Environmentalists use a range of tactics to protect nature
In its efforts to protect and restore the Inland Northwest's forests, water and wildlife, the Lands Council uses a range of tactics—educating, advocating, protesting, planting, researching, collaborating and sometimes filing lawsuits.
"Different approaches are useful in different times. That requires being thoughtful about how and when to use them," said Mike Petersen, executive director of the Lands Council.
He summed up recent efforts:
To stop three dam projects, it relocates beavers to build wetlands.
To restore land and protect rivers, it plants thousands of trees.
To involve children, it teaches environmental education in schools.
To protest the oil and coal terminals, it activates people to go to hearings.
To protect gray wolves, it suggests opening more meadow space for cattle.
To protect forests, it collaborates with interested parties to find mutual solutions.
To clean up PCBs, it conducts research on using fungi to eat PCBs.
"Collaboration is possible if we are on a level playing field," Mike said. "With oil pipelines or coal plants, collaboration is not possible, so we activate the public and even litigate to shut down efforts. We need to problem solve for every situation to decide which tactic is right."
Environmentalist John Osborn and other physicians at Sacred Heart and Deaconess Medical centers started the Lands Council in 1983 to protect wildlands, forest ecosystems, rivers and lakes in North Idaho and Eastern Washington through citizen action. Its Get the Lead Out Campaign helped influence the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to designate the Silver Valley Superfund Site to reduce or eliminate lead and toxins from mining.
To protect forests by decreasing or ending road building and clear-cutting in the Coeur d'Alene Basin, the council challenged the U.S. Forest Service, Mike said.
Because the 1974 National Environmental Policy Act established a process for citizens to challenge timber sales, The Lands Council appealed timber sales in court. It also helped start one of the first Forest Watch programs in the U.S., training citizens to call for the Forest Service to increase its oversight of the timber industry.
"We told agencies that sediment in creeks increased costs for fisheries and that old-growth-dependent species, such as the fisher, goshawk and spotted owls, were important," he added.
"Because of challenges in the 1980s, timber cuts dropped 80 percent in the region by the late 1990s. In court, we won some and lost some," said Mike, who joined the staff in 1991.
After earning a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 1980 at Colorado State University, Mike worked from 1981 to 1983 with Boeing, but he knew that was not for him. He wanted to live in the woods with back-to-the-landers. He found land near Republic, where he and his former wife settled with Tim and Sue Coleman. Tim now heads the Kettle Range Conservation Group.
Mike completed a master's in 1987 in Colorado, but came back to Republic. He was involved with Earth First, a national environmental group engaged in protests, tree sits and road blockades.
Mike, who became director of the Lands Council in 2002, described their different projects and approaches.
• Restoration ecologist Joe Cannon works on the beaver dam project.
The Department of Ecology (DOE) planned to build three dams to store water from the Columbia River.
"Concerned about the impact on climate change and losing several beautiful waterfalls and canyons, we suggested the 'beaver solution' to store water in hundreds of places, by relocating 125 beavers to build dozens of beaver dams," he said.
"For eight years, we have trapped beaver families and relocated them, rather than having the Washington State Fish and Wildlife kill them as pests. The legislature passed a law to make it easier to relocate beavers," Mike said.
Beaver dams restore watersheds, which hold water more evenly than large dams, filtering toxins and mitigating floods and fires, he explained. They also increase flood plains, raise the water table and bring back natural vegetation, amphibians and birds.
• Amanda Parrish oversees river restoration along with Joe, Kat Hall and Jeff Johnson.
For 12 years, the Lands Council has worked to restore the Spokane River watershed by planting trees and native vegetation along Hangman Creek and the Little Spokane River, using funds from the DOE and members.
Each year, volunteers plant thousands of Ponderosa pine trees and hardwood trees next to creeks, putting cones around them to protect them from rodents and deer. Volunteers water them every two weeks in the summer.
Amanda has started the River Restoration Project with the Colville National Forest, placing 400 big trees to put meanders back in Le Clerk Creek, which had been straightened when a mill drove logs down it.
• Through Project Sustain, Kat teaches environmental education in four middle and high schools each year. The Lands Council rents a bus to take students outdoors to teach about water quality, trees and plants.
• Laura Ackerman uses activism to address climate change. Over the last four years, she has involved people in challenging oil and coal terminals in Western Washington. In Spokane, she has organized hearings, meetings and visits to Olympia to stop the terminals.
"Every oil and coal terminal has been stopped. Only one is pending," Mike said.
With 350 Spokane, Laura promoted the Clean Energy Resolution that the Spokane City Council passed this year.
Recently, she organized people to go to Olympia to advocate for restoring the solar rebate, which is about to expire. Meanwhile, she urges people to use it before it expires.
• In its wildlife protection program, Chris Bachman seeks alternatives for wolves and cattle. Once killed off, gray wolves returned naturally to Washington 12 years ago. Cattle wandered everywhere, from meadows into forests where wolves killed them.
Chris proposed a solution, recognizing open plains were the native environment for cows.
To create more open areas for cattle to graze and more fire breaks, Chris suggested logging trees growing into meadows and in forest areas near communities, power lines and roads. One rancher is doing a pilot project.
• To protect wilderness and old growth, Mike has worked with local environmentalists, including Tim Coleman, to collaborate with the timber industry by forming the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition in 2002.
For 16 years, the Colville, Idaho Panhandle and Kootenai National Forests stopped logging old growth and roadless areas. In exchange, loggers retooled mills and gained access to a steady supply of small-diameter trees, giving communities stability.
However, the recent draft plan of the Colville National Forest, which had proposed setting aside 200,000 acres for wilderness, set aside just 60,000 acres for wilderness and omitted recommendations made in years of give-and-take by environmental, industrial and recreation interests, Mike said.
• To reduce PCBs in the Spokane River, Mike works with the Spokane River Regional Toxics Task Force, a collaboration of conservationists, cities, the county, industries, the DOE, Fish and Wildlife and the fish hatchery on the Little Spokane River.
PCBs, once used by utilities and industry, are persistent and toxic in small amounts. They accumulate in fish, wildlife and people, causing health problems, Mike said.
Although PCBs were banned above 50 parts per million (ppm) in 1984, there is a legacy of PCBs in soil that leech into water and volatize into the air. PCBs are in paint for homes and yellow stripes on roads—produced inadvertently in making pigment at a high temperature, he said. Now the Department of Transportation uses yellow paint with less PCBs.
The Lands Council has learned that fungi that break down dead trees can break down PCBs. So it supports two students and a teacher at North Central High School's science lab testing if the fungi can break down PCBs in sludge.
"It's fascinating to be part of a science project that could clean contaminated sites," said Mike.
The Lands Council continues to be called on to offer its insights and advice on environmental concerns as they emerge, such as on the stormwater drainage in Spokane and on the proposed silicon plant in Newport.
"We recognize that environmental issues are multifaceted," he said, "and it's possible to find innovative solutions to protect the health of people and nature."
For information, call 838-4912, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit landscouncil.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, January, 2019