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Flooding in Sonoma County causes estimated $155 million in damage

Nashelly Chavez, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The powerful storm that swept over Sonoma County last week caused an estimated $155 million in damage to homes, businesses, roads and other public infrastructure, county officials announced Saturday.

The updated assessment came at the end of a week marked by the largest flood on the lower Russian River in nearly a quarter century. Guernville and other riverside communities took the heaviest blow, but flooding elsewhere — in Sebastopol, Healdsburg and Geyserville — led to widespread damage countywide, said Tennis Wick, director of Permit Sonoma, the county’s planning and building agency.

Approximately 1,900 homes were affected, with major damage reported at 1,760, according to the county.

Flooding impacted 578 commercial buildings and businesses, including restaurants, pubs, resorts, stores and theaters.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9342974-181/flooding-causes-estimated-155-million?sba=AAS

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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/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, WaterTags , , , , Leave a comment on Floodplain restoration catching on amid predictions of wetter years ahead

Floodplain restoration catching on amid predictions of wetter years ahead

Henry Fountain, THE NEW YORK TIMES

For years, there has been a movement in California to restore floodplains, by moving levees back from rivers and planting trees, shrubs and grasses in the low-lying land between. The goal has been to go back in time, to bring back some of the habitat for birds, animals and fish that existed before the state was developed.

But in addition to recreating the past, floodplain restoration is increasingly seen as a way of coping with the future — one of human-induced climate change. The reclaimed lands will flood more readily, and that will help protect cities and towns from the more frequent and larger inundations that scientists say are likely as California continues to warm.

“We thought we were just going to plant some trees out here and get some birds to move in,” said Julie Rentner, executive vice president of River Partners, a conservation group that is restoring hundreds of acres of farmland on the outskirts of Modesto in the Central Valley, where agriculture has overwhelmed the natural environment. “Now we’ve got this whole much larger public benefit thing going on.”

Researchers say it is unclear whether climate change will make California drier or wetter on average. What is more certain is that the state will increasingly whipsaw between extremes, with drier dry years, wetter wet ones and a rising frequency of intense periods of precipitation.

Climate models agree that “this really big increase in wet events is quite likely,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California at Los Angeles and an author of a recent paper on the expected changes. “There’s just so much more moisture in the atmosphere in a warming world.”

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/15/climate/california-is-preparing-for-extreme-weather-its-time-to-plant-some-trees.html

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Court halts logging again on Gualala River property

Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

Logging on the Gualala River was halted again last week when a judge ruled in favor of the Friends of the Gualala River and against Cal Fire, the state’s forestry agency.

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau halted the planned timber harvest while a legal clash continues over potential environmental damage from the Gualala Redwood Timber (GRT) company’s plan to selectively log about 350 acres of mature redwoods on its property known as “Dogwood.”

The Dogwood logging plan “is distinguished by the unprecedented extent of logging over hundreds of acres along miles of floodplains that include special habitats for steelhead, salmon, and protected rare plants, wetlands, and wildlife,” said Friends of the Gualala Redwoods in a media announcement of the court decision. It “also contains some of the largest, oldest and most mature redwood stands left in the Gualala River flats.”

Chouteau’s decision marks the second time in two years that Friends of the Gualala River (FoGR) has won a court order to halt GRT logging in the 100-year-old forest near the Gualala River estuary.

Two years ago Friends of Gualala River, Forest Unlimited, and the California Native Plant Society prevailed in a lawsuit against Cal Fire’s approval of GRT’s first Dogwood logging plan.

The first Cal Fire permit was vacated last year after Chouteau ruled that, in approving the timber harvest plan, Cal Fire had violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Chouteau gave Cal Fire the opportunity to fix and resubmit the logging plan to comply with CEQA. GRT submitted an amended version of the plan late last year.

Friends of Gualala again sued Cal Fire over the new plan, alleging it had “essentially the same CEQA and Forest Practices Act violations that it found in the first version of the plan,” said the group’s attorney Edward Yates.

Read more at http://www.sonomawest.com/sonoma_west_times_and_news/news/court-halts-logging-again-on-gualala-river-property/article_67c453d0-6f47-11e8-9192-7be5d70387cb.html

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Disputed Gualala logging plan earns second approval from state

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A controversial plan to log miles of Gualala River floodplain, including nearly century-old redwood trees just outside Gualala Point Regional Park, is back on track, setting the stage for a showdown in court or perhaps among the trees themselves.

Charll Stoneman, forest manager for Gualala Redwood Timber, which owns the land, said logging won’t begin until at least mid-May — after completion of final surveys required to ensure the absence of breeding Northern spotted owls, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

But Stoneman said he thinks the revised plan is “bulletproof,” given additions requested by Cal Fire, the state forestry agency, which eventually approved the document. If a judge intervenes, then “we wait for Cal Fire, and go on from there,” Stoneman said.

