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Save the Redwoods League releases book on state of redwood forests on 100th anniversary

Meg McConahey, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

… California’s state tree is not out of the woods. More than a million acres of redwood forests remain unprotected, managed for timber. And even the protected forests’ health is threatened by the degraded land surrounding them, Hodder said. Some forests have been logged multiple times. Among the league’s current initiatives is to help existing forests regenerate, a difficult task considering the complexity of the old growth ecosystems that developed over millennia.

They are among the most awe-inspiring natural wonders of the world. As Mother Nature’s skyscrapers, redwoods are among the tallest living things on the planet — the most gargantuan approaching 400 feet. And although not the oldest — the bristlecone pine has a longer lifespan by a good measure — the most senior denizens of the redwood forests were alive during the lifetime of Julius Caesar.

Today, less than five percent of the original 2.2 million acres of coast redwood forests, which once covered the Northern California and Southern Oregon coast for more than 200 million years, still survive.

It took a scant 150 years for loggers and then major timber companies to fell California’s primeval forests. But one organization, the Save the Redwoods League, can be credited with helping to preserve what was left of these titans that had flourished since the days of the dinosaurs.

The conservation organization, which claims credit for helping to preserve 212,000 acres of coast redwoods and their cousins, the giant sequoias that inhabit the western slope of the Sierra, is celebrating its centennial, and marking the event with publication of a new book, “The Once and Future Forest: California’s Iconic Redwoods.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/lifestyle/9162305-181/save-the-redwoods-league-releases

 

 

 

 

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Nonprofit restores Sonoma County’s natural habitat with oak tree seedlings

Hannah Beausang, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

When Natalie Portis first stepped onto her property in Sonoma nearly 20 years ago, she was immediately enchanted by the verdant natural landscape and the stately oak trees.

Portis’ wooded oasis was among the thousands of acres of forests and oak-studded landscapes that burned in the October 2017 Nuns fire, which claimed her home and an estimated 700 trees on her 10-acre Castle Road property.

“It still feels surreal,” Portis, 59, said. “It was devastating to go back there and see the singed trees. I just remember being there and feeling the grief and toll of such loss.”

She’s rebuilding her home and plans to move in this summer. It’s been a “painful” process, but a bright spot came last month as she planted 21 oak tree seedlings sprouted from acorns collected by local volunteers in the weeks after the devastating wildfires two years ago in Sonoma County.

“It was very playful and very sweet, and it put a huge smile on my face,” she said of planting the young coast live oaks on her property with help from members of the California Native Plant Society. “I feel like I’m going to get back home.”

Oak trees have long defined the bucolic landscapes of Sonoma County and played a critical role in shaping its natural habitat. Recognizing the need to preserve and proliferate the native species after the fires, the California Native Plant Society and its local Milo Baker chapter — named after the noted Santa Rosa botanist — quickly launched efforts in 2017 to harvest acorns from areas near burn zones in the county and surrounding communities.

“Oaks are really the powerhouses of our ecosystem here in California when it comes to native plants,” said Liv O’Keeffe, senior director of communication and engagement for the environmental nonprofit society. “A single oak can literally support hundreds of insects, pollinators, birds, critters and other plant species. Having those oaks in place keeps an ecosystem intact.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9116919-181/nonprofit-restores-sonoma-countys-natural

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Report: Sonoma County’s natural resources worth billions

Hannah Beausang, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

Conservation advocates have long touted the need to preserve Sonoma County’s bucolic landscape, but a report released last week for first time assigned a dollar value to those open spaces and their natural resources.

The value of services provided by undeveloped and working lands, both public and private, in Sonoma County ranges from $2.2 to $6.6 billion annually, according to the report from the Healthy Lands and Healthy Economies Initiative. The study stems from a years-long collaboration between open space and conservation districts in Sonoma, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.

“It’s clear that our community values open space and working lands, but the main point of the report is that not only do we value them, but these lands have an immense value that’s not commonly understood in the typical market framework,” said Karen Gaffney, conservation planning manager for the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District.

