Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, ForestsTags , , ,

The ‘green energy’ that might be ruining the planet

Michael Grunwald, POLITICO

Here’s a multibillion-dollar question that could help determine the fate of the global climate: If a tree falls in a forest—and then it’s driven to a mill, where it’s chopped and chipped and compressed into wood pellets, which are then driven to a port and shipped across the ocean to be burned for electricity in European power plants—does it warm the planet?

Most scientists and environmentalists say yes: By definition, clear-cutting trees and combusting their carbon emits greenhouse gases that heat up the earth. But policymakers in the U.S. Congress and governments around the world have declared that no, burning wood for power isn’t a climate threat—it’s actually a green climate solution. In Europe, “biomass power,” as it’s technically called, is now counted and subsidized as zero-emissions renewable energy. As a result, European utilities now import tons of wood from U.S. forests every year—and Europe’s supposedly eco-friendly economy now generates more energy from burning wood than from wind and solar combined.

Biomass power is a fast-growing $50 billion global industry, and it’s not clear whether the climate-conscious administration of President Joe Biden will try to accelerate it, discourage it or ignore it. It’s usually obvious which energy sources will reduce carbon emissions, even when the politics and economics are tricky; everyone agrees that solar and wind are cleaner than coal. But when it comes to power from ground-up trees, there’s still a raging substantive debate about whether it’s a forest-friendly, carbon-neutral alternative to fossil fuels, or an environmental disaster. Even within the Biden administration, senior officials have taken different sides of that debate.

Biden’s answer will be extremely important, because as odd as it sounds during a clean-tech revolution driven by modern innovations like advanced batteries and smart grids, there’s been a resurgence in the old-fashioned technique of burning wood to produce energy. The idea that setting trees on fire could be carbon-neutral sounds even odder to experts who know that biomass emits more carbon than coal at the smokestack, plus the carbon released by logging, processing logs into vitamin-sized pellets and transporting them overseas. And solar panels can produce 100 times as much power per acre as biomass.

Read more at https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/03/26/biomass-carbon-climate-politics-477620?ct=t(RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN)

Posted on Categories Forests, Land UseTags , , ,

Op-Ed: It’s about time California put the brakes on new housing developments in high-fire risk areas

Editorial Board, LOS ANGELES TIMES

One of the best ways to prevent wildfire destruction and death is to stop building houses in the likely path of the flames. Yet cities and counties across the state keep doing exactly that — approving sprawling new housing developments next to wildlands and marching property and people deeper into high-fire risk areas.

We know this development pattern is dangerous. Half of the buildings destroyed by wildfire in California over the last 30 years have been in developments on the urban fringe, next to wildlands (a type of geography that planners call the “wildland-urban interface”). For years, state leaders have wrung their hands over this contradiction, but demurred from taking action because local governments have control over land-use decisions.

Now, finally, someone in power has gotten off the sidelines. Among his final acts as state attorney general before becoming secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra has gone to court to try to block housing developments approved in high-fire risk areas.

In February, Becerra joined a lawsuit challenging the Guenoc Valley Project, which would put 1,400 houses, hotels, restaurants and shops on Lake County hills that have been burned by wildfires a dozen times, most recently last year. Before the project was approved, Becerra’s office had sent letters to Lake County officials warning that the project’s design would exacerbate wildfire risk and hinder evacuations during a fire.
Continue reading “Op-Ed: It’s about time California put the brakes on new housing developments in high-fire risk areas”

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, ForestsTags , ,

Priorities for Sonoma County’s vegetation management funds

Ted Lamm, Ethan Elkind, and Katie Segal, BERKELEY LAW

How would you spend $25 million to reduce wildfire risks? Sonoma County asked CLEE for guidance to answer this precise question. In 2017, the Sonoma Complex Fires burned hundreds of thousands of acres in the county, destroyed over 5,000 structures, and took two dozen lives. After reaching a legal settlement with Pacific Gas & Electric (whose equipment sparked the fires), Sonoma County allocated $25 million of the settlement funds to vegetation management–thinning and treatment of forests and vegetation–in order to reduce future fire risk and protect ecosystems and agriculture.

The County retained CLEE to gather expert input and prepare recommendations for how to allocate these funds most efficiently and effectively. Considering the long-term and recurring nature of vegetation management, the diversity of County landscapes and ecosystems, and the scale of the need relative to the amount of funds, a range of strategies will be required to leverage the funds into long-term investments and ensure sustainable practices. CLEE convened a group of statewide experts and a group of County stakeholders to identify spending priorities.

