Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Redwood Genome Project
New technology is coming to the aid of the world’s tallest trees, the coast redwoods that blanket Sonoma County hills and date back to the time of dinosaurs.
Climate change has not yet impacted the most iconic of California trees, which live for centuries and in some cases millennia, sheathed in soft, thick reddish bark that shields them from fire and insect damage.The forest giants are thriving. Despite the rampant logging that for 150 years swept over their historic range having been virtually eliminated, organizations that protect and manage thousands of acres of redwoods in Sonoma County and the North Coast are looking for ways to fortify them against the anticipated stress of rising temperatures.
One answer may be deeply embedded in the trees themselves.The Save the Redwoods League, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that has helped protect nearly 200,000 acres of forestland in more than 60 parks and preserves, is now betting $2.6 million on a 5-year project to unravel the remarkably complex DNA of the redwoods, and ultimately gain new tools for their conservation.
“The Redwood Genome Project is our opportunity to apply the world’s most cutting-edge science to save the redwoods for the next century,” said Emily Burns, the league’s director of science. “With genetic insight at our disposal, we will be able to enhance protection for the world’s most beloved trees.”
Already underway, the project has begun teasing out the genetic code of a redwood from Butano State Park in San Mateo County. The code, expressed in the DNA of every living cell, amounts to a “parts list” for the entire organism, said David Neale, a UC Davis professor of plant genetics who is project partner.
Read more at: DNA mapping will include Sonoma County redwoods as hedge to climate change | The Press Democrat –
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
The National Marine Fisheries Service, whose mission includes the protection of imperiled fish species, identified Felta Creek as “the only stream in the Dry Creek watershed where wild coho salmon have been observed frequently.”
“There were two years where Felta was the only stream in the entire Russian River watershed that we knew coho existed,” said Mariska Obedzinski, a fisheries biologist with the California Sea Grant program who specializes in endangered salmon recovery.
A cold, clear stream that provides some of the last refuge for wild coho salmon in Sonoma County lies at the center of a dispute over logging plans in the forested hills above Healdsburg.
The proposed removal of redwood and Douglas fir trees from a steep hill above Felta Creek and the Russian River Valley poses a risk, opponents say, to remaining habitat for an endangered fish species once abundant in the freshwater streams and rivers of the North Coast.
Some of the trees marked for harvest on the 160-acre property grow on grades of 65 percent — so steep that foes of the plan, including neighbors and several environmental groups, say it could unleash significant erosion into the creek if carried forward. They are prepared to go to court to block the proposed harvest, which is being studied by state forestry officials.
Last week, those officials kicked the proposal back to landowner Ken Bareilles and his forester for significant additions and revisions
Read more at: Fight over disputed Healdsburg logging plan escalates amid state delay | The Press Democrat
Tom Gogola, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN
A Humboldt County businessman appears poised to get the green light from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) to log most of a forested 160-acre Healdsburg parcel crossed by Felta Creek.
Read more at: Fight for Felta | News | North Bay Bohemian
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
J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Deep in northwestern Sonoma County’s thickly forested mountains, about 10 miles from the coast and a world away from the bustle of any population center, Mike Young walked beneath a towering canopy of redwood and Douglas fir trees he’s come to know well over the past several decades.
He was leading a small group last week on a tour of his remote property, an expanse of forest that feels untouched. The trees were too numerous to count and soared hundreds of feet into the sky.
Young stopped at one about 16 feet in diameter — so big that, when three people linked arms around it, they couldn’t get halfway around. Its height and age are a mystery.“It just goes on and on and on,” Young said, guessing it stands more than 250 feet tall and is several thousand years old.
The tree is in good company here on a string of properties acquired by members of the Howlett family beginning in 1949. The owners allowed only selective logging over the years, Young said. Spikes still stand out from tree trunks where the late George Howlett designated areas where logging couldn’t occur.
“Every time they cut a tree, it was like cutting a piece of his arm off,” Young said of George Howlett. When they did harvest trees, it was carefully done.“You could go in afterward and hardly tell where they’d been cutting,” Young said.
