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A Golden Opportunity

Letter to the Editor, published in the
Independent Coast Observer
November 16, 2018

With the exciting news of the Mill Bend property in escrow to a conservation buyer, we see a golden opportunity to further protect the Gualala River for the benefit of everyone.

The vast stretch of flat land along the south side of the river, from Gualala Point Regional Campground to Twin Bridges, has been used by generations of locals and visitors to access the river. Many call it the Magical Forest for its ancient beauty and serenity.

This land is the floodplain of the river, where the river spreads during floods. It’s a wide, long plain of nearly pure redwood forest, with large trees about a hundred years old. It took a century to recover from heavy logging. It shouldn’t have been logged then, and it shouldn’t be logged now. Our river needs the forest trees, shrubs, and wetlands and bushes in its floodplain. During winter floods, when the floodplain is under water, it feeds and fattens steelhead, and its dense forest traps floodwater mud, cleansing the sediment-impaired river.

When the Burch family, Gualala Redwoods Inc, purchased the watershed of the Gualala River from Ollie Edmunds several years ago, the first timber harvest plan they filed was to log nearly the entire Magical Forest. The THP was called Dogwood.

After much public outcry and dismay, Friends of Gualala River, a small, local, grassroots organization, sued to stop Dogwood. They were successful in court. GRI refiled a second THP, called Dogwood ll. Once again FoGR sued, and once again, just last month, FoGR prevailed in court.

We believe it is time to take a fresh look at how these 400 acres could be preserved for the good of everyone in our community, our tourism economy, and our identity. The Burch family owns close to 30,000 acres in the Gualala River watershed. We believe these 400 acres alongside the Gualala River, from the boundary of Gualala Point Regional Park all the way up river to Twin Bridges, should be acquired for conservation with public access, in negotiation with the Burch family. With the possible addition of Mill Bend, and the existing Regional Park at the estuary, Gualala would have the most extraordinary Wild and Scenic coastal river access north of Jenner, right next to town.

The river park would be an unmatched coastal attraction for visitors, and an anchor for a thriving tourism economy to boost our local businesses and jobs, and enhance our quality of life. Walking trails, access to the river for all kinds of recreation, and the Magic Forest protected for all: these are worthy goals for our community, and a source of civic pride. A river park would be enjoyed by young and old, rich and poor, as our connection with Nature only becomes more valuable in this busy world.

Something quite similar took place to our north. Mendocino Land Trust was able to negotiate with timberland owners to acquire the riparian lands along Big River, creating a beautiful, eminently walkable river park, with access for kayaks and canoes. That model would be perfect in Gualala.

The Gualala River once teemed with Coho salmon and steelhead trout. The Coho are most surely gone. We can reverse this degradation and help bring back the thriving river our elders remember.

Right now, GRT is trying to log all the flood-prone forestland in their ownership, in a series of destructive logging plans, following Dogwood. We urge the Burch family to cease their attempts to log in the floodplain, and to sell this precious land so it can be protected forever. We should offer the Burch family every incentive politically and economically possible to bring this vision into reality, for the greater public good.

Jeanne Jackson and Peter Baye

Wild & scenic Gualala River runs thorough Dogwood - 5416
Wild & scenic Gualala River runs thorough “Dogwood” logging area