“Ultimately, the expectation is that, in time, we’ll harvest,” he said. “It’s just a matter of when.”
But opponents — after thwarting attempts to log the area once already by convincing a judge the timber harvest plan failed to analyze environmental impacts fully — sued Cal Fire again this month, just days after the agency renewed its approval.

There is quiet talk of civil disobedience to block operations in the 342-acre harvest area if a judge doesn’t stop it first. Critics already have staged monitors around the area at least twice since the plan was approved March 30 to listen for the sound of chainsaws that would signal logging had started.

“We were prepared to protest, if necessary,” said Charlie Ivor, president of Friends of the Gualala River, the chief plaintiff. “This is an egregiously organized timber harvest plan that is unprecedented, and it’s the community’s last chance to save these trees.”

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8205038-181/disputed-gualala-logging-plan-earns

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Threat to Gualala River Dogwood Forest logging ends with court decision

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

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California flood protection starts giving rivers more room 

Ellen Knickmeyer, ASSOCIATED PRESS
After more than a century of building levees higher to hold back its rivers, California took another step Friday toward a flood-control policy that aims to give raging rivers more room to spread out instead.

The plan, adopted by the flood-control board for the Central Valley, a 500-mile swathe from Mount Shasta to Bakersfield that includes the state’s two largest rivers and the United States’ richest agricultural region, emphasizes flood plains, wetlands and river bypasses as well as levees.
Backers say the changing strategy will better handle the rising seas and heavier rain of climate change, which is projected to send two-thirds more water thundering down the Central Valley’s San Joaquin River at times of flooding.
The idea: “Spread it out, slow it down, sink it in, give the river more room,” said Kris Tjernell, special assistant for water policy at California’s Natural Resources Agency.
Handled right, the effort will allow farmers and wildlife — including native species harmed by the decades of concrete-heavy flood-control projects — to make maximum use of the rivers and adjoining lands as well, supporters say.
They point to Northern California’s Yolo Bypass, which this winter again protected California’s capital, Sacramento, from near-record rains. Wetlands and flood plains in the area allow rice farmers, migratory birds and baby salmon all to thrive there.
For farmers, the plan offers help moving to crops more suitable to seasonally flooded lands along rivers, as well as payments for lending land to flood control and habitat support.

Read more at: California Flood Protection Starts Giving Rivers More Room | California News | US News

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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.

Posted on Categories Forests, Habitats, WaterTags , , , , , ,

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

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Sonoma County to spearhead plan to restore Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
After living along the Laguna de Santa Rosa for decades, Joe Aggio and his family have grown accustomed to having their land swamped with water, as has been the case this year, the waterway swollen to its greatest extent in more than a decade.
But the floodplain around their dairy farm also has become much more of a nuisance over the years.
Aggio, 32, said the wetland around his farm between Occidental Road and Guerneville Road used to be manageable and clean, flooding in the winter before draining off so his family could grow crops to feed their cows. But the waterway has become increasingly plugged with sediment, invasive Ludwigia plants, garbage and other discarded items like shopping carts and couches, he said.
“It no longer flows. It no longer drains. It’s just a stagnant mess,” Aggio said. “We’ve lost crops because of it. We haven’t gotten crops in because of it … It’s become increasingly difficult to farm the land.”
So Aggio’s hopes were raised recently when Sonoma County Water Agency officials secured a grant to move forward with plans that could eventually help alleviate the challenges faced by his farm and other landowners along the 22-mile waterway.
With funds from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Water Agency and environmental groups are embarking on a massive planning effort to revitalize the watershed that stretches from Cotati north to Windsor and takes in rural areas east and west of Santa Rosa.
The watershed, which includes Mark West and Santa Rosa creeks and many other smaller streams and wetlands, has been altered significantly over generations by agricultural and urban development.
One result of its transformation is the Laguna now fills with more sediment than it once did, at times hampering its ability to drain floodwaters into the Russian River.
“If this happens over a very long period of time — we’re talking hundreds of years — that eventually will get to a point where it could back up drainage back into Santa Rosa, Cotati and Rohnert Park,” said Mike Thompson, assistant general manager of the county Water Agency. “This is well beyond our lifetimes, but if it keeps filling up like that, the storage and flood protection of the Laguna that naturally occurs is being taken away.”
Armed with $517,000 in state grant funds, the Water Agency and other groups expect to spend the next three years developing a comprehensive restoration plan for the watershed. Project partners include the San Francisco Estuary Institute and the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation.
Read more at: Sonoma County to spearhead plan to restore Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed | The Press Democrat