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Logging plays bigger climate change role than U.S. acknowledges, report says

Georgina Gustin, INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS
The U.S. has consistently underestimated the impact that logging has on accelerating climate change and the role that preserving its forests can play in sucking carbon out of the atmosphere. That’s the conclusion of a new report that also seeks to rebut the notion that burning wood is a “carbon neutral” alternative to burning coal and oil for electricity.
Published by the Dogwood Alliance, a North Carolina-based forest conservation group, the report argues that the U.S. has placed too much emphasis on protecting the world’s tropical forests, while ignoring the logging industry’s impact on greenhouse gases released from cutting its own natural woodlands, especially older forests.
“The U.S. has just failed to acknowledge the role that the logging industry has played in the climate crisis, and has failed to embrace the need to restore old growth, intact forests across the U.S. as a critical piece of the puzzle in solving the climate crisis,” said Danna Smith, a co-author of the report.
The report comes as the issue of burning wood for energy is getting fresh attention in Washington. This week, Congress, backed by the logging industry, included language in its budget deal that would declare the burning of woody biomass for electricity “carbon neutral,” sparking the latest controversy in a long-running debate.
“We can’t log our way out of climate change,” said Kirin Kennedy, associate legislative director for lands at wildlife at the Sierra Club. “Burning wood products actually contributes more toward the increase of emissions into the atmosphere.”
Read more at: Logging Plays Bigger Climate Change Role Than U.S. Acknowledges, Report Says | InsideClimate News

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Sonoma County Forests, Part Two: Changing woodlands

Arthur Dawson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Editor’s Note: This is part two of a series about the indigenous forests that blanket Sonoma County — their past, present and threats to their future.This is the second in a series of three stories about Sonoma County forests that will be published in Sonoma Outdoors.
Part 1: The history of Sonoma County forests, January
Part 2: Where our forests stand now, February
Part 3: Our forests’ future, March
The 2017 North Coast Forest Conservation Conference, “Growing Resilience,” will take place June 7-9 at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Shone Farm, 7450 Steve Olson Lane, Forestville.
More information: Sonoma County Forest Conservation Working Group, sonomaforests.org
For the latest on the Sonoma County Vegetation map, visit sonomavegmap.org

Our forests “are undergoing a sea change,” observes Mark Tukman, founder of Tukman Geospatial, who is spearheading the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District’s development of a fine-scale vegetation map.
“I’ve spent over a year looking at aerial photos and coordinating field teams. Many of our oak woodlands are disappearing rapidly, transitioning to Douglas fir and California bay,” he said.
In many places this is visible at ground level — dead manzanitas scattered beneath oaks dying in the shade of Douglas firs — a century of change visible in a glance. Of course, oaks and firs represent just a few of our native trees. Sonoma County’s wide range of geology, soils, landforms and climate has been described as “where Alaska meets Mexico.” With 10 species of oaks and 19 conifers, our forests reflect this diversity.
Close up, they can seem infinitely complex. But if you pull back, larger patterns emerge. Moving west to east, conifers grow in parallel bands — Bishop pine along the cool coast, then redwoods, and finally Douglas fir reaching warmer areas far inland. Interspersed are woodlands of oak, bay, madrone and other hardwoods. There are no hard boundaries between any of these types — in fact mixed conifer-hardwood forests are more common than either alone.
By the early 20th century, forested lands had seen severe impacts. Logged-off tracts of redwood and Douglas fir were now brushy and crowded with young trees. Oak and madrone woodlands, leveled for firewood, had become grassland. Settlements replaced oak savannahs. By all indications, there were far less trees 100 years ago than today.
Read more at: The state of Sonoma County’s forests | The Press Democrat

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Downstream: How logging imperils the rivers of the North Coast

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

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Superior Court sends controversial redwood floodplain logging plan back to CAL FIRE for environmental review

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

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Gualala River logging project suspended by Sonoma County judge 

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

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California plans to log its drought-killed trees: may not reduce fire risk 

 Jane Braxton Little, HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

…at the heart of the logging debate is the question of whether dead trees are a fire hazard.  The conventional assumption is that insect outbreaks increase wildfire risk because dead trees are more flammable than green ones. That is a conclusion most scientists have long disputed.

