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
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A Sonoma County judge has halted logging operations tied to a disputed timber harvest plan in the Gualala River watershed until a court challenge against the project can be resolved.
Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau granted a preliminary injunction Wednesday, affirming an earlier tentative ruling in which he said environmentalists challenging the plan had a strong enough case to justify a court-ordered freeze on the work.
Continued felling of trees in the project area, near the coast along the Sonoma-Mendocino county border, would alter the environment in a manner that could not be rectified were plaintiffs to prevail in the lawsuit and approval of the logging plan withdrawn, Chouteau said.
“Once you cut these trees down and actually damage these areas, that’s it,” said Chris Poehlmann, president of Friends of the Gualala River, a group pressing the lawsuit along with Forestville-based Forest Unlimited. Chouteau’s ruling did not address the validity of the arguments in the case, tentatively set for a Nov. 29 hearing.
At issue are plans by Gualala Redwood Timber to selectively log 330 acres of redwood forest spread among nearly a dozen spots along the lower river. The so-called Dogwood harvest plan, approved by Cal Fire on July 1, covers an area logged in the past and includes stands of large second-growth redwood trees, some of which are a century old.
Read more at: Gualala River logging project suspended by Sonoma County judge | The Press Democrat
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
On July 1, 2016, CAL FIRE approved the five mile long, 400+ acre “Dogwood” timber harvest plan (THP; logging permit) that lies entirely within the floodplain of the designated Wild and Scenic Gualala River.
Under current California forestry regulations, the floodplain (riparian) redwood forest is supposed to be protected against all logging disturbances like skid trails and haul roads used to move logs out, but CAL FIRE waived those protective rules when asked to grant a massive “exception” to the rules.
Unless the approval is challenged and stopped, Gualala Redwoods Timber will proceed to cut 90-100 year old redwoods and build roads through floodplain wetlands and rare plants and in over five miles of floodplains – sensitive habitats and resources that have not even been surveyed in advance of the approval.
Read more at: ‘Dogwood’ floodplain logging plan approved over opposition
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Cal Fire has granted final approval to a contentious timber harvest plan that includes logging century-old redwood trees along the lower Gualala River, though environmental advocates who object may challenge it.
The 330-acre “Dogwood” harvest plan had been subjected to a rare three rounds of public review and comment before being given a green light Friday by the state fire and forestry agency, which pronounced the final version in full conformance with state rules.
Forester Henry Alden, a spokesman for Gualala Redwood Timber Inc., which acquired the land last year, said logging would begin this summer — and soon — barring outside interference.
But environmental groups, including Forest Unlimited and Friends of the Gualala River, have said they were willing to take the case to court if Cal Fire failed to block the plan.
Despite assurances from state regulators who have inspected the property, opponents contend the plan violates rules meant to protect sensitive wetland habitats and floodplains from disturbance — a point Alden strongly disputes. Critics additionally say the extent of planned tree removal along miles of lower watershed could have dangerous cumulative effects on water quality and wildlife habitat. They also oppose provisions for pumping water from the river for suppressing dust along skid roads during logging.
Friends of the Gualala River president Chris Poehlmann said Monday it was too soon after the release of final documents to say with certainty whether legal action would be pursued. Both the nonprofit he leads and Forestville-based Forest Unlimited have been raising funds for a potential suit.
Read more at: Cal Fire agrees to logging of redwoods on Lower Gualala River | The Press Democrat
A disputed plan to log century- old redwoods along the Gualala River is running into stiff opposition from environmentalists who say the days of timber operations near North Coast streams, even on land long used for commercial logging, should be over.
Opponents of the proposed timber harvest in northwestern Sonoma County are again taking aim at a project they say poses potential harm to wildlife and plants. It would harvest trees on about 330 acres in the river’s flood plain.
The use of heavy equipment in such an area to handle and haul away downed trees is not appropriate and shouldn’t be allowed by the state, opponents say.
“It’s an ecosystem. It’s not just a tree farm,” said Chris Poehlmann, president of Friends of the Gualala River, a nonprofit group that has taken a tough stand on other logging and vineyard conversion projects in the watershed, home to greatly diminished runs of coho salmon and steelhead trout.
But representatives of Gualala Redwood Timber Inc. say the proposed logging, revised from original plans, is not the intense harvest that critics fear and will be carried out with safeguards for the environment. The company is the relatively new owner of more than 29,000 acres of timberland straddling the Sonoma-Mendocino county line and stretching inland from the coastal town of Gualala and the mouth of the Gualala River, site of a Sonoma County park.
State rules prohibit any logging within 30 feet of a stream, said Gualala Redwood Timber spokesman Henry Alden, and require 80 percent of the canopy cover left intact within 150 feet.
Read more at: Logging plan along Gualala River faces opposition | The Press Democrat
Will Parrish, THE ANDERSON VALLEY ADVERTISER
Campaigns to save majestic coastal redwood groves have been waged for more than a century, starting with the campaign that created Big Basin State Park in 1902. In 1978, the Sierra Club even dubbed its successful campaign to expand Redwood State and National Park the “last battle” of “the redwood war,” but the battles to protect this globally recognized icon of nature threatened by human greed would only intensify.