The report assigns value to a variety of ecosystems. It accounts for green spaces that absorb runoff to curb flooding while filtering out pollutants. It highlights the benefit of soil, which captures and stores atmospheric carbon and sustains ground cover to prevent damaging erosion. It quantifies the public health benefit provided by trees and plants, which boost air quality, and of open spaces that harbor insect- and wildlife that can limit pests.

It’s the first clear picture of the total estimated value of Sonoma County’s “natural capital,” or its stock of natural assets, and the way they can provide cost-effective alternatives to man-made infrastructure.

Read more at https://www.sonomanews.com/news/8981145-181/report-sonoma-countys-natural-resources

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Sonoma County Superior Court rules in favor of Friends of Gualala River’s second lawsuit over the “Dogwood” floodplain timber harvest plan

Friends of the Gualala River

Sonoma County Superior Court once again has ruled in favor of Friends of Gualala River (FoGR) in its lawsuit against CAL FIRE’s approval of logging of coastal floodplain redwood forest in hundreds of acres of the Wild and Scenic Gualala River. The controversial “Dogwood” timber harvest plan (THP) proposed by Gualala Redwoods Timber LLC has been opposed by public protests, petitions, and litigation since 2015.

On October 16, 2018, Judge René Chouteau concluded that the second Dogwood THP failed to meet California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements for evaluating project alternatives with less environmental impact, and for assessing cumulative environmental impacts to the river, forest and floodplain, in addition to those from the Dogwood THP itself.

FoGR, Forest Unlimited, and California Native Plant Society previously sued CAL FIRE over similar environmental review flaws in the first Dogwood THP (1-15-042), and prevailed in case SCV 259216, requiring CAL FIRE to revoke the permit to log “Dogwood” in March, 2017. The applicant, Gualala Redwoods Timber (GRT), resubmitted the logging plan with minimal corrections, and CAL FIRE again approved it over major public opposition on March 30, 2018. FoGR again sued over the same basic flaws in CAL FIRE’s environmental review process for “Dogwood II” in case SCV 262241.

In agreement with legal precedents, the Court stated in “Dogwood II” that it is “absolutely clear” that THPs must be functionally equivalent to Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs). THPs must meet the same fundamental standards of CEQA with regard to evaluation of alternatives that reduce impacts to the environment, which the Court reaffirmed is “one of the most important functions of an EIR.” The Court ruled that CAL FIRE’s position on THP requirements for alternatives analysis was incorrect, and its discussion of alternatives for Dogwood simply presented no information, analysis, or explanation of how it reached its conclusions in rejecting all alternatives as infeasible. FoGR argued that CAL FIRE uncritically accepted the prejudicial arguments of the applicant, Gualala Redwoods Timber, in rejecting alternatives without analysis.

Read more at http://gualalariver.org/forestry/floodplain-logging/sonoma-county-superior-court-rules-in-favor-of-friends-of-gualala-rivers-second-lawsuit-over-the-dogwood-floodplain-timber-harvest-plan/

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Sudden oak death diminishes after dry winter

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A dry winter curtailed the presence of a deadly forest pathogen this year in Sonoma County and 13 other Northern and Central California counties, but experts still expect the oak-killing disease to spread and warned landowners to be vigilant.

Since the mid-1990s, sudden oak death has killed up to 50 million trees from Big Sur to southwest Oregon and is entrenched in the woodlands, spreading rapidly after wet winters and slower during dry years.

“It’s constant, it’s emerging,” said Richard Cobb, an assistant professor of forest health at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. “It’s probably going to get a lot worse.”

Cobb said Monday he’s about to publish his estimate of tree mortality, 90 percent of which are tanoaks and most of the rest coast live oaks. Another 100 million trees may be infected by the insidious pathogen that typically takes one or two years to produce symptoms in the infected trees, he said.

The pathogen can be spread by human footprints and nursery plants, but in nature it rides on water droplets blown from the leaves of bay laurel trees, a host species that abounds among the oak and tanoak trees susceptible to the disease.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8835811-181/dry-winter-curtails-fatal-disease

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Wildfires: Managing the risk

Dan Farber, LEGAL PLANET

How can we limit the spread of wildfires and save people and property?

Wildfires are already a serious problem, and climate change will only make the problem worse, as I’ve discussed in my two prior posts. Reducing carbon emissions can help keep the problem from growing, but we need to deal with the risks we’re already facing. That is going to require a portfolio of risk management strategies. We need to ramp up all of them.
Land Use Controls.

