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California’s towering redwoods face uncertain future, report says

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Millions of people venture into California’s redwood forests to tilt their heads and behold the giants that stand taller than a football field set on end, can live for more than 2,500 years and form the backbones of coastal woodlands from Big Sur to southern Oregon.

At Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve near Guerneville, the 308-foot Colonel Armstrong tree stands so tall that earthbound admirers can’t see the behemoth’s uppermost 100 feet.

But it and the other old-growth redwoods of equal majesty are essentially relics, comprising a mere 7 percent of the 1.6 million acres of the coastal redwoods, a species that flourished throughout the Northern Hemisphere during the age of dinosaurs and is now found nowhere else on Earth but the California-Oregon coast.

Just over 90 percent of the redwood forests are relatively slender second-growth trees that sprouted within the last 20 to 100 years and, unlike their massive elders, face a perilous future of more frequent and intense wildfires brought on by climate change.

“That was jaw-dropping to us,” said Emily Burns, director of science for Save the Redwoods League, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that has worked to protect and restore redwoods since 1918. “We saw there wasn’t much old growth left.”

Burns is a co-author of the league’s 52-page study, “State of Redwoods Conservation Report,” assessing the health of redwoods after a two-century onslaught from commercial logging, development, road building and agriculture, as well as fire suppression.

The remnants of old-growth forest, found mostly in Humboldt and Del Norte counties, “remain as islands of isolated forests surrounded by degraded and fragmented landscapes” of second-growth forests germinated in the wake of clear-cutting that started in the mid-19th century, the report said.

Throughout the redwood region, there are only 113,000 acres of old growth, representing about 5 percent of the original 2.2 million acres of tall trees on the land before the California gold rush. Some 600,000 acres of redwood forest have since been lost to sawmills.

In Sonoma County, where logging the redwood giants along the Russian River began in 1836, there are 143,377 acres of redwoods, including 9,037 acres of old growth, most located on private property.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8278696-181/californias-towering-redwoods-face-uncertain

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Disputed Gualala logging plan earns second approval from state

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A controversial plan to log miles of Gualala River floodplain, including nearly century-old redwood trees just outside Gualala Point Regional Park, is back on track, setting the stage for a showdown in court or perhaps among the trees themselves.

Charll Stoneman, forest manager for Gualala Redwood Timber, which owns the land, said logging won’t begin until at least mid-May — after completion of final surveys required to ensure the absence of breeding Northern spotted owls, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

But Stoneman said he thinks the revised plan is “bulletproof,” given additions requested by Cal Fire, the state forestry agency, which eventually approved the document. If a judge intervenes, then “we wait for Cal Fire, and go on from there,” Stoneman said.

“Ultimately, the expectation is that, in time, we’ll harvest,” he said. “It’s just a matter of when.”

But opponents — after thwarting attempts to log the area once already by convincing a judge the timber harvest plan failed to analyze environmental impacts fully — sued Cal Fire again this month, just days after the agency renewed its approval.

There is quiet talk of civil disobedience to block operations in the 342-acre harvest area if a judge doesn’t stop it first. Critics already have staged monitors around the area at least twice since the plan was approved March 30 to listen for the sound of chainsaws that would signal logging had started.

“We were prepared to protest, if necessary,” said Charlie Ivor, president of Friends of the Gualala River, the chief plaintiff. “This is an egregiously organized timber harvest plan that is unprecedented, and it’s the community’s last chance to save these trees.”

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8205038-181/disputed-gualala-logging-plan-earns

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Threat to Gualala River Dogwood Forest logging ends with court decision

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

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Trump rethinks America’s best idea

Tom Molanphy, SF WEEKLY

Nearly 98 percent of 2.4 million people surveyed told the government to leave our national monuments alone.

As soon as President Trump signed his executive order in April to review 27 national monuments, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had his summer travel plans booked. Zinke would fish, kayak, and hike through our nation’s most beautiful landscapes to determine if they were better off being felled, drilled, or fracked. Six of the monuments set for review are in California: Berryessa Snow Mountain, Carrizo Plain, Giant Sequoia, Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and San Gabriel Mountains. But the Feds are not touching these Golden State treasures without a California-sized fight.

“This has been nothing short of a cynical assault on our country’s shared value of protecting our public lands,” Victoria Brandon, Chair of the Sierra Club’s Redwoods chapter, tells SF Weekly.

Any reduction — or in some cases, elimination — of these nearby monuments would affect the Bay Area.

Read more at: Trump Rethinks America’s Best Idea – By tom-molanphy – August 10, 2017 – SF Weekly

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Sonoma court awards attorney’s fees in ‘Dogwood’ timber harvest case

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.

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Disputed Gualala River logging plan stalled pending revised study 

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

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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