In 1985, a junk-bond dealer named Charles Hurwitz engineered a hostile takeover of Humboldt County’s most respected logging company, Pacific Lumber, and folded it into Houston-based investment company Maxxam. Meanwhile, Louisiana-Pacific, a Georgia-Pacific spin-off, was cutting its more than 300,000 acres in Mendocino and Sonoma counties at roughly three times the forest’s rate of growth.
“We need everything that’s out there,” Louisiana-Pacific CEO Harry Merlo told Mike Geniella of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat in 1989 “We log to infinity. Because it’s out there and we need it all, now.”
This unruly phase of the story involves the birth of radical environmentalism on the North Coast, complete with tree sits and road blockades, and culminates in the campaign to save the largest remaining area of unprotected old-growth redwoods in California, and thus the world: the Headwaters forest, located between Fortuna and Eureka. Riding the tide of public opinion, President Bill Clinton made saving Headwaters an election pitch in 1996, and in 1999 the state and federal governments purchased 7,500 acres to establish the Headwaters Forest Reserve.
This year, a new redwood crusade has emerged, this time in northwestern Sonoma County. Gualala Redwoods Timber (GRT), owner of 29,500 acres in northwestern Sonoma and southwestern Mendocino counties, plans to log hundreds of large second-growth redwoods in the Gualala River’s sensitive floodplain. The ”Dogwood” plan encompasses 320 acres, making it the largest Gualala River floodplain logging plan in the modern regulatory era, while the “Apple” plan features 121 acres of adjacent logging and 90 acres of clear-cuts.
Project critic Peter Baye, a coastal ecologist affiliated with Friends of the Gualala River and a former California Department of Fish & Wildlife regulator, says the style of logging GRT has planned is liable to batter the watershed’s badly impaired “off-channel” salmon and steelhead habitat. He also fears it will jeopardize endangered species such as the marbled murrelet and northern spotted owl, and set a dangerous precedent that erodes the intent of modern environmental statutes that are supposed to protect floodplains.“
This is basically the last mature riparian forest refuge in the watershed,” Baye says. “All of the 80- to 100-year-old trees in the watershed are gone, except these. And it’s in the critical part, next to the river and in the floodplain. Nothing else impacts salmon like this does.”
Read lots more at: Battle Heats Up Over Gualala Redwoods | Anderson Valley Advertiser
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.’ ”
The lower Gualala River has a wide meandering floodplain rich in wetlands, mature productive riparian redwood forests and highly diverse riparian habitats supporting many special-status plant, fish, and wildlife species. “Flood prone” redwood forests are supposed to be protected by avoidance of logging disturbances under special salmonid protection rules under the Forest Practices Act.
Despite the special protected status of floodplain redwood forests, Gualala Redwood Timber LLC (GRT; formerly Gualala Redwoods Inc., purchased in 2015 by Redwood Empire, owned by the Roger Burch family) proposes in the new “Dogwood” timber harvest plan (THP) to log 320 acres along 5 miles of the lower Gualala River’s redwood floodplain forest, taking 90 to 100 year old redwoods almost to the edge of Gualala Point Regional Park, and adjacent to the river’s sensitive estuary. Gualala Point Regional Park is one of the only public recreation areas in the entire watershed. The “Dogwood” THP, however, concluded with that the logging would have no effect on recreation, but with no analysis of the potential impacts of next-door logging of “Unit 1” on the regional park, and offered no mitigation.
To add to the impacts of logging hundreds of acres of floodplain redwood forest, the “Dogwood” and adjacent “Apple” THPs also propose to guzzle an incredible 25,000 gallons per day of Gualala River water during the dry season (April to November) over the 5 year timber harvest permit period. Not only does this conflict with Forest Protection Act “Anadromous Salmonid Protection” rules requiring avoidance of water drafting in forested “flood prone areas”, but the THP’s incredible determination that it would have “no effect” on flows was based on an outdated 2010 hydrology report (prepared before the current historic drought) with no consideration of the drought impacts on Gualala River’s deficient minimum summer flows, and Gualala’s municipal water supply. In addition, no analysis of the THP’s major water diversion during drought on listed salmonids was prepared. Yet the responsible agencies and affected downstream public water users have raised no red flags about the massive diversion of river water during the drought.
Aggressive logging plans previously proposed by Gualala Redwoods Inc. (GRI) have either been denied permits, or have been forced to withdraw them due to strenuous objections by resource agencies over impacts to endangered fish and wildlife species of the river and its wide riparian zone. One of the last failed efforts to log the floodplain was the GRI “Iris” timber harvest plan of 2004.
Read much more at: Massive floodplain logging plan for lower Gualala River threatens wetlands, rare plants & endangered wildlife – Friends of Gualala River