In a letter dated July 31, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection or CalFire approved the third controversial Dogwood timber harvest plan stating, “You may begin timber operations proposed in the plan.”
But while the letter says that property owner Gualala Redwood Timber LLC (GRT), can begin logging, an existing court order still prohibits logging the floodplain at least until Oct. 17, the date set by the court for an administrative conference in the case that has been going on since the plan was first approved in 2016.
Two previous Dogwood plans were set aside by the Sonoma County Superior Court, pursuant to lawsuits brought by Friends of Gualala River (FoGR), a local environmental group.
On July 23 the Sonoma County Superior Court rejected an ex parte application from GRT to quash the injunction against logging. GRT argued it should be permitted to begin logging immediately.
In a series of declarations, Roger Burch, owner of GRT, his employees, and timber operators who work for him made an economic case for logging as soon as possible. Charles Hiatt, who owns Hiatt Logging Company, said if he is unable to log “the Dogwood THP in 2019, it will cause us to lose $1,050,000 in logging and trucking work.”
Darrell Rogers, owner of Rogers and Sons in Annapolis, said his firm would lose $520,000 in logging and trucking work.
Nicholas Kent, resource manager for GRT, said the company has incurred more than $500,000 in connection with Dogwood, including consulting forestry services, staff time, and legal fees. “The redwood timber market has plummeted from highs attained in 2018 with wholesale prices of lumber dropping 35 to 40 percent,” he said.
“The Dogwood THP, is expected to generate 3 million board feet,” he also said. “Not logging Dogwood in 2018 reduced net income to GRT by approximately $3.6 million.” He cited a “decrease in demand for redwood products,” and asserted, “GRT could not partake in the high market in 2018 and current log prices are now at two thirds of the level prices were in 2018, which equates to a loss in value of $1.2 million in net stumpage from the THP from last year.”
In his declaration, Burch said, “Harvesting the lands covered by the Dogwood THP is critical to advancing GRT’s business plans for an integrated Sonoma County lumber business that includes not only milling but also sales and distribution in Sonoma County,” and for that reason, “those lands are worth far more than fair market value to GRT.”
“This is a case wherein the Petitioner [FoGR] has weaponized CEQA [the California Environmental Quality Act] to try to force me to sell the lands covered by the Dogwood THP,” he added, referring to a proposal by many locals to purchase the river floodplain and make it a public park.
In an interview with the ICO, Charles Ivor, the president of FoGR, said, however, “We are steadfast with our pursuit to stop Dogwood III. It’s an egregious floodplain logging plan, unprecedented in fact. FoGR has hired several experts to evaluate and comment on these plans.”
While GRT advanced economic arguments in favor of the logging plan, FoGR makes environmental arguments in favor of preserving the river, its floodplain, and redwood forest.
“There are very good rules in place, like the California Environmental Quality Act,” Ivor said, “but CalFire does not play by the rules. This is an egregious plan. It will hamper the river’s ability to recover from a hundred years of logging. We don’t oppose logging. But we do want to protect the river for today and for future generations. That’s why we are raising the flag over these THPs.”
He argues for an integrated approach to evaluating the environmental impact of logging the Gualala River floodplain and watershed. “This new Dogwood plan, and all of the plans they have in mind, should be part of an integrated management strategy because the water and the river ecosystem is a public good. We need a comprehensive environmental impact statement that encompasses all of the THPs that GRT has applied for and those they have in mind.”
Such a cumulative impact assessment is what the Sonoma County Superior Court ordered last October, when it sent the Dogwood THP back to CalFire for the second time.