Date: July 11, 2016
On Friday, July 8, 2016, Friends of Gualala River and Forest Unlimited attorney Edward Yates sent CAL FIRE (California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) a Notice of Intent to Sue over the agency’s final approval of the controversial, delayed “Dogwood” Timber Harvest Plan. The applicant is Gualala Redwoods Timber (GRT), which purchased the timberland from Gualala Redwoods Inc, in April 2015. The forest manager of both companies is Henry Alden, forester of the former Headwaters Forest old-growth redwood clear-cut logging controversy of the 1980s and 1990s.
The Notice of Intent to Sue alleges that CAL FIRE’s approval of the “Dogwood” THP is in violation of California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”), the Forest Practice Act, and Board of Forestry regulations (California Forest Practice Rules) that implement them. FoGR and FU argue that CAL FIRE failed to assess potentially significant impacts to floodplain forest wetlands, rare plants, archeological resources, and special-status species, and improperly deferred surveys essential for impact assessment and mitigation until after approvals were given. FoGR and FU allege that CAL FIRE failed to assess reasonable alternatives to the project, and failed to provide reasonable justification for exception to Forest Practice Rules that otherwise protect floodplains against disturbances of roads and landings, in a THP that is almost entirely composed of floodplains.
The “Dogwood” logging plan covers 402 acres of sensitive floodplain redwood forests stretching over more than five miles of the lower Gualala River, from the mouth, bordering Sonoma County Regional Park campgrounds, upstream to the vicinity of Annapolis Road. The logging plan targets mature 90-100 year old redwoods that regenerated after early historical logging. It is the first large-scale logging plan to cover most of the floodplain forest left in the lower Gualala River, following changes in California Forest Practice Rules to extend protections against logging disturbances from stream-side buffer zones (Watercourse Lake Protection Zones) to entire “flood-prone areas” (floodplain forests, alluvial flats). The “Dogwood” plan, which is almost exclusively floodplain redwood forest, required a justified exception to the new rules in order to be approved. CAL FIRE Director Ken Pimlott agreed to the exception requested by GRT.
The “Dogwood” THP process was delayed by multiple errors requiring CAL FIRE to recirculate amended versions of the logging plan, correcting erroneous or omitted information, and incomplete notification to neighboring landowners. After two recirculated versions of the THP, CAL FIRE responded to over 100 public comments opposed to the plan – and authorized the logging plan over the objections of comments and a petition with over 1600 signatures.
Friends of Gualala River (FoGR) and Forest Unlimited (FU) have opposed the “Dogwood” logging plan since it was released for public and agency review in May 2015. Both FoGR and FU are local nonprofit conservation organizations who have opposed conversion of redwood forests to vineyards, but have supported non-profit conservation forestry acquisition of Gualala River Watershed timberlands by The Conservation Fund. They joined forces to organize public comments opposing the plan, along with a coalition of environmental organizations, including chapters of the Audubon Society, California Native Plant Society, Sierra Club, and Center for Biological Diversity.
Chris Poehlmann, FoGR President, views the recent GRT push for extensive redwood logging into the Gualala River floodplain as a consequence of unsustainable upland clear-cutting over decades: “It’s no surprise Gualala Redwoods Timber is now going after the biggest and oldest stands of redwoods they have left – all in the protected floodplains. They are running out of slopes they haven’t already clear-cut over once or twice. CAL FIRE isn’t respecting the newer forest practice rules that protect floodplain redwoods, so we’re drawing a line in the sand”, he said.
For Forest Unlimited, the environmental stakes are also regional: “Newer logging rules on the book were designed to minimize logging impacts within a floodplain riparian area. But in this plan, they are making the exception the rule by logging and skid road-building entirely in the Gualala River floodplain, and in an oversize area.” said Larry Hanson, President of Forest Unlimited. “And this is wrong. We need to correct it.”
For more information: www.gualalariver.org