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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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Annual tree planting by Forest Unlimited at St. Dorothy’s Rest in Camp Meeker

Forest Unlimited, SONOMA COUNTY  GAZETTE
Nature lovers looking to kick off 2017 with a good deed might consider volunteering to plant redwood seedlings for Forest Unlimited’s annual reforestation project. The Forestville-based nonprofit is dedicated to protecting and enhancing forests and watersheds in Sonoma County. In addition to acting as a watchdog for local logging operations, its members have been organizing tree plantings at select locations around Sonoma County for over 20 years.
This year, the group will plant seedlings Friday and Saturday, January 6th and 7th, at St. Dorothy’s Rest, 160 St Dorothy Ave, Camp Meeker, a protected 580-acre retreat center originally intended for terminally ill children to spend time in a healing environment of a “magical” forest community. Most of the land that was acquired recently had been badly logged. The redwood planting will help reforest these areas.
“It’s really a community effort,” said Carl Wahl, a volunteer for Forest Unlimited who managed the project for over fifteen years. Wahl said Forest Unlimited tries to choose areas that are protected from development and logging by conservation easements, so that volunteers aren’t planting trees that “could be cut down in 40 years”. They also look for places where the redwoods and oaks they plant will thrive.
Read more at: Annual Tree Planting by Forest Unlimited at St. Dorothy’s Rest in Camp Meeker

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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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Northern Spotted Owl added to endangered species list

ASSOCIATED PRESS
USFWS Spotted Owl information site

map of critical habitat
Critical habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Spotted Owl Recovery Plan, page C-13, 2011).

Wildlife officials say the northern spotted owl has been listed under the California Endangered Species Act.
The state’s Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously on Friday to add the threatened bird to the list, ending a four-year process by the Environmental Protection Information Center, or EPIC.
EPIC Program Director Tom Wheeler called it a “small step toward recovery.”
Scientists say that owl numbers are now dropping at an annual rate of 3.8 percent. Five years ago, the rate was 2.8 percent.The northern spotted owl was labeled as a “threatened species” under the Federal Species Act in 1990 but the owls’ population has continued to decline. Experts say changing the owl’s status from threatened to endangered could lead to efforts to increase owl habitat on federal lands.
Source: Northern Spotted Owl Added To Endangered Species List – capradio.org

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Environmentalists file suit over Gualala River logging plan

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

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California’s redwood trees are best in the world at storing CO2

E360 Digest, YALE ENVIRONMENT 360

California’s ancient redwood trees store more carbon dioxide per acre than any other forest in the world, including tropical rain forests like the Amazon, according to new research published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management.

The findings are the result of a seven-year study by scientists at Humboldt University and the University of Washington. Redwoods store 2,600 metric tons of carbon per hectare (2.4 acres), more than double the absorption rate of the Pacific Northwest’s conifer trees or Australia’s eucalyptus forests, the study found. The main reason redwoods surpass all others in CO2 storage is their longevity, the scientists said.

“The story of carbon is huge,” Robert Van Pelt, a scientist at Humboldt State University and co-author of the research, told The Mercury News. “The carbon part of a redwood may be more important than the lumber part in the coming decades.”

Source: https://e360.yale.edu/digest/california_redwoods_co2_storage

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Can California redwoods help solve global warming? 

Paul Rogers, EAST BAY TIMES
California’s ancient redwood forests aren’t just majestic and among the oldest living things on Earth — a new study finds they are a particularly potent weapon against global warming.
The towering trees remove and store more carbon from the atmosphere per acre than any other forests on the planet, including tropical rain forests, researchers found in a discovery that could influence everything from logging rules to how parks are preserved as the state grapples with climate change.
“The story of the carbon is huge,” said Robert Van Pelt, a scientist at Humboldt State University who helped lead the research. “The carbon part of a redwood may be more important than the lumber part in the coming decades.”
Scientists have long known that redwood trees, because they can live more than 1,000 years and grow to immense heights, are able to capture significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They do it with photosynthesis, the natural process in which plants use energy from sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water to sugars that help them grow, while also releasing oxygen.
But a team of researchers from Humboldt State and the University of Washington painstakingly set out to measure exactly how much carbon the massive trees, some of which tower more than 300 feet high and were growing during the Roman Empire, are sucking out of the atmosphere.
Starting in 2009, the team, working with researchers from UC Berkeley and Save the Redwoods League, chose 11 forested areas between Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park near the Oregon border, and UC’s Landels-Hill Big Creek Reserve in Big Sur, about 500 miles away.
Forests in the northern part of Jedediah Smith Redwoods park stored 2,600 metric tons of carbon per hectare, an area of about 2.5 acres, the study found. That’s more than twice the 1,000 metric tons estimated for ancient conifer forests in the Pacific Northwest and the towering eucalyptus forests in Australia and Tasmania.
Read more at: Can California redwoods help solve global warming? – EastBayTimes.com

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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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Logging plan along Gualala River faces opposition

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

For more information on the “Dogwood” timber harvest plan, see Friends of the Gualala River.

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

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Sudden oak death might be unstoppable in California

ASSOCIATED PRESS
An epidemic of the tree disease “sudden oak death” has surged beyond control in California, a new study shows.
The computer model used in the study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences took into account topography, weather and factors like funds available to fight the extremely contagious disease. It has killed millions of trees along the Northern California coast since it emerged in 1995.
The study suggests that the disease is spreading too fast to eradicate statewide, saying it will accelerate after 2020 when it is likely to flourish in California’s northwestern corner, where conditions are perfect for it.
Had the state begun fighting the disease in 2002, it may have been possible to eliminate it, the study says.
Critics have faulted the state and federal government for failing to take such stronger actions, the Los Angeles Times reported.
But the report is not entirely hopeless, offering recommendations for fighting the disease on a small scale to slow its growth by focusing on restoring small local forests.
Read more at: Study: Sudden oak death might be unstoppable in California | The Press Democrat