Category Archives: Forests

In California, conservationists face off with vineyard owners 

Alastair Bland, GREENBIZ

Kellie Anderson stands in the understory of a century-old forest in eastern Napa County, about 70 miles north of San Francisco. To her left is a creek gully, a rush of the water audible through the thick riparian brush. The large trees here provide a home for deer, mountain lions and endangered spotted owls, while the stream supports the last remnants of the Napa River watershed’s nearly extinct steelhead trout.

“They want to take all of this out,” said Anderson, who sits on the steering committee of a local environmental organization, Save Rural Angwin, named for a community in the renowned wine country of the Napa Valley. She is studying a project-planning map of the area as she waves her free arm toward the wooded upward slope. “It looks like this will be the edge of a block of vines,” she said.

Anderson and two fellow activists, Jim Wilson and Mike Hackett, were visiting a property of several dozen acres that the owners plan to clear and replant with grapes, the county’s principal crop. The project is one of many like it pending approval by Napa County officials, who rarely reject a vineyard conversion project in the Napa Valley, a fertile strip that runs northward from the shores of San Francisco Bay.

In Napa County, neighboring Sonoma County and farther to the north in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, concern is growing among some residents, environmentalists and scientists about the expansion of vineyards into forested regions and the impacts on watersheds and biodiversity. In Napa, an aerial view reveals a carpet of vines on the valley floor, which is why winemakers hoping to plant new vines increasingly turn to land in the county’s wooded uplands. At these higher elevations, “about the only thing standing in the way of winemakers are the trees,” said Hackett.

“Napa is getting really carved up,” said Adina Merenlender, a conservation biologist at the University of California at Berkeley, who began studying the ecological impacts of vineyard conversions in the 1990s. “We see it all over the western and eastern ridges — it’s been relentless.” The transformation of shrub, oak and conifer habitat into new vineyards threatens wildlife migration corridors, she said. “We’re down to the final pinch points,” said Merenlender, referring to narrow corridors that eventually could become functionally severed from the relatively expansive wilderness areas in the mountains north of Napa County.

Federal fisheries scientists also have expressed concerns that the wine industry is harming endangered populations of steelhead trout. The creeks flowing off the hills of Napa County are critical to remnant populations of steelhead and salmon, and biologists with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) say the irrigation of vineyards has reduced stream flows and clogged waterways with eroded soils. “Extensive water diversions, groundwater pumping, and increased agriculture (vineyards) water use during the dry season have reduced the extent of suitable summer rearing habitat  … throughout much of the Napa River watershed,” NMFS scientists wrote in the Napa River chapter (PDF) of a 2016 report.

Read more at: In California, conservationists face off with vineyard owners | GreenBiz

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Land Use, Water, Wildlife

Fight over disputed Healdsburg logging plan escalates amid state delay

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The National Marine Fisheries Service, whose mission includes the protection of imperiled fish species, identified Felta Creek as “the only stream in the Dry Creek watershed where wild coho salmon have been observed frequently.”

“There were two years where Felta was the only stream in the entire Russian River watershed that we knew coho existed,” said Mariska Obedzinski, a fisheries biologist with the California Sea Grant program who specializes in endangered salmon recovery.

A cold, clear stream that provides some of the last refuge for wild coho salmon in Sonoma County lies at the center of a dispute over logging plans in the forested hills above Healdsburg.

The proposed removal of redwood and Douglas fir trees from a steep hill above Felta Creek and the Russian River Valley poses a risk, opponents say, to remaining habitat for an endangered fish species once abundant in the freshwater streams and rivers of the North Coast.

Some of the trees marked for harvest on the 160-acre property grow on grades of 65 percent — so steep that foes of the plan, including neighbors and several environmental groups, say it could unleash significant erosion into the creek if carried forward. They are prepared to go to court to block the proposed harvest, which is being studied by state forestry officials.

Last week, those officials kicked the proposal back to landowner Ken Bareilles and his forester for significant additions and revisions

Read more at: Fight over disputed Healdsburg logging plan escalates amid state delay | The Press Democrat

Filed under Forests, Habitats

Fight for Felta Creek

Tom Gogola, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

A Humboldt County businessman appears poised to get the green light from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) to log most of a forested 160-acre Healdsburg parcel crossed by Felta Creek.

