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.
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
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
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
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
Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Kashia Band of Pomo Indians wants to expand its remote rancheria, and although Sonoma County officials are supportive, they want greater assurance to be able to weigh in on any timber harvest plans for the tribe’s newly acquired property.
The Kashia Pomos two years ago bought 480 forested acres next to their Stewarts Point Rancheria, about 30 miles north of Bodega Bay, with plans to preserve their cultural and spiritual sites and use the land for tribal gatherings.
“We don’t have a lot of really big, long-term plans for it,” Tribal Chairman Reno Franklin said Friday, adding that the tribe dismissed any possibility of a casino or commercial development due to the remote location.
Nor is the tribe’s intent to commercially harvest marijuana, as some tribes are pursuing.
“We take any drug use really seriously and don’t want to perpetuate it into the community,” he said. “We will not be entertaining, or considering in any way, marijuana cultivation on that land.”
The only intent, he said, is to “sustainably harvest timber.”
Because the 860-member tribe has applied to have its new property placed into federal trust — which would remove it from county jurisdiction and local land use and zoning guidelines — county officials want to see more analysis of foreseeable environmental impacts, in particular logging.
Read more via Sonoma County seeks assurances from Pomo regarding timber | The Press Democrat.
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation that includes Sonoma and three other North Coast counties in a pilot project allowing trees up to 24 inches in diameter to be felled without a formal timber harvest plan for fire prevention purposes.
Sponsored by Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata, the bill extends to Sonoma, Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties an exemption from certain forest protection laws previously authorized for 24 Sierra Nevada and other inland counties in the aftermath of last year’s devastating Rim fire in Yosemite National Park.
The Forest Fire Prevention Pilot Project Exemption is designed to permit property owners to more readily harvest smaller trees if the aim is to reduce forest fuel loads and avert the kind of calamitous blaze that scarred 250,000 acres in the Yosemite area last year.
“Because coastal forests are also vulnerable to catastrophic wild fires, it made sense to extend the pilot project to parts of the coast,” Chesbro, chairman of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement. “When it expires, we can conduct a more thorough analysis on how to move forward with forest fuel treatment policy. The legislation does not allow clear-cutting and imposes specific requirements to ensure over-cutting does not occur.”
The exemption is to be operable for a three-year period expected to start later this year, when the state Board of Forestry implements the final regulation, legislative staffers said.
You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@press democrat.com.
via Gov. Jerry Brown eases timber-cutting rules to prevent | The Press Democrat.
Winemaker Paul Hobbs is being prosecuted in civil court by Sonoma County for alleged environmental violations, and faces potential fines of more than $27 million.
Hobbs is one of Sonoma County’s most successful winemakers, with an eponymous Sebastopol winery, a global consulting business heavily focused on South America and a partnership in Viña Cobos in Argentina. His To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet, from neighboring Napa County, costs $300 and has received seven scores of 97 or better from the Wine Advocate.
But now he’s facing something potentially more costly than the court of public opinion.
Hobbs "recklessly and carelessly" ignored state laws governing logging, according to the complaint filed by the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office.