There are increasing numbers of people moving into the wild-land urban interface (WUI).The USDA’s report on the WUI says that 3.8 million people live in that zone in California alone. Nationally, a million homes were added to the WUI just in the decade from 1990-2000. That simply isn’t sustainable.

Human activities increase the risk of fire from sparks or burns, and homes are typically highly flammable and help fires spread more quickly. Better land use controls could limit development in high risk areas. Easier said than done, however, given development pressures. According to a 2013 study, ” land use planning for wildfire has yet to gain traction in practice, particularly in the United States. However, fire history has been used to help define land zoning for fire planning in Italy, and bushfire hazard maps are integrated into planning policy in Victoria, Australia.” By 2016, however, Headwaters Economics was reporting on five Western US cities that were taking advantage of at least some land use tools to reduce fire risks, though none seem to have imposed outright bans on development in high-risk areas.

Buyouts may be a fallback in extreme situations. Building codes can also help — for instance, by requiring fire-resistant roofs on new houses. Liability rules for fires have to be carefully considered. Making utilities liable for fires can cause them to take greater precautions, but the prospect of compensation could also encourage people to live in unsafe areas. On the other hand, fire insurance costs can send an important price signal about the risks of WUI property ownership, as some Californians are already beginning to experience.
Land Management.

Read more at http://legal-planet.org/2018/10/08/wildfires-managing-the-risks/

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

We came, we planned, we were wrong

Pete Parkinson, NORTHERN NEWS (California Chapter of the American Planning Association)

You are all too familiar with the headline by now: California Is Burning.

Last fall, more than 6,000 homes were destroyed in Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino counties (including my own home near Santa Rosa). Homes went up in flames in rural, sub-urban, and urban settings, including 3,000 homes lost within the city limits of Santa Rosa.

CalFire had designated some of those areas as very-high wildfire hazard; others (including my neighborhood) were considered “only” moderate wildfire hazard. Still other areas — like the suburban Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa where over 1,300 homes were lost — were not considered wildfire hazards at all.

This year has brought no relief. As I write (in mid-August), we’ve seen new wildfires sweep into the city of Redding and threaten Yosemite National Park. The Mendocino Complex, the largest wildfire in California history (eclipsing a record set only a few months ago in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties) continues to burn 45 miles north of Santa Rosa.

Wildfire hazards have been a consistent theme in my career as a planner and planning director in three northern California counties (Napa, Sonoma, and Santa Cruz). I have
overseen the preparation of General Plan Safety Elements, Local Hazard Mitigation Plans, and regulatory codes that addressed the full range of hazard management strategies, including road access, water supply, defensible space, and structural design. The underlying theme of these efforts was a belief that wildfire risks can be managed to an acceptable level of public safety, if not eliminated altogether. In fact,
I cannot recall any development project that was denied, or where the density was substantially reduced, because of known wildfire hazards.

The firestorm that swept into our Santa Rosa community last October has fundamentally changed my thinking about development in California’s fire-prone landscapes. Now, 10 months post-catastrophe, let me offer a few lessons learned from one planner’s perspective.

Read more at https://norcalapa.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Oct18.pdf

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Sustainable LivingTags , , , ,

‘It’s getting worse:’ Climate change stokes fiery future for California

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Striding through the brown, sun-dried grass on a slope at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, Caitlin Cornwall stopped to touch a slender stalk of blue wild rye, crowned by a tasseled seed pod.

The 3,900-acre park in the Mayacamas Mountains near Kenwood was largely overrun by the Nuns fire in October, and the signs of recovery are abundant. Most of the live oak, bay and madrone trees survived; smaller Douglas firs perished and are being dismantled by beetles and woodpeckers.

The grasslands are generally healthier than they were before last fall’s blaze and could readily burn again, said Cornwall, a biologist with Sonoma Ecology Center, which has managed the park since 2012.

“This is all a fire-created natural community,” she said. The park burned in 1964, also by a fire named Nuns.

Indeed, fire shaped the drought-prone landscape for thousands of years, as Native Americans used it to maintain meadows and forests that provided deer, elk and acorns for food as well as grasses for basketry.

But now, climate change has thrown the symbiosis of humans, fire and the landscape into catastrophic disarray. Much of California is a yearround tinderbox, with fast-moving wildfires erupting so quickly this year that firefighters have rushed from one to the next, with the usual peak of the fire season still to come.

“It just takes one spark,” said Scott McLean, a deputy chief with Cal Fire, the state’s firefighting and forestry agency.

As heat-trapping gases continue to pour into the atmosphere and temperatures inch upward, drawing moisture from the soil and vegetation, the state’s vast landscape is growing increasingly volatile, costing lives and billions of dollars in fire damages.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8737270-181/its-getting-worse-climate-change

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Judge puts controversial Healdsburg logging plan on hold

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Planned logging near a Healdsburg stream that provides some of the last refuge in the region for wild coho salmon has been put on hold after a court decision overturned a timber harvest plan for the 160-acre site.

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau determined last month that the plan approved by Cal Fire last fall inadequately analyzed potential impacts for endangered and threatened fish species in Felta Creek and the greater Russian River watershed into which it drains.

Chouteau also agreed with neighbors’ claim that property owner Ken Bareilles failed to sufficiently address the effects of logging trucks on narrow roadways and five rural bridges they would travel to haul lumber from the remote parcel.

The resolution is unlikely to be the final chapter in the dispute, with both sides anticipating ongoing legal battles.

“The land isn’t safe until it has a conservation easement on it or a harvest plan geared for limited, smaller-scale logging, said Lucy Kotter, a one-time forester and a spokeswoman for Friends of Felta Creek, which was formed to block the plan.

Bareilles, a Eureka attorney, said Wednesday he still hopes he can start logging in the spring and intended to revise and resubmit his timber harvest plan for approval in the meantime.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8729540-181/judge-puts-controversial-healdsburg-logging

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The era of megafires: the crisis facing California and what will happen next

Daniel Swain, Crystal Kolden and John Abatzoglou, THE GUARDIAN

Three scientists explain the unprecedented danger facing the western US and call for new solutions to a growing threat from building in wildlands, fire suppression and climate change.

California is no stranger to fire. The temperate winters and reliably dry summers that make the Golden state such an attractive place to live are the same conditions that make this region among the most flammable places on Earth.

But even for a region accustomed to fire, the continuing wildfire siege has proven unprecedented. Although it is only early August, numerous very large, fast-moving, and exceptionally intense fires have already burned vast swaths of land throughout the state – consuming hundreds of thousands of acres and thousands of homes and claiming at least nine lives, including four firefighters. State and national firefighting resources are stretched to their limits; choking smoke inundated the state capital of Sacramento; and much of Yosemite national park is closed indefinitely.
Largest wildfire in California’s history expected to burn for rest of August
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California’s governor, Jerry Brown, has characterized these devastating wildfires as California’s “new normal”. But it would be a mistake to assume that the region has reached any semblance of a stable plateau. Instead, the likelihood of large, fast-moving, and dangerous wildfires will continue to increase in the coming decades – and it will combine with other demographic and ecological shifts to produce a large increase in the risk of megafires that threaten both human lives and the ecosystems we depend upon.

Immediately on the heels of California’s deadliest and most destructive fire season, just a year ago, the early ferocity of 2018 has unnerved even veteran firefighters. While the number of fires in California to date is unremarkable, the total area burned is extraordinary: five times the five-year average, in a decade that has already been characterized by fire activity well above historical levels.

The causes are complex, and people are part of the problem. In 1980, 24 million people lived in California; today there are nearly 40 million. Much of this population growth has occurred outside of the dense urban core of cities, resulting in rapid expansion of housing in suburban and semi-rural areas adjacent to wildlands.

Of the tens of thousands of homes burned by wildfires in California in recent decades, nearly all were located in this suburban-rural borderland. With housing shortages and high prices plaguing cities throughout the state, it is unsurprising that residents build on the fringes, places often replete with natural beauty. Yet residents are often unaware of the risks inherent in living there, and the need to mitigate those risks accordingly – their lives may depend upon it.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/aug/07/california-wildfires-megafires-future-climate-change