Read more at: Fight for Felta | News | North Bay Bohemian

Filed under Forests, Habitats, Wildlife

Sonoma court awards attorney’s fees in ‘Dogwood’ timber harvest case

FRIENDS OF THE GUALALA RIVER

After halting logging in the environmentally sensitive mature floodplain redwood forest of the lower Gualala River, Judge René Chouteau of Sonoma County Superior Court awarded $162,000 in attorney’s fees to the successful parties in environmental litigation over CAL FIRE’s approval of the Dogwood Timber Harvest Plan. The successful parties are the Petitioners, Friends of Gualala River, Forest Unlimited, and California Native Plant Society, represented by attorney Edward Yates. The fee award ruling was issued June 27, 2017.

CAL FIRE’s consideration and approval of the Dogwood logging plan sparked public opposition for over a year culminating in a public protest demonstration in July 2016. Members of the public, including the Petitioners, were concerned that the proposed logging would significantly affect Gualala River reaches that are designated as Wild and Scenic, especially those reaches above the Gualala River’s mouth and estuary and adjacent to a regional Park. The forester hired by the timber company and landowner, Gualala Redwoods Timber (GRT), prepared the environmental analysis used by CAL FIRE to justify the five miles of floodplain logging on the lower Gualala River. It concluded logging would have no significant impacts, despite a lack of evidence or even basic scientific surveys for wetlands or rare plants and wildlife known to occur in the floodplain.

Petitioners filed a lawsuit in Sonoma County Superior Court on August 4, 2016, to compel the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) to set aside the agency’s final approval of the “Dogwood” timber harvest plan. California Native Plant Society joined the Petitioners in the lawsuit in September 2016. Acting in the public interest, the three nonprofit environmental groups challenged CAL FIRE’s approval of the unprecedented largescale floodplain redwood logging plan. This plan allows for significant impacts to over 400 acres of Gualala River wetlands, rare plants and endangered wildlife.

On January 25, 2017, Judge Chouteau made an unexpected ruling to remand the entire Dogwood THP back to CAL FIRE to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and Forest Practices Act (FPA). The Court’s judgment was that CAL FIRE’s approval of Dogwood included a defective cumulative impact analysis that omitted a subsequent foreseeable floodplain logging plan by the same applicant, Gualala Redwoods Timber. This ruling provided CAL FIRE with an opportunity to fully overhaul the incomplete or defective environmental review.

Read more at Friends of the Gualala River.

Filed under Forests, Sonoma Coast

Disputed Gualala River logging plan stalled pending revised study 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

See the Friends of the Gualala River website for more information about this logging plan.

A disputed 2-year-old plan to log along several miles of the Gualala River floodplain remains in limbo five months after a Sonoma County judge nullified its approval and sent it back to state forestry officials for revision and additional public review.

Acting on a lawsuit brought by environmental groups, Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau ruled in January that the 330-acre project was deficient because it failed to account for the cumulative impacts of a different logging plan in development when the proposal at issue was first submitted.

It’s not clear just how much revision of the so-called Dogwood plan submitted by Gualala Redwood Timber will be necessary before it earns a pass from the judge, and there is likely more courtroom action ahead in any case.

“I think everyone expects that this is the first round of litigation,” said Eric Huff, forestry practice chief with Cal Fire, the state forestry agency.

Chouteau’s formal order, filed April 18, gave Cal Fire wide discretion to determine how broadly the Dogwood harvest plan should be reconsidered.

Larkspur attorney Ed Yates, who represents several environmental groups trying to block logging in the floodplain, said it would behoove Gualala Redwood Timber to substantially adjust its plan, given the many objections plaintiffs have lodged against it.

The Dogwood proposal “is legally inadequate in many different areas: plants, endangered species, water quality, climate change, alternatives, mitigations,” Yates said.