Our report outlines these priorities and offers specific strategies for the funds to achieve them, including:

      • Governance and coordination capacity to centralize county efforts, streamline permitting, gather data, and lead outreach initiatives, such as a new multi-agency working group with long-term dedicated staff.
      • Outreach and education capacity to spearhead communication with landowners, businesses, and residents on actions private individuals can take to reduce fire risk, including dollars specifically allocated for bilingual and equity-focused outreach.
      • Immediate vegetation management projects to increase resilience in high-risk zones in advance of the 2021 and 2022 fire seasons, with priority for shovel-ready projects, local organizations with track records of success, multi-benefit work, and other criteria.
      • Data, mapping, and planning efforts that expand on the County’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan and other key data-collection initiatives to inform smart decision-making throughout the county.
      • Long-term financial sustainability instruments to generate recurring funds for vegetation management, such as a countywide financing district, new parcel or sales tax, or resilience bond.
      • Workforce development initiatives, like local college training programs to support high-quality local jobs and grow expertise and capacity in Sonoma.

      Read the report and full list of priorities here.

Posted on Categories Forests, Land UseTags , ,

224-acre logging plan above Russian River near Guerneville awaiting approval

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A plan to log 224 acres of steep land above the Russian River, on the outskirts of Guerneville and Monte Rio, is expected to win approval in the coming days despite heavy opposition from residents and activists alarmed by the project’s proximity to rural communities and the natural landscape that draws tourists there.

Representatives for the Roger Burch family, which owns the property and the Redwood Empire Sawmill in Cloverdale — where logs from the Silver Estates timber harvest would be milled — said the forest is overstocked and badly in need of thinning to promote the growth of larger trees and reduce excess fuels.

But opponents say they remain unsatisfied by the planning process and have myriad outstanding concerns — everything from effects on wildlife habitat to soil stability, wildfire risks and visual impacts.

They say the plan is governed by “outdated” forest practice rules that fail to account for climate change and heightened wildfire risks where wildland abuts or mixes with settled areas.

“I still feel like we’re living with the legacy of Stumptown, and we still have to make amends,” said John Dunlap, a leader of the local Guerneville Forest Coalition. Stumptown was the nickname acquired by the community during the logging boom at the turn of the 20th century, when timber from the area helped rebuild San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fires. “It’s sort of like we’re not really listening to what the environment is telling us.”

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/224-acre-logging-plan-above-russian-river-near-guerneville-awaiting-approva/?sba=AAS

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Land UseTags , ,

County beginning hazard mitigation plan update

Zoe Strickland, THE HEALDSBURG TRIBUNE

Feb. 25 will mark the first in a series of public meetings being held to update Sonoma County’s hazard mitigation plan. The five-year update of the 2016 Sonoma County Local Hazard Mitigation Plan will have a more multi-jurisdictional approach.

According to Permit Sonoma’s website, the update will include Sonoma County; the cities of Santa Rosa, Cotati, Sonoma, Sebastopol, the town of Windsor; the Sonoma County Ag + Open Space District; the Timber Cove, North Sonoma Coast, Cloverdale, Sonoma County and Rancho Adobe fire districts; and both the Gold Ridge and Sonoma Resource Conservation Districts.

Hazard mitigation plans provide a profile of the community, a catalog of likely hazards — the county’s 2016 plan notes floods, fires, landslides and earthquakes — and outlines plans, goals and progress when it comes to mitigating possible hazards.

“The Hazard Mitigation Plan assesses hazard vulnerabilities and identifies mitigation actions the county will pursue in order to reduce the level of injury, property damage and community disruption that might otherwise result from such events,” according to Permit Sonoma. “In addition, adoption of the plan helps the county remain eligible for various types of pre and post disaster community assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the state government.”

The plan update is being headed by a steering committee made up of community members who have emergency management knowledge. The public, however, is also encouraged to attend.

Read more at: https://www.sonomawest.com/the_healdsburg_tribune/news/county-beginning-hazard-mitigation-plan-update/article_f4b3ab02-733a-11eb-9cf5-8b9c205f2d90.html#utm_source=sonomawest.com&utm_campaign=%2Fnewsletters%2Fheadlines%2F%3F-dc%3D1614013221&utm_medium=email&utm_content=headline

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, ForestsTags , ,

Sonoma County Conservation Action group aims to create oak tree clearing moratorium

Katherine Minkiewicz, THE WINDSOR TIMES

A group of conservationists from Sonoma County Conservation Action is urging the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors to consider implementing a moratorium on county permitted tree cutting in an effort to save and preserve Sonoma County’s iconic oak woodlands.