Looking north from Blue Canyon near Shaver Lake, copper-colored forests blanket mountain slopes that stretch ridge after ridge to the horizon. The patches of fading green that dappled these hillsides last fall have merged into an unbroken cover of rust-needled pines.  At dusk, when the winds die down, an eerie stillness gives way to the muffled sound of munching as beetles chomp through one tree after another, thousands after thousands.

This is the look — and the sound — of drought.

Four consecutive winters with little to no snowpack, followed by four dry summers, have devastated California’s southern Sierra Nevada. At least 66 million trees are already dead statewide, and millions more are expected to die as the drought persists into a fifth summer.

On the Sierra National Forest, up to 90 percent of the mid-elevation ponderosa pines are dead.  Weakened by drought, oaks are succumbing to sudden oak death along the central and northern coast, and the disease has moved into the Central Valley. Pines gray as ghosts haunt coastal, Cascade and Sierra foothills. The epidemic is spreading across choice vistas owned by millionaires as well as remote landscapes rarely entered by humans.

And the bark beetles that caused this desolation? They’re reproducing at triple the normal rate. Forest ecologists used to consider them a natural part of the forest dynamic — and they are. Stressed by drought and decades of air pollution in overcrowded stands, however, the natural chemicals trees pitch out in self-defense can’t keep up with the onslaught of bugs.  No one is calling what’s happening here natural anymore.

“Nobody imagined this would come on as fast as it has, or be as lethal,” says Craig Thomas, conservation director for Sierra Forest Legacy, a coalition focused on Sierra Nevada national forest issues. “And nobody really knows what the hell to do.”

Overwhelmed by the die-off, forest management agencies are resorting to a century-old strategy: removing dead trees to minimize future wildfires, which they predict will be inevitable and cataclysmic. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in October, citing a public safety hazard from falling trees and worsening wildfire risks. The tree mortality task force he convened has marshaled a small army to log over 6 million acres.

Read more at: California plans to log its drought-killed trees (Forest fatalities) — High Country News

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‘Dogwood’ floodplain logging plan approved over opposition

Friends of the Gualala River, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

For more information, go to the Friends of the Gualala River website.

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

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Cal Fire agrees to logging of redwoods on lower Gualala River 

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

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Massive floodplain logging plan for lower Gualala River threatens wetlands, rare plants & endangered wildlife

Peter Baye, FRIENDS OF THE GUALALA RIVER

Gualala River floodplain
The moist ground layer of the Gualala River redwood forests is rich in ferns and wildflowers. Peter Baye

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

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Op-Ed: More logging won’t stop wildfires

Chad T. Hanson and Dominick A. Dellasala, THE NEW YORK TIMES
In the fall of 2013, shortly after fire swept across 257,000 acres of forest and shrub lands near Yosemite National Park in California’s Sierra Nevada, Republicans in the House of Representatives approved a bill that would have suspended environmental laws to increase logging in our national forests in the name of fire prevention and “restoration.”
Fortunately, the legislation never made it out of Congress. But it is fire season again in the West and, predictably, House Republicans have struck again, passing a similar measure, almost entirely along party lines, that all but gives away public forests to logging companies. A similar bill promoted by three Western Republicans is now before the Senate.
Just as they did in 2013, supporters of this legislation are using the public’s fear of forest fires to advance their agenda. They argue that overgrown and “unhealthy” forests raise the risk of wildfires, and that the government has been hampered by litigation and environmental reviews from allowing timber companies to thin forests to reduce the risk of fire.
Accordingly, this legislation would allow more logging on federal lands, including clear cutting, by exempting some logging from environmental reviews entirely, limiting oversight in other cases and making it much more difficult to challenge harmful logging projects in court.
The legislation is rooted in falsehoods and misconceptions.Some of the bill’s supporters claim that environmental laws regulating commercial logging have led to more intense fires. But, as we saw in the 2013 fire near Yosemite, known as the Rim Fire and one of the largest in California history, commercial logging and the clear-cutting of forests do not reduce fire intensity.
Read more at: More Logging Won’t Stop Wildfires – The New York Times