Read more at: Disputed Gualala River logging plan stalled pending revised study | The Press Democrat

Filed under Forests, Habitats, Water

Logging plays bigger climate change role than U.S. acknowledges, report says

Georgina Gustin, INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

The U.S. has consistently underestimated the impact that logging has on accelerating climate change and the role that preserving its forests can play in sucking carbon out of the atmosphere. That’s the conclusion of a new report that also seeks to rebut the notion that burning wood is a “carbon neutral” alternative to burning coal and oil for electricity.

Published by the Dogwood Alliance, a North Carolina-based forest conservation group, the report argues that the U.S. has placed too much emphasis on protecting the world’s tropical forests, while ignoring the logging industry’s impact on greenhouse gases released from cutting its own natural woodlands, especially older forests.

“The U.S. has just failed to acknowledge the role that the logging industry has played in the climate crisis, and has failed to embrace the need to restore old growth, intact forests across the U.S. as a critical piece of the puzzle in solving the climate crisis,” said Danna Smith, a co-author of the report.

The report comes as the issue of burning wood for energy is getting fresh attention in Washington. This week, Congress, backed by the logging industry, included language in its budget deal that would declare the burning of woody biomass for electricity “carbon neutral,” sparking the latest controversy in a long-running debate.

“We can’t log our way out of climate change,” said Kirin Kennedy, associate legislative director for lands at wildlife at the Sierra Club. “Burning wood products actually contributes more toward the increase of emissions into the atmosphere.”

Read more at: Logging Plays Bigger Climate Change Role Than U.S. Acknowledges, Report Says | InsideClimate News

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Forests

In wine regions, vineyards and conservationists battle for the hills

Alastair Bland, YALE ENVIRONMENT 360

Kellie Anderson stands in the understory of a century-old forest in eastern Napa County, about 70 miles north of San Francisco. To her left is a creek gully, a rush of the water audible through the thick riparian brush. The large trees here provide a home for deer, mountain lions, and endangered spotted owls, while the stream supports the last remnants of the Napa River watershed’s nearly extinct steelhead trout.

“They want to take all of this out,” says Anderson, who sits on the steering committee of a local environmental organization, Save Rural Angwin, named for a community in the renowned wine country of the Napa Valley. She is studying a project-planning map of the area as she waves her free arm toward the wooded upward slope. “It looks like this will be the edge of a block of vines,” she says.

Anderson and two fellow activists, Jim Wilson and Mike Hackett, were visiting a property of several dozen acres that the owners plan to clear and replant with grapes, the county’s principal crop. The project is one of many like it that are now pending approval by Napa County officials, who rarely reject a vineyard conversion project in the Napa Valley, a fertile strip that runs northward from the shores of San Francisco Bay.

In Napa County, neighboring Sonoma County, and farther to the north in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, concern is growing among some residents, environmentalists, and scientists about the expansion of vineyards into forested regions and the impacts on watersheds and biodiversity. In Napa, an aerial view reveals a carpet of vines on the valley floor, which is why winemakers hoping to plant new vines increasingly turn to land in the county’s wooded uplands. At these higher elevations, “about the only thing standing in the way of winemakers are the trees,” says Hackett.

Read more at: In Napa Valley, Vineyards and Conservationists Battle for the Hills – Yale E360

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Habitats, Land Use, Sonoma Coast, Water, Wildlife

Towering, remote Sonoma County forest preserved

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Deep in northwestern Sonoma County’s thickly forested mountains, about 10 miles from the coast and a world away from the bustle of any population center, Mike Young walked beneath a towering canopy of redwood and Douglas fir trees he’s come to know well over the past several decades.

He was leading a small group last week on a tour of his remote property, an expanse of forest that feels untouched. The trees were too numerous to count and soared hundreds of feet into the sky.

Young stopped at one about 16 feet in diameter — so big that, when three people linked arms around it, they couldn’t get halfway around. Its height and age are a mystery.“It just goes on and on and on,” Young said, guessing it stands more than 250 feet tall and is several thousand years old.

The tree is in good company here on a string of properties acquired by members of the Howlett family beginning in 1949. The owners allowed only selective logging over the years, Young said. Spikes still stand out from tree trunks where the late George Howlett designated areas where logging couldn’t occur.