“For decades, Sonoma County’s iconic oak forests have been excessively cleared in the name of development and vineyards. Much of this county-permitted cutting is being done without rigorous regard for the ecological importance of native oak and forest lands,” said Aja Henry, an assistant field manager with Sonoma County Conservation Action. “A moratorium on tree cutting is imperative for our native habitats as well as our ecological footprint as a county. If we are to really become carbon neutral by 2050, we need a moratorium on cutting until we have a clearer picture of the situation and have developed a realistic climate-oriented tree ordinance to regulate cutting in the future.”

On Sept. 17, 2019, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors declared a Climate Change Emergency and pledged to support a countywide framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and to pursue local actions that support to protect and enhance the value of working lands and increasing carbon sequestration.

Henry feels that protecting native woodlands would be one way the county could increase carbon sequestration since mature forests store significantly more carbon than younger or newly planted trees.

“Oak forests sequester carbon in the form of biomass, deadwood, litter and in forest soils. The sink of carbon sequestered in forests helps to offset other sources of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, such as deforestation, forest fires and fossil fuel emissions. We have a powerful tool to fight climate change right in our backyard, and we are chopping it down without a careful study of the repercussions,” Henry wrote in a recent Sonoma County Conservation Action newsletter.
Continue reading “Sonoma County Conservation Action group aims to create oak tree clearing moratorium”

Posted on Categories Forests, Habitats, Sustainable Living, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Global greenhouse gas emissions over the last century have made southern China a hotspot for bat-borne coronaviruses, by driving growth of forest habitat favoured by bats

Research News, UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE

A new study published today in the journal Science of the Total Environment provides the first evidence of a mechanism by which climate change could have played a direct role in the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study has revealed large-scale changes in the type of vegetation in the southern Chinese Yunnan province, and adjacent regions in Myanmar and Laos, over the last century. Climatic changes including increases in temperature, sunlight, and atmospheric carbon dioxide – which affect the growth of plants and trees – have changed natural habitats from tropical shrubland to tropical savannah and deciduous woodland. This created a suitable environment for many bat species that predominantly live in forests.

The number of coronaviruses in an area is closely linked to the number of different bat species present. The study found that an additional 40 bat species have moved into the southern Chinese Yunnan province in the past century, harbouring around 100 more types of bat-borne coronavirus. This ‘global hotspot’ is the region where genetic data suggests SARS-CoV-2 may have arisen.

“Climate change over the last century has made the habitat in the southern Chinese Yunnan province suitable for more bat species,” said Dr Robert Beyer, a researcher in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology and first author of the study, who has recently taken up a European research fellowship at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany.

He added: “Understanding how the global distribution of bat species has shifted as a result of climate change may be an important step in reconstructing the origin of the COVID-19 outbreak.”
Continue reading “Global greenhouse gas emissions over the last century have made southern China a hotspot for bat-borne coronaviruses, by driving growth of forest habitat favoured by bats”

Posted on Categories Forests, Land Use, Sustainable Living, TransportationTags , , , ,

What’s the future of Sonoma County’s fire ordinance?

Deborah Eppstein, Craig Harrison & Marylee Guinon, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

Amid another extreme fire season, concerned Sonoma County residents wonder why their Board of Supervisors is fervently working to exempt new development on unsafe roads from Cal Fire safety standards.

Residents as well as the following advocacy groups submitted opposition letters: Bennett Valley Residents for Safe Development, Forests Unlimited, General Plan Update Environmental Coalition, Greenbelt Alliance, Preserve Rural Sonoma County, Save Our Sonoma Neighborhoods, Sierra Club, Sonoma County Conservation Council and Wine and Water Watch.

For the fourth time this year, the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (BOF) has refused to certify Sonoma County’s Fire Safe Ordinance, as it does not meet safety standards. Subsequently, on November 4, the BOF unanimously adopted a moratorium on considering county certifications, having wasted untold hours and public dollars during 2020 evaluating Sonoma County’s flawed ordinances.

Cal Fire standards require new development to provide concurrent emergency vehicle access and egress of residents during a wildfire. We question why our Supervisors refuse to protect firefighters and the public in the wildland urban interface.

• What motives could justify knowingly sacrificing lives and property? Is it to promote unfettered housing and commercial development in high fire hazard locations?

