsuit is counterproductive.
“Misguided lawsuits of this nature are unfortunate, ” he said. “(The safe harbor agreement) provides Green Diamond with assurance that it can grow habitat for marten and expand the range and population of marten on Green Diamond land without harming Green Diamond’s business.”
In California, there are only two surviving populations of Humboldt martens, which number in the hundreds, according to Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. The “fiesty furballs” are isolated from one another, living in two pockets very far from one another she said.
“Green Diamond owns part of the important land between where the martens are,” Curry said.
In essence, the corridor that connects the two marten populations is owned and managed by Green Diamond, she said. If those areas see “even-aged thinning,” which Curry said is essentially the same as clear-cutting, the martens are doomed to fail.
“Martens can’t successfully cross clear cuts,” she said. “They may as well be stranded on two desert islands with oceans in between them.”
Areas without dense shrub underbrush create conditions where the kitten-sized Martens are exposed and become easy prey for predatory birds or Bob Cats, the latter of which thrive in clear-cut conditions, Curry said. Thus the chances of the two populations interbreeding, which would increase their chances of survival, would be severely reduced if they are faced with the environments created by even-aged thinning, she said.
Rynearson said “marten are currently absent on almost all of Green Diamond’s timberlands,” but the company harvests second and third growth timber in the marten safe harbor areas. How the company harvests timber in those areas was not specified.
“Green Diamond will grow more mature forest approaching 100 years of age on approximately 25 percent of the area covered by the agreement,” he said, indicating some of what the company is doing to protect Humboldt martens. “The safe harbor agreement also includes a provision for expanding the range of the marten by assisting with dispersal of the species onto Green Diamond lands south of the Klamath River.”
The dispersal program, which would involve trapping and relocating Humboldt martens, sounds like a good idea, Curry said, but there is no proof that it will work. In one study that involved live-trapping martens, three of them died from stress alone. What this means, Curry said, is that it’s risky to even conduct a study to determine whether or not an assisted dispersal program would work because it inherently involves putting the lives of Humboldt martens at risk.
Heather Lewis, associate attorney at Earthjustice, which is representing EPIC and the Center for Biological Diversity in the case, said the dispersal program was used as part of the justification for the issuance of the safe harbor agreement, even though a feasibility study has not been done.
“In our view, neither assisted dispersal nor (Green Diamond’s) habitat management are enough together (to warrant the safe harbor agreement),” she said. “The California Safe Harbor Act is meant to encourage private landowners to manage land in a way that will provide a benefit to endangered species, and it’s pretty obvious this one doesn’t do that.”
Philip Santos can be reached at 707-441-0506.