Dan Silver, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
A wildfire suppression plan adopted at the end of 2019 by the California Board of Forestry could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars but will do very little to actually reduce fire risk for communities in Sonoma County and throughout the state. Fire safety experts and environmental protection advocates filed suit on January 28 to block the new Vegetation Treatment Program (VTP) from going into effect.
Proposed by CalFire, the state’s fire management agency, the VTP will not provide protection against wind-driven fires. Yet it is wind-driven wildfires that caused the devastating loss of life and property seen in the state in recent years. The Kincade Fire of 2019, which was the largest fire in Sonoma County recorded history, burned almost 78,000 acres and destroyed almost 400 structures. Similarly, the Tubbs, Nuns and Pocket Fires of 2017 burned more than 85,000 acres in Sonoma and Napa Counties, destroyed 7,000 structures and killed 25 people.
Across the state, 87 percent of the destruction of homes in 2017 and 2018 was caused by only six fires, all of which were wind-driven. Yet the methods to be used by the VTP would not have prevented those six catastrophic fires.
The VTP calls for removal of native forests, sage scrub and chaparral on a grand scale – on the order of 250,000 acres each year – at enormous financial and ecological cost, including releasing more carbon into the atmosphere. This approach does not stand up to scientific scrutiny and in many locations would actually be counterproductive by promoting the growth of highly flammable weeds. In addition, the VTP does not properly differentiate between what might work for northern forests versus chaparral and sage scrub in Southern California; these habitat types require very different management approaches when it comes to wildfire safety.
Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/californias-wildfire-suppression-effort-won-t-prevent-catastrophic-fires
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/
Peter Baye and Rick Coates, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
“The real problem isn’t going to go away until the Board of Forestry and CAL FIRE follow their own rules, including CEQA. Until they do, we are not going away, either” said Charlie Ivor, president of Friends of Gualala River. “The Gualala River floodplain forest is going to be protected according to law, no exceptions.”
The lawsuit to stop logging the Gualala River floodplain redwood forest tract in the “Dogwood” timber harvest plan (THP) is over. CAL FIRE was ordered by Sonoma County Superior Court to vacate (revoke) the Gualala Redwood Timber Company timber harvest plan on April 18, 2017. CAL FIRE finally responded to the writ sending a “Notice of Director’s Decision Vacating Approval” to GRT’s forester Art Haschak on September 7, 2017, prohibiting any further logging in the Dogwood THP area. GRT must now file a new timber harvest plan if it seeks to log some or all of the floodplain redwood forest in the vacated “Dogwood” THP.
The Dogwood THP was shut down by the Court after logging on one tributary had begun. The five miles of riparian redwood forest along the main stem of the river in the Dogwood THP area has not been logged.In March, the court also ordered CAL FIRE to “reconsider” its approval of the Dogwood THP within 150 days. The Court entered judgment against CAL FIRE on March 23, 2017, based on the agency’s failure to assess any cumulative impacts of another floodplain timber harvest plan submitted by Gualala Redwood Timber during the Dogwood timber harvest plan review period, the “German South” THP.
While environmentalist plaintiffs are celebrating their victory, and the fact that the century-old floodplain redwood forest in the Dogwood THP area will be spared for now, they remain concerned CAL FIRE has not improved or reformed its environmental reviews of floodplain forest logging. The Court ordered CAL FIRE to “reconsider” approval of the Dogwood THP, including direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts to wetlands, rare plants, floodplain forest, and listed fish and wildlife species. But after being ordered to revoke the logging permit, CAL FIRE and GRT made a minimal, nominal effort to meet this order. Rather than substantially reconsider or correct the many basic environmental flaws of the timber plan, CAL FIRE and GRT minimally complied with Judge René Chouteau’s order to “reconsider” its approval by submitting only a single supplemental page, three paragraphs long, with minor changes.
Read more at: Threat to Gualala River Dogwood Forest logging ends with court decision
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
Will Parrish, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN
As a long-time resident of the Elk River basin, which drains the redwood-studded hills southeast of Eureka, Jesse Noell lives in fear of the rain. During storms of even moderate intensity, the Elk River often rises above its banks and dumps torrents of mud and sand across Noell and his neighbors’ properties. The churning surges of foamy brown water have ruined domestic water supplies, inundated vehicles, buried farmland and spilled into homes.
It first happened to Noell and his wife, Stephanie, in 2002. As the flood approached, he remained inside his home to wedge bricks and rocks beneath their furniture, and pile pictures, books and other prized possessions atop cabinets and counters. The water level was at his thighs; his body spasmed in the winter cold. Across the street, two firefighters in a raft paddled furiously against the current, carrying his neighbors—military veterans in their 60s, who were at risk of drowning—to higher ground.
After crouching and shivering atop the kitchen counter through the night, Noell was finally able to wade through the floodwater to higher ground the next morning. But the home’s sheetrock, floors, heating equipment, water tanks, floor joints, girders and septic system were destroyed. This experience wasn’t an act of nature; it was manmade.
“California has a systematic and deliberate policy to flood our homes and properties for the sake of corporate profit,” Noell says.
CAUSE AND EFFECT
The cause of the flooding is simple: logging. Since the 1980s, timber companies have logged thousands of acres of redwood trees and Douglas firs, and constructed a spider web–like network of roads to haul them away, which has caused massive erosion of the region’s geologically unstable hillsides.The deep channels and pools of the Elk River’s middle reaches have become choked with a sludge of erosion and debris six to eight feet high. Each storm—such as those that have roiled California’s coastal rivers this past week—forces the rushing water to spread out laterally, bleeding onto residents’ lands and damaging homes, vehicles, domestic water supplies, cropland and fences, while also causing suffering that corporate and government balance sheets can’t measure.