The result is this 1,380-acre property still encompasses a dense collection of massive trees, including old-growth redwoods, that are hard to find anywhere else in Sonoma County. So rare, in fact, that in late February, county supervisors — in their role as directors of the Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District — approved paying $4.5 million to eliminate development rights on the private property. The $6.1 million easement deal, including private and public grant money secured by the Sonoma Land Trust, was completed in April.
Read more at: Towering, remote Sonoma County forest preserved with $4.5 million from local taxpayers | The Press Democrat
Arthur Dawson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Among individual species there will [also] be winners and losers. Redwoods are expected to remain stable in the western half of the county, but decline in places more distant from the coast. Douglas fir shows a similar pattern. The biggest loser may be Oregon or Garry oak. The real winner may not be a tree at all, but chamise, a shrubby chaparral species.
To look into the future of forests in Sonoma County requires finding a similar time in the past — or at least one as close as possible. And for that, scientists have turned to studying minute specks of pollen at the bottom of Clear Lake.
“When considering the future of our forests,” says Professor David Ackerly of UC Berkeley, “the closest analogy for the present moment was the warming at the end of the last ice age, 14,000 years ago.” Pollen preserved in sediment at the bottom of Clear Lake recorded a dramatic change at that time from conifer-dominated forests to oak woodland. That transition took place over 4000 years, as temperatures rose about 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Today the Earth is heating up many times faster and, depending on who you talk to, warming over the coming century could match the rise after the ice age. Changes in rainfall are also expected for Sonoma County, although it’s uncertain whether we’ll see more precipitation or less. But even with more rain, warmer overall temperatures may increase evaporation to the point where less water will be available to plants. The timing of rainfall is important, too — a few torrential storms bank less soil moisture than the same amount falling slowly and steadily over the winter months. Soil moisture is an important factor controlling where trees can grow.
In this scenario, the survival of living things depends upon their ability to adjust to the changes more quickly than in the past. Animals are lucky — they can move to other locations; individual trees and plants are stuck to one spot. In the short term, many are already shifting their yearly cycles — the beginning of spring, as marked by budding and flowering, is two weeks earlier than it was 50 years ago. Long-term, trees move between generations, their seeds spread by wind, water, gravity and animals to more suitable places.
Read more at: Sonoma County’s forests face uncertain future | The Press Democrat
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
Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Martina Morgan’s black hair whipped about as she gazed out from Stewarts Point in northwest Sonoma County this week at a stunning expanse of Pacific Ocean.
Far below her, waves crashed on a rock-strewn beach where Morgan and her great-grandfather gathered shellfish, seaweed and other dietary staples of the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians. Leonard Marrufo is gone now, but the rope the pair relied on to rappel down the 70-foot cliff to access the beach is still there, attached to a wooden post buried deep in the bluff.
Now vice chairwoman of the Kashia tribe, Morgan said the site between Jenner and The Sea Ranch is sacred ground for the tribe’s 1,000 members, the place where they believe their creator sent down spirits with explicit instructions that they take only what they need and leave the rest.
“That’s our island,” Morgan said, pointing to a large flat-top rock she said her ancestors climbed to access the land.
The tribe’s special connection to what Morgan referred to as “the beginning place” is part of a historic new land use agreement for Stewarts Point Ranch that marries elements of cultural preservation, habitat protection, outdoor recreation and economic development through logging.
Those wide-ranging provisions comprise a $6 million conservation easement recently purchased for Stewarts Point Ranch by the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District and other public and private agencies.The deal encompasses 868 acres of coastal land that incorporates about a mile of coastal bluff north of Salt Point State Park and extends inland for some 2 miles across grazing lands and mountains straddled by dense forest, including 100 acres of scattered old-growth redwoods skirting more than a mile of the Gualala River.
Read more at: Sonoma Coast’s Stewarts Point becomes part of historic agreement for coastal ranch | 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