What We Do: Successes
HCPC maintains a reputation for success, which we achieve often against the odds. Here’s a summary of HCPC’s victories in protecting the Hells Canyon-Wallowa Ecosystem since our founding in 1965:
Big Win for 2014!
On December 9, 2014, the United States District Court for the State of Oregon upheld multiple claims brought against the U.S. Forest Service by La Grande-based Hells Canyon Preservation Council (HCPC) and their co-plaintiffs the League of Wilderness Defenders/Blue Mountain Diversity Project. The court’s decision is a significant step toward preserving the large tree and old-growth habitats in the Snow Basin Management Area, and will affect decisions across Region 6.
In 2012, the Forest Service approved the nearly 29,000 acre Snow Basin Vegetation Management Project immediately south of the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. HCPC and their allies raised multiple environmental concerns. When that failed,we challenged the project in court.
The Snow Basin Project would cut more than 43,000 large trees and allowed logging in some of the region’s last remaining old growth forests. In order to cut these large old trees, the Forest Service had to seek an exemption from the Eastside Screens, which prohibit cutting large trees and in old growth stands that are below their historic range.
On the Wallowa-Whitman, the Forest Service has routinely amended this requirement to preserve old growth without doing a forest wide analysis of the effects on old growth dependent plant and wildlife species.
“Hells Canyon Preservation Council has always taken issue with the routine cutting of old growth and instead advocates for projects focused on cutting the smaller diameter trees that, due largely to fire suppression, are over abundant on the landscape,” said Veronica Warnock, Conservation Director for Hells Canyon Preservation Council. “The judge’s order is clear—the Forest Service was violating the law. This is a great outcome for the animals and species that depend on old forests to thrive”.
- Designation in 1975 of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, Snake and Rapid Wild and Scenic Rivers and the Hells Canyon Wilderness Area.
- The 1984 expansion of the Hells Canyon and Eagle Cap Wilderness Areas.
- Inclusion in 1990 of the Imnaha, Wallowa, Grand Ronde, Minam and Lostine Rivers and Eagle Creek into the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
- National media attention including: The Wall Street Journal; ABC World News Tonight; National Geographic Traveler; Pacific Northwest Magazine.
- Development in 1994 of the Native Ecosystem Alternative, a comprehensive policy blueprint for Ecosystem restoration in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.
- Litigation that in 1994 validated the ecosystem and wilderness protection priority in the Hells Canyon NRA and compelled the U.S. Forest Service to develop special regulations governing human activities that requires their compatibility with ecosystem protection.
- Recognition in 1994 and 1995 by the National Awards Council for Environmental Sustainability.
- The 1996 elimination of domestic sheep grazing from the Oregon side of the Hells Canyon NRA to protect native bighorn sheep herds from lethal diseases.
- Defeat in 1996 of legislation that would have: 1) extended motorized access and development on the west rim of the Canyon, and 2) allowed unlimited jet boat use on the Snake Wild and Scenic River.
- Inspiring the U.S. Forest Service in 1997 to implement the first-ever jet boat-free area on the Snake Wild and Scenic River.
- Ushered through, in 2003, the new science-based Hells Canyon Comprehensive Management Plan, which made restoration and conservation a priority in the Hells Canyon NRA and was based largely on our Native Ecosystem Alternative submitted in 1994.
- Winning litigation in 2003 that found the Forest Service failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in promulgating special regulations governing land uses on private lands within the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.
- Protection of lynx habitat and stopping three timber sales on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest that were designed based on faulty lynx habitat mapping, in 2003. In this litigation, the court also found the entire lynx mapping and conservation strategy in violation of NEPA and the National Forest Management Act for the failure to undergo full environmental analysis and public involvement.
- On February 11, 2005, the Oregon Fish & Wildlife Commission adopted the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. The Plan establishes clear protections and standards that will result in wolves eventually occupying habitat not just in the Hells Canyon-Wallowa and Blue Mountain ecosystems, where wolf recovery has already begun, but across the state. It also establishes management tools aimed at increasing social tolerance for the wolf by addressing the interests of livestock operators and hunters. HCPC was a major player on the Citizen’s Advisory Panel convened to help draft the Oregon Wolf Plan.
- Prevailing, in 2005, on five claims related to the Forest Service’s reconstruction of the Kirkwood Road in the Hells Canyon NRA. The Federal District Court of Oregon determined the reconstruction promoted both legal and illegal motorized use as well as related invasive weed spread and native plant loss.
- Convened the Hells Canyon Stewardship & Restoration Collaborative in 2005. The Collaborative is a diverse group, with its members working together to implement the Comprehensive Management Plan of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.
- Prevailed in a 2006 lawsuit challenging destructive mining operations in the Blue Mountains’ North Fork Burnt River watershed, creating a major chink in the 1872 mining law in a decision with national precedent-setting implications. The U.S. District Court finally set the record straight: any purported “right” to mine does not trump the public’s right to basic environmental protection.
- Protected bighorn sheep from disease by stopping all domestic sheep grazing in Hells Canyon in 2007, so for the first time in over 100 years there is no domestic sheep grazing on either side of Hells Canyon!
- Added 200 new members in both 2006 and 2007.
- Stopped, in 2007, the logging of 651 acres of old growth on the Bald Angel timber sale, near the Eagle Cap Wilderness in the Wallowas.
- Continually challenged old growth timber sales, ATV trail proposals, mining operations and livestock grazing plans on the Wallowa-Whitman, Payette, and Umatilla NFs.
- Conducted subtle yet persistent pressure and outreach to get local communities and agencies to include and accept more of a conservation ethic in their outlook.