• Does the County strive to eliminate all constraints to new development thereby preserving its micro-management of the approval process? Given the Supervisors have put off the General Plan indefinitely, perhaps the County lacks the strategic framework and fortitude to lead with policy?

• Or were the Supervisors woefully misinformed by County Counsel concerning the Ordinance’s lack of standards, which failed to meet Cal Fire standards?

An October 23 BOF letter (p. 2) stated BOF staff “have significant concerns” that Sonoma County’s standards do not “allow concurrent civilian evacuation.” It emphasized (p. 8) the County’s failure to cooperate, refusing even to respond to direct questions: “Sonoma County has had repeated opportunities to identify and provide citations for these standards. Sonoma County repeatedly declines to do so.”

Sonoma County finally acknowledged this fiasco and removed its request for certification from the November BOF agenda.
Continue reading “What’s the future of Sonoma County’s fire ordinance?”

Posted on Categories Forests, Local Organizations, WaterTags , , , ,

West County environmentalists recognized

Camille Escovedo, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

Sonoma County Conservation Council’s “Environmentalist of the Year” award to Rick Coates, Chris Poehlmann and Maya Khosla

The Sonoma County Conservation Council bestowed this year’s Ernestine I. Smith “Environmentalist of the Year” award upon three local luminaries of the environmental justice movement at its holiday networking and environmental awards ceremony Friday, co-hosted with the Sonoma Group of the Sierra Club.

The council named Maya Khosla, Rick Coates and Chris Poehlmann as its three “forest champions.” Khosla is a wildlife biologist, filmmaker and poet laureate of Sonoma County whose recent Legacy Project sought to address the 2017 Tubbs Fire and regeneration with poetry in open spaces, as stated by her website. Meanwhile, the careers of Coates and Poehlmann draw them deep into the West County forests and often the courtroom, maneuvering the legal system to prevent logging projects that jeopardize regional watersheds and forests.

“Not all grassroots organizers are really good at the technical bureaucracy of multi-page permits, understanding the fine details, but these two men have been really, really good at both of those, and try to do as much as possible within the regulatory framework,” according to Wendy Krupnick, council secretary and a member of the annual event’s organizing committee. “But occasionally, when that does not work, the only avenue left is a lawsuit.”

She said the Sonoma County Conservation Council (SCCC) receives nominations from the broader environmental justice community for review by a subcommittee of primarily members of the SCCC’s board of directors. The awardees receive a certification from the California state legislature honoring their contributions to environmental advocacy, Krupnick said.
Continue reading “West County environmentalists recognized”

Posted on Categories ForestsTags , , ,

Despite what the logging industry says, cutting down trees isn’t stopping catastrophic wildfires

Tony Schick and Jes Burns, OPB

For decades, Oregon’s timber industry has promoted the idea that private, logged lands are less prone to wildfires. The problem? Science doesn’t support that.

As thousands of Oregon homes burned to rubble last month, the state’s politicians joined the timber industry in blaming worsening wildfires on the lack of logging.

Echoing a longstanding belief in the state that public forests are the problem, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican who represents eastern Oregon, equated the federal government’s management to that of “a slum lord.” And Democratic Gov. Kate Brown on “Face the Nation” accused Republicans in the state Legislature of blocking measures, proposed by a wildfire council, that would have increased logging on public lands.

In the decades since government restrictions reduced logging on federal lands, the timber industry has promoted the idea that private lands are less prone to wildfires, saying that forests thick with trees fuel bigger, more destructive blazes. An analysis by OPB and ProPublica shows last month’s fires burned as intensely on private forests with large-scale logging operations as they did, on average, on federal lands that cut fewer trees.

In fact, private lands that were clear-cut in the past five years, with thousands of trees removed at once, burned slightly hotter than federal lands, on average. On public lands, areas that were logged within the past five years burned with the same intensity as those that hadn’t been cut, according to the analysis.

“The belief people have is that somehow or another we can thin our way to low-intensity fire that will be easy to suppress, easy to contain, easy to control. Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Jack Cohen, a retired U.S. Forest Service scientist who pioneered research on how homes catch fire.

The timber industry has sought to frame logging as the alternative to catastrophic wildfires through advertising, legislative lobbying and attempts to undermine research that has shown forests burn more severely under industrial management, according to documents obtained by OPB, The Oregonian/OregonLive and ProPublica.

Read more at: https://www.opb.org/article/2020/10/31/logging-wildfire-forest-management/