“The Elk River watershed is California’s biggest logging sacrifice area,” says Felice Pace, a longtime environmental activist who founded the Klamath Forest Alliance in northernmost California.
For roughly 20 years, the North Coast division of the State Water Resources Control Board, the agency in charge of monitoring water quality and hazards in the area, has deliberated on how to address the Elk River’s severe impairment. But they have failed to take bold action, largely because of opposition from politically well-connected timber companies and the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), the state agency that regulates commercial logging.
Read more at: Downstream | Features | North Bay Bohemian
FRIENDS OF THE GUALALA RIVER
The “Dogwood” Timber Harvest Plan (THP), an environmental review of the first major logging of the mature redwood forest on the sensitive floodplain of the Gualala River, has been sent back to CAL FIRE for a full revision. The plan is bound for a fourth cycle of public comments. CAL FIRE, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, is the state agency that regulates commercial logging.
On January 25, 2017, Judge René Chouteau of Sonoma County Superior Court 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 unanticipated early court decision to require correction of the THP’s incomplete, deficient treatment of many cumulative environmental impacts vindicates environmental organizations and many local residents who commented on and protested the Dogwood logging plan.
“We have in effect already prevailed on one CEQA issue” said Edward Yates, attorney for the plaintiffs Forest Unlimited, Friends of Gualala River, and California Native Plant Society.
Petitioners had requested that the Court consider extra-record evidence about subsequent Gualala Redwoods Timber (GRT) redwood logging plans in the same Gualala River floodplain forest as Dogwood THP. Those logging plans were filed with CAL FIRE immediately or soon after circulation of the Dogwood THP.
Mr. Yates argued that these post-Dogwood THPs were directly relevant for environmental review of Dogwood THP under CEQA and the Forest Practice Rules. Mr. Yates pointed out that these THPS were known to GRT and CAL FIRE, but not disclosed or analyzed for public review as potential cumulative impacts in the Dogwood THP as required by CEQA.
In an unexpected turn, Judge Chouteau remanded the entire Dogwood THP back to CAL FIRE, providing for a full overhaul of incomplete or defective environmental review. The Court specifically found that CAL FIRE had violated CEQA’s cumulative impact analysis requirements, and remanded the THP to CAL FIRE to provide CAL FIRE the opportunity to revise that analysis to be compliant with CEQA. Judge Chouteau held that while CAL FIRE is revising the cumulative impacts section, CAL FIRE would also have the opportunity to revise any other sections.
The Court will retain jurisdiction over the case while CAL FIRE revises the Dogwood THP again. After the revised Dogwood THP is recirculated and public comments are addressed, the Court will take up arguments again.
In the meantime, there is still an injunction suspending timber operations in the Dogwood THP area. After the Dogwood THP lawsuit was filed, however, CAL FIRE approved another GRT floodplain redwood logging plan on the Gualala River next to The Sea Ranch, the “German South” THP. In addition, CAL FIRE is preparing to approve yet another GRT floodplain logging plan on the river, “Plum” THP.“
This decision confirms that CAL FIRE failed yet again to regulate the timber industry and protect the environment,” said Larry Hanson, president of Forest Unlimited. “Despite forestry rules specifically designed to protect floodplain forests against cumulative impacts, CAL FIRE dismissed the combined impacts of piecemealed floodplain logging plans, totaling hundreds of acres and many miles, with even more on the way. This is why we had to take them to court. Fortunately, the Court is going to make them do their job.”
The unprecedented, rapid series of floodplain redwood forest logging plans is alarming both local communities and environmental organizations in the region. After decades of clear-cut logging on steep ridges by Gualala Redwoods Inc. (GRI, the predecessor of GRT), GRT is apparently now hastening to log most of the floodplain of the lower Gualala River within its ownership. GRT stated in the Dogwood THP discussion of alternatives that the alluvial flats of the river contain some of their largest redwood timber, and they are not willing to set any of them aside from timber harvest plans.
Read more at: Sonoma County Superior Court Remands Entire Dogwood Timber Harvest Plan Back to CAL FIRE for Environmental Review of Controversial Gualala River Redwood Forest Floodplain Logging – Friends of Gualala River
Glenda Anderson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
North Coast environmental groups have followed through on their threat to sue Cal Fire over its approval of a 400-acre logging operation within the floodplain of lower Gualala River.
The lawsuit, filed last week by Forest Unlimited and Friends of Gualala River, alleges state forestry officials failed to meet mandated safeguards and follow state environmental laws when they gave the go-ahead last month to the so-called “Dogwood” project, near the coast along the Sonoma-Mendocino county line.
The groups called out planned road building in the river floodplain, claiming such plans were exempted from state logging rules without adequate explanation from Cal Fire.
“Normally it (floodplain) would be protected,” said Peter Baye, with Friends of the Gualala River. The group is considering seeking an injunction to halt the harvest, which began more than a week ago.
Cal Fire officials were not available to comment, but Henry Alden, forest manager for Gualala Redwood Timber LLC, which owns the land, said the environmental groups misconstrued details of the harvest. The new forestry rules, adopted last year, don’t prohibit roads in floodplains, but rather limit their use, he said.
Read more at: Environmentalists file suit over Gualala River logging plan | The Press Democrat