“Every time they cut a tree, it was like cutting a piece of his arm off,” Young said of George Howlett. When they did harvest trees, it was carefully done.“You could go in afterward and hardly tell where they’d been cutting,” Young said.

The result is this 1,380-acre property still encompasses a dense collection of massive trees, including old-growth redwoods, that are hard to find anywhere else in Sonoma County. So rare, in fact, that in late February, county supervisors — in their role as directors of the Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District — approved paying $4.5 million to eliminate development rights on the private property. The $6.1 million easement deal, including private and public grant money secured by the Sonoma Land Trust, was completed in April.

Read more at: Towering, remote Sonoma County forest preserved with $4.5 million from local taxpayers | The Press Democrat

Filed under Forests, Land Use

Forests disappearing at an alarming rate, mostly for human needs

Ann M. Simmons, LOS ANGELES TIMES

They cover a third of the world’s landmass, help to regulate the atmosphere, and offer shelter, sustenance and survival to millions of people, plants and animals.

But despite some progress, the planet’s woodlands continue to disappear on a dramatic scale.

Since 1990 the world has lost the equivalent of 1,000 football fields of forests every hour, according to World Bank development indicators from last year. That’s 1.3 million square kilometers of forest, an area larger than South Africa, according to the international financial institution.

With the observance of Earth Day on Saturday, conservationists seek to drive home the message that protection of forests is more critical than ever.

“The situation is dire,” said Orion Cruz, deputy director of forest and climate policy for Earth Day Network, an organization that grew out of the first Earth Day in 1970. “Forests are being eliminated at a very rapid rate and collectively we need to address this problem as quickly as possible. There’s still time to do this, but that time is quickly running out.”

Tropical regions are seeing the fastest loss of forests.

Indonesia, with its thriving paper and palm oil industries, is losing more forest than any other country. Despite a forest development moratorium, the Southeast Asian nation has lost at least 39 million acres since the last century, according to research from the University of Maryland and the World Resources Institute.

Brazil, Thailand, Congo and parts of Eastern Europe also have significant deforestation, according to United Nations data.

Read more at: Status of forests is ‘dire’ as world marks 2017 Earth Day – LA Times

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Habitats, Land Use, Sustainable Living

Sonoma County Forests, Part Three: An uncertain future

Arthur Dawson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Among individual species there will [also] be winners and losers. Redwoods are expected to remain stable in the western half of the county, but decline in places more distant from the coast. Douglas fir shows a similar pattern. The biggest loser may be Oregon or Garry oak. The real winner may not be a tree at all, but chamise, a shrubby chaparral species.

To look into the future of forests in Sonoma County requires finding a similar time in the past — or at least one as close as possible. And for that, scientists have turned to studying minute specks of pollen at the bottom of Clear Lake.

“When considering the future of our forests,” says Professor David Ackerly of UC Berkeley, “the closest analogy for the present moment was the warming at the end of the last ice age, 14,000 years ago.” Pollen preserved in sediment at the bottom of Clear Lake recorded a dramatic change at that time from conifer-dominated forests to oak woodland. That transition took place over 4000 years, as temperatures rose about 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Today the Earth is heating up many times faster and, depending on who you talk to, warming over the coming century could match the rise after the ice age. Changes in rainfall are also expected for Sonoma County, although it’s uncertain whether we’ll see more precipitation or less. But even with more rain, warmer overall temperatures may increase evaporation to the point where less water will be available to plants. The timing of rainfall is important, too — a few torrential storms bank less soil moisture than the same amount falling slowly and steadily over the winter months. Soil moisture is an important factor controlling where trees can grow.

In this scenario, the survival of living things depends upon their ability to adjust to the changes more quickly than in the past. Animals are lucky ­— they can move to other locations; individual trees and plants are stuck to one spot. In the short term, many are already shifting their yearly cycles — the beginning of spring, as marked by budding and flowering, is two weeks earlier than it was 50 years ago. Long-term, trees move between generations, their seeds spread by wind, water, gravity and animals to more suitable places.

Read more at: Sonoma County’s forests face uncertain future | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Habitats