Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Plans to harvest century-old redwoods along the Gualala River are stirring opposition in the wake of an unsuccessful bid to acquire the commercial timberland for conservation purposes, including the expansion of a public park.
The logging proposal covers more than 500 acres upstream from the town of Gualala and includes extensive operations in the flood plain at the mouth of the Gualala River in northwestern Sonoma County.
In an era of diminished logging along the North Coast, the dispute over Gualala Redwood Timber’s plans reflects the debate about how, if at all, sensitive land in the region is logged and whether such private acreage commercially logged for a century should be set aside for conservation.
Proponents behind the logging proposal — actually two separate timber harvest plans — say it has been fully vetted by environmental regulators and meets safeguards established to protect the river and habitat for salmon, steelhead trout and other plants and wildlife.
But opponents, including environmental activists, say felling the trees, especially in the flood plain, will diminish the beauty and health of the river’s scenic South Fork and adversely affect already impaired fish and wildlife habitat, in addition to threatening river flows by pulling water to control dust on logging roads.
County officials also are raising questions about the impacts of logging on recreation and the adjacent Gualala Point Regional Park, which takes in 195 acres at the mouth of the river.
“We are very concerned about this,” said Chris Poehlmann, who leads a local group called Friends of the Gualala River that has been an active critic of logging and forest-to-vineyard conversion projects in the area. “It will be a lost opportunity if the community doesn’t respond. I hope that it won’t be business as usual and people will look backward and say, ‘We should have done